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Per Multiversum
Chapter 3 — Bridge in the Woods
After leaving the tea house, the path went north and then due west, still lined with paper lanterns, heading toward a forest, which they reached after an hour of walking.

   The trees were of a kind none of them had ever seen before coming to Wa. They were tall and thin, green, and marked with circular bands at regular intervals. In fact, Belvin said that they were not trees at all but rather exceptionally tall grass, which burst forth into leaves at the top. Several of these "trees" had been planted in the courtyard of the Cormyrean embassy, yet, growing here together in thick clusters to form a deep forest, they had an altogether different feeling from simple garden decoration.

   They began to hear the sounds of another stream, and soon they saw that they were approaching a wooden, arched bridge, in style much like the bridge to the tea house.

   At the same time, Kytharrah, who was in the lead, saw a figure approaching on the other side of the bridge, carrying a short spear. The man was armored in a metal conical helmet, similar in shape but not material to those worn by the rice farmers that they had seen earlier in the day. His garb was cloth armor with small metal plates woven into it, which protected his chest, thighs, shins, and forearms.

   Kytharrah tried to make a cheerful grunt of greeting, which sounded something akin to a short bark.

   The man immediately moved into a defensive posture with his spear. He looked nervous, and he called out, "Anata wa dono tamashi ka? Anata wa onidesu ka?"

   Solisar had picked up enough of the language of Wa so far to understand the words. "What spirits are you? Are you oni?"

   "Can you speak the Common tongue?" asked Solisar in Wa-an.

   The man seemed confused at the words but shook his head. "Sosen, watashitoisshoni tatte kudasai!"

   Solisar did not understand all the words, but he was commanding someone to stand.

   Hakam held out the license from the shogun in front of him and boldly approached the bridge. The man stood his ground until Hakam neared close enough to make out the monogata of the Matasuuri family. The man reached out his hand to take the notice and read it aloud to himself, while glancing up periodically at the strangers with a look of surprise.

   He handed back the license to Hakam slowly and said, "Watashi no namae Yoshisato Toyoharu. Anatahadare?"

   "Watashi no namae Solisar Keryth," said Solisar. He continued to name his other companions but paused so that Hakam could introduce himself, as the cleric was particular about his formal name.

   "Watashi no namae Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr yi Memnon," said Hakam.

   The man now stared awkwardly at them, as none of them knew how to proceed. Solisar noted to himself that the man was not nobility, as he bore no wakizashi or katana at his side.

   "This is just a town guard," said Belvin quietly, having had the same thoughts as Solisar.

   "Step off the trail and let this man pass," Hakam instructed his companions. Everyone did so, and the man cautiously continued on over the bridge and along the trail, glancing back several times as if to convince himself that he had indeed seen this strange band of foreign creatures.

   Now they had the bridge to themselves. They wasted no time in examining the area around the bridge, although they wondered what clues they could find after 35 years had passed.

   Hakam, however, walked down into the shallow stream up to his knees and approached instead a large boulder in the water north of and downstream of the bridge. He placed his right hand on the smooth surface of the rock while clutching his silver holy symbol in the other. Then, he closed his eyes and began to pray. The others figured that he would need some time for a response from his god, so they sat along the shore and quenched their thirst with the fresh water.

   After about ten minutes, they saw Hakam's body jerk unexpectedly. For his part, Hakam, though his physical eyes were closed, saw a sudden vision of a woman's body bumping against the rock as it floated down the stream.

   "What just happened?" Sofi asked.

   "Her body touched that stone," he said, as he waded to the western bank and stepped out of the the water. He walked along the stream south to a triplet of small boulders south of the bridge. The embankment was steeper here, but he managed to lower himself into the water without incident and placed his hands upon each of the large stones, but they had nothing to tell him.

   "I think that she may have been dumped off the bridge," he said.

   He moved through the water upstream a bit more, but the next boulder that he found was also silent.

   He returned to the others and explained his theory that she was murdered on the bridge itself and then dumped into the water, since her body had only touched the boulders downstream of the bridge.

   "Perhaps the embankment will also speak to me," he noted, and he headed along the eastern edge of the water to a four-foot-tall stone embankment where the water bent first left then right.

   Once again, the image of a body striking the surface of the rock came to his mind's eye with a sudden lucidity that startled him.

   No further boulders or rock faces gave any indication of having been touched by Yunoko's body.

   "I suspect that her body did not float much farther than here," said Hakam. "Besides the stones being silent, I doubt that her body would have been spotted from the trail had it floated any farther. I think that we should search the edge of the water from here to the bridge for anything that may have persisted from that time."

   "If it glanced off that embankment there," said Solisar, "perhaps it then drifted to this area over here." He indicated a region where the strange trees grew close to the water. Hakam used a divine prayer to reveal magical auras, and he and Solisar searched carefully close to the water's edge.

