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Chapter 3 — Ubume
~ 10th of Chu, the Year of Ji Chou, morning
Road from Uminonagame to Sanfirudo, Wa


The journey from Uminonagame to Sanfirudo was much like the one from Bunden to Uminonagame; they passed up, down, and around the wolds of the land on a barely marked path heading north-northwest. They were gaining altitude, but not by much, and the going was fair. There was a breeze, coming from the sea in the east, and it felt cool on their skin and kept them at the perfect temperature for walking. Even the humans could sometimes catch the pleasant smell of the ocean in their noses. It was such a delightful walk that it was easy to forget that they were in a strange land on a quest of the gods.

   The journey was seventeen miles, and since most of them were on foot, it would take them most of the day to reach the next village. As they went along, Tano was talking to Kytharrah in his language for most of the journey. By now, the others had become so use to this that his voice was mostly ignored as it came into their ears. Imoko and Sofi were also talking, as best as they could manage, in very simple Wa-an. Imoko was pointing at things as they walked and calling out their names. Sofi would try to repeat the words, and Imoko would help her with the pronunciation. Solisar paid close attention to this, as it helped him to learn new vocabulary as well. He picked the words up much faster than Sofi and did not require the practice that she did, but it was helpful to him nonetheless.

   Szordrin was curious about the innkeeper back at Uminonagame and had Solisar ask Imoko if she had seen Jun-tua Gim and knew what race she was. Imoko answered that she was a korobokuru and seemed surprised that they had not seen such a person before, though she admitted that only a few korobokuru chose to live among humans. Most lived in the forests or barren wastelands of Wa, and she did not realize that they were not also found in such places in the west.

   Kytharrah kept asking to play with Imoko and Sofi again, but Imoko was too tired from her journey from Bunden to Uminonagame to deliver her report to them, and she even took a short nap when they had stopped for lunch. Kytharrah offered to carry her on his back, even though he was already carrying Tano in the basket of water and their bags of holding, but she declined, explaining through Solisar that her place was in the back of the line behind all the men.

   The adventurers also discussed the magic orb that they had taken from Onran's vault. That morning, Solisar had used their last pearl and drank the concoction required for him to identify the orb's properties. The divination had revealed that the orb was used to open a portal in a crystal sphere, the solid barrier that separated planetary systems within wildspace from the phlogiston. If ever they flew to the very edge of Realmspace, within about 100 yards, they would be able to use it to open a rift in the astronomically immense wall to pass into the space beyond space, one large enough for their spelljammer to pass through. Such a portal would remain open for over an hour before closing again, though there did not seem to be any limit on the number of times that the orb could be used.

   After seven hours, the sun had dropped below the mountains in the west, sending shadows over the farms and fields.

   When they were about two miles from their destination, they began to see more and more farms and fields with horses, cows, or sheep, nestled between small pine-covered hills.

   One mile shy of Sanfirudo, they passed an old minka just off the road on the right, with an unkempt barley field behind it. "Big hole!" said Kytharrah, noticing that the roof of the minka had collapsed and should not have been habitable.

   However, a woman suddenly rushed out of the house, wailing in sorrow as she came. She was dressed in a pure white kimono and looked pregnant, like she was at the end of her nine months. Her long black hair was unbound and blowing in the breeze. She was carrying a wrapped bundle, which, as she reached them at the road, they saw was a baby.

   Szordrin immediately began casting a few spells to understand her and read her thoughts.

   "Onegai, tasukete! Watashi no akachan o daite kudasai," she moaned. Tears streamed down her face. Solisar did not need to use magic to translate her cries. "Please, help me! Hold my baby."

   "Ta shi yi ubume," said Tano matter-of-factually, which Szrodrin heard as, "She is an i]ubume[/i]."

   Imoko also understood Tano's Trade Tongue and asked in Wa-an, "Watashitachi wa nani o shimasu ka?" which Solisar and Szordrin understood to mean, "What do we do?"

   The woman's mind was distraught and questioning whether these strangers could save her baby.

   "Anachtyr, reveal evil to my eyes," said Hakam, but his divinely blessed vision saw no dark aura around the woman or her child. She held the child out to them, expecting one of them to take it. The baby looked healthy but was so small that it must have been a newborn, though it had been cleaned and swaddled.

   Kytharrah, however, took a sniff with his large nostrils and sensed an odor of decaying flesh. He took a step away from the outstretched hands of the crying woman.

   "No one touch it!" commanded Szordrin. "She is a ghost."

   Belvin pulled the reigns on Kamil to take him away from the woman's reach.

   On seeing that they were moving away from her instead of helping her, the anxiety on her face began to grow even more severe, and her cry grew louder.

   "Be calm!" said Hakam gently but powerfully, but the divine magic did not seem to affect her. Instead, the woman's face writhed and distorted into a vision of horror. The skin on the left side of her mouth seemed to split and melt away, revealing a gash that exposed her teeth and the bone of her jaw. Her nose fell from her face, revealing two large openings behind. Her hair became bleached white and a dark stain appeared over the front of her belly and began to spread through the silk of her garment. She also seemed to fade, becoming almost transparent. Finally, the baby itself dropped from her hands and fell through the ground to vanish like a mist.

   So horrific was the woman's appearance that Imoko cried out and covered her eyes, and Sif, Leokas' wolf whined and lay down in the road. Szordrin, too, sensed feelings of sickness from Ferry, who was clinging to his shoulder.

   Szordrin was ready and darted immediately off the road to position himself behind the ghostly woman as she flailed out her arms toward Kytharrah. A ray of fire blasted from his fingertips, struck the woman directly in the small of back and obliterated her in flash of flame.

   It all happened so quickly that most of them appeared a bit stunned.

   "Should we have done that?" asked Szordrin.

   "Like Yunoko's ghost," said Hakam, "this one's spirit will reform in several days."

   "Your dragon recognized the spirit as an ubume," said Imoko to Solisar in Wa-an, "the spirit of a woman who has died in childbirth or while pregnant. She cannot find the River of Three Routes until the loss of her child is made right and honor is restored to her."

   "She did not simply die in childbirth;" said Solisar, "she was murdered, according to the blood on the front of her kimono. I wonder if this is another case of the rakshasa trying to kill his offspring."

   "Do we know where the woman whom Yunoko sheltered was from?" asked Hakam.

   "All we know is that Yunoko met her in Cormyr, where she had fled to seek asylum," said Solisar, "though I would suspect that her husband would have lived in the Emperor's city of Rukimbaru."

   Szordrin wanted to investigate inside the broken minka before moving on. The cabin was completely empty. Leokas could find no recent tracks, and all that Kytharrah could smell were the droppings of rodents. However, at the same time, both Belvin and Solisar noticed an odd cut in the floor boards. "A sword made this," said the wild elf druid.

   "The poor woman was run through," agreed Solisar.

   "This house has been abandoned for many moons at the very least," said Leokas.

   "We should ask about this house when we reach the next village," said Belvin.

   "Let us head out again," said Szordrin. "There is nothing more for us to discover here."

   As they moved on, Leokas noticed that Sif seemed to be limping, and Imoko expressed more weakness than she had felt before her highsun nap. Belvin tried to calm Sif with druidic magic, but whatever was affecting her was more than just emotional. They would not have the magic to help the young sohei or the wolf or the weasel until morning.

   They had not gone far again when Tano asked a question in Draconic, for Solisar's sake, but this time, one of the words jumped out to all of those who had been in the party the longest. "Who is Vashti?"

   They all looked confused by this seemingly random question, but Leokas answered, "An old friend from Calimshan; what does that name mean to you?"

   "She was a former traveling companion of some of the party," Solisar said to the dragon in his language.

   "Translate Leokas' question," said Hakam. "I also want to know how he knew of this name."

   "Tano can read most of our thoughts...," said Solisar. "I suspect that she came up in someone's memory."

   Szordrin looked at Leokas.

   "The woman's hair was blowing around of its own accord," said Leokas, "like Vashti's use to do. Before she was revealed to be a ghost, I thought that she might have been a genasi. That is all."

   Belvin gave Leokas a knowing and distrusting nod.
Session: 129th Game Session - Thursday, Aug 26 2021 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
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Tags: Battle , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
Chapter 3 — Potentially Useful Discoveries and Grim News
Instantly, the prismatic wall vanished into nothing.

   Various vocalizations of excitement came from most of the group.

