Spirits

Before the Primordial War, the Earth and the Heavens were home to countless spirits that had emerged from the World Beyond the World following the Dawn of the Universe, when chaos settled into order and the elements separated from one another.

When the Primordial War began, the Heavens and the Earth were wracked by the terrible fury of the gods, and many spirits became embroiled in the conflict, or retreated back to the World Beyond the World, where their powers offered them greater safety.

When the war ended, these spirits turned their gazes back to the World to discover that in their inattention mankind had spread. They watched as the once-feuding gods took humanity under their protection, and while some honored the will of the gods and became friends to mankind, others were indifferent, while yet others took offence.

In the modern Empire, spirits remain a powerful influence on the land and on the lives of samurai and peasant alike, for good or for ill.

Bakehanzaki

One of the countless types of hengeyōkai, bakehanzaki are salamander spirits that dwell in the rivers and lakes of the World and the World Beyond the World. Like all hengeyōkai they can take human or humanoid form blending animal and man, but their natural appearance is of a truly massive salamander with vibrantly patterned skin. Some few among them also bear external gills held over from infancy.

Unlike other hengeyōkai, bakehanzaki do not accrue tails as they age, for the salamander’s tail is constantly being severed and regrown. Instead, they continue to grow in size, and a centuries-old bakehanzaki may come to be as large as a horse in its native form.

Bakehanzaki are famed both for their incredible powers of regeneration, and for the poisonousness of their flesh. As they age, they grow in ability to heal from ever greater wounds, and the toxins in their bodies grow in potency. Though they tend to be placid spirits, when threatened or roused to fury they may sometimes draw these poisons to the surface of their skin, to the great regret of their foes.

Like other hengeyōkai, bakehanzaki sometimes take an interest in mortal affairs, and occasionally even marry a human spouse.

Bakeneko

Another type of hengeyōkai, bakeneko are cat spirits, and are among the most commonly-encountered, for they take great interest in mortal life and seem to prefer dwelling in human settlements when they can, unlike most of their brethren. As shapeshifters, they can take human or animal form with ease, or appear as humanoid figures with feline features. As they age, they grow additional tails as many hengeyōkai do, and though they are masters of disguise and illusion, their shadows will often still bear these tails, which can give them away. As such they take great care to conceal their shadow when able.

Bakeneko are capricious and can be cruel if disrespected. They are inveterate tricksters, and even when not seeking to be actively malicious, their pranks can be mean-spirited and dangerous. They are drawn to corpses, particularly those that have died away from human knowledge, and if given the opportunity a bakeneko will take great pleasure in impersonating the deceased. When they do, they will take great pains to conceal all evidence that the person has died at all, and step directly into the dead person’s life, often leaving their friends and family confused at the seemingly sudden change in personality.

Bakeneko seldom consider themselves to be malicious, and do not always understand how mortals take their tricks. It’s not uncommon for one to develop a sense of affection for a mortal with whom it has interacted regularly, and often they will turn their tricks on those they consider their favoured’s enemies or rivals. Like many hengeyōkai, this affection can sometimes extend to marriage, and bakeneko are one of the most common spirits to become the ancestor of a mortal line.
Bakeneko are often associated with night and the moon, and seem to have a fondness for samurai of the Musankumo, though whether this is out of respect for Many-Faced Komoretsu or because of a similarity in temperament is unclear.

Jorōgumo

Particularly sinister among hengeyōkai, jorōgumo are spider spirits that prey on mortals. Though their true form is a blend of human and arachnid, they prefer to take the shape of attractive young men and women, seeking to seduce mortals to feast upon. For this purpose they become masters of deceit, and they often demonstrate great talent for music or poetry, which they use to lull and entice their victims.

Jorōgumo dwell most often in mountain caves and remote cabins, offering shelter and companionship to lone travellers, only to turn upon them while they lie spent from a night of passion. Some among them take up residence in cities, however, occupying houses whose true owners they have killed and eaten. Behind the closed doors of such places, countless desiccated skeletons lie piled in dusty and abandoned rooms beneath the tangled silk of the jorōgumo’s nest.

Because of the countless untimely deaths they are responsible for, jorōgumo are often opposed by ghosts and other restless dead. This opposition seldom lasts, however, for jorōgumo are naturally adept at dispelling such phantoms, and rarely tolerate for long anything which risks revealing their presence or true nature.

Though deceitful and predatory by nature, some few jorōgumo may occasionally be treated with. Though they thirst for mortal blood, jorōgumo are not naturally servants of the Leech, and they abhor blood sorcerers, who they consider debauched and unclean rivals. Some among them feel this hatred so strongly that if bargained with they will cooperate with mortals to exterminate any blood sorcerers in their territory.

Very rarely, a jorōgumo’s seductions will fail or backfire, and in such cases, the spider spirit tends to grow obsessed with its failure, persisting in its attempts to ensnare its target. If this pursuit endures a substantial length of time, it’s not uncommon for the jorōgumo to develop some genuine affection for its target, and the rare mortal child of jorōgumo heritage is typically produced from such a union. If a jorōgumo refrains from eating its lover, it will often share its secret techniques of exorcism.

Even in an otherwise harmonious relationship, however, intervention by a monk or onmyōji is typically required in order to prevent the jorōgumo from seeking out the blood others to sate its appetite. Most often, Benten’s blessing is sought to replace the jorōgumo’s dark hunger for blood with a more mundane offering of fish from a sacred pool, usually fed by a waterfall— though why jorōgumo consider waterfalls particularly holy is unclear.

Kenku

Crow spirits of exceeding deftness and alacrity, kenku most commonly take the shape of winged humanoids, black-feathered and glossy-beaked, with taloned hands and feet befitting a bird of prey, though they are natural illusionists and will often appear in disguise.

Before the Primordial War, kenku were aligned with the Heavens and the Earth, soaring above the world on black wings, but dwelling in hidden villages high in the mountains or in the forest depths, passing freely between earth and sky.

But though they were closely tied to the Heavens, when conflict between the gods broke out, the sky became inhospitable to them. Winds tore through the air, and lightning split the firmament to strike the land, and the kenku were forced to remain upon the face of the earth for fear of being overcome.

While they endured the countless centuries of the Primordial War in isolation, they came to focus on those arts they found most appealing. The convulsions of the Earth brought great deposits of iron to the surface, and kenku began to turn their swift intellects to developing arts of forging and swordsmanship far greater than any mortal craft before the advent of the gods.

Such was their focus and mastery that they came to the attention of the Shining Lord of Steel, Senkō. Though focused on the war among the gods, the Lord of Steel spared a small portion of his attention for these spirits, and under his eye they attained unprecedented heights of craft and skill, becoming his earliest devotees. To them he was a shapeless god of glittering steel and forge-blackened iron, for he had not yet taken concrete form as all the gods would at the end of the Primordial War.

When the war did end, the kenku were pleased to return to the skies, but their time upon the earth had forever marked them, and they remain worshippers of the Lord of Steel to this day, serving as emissaries between the Terrestrial and Celestial gods and offering their talents at the court of Kagayaki and Senkō in the World Beyond the World. The arts of swordsmanship they developed during the Primordial War also endure, both among their own ranks and in the lessons they have since taught to mortals who earn their favour. Most notably, their teachings form the basis of the Imperial style passed down among the Waheiji line.

Ningyo

Spirits of the ocean, ningyo are among the favored servants of Murakimizu, attending to her in her court at Crashing Reef Citadel. They combine the features of fish and humans, including powerful tails, vibrant scales, and human-like arms and faces. Ningyo routinely adorn themselves in finery taken from the bones of those lost at sea, which they gather for their mistress.

Dwelling under the ocean, ningyo have little aptitude for construction. Instead, they are extremely adept at calling upon the power of the sea to manipulate the stone and coral of the ocean floor to grow up into spires and domes and other edifices for them to occupy. They are equally at home in hot or cold water, and their greatest settlement apart from the Lady of the Sea’s palace is built in the scalding depths surrounding a volcanic vent, which provides them one of the few opportunities available to commune with fire kami beneath the ocean.

Ningyo are famed for their longevity, and it is known that to consume a ningyo’s flesh will impart this same divine health to any mortal. The attempt is almost invariably doomed, however, for every ningyo also carries a dying curse in its flesh. When a ningyo’s blood is spilled, for every drop shed, the water kami themselves grow angrier and angrier with the culprit. When roused by a fatal wound, monsoon storms will pursue the killer, waves will seek to capsize any boat they travel upon, and the very sea will flood the land seeking to crush them. Any mortal chasing immortality in this fashion is consigned to a life far inland, never bathing and drinking only sake, lest their long life be cut short by drowning under the influence of the ningyo’s curse. What’s more, the curse takes effect as soon as the first drop of blood is spilled, and ningyo may only be caught upon the ocean itself, where even the beginnings of the kami's ire may prove deadly.

Because of their curse, ningyo often suffer a bad reputation among those who dwell inland. For those who know the sea well, however, they can be benevolent guardians, occasionally guiding the boats of those who pay homage to Murakimizu, or even giving up their aquatic forms to marry into a mortal family. The samurai of the Clan of Spice enjoy a particularly good relationship with them, and the few onmyōji the Mijimaki produce are often the descendants of such a union.

Oni

Spirits found in the wild places of the World and the World Beyond the World, oni are a varied group, ranging from belligerent but not necessarily malevolent to bestial and mundanely diabolical.

Their frames are humanoid, but tall and broad beyond human scale, with thick and corded muscles under red or blue or occasionally green skin. The have coarse and shaggy black hair, and often sport a horn or horns sprouting from their forehead, as well as sharp, tusk-like teeth. They dress in animal hides and in scavenged or stolen silks, and carry large, simple weapon— spiked clubs or crude swords especially.

Oni are easily bored and often mean-spirited, and are prone to violence, debauchery, and dangerous contests to amuse themselves. Many of them genuinely delight in mischief and have dark appetites for mortal flesh, whether in a culinary or carnal sense, while others are open to bribes or flattery, and can be convinced to restrain themselves for at least a little while. Occasionally oni will even take a liking to mortals who appreciate their base sense of humour and who ply them with sake. Though they are capable of being affable and friendly, there is always an undercurrent of implied violence in an oni’s company, and the understanding that any warm feelings can vanish in an instant if one says or does something to cause offense.

Every oni has its own idiosyncrasies in this regard; some take offence if one fails to compliment their horns a sufficient number of times, or if offered the wrong food or kind of sake. All oni have an intense dislike of soybeans, however, and will be offended and repelled by them.

Oni are more common around the edges of the Empire, and in the unsettled portions of its inner reaches, preferring mountains and hills for their lairs. Though they seldom venture towards cities, small villages will sometimes be visited by a band of them looking for entertainment, or for a bribe to go somewhere else. Among samurai, they are most tolerated by the Akaishi, who are typically able to endure and even enjoy an oni’s crude manners and sense of humor, and whose strength oni tend to respect. The Akaishi try to turn such oni’s appetites for violence towards the servants of the Leech and the Bloodmire if possible, and to minimise their impact upon their own lands otherwise.

The vast majority of mortals with oni heritage come from dalliances with Akaishi samurai. In the rest of the Empire, the amorous attention of oni is typically unwanted, and their descendants are considered a sign of misfortune.

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