   After fifteen minutes of digging through mud and plant matter, Hakam noticed a small glint of mystical light shining from among the roots of one of the strange trees. He pressed his hand into the water and tried to reach the source of the magical aura. With some effort, he finally wrapped his fingers around the object and freed it from the muck and roots.

   Hakam rubbed from the item the filth that had been caked on for decades to reveal a brooch pin. It was silver and engraved with the symbol of a harp within a crescent moon, centered within four stars. He handed it to Solisar, who was more attuned to magical auras than he was.

   "This is not a weak aura," said the sun elf. "The pin bears the power of an abjurer's spells. This is a Harper pin."

   "Almost certainly," agreed Hakam.

   Further searching in that same area turned up nothing else.

   Solisar now tried another divinatory spell, holding up his hand and sprinkling a bit of talc mixed with powdered silver from his fingertips. As the enchanted dust fell before his eyes, the world around him grew temporarily misty, and in his other hand, the silver pin now shared its space with a vaporous copy. The ethereal duplicate, however, was not static; it seemed every few moments to be stretched before almost "snapping back" to its proper form.

   He tried to explain this strange observation to his companions. "This pin is present in both our world and in the Ethereal Plane," he said, "and something or someone is trying to draw it away from here."

   "Can we determine exactly whither it is being pulled?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not think that the signs are precise enough for that, but it is towards the east from here."

   Moving about confirmed this; whatever or whoever was pulling on the ethereal version of the pin was too far from the current location for any change in the direction of the pull to be noticeable.

   Excited by this discovery, Solisar thought it wise to continue searching the area, while the power of his spell to see invisible things lasted. Szordrin, likewise, used the same magic, so that they would have a second set of ethereal-seeing eyes.

   As the tiefling wizard walked closer to the bridge, he indeed noticed something else in the Ethereal. "I see something long and thin," Szordrin called back to the others, "under the bridge in the water, buried under rock and mud, I think."

   "If it, too, is in both realms," said Hakam, "we should have Kytharrah try to dig it up."

   Kytharrah was of course more than happy to have a role to play in their investigating. He splashed into the water and underneath the bridge. The water was deeper here, coming up to his navel.

   "Lunk, dig under the water below me for something long, like a stick," commanded Szordrin.

   Kytharrah dunked himself under the water, held his breath, and began to dig. Indeed, the minotaur felt the long, thin object, which must have been what Szordrin wanted him to find, but he also felt something else strange — fingers, bony fingers. He figured that he would grab them too. He dug the items free and came up out of the water smiling. The others saw that he held a rusted wakizashi and the skeleton of a hand, the bones still held together by sinews somehow.

   The wakizashi was probably well-crafted in its day, and the blade bore markings, but the rust had made the runes unrecognizable, though it was certainly not the monogata of Matasuuri clan. The leather on the hilt had decayed away. They would need to take it to a weapon expert, perhaps, who might be able to clean the blade so that they could try to interpret the runes. The weapon was not magical, but Solisar and Szordrin saw the ethereal copy of the old sword being tugged on toward the east in a similar manner as the magic pin.

   Solisar was more interested in the structure of the wrist bones. "Erevan and Tymora fancy us," said the elf. "This hand was severed below the wrist, and fragments of the ulna and radius are still here, but they connect to the scaphoid and triquetral, respectively, rather than the other way around."

   "What did you just say?" asked Sofi.

   "He means that the hand is backwards," said Belvin.

   "She severed the murderer's hand!" said Solisar with excitement.

   "Was the hand around the sword when you found it?" Hakam asked their minotaur.

   Kytharrah shook his head.

   "We also know for certain now that her murderer was no yakuza," said Leokas.

   "How do you garrote someone with one hand?" asked Hakam.

   "Perhaps he was in the process of doing the act when she was able to injure him," said Solisar, "but it was already too late for her."

   "Or there was an accomplice," suggested Belvin.

   "We have an easy way to recognize the murderer now," said Solisar.

   "Assuming that the hand was not regrown with magic," said Hakam. "Belvin, when one changes form into that of another creature, are missing body parts possible to hide?"

   "No," said Belvin. "Bones and body parts become vestigial or grow from already present parts. When I become a pteranodon, it is my fingers that stretch to form my new wings."

   "So, even if this rakshasa takes another form, we should be able to notice his missing hand."

   Evening was coming. There were still a few hours before dusk, but they figured that making camp a distance from the trail and starting their investigation in Bunden in the morning was a wise plan. Leokas found them a good spot out of sight from the trail but still close enough to the fresh water and under the shelter of the strange trees. They set up three watches, as was typical, and took their rest.
Session: 124th Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 24 2020 from 6:30 AM to 9:30 AM
Viewable by: Public
Tags: Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa