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Per Multiversum
Chapter 3 — Wanese Kakkuri
Leokas had made a camp fire, and some of them were sitting around it snacking on trail rations. Belvin was busy using his druidic spells to shape bamboo shoots into a water-holding basket, so that Kytharrah would be able to carry around the carp dragon that they had met, as they had promised. Sofi was sparring with Kytharrah, and both were practicing new moves that they had learned from the monks and Imoko.

   It had not been long, maybe three hours, when the woman in the red kimono returned. The sun had not even yet set. She reached the bridge and looked around. She was alone. Leokas, who was on lookout spotted her.

   "Haketokodesu," she called. "Anata-gata wa watashi ni anata-gata no tokoro ni kuru yo ni iimashita. Kotoba o todokemashita."

   "It is the same woman," said Solisar. "Apparently, her name is Haketoko. She delivered our message."

   "Then why is she alone?" said Hakam.

   "I shall have to use my remaining spell to speak with her and find out," said Solisar.

   The sun elf came into the road clearing to meet her, and the others followed him. She repeated what she had said before, but now the magic translated. "You told me to come to you, and I have come. I delivered your message. Kaji Kanamura says that he will only speak with those willing to play cards with him. That is his stipulation. What shall I return to tell him?"

   "When does he wish to play with us?" asked Solisar.

   "He can play most times. He is at the inn now. He keeps a room reserved upstairs in the back. He could meet you there tonight if you are ready. Or you can have me arrange with him to play tomorrow."

   Solisar translated to the others. Hakam was of the opinion that they should try to play tonight.

   "Which card game is it? I suspect that we will not be familiar with it," said Solisar to Haketoko.

   "The game that uncle Kanamura plays is called kakkuri, Wanese kakkuri specifically. (The game is played differently in Kozakura, I am told.) I can teach you how to play. I teach all the marks how to play. I did not bring a deck with me, but I could draw on the ground with sticks to try to show you."

   "Describe the deck to me," said Solisar. "How many cards?"

   "48 cards, twelve in four suits."

   Solisar repeated her answer.

   "It sounds like a talis deck without the trump cards," said Hakam, recalling the time that they had played the game in Myratma with the ghost of a haunted tavern.

   "Are the four suits flames, stones, waves, and winds?” asked Solisar.

   "No, they are cups, coins, staves, and swords," said the woman.

   "Ah, the Amnian suits. I see."

   "There are three face cards in each suit: a king — although some call it the emperor — a knight — although some call it the samurai — and a peasant." The magic did not translate all the words for the face cards. It had no need to translate "king" and "knight" as Haketoko actually spoke the Chondathan words for them, though they were concepts that did not exist in Wa directly. The magic also left "samurai" untranslated, but they all understood the meaning of this word, at least in part, by now.

   Solisar asked her to draw the symbols for the cards in the sand as best she could for the four suits. "How many numbered cards are there?"

   "Ace to nine," she said, speaking the Chondathan word for "ace".

   "It is indeed a talis deck," said Solisar to his companions, "but the 10s, queens, and trump cards have been removed."

   Solisar then closed his eyes and muttered ancient arcane words. With a wave of his hand, a deck of cards appeared to slip from the wide sleeve of his cloak and into his palm. He handed it to her.

   "Did you have a deck hiding in a pocket in your sleeves all this time?" she asked. "I thought that you did not know kakkuri."

   "It was not in my sleeves," said the elf. "I wove it into existence, but it will only last an hour before it fades away into nothing, and the face cards are nothing but the words 'king', 'knight', and 'knave'. To illustrate them with color images would have been to taxing on my powers."

   Haketoko did not seem to believe him, but she flipped through the deck to confirm that all the cards were there. "Simple, yes, but all the cards seem to be here. This will do."

   "One important rule is that the order of the cards is different for the different suits," she said. "For the cups and coins, the red cards, the king is the highest value, then the knight, then the knave, then the ace, then the nine and down to the lowest card, the two. So, the ace is between the nine and the lowest face card. For the black cards, however, the staves and swords, the ace is the lowest value. Every hand that is dealt, a trump suit is determined by draw of a card. Whichever suit is the trump suit has a third ordering, where the ace is the highest card, followed by the king. Do you follow?"

   Solisar explained these strange rules to the other.

   She took a stick and had them gather around her. She drew nine circles in a three-by-three grid. "Four play at once," she said, "and there are bowls in the center of the table. At the beginning of every hand, you have to place one shell in each of the outer bowls but not the middle bowl, eight shells in total. If you do not have enough chips to do this, then you are eliminated from the game. Once everyone has placed shells in the bowls, the remaining players are dealt five cards, and a card is turned over from the deck to reveal the trump suit for that hand.

   "Now, there are three rounds per hand in which you can win shells. In the first round, you win shells by laying down certain combinations of cards face up in front of you.

   "All of the bowls, except for one of them, represent certain combinations of cards that you might have in a given hand." She carved out a Wa-an word in one of the corner bowls. "For example, this is the marriage bowl," she said. "A marriage is when you have a king and a peasant in your hand. (The peasant is thought to be a peasant maiden.) If the king and peasant are of different suits, it is called a mixed marriage. A marriage of trumps is higher than a marriage of another suit, and a mixed marriage is lower than that. A mixed marriage with one trump card is higher than a mixed marriage with no trump card but lower than a marriage of two cards of the same suit.

   "Beginning with the person left of the dealer, player's lay down combinations of cards, beginning with marriages. Whoever has the highest valued marriage wins all the shells currently in the marriage bowl. If there is a tie, the player closest to the dealer wins, so it is usually best not to play a non-trump card if someone has already played a trump one. If no one has a marriage, the shells remain in the bowl until the next hand."

   She drew another word in the next circle, moving around in the counterclockwise direction around the center "bowl". "This is the ace bowl. Anyone having an ace can lay it down and win the shells in this bowl. An ace of trump is highest, then an ace of cups or coins, and then an ace of staves or swords."