   Beyond the rainbow wall was a wall of stone, with a narrow open doorway in the center. Hakam wasted no time in crossing the remainder of the hall and passing through. He stepped into a vault, with curved pockets in the extra-thick stone walls. In the north alcove was a silver chest covered in arcane runes. In the south and west alcoves were three stone pedestals, waist high. On two of them were two different orbs, each large enough to fill both palms.

   Hakam called back. "Solisar and Szordrin, follow the same path as I. I need your assistance."

   They did so.

   "The chest is probably mithral," said Szordrin.

   One of the orbs was golden-colored. It had deep grooves in it and was movable. "It is a puzzle box," said Solisar. "There is almost certainly something inside, if one can figure out the motions to open it." It was not magical.

   The remaining orb, in contrast, was magical, with a moderate abjuration aura. Solisar picked it up very carefully. It was made of a black material that seemed to shift from being transparent to opaque, depending on how one looked at it. Some sort of purple fibrils seemed to be flowing within it when it happened to appear transparent, but this color too morphed into the others in the color spectrum. It was beautiful, but he was certain that it had been created for more than only artistic reasons.

   "I will identify this in the morning," the elven wizard said.

   While Hakam was looking past Solisar into the magical orb, Kytharrah picked up the golden-colored one and started twisting and turning it. (He had had no problem taking the exact path as the others over the sigil-covered tiles.)

   Hakam vocally prayed to Anachtyr that the minotaur's actions would not bring a curse upon them. Then he said, "Minotaur! Put that down!"

   Kytharrah tossed it from his left hand, where Hakam tried to take it from him, to his right, catching it. "Play!" said Kytharrah. A game of keep-away was one that he had not played in a while. It would be a fun game to play with Tano, he thought.

   Sofi did play, and she snagged the orb quickly from his hand with a flash of her arm. "I win!" she said with a big grin up at him.

   Kytharrah did not even know that she had followed him across the tiles. He tried to grab at it again, but she swatted his hand away with a lightning reflex.

   "No, I won!" She tossed the puzzle orb quickly to Solisar, who surprised himself when he caught it.

   "The game is over for now, Kytharrah," said Sofi.

   Solisar examined it. "Actually, the way Kytharrah rotated this piece here may have given me an idea about how it works," said Solisar. "Thank you, Kytharrah! I do not think that I would have so quickly come to the conclusion that it could take this sort of rotation had you not played with it...." He began to rapidly move the quadrants and rings of the orb rapidly. It was only about a minute before, suddenly, a cylinder slid out of the sphere into Solisar's hand and fell open into two pieces with felt internal surfaces.

   It was empty. There was nothing at all inside.

   "Are we certain that there is no other hidden chamber within?"

   "I do not see how that would be possible without magic," said Solisar.

   Belvin poked Szordrin and turned to the mithral chest. He bent down and found it locked. Standing up, he poked Szordrin again.

   "Give me a moment," said Szordrin. "I need to get out my picks."

   But the chest proved to have a high-quality lock mechanism, well beyond Szordrin's ability to open with his tools.

   "Nekra!" commanded Solisar. There was a clicking sound. Szordrin lifted open the lid. The chest was full of several thousand gold coins, with Lantanese stampings, but two other items sat atop the pile — a music box crafted from bronze with an inlay of pearl and a simple grayish-brown hoodless cloak. Szordrin lifted up the cloak, (which had a moderate illusion aura to Solisar's eyes,) and let it hang open. The inside material appeared jet black, although it did not seem to be made of a different material from the opposite side. In fact, they soon realized that one could feel the fibers of the cloak's inner surface, even though they could not see them. Szordrin then discovered that if he rubbed his fingernail along the inside of the cloak, it made no sound.

   "I do have two pearls," said Solisar. "I could identify one of these objects now, if you give me about ten minutes and do not want to wait until the morning."

   Belvin, however, picked up the music box and turned the crank. A simple tune came out, but none of them recognized it, nor did Negi, the Dranyrs' former maid.

   "The craftsmanship reminds me of things that I saw in Lantan," said Hakam. "Perhaps Jayce would recognize the tune."

   "In the meantime," said Szordrin, "I would like Solisar to identify this cloak of Onran's."

