The Night Wars

A day late, a copper short
Nakamura

We reached the caves the next afternoon, and, with plenty of daylight left we decided to move past them and look to make camp off to the side, out of the way, out of sight, but close enough to monitor activity. However… instead we find a relatively recent trample of a trail. Curious and since it heads roughly towards the outermost plantation that I know of, we follow it.

Our luck, we stumble across some wild pigs. White, quick with his crossbow drops one, and we ruck it up to take with us thinking we can take the time to deal with it properly come dusk… however… along with dusk we find a cabin, set back off the muddy, beaten trail… and thinking it would be nice to have a bit of wood between us and the night we approach, only to be surprised by zombies that simply pop up out from under grassy hummocks and debris. As we are fighting them the door of the cabin opens and out clatters at least one skeleton. Already a bit overwhelmed, we decide to live and fight another day is better than dying here and now, with panicked nods and a shout or two, we converse, agree, and high tail it back to the main trail where we continue onwards as quick as you please onward through the night hoping to put as much distance as we can between us and them before we stop.

Once the sun rose, we began to think about looking for someplace to rest, but, before we stopped altogether we came to the plantation. Or, more accurately, the remains of the plantation. It was carnage. Burned buildings, ransacked storage sheds, bodies everywhere. Human bodies, orcish bodies, goblin bodies, dogs, poultry, rice trampled in the mud and the blood. We wander, exhausted. Dazed. Saddened by the destruction, knowing that the children we rescued had come from here, and now had no home to be returned to. The signs were all still fresh. The massacre could not have happened more than a day ago. Tracks lead away from the plantation towards the west, but, exhausted, we chose not to follow. Instead, we hope, somewhat in vain, but hope none the less, that perhaps some of the people here ran and hid in the surrounding wooded hills. So, we butcher our little pig, which somehow, we managed to keep hold of all through the fight with the zombies and our flight through the night and set it to smoking in the smoke house. Once begun a thick plume of smoke rises into the late afternoon sky, hopefully it will draw anyone left out there back. Maybe. Possibly. If not. We will have pork to eat for the next few days. We install ourselves in the main house, fortifying the windows and doors as best we can to wait out the night. I sleep, White watches. He sleeps, I watch. We both keep adding wood to the smoke house.

Come morning we both feel well enough to consider checking the trail leading west. As one can travel faster than two, and the pork still needs time to smoke, White stays to watch the plantation, while I take up a ground eating jog, following the churned up ground and the imprints of orc boots, goblin stone shoes and bare human feet to the west. It goes for a time, winding through woods, turning south and west, almost back towards Naru… but… the rain begins again, steadier and heavier and soon there is nothing left to follow. Turning back, I return to the plantation and the ever patient White.

Painfully deciding those people taken away are lost to us, we decide to put an end to the creatures occupying that woodman’s hut. The pork will have to suffice as smoked as it is. We head off, reaching the hut with daylight to spare. Expecting a more complicated and difficult battle, we stood, facing each other over the remains of several zombies and a solitary skeleton, none the worse for wear… and we ran from this before?

Smashed skulls, a pyre made from the little cabin burning nicely, we stay to keep the forest from catching fire. Tomorrow we head back to the Dawn Caves. There, we will find a way in, find the other captives and set them free. If we are lucky, White’s book will be there as well. However. Before sleep. I believe I will just polish and sharpen this lovely, silver chased sword the skeleton was using.

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Things get no better
** GM Update **

21st day of the Moon of the Hog,Year of the Dog, Star of the Cock

The morning of the 17th Asuka spend the drizzly morning reading tracks. Several tracks going and coming along the trail, but a large group of tracks, oddly devoid of the stone shoe tracks of goblins, leaves the plantation to the west. She sets of at a quick but comfortable pace into the woods, stopping to verify the trail. After a mile or so, the go from a somewhat concealed, mostly single file trail to a group that has stopped trying to hide their route. However, in the soft loammy soil of the drizzly woods, most of the signs fade.

Upon returning to the plantation, she finds that White has gathered the bodies into a pyre, which he lights after she says prayers for them. They spend another night in the house, but the smoke house is set upon by feral hounds. The next morning, they begin the trek back to the Dawn Caves, with a detour for the infested cabin, where they dispatch the abominations relatively easily, and burn the cabin. They spend the night ensuring the woods do not catch alight, then continue to the Caves. Arriving at the caves, they spend a few hours rebuilding the blind, and watch from it through the night, where they see another hunting party leave the caves.

