The Darker Secrets of the Shadowlands
in Legend of the Five Rings
“When you know only laughter, my killing disturbs you.
When you know only killing, my laughter disturbs you.
Such a pity, to be afraid of doing two things at once.”
Chaos, that is the Shadowlands. An unmeasurable swath of tarnished soil, stinking black rains and creatures that follow no laws of nature but their own. There is no ecology of Hell. There is no metaphysical logic to the element of Corruption. It takes the rules of the Celestial Order and crushes them beneath its game-balance-destroying heel.
“Uh-huh,” says the Crab player. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Legend of the Five Rings has an ever-growing number of supplements and adventures involving the Shadowlands. But after a few nights of play, both players and characters will inevitably get used to the printed ideas and get their own, dangerous ones. Sooner or later, you start hearing statements like these:
“Now that the Hida have beaten and chained this akutsukai, we’re gonna break him down with Command the Mind over the next week. Tell me why Tsume betrayed his Clan.”
“Hey, this Echoes of a Breeze spell is nifty. I’m going on a suicide recon mission to the Festering Pit with it to tell the Crab army exactly what I see. My Yogo shugenja buddy covering me, he’s got Silent Waters and Sacred Ground so he can get home whenever he wants. What do we find?”
“Great Fu Leng, our entire party worships you with our heart and soul, and I bring you this sacrifice of my first-born child. Grant us the ability to Carve the Crimson Road, and we shall live with you in the dark recesses of the earth.”
While usually L5R reserves its shades of gray and depth of character to the living humans of the various Clans, eventually the skeletal legions of the damned must be, pardon the pun, fleshed out. This article is here to expand the information on the upper hierarchy of the Shadowlands so that a gamemaster might plot the politics of that place as thoroughly as any other section of Rokugan. After all, one never knows how far players will go.
THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE WRITTEN
To understand the politics of the Festering Pit, one must understand the hierarchy directly beneath the Evil One himself, which creates a conundrum. Fu Leng and the Pit in which he dwells have little material published about them, begging for them to be fleshed out. But leaving them dark and unknown is only proper for storytelling purposes.
Fu Leng is no ordinary villain, but the Dark God of Rokugan, which is something one must use carefully and in a consistent manner. Whenever one defines a god, one defines the upper limits of the campaign world. If you show the PCs a god making a bad decision, it means gods are not omniscient. If the characters discover Fu Leng has a throne room, it means he’s not literally pinned beneath miles of earth and causing earthquakes whenever he twitches in pain. Thus, unless the gamemaster is very careful with what details she leaves vague and what details she shows, giving Fu Leng a description, motivation, or even codifying his plans runs the risk of cheapening him. By extension, this cheapens the campaign.
Thus, this article (which is not official material in any case) will not focus on what physical form Fu Leng takes to enforce his will. If you want to visualize a slightly-larger- than-man-size samurai, built with the enormous muscles of an action figure, giving orders in a voice like James Earl Jones, that image will serve. If you want to imagine he does not speak, but only commands his prey in a telepathic boom that cannot be disobeyed, I couldn’t condemn you. It’s entirely possible the Pit ends in the darkest hallway imaginable, in which one realizes that the far wall is a being not quite in this dimension but the air around it is so saturated by his Corruption one cannot actually see because physical constants like the speed of light fail to function. One step further in this estimation, and we can picture a force of absolute chaos, a vortex down in the soul-stuff of Jigoku that only takes human form once in a thousand years, when it must die as destiny decrees. No matter the choice, what the player characters will see are the effects of his presence.
Fu Leng’s ruling style is based on simple principles. First, he wishes to be mysterious and unfathomable to his underlings. When role-playing him, speak rarely and tersely. Without a doubt, his voice always ends the conversation. He’s also a mind-reader, so do not ask questions except to cause a reaction in the petitioner.
While he needs to grant supernatural abilities to his servants, he is well aware his blessing is used for political moves among them, and he can make them more dependent on him by withholding information and magical power. Those who disobey meet ends either instantly or when they least expect it, reinforcing Fu Leng’s image as all-seeing and omnipotent. Again, reading minds cuts down on a lot of the guesswork of when to spare an underling and when to kill him.
Fu Leng is committed to doing whatever it takes to destroy Rokugan, which includes the use of spies and agents ignorant of his long-range plans. This breeds resentment among his servants, but he perpetrates the rumor that the upper hierarchy are free and know the truth of his master plans. Eager to listen to the voice of authorities who claim to know the great secrets, the sentient creatures toady to his left and right hands: the akutenshi, who were formed as humans within the Celestial Order; and the oni lords, who never were.
The creation of the “evil angels” was quite a trick of metaphysics on the Dark Lord’s part. No matter how hard he tries, Fu Leng cannot create the Children of the Sun and Moon. He can get zombies, fields of animated hair and talking fountains of blood, but Corruption cannot create purity, and thus fashioning a new human soul is impossible.
So he subverted the process.
The normal process of reincarnation works like this: a human soul, when it dies, crosses the bridge to Jigoku and is washed clean of its memories in the enormous supply of raw soul-stuff that flows there. (Think of it like washing your shirt in the ocean.) It stews there — for any length of time from an instant to a thousand years — and is re-born as a living thing according to its sins. Those who were inappropriate to their duty become blades of grass, ants, and animals; positions in which perfection is easy and mindless. Only a particularly good or martial spirit that has honored its ancestors becomes a samurai, since samurai have the task of dealing with very complex decisions and deeds that are difficult to let go.
To create an akutenshi, Fu Leng must wait until the Sun and Moon aren’t looking — in other words, an eclipse. In that time, he makes a tiny rent in a martial soul and leaves it. Largely, this is harmless and undetectable, which it had better be, because the Sun and Moon will be watching through most of the soul’s life. The torn souls get born, live, and die. A rare few will, during these lives, make their way into the Shadowlands, where fewer yet are captured and subjected to the second stage of the process: an infusion of Fu Leng’s blood that makes them akutsukai.
This blood serves as a detector for the rent in the soul. If the soul has even a small tear, it widens — over an hour, a month, or hundreds of years — until the akutsukai is ready to give birth to its new form.