   She wrote the next four words. "This is the king bowl. This is the knight bowl, and these are the peasant and nine bowls. These work in the same manner."

   She wrote the next word. "This is the sequence bowl. It is for the highest-valued run of any three cards. Once again, in case of any ties, a mixed sequence is lower than a non-mixed sequence, and a sequence with a trump card is higher than the same sequence without a trump card. For this bowl, it is especially important to remember that it is ace-king-knight for the trump suit, ace-nine-eight for the cups and coins, and three-two-ace for the staves and swords. If you have a sequence of four in a row, this is valued more than a sequence of three in a row, and five in a row is the very best. Thus, ace-king-knight-peasant-nine, all of the trump suit, is the highest-valued possible sequence, and three-two-ace of a mix of staves and swords, when neither of those suits is trump, is the lowest-valued possible sequence."

   After Solisar explained these rules, he asked a question. "Can cards laid down to score a marriage allowed to be used to score the king and peasant bowls also?"

   "Yes, they are," she said.

   "What about the final two bowls?" asked Hakam.

   "Those are for the second round," said Haketoko. "The second round is the primary betting and bluffing round. The disadvantage to winning shells in the first round is that you have revealed much of your hand for the second round. In round two, you win chips by laying down sets of pairs, triplet, or quadruplets. All quadruplets are better than any triplet, and a triplet is better than any pair. It is also possible to have two pairs or a pair and a triplet together. Two pairs is better than one pair, and a pair and a triplet is better than a triple but less than a quadruplet. Sets with higher-valued cards beat sets with lower-valued cards. A triplet or pair with a trump is more valuable than the same set without a trump. Aces, again, are tricky. A pair of aces of cups and coins is higher-valued than a pair of aces of staves and swords, unless staves or swords are the trump suit. If cups are trump, then a triplet of aces of coins, staves, and swords is beat by a triplet of any numerical card, since aces are only ones for two-thirds of the cards in the triplet.

   "Before anyone scores, though, you go around the table — beginning left of the dealer — making bets, matching bets, raising bets, or fold. You place any shells that you bet into the center bowl, which is unmarked. If you fold, you are out of the round, but not the hand. When everyone has matched or folded, the sets are played face up. Once again, you are allowed to use any cards that you had already played face up in the previous round. Who ever has the best set wins the shells in both the center bowl and the 'pot' or kakkuri." She wrote a word in the final outer circle. "This is so that if one player bets in round two and the other three players fold, the betting player wins back his shells and four additional shells from the pay-in before round one."

   She paused again for Solisar to translate.

   "There is a final, third round of every hand," she said. "At this point, almost everyone will have many face-up cards. In the third round, everyone tries to be the first to play all of their cards face up. Whoever does so is paid one shell per card held in the hand from every other player. If anyone already has played all of his cards face up at the beginning of the third round, these payments happen immediately, and there are no further cards played. If the third round starts like this as a tie, the player closest to the dealer is the one paid. If a player cannot pay the fee in shells, he simply does not pay; he will obviously be out of the game at the start of the next hand.

   "To play out the third round, the player closest to the dealer begins by playing any card in his hand face up. The next player has the opportunity to play the next card in direct sequence of any suit or to pass. That is, if I play the ace of swords, you must play the two of swords or pass. If three players pass in a row, the next player is free to place any card remaining in his hand face up. If ever the trump ace is played, the player may immediately play a second card of his choice, since the other players of course must pass, since no card is higher. (Typically, however, all the high-valued cards are no longer in anyone's hands at this point, of course.) In this way, you try to get rid of all the cards in your hand."

   Solisar translated the details of round three.

   "After that, the next person becomes the dealer, the cards are reshuffled, everyone pays shells into the eight bowls to join the next hand, and the cards are dealt. So it continues until three players are no longer able to pay into the hand, and the remaining player is the winner."
Session: 126th Game Session - Tuesday, Dec 22 2020 from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM
Viewable by: Public
Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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Chapter 3 — Paths & Travelers
By the time that they had finished their sake, the magics allowing them to speak to the Wanese had worn off. Solisar used his understanding of Wa-an to thank Ishi and inform him that they were heading out. They returned to the monastery to retrieve their monk and their minotaur.

   "What is the chant?" Sofi asked.

   They informed Sofi of the new information that they had learned, after which she said, "Do you mind if I stay at the monastery while you all camp in the forest, since you are coming back anyway? Imoko is a good blood, and we have had great wigwag together."

   "I do not have magic power remaining to allow you to speak with her any longer," said Solisar.

   "That is fine. The magic wore off an hour or so ago. We are making it work, and I am learning new words — not at all as fast as you, of course; I am not that canny — but I have scanned a few."

   "If all goes well, we will not be coming back to the village," said Hakam. "Hopefully, the woman contacts her bosses, and they come to us tonight."

   So, Sofi bid Imoko farewell in Wa-an, and the tiefling monk went with them out of the village.

   "Did you learn anything interesting from Imoko?" Solisar asked her as they made the hour-long journey back to the bamboo forest.

   "I scanned a lot about the religions of Wa," she answered. Upon hearing this, Hakam came to walk beside them and listen in. "Imoko is a follower of the Path of Enlightenment, as are most of the bloods here in Wa, as it is the only religion officially sanctioned by the shogun. She also dedicates herself to Chan Cheng, whom she called the 'Mighty Lord of Heroes', but the Path seemed more important to her than does Chan Cheng. The Path seems to be more of a philosophy or way of life than your religion, Hakam — more about how to live than about worshiping a particular power. There are powers though, many of them."

   She went on to describe the hierarchy of the Celestial Bureaucracy and its Celestial Emperor ruling over the Nine Immortals, who in turn led the Lesser Immortals and countless administrative spirits, all of which they had also had explained to them briefly by Lord Dauntinghorn of Cormyr before coming through the portal to Wa.