Come dawn, they prepare to enter the Caves…

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A sad little ghost...
Nakamura

Traveling along base of the range, stony hills all around us we encounter a ghost… We see him from a distance at first, a man, digging in a hole, using a pick, changing to a shovel, finding things. We continue on, closing distance. We hail him, but he doesn’t seem to notice us, continuing his work. As we draw closer, we can see that he is, in fact, insubstantial. He is in well worn clothes, has a tattered, wide brimmed straw hat. Curious, we divert our course to investigate. The shade is knee deep in a dip in the ground, at the bottom is some gray, green moss. As he doesn’t seem to notice us at all, and we feel no malice, I hop down into the hole, curious. The moss is soft, but nothing I recognize, the earth in the depression is very soft. I poke around in the moss and water oozes out. My investigations don’t seem to interfere with his labors, but suddenly he stops to watch the hills to the south. We stop to watch the hills to the south as well. We obviously do not see what he sees for he picks up some rocks around his feet, tumbles them into a bag, and heads off. He only gets six paces away, however, before he disappears. White and I stand, looking at each other, shrugging and conjecturing when all of a sudden the shade returns, leading a pack animal. We watch, transfixed as he takes up his picking, digging and searching again. This time, he begins to soundlessly cough. The coughing intensifies and he begins to spit out phlegm as well. Not long after the poor fellow keels over, face first into the hole he has dug, water, silently splashing as he hits. It would seem the man drowned there. After a while the shade fades. White and I are sobered by what we have seen, saddened, but know of nothing we can do to put the man to rest. As we gather our packs and begin to head onwards, the shade appears once again, in what must be and endless repeat of the events we already witnessed.

One might guess that our conversations were muted and a bit morbid as we walked on through the afternoon. However. We have a lively fire tonight, and have dispelled our dour moods by sharing our favorite childhood stories of heroic conquests gone hilariously awry. Tomorrow we should reach the caves once again… that will be soon enough, me thinks, for serious thoughts. For now, I roll myself up in my blanket, a smile on my face, and a chuckle on my breath… when he wants to, White can tell a wicked tale.

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The Caves of Abadon, or abandon hope all ye who enter here...
Nakamura

We traveled east into the rocky hills, camping rough and uncomfortable rain and rocks, if one wasn’t waking you with cold drizzle in your face, the other was keeping you from sleeping by digging into the tender points of your back. As soon as it was light enough to see by we were once again moving, making our slow, careful way up the rough slopes and out onto a rocky plain. Following a small trail we headed onwards, only to be stopped by a hunting party of Hillfolk. In broken pigeon speech I speak with their leader who finally agrees to allow us to continue on to the campsite. Although we traveled forward unaccompanied, we were not alone. I don’t know if that comforted or alarmed, but we made the boundaries without incident. In amongst recently vacated campsites I find a trader woman who has herbs and plants for sale. Between bartering for something similar to Mother’s Bane we speak of the Dawn Caves and of their storyteller. For a little more than the worth of the herbs, I am giving directions to her tent and move on, White in tow.

The Hillfolk are a fascinating people. Primitive, yet, their culture is complex, full of rules and customs that are designed, one would believe, to ease the passage of hard days and long nights, customs that keep men in line, and women from being property. I like them. I would like to understand them better. But at the moment, I have only the tidbits I can remember from my mother, who, for a while, before the forests and hills took over my life, tried to teach me the ways of her family. I listened, but my heart was never in it. Much of what she taught me slipped away, until now. Confronted with this nomadic people I find tidbits coming back, words, customs… which is why, at the entrance of the storyteller’s tent, I leave White in the care of a young boy and go in myself. Women don’t talk in front of men. The men like to believe they are in charge, so women, in their eyes take a subservient role in the background… seen but not heard. The women believe that men need to focus on hunting and protecting their families, so they do not discuss things with them. That would complicate life too much for the simple male mind. It is amusing, fascinating, and works very well for them. Although White is not happy, he is reasonable and intelligent, and accustomed to his own culture’s oddities, agreeing to wait outside.