At this time, Fu Leng calls its servant down to the Festering Pit, down long tunnels and behind many doors. Some rumors say there is a test of cruelty and dedication; others say the process is test enough. Fu Leng then rends the soul into two pieces and impregnates one half with his seed. This half of the soul is used as the incubator for the growing akutenshi: both halves are then cast together into a hole containing Nothing.
This hole has no light or sound and is anathema to all things, even spiritual ones. In this state of existential vacuum, the torn soul-halves, bereft of the naturally occurring yet insubstantial Void elements, have a natural inclination to survive and continue on in the Celestial Order. Yet in doing so, the stronger half, the one with Fu Leng’s seed, must take nourishment from the only substance around: its weaker identical twin. By digesting half of its old soul in order to survive, the new creation has pledged itself to Fu Leng on an existential level. The stronger soul-half becomes the gastrointestinal tract of the new akutenshi, capable of consuming others to give them the agony it once endured. Since all other mass in an akutenshi’s body is formed of elements that are thoroughly infused with the element of Corruption, the resulting form is quite malleable. Some resemble the misshapen or skeletal akutsukai. Others’ true forms are transcendental blurs. Many can even loose themselves of the material world (the “five elements’ prison” as they refer to it) in order to change shapes at will.
At this point, Fu Leng pins the soul-tract on the gateway between Jigoku and Nothing, trying to add bits of each world to its most durable portion — the divine seed. If the connection takes root, as it often does, the forming akutenshi gains the ability known as the Body of Damned Time. This ability allows them to re-establish a tiny portion of the dimensional gateway no matter their spatial location, creating a supernatural hole into the place that has nothing, not even chronological inertia. Beings with a soul that look on the gate find their spirit and flesh devastated. (It should be noted that while akutsukai and oni suffer no physical penalties for aging, the power is still useful for disciplining other evil creatures — exposing one’s soul to the Pit is a tiny taste of the self-digestion experience that no one wants to go through.)
An akutenshi often takes years exploring its new-found powers. Corruption is an element as endlessly fascinating and subtle as Void, yet it is far more easy to manipulate. It is not uncommon for the Shadowlands to be host to bizarre weather phenomena such as rains of acid or enamel, caused by an young akutenshi flying above the clouds, experimenting with corrupting the water before it condenses and falls. The personal journals of Moto Tsume detail his fascination with his new style of movement, which he noticed did not operate under normal gravity. Instead, he corrupted the air wherever his mind directed, and wherever the elements broke apart, he simply “fell” into place.
This sojurn often takes the akutenshi to unknown places such as the Ivory Kingdoms, the depths of Jigoku, the bottom of the ocean, or into Rokugan itself. When the akutenshi returns (and not all have), it typically establishes a fiefdom over lesser creatures through its Command the Taint power. Few of them actually dominate the akutsukai, since the majority of the akutsukai are Moto and are under the thrall of their fallen daimyo.
The akutenshi’s primary court is held in a place called Keen Glass Palace, a fortress of black rock with an uncomfortable surprise. The meeting rooms inside are made with magically corrugated obsidian, providing jagged edges that cut into the feet of normally invulnerable oni and akutsukai. The flying akutenshi, of course, have no such difficulty, and it is a supreme test of loyalty for lesser Shadowlands creatures to kneel on the floors of Keen Glass each day, bony knees crisscrossed with dozens of tiny cuts, praying for the time when they too might fly.
Moto Tsume (Glory 8.9)
“Soon, you will see as I do.”
Directly commanding nearly half of the akutsukai, Moto Tsume is undoubtedly one of the most respected personalities in the Shadowlands. Tsume’s capabilities are well-proven against the Crab: though he has yet to bring down the Wall, over the last few centuries he has killed two Kuni family daimyo and one each from the Yasuki, Hida, Kaiu and Hiruma. He is a leader with a vision, but he needs extremely competent minions directly under him — more competent than they are now.
Tsume and his legions are painfully aware that even if the Kaiu Wall was breached and all of the akutsukai solidified under his command, the combined forces of any three clans could turn him back if brought under a crafty leader. It is his burden to ensure that when he marches on Rokugan, this will not come to pass. And with his unaging perspective, his plans of the last fifty years are beginning to bear fruit.
The Crab, he has discovered, are surprisingly crafty, resilient, and heavily experienced in the art of war. They have learned not to charge, not to commit, to trap and evade and show no mercy. But even they are too busy to suspect a multigenerational plan of attack. The easiest way to destroy a Crab daimyo is to give him a weak father.
In other words, whenever Tsume’s troops maim Crabs so they cannot serve on the Wall, destroy family histories and swords, or drive a bushi mad, it is not one Crab that suffers, but the entire family. The next generation will be abused, dishonored, and less prepared, and if the Crab lose face among other Clans as a result, their supply lines will be that much sparser. Meanwhile, the abused Crabs who become bitter and violent fall prey to temptation, and the thoroughly tortured have been known to run into the Shadowlands to commit suicide.
This is why Tsume keeps at least two Moto patrols sweeping south of the Kuni Wastes. Riding single file to hide their numbers from the Hiruma, they find travelers, kill any whose heads are still full of bushido, and abduct whomever they overpower. Most of these captives die of starvation in the Moto camps scattered about the shifting lands; those who last long enough to become akutsukai are trained by one of four Moto sensei. Tsume will soon be choosing among these recruits to form the cadre of lieutenants he will one day need.
Tsume’s voice is one of the most orthodox in the Palace of Keen Glass, and those who serve Tsume directly will find themselves furthering the war against the Crab on a daily basis. They will hunt and kill Hiruma scouts, steal accurate schedules and maps of the Kaiu wall’s traps, rescue dying maho-bujin who can’t handle their own Taint, and a great deal of gathering and training oni. It is a trade secret of the Shadowlands that the fell creatures of darkness that make up the shock troops in every onrushing horde do not assemble at a moment’s notice. An akutsukai had to find every one of those beings, draft it, train it, and send it out to die.
Tsume’s Endless Search (Shadowlands Lore TN: 45)
Tsume has flown into rages and killed underlings beforewhat evil lord hasn’t?but some of his rivals try to provoke such events. Those who have been most successful at it include the ones who know the story of why Tsume turned to Fu Leng.
It was revenge.