   "The basic premise of the Path of Enlightment," said Sofi, "is that the best way to live one's life in the moral world is to mirror the order of life in the Spirit World. It is key to know one's place in the hierarchy and to fulfill one's divinely appointed role in society."

   Solisar said, "Given the rules that we were told about the status of women in this country, I was surprised to find that Imoko seemed highly respected in her role as a sohei and shrine guardian. Did Imoko make any comments about women being able to join a monastic order?"

   "Yes, I scanned that their are distinct martial arts for men and for women, but women are often trained in combat. It depends on one's caste. If you are a peasant woman, the Path of Enlightenment tells you that you must serve as a wife and mother. A woman in a noble class is responsible for hosting and household management. However, when a blood becomes a monk, a shukenja, or a sohei, it seems like that person leaves the class system altogether. The monks seem to be treated as being outside society, belonging almost more to the Spirit World and its concerns. So, a woman is more common to find in a monastery than in a farm.

   "Imoko did say," she continued, "that her first real assignment was less exciting than the ones given to men. She was sent to a tiny crossroads village to guard an old shrine that is not really in need of protection."

   "She should not feel so badly," said Solisar. "The men were probably not sent to villages run by the yakuza."

   "Oh, I also scanned more about Yunoko's religion," said Sofi. "Do you remember that the shukenja Ieharu told us that Yunoko followed the Nine Immortals? They are acknowledged by the followers of the Path, as all bloods agree in the same Celestial Bureaucracy, but the religion of the Nine Immortals, which is also called the Faith of the Nine Travelers, lanns that each of the Nine Immortals at one time became mortal or were previously mortal at one point in history. They lived full lives as humans, and some are even claimed to have become emperors or empresses of Shou Lung. They taught humans how to live by example, by being human, before being returned or elevated to their positions as deities. The Nine Immortals came from all classes and walks of life, which is why it is so unpopular here in Wa, since it suggests that the lowest outcast has a chance to be elevated to godhood if he or she lives a good life. The Faith of the Nine lanns that bloods can change their lot in life by good behavior; the Path of Enlightment lanns that good behavior is to recognize one's lot in life and to accept it, thus becoming enlightened."
Session: 126th Game Session - Tuesday, Dec 22 2020 from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM
Viewable by: Public
Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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Chapter 3 — On the Fence
On the western side of the village, Belvin had just spotted the woman in a red kimono following them and had notified Leokas.

   "I am on it," said Leokas. When they reached the entrance of the shop, Leokas continued walking past, then he suddenly darted to the north to get behind the building, unnoticed.

   Szordrin had heard Belvin's comment to Leokas, since he could currently understand all languages. He whispered to Ferry, and the weasel turned around on his shoulder to look back, so that Szordrin could get an idea of what was behind him without having to turn around. He and Belvin then entered the shop, and Ferry quickly scurried down his master's body and hid himself underneath some goods at the entrance where he could keep a watch on the road for anyone who might try to follow them inside.

   The shopkeeper was standing in the far corner and saw the two enter. "Yokoso, yokoso!" he said cheerfully. He was a slightly pudgy man with a curly mustache. He wore a dark green tunic with a farmers hat hanging behind his head from his neck. "Please, come in, please." The man showed no sign at all of any hesitation at their being strangers and seemed ready to sell.

   Szordrin's magic continued to translate the man's words. "Welcome to Tensui's. My name is Tensui. That is why this shop is called Tensui's." The man chuckled at his own words and then continued. "We have basketfuls of strange items from all over the many islands of Wa — not just from Tsukishima, but from Shidekima, Paikai, Machukara, and even a few trinkets from the Outer Isles. I have a key to one of the prison cells on the Isle of One Thousand Pines, a horn from one of the spirits trapped on the Isle of Devils, a rib bone from one of the giant lizards on the Isle of Gargantuas, a mosquito encased in amber from the Isle of No Mosquitoes, even a tiny pair of pants from the Isle of the Long Legged and Long Armed."

   Clearly, the man had rehearsed his monologue. He continued. "The wonders do not end there! I have goods from Kozakura, from Shou Lung, from T'u Lung, from Tabot and Koryo." He dropped his voice to almost a whisper. "I even have items taken from beyond the Dragonwall, from the horse-eating barbarians of Taan and even the mystical and magical country of Faerûn! Come in, come in!"

   Szordrin began to meander around the tables in the shop where items were laid out. Tensui walked close behind him, excitedly volunteering information about anything that Szordrin even partly glanced at.

   Tensui picked up a tiny item and placed it in Szordrin's palm. It was a little leaf made of golden foil. "If you hold this talisman and snap the leaf in half, you will receive a blessing allowing you to walk through a forest without anyone being able to determine where you went! No one will find you and your secret lover, eh? Only five ch'ien!"

   Szordrin looked the leaf over. It appeared to be genuine gold, but he had no way of confirming its magical properties at the moment.

   "This here!" Tensui lifted up a piece of folded paper. "This is not just fine origami. This too is a talisman. This frightened little crane can make you run twice as fast so that you can escape from your lover's husband, no? Heh heh heh. Only five ch'ien!"

   "And here! Here is a bone tessen." Szordrin's spell did not translate the word, but Tensui was showing Szordrin a tiny wooden object that might have been a non-folding fan for cooling oneself — if one were one foot tall. "Another useful item for when your lover's husband is after you — no one can hit you when you throw the bone tessen to the wind. They may want to, but the curse will not let them touch you. Works against oni also. Only five ch'ien!"

   "These things are too simple for your tastes, I can see plainly. Look then at this!" He presented Szordrin an artificial feather. The shaft was made of bamboo, and the vanes were of bright cloth. "This is one of my favorite items; I shall be sad to part with it. This is the great wu jen Asahina's feather token. Only 20 ch'ien!"

   Szordrin drew from a pouch a tindertwig, a stick made by alchemists for starting a tiny fire. "These are indeed wondrous items," said Szordrin, "but I am sure that nothing you have thus far shown me compares to this. Though it appears like a simple carved stick, striking its head against a surface creates true and everlasting fire... to those who know how to use it properly, of course! I will offer it to you for 20 ch'ien."

   The man chuckled happily, and patted Szordrin on the shoulder. "Ah, I like you, my friend, but do not take Tensui for a fool! This is only a tindertwig." He swiped the small stick from Szordrin and immediately struck it against a stone idol for sale nearby. The tip burst into a tiny flame. "Not eternal fire, see?" He blew it out quickly with a puff of breath.

   Szordrin was taken aback by the man's rash action, but Tensui smiled back at him. "I suppose that I owe you now. Here, my friend, take 20 yuan." He handed Szordrin a tiny leather loop with 20 holed copper coins on it. "That should cover the cost of a simple tindertwig."

   "I told you that it had to be used in the correct way;" said Szordrin, taking the coins, "you did not use it in the correct way."

   Tensui only chuckled more. A moment later, and he was back in selling mode. "What about a fine calligraphy set from Nakamaru? Do you need to write any nature poetry? This set is only five ch'ien and five tael."

   "Excepting of course the yuan that you just handed me," said Szordrin, "we only have foreign currency. Are you interested in our foreign coin?"

   "Ah! You see, I have no need of your gajin money."

   "Would it not be a collectible?"

   "No, no, I have seen your gajin coins. They are not very pretty. The women do not like them! But I am most willing to purchase exciting items from Faerûn with which you may be willing to part. What can you offer me that is more exciting than a simple tindertwig?"

   Szordrin removed his backpack and opened it. "Do your women find it exciting to see a man dressed in clothes like a Faerûnian noble?" He drew out one of his costumes that he had purchased in Hartwick.

   Tensui looked over some of the items. "Silk is a fine thing, yes, but it is illegal for peasants to wear silk in Wa. Surely you know this? No one in this village would be able to purchase it, and I would make no money!" He paused and glanced back at the door for a moment. Then he said, "However, I still could probably take it off you, because I know some people who might be able to make use of it."

   "How much will you offer?" asked Szordrin.

   Tensui looked over the various pieces of the outfit and pondered. "I shall give you three ch'ien for it."

   "Never mind, thank you," said Szordrin. "I was expecting a much larger offer than that. Let me go outside and confer with my companions, and then I shall return."

   Before he could do so, however, Szordrin felt excitement coming from his familiar; Ferry had seen something.

   They then heard a woman yelling, "Let me go! Let me go! I did not do anything! Help!" Then her voice was muffled.

   The three inside the shop went to the entrance. Leokas was dragging in a peasant woman in a red kimono and conical hat. If any of the locals heard or saw the scuffle, they did nothing. Leokas lifted her forcefully up the steps and into the shop. Then he uncovered her mouth but held onto her by the arms.

   She immediately spoke to Tensui. "Tensui, tell them to let me go!" were the words that Szordrin's magic translated to him.

   Tensui's friendly, salesmen look had vanished, and now he appeared offended. "I opened my shop to you gajin, and yet you manhandle our maidens!"

   "She tried to kill us!" said Belvin, guessing at what had just been said, but of course, Tensui could not understand his words.

   "Leokas, let her go, and guard the entrance," said Szordrin.

   Leokas nodded and did so. The woman bound her kimono more tightly, fixed her hair, and tried to look more presentable and proper. Belvin took hold of her arm in Leokas' place.

   "Why have you been following us?" Szordrin asked.

   "Following you?"

   "We know that you have been following us for at least the last thirty minutes if not longer." Szrodrin tried to use a threatening tone. Belvin heard this and gave her an evil eye.

   "It is not what it looks like," she insisted in a whiny voice. "Many commoners are wary of gajin, but I find you all so interesting. It is very rare that we ever see any. I was only curious; I wanted to see what gajin were like and where they would go. I did not mean anything by it."

   Szordrin explained her answer to Belvin and Leokas in Elvish. Belvin, for his part, did not believe the woman's answer at all. Belvin looked at her and back at Szordrin and shook his head with a frown.

   "Badaulder!" said Szordrin.

   Seeing that they were unconvinced, the young woman simply kept her mouth shut and said nothing else.

   "Leokas, go get Hakam from the inn," said Belvin, and the forest elf left the shop.

   Szordrin cast a spell and then spoke to the "maiden" again. "You really should tell us why you were following us," he said in a pleasant voice.

   "I...," she started, but then she stopped herself and shook her head and glared at him, recognizing that he had tried to enchant her somehow.

   The woman kept trying to make eye contact with Tensui, but he avoided her gaze and remained silent also, not knowing what to do or say in this awkward situation.

   Szordrin turned to him and spoke firmly. "You obviously know this woman. Who is she and why would she have followed us?"

   "She is just the village misfit, an eta really."

   "I am not an eta!" she snapped.

   "She is harmless," Tensui continued. "She just has a great curiosity about strangers. She is just a gossip who likes to tell stories. You must understand, we are just a boring little village. There is little of excitement here — outside the items in my shop of course!" He suddenly switched to his salesman voice.

   The woman scowled but made no further defense.

   "We should wait for Hakam to arrive," Belvin said to Szordrin in Elvish.

   Hakam and Solisar arrived just then. Leokas had told them that they had caught someone who had been shadowing them but that she wasn't willing to talk. As the two arrived, Solisar checked around to see if a crowd had gathered, but thankfully, there were no more observers than had been typical since earlier in the day. They entered the shop.

   Hakam immediately showed the notice from the shogun to the shopkeeper and insisted that he be told what was going on. "Or have my companions been too rash?"