Within, the tent is dim, smokey… but aromatic, not choking, eye watering smoke. The small, bird like woman introduced to me as Hi ’Ree and I sit. She has many languages and we find one we are both comfortable in. My talk with Hi ’Ree is dreamlike, her voice, modulated low, flowed to me in a sing song rhythm, telling me all she knew of the Dawn Caves, or the cave of Abadon as it is known among her folk. Sitting now, sheltered in a small cave while the skies drop torrential water down on the world, trying to put this all down before it is forgotten I am discovering that the sing song cadence stays with you, making recall easy for conjuring her voice, her words, puts me back in the dream state I was in within her tent

“The caves of Abadon…” She paused, collecting her thoughts, her accent, in the Danvaree tongue is lilting, almost lispy and I am uncertain I have heard the name correctly, perhaps she said Cave of Abandon and I have misheard. I am loathe to interrupt her but even before I can she continues. “Caves of hiding, deep caves, some who say stone folk dwell, from within the caves I have seen a collar, not necklace, a collar, but was made, I think, by mountain folk hand… whether stolen in the cave or if there is mountain folk holding within, I do not know… we do not use the cave of Abadon, they have bad luck.” She pauses, leaning forward to drop herbs on the embers, examines me through the fragrant smoke and, happy with what she sees, continues. “ From the wars, things sought refuge there, on both sides of the war…I have been told that in the darkness of the caves people go missing, by accident or by foulness, none seem to know…I am told one is a false cave, others connect with caves within, but there is one that is a deep cave… does not connect with the others.” She straightened her spine, tilting her head to regard me again, I can only imagine the rapt, beautific and idiotic look on my face. I was entranced. Delighted to finally have found someone with at least some sort of information about what lies within that cliff face. It must have been truly ridiculous, for she smiled and issued a warning to be before continuing. “Now all I tell you is what I have heard or been told. Yes?” I nod, she smiles indulgently and continues, “They are not mines but natural caves, some are not made by hand, but worked. In old days before I was even a girl, the demon Abadon, was said to dwell there… He was slain within the caves, but his blood has cursed it so that none that enter leave unchanged. That is what we were told. During these wars, I am also told both sides sought refuge, and I heard nothing of any changes… but, particularly the deep cave, it is likely something dwells there… and whether the false cave and the deep cave still do not join others… some say Abadon dwelled in the heart of the mountain, so the deep cave will be very very deep. But most tales that speak of Abadon speak of only a days travel, and travel within caves is slow. So I think maybe not that deep.” She thinks maybe not so deep. I have to smile at that, wondering just how much this woman actually knows about traveling below ground… probably no more than I do. With that matter-of-fact statement she rocked her bottom, readjusting her cushions and wrap. I ask her what she knows of this demon. Narrowing her eyes, she leans forward, more the teacher than storyteller now and this is a lesson I must learn or die, Hi ’Ree tells me, “Abadon, slays children, he slays old women, he eats gemstones, births dragons, he was slain by four men.” Settling back into that sing song chanting she tells me the story, “Four men, armed and armored heavily, a woman who was magic, and a mountain folk sought him, many, many moons ago, To clarify how long ago, she leans forward, conspiratorially saying, “Maybe, when the flatlanders fought, so that they could become one… if a child is born then, when he is grown, perhaps he is the one who fought Abadon. But..” The storyteller voice returns, “Most tales say they sought for a day, coming upon a fortress of fire, the mage woman she turned the fortress of fire into a pool of water and they swam to an island where Abadon dwelled, it is said in our tales that they were armed with good black iron, and they fought Abadon and his children or minions, small demons like black children with four arms or with two head, or a tail, but all like black children with something extra… She paused and shuddered for effect, “They slew his minions, they slew his champion… a snake who wore armor, and then, they slew Abadon, but in the battle with him, two of the men and the mountain folk were killed. The mage woman was stripped of her power, she could no longer cast magic, but the blood of Abadon drained in the lake and again it began to burn, but with a dark fire, but, it did not burn long. The three buried their friends within the stone walls and returned… and then, the tales go on to say that the curse of Abadon killed them within two summers. None of the tales give names to any of them.” Her story finished, she wiped her hand together twice. But, smiling, she continued, “Now, I tell you, in case you are not knowledgeable of us, these tales, maybe word for word true, or they may be that which is created to teach… but all tales teach. Whether word for word true or word for word untrue. Abadon is an evil that is unknown… forces are gathered against it, and defeated, but it comes back and consumes each of them. This evil can be speaking to a man in daylight, it may be a man who attacks women, it may be the flatlanders greed for coin. An evil can be defeated, but it never is gone… until there is none who know of it. When no more man walks the world, the evils upon it will no longer be.”