The question that tormented Tsume throughout his mortal life was whether or not he would ever be better than the noble Iuchi Shuchia. Shuchia claimed to walk with the elements and Fortunes of whatever land the Unicorn traveled, and debated with Tsume on the measure of life. They got into a raging debate: Tsume said the actions of a bushi were preferable, for through skill at arms, he would come to be honored by his descendants. Shuchia said the way of the shugenja was preferable: later generations would get lazy and forget their ancestors. And being a shugenja allowed men to command the ancestors and Fortunes themselves, so what kind of goal was that?
This enraged Tsume, and he set about to prove Shuchia wrong by living a more virtuous life. But it was Shuchia who profited. Tsume became the Moto daimyo in a number of years, and Shuchia soon ruled the Iuchi. Tsume was betrothed to Iuchi Liu Xiu, a cousin of Shuchia’s, at the time when the Unicorn began their ride into the Shadowlands, and the Iuchi and Moto needed to be closely knit.
Tsume accepted her, only to discover after the marriage was made that Liu Xiu suffered from a strange sickness. Food had an unusual effect on her; at times it would perk her up, at others it would make her nearly comatose. Unsure how to deal with a diabetic bride and concerned for her health, Tsume was soon in the uncomfortable position of asking Shuchia to visit his wife on almost a daily basis to treat her ills with shugenja magic.
The most humiliating moment came when Liu Xiu asked to be treated alone, without benefit of Tsume’s relatives in the room. Tsume was no fool and suspected Shuchia and Liu were attracted to one another. He banned them from meeting, and trusted that would be enforced when he was off fighting the Shadowlands.
It was not to be. Shuchia, with magical assistance, stole into Tsume’s tent, and carried out some semblance of an affair. But it was a matter of hours before word spread, and Tsume challenged Shuchia to a duel. Because the war against the Shadowlands could afford the death of neither daimyo, the Shinjo daimyo ordered the truth of the matter to be settled by first blood. Tsume arrogantly said the Iuchi could call upon whatever Fortunes he liked, and the two of them crossed swords.
Riding out to fight the armies of hell knowing that only shame and an eternal lie would come of his return, Tsume swore he would outlive Shuchia, and see him forgotten. When he was captured and dragged before the Dark Brother, he knew he had to return to the Unicorn and see Shuchia ground into dust, his line extinguished.
Fu Leng has fulfilled his end of the bargain: Tsume has watched the memory of the Iuchi come and go while Tsume’s infamy will fade from Rokugan very slowly indeed. But Tsume needs more; he will find the body that houses Shuchia’s soul, an ignorant body with Unicorn blood somewhere in its ancestry.
This body will be a samurai. It will not know his true origin, but Tsume will, and when he has that man’s soul in his skeletal hands, he will tell its story, and then he will wrest out that unfortunate soul and consume it. That night will be soon, now. Tsume has found Liu Xiu, and where she is, Shuchia will be drawn.
Iuchi Liu Xiu was in the body of a young man named Karasu.
Doji Nashiko (Glory 8.5)
“Of course a Crane’s life is art, my dear, but each one takes up so much wall space.”
The pale princess of the Shadowlands has many faces, most of which are known in Keen Glass Palace. While the akutsukai revere the Demon Bride (see below) as the queen of the court, Nashiko is a whirlwind of activity. Her Doji training in the favor system has given her so many allies it is impossible to dislodge her or even annoy her without incurring the wrath of at least two major oni and an akutsukai. This extends into the countless Advantages she has scored by the Dancing with Demons spell, and her lavish celebrations are astoundingly popular amongst the akutsukai set.
Having no need to eat, the average akutsukai practically begs for entertainment, the more unusual the better, and Nashiko’s coterie are rarely at a loss for creativity the way many other Shadowlands denizens are. As a result, the sweetbreads and circuses she provides are often the only ones worth watching. Her servants roam the Shadowlands and Rokugan, searching for ephemera such as Crane children who have the right heft for puppet shows, the first blossoms of spring roses to be the only weapon of a Crab captive, and the ever-popular maho-bujin making his Taint-addled debut.
Nashiko keeps few akutsukai, having acquired only a handful over the years that have not become akutenshi of their own. Her new vassals will find their un-lives two parts political maneuvering and one part demented fairy tale as she names and dresses them according to her whims. They will ride into the courts of the Shadowlands and the Dragonlands with equal aplomb, terrifying other akutenshi with their willingness to lay down their lives for an object as small as a copper coin.
Such extreme deeds come largely out of self-preservation. Rumor has it Nashiko’s neuroses have caused her to kill and devour more than one of her fellows, and those who know her would not be surprised.
Late at night, some demons say, she will retire to a palace that floats on dark clouds over the Festering Pit. Most often, she goes alone; but sometimes, a servant or an unfortunate, abducted mortal accompanies her, never to be seen again.
From outside Nashiko’s estate, anyone listening can hear at least two voices speaking each night until dawn. No matter what visitor Nashiko brings with her, one voice is always an older man, speaking in archaic, courtly Rokugani. The second voice is that of an adolescent girl. Sometimes the first voice is kind, sometimes terrified, sometimes commanding, but the young girl’s shrieks always include the same cry.
It’s not proper.
No one is entirely certain what happens in the final hours of those who go to the castle on the cloud. Not because Fu Leng’s brood lack for imagination, but because they know Nashiko likes to change shapes.
Not just her own.
Nashiko’s Eyes (Shadowlands Lore TN 30)
Only a handful of Nashiko’s servants have ever spoken of her flaw out loud over the centuries, let alone survived to debate the particulars of it. Why, one asks, would a shape-changing creature choose to keep her flawed, color-blind eyes?
One rumor suggests she insists on keeping her mortal eyes just as they were, for they were the one feature that needed no modification in her transformation from a plain mortal to an infernal beauty. The truth is much more humbling: Fu Leng, in his cruelty, kept this smallest of things from her, so that she would always be humbled in his presence. Nashiko cannot distinguish red or green colors, but yellow and the blue of her Doji eyes come in clearly.
If some enterprising creature were to find a way to grant Nashiko full-spectrum sight, he would have a dangerous ally indeed.
Hida Kagai (Glory 8.0)
“Proper breeding could correct your flaws. The question is, what to breed you to?”
Kagai pre-dates the Moto defection, and he is hardly shy about declaring it. Once a spindly, anemic Hida who was bullied and abused by his sensei, he embraced the path of the maho-tsukai and killed his parents before fleeing south. Amazingly, he captured the first oni who tried to kill him and forced it to take him to the Pit, and it was not long before he rose again on steps of air.