   Seeing the Matasuuri seal, Tensui grew visibly anxious. He stepped back and spoke, waving his hands in front of him. "Wait now! Wait now! I mean no harm to any of you wonderful gajin. I shall give everyone a ten percent discount, if you all just make any purchases and then leave my shop and leave me alone and take this strange woman with you and do as you see fit with her. I wipe my hands of whatever criminal activity might be happening here. I have nothing to do with this!"

   "Since you understand our importance and our errand from the shogun," said Szordrin, "perhaps you will now consider giving us seven ch'ien for the noble clothing, instead of the meager three that you had offered earlier."

   "Four," said Tensui.

   "Six and a half," said Szordrin.

   "Five and no higher!" said Tensui.

   "Five and a half," said Szordrin.

   Tensui reached in his pouch and took out five tiny stamped silver bars and five holed silver coins. "Here, thank you, now please let me be."

   Szordrin handed over the Hartsvaler clothing and begin to leave the shop.

   Belvin, who could not understand any of the dialog that had been exchanged, was confused. "Why are you leaving? Clearly, there is some connection between this woman and this man!"

   "Are you going to let me go?" asked the woman, as she saw Szrodrin leaving.

   "We mean you no harm," said Hakam, "but you owe us a conversation for invading our privacy and following us. If you come with us someplace else to talk, we will let you go freely after that."

   She agreed to go with them, and Belvin released her.

   They returned to the inn. Several of the patrons there looked at the woman in the red kimono with scorn. One, instead, looked at the upper folds of her kimono, which were probably a bit more open than was proper in Wa. The innkeeper's wife, gave her one quick glance, recognized her, and then acted like she was not there. The woman in red led the way at this point, walking into the center of the inn and then left, past the stairs into a dining room. Two men sat on a tatami at the long, low table, drinking wine, but they immediately set their ceramic cups on the table, got up quietly, and left the inn through a sliding door on the right side of the room. (Szordrin quickly approached the door where the two men had exited and peeked out. The men gave each other farewells and walked away in opposite directions. They did not seem suspicious.)

   Ishi was in the main room, and he certainly saw all of them enter, but he made no greeting nor any effort either to stop them from entering the dining room or to offer them food or wine.

   The woman sat down in the back corner at the table, took off her hat, and shook out her long unbound hair. She was probably a few years younger than even Hakam or Szordrin. The others sat down on both sides of the table to talk with her.

   "I will talk to you willingly," she said. "There is no need to make any more threats. I work for someone who works for someone who plays cards at this inn." She spoke quietly, so it was difficult to hear her. Hakam translated what she said for the others who could not understand. "My job is to round up newcomers to play cards. Hopefully, they lose some money, and we divide up the coin among us. We do not do anything threatening. There is not even any cheating; my boss is just very good and loves to play. No one in the village will play cards, of course, because it is illegal. Gajin usually do not know that it is illegal and are often happy to play. So, we make some money. See, that is all there is too it. I was not worth your time to grab."

   Szordrin translated her explanation, but Hakam replied, "You mistake us for dishonorable folk. At least, I myself am not. I would not willfully violate your nation's laws. I sometimes question the honor of some of my companions." He muttered this final sentence.

   "Well," she said, "it looks like I chose the wrong gajin to follow, and we are all finished here, and you can let me go."

   "Not just yet," said Hakam. "I think that you may be able to help us with an unrelated situation. As you saw, we are here as ambassadors of Faerûn and representing the shogun. We are investigating two incidents, two crimes, from many years ago." Hakam mentioned the beating and the murder and the shogun's conclusion about the latter. "We, however, have a different view, but we would like to confirm our theory with people whom your bosses may know. Would you be able to pass a message up the chain that we would like to speak with them on neutral ground, in a safe place, tonight, if possible."

   "I have never heard of the incidents that you mention, and I doubt that my boss would have any interest in these things," she replied. "He is, after all, only a card player trying to make money from drunk gajin. Nevertheless, I will promise to pass this message on to him, if it means that you will let me free."

   "How long has your boss lived in this village?" asked Szordrin.

   "Longer than I have," she replied.

   "Perhaps your boss will have no interest in these matters," Hakam continued, "but I suspect that some of his bosses may."

   "I will deliver your message," she repeated.

   "Please impress to them that this is a matter of urgency. If they do not meet with us, we may be forced to report to the shogun that the yakuza are still in control of this town."

   She gasped at the word "yakuza". "That is absurd," she said, but her tone was not very believable.

   "Hakam always keeps his word," said Szordrin, staring at her with his cat-like yellow eyes.

   "I told you that I would deliver the message!" she said.

   "You will find us camped outside the town," said Hakam, "off the road to Uwaji, in the bamboo forest just before the bridge. Call out to us from the road, and we will come to meet you. You are free to go."

   After she left, Belvin mentioned to the others, "Did you all see that the little finger on her right hand was broken? It was dangling." No one else had noticed this.

   Before they also left, the party called to Ishi and ordered a pitcher of rice wine, which he called sake. It cost them four yuan, the larger-sized copper coins. They gave him one of the silver tael and were given sixteen yuan back in change.

   The sake was warm, which was a unique experience for them. After a few sips, Hakam gave Szordrin some choice words about how he had handled matters in the trinket shop, but other than that, it was a pleasant end to their day's investigations.
Session: 126th Game Session - Tuesday, Dec 22 2020 from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM
Viewable by: Public
Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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Chapter 3 — Ishi's Inn
Hakam and Solisar entered the large doorway of the inn and stepped into a wide kitchen with a tatami mat surrounding an irori fire pit — these were words that Solisar was now adding to his vocabulary — and a wine rack, kegs, barrels, and crates against the walls and in the corners. An older woman sat on the tatami, heating something in a pot hanging over the hot coals. She had a peasant's conical hat hanging behind her head from its chin straps, and her gray hair was in a bun. She looked up at them briefly and said, "Yokoso," in greeting, though there was little welcoming in the tone of her voice. Behind her, through a large opening in the opposite wall, stood a pair of men in quiet conversation. They also glanced at the strangers briefly, but then continued with their talking.