Full of many things to think about, I left Hi ‘Ree with a portion of tea in thanks, snag White from his game of stare down with the youth and, feeling a need for motion and thought, we head out and away from the Hillfolk camp… until the sky opened up on, forcing us to find this small cave. Sharing what I learned with White has helped… but… it still gives us no real clue as to how or where. We will just have to explore each entrance until we find a way in that will allow us to either get the other captives out unseen, or come from behind and attack with surprise. Either way I think it won’t be pleasant. I am not afraid of enclosed spaces, but I have to admit the thought of being beneath the ground, where the sun has never shown, fills me some trepidation.

Time enough to worry about that I think. First we must get ourselves back to the caves in one piece, and for that I must rest. Sun Rider ask your wife to watch over me until I am back under your gaze once again.

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Grim Reminders
** GM Update **

16th day of the Moon of the Hog,Year of the Dog, Star of the Cock

On the afternoon of the 17th, Asuka speaks with a tale teller, while White waits with a youth. Hy’rhe, the old tale teller, knows some tales of the dawn caves, but she calls them the Caves of Abbadon. After gain what information she can, they camp betweeen the edge of the camp, and the beginning of the hunting grounds. While they are crossing the rocky hills that are the tail of the Great Spine ridges, they are forced to take refuge in a small cave, as the rocks become slick with rain and the small ravines run quick with water. The next two days are spent going to the Georg Rhohn’han Rice Plantation. They are fortunate to kill a young wild boar, but are unfortunate to come upon a cabin inhabited by zombies and an axe wielding skeleton.

That night, they come upon a dying goblin, unconscious and raggedly breathing. They usher it to its reward or punishment, and continue into the night, arriving at the plantation by mid morning. There appears to be no survivors of a fairly recnt attack…the blood is not yet dry. But there are only 11 bodies…what happened to the rest?

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Slow but sure...
Nakamura

Slowly we worked our way to the Obalaho plantation finding warm welcome, shared food and news to fill the evening hours. Here they are no longer bothered by the raiding parties they see passing them in the night. Still cautious and watchful, they lament the two men gone missing, the lack of real news, and the shorthanded situation they find themselves in. They need to plant, to attract workers, but they need worker to plant. It is a heart rending situation, but one that is currently being repeatedly told everywhere we have stayed or visited. I see possible solutions, but no easy way to implement them, starting with convincing the owners they need to invest more of their time and money into the people. In the dark of our borrowed room White and I speak quietly. Gently, mindful of healing hurts we comfort each other, giving and receiving strength, hope, humor, returning our bruised spirits to a more balanced place. Exhausted and safe behind walls we sleep, finally, a plan, of sorts formed. We know little to nothing of the Dawn Caves. No one we have spoken to can illuminate what we might find within. However. There is a campsite for the Hillfolk a few days walk up into the mountains. If anyone has stories of the Dawn Caves, they will. Tomorrow we head to the last plantation, then up instead of along the face of the range in the hopes that I an accurately remember the location, and can either talk to a wise woman there, or, leave one of my mother’s markers to ask for a meet. Is it any wonder that we sleep deeply, safe in our smokey but warm room, and nearly miss the greeting of the coming dawn.

From the Obalaho’s we get a late start, into weather that promises wet misery. However, we reach the Umakazi rice plantation near dusk without incident, wet once again, but whole in body and spirit. Here we have spent another pleasant night, trading stories, sharing food and enjoying being out of the weather. A long conversation with their Master Planter paints a picture of a turbulent winter. A large battle was fought not far from their gates in the deep of winter and from then on, until a moon or so ago, they had encounters and troubles every night. Now it is quiet. Solitary night creatures pass them by, once a dead goblin showed up in one of their rice patties, but how he got there or how he died no one knows. When they learn that we are bound into the hills, they warn us that the Hillfolk have been agitated since the war, and to have a care when meeting them. Their stance has gone from wary neutral, to wary aggressive. With thanks for that helpful news we have retired once again to a room left empty due to lack of workers.

I am tired, but content. Sure in my next step forward, comfortable with my odd, but compelling companion, I look forward to one last full night of dry, comfortable sleep.