The Dark Lord’s favor comes and goes with the wind, and no one finds it more fickle than Kagai. While shapechanging eliminated his problems in stature, without the knowledge of the court that Nashiko had or the superhuman intelligence of Oni no Chi, he found himself bullied again. Then Tsume eclipsed him with his spectacular defection, and Kagai was reduced to being just another demon dedicating his un-life to the destruction of the Crab.
So Kagai has made himself useful in three ways: playing devil’s advocate (in the figurative sense, since the literal is pretty obvious), brokering information, and creating useful oni.
His debating skills earn him many enemies, but also allow him to serve as a mouth for those beings who are not in the same league as Tsume or Nashiko. He works only for his own self-interest, of course, but he is more accessible than most akutenshi, and thus the voices of the weaker Shadowlands creatures often speak through him.
Kagai’s information network foremostly comes through a unique spell he developed allowing Corrupted water to conduct his ability to Sense Purity. Lairing at the south end of the River of the Dark Moon, he can feel nearly any Rokugani that touches its surface, and thus can prepare a trap himself or send an akutsukai to sell his information of troop movements to another great being. Typically, anything that falls into the river is his prey, and no few oni have been included on the menu. This has earned him the moniker “Hundred Eyes of the River.”
At the bottom of one particular whirlpool, Kagai gives birth to his wide selection of demons. He has garbage-eating oni, burrowing oni, tiny maggot-like oni that can remove Taint temporarily for experimentation, and best of all, dozens of loyal oni with herd mentalities who can speak well on his behalf. His akutsukai are frequently seen transporting some uncooperative beast or other to Keen Glass Palace in order to support him. The others are rarely seen at all — the akutsukai, practiced as they are in maho and stealth, are information-gatherers and coup-stoppers by necessity, and spy on other Shadowlands denizens more often than the Crab.
Kagai’s Servitors (Lore TN: 25)
Kagai grows tortoise-like oni in pods at the bottom of the River of the Dark Moon. Each of these have a multitude of uses for creatures in the Shadowlands. Gifted with a rocklike hide and twelve or sixteen legs that can burrow through earth, the tortoise-oni serve most often as tunnel-diggers or war elephants.
Oni no Ashikame
*TN to Be Hit:* 20
*Damage:* 8k4 bite, 6k2 kick
*Wounds:* 35:-1; 55:-2, 75:-3; 110: Dead
*Multiple Legs:* With its multitude of legs, the Ashikame cannot be knocked down. It may stand on as few as four legs and use the others for defense. In doing so, it lowers its Initiative result to 1 and its TN to Be Hit to 15, but upon being hit by a melee weapon, the Ashikame may kick the weapon’s wielder simultaneous with being hit, without having to roll for the strike. In the case of polearms, the Ashikame directs its attack at the weapon and may break it: consider a damage result of 12 or higher enough to snap a wooden-hafted weapon.
*Shadowlands Taint:* 7
*TN to Be Hit:* 35 (30 in human form)
*Lore TN:* 30
*Advantages:* Magic Resistance (3 levels, +15 TN),
*School Rank:* Maho-Bujin rank 5, Hida Bushi rank 2 (Mountain Does Not Move may be activated by taking 3 Wounds)
*Powers:* Chitinous Armor (-8 to Wounds received), Claws, Command the Taint, Death Never Stops, Fear (4), Sense Purity, Shapechanging, Spellcasting, Soul Drinking.
*Spells:* Bo of Water, Castle of Water, Master of the Rolling River, Reflective Pool, Summon Garegoso no Bakemono, Tomb of Earth, Touch of Death, Torrential Rain
*Skills:* Archery 3, Athletics 4, Battle 4, Commerce 4, Courtier 3, Defense 5, Etiquette 4, Hand-to-Hand (Kobo) 4, Heraldry 3, History 5, Hunting 4, Kenjutsu 5, Manipulation 3, Nofujutsu 5, Lore: Crab Clan 4, Lore: Maho-Tsukai 5, Lore: Shadowlands 5, Poison 3, Siege 3, Sincerity 1, Subojutsu 5, Stealth 4, Sumai 5, Torture 5, Yarijutsu 4.
*Weapons:* Kagai’s usual form while living underwater is that of a sharklike monster with a disproportionately large jaw and three muscular arms ending in hooked claws where the first fins would normally appear. He uses these arms to stabilize himself or anchor himself at the bottom of the Shadowlands’ rivers. In this form, his bite does 10k4 damage, and the claws, 9k2. (Kagai cannot use Hida bushi techniques in this form.) In human form, such as when he appears at Keen Glass Palace, Kagai uses an enormous weapon that is effectively a double-headed, obsidian-studded tetsubo (Str +0k4, -5 to target’s armor, plus Way of the Crab bonuses).
Kakon (Glory 8.8)
“Give and you shall have.”
Kakon, Master of the Gates, is one of the oldest Shadowlands beings, and has little truck with politics. No one is sure of his former family, or indeed, if he was of samurai birth at all. The akutenshi whisper that he might once have been a primal Fortune of the earth, but being worshipped by humans is likely just a side effect of his activities.
Kakon is convinced that there are infinite Jigoku realms, deep beneath the earth where the Sun and Moon cannot see. He and his servants have both dug and discovered tunnels leading far under Rokugan, and have expanded them for centuries. Once in a while, a Shadowlands raiding party will use these passages to burst out of the ground somewhere in the lands of the Great Clans, and slaughter villagers or exact tribute from them as they see fit.
But creatures of the Shadowlands do not roam north at their whim. Kakon controls the best access to the Emperor’s lands other than through the Kaiu Wall, and he is no more cooperative than the crankiest Crab. He, too, has patrols to kill any stray creatures and obsidian dust on the spikes of his gruesome pit traps. Any travelers in his tunnels that do not swear fealty to him will typically be met by his bushi, taken down to a pulsating shrine that allows him to work his will upon the petitioner, and there forced to pay the price.
Kakon rarely asks for fees he wants to use; every now and then he will be pleased with mortal prisoners, but more often, he wants signals of his domination over other beings. Past akutsukai have been asked to give up their laughter, their ability to forget, or their choice of deaths. One deranged maho-bujin was recently found wandering near the Tunnels to the Center of the World, wearing a kimono of an old cut, embroidered with the ancient mon of the Hiruma. Before his demise, he said he had been asked to give up his time.