   "Is the innkeeper here?" asked Hakam. "We were told to speak with a man named Ishi. We have some questions that we would like to ask him. We are on an errand from the shogun."

   "Ishi is my husband," said the woman, still with no emotion, not even surprise at the mention of the shogun's errand. "Please, wait here, please, and I shall call him. Thank you," Hakam's magic translated.

   "Ishi!" she shouted loudly, not actually getting up from her pot. "There are gajin here to see you!" Her previously quiet voice was now surprisingly loud as she called for her husband.

   The man appeared quickly, passing the two talking men. He was bald, with a pointed gray beard. "Watashi wa Ishidesu," he said in introduction. "How may I be of service?"

   "We are here on order of the shogun," said Hakam. "We are investigating two events that happened roughly 35 years ago, and we have been told that you were present here at the time of these events. Do you remember a man, a foreigner like us, who was found beaten and then was nursed back to health here in your inn?"

   The man seemed hesitant. "How can I know that you are representatives of the shogun? Why would he send gajin on an errand and not his own people?"

   Hakam showed him the official notice. "We are emissaries of the kingdom of Cormyr in Faerûn," said Hakam, "and the matter concerns both of our nations."

   Ishi took the notice, read it, and handed it back. "I do not know about the lands beyond the sea, but you may both follow me upstairs to another room, where it will be more fitting to talk."

   The steps to the second story were through the opening in the eastern wall and in the northwestern corner of the next large room. After ascending, they went left down a hall, and Ishi slid open a door into a small room, about ten foot square, covered entirely with a tatami mat with a tea tray sitting in the center. There was a single window in the room, which allowed light in from the adjacent hall. Since it was near highsun, the room was mostly in shadow.

   "Please, sit," said the innkeeper.

   When they had settled on the tatami, Ishi offered them tea and then began in a low tone. "We should speak quietly; it was a sensitive matter. I do remember it well. What do you have to share or to ask?"

   "Do you have records of the man's name or his reasons for coming to your village?" asked Hakam.

   Ishi replied, "I do not remember the man's name. The names of gajin sound strange to my ears. He came through Bunden, and while he was here, he sold some items at the trinket shop near the western gate. His business completed, he headed back east on the road toward Uwaji, to return from where he had come."

   Hakam politely asked the man to pause for a moment, and he turned to Solisar and spoke, magically, in Elvish. "Did not the grocer woman tell us that the man had departed to the west?"

   "I remember that you told us such, yes," agreed the elf.

   Hakam bade the innkeeper to continue.

   "Shortly after his departure, the man was brought back by some local farmers, who had found him beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. We brought the man up to an empty bed in one of the guest rooms, and I summoned our herbalist and our healer, who tended to his wounds. Several days later, when his wounds were healed, he left the village again."

   "Did he ever speak to you about why he had been beaten?"

   "No, he never told me who beat him or why they had done so. He was silent about the whole matter and shared nothing with me except his gratefulness for providing a place for him to recover."

   "Did he at least tell you where he was headed after he left the village, the second time?"

   "Yes, he told me that he was going to try and reach the west coast, to see if he could find a place to settle. I see that you noticed his change in destination. Yes, I, too, found it odd that a gajin who had come from Uwaji would, after being beaten, change his mind and travel in the opposite direction to settle down in a strange land. I asked him, 'Why would you want to go deeper into a country not your own?' 'Adventure,' he said, but I think that he was not honest with me. He hardly looked like an explorer; he looked like a fat merchant."

   "Was he wearing one of these?" Hakam asked, holding out Yunoko's Harper pin for Ishi to see.

   "No, definitely not," said the innkeeper. "He was dressed in new, fine Wanese silks like a lazy merchant. He was not dressed like a gajin."

   "Did those who beat him take his goods? or did any remain after his beating?"

   "He seemed to have sold all of his goods to the trinket seller," Ishi replied, "but whatever payment that he may have received was taken from him when he was beaten — not all of his money, mind you, but just the money that he had been paid from selling his goods. This much I did learn from him."

   "Are you suggesting that he had been selling counterfeit goods?" asked Hakam.

   "You ask wise questions," said Ishi. "I thought the same thing, but I am a man of honor, so I do not pretend to understand the ways of such illegal dealings."

   Hakam sensed earnestness in the man's claim and felt that the innkeeper could be trusted, but he did seem nervous.

   After Hakam updated Solisar with the conversation thus far, Solisar had Hakam ask Ishi, "If you do not know the actual goods that the man sold to the trinket-seller, can you speculate on the size? That is, did the man come with a cart or a beast of burden? or were these small goods that he could carry in a sack or pack?"

   "The man wore a basket on his back," answered Ishi, "so the goods that he took with him from Uwaji could not have been large."

   "You mentioned that he was dressed like a Wanese merchant," said Hakam. "How good was he at speaking your language?"

   "He spoke our tongue but did so poorly, well enough to make trades, not as well as you. I suspect that you are using magic to speak with me, yes?"

   Hakam nodded. "Did he have any companions?"

   "He did not."

   "What was his complexion?"

   "He had pale skin and very light hair. His eyes were blue. He was taller than most of us."

   Hakam and Solisar spoke briefly together about what ethnicity the man might have been. The human people group most commonly associated with blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin were the Illuskans, who originated north of Waterdeep in the North of Faerûn. Most of the people of Cormyr were rather of Chondathan descent. While Chondathans tended toward darker hair than Illuskans, blond hair was not unheard of. Neither did Cormyr only consist of Chondathans; it had a substantial population of other groups as well, most notably Tethyrians but also some Illuskans, so it was hard to say if the man had been from Cormyr or not.