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And so...travelling
** GM Update **

17th day of the Moon of the Snake,Year of the Dog, Star of the Cock

They spend the night at the Umkazi rice plantation. Only 8 men and 1 woman left here, and they have not had soldiers by in a while. Umkazi relayed that they often see patrols of some size or another, but they have not even put out watches for the last moon or so. They will be able to plant about half the paddies, but they do not have the people to tend them. And they spend good portions of the day hunting for tubers and a hare or some sparrows to eat. They relayed what news they had, and once again, they were given room in the manor, as it was made to house about 20 people.

Asuka & White then headed out to speak with the hill folk. But, losing a good deal of time in the rocky hills during the rain, they make the plains in mid afternoon of the next day. They meet a hunting party and are given leave to continue on to Muku T’nul (the Smoking Camp). There are only a few tribes left from the spring trades.

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Cold and wet but resting comfortably
Nakamura

Three days uneventful travel came to an end with thunderstorms that force marched us to the Tayzu plantation late in the day. The storm raged through the night, calming some come dawn, but since it showed no sign of stopping we headed out into the weather. Even in bad weather we should make the next plantation by dark, but… the rain stops…. you’d think that would be good, and we are pleased for a time until we realize things are too quiet. Into that quiet pounces a giant cat… and I do mean giant. I have heard stories of war cats, but never seen one… until now. It jumps on White, knocking him down taking a huge bite out of his leg. Ignoring me the thing settled into gnawing on him, but I didn’t let it forget me for long, laying in with my sword it finally let go of White and engaged me. Fast and furious we fought each other, until winded and hurt we backed away from each other. Panting I watched as it backed off further, and when I didn’t press it turned and ran away. I wonder if it would have stopped sooner?… I am hurting, but White is alive unless I can’t get the bleeding to stop. A few healing prayers later, White is no longer bleeding, and I am more able to move without fear of losing innards or tearing muscle more, but we are in no shape to move onwards. Using a divine stretcher we move to the nearest shelter, two lone trees, where we can heal and take care and keep dry.

I think it might be time for a marker on this man. He is a good companion. He has secrets, I think, and his grasp of our language makes him sound childish, but he is not a child. He has been studying magic even though his teacher really wasn’t teaching him. I think, when we can, we should seek out someone who might be able to help him learn to control his “wild” skills. He is comfortable. I’m not sure anyone I know so little should feel so comfortable, but I’m not going to complain. It is nice to have a companion that doesn’t look at you sideways, or have to look up to meet your gaze. I miss Akio… Killing him was a miserable deed…. but it had to be done. White is not Akio, which is a good thing, but he is basically good, basically decent, and he has clean habits and smells like a man.

A guard troop came by late in the day, after I detailed the tiger attack they took off after the creature. I am not thrilled to give my hard earned kill to them, but right now I hurt so much I don’t care… besides, White is awake now, and needs more care. Tomorrow will be soon enough to think about moving.

Sun Rider grant us a quiet night so we may honor you again come the dawn.

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An Undertaking begins
** GM Update **

14th day of the Moon of the Snake,Year of the Dog, Star of the Cock

During this trip, they spend another night at the Sign of the Golden Swan, and then during their journey they spend time at the Rice estates and tea plantations along the Tea Road, keeping out of the rain and sharing some of thier goods, and gathering news of recent disapearances. Then, after leaving the Tayzu plantation enroute to the Nuri rice estate they are attacked by a tiger!

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Affirmation
Nakamura

The temple was quiet and the Leaders there were glad to see me once again. We talked quietly for a while of the news of the day. At dusk I gladly stood guardian for services. The turnout was small, to be honest the temple is small, but the service was heartfelt and moving, leaving me feeling calm and ready for meditation. Once the devout had left and the Leaders retired to their kitchen I settled myself before the altar, knees warm against the packed earth of the floor, hammer braced before me, its cool metal head comfortable beneath my palms. Prayers rose to my lips and I willingly gave myself over to my Father.

… in the darkness I saw myself kneeling at prayer, my hands cupped before me. As I open my hands the sun rises from within them illuminating stone walls that glitter and sparkle in the light. The sun continues to rise straight through the stone, leaving the sparkling glitter behind to dazzle my eyes in the dark… from somewhere near a hammer rings out on stone… and the sun is peeking through the high set dawn window…

Left suffused with warmth, well being and a certainty that heading back to the dawn caves is the right course for me I stand guardian over the dawn service. I have always felt a calling towards the people of my country, and now I feel a calling to help the people who are being stolen.

Resupplied, we are on the road back to the Dawn Caves, no escort, no reinforcements, but we are doing something. This Hammer is content.

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