Why Kakon is allowed to charge these fees and does not let the Horde pour into Rokugan is unclear. Fu Leng is ominously silent on Kakon’s role in his plan. Some whisper that Kakon obstructs the other akutenshi because to do so gives the illusion that the Dark One cannot enter Rokugan whenever he pleases; others, that he has been accorded such respect he is left alone. Interrogating his servants reveals a third possibility — that in his hubris, he attempted to dig deeper than the Festering Pit. Whether this is to free Fu Leng from beneath or simply stew in his own Corruption long enough to become his own god, he has unfortunately created such a maze of supernatural madness that neither he nor anyone seeking him has ever come out.
This leaves most of his work to be done by his upper echelons of akutsukai, who only receive thought-messages from the deepest of pits. They are his sole representatives in court, and are uniquely situated to act in his name. But abusing his reputation brings with it strange revenge — many a disloyal servant has been found suddenly unable to speak as an earthquake wracks the room, or fading away to nothingness as his Earth leaves his body. And there are rumors of something that walks the tunnels, parting the rock before it like water, never fully in this world, but leaving powdered bones in its wake. Messages scar the walls behind it, where the Sun and Moon never see.
Age Is Location.
*Shadowlands Taint:* 10
*TN to Be Hit* 30
*Lore TN:* 40
*School Rank:* Maho-bujin 5, Hida Bushi rank 5.
*Advantages:* Blackmail (9 points), Great Destiny (Reach Center of Earth), Heartless, Way of the Land (all 8 including Shadowlands)
*Disadvantages:* Compulsion: Tunneling
*Powers:* Body of Damned Time, Calligraphy of Thought, Command the Taint, Eyes of Hell, Invisibility, Shapechanging, Soul Drinking, Spellcasting
*Spells:* All Earth, Fire and Water spells in the basic rules innate, Secrets on the Wind, Summon Garegoso no Bakemono, Touch of Death, Truth is a Scourge, Ward of the Eighth Kami (all innate).
*Skills:* Kakon’s fabulous age affords him all Bugei skills at 5 and all others at 4. He is considered to have Lore: Shadowlands and Lore: Maho-Tsukai at 6.
The Labyrinth’s Gates
By necessity, for a tunnel beneath the Kaiu Wall to be operable as an invasion point, it must burrow deeper than the Kaiu engineers ever dig, and terminate in some spot far from the Wall where the Hiruma scouts cannot find it. Besides being cramped, claustrophobic, and completely dark, most tunnels have discouraging surprises for the would-be traveler. Trying to find such a tunnel requires a Shadowlands Lore test, TN 20. Each Raise may be used to add 1 to the roll for deterrents.
1 – Guarded (sentinel creatures)
2 – Guarded (inhabitant creatures)
3 – Guarded (traps)
4 – Labyrinth (Intelligence + Engineering, TN 15, to navigate)
5 – Buried (Sand)
6 – Buried (Boulders pushed to block entrance)
7 – Sealed with a gate
8 – Underwater
9 – Concealed (Perception + Investigation, TN 15 to spot)
10+ – None (possibly crowded with nezumi or goblins)
Moto Juksha (Glory 7.0)
“Servitude is not a task, but a path.”
At the bottom of the Black Finger River is Moto Jukosha, whose rivalry with Hida Kagai for the territory betrays his madness. When the Moto rode into the Shadowlands, Jukosha commanded the hindmost squad, told by Tsume’s lieutenant to stay by the river and guard their escape if something went wrong.
Tsume returned in skeletal form, captured Jukosha, and subjected him to unparalleled tortures. In the months of torment, Jukosha’s mind was substantially altered, and he came to believe that the being flaying him could not possibly be the true Tsume. After his forcible transformation to an akutsukai, Jukosha still denied that Tsume was his lord, and fled into the Shadowlands to tear open the Forgotten Tomb of Fu Leng and rescue the true Tsume. He emerged as a warped, newly powerful being, a sign of the Dark Lord’s favor.
There was some debate over Jukosha’s fate at Keen Glass — while it was dangerous to have a being with the powers of an akutenshi be hostile to the commander of the Dark Lord’s legions, his first action was to head back to the Black Finger River and fulfill his original mission: guarding it for Tsume’s escape. Several of the Dark Moto approached him in the illusory guise of living samurai, and what they found was the oddest story the Shadowlands has ever known.
While Moto Jukosha is aware that he has been infected with “a small level” of Shadowlands Taint, he still believes that some day soon, the true Moto Tsume will ride out of the Shadowlands with the Moto White Guard behind him, and on that day, they will be thankful for Jukosha’s service in guarding their escape route. This fantasy has such a hold over Jukosha that he does not register the passing of years or the unlikeliness that Tsume could possibly emerge Untainted. He simply adds another layer to his story of how Tsume must have tricked the Dark God into keeping him alive for all this time. On the day of reckoning, Jukosha believes his messianic Tsume will return and will thank Jukosha for defending the Black Finger River from the dangers of Shadowlands creatures as well as thousands of other Clan samurai who have roamed near the river and might have threatened the army’s rear.
While he has waited for his dream to be fulfilled, Jukosha has recognized the day-to-day necessities of dealing with the Fallen, and in the last two centuries, he has become a mid-range warlord of the Shadowlands. Jukosha’s servants, like Kakon’s, carry his will into court, but he has been known to leave his post in the hands of trusted associates to attend key functions, make alliances, or devastate the Crab. His akutsukai are held to a high standard of martial chivalry that actually makes them reliable mercenaries within Shadowlands factions, and this has granted them a reputation and a base of power.
Though more powerful creatures in the Shadowlands taunt Jukosha, he draws strength from his madness, and more than one demon has been crushed by his obsidian-studded tetsubo. Though there have been many attempts to fool him with look-alike Tsumes, his Calligraphy of Thought soon reveals the truth, and the real Tsume isn’t interested in playing games with him.
Jukosha usually takes the form of a giant nautilus with a human torso at the center of its many tentacles. On the underside of each tentacle are rows of human teeth; the diamond-shaped pads of the two longest tentacles have human heads forming beneath them; these heads are not capable of speech, but can howl and have an annoying bite. When attending court at Keen Glass, Juksha takes human form and wears the ancient armor of his Clan.
