It took a while, but I finally got a chance to play the Mountain Witch, having wanted to try it out ever since I listened to the Jank Cast actual play episodes of it. As it turned out, Mike Cugley of Nearly Enough Dice had been looking to try it out himself, and so we got a group together and he ran it for us at his place. I'll share my thoughts on the gameplay in the second part of this AP, but for now I'll just post the events of the first session.
|From left to right: Misaki (Anna), Kishi Michiko (Heather), |
Uchida Kenji (me); and in the background,
the Mountain Witch himself, O-Yanma.
Drawing by Anna Jigoulina
Kishi Michiko (played by Heather): Michiko became a ronin after her master and she set off on a mission of dubious morality, and she chose to leave her master's service. It is uncertain whether Michiko killed her master or not. She needs the money offered for killing the Mountain Witch in order to provide a comfortable life for her family, now that she is no longer supported by her master.
Uchida Kenji (played by me): Kenji was born as a ronin, and is less of a samurai than a warrior monk, having been taken in by an order known as the Hikarimusha. The Hikarimusha maintain the balance between the world of men and the world of the supernatural. Unfortunately, they were betrayed by one of their own and to Kenji's knowledge the order has been wiped out save for himself. He needs the money from the mission to rebuild the temple of the Hikarimusha and restore his order.
Michiko and Kenji arrive at the trail leading into the haunted forest of Aokigahara, located at the base of Mount Fuji. They've been hired by the people of a nearby village to kill O-Yanma, the Mountain Witch, whose supernatural minions have been terrorising the locals.
After leading them as far as the forest boundaries, their guide departs and leaves them to continue on their own, not daring to go any further into O-Yanma's domain. Some time later, while hunting for food, they are attacked by wolves. Kenji senses that these wolves have no souls, which perhaps explains why the wolves attacked them rather than go for the easier prey of the deer the ronin were tracking, and continued their assault despite taking wounds. After finishing off the wolves, the two ronin cook them and discuss rumours they've heard about O-Yanma over the campfire. Michiko says she has heard that he eats eagles for breakfast and sleeps on a bed of fire. Kenji states that he does not believe this. He also says that he has heard O-Yanma was once just an ordinary person like they are, that his power was taken from someone or something else of great power. Michiko adds that she had heard something along those lines too, that he stole his power from a clan of witches. After the conversation winds down they set up watch rotations. Michiko takes the first watch, and Kenji goes to sleep.
During the watch, Michiko hears someone attempting to attract her attention from somewhere in the trees. She leaves Kenji still asleep and places a tanto in his hand, before walking off to investigate. A tengu appears, introducing itself as Uncle Tengu, and tells her that 'the plan is good' and all she has to do is say the word at the gate. Meanwhile, Kenji is also awoken by another Tengu, whose feathers he almost shears in surprise as he discovers the knife in his hand. The Tengu - calling itself Auntie Tengu - tells him to put that dangerous thing away, there's no need for that. She says to Kenji the same thing that Uncle has been saying to Michiko: 'the plan is good, all you need to do is say the word at the gate'.
Kenji bluffs rather poorly, claiming that he has forgotten the word and asking if Auntie could remind him. Realising that she has been speaking to the wrong human - it's so difficult to tell the boy humans apart from the girl humans - she calls to Uncle, who joins her and tells her off for speaking to the wrong one. Uncle says that now they have to kill him, and the two tengu prepare to face Kenji in combat. Kenji continues with the bluff, stating that he was told there would be tests, but that two on one hardly seemed fair odds, as he was merely human, and they - as Tengu - are surely far superior sword fighters than he.
And so, Kenji faces Uncle one-on-one in a sword duel, and defeats the tengu with a swift cut which left him with his wings badly clipped. Auntie nervously congratulates him for 'passing the test' and then flies off with Uncle to tend to his wounds. Michiko arrives in time to see the tengu depart, and asks what happened. Kenji merely replies that some tengu were making a nuisance of themselves, but they won't be bothering them any further tonight.
The next morning they continue through the forest and encounter no further resistence until reaching its edge, where the forest trail meets the trail into the slopes of Mount Fuji. There they are met by a patrol of Samurai on horseback. They bear a mon which is similar to the one on Kenji's robes, except where his is a white teardrop on black robes with a single spot of black inside the teardrop, the symbol worn by these men is inverted and the colours switched, so that it is a black teardrop on white, with a spot of white held within. Kenji looks most offended by the sight, but Michiko's attention is drawn by one particular samurai on the patrol. The leader of the patrol is Isamu, her brother. He shows no sign of recognising Michiko upon confronting them, however.
Michiko, by speaking the word 'Okimashu' to the guards, is able to convince them to escort herself and Kenji to the Mountain Witch's castle, Yamajiro. The guards still treat them with some caution, but Michiko's knowledge of the code word leads Kenji to feel somewhat distrustful of his companion. It's a way to get closer to O-Yanma though, so he goes along with it.
Along the way they come across a shattered palaquin at the side of the road. A kimono is caught on the side of the palaquin and there are dead smaurai scattered around the wreck. Michiko finds a beautifully crafted courtly fan, which she keeps for herself. She also recognises the men as her brother's soldiers and finds his sword there. She shows it to Isamu, who shows no sign of recognising the blade and insists that they move on. Kenji notices her interest in Isamu, and tells her coldly, 'Whoever you think he is, he is no longer.' When she asks him to explain, he simply says that he is like the wolves they fought, his soul is missing.
They pass by a cave in the mountainside, and Kenji pauses, sensing something within. The guards are most anxious to move on, but Kenji will not be dissuaded from investigating, even as thunderous footsteps approach from within. A giant oni appears from the cavern mouth, leering at the group. Kenji speaks to the demon with open disrespect, much to the guards' discomfort. During the exchange of taunts between Kenji and the oni, the oni takes credit for O-Yanma's rise to power. When Michiko insists that he stole his power from the clan of witches mentioned previously, the oni dismisses them as dabblers. It was the oni, so it claims, that taught O-Yanma how to harvest souls and use them to control others, or power his magic. To prove its point, it strokes the skulls hanging from its belt, flickers of eyes appearing within them as its hand moves along them. Kenji continues taunting the creature, which is restrained only by its agreement not to harm O-Yanma's servants or interfere in their business, which at present is escorting these ronin safely to O-Yanma. At Michiko's urging, Kenji backs down from confronting the oni, but promises that 'this is not over'. The oni agrees, it will see him when he returns down the mountain without O-Yanma's protection...if he returns.
They continue on up the mountain, coming to a pass where a regiment of the Hikarimusha - Kenji's order of warrior monks - have been killed in battle, presumably against O-Yanma's troops. Written in blood on the rock face are the words: 'Neither may die while the other lives.' As they draw nearer the castle of O-Yanma, a strange storm brews in the sky above Mount Fuji, and with each strike of thunder, Kenji's reacts painfully, as if stabbed. And with every crack of thunder, and apparation of a shrine maiden, with the figure-eight symbol of infinity on her robes, appears to either Michiko or Kenji before disappearing with the thunder.
Finally, they arrive at Yamajiro and are greeted by the Mountain Witch's wife - Yuki-Onna, the winter lady - who invites them both to dinner, they both accept the invitation, with Kenji sardonically referring to Yuki-Onna as 'sister-in-law'. As guests, they are relieved of their swords, much to Kenji's discomfort, as his sword - Kazeken - has mystical properties and he is loathe to be parted from it. They're offered the chance to bathe in the bathhouse beforehand and as they do, from their opposite sides of the modesty screen there, Kenji and Michiko have a chance to speak in private. Kenji asks Michiko how she knew the word to get them inside the walls, but she claims she only made it up. Kenji is unconvinced.
At dinner, they are joined by Isamu and, to Kenji's surprise, Hamada-sensei; the former head of the Hikarimusha, who had been presumed dead along with the rest of the order. To Kenji's horror, Hamada-sensei is wearing the twisted version of his own colours worn by the Mountain Witch's troops. Michiko attempts to help her brother remember something of his past, to no avail. Meanwhile, Kenji asks his former mentor why he is now allied with O-Yanma, when they both know he cannot be allowed to acheive his ends. Hamada-sensei merely shakes his head, saying that he had hoped Kenji would have grown past this childish superstition.
After dinner, they are escorted to a chamber beneath the mountain, formed out of crystal with a deep pit in the centre, and a bright, warm light burning from within the pit. There are two cages to either side of the chamber, one has a young female samurai locked within, the other is empty. On the opposite side of the pit from the entrance, the Mountain Witch O-Yanma - who bears an uncanny resemblence to Kenji - awaits and greets them.
Kenji responds by asking, "Where is she, Yanma?" This is a very rude and familiar way of greeting the Witch, who raises an eyebrow and responds, "Such a pleasant greeting after so long...brother."
TO BE CONTINUED...