Serial Setting 2 ~ Week 11

The Casting Shadows blog’s second Serial Setting appears in weekly installments scheduled for a 6-month run, providing basic details for heroic pulp adventures for the Ubiquity Roleplaying System as presented in Hollow Earth Expedition. These ideas, set in a fictional version of the Korean peninsula in 1936, present a community oppressed by faceless enemies and their own countrymen. It will additionally suggest routes, leads, and hooks for GMs to entice groups based elsewhere in the world to get involved.

11  The Lost Tomb

It is the duty of each generation to tend the resting places of their ancestors. Paying careful attention to the land, studiously arranging for the location to maximize the benefits of Earth’s embrace, and visiting throughout the year to pay respects are the foundation of this aspect of the culture. What then happens, when no one is left to carry out these duties, or at least no one is left who knows where everyone is buried?

As the Oppressor settles more and more of its hooks into the lives and minds of the local people, certain curious individuals with a hunger for more have taken to listening carefully to the wistful tales of better times that no one thinks are being overheard. Stealth and circumspection serve any thief well, even if he wears a uniform and has government sanction. Most tales are just tales, but a few unkind relocations of family tombs have uncovered treasures of great craftsmanship, and sometimes of great value. For young officers on the rise, this can mean quite a lot – and the dead of a weak and soon-to-be subservient people simply do not matter. Of great interest is the large number of gold and silver artifacts this small, and insignificant harbour town seems to have in its collective legendry. While some of the occupiers search for signs of a lost mine or mines, others have become grave robbers to varying degrees.

One tale, told by many and held up as a golden age when the bottles run dry, and it is almost time to stagger back to the squalor of one’s own dwelling, tells of the secret hall of pleasures an ancient king kept in these parts, and the wondrous and skilled women who would entertain there. In these dark times, the focus of the tale is not on the luxury of such pursuits, but rather on the gold and jewels flaunted by the king, and lavished on the entertainers. Of great importance to the tellers is the local belief that this king ordered a secret tomb be constructed for himself and his favorites, a truly bizarre request, to be interred together in a place of such perfect geomantic harmony that they would be certain to rest in peace, far from the capital, and the grasping, clutching greed of relatives and sycophants.  The grave was to be tended by the women of the hall until the end of days. In the long history of tragedy and invasion which comprises the history of the varied kingdoms which have shared the peninsula down through the millenia, the hall was destroyed, the women scattered, and the tomb lost. Dreamers and schemers of all sorts wish that a peculiar treasure trove of this sort could be discovered and returned to the hands of the living.

The tomb itself would appear as little more than a circular mound with a rounded top. It may be small, or reach higher than the height of a man. It will be on a hill, facing South with protection from the cold wind behind, a source of water before it, and a commanding view of the area. If it was designed to remain a secret, the normal additions of steles, steps, and stone markers may or may not have been included – speculation runs rampant while the rice wine flows. Inside the tomb, the remains would lie in state, perhaps with favorite items near them. In this case, it is thought the king and his women were entombed with precious liquors, gold, gems, lovingly made instruments, and the best writings of the day.

Jo Yong Hwan, semi-retired goldsmith

Yong Hwan, Jo one of the older residents of Samhang came back to the village of his birth after the events of 1910 hoping to escape the worst of the changes happening to his country. He keeps to himself; his wife passed on two years ago. He tends a garden, fishes sometimes, and does odd jobs for the community which make use of his great wit, his fine hand and turn of phrase, and his past experience as a goldsmith. It is often these days that he is asked to appraise items, and even to negotiate their value with the overlords of the region. While a legitimate service for his countrymen, his skills as an appraiser of Korean artifacts have earned him illicit visits from various levels of the occupying force – in return for a measure of protection. With no other surviving members of his branch of the Jo family, and no idea where his own children, both daughters, have been taken (or for what purpose), he is left with little choice.

He is very stooped, and his hair is as thin as wisps of steam about his head. He favours the loose white garments of the region, broad pants gathered at the ankle and tied below the chest, topped with a voluminous double-breasted jacket with broad sleeves and simple fastenings. He has the sense not to wear these clothes when the soldiers come calling. His eyes have grown filmy, but still see as sharply as ever. He is losing the hearing in his right ear, but covers this by leaning in toward guests, and asking a lot of probing questions which seem like queries after extra detail, rather than the basics which he may have missed. His face shows the signs of a long life of happier days, and recent signs of grief. It is a good face, but a tired one.

Not long ago, a low-ranking soldier came to him in secret and asked him to take a look at something ‘he found.’  Jo Yong Hwan could not believe his eyes when he saw it, for it is marked with the royal sigils fit for the period of the secret tomb. The artifact, a heavy golden comb, was finely wrought, and of great purity. The old man politely and carefully warned the soldier that if “whoever gave this present to you” had themselves taken this comb from a tomb, that ill-fortune would come, and the dead would find reason to punish the living until such time as it was returned and apologies made. The soldier left in a disturbed state.

The old man is now on the lookout for ghosts and spirits hunting the night. Women with stark black hair, dead white skin, and wearing the white gowns of funerary rites fill his dreams, and fill his heart with fear. Will they know, when they come for him, the weight of an old man’s fear and desire to cling tenaciously to life? Will they spare him despite his failure to seize the comb and return it? The night’s hours pass slowly, and fear stalks him everywhere he goes.

He knows the soldier plans to sell the artifact to smugglers from his homeland who sometimes risk the coils of the dragon to turn a hefty profit from the depredations of their more socially acceptible brethren in uniform. If that is the case, it might spread its curse to Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Japan itself. He really should do something… but he is afraid…

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