*Shadowlands Taint:* 6
*TN to Be Hit* 25 (35)
*Lore TN:* 25
*School Rank:* Maho-Bujin 4
*Advantages:* Heart of Vengeance (Shadowlands), Nemuranai (Kinkaku)
*Disadvantages:* Utterly Mad (5 points)
*Powers:* Calligraphy of Thought, Command the Taint, Eyes of Hell, Multiple Arms, Fear, Flight, Invisibility, Shapechanging; tentacle attack skill 8k5, damage 6k3.
*Skills:* Archery 4, Athletics 4, Battle 3, Courtier 3, Defense 4, Etiquette 2, Hand-to-Hand 3, History 4, Horsemanship 4, Hunting 4, Iaijutsu 4, Kenjutsu 5, Lore: Shadowlands 4, Lore: Maho-Tsukai 3, Subojutsu 5, Sumai 3, Torture 3.
Kinkaku (“Faithful Service,” Shadowlands Lore TN 35)
Jukosha’s human torso wears an ancient suit of heavy armor, blackened by Tainted fire but no less effective from the ordeal. Indeed, Kinkaku renders its wearer proof against the elements — besides maintaining a comfortable interior temperature, damaging shugenja magic simply does not harm the wearer in the least. (Non-damaging spells, such as being blinded by Amaterasu’s Anger, function normally.) This property only applies to the whole suit — it cannot be split up and retain its powers. The armor’s enchantment does not work in direct sunlight (normal or magical).
*Yaeko* *(Glory 6.5)*
A century and a half ago, Yaeko was the sort of disturbed young samurai-ko that peasants fear: a Moto with some bushi training, a good deal of social rejection, and an opium habit. It was not long before her parents demanded she atone for her crimes by making a sojurn into the Shadowlands, and it was there she survived until the Taint made her too sick to move. An akutsukai dragged her to Nashiko, who decided to play a game.
In the court of Keen Glass, Nashiko auctioned off Yaeko to the most creative bidder. Tsume won, and proceeded to eat her soul — but just the portion that corresponded to her stomach. He managed her transformation to an akutsukai in public, arranged for her release on the other side of the Wall, and watched her fall upon her family, filled with an insane spiritual hunger. Some would say Yaeko has had it ever since.
In turns, Yaeko was taken in by Tsume and Nashiko, who saw her as little threat. She was too devout, too much the Dark God’s plaything, and even when she had the power of the akutenshi, she thought only of better ways to serve Him. The Dark God granted her wish when she brought him a sacrifice of an entire Crab battalion, but soon the demon aristocracy grew tired of her unholier-than-thou style and it was agreed she would be put on assignment in Rokugan.
Such is the life of the loyal fiend: you spend more than fifty years of work crafting a persona of station, another two decades pretending to be your own child, another two to gain the trust necessary to associate with the Imperial Guard, and once your corruption has begun, some wide-eyed, first-rank Akodo writes a letter.
The letter (printed in Bearers of Jade) voiced the Akodo’s suspicions to Kuni Norichika, the sensei of the Kuni Witch Hunter dojo. He declared it an alert and chose the ronin Seikansha as his messenger to Isawa Tadaka. When the elderly woman “Yaeko,” who had been corrupting a small temple association, heard that both the Master of Earth and the Kuni Witch Hunters were coming to personally scour Otosan Uchi, she vanished. It galled her to flee, but better to let them think she had spread garden-variety Taint than know how close the akutenshi had come. Now Yaeko sleeps in a black cocoon, meditating upon her failure, and her servants leave their messages by the grove of twisted trees from which she hangs.
Yaeko has spent too much time abroad to have more than a few elderly and loyal servants; her staff as of this year consist mostly of young tsukai and bujin from a trio of maho cells, banded together for the first time and transplanted to the Shadowlands.
Her “Consume Chi” power (omitted from the listing of powers in Bearers of Jade… our apologies) reflects this: the power allows an akutenshi to mimic the School Techniques of those whose flesh it has eaten. Techniques requiring Void are activated by taking Wound points equal to the technique’s School Rank +1. The akutenshi retains this ability for the next twenty-four hours, and may store a maximum number of stolen Techniques equal to its Earth. Shugenja elemental affinities may be stolen in this manner, but Techniques stolen from the same school are not cumulative.
THE ONI LORDS
Playing off against the akutenshi are the chaotic and unpredictable oni, who have never had the stabilizing influence of the Celestial Order. The closest they can get is to gain the name of a samurai, which forms a link to their soul, stabilizing the element of Corruption. Once they have done so, they can walk in this world without effort.
Fallen samurai are often recalcitrant to serve oni, for their inconsistency makes them dangerous lords. Some akutsukai theorize this comes from the sheer volume of corruption in an unstable body, and without a soul, an oni is doomed to fits of chaotic rages and an incapability to understand humans that inevitably proves their downfall. Whether or not this is true, the akutsukai have now given it the status of myth, and a disproportionate number of otherwise powerful and intelligent oni have been exempted from the inner councils due to excessive insanity and other-worldliness. The entire sub-species of the Oni no Satsujinko and Oni no Kommei are banned from such meetings.
Further, those oni who do rise to leadership positions rarely have much empathy for the common akutsukai. While the Dark Moto are hardly the sort to ask for group hugs, their commander must understand the importance of their traditions. Without their banners, their histories, and their rites before a battle, the akutsukai would be just another disorganized mob with a few evil tricks.
This is of great importance in their war with the Crab. Akutsukai commanders are a glory-seeking lot, and often believe that it is easier to get forgiveness than permission. When given orders from a demon they don’t respect, most will revert to their instincts and go with what feels right. While this keeps them focused on slaughtering the enemy and brings not a few of them to Fu Leng’s attention, it also tends to ruin political moves or subtle gambits for their lord. Not a few oni have lost battles solely because their arrogant lieutenants pushed the Crab back when they were meant to be led into a trap, or cut off their retreat only to accidentally drive them forward.
*Oni no Akuma* *(Glory 8.8, Lore TN 20, 15 for spawn)*
Oni no Akuma is the commander of the great legions of ogres, goblins and undead, and though they might seem less effective pound-for-pound than the Dark Moto, the undead knights can be quickly humbled by a horde of bodies immune to their special tricks. As such, Oni no Akuma is held in the highest esteem one can give a slavering creature that starts fires with its tongues. It has all the wealth the Shadowlands can grant — vast estates with basalt walls, rolling behemoth carts made of ogre bone pulled by a hundred zombie slaves, items carved from oni horn, an entire book-binding-in-human-skin business, kimonos woven of hell-spider silk, and the ever-popular oozing nutritious mucus from the caterpillar oni that can feed an entire city of goblins.
More importantly, Oni no Akuma gets respect from those that might try to unseat it. The Akuma sits on a throne of corrupted jade at Keen Glass: a dais large enough to fit it and three or four of its spawn on a lower level to intercept would-be assassins. This is important, for it spends much of its time birthing and raising spawn to try yet another attempt to take the nigh-impenetrable Kaiu Wall. Part of this involves wooing and intimidating each of the akutenshi or oni lords, keeping their favored servants hostage just as a Rokugani emperor might. Fortunately for Rokugan, oni and akutenshi are notoriously willing to sacrifice even their most cherished and powerful underlings if it can destroy a rival’s plans.
Oni no Akuma (Lord)
*Rolls When Attacking:* 7k7
*Rolls for Damage:* HTH 9k6, Burning Tongues 4k4
*TN to Be Hit:* 35
*Wounds Per Level:* 48: -1; 96: -2; 144: -3; 192: -4; 240: Dead
*Shugenja Rank:* 5
*Spells Available:* 10 Fire, 8 Earth, 6 Water, 4 Air
*Special Abilities:* Fear: 5, Invulnerability, Multiple Attacks (3 tongues, 2 claws), Fire Tongues that leave an additional 2 dice of damage each round until washed away by vinegar or alcohol.
Oni no Shikibu (Glory 8.5)
In the depths of the Shadowlands’ troll swamps are enormous piles of rotting, fetid wood, like enormous beaver dams. In the heart of the largest of these is the Oni no Shikibu lord, burrowed into its dark tunnels. The Shikibu lord is feared; perhaps not as directly as Oni no Akuma, but it is talked about in as a kind of bogeyman whenever it is not present, for its body-jumping abilities ensure that no one short of an akutenshi is ever quite sure if it is listening.
It commands legions of trolls, a few Dark Moto, and not a few zombies at any given time, and it is given to visiting Keen Glass Palace on frequent occasions, carried in an enormous litter flown in by four Oni no Sanru servants. Shikibu is an unparalleled intelligence and counterintelligence agent, and more than once it has caught Crab commandos slathered in rotting skins trying to pass for one of its own. Such events are always talked about for days afterward, for the Shikibu takes possession of such spies and marches them to the center of the court. There, it acts out a Jekyll-and-Hyde routine that always leaves the demons laughing, especially since the spy’s imminent death is the foremost subject of mockery.
Oni no Shikibu (Lord)
*Rolls When Attacking:* 4k4
*Rolls for Damage:* 7k3
*TN to Be Hit:* 30
*Wounds Per Level:* 16: -1; 48: -2; 100: Dead
*Special Abilities:* Fear 3, Invulnerability, Body Leaping (can take control of a body in 1-5 rounds; equivalent to subject’s Willpower, can only be killed in its true form, can only maintain spirit form for Willpower x5 rounds).
Kyoso no Oni (Glory 6.0)
Kyoso no Oni, as detailed in the Book of the Shadowlands, is a loner, and as such keeps no servants. It is feared for its combative nature and abilities, and little else.
Kyoso no Oni (Lord)
*Rolls When Attacking:* 7k5
*Rolls for Damage:* HTH: 4k2 Unholy Fire: 6k4 plus Void point loss
TN to Be Hit: 25
*Wounds* *per Level:* 24: -1; 48: -2, 120: Dead
*Shugenja Rank:* 4
*Spells Available:* 8 Earth, 8 Fire, 4 Water, 2 Air
*Special Abilities:* Fear 3, Invulnerability, Multiple Attacks (3/round) Unholy Fire (target makes Void roll, TN 20 to resist, or lose 2 points of Void)
Oni no Tsuburu (Glory 7.5, Lore TN 20, 15 for spawn)
In the barren wastes of the Shadowlands is an area crisscrossed by endless cart tracks and onikage hooves. Nothing grows here, for everything has long since been plucked away by the servants of Oni no Tsuburu. The black depths of a cave lead to the oni itself, nearly as much a prisoner as a lord of its servants.
Tsuburu’s flabby bulk is kept in a great pit at the bottom of twisting tunnels, sealed in by iron porticulli covered with tar paper, so the demon cannot see out to teleport and roam free. There, its servants throw in victims so that the Tsuburu can devour their souls and learn what they know. Of course, the Tsuburu usually demands as many fresh victims as it can before it doles out any scrap of useful information, and that is power politics in the Shadowlands.
Serving the noisome Tsuburu is the Shadowlands’ garbage detail: stinking, inglorious work often involving carting offal, dead flesh, or live victims to the pit, where the Tsuburu frequently requests its servants turn on one another and throw their compatriots into its jaws in return for information.
Oni no Tsuburu (Lord)
*Rolls When Attacking:* 2k2
*Rolls for Damage:* HTH 6k3, Teeth: 6k3; Stomach: 1k1
*TN to Be Hit:* 5
*Wounds Per Level:* 36: -1; 72: -2; 108: -3; 216: Dead
*Shugenja Rank:* 4
*Spells:* Call Upon the Wind, Command the Mind, Tempest of Air, Earthquake
*Special Abilities:* Fear: 5, Invulnerability, Teleportation if it ever can see beyond the door.
The Demon Bride of Fu Leng (Glory 9.5, Lore TN: 30)
When the Great Kami first fell to earth, it is said among the akutsukai that there was a wondrous woman, a jewel among mortals, who wished to marry a kami. Four were eligible at the time she arrived on the coast; Hida, Shiba, Bayushi and Hantei.
Now, these were the early days, before Hida’s duty was everything to him, and he fancied a wife like himself; resolute and strong. Determined to strengthen herself, the woman without a name called on the Fortunes to help her squeeze stones until she ground them into sand, but by the time she had learned such power, Hida was married.
She sought out Shiba, but he fancied a wife like himself, and the ability to grind rocks to sand was repellent to him. Resolving to become knowledgeable to win his love, she studied the ways of the Fortunes and the arts and trades, but of course by the time she was done, he too had married.
She sought out Bayushi with her knowledge, and knew that he would appreciate a crafty wife. Thus, she proposed a bargain. If she courted Hantei, she might glean his secrets from him, and if he promised not to marry until then, they would be wed and would rule together. Little did she know of the greatest virtue of the Scorpion — loyalty.
Bayushi told Hantei of her plan, and the Emperor exiled her. But on the lonely road to the Burning Sands, Bayushi took pity on this desperate mortal, for he knew the heart had reasons that suspended all others, and was flattered by her dedication.
“If you wish to marry a kami,” he said, “pay homage to the site where the last of us fell, away from the others. We have not found him, but he may still be alive. Search for him, and carry hope within you always.” And then, unaware of the evil he might wreak, Bayushi told her the name of the eighth kami, who is now called Fu Leng.
Newly brightened by his mercy, the woman without a name walked a great distance south for days and nights, until she found a pit of such blackness and corruption that surely it led into the realm of the dead. Still, she kept her hope with her always, and came close to the half-alive body of the Dark Brother. Near him were three skulls, of what origin she could not say.
“I love you,” she said, “and I will do whatever you wish, only marry me.”
“Do you know me?” he asked, and she replied with his name.
The Tarnished One was shocked. “I will marry you,” he said, “but you must never utter that name again.”
“Anything,” she agreed, and they were married.
To consecrate the first of their children, he took sweat from her brow, fluid from her inner places, and tears from her eyes. These he placed on the three skulls, and then he kissed her to draw out her breath. Her voice became the evil wind he blew into these beings (the greater Shuten Doji), and to this day, the queen of the Shadowlands and the only mortal who knows the name of Fu Leng does not speak.
She walks the earth still, not entirely an oni, not entirely an akutenshi, and far from mortal but not immortal. Maho-bujin speak of a shimmering figure, half of her body that of a beautiful woman and the other half a skeletal wreck, guiding them past dangers and into the arms of akutsukai. But those that seek her can never find her, unless she lairs in the Forgotten Tomb of Fu Leng, guarding her terrible secret. Few would know but the favored of destiny, since her touch brings instant death. This is not speculation, but precedent: the akutenshi say one of their number once tried to read her mind to divine the Name, and her revenge was swift and unstoppable.
No akutsukai serve her, any more than King Arthur “served” the Lady of the Lake. She is not a feudal lord, but a primordial being that comes and goes as it pleases.
The Demon Bride of Fu Leng
*Rolls When Attacking:* 7k7
*Rolls for Damage:* Death to any mortal without Great Destiny or Kharmic Tie, 7k7 to invulnerable or supernatural beings
*TN to Be Hit:* 35
*Wounds:* 210: Driven into Jigoku
*Powers:* Invulnerability, touch causes death to mortals, Fear 4, Flight.
*Oni no Chi* *(Glory 9.0, Lore TN 20)*
Detailed in the Book of the Shadowlands, this oni is portrayed as the fire demon to end all fire demons, capable of turning stone and player characters into cinders with its infernal magics.
So what’s this guy do on his off hours?
The answer, of course, is “a whole hell of a lot.” Oni no Chi’s Fire indicates a near-godlike intelligence, which has gained it a great reputation among the Dark Moto troops. Chi is the demon realm’s storehouse of memory. At Keen Glass, Chi is given a wide berth and plenty of the alcoholic mucus milked from enormous caterpillar-like oni which the demon lords keep in herds. Akutsukai regularly beg favors and expertise from it, and it is typically surrounded by an entourage of fawning students. In wartime, Chi is a coordinator and communications center, a sorcerer that can sniff the wind and hear the prayers of a hundred maho-tsukai across Rokugan.
It is perhaps the rivalry between Oni no Akuma and Oni no Chi that is the Horde’s greatest impediment to breaching the Kaiu Wall for good. Akuma knows Chi is a better planner than it is, and it wants Chi’s expertise to fully use its hordes, but Chi wants glory for itself and its minions. To this end, it spreads the idea that direct assaults on the Kaiu Wall are doomed to long-range failure. Oni no Chi’s goal is not to topple the Wall but to keep up the appearance of trying. While the Crab gain false confidence from repelling its attacks, the battles insert infiltrators so the next attack will hit a Wall weakened from within.
This gives glory to Oni no Chi’s minions, which are at the center of these operations. In a typical assault, the akutsukai pour into the breach, delivering as much damage as possible and getting away with remarkably few losses. The Dark Moto love this strategy, even more so when a fortunate few are told to rampage across the relatively unprotected Crab countryside. These akutsukai will know full well that magistrates and soldiers pulled off the Wall will be coming for them, and prepare ambushes accordingly. All of these assaults, of course, are distractions for the second column hitting half a night’s march away, enough to send alarms all down the Wall to reinforce the middle. Half a night, of course, is just long enough to tire out a bushi but convince him he can still fight.
That’s when the third column hits: right at the skeleton crew on the farthest anchor point of the Wall. If they can take that, Chi reasons, the Wall is a barrier no more, but a long, stone road. Better still, if the assault fails, the demons are usually satisfied with their partial success and Oni no Chi is not targeted as a scapegoat.
Oni no Komatsu (Glory 9.7, Lore TN 25)
Long ago, when Doji Nashiko proved her love for Fu Leng by tricking the members of the Imperial court into giving their names to oni, her final coup was to seduce the Emerald Champion, Akodo Komatsu. She danced with the demon that took his name, and when his soul was its own, it had quite a career ahead of it.
In the throne room at Keen Glass, the Oni no Komatsu waits, silent and sure. It takes the form of an empty suit of armor, filled with a darkness that sucks in light like a piece of space. The armor is a dark green, with a subtle, watery glimmer like an opal, with two dark swords that moan with a weird black radiance.
Most akutsukai can go their entire unlives without seeing the Komatsu act or speak; it has one function, and that is to settle matters by dueling to enforce the rule of Fu Leng. It still wears the armor crafted for the original Emerald Champion, and carries his swords, now corrupted to unholy strength by the Dark Brother.
We’d be here all day.