   "Are the herbalist and healer who tended to him still alive?" asked Hakam.

   "No, they have both journeyed to the River of Three Routes," answered Ishi.

   There was a pause as Hakam and Solisar considered what else they might ask.

   "What about yourselves?" asked Ishi. "Are you passing on to another village after your investigation here? Do you need a place to stay for the night?"

   "We plan to return to Uwaji," Hakam replied, "though if we do not find the answers we seek, we may need to stay longer than intended, in which case, we would of course pay if in need of any housing."

   "Do you have any further questions for me then? Or have you learned what you needed to?"

   "Do you remember a woman named Yunoko Dranyr nee Blacksilver? She would have visited around the same time to investigate this beating."

   "Yes, I knew who Yunoko was. I did not know her well, but she came through Bunden frequently. I believe that she was friends with our grocer, Rumi. Now that you mention her, yes, she came to my inn and talked with the man while he was recovering here. Their conversation was in private, however. I do not spy on my patrons' conversations."

   "Did she question you about the man?"

   "She did not ask any questions of me; she simply went to talk to the man directly."

   Solisar had Hakam ask, "How did Yunoko find out about the beating? Did someone report the beating to Uwaji?"

   "I am not certain," said the innkeeper, "but Yunoko passed through Bunden often. I think that she had a home west of the village somewhere. Perhaps she heard rumors of a gajin on one such time that she passed through."

   "As an innkeeper, you must have a good sense of those coming and going and the happenings in your village. Whom do you suspect beat this man?"

   The man hesitated.

   "I assure you that you can trust us with this information," continued Hakam. "I am a holy man of a god of justice who upholds the truth and protects the innocent. I promise you by his name, Anachtyr, that no one will know that you have told us."

   Ishi almost whispered his reply. "I suspect," he said, "that, because the man sold something to the trinket-seller, he might have violated a 'rule' that the..." — he glanced around the room, as if there might have been ears or eyes on the walls — "...yakuza have in place about sales. I suspect something like this, but I have no knowledge if the yakuza even have any rules about trade. It is just an idea, and you asked my opinion. I only know about the taxes that I must pay them for protection. I probably should not have even mentioned those taxes to you, but I believed your promise by your god."

   "We are not here to investigate the yakuza directly," said Hakam. "Our purpose is actually to learn who really murdered Yunoko, and we do not think that it was the yakuza, as was once believed. We think, however, that this beating might be associated somehow with why she really died. When the shogun's people first investigated Yunoko's murder, did they speak with you?"

   "They did not," said Ishi.

   "You do remember those men coming into the village though?"

   "Yes, but they primarily spoke with the shoya and the ashigaru, the village guard. They were not here for long before they rounded up the accused. The justice of the shogun is always swift."

   "Are the village guards loyal to the shoya or to the yakuza?"

   "Today, the ashigaru are all in the control of the yakuza. Everyone knows this, though few you may find who will admit it. However, when Yunoko had come through the village, they were still in service to the shoya, who was not the shoya whom we have now."

   "It seems that the shogun's executions did little to deter the yakuza of Bunden," noted Solisar, once Hakam had updated him on the conversation.

   "Are the yakuza known to ever resort to murder to protect their status in this village?" Hakam then asked Ishi.

   "The citizens of Bunden are sometimes 'taught a lesson' if they do not comply with the will of the yakuza, but most of us are content to pay our 'taxes' and live our lives without fear of harm. In many ways, we are safer and have more freedom and protection than under the hand of a cruel shoya." He suddenly looked guilty. "Mind you, this does not in any way mean that I think that they are honorable men. Do not misunderstand me! They are not; they are exceedingly dishonorable, but the fact remains that they do protect us."

   "Do you think it possible that they did, in fact, murder Yunoko to prevent her from reporting their role in the beating to the shogun? Is that in the realm of their lack of honor?"

   "It is possible," said Ishi, "but I would simply be speculating. Again, the yakuza do not usually kill, but it depends on the severity of the disobedience to their control. I do not think that they would kill as a preventative measure. Let me describe it to you this way: If Yunoko had come and investigated the beating and then reported back to the shogun, and then if the shogun had come to execute them, I suspect that they would have sought revenge against Yunoko. Yet this is not the order that things happened. She was murdered, I am told, before she ever made it back to Uwaji, and the yakuza were executed for her murder, not for the beating of the man, which was, to the best of my knowledge, never punished. The yakuza, though dishonorable, do hold to a sort of honor of their own. They act in measured response to the supposed offense and do not go beyond that."

   "That is consistent with our current findings," said Hakam. "We do not believe that it was the yakuza who killed Yunoko. We believe, instead, that it was an oni, a rakshasa. Have you ever heard tales from travelers of a tiger-headed spirit with its left hand attached to its right arm and its right hand attached to its left arm?"

   "I have heard no tales of any such creature."

   "Ask him about a one-handed man," said Solisar, "missing the hand from his right arm."

   Hakam did so, and the man responded that he had no memory of such a traveler coming through the village.

   The two gajin could think of no further questions. They thanked Ishi, and he led them back downstairs. Just as they were coming into the inn's kitchen, Leokas entered. "We have an incident happening at the trinket store," said the forest elf.
Session: 126th Game Session - Tuesday, Dec 22 2020 from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM
Viewable by: Public
Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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Chapter 3 — One Against Two
Kytharrah was happy to be outside again. Being inside little people's houses sometimes made him feel like he was trapped in a cave-in.

   "Szordrinu to iu namae no hito wa watashi no koto ga sukida to omoimasu."

   By means of Solisar's magic spell, the two women — Sofi and Imoko — were gabbing excitedly, as if they had long been friends. Kytharrah had no idea what they were saying, but he derived no small amount of pleasure from sensing that Sofi was very happy. He was happy when his little friends were happy, especially when his newest little sister was happy. His own happiness grew even more when Sofi had asked him if he wanted to help Imoko learn by playing with them, one against two. (She even used Giant words when she asked him. He did not know that she could speak those words.)

   Since Imoko used a strange shovel weapon, Sofi had said that he could fight with his axe or his hands or horns, provided he did not cut or gore one of them. She would not let him use his new very-long weapon, as she thought that that would not be fair. She didn't seem to have any other rules in mind; they would just see how it went until they didn't want to play anymore.

   Two other monks would serve as judges. Where these two stood also marked the southern border of the playing area. Kytharrah was deemed too big to fight on the dojo tatami, or sparring mat, indoors, so they had chosen to fight outside, in the area between the shrine and the large house to the west. The northern wall of Bunden was the northern boundary for their game.

   The women began one each at the two southern corners, and Kytharrah started equidistant from the two northern corners against the wall. He did not have his axe drawn, as he feared that he might accidentally hurt one of the women if he used it.

   One of the monks shouted, "Hajime!" and Sofi launched herself only an instant before Kytharrah himself responded. She darted to the right to place herself between Imoko and Kytharrah, just out of his reach, and balanced on the toes of her wrapped feet, ready for his response.

   His axe still at his back, Kytharrah lunged forward with his long arms to try and snag Sofi, but, not once but twice, she bent and twisted her body in a way he had never seen any of his other little friends move. He simply swung through air. However, then he dropped low with his body and swung his head to try and catch Sofi's leg with his horn, while stopping his own downward motion with his right paw. He was successful and caught her leg, but as he yanked her weight from under her, she somehow flipped herself around in the air like a cartwheel and landed back on her feet again. In the same fluid motion, she sweep-kicked his supporting arm out from under him before he could press himself back up to his full height. All of a sudden, he found himself face down on the ground.

   He heard Imoko make a loud shout, and he glanced up. She was moving quickly, not as quickly as he or Sofi could move, but fast nonetheless, for a little person. She darted by Sofi on the left and came up to him. He tried to swing at her legs before she could get to him, but from his prone position, he no longer had the reach. Thankfully, her slam down at him with the shovel end of her weapon was easy for him to dodge; he simply rapidly rolled over a full revolution to avoid it, but this gave Sofi the chance to slip past to the opposite side of him from Imoko. She dropped to her knees bringing her body weight down with a chop of her hand to the back of his neck. For a moment, Kytharrah felt strangely dizzy, but he shook it off. Sofi, however, was already back on her feet.

   Kytharrah was laughing at the great fun, as he reached out an arm from his prone position to snag at Imoko. She tried to pin his furry arm with the moon-shaped part of her strange weapon, but he was too quick for her. His paw closed around her narrow ankle, but she kicked herself free with her other foot. So, he simply snagged that one instead. Easy enough!

    "Ow!" she cried out at his tight grip. He tried to roll toward Imoko to pull her on top of him, but a shockingly powerful blow from Sofi stopped him — how could someone so tiny hit so hard? — and he lessened his grip on Imoko's ankle just long enough for her to slip free. Kytharrah felt dizzy again. This time it was worse, and he found that he could not respond as Imoko tried to swing down at him. Still unbalanced from his grabbing at her feet, she almost fell over when she swung the first time, and she struck his axe on his back instead of him with additional weak swings.

   Sofi, however, was not so unskilled. She landed two kicks and an elbow on his prone form. The elbow really hurt! Now the world felt all blurry, and he had trouble getting his body to move at all. It was scary, yet fun at the same time.

   Imoko tried again, but Kytharrah fortuitously moved his head unconsciously as he wobbled on his hands and knees, as the shovel slammed the ground. Finally, though, she landed a blow. It was a solid hit this time, but he barely felt it.

   "Shumu!" said Sofi, in a pleasant, encouraging voice, and then she too struck again. Why couldn't he do anything to respond? What was happening? His body would not move when he wanted it to. Imoko's shovel whacked him again once, followed by more blows from Sofi. He had to fight to move or he would lose this game.

   Kytharrah forced himself to move, rising to his feet with a loud bellow and throwing wide his arms. Both women tried to swing at him, but they had to jump back to avoid being struck by his arms.

   Kytharrah signaled to the two women with a lowering of the horns of his head that he was going to start playing a bit harder. Neither woman understood this minotaur body language, however, and both sprung forward simultaneously at him. This time, Kytharrah was faster in response. In the next moment, Imoko was flat on her back, knocked nearly unconscious by a whack from Kytharrah's thick forhead, and Sofi's high kick missed his head, as he hopped back like a spring from where he had been planted an instant prior.

   "Stop!" said Sofi. She did not seem angry or mad, but she was serious, and Kytharrah immediately obeyed. "The game is over now." He looked a little confused, because Sofi was speaking in Giant words again, but he had had fun, so he was satisfied to end the game for now.

   Sofi went over to Imoko and checked her over. She was moving and moaning. Kytharrah knew that he had not butted her hard enough to injure her badly, but he still felt bad that she seemed to be hurting. She was talking to Sofi, and she did not seem mad either, though she was not smiling like he was. He offered her one of his magic potions. She accepted it, smiled up at him, took a sip, and then immediately drank the full contents. Sofi helped her up, and she seemed to be in no more discomfort at all. "Arigatou gozaimasu!" said Imoko to him.

   After their play, Imoko talked to the monks who had been their line judges, and one when to obtain a basket of pears for them, which they ate while sitting in front of the shrine to Jikoku. Again, Sofi and Imoko talked a lot, and Kytharrah sat content and stretched and rubbed his bruised muscles, as his ioun stone quickly healed them. So, they passed the time this way — the women conversing and Kytharrah enjoying the warmth of the guiding light in the sky — until the others came to join them again about mid-afternoon.
Session: 126th Game Session - Tuesday, Dec 22 2020 from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM
Viewable by: Public
Tags: Battle , Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa