Long was my road, but eventually I came to the banks of the great river that the Monk had spoken of. "Storm River" the locals called it, and I knew my first task was to seek to cross it. But I had no axe to make a raft and no gold to buy it, so I had little choice but to follow the river course and see what fortune had in store for me. The first stranger I met proved fortuitous indeed - an old woman who claimed to be a witch but who took pity on my plight as a stranger in a strange land and taught me much to bolster my will and intellect. She told me also of a tavern nearby where there was a boatman who might ferry me across the river.
I went there directly. There was no boatman but a friendly wizard offered to teleport me somewhere else, telling me sadly that his magic could not extend across the water. Having no knowledge of the locale I chose that he send me back to see the Witch but she was angry to be asked for help a second time and cursed me to loose my possessions. Luckily, I had none, and her words were ineffectual. On wandering the ruins where she lived I encountered a strange being made entirely of shadow which attacked me in psychic combat - thanks to the old woman's teachings I was able to defeat it easily.
Having now no clear goals I began to wander the lands, seeking help from those that I encountered. I was surprised to find that many of the Gaijin I met were very friendly and willing to offer assistance to me in my plight. First, in the plains, I met a man who claimed to be a Guide and who was willing to follow me and help me through any treacherous terrain we might encounter for no other reward than being a part of my quest. Next I encountered a young nobleman - a prince no less - who also sought to cross the water to return to his home, and being of a like goal chose to travel with us. However the third stranger I met in the plains was friendly only in guise - as soon as we fell talking he revealed himself to be not a man at all, but a strange and malevolent spirit, a poltergeist, who attached himself to me and made the simple act of walking a great toil and strain to be endured. My companions informed me that only by crossing water could I rid myself of this terrible pest.
My need to cross the river had now become desperate, but my ability to cover ground and seek for the means to do so was limited. It was a terrible time - burdened by the poltergeist I was constantly exhausted. I encountered several foul creatures in my path - a goblin and two more aggressive spirits - but thankfully they were weak and I was able to beat them even in my weakened state. We visited a city and asked help from an Enchantress but she said she could not but she told me some dreadful news. Some days before she had been visited by a wandering Soldier who claimed also to be seeking for the same crown! So it seemed I was in a race to see who would get there first - and with my own movement limited to a crawl.
The woods and fields we had been traversing turned into hills and I was in despair - how could I possibly climb hills weighed down as I was with this supernatural passenger? But as we camped that night we had a strange visitation. A man came and asked to share our fire and our supper to which we agreed. But he claimed he was not a man at all, but a demigod, stranded from the heavens by some greater deity. He thanked me for my kindness and said that he would repay me by performing an act of magic on my behalf. Immediately I asked him if he could get us across the river and he replied that if I wished, he could grant my party the power to walk on water for a short time. Of course we leapt at the opportunity and even in the dark went across the river there and then, and I felt my load lightening with every step across the raging torrent until, safe on the other side, I felt my old self once again.
In the morning we found that there was a huge temple on the riverbank, which we visited in the hope of finding out more about these strange lands. But the priests there were suspicious of my foreign ways and would not let us go. They questioned me for an entire day but eventually decided I must be possessed by demons, and bought out hot irons to sear my flesh. After what seemed an age of agony they seemed satisfied that I had been cleansed and let us depart. Again we had little choice but to wander and explore: I found a cache of gold amongst some ancient runestones and slew another goblin in the woods. Soon after we came to lands that the Prince claimed to recognise, and he led us to the castle he called home. His family were overjoyed to see him, and gave us feast and rest and allowed their healers to tend to my burns. In the morning we departed and the Prince with us - he and I had become good friends and were not willing to be parted quite so soon.
On the road once more, we found ourselves back near the temple. Seeing it in the distance I made to hurry away, but a priest on the road came to me and told me not to flee as the clerics now believed I was purified and wished to do me honour for enduring the necessary pain with stoicism. He did not lie - they taught me yet more about the ways of will and psychic combat before sending me on my way. A long time we wandered then finding nothing of help or of interest, until eventually the Prince decided he should return to his family. After escorting him there, his father rewarded me with three bags of gold for seeing him home safe and sound. I was sad to leave him, but even though I still had my trusty guide as a companion I went forth with a heavy heart. We seemed no nearer the crown or the valley of fire and much time had passed since we crossed the river. Perhaps the Soldier had caught up with me in our quest?
Suddenly, our meandering path began once more to unearth dangers and treasures. In the woods I found both a wondrous grail that ever filled with water, allowing us to attempt to cross the deserts we had glimpsed during earlier travels, and a magic belt that made me stronger. Back in the ancient runes we were attacked by a great ape - it seemed no match for me at first but the mysterious stones seemed to bolster it with strength beyond reckoning and I was forced to flee from it after taking a fearful beating. Not long after we encountered a Warlock who seemed to know a great deal about the crown and the valley of fire. He claimed to have a Talisman, a magic object that would protect me from the flame and that he would give this to me if I could go back and defeat the ape which was now terrorising the area. I did not wish to meet the beast in combat again, but I had a plan - my trusty bow. Seeking out a nearby hill I camped there and waited for the creature to come and sure enough he came - only to be struck by an arrow through the eye from my very first shot! The Warlock proved as good as his word and gave us the Talisman - now all we had to do was find a way across the mountains and into the inner region!
Daring the desert with our ever-filling Grail we eventually came upon an Oasis. There I found a grim warrior whom I thought at first I should have to fight but he bade me hold and explained that he was a mercenary and that for a bag of gold he would follow me and lend his strength to mine for further payment if the need arose. I assented readily. I found there also a book of spells which granted me a great boon in the form of a time-warp, allowing me to travel with great speed. I returned to the temple where the priests again taught me their ways of will but gave me dreadful news. The before the Soldier had come to them, bought across the river by the ferryman and he was terrible to behold! A Unicorn and a man-at-arms followed him and he rode upon a great warhorse, able to charge down all but the most fearsome foes. He was still in the area and was clearly a foe beyond my skill so I fled once more into the desert, trusting that he would be unable to follow.
The need to find away across the mountains was now more pressing than ever if I was not to fail in my quest but again, fortune was with me. Shortly after my sharp-eyed guide spotted what seemed to be a great archway in the foothills, some distance off. When we came to it we found it was closed and sealed with a great door, but it appeared to lead to a pass beyond. Turning to the mercenary I offered him more gold if would help me force the portal but even together we could not open it, and the attempt left me feeling weak and enervated.
In despair we wound our way around the foothills until suddenly we came upon a great surprise - a large valley, hidden from view by the surrounding hills. Descending we found that the bottom was in fact a terrible mire which threatened to engulf us and again I offered the mercenary gold and together we struggled through. In the heart of the swamp we found dwelling a great serpent but together the mercenary and I defeated it with ease. Resting afterward I felt that on top of all the goblin-killing I had been doing, my martial skills had greatly improved during the encounter.
We wandered then for a long time - days became weeks and yet we found nothing more interesting than further bags of gold. A pestilence came upon the land and robbed me of further vitality, wounded still as I was from the encounter with the ape. Eventually we came to the Temple once more. The priests came forth and told me that the Soldier was still in this region, having visited the portal once and tried to force it but failed, even with his now prodigious strength and large collection of powerful magics and followers. My heart leaped within me: at least I was still in with a chance of success!
Through my journey I had often cursed my ill fortune. Time and time again I had visited hills and forests, valley and fields and encountered nothing of worth, not even enemies against which to practice my skills, while my adversary it seemed had found fabulous artefacts and had grown strong on defeating numerous powerful creatures. But now befell my greatest stroke of luck, and it came in an odd form - a blizzard descended on the land and our pace of exploration was slowed to a crawl. But a boon it proved to be, for on the second day of ice and snow, our progress took us past the portal once more, and had we been travelling faster I might have missed it. As it was I paid the mercenary once more and together we put our shoulders to the lock - and broke through.
The mountains beyond were a hell the like of which I have never seen or hope to see again. First we traversed some terrible mines, taking us underground with no knowing where we might emerge. I paid the mercenary once more and with his help we forced rocks, doors and boulders where required and emerged out onto a high mountain pass, still within the inner region. The pass was guarded by a great tower and, as we watched, a terrible, emaciated form cloaked in black descended down. I trembled to behold it, for it was clearly an undead being of great power - a vampire - and it barred the way and demanded a dreadful toll to pass - the blood of three people!
This was the most terrible moment of my whole ordeal. To obey my Shogun I had no choice but to let the vampire take my two faithful and willing servants. Words cannot describe how I felt as I stood aside to permit the fiend to fall upon them, and I am ashamed to say that I could not speak to them or look them in the eye in those last moments. Instead I closed my eyes, stopped my ears, and wept like a child for the pain in my heart. Eventually, when I looked up, the vampire was still there, demanding the blood of a third person to pass. I offered up my wrist and hoped against hope I had the endurance left to satisfy the creature and survive.
That was yesterday. Today I am at the highest point of the mountains and I can see the path clearly before me. I can see in the far distance the valley of fire and smoke and can only hope that the Warlock told me true and that my Talisman will protect me. But before I can face that I must cross a hellish pit from which it seems fiendish, lizard-like creatures, keep emerging to prey on any travellers that might pass that way. Clearly, I must fight them to get across but the thrice accursed vampire has not only taken my mercenary, but left me on my last dregs of life. I only hope that I prove equal to the task, but I fear greatly that I may not. And that is why I, Oda, spend this eve setting down this testament so that even if I should fall on the morrow in the pit, my Shogun might one day know that his servant tried his hardest to fulfil the wish of his master, awful though the quest has been.
(This scroll was found amongst bones and carrion by Wolfric, man-at-arms to a great soldier and warrior Lord as we passed through the pit on our way back after dicing with Death himself, defeating the Werewolf and claiming the Crown of Command. The fiends dared not touch us whilst we held the crown. My Lord, who is generous and kind of heart, asked that I travel the realm he has now won and spread the news that his adversary in the quest for the Crown was noble, diligent and almost got their first, falling only at the very last hurdle after a great test. I will travel now to the Shogunate in East and give his master the news, and hope the traditions of those foreign barbarians will allow them to mourn this great servant in honour.)