   "Kytharrah," said Sofi, who saw that the minotaur was growing restless, "let us go outside and play with Tano while Solisar does canny spellslinger stuff."

~~~~

They found the large carp-like creature in the little man-made pond outside the Dranyrs' house. He was happy to see his furry, horned friend and ready to play.

   This time, the game was hide and seek. Kytharrah and Tanoshihire were both exceptionally good at this game, as Kytharrah had a phenomenal sense of smell and Tano was gifted with dragon senses. However, Tano started winning, and Kytharrah began to suspect that the carp-dragon was no longer playing fairly. The minotaur tracked his smaller friend to spots behind trees where the scent ended abruptly. Then, he would spot or hear the young dragon some distance away behind or in another tree altogether, though no trail of scent was left between the two locations.

   Eventually, he saw how Tano did it. Kytharrah saw the smaller creature simply poof out of existence. A moment or so later, he would reappear at some other spot.

   Sofi, who was watching them play, noticed this too. "That is not fair," she said. "Kytharrah cannot do whatever it is that you just did!"

   Kytharrah asked Tano in his minotaur dialect of Giant how he did this "trick". Tano seemed to understand and gave an answer in his own language, which only meant that Kytharrah still had no understanding of what was happening.

   Meanwhile, in the underground vault, Solisar had finished his identification ritual and explained to his companions that the magical cloak was a scry shroud. Whoever wore the cloak would be protected against all manner of divinatory magics and — if noticing a scrying sensor of any kind — could immediately turn invisible for one minute in response.

   After this, they crossed back over the floor tiles. (They could not determine how to reactivate the prismatic wall and saw no need to.) They bid the maid, Negi, farewell and came outside to join Sofi, Kytharrah, and the carp dragon. "Fun trick," said Kytharrah, pointing at the dragon. "Here, there." He gestured. "Show." Sofi then "translated" for the minotaur, explaining what Tano had revealed that he could do.

   Solisar knew that Tano had not been speaking Wa-an, yet Hina, the woman at the tea house, had had no issues understanding him. He suspected that the dragon was speaking what those in Faerûn called Trade Tongue, the Common of the eastern realms of Kara-Tur, which was a Shou Chiang language, the family of languages spoken in Shou Lung and T'u Lung. Unfortunately for Solisar, Wa-an was not a Shou Chiang language. However, he had a hunch that the carp dragon might speak another language that he did know. "You seem to understand our languages; do you also speak Draconic, Tanoshihire?" he asked in Draconic.

   The little dragon looked insulted and answered in Draconic. "Of course I can speak the language of dragons; I am a dragon! I told you that!" He gave one of his roar-hisses. Then he seemed to calm a bit and asked, "Do you want me to speak in Draconic now instead?"

   "I can understand you without magic if you do so, yes," said Solisar, "so I would appreciate that, if you would be so kind."

   "None of the rest of us can speak Draconic," said Szordrin, who could at least recognize that that was the language being spoken. "Ask him what other languages he can speak."

   Solisar did so, and Tano replied with pride, "The tongue of water, Common, and the Spirit Tongue. I am very smart!" He grinned, revealing his very sharp teeth.

   "So, you understand what I am saying now?" asked Solisar in Aquan.

   Tano nodded vigorously. "Yes, you must be very smart too," he answered in the same language.

   (To Hakam, Aquan sounded oddly familiar, as it shared a history with his own native tongue of Alzhedo.)

   "Is 'Common' what you have been speaking to us before?" asked Solisar.

   The carp dragon nodded.

   "Can you speak for me in the Spirit Tongue?"

   Tano did so, but it was another language that bore no resemblance to any of the many that Solisar knew.

   "Kytharrah says that you are vanishing and reappearing, Tanoshihire," said Solisar in Draconic. "How are you doing that?"

   "I am just going into the Spirit World and coming back again," said Tano, making it sound like it was as easy as taking a stroll.

   "Can you give me a demonstration?"

   Tano vanished from sight, and Solisar's magic-seeing vision could not detect any residual aura from the dragon either. This meant that Tano was not simply turning invisible; he was actually leaving the Material Plane. About a minute later, Tano reappeared in a new spot. Notably, the protective magic that Solisar always had active to notify him if someone was teleporting to their location did not trigger. This meant that however Tano was teleporting, it was not by passing through the Astral Plane.

   Kytharrah motioned at Leokas and Solisar and said, "You?"

   "Us what?" said the forest elf.

   "I think that he is asking if we can also go to the Spirit World," said Solisar.

   "Why would he think that? I am the least magical of all of you," said Leokas.

   "Because he knows that we went to the Fugue Plane," said Solisar. "It is not the same place," he then explained gently to the minotaur. "It is a special place that one can only go to from Kara-Tur — and only with magic."

   Talk of spirits and the Fugue Plane reminded Szordrin of Yunoko's request to them to find Onran's departed soul. He put on the hat of disguise that they had taken from Onran's basement on Coliar and his face transformed into that of his old master. "Ask him if, during his wanderings in the Spirit World, he has ever encountered anyone who looks like this."

   Solisar translated into Draconic, and Tano answered in the negative. Then Solisar asked the little dragon. "I do not even need to translate for you, do I? Can you not understand what all of us are thinking anyhow?"

   "It is easy for me to hear Kytharrah's thoughts, because he and I are good pals, but I almost never know what you or you or you are thinking." Tano nodded in turn toward Sofi, Hakam, and Solisar. "And I do not know your words, just your pictures and stuff."

   Szordrin thought in his head, "Can you hear what I am thinking?" but the dragon did not respond. Instead, he said to Solisar, "Ask him if he knows what I am thinking about." Then he pictured Ferry in his mind.

   "Sometimes I know and sometimes I do not," said Tano. "Oh, now you are thinking about your rat!"

   Solisar translated, and then Szordrin tried to block the image from his mind. Tano reported that the "rat went away."

   "Tano," asked Solisar, "you can jump between the Spirit World and this world; do you know of any pathways that creatures like us can take to get there?"

   "You do not need a pathway, silly creatures!" Tano lunged forward and gently bit onto Solisar's magical winter boot. Instantly, the two vanished.

   Solisar, however, found himself in the same place with Tano's mouth around his boot, only it was not the same place but rather almost a reflection of it. Most of the trees were the same and in the same places, except that they were taller and fuller, and their leaves were somehow more green; their bark had taken on a reddish hue, making the leaves and bark stand out in greater contrast from each other. He glanced behind himself to the west. Onran's house had no analog in this world, being replaced by more trees, but the mountains of Wa, which had already seemed great, now appeared to stretch higher than the edge of the sky.

   "See?" said Tano with pride. "I told you that I am a god. Do you want to go back now?"

   "Yes, please."

   With that, they were back on the Material Plane.

   Solisar explained to the others that Tano could plane shift without any need for a tuning fork but apparently only to the Spirit World.

   Hakam made a suggestion. "Perhaps we can ask our friends at the Interlink Consortium what tuning fork would allow me to take us to the Spirit World, if ever this fish leaves us."

   Tano then lunged at Kytharrah and bit his leg, with far more force than he had applied to Solisar's boot. Kythharah had wanted this, and now it was the minotaur who found himself in a strange mirror of reality, where everything seemed bolder and more intense. He took a deep inhalation, and his nose was greeted with crisp and wonderful scents. He could recognize the distinct smell of every individual tree about him, every pine and every cedar. He could no longer smell his other friends, however, apart from Tano, who had ceased clamping down on his now bleeding leg.

   When Kytharrah was ready to go back, he imagined Solisar, and Tano seemed to understand. The two young creatures reappeared among the others back outside Onran's old home.

   It was getting dark, so they all headed back downhill to the inn, which was where they earlier had passed under two strings of red paper lanterns hung from the corners of the roofs of two rowhouses that faced each other. There was an opening into the eastern rowhouse from this lit space between them, and Hakam stepped up and inside.

   Standing behind the counter was a different sort of person than any whom they had yet seen in Wa. Humanoid but not human, the woman behind the counter was only about four feet tall. She might have been a skinny dwarf, but she did not look like any dwarves that they had seen either, for her facial features were quite different — tiny button nose instead of a large one, thick lips, big blue eyes, mildly pointed ears. Her blonde hair was wild, tangled, and spiky in places. Tiny wispy whiskers hung from her chin. Her arms were noticeably long for her body, and she also appeared somewhat bowlegged. Kytharrah had never smelled a creature like her either.

   The tiny woman spoke in Wa-an, welcoming them to her inn. Hakam conversed with her by magic. Her name was Jun-tua Gim. (The name did not sound very Wanese, and Hakam did not know which of the names was her given name or which was her surname.) She asked him if he needed a place to stay, and he arranged and paid for their accommodations. It was four yuan per room; Sofi was assigned a room in the women's wing, the eastern rowhouse, and the others were given three rooms to split among them from the western wing. (While Hakam paid her, Belvin began to turn the crank on Onran's music box, wondering if the tune would sound familiar to the innkeeper, but she did not seem to think anything of the music.)

   "The big one should probably take the first room, as it has one mat," said Jun-tua Gim. "There are two mats in each of the other rooms, as well as an irori and a bucket of water."

   The rooms were as she had described, simple but better than another night on the hard ground under trees, although that is exactly where Belvin still chose to trance. Kytharrah did not like being in a room by himself, especially one built for tiny humans, so he also joined Belvin that night.

~~~~

   Night passed without any nightmares, visits from ghosts, or other unpleasant incidents. Belvin was up at dawn as usual to request his druidic powers from Thard Harr. He was standing just south of the gate when he saw a woman approaching, wearing red-dyed leather. He recognized her as the shrine guardian from Bunden, and Kytharrah also smiled at one of his playmates from a few days ago.

   Imoko tried to communicate with Belvin, but he waved, shrugged, and nodded toward the village gate, so she continued on past them and entered Uminonagame, and Belvin and Kytharrah followed her.

   She first spoke to the watchman at the stone lantern and then went on to the inn, where she quickly spoke with the dwarf-like innkeeper. Belvin and Kytharrah watched her then go to Solisar's room and knock on the door. (Belvin again got out the music box and began to crank it.)

   The door slid open, and Szordrin and Solisar both were there to greet her.

   She spoke immediately. "Aisatsu, tomodachi, watashi wa nyusu o motte kimasu."

   "Aisatsu, tomodachi," said Solisar. "Nani no nyusu?"

   She rambled off an answer quickly, relaying the news that she claimed to have brought, but Solisar had to stop her, because too many of the words he did not know. He cast a spell and politely asked her to speak again.

   "The ometsuke arrived yesterday afternoon," she said. "A crowd gathered around, as they approached the shoya's estate with a band of mounted samurai. The shoya was made to walk to the very center of the village. He knelt on his knees, drew his wakizashi, and shoved it into his own stomach. As he yelled out in agony, one of the samurai then drew his katana and decapitated him. There was so much blood. It was truly awful! I requested immediately that Ieharu permit me to head north to find you. I traveled through the night. I thought that you would want to know the news."

   "Those are indeed grim tidings," said Solisar, "but can you explain to me who or what the ometsuke is or are?"

   "The ometsuke are the shogun's officers who handle the discipline of the daimyo," said Imoko.

   "Thank you for the information," said Solisar. "Will you be returning back to Bunden?"

   "Ieharu suugested that I return to my monastery at Jiyu and report to the brothers there what has happened at Bunden. If you are still traveling that way, perhaps I can travel with you."

   "Play?" said Kytharrah.

   "The group will likely welcome you to come with us," said Solisar.

   They did not tary much longer in Uminonagame; the seven adventurers and the sohei — together with a camel, a weasel, a wolf, and a carp dragon in a basket — departed through the northern red gate and journeyed on.
Session: 129th Game Session - Thursday, Aug 26 2021 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Planetary Symbology
"Stop!" commanded Hakam. "There are runes on the floor. Do not step on them!"

   The "runes" were large, nearly five feet in radius and covering four stone floor tiles each. There were 21 of them, all but one of which were in a grid of four rows and five columns. They were in six different colors and shapes. There was a blue hexagon circumscribing an inverted triangle, with a circle also drawn around each point of the triangle. There was a white circle divided into thirds and inscribed with a triangle. There was a purple circle with two lines and two circles asymmetrically placed. There was a red hexagon circumscribing a non-inverted triangle, and a green circle inscribed by a triangle, which was in turn inscribed with a smaller circle. These five symbols, in order from right to left, made up the first row of symbols on the floor. The next rows included copies of these five in an unrecognizable pattern. The twenty-first symbol was unique, occupying a space immediately after the fourth row and centered. It was a yellow symbol, a circle inscribed with two intercepting pentagons. Solisar noted that all of the floor symbols had a faint magical aura.

   These glyphs, however, were not the most immediately visible thing in the room. At the far end of the room, the back wall seemed to be made, not of stone, but of a solid rainbow of intense light. The chromatic wall had an intense abjuration aura.

   "Do you recognize any of these symbols, Solisar?" asked Hakam.

   "I do," said Leokas. "There are similar triangles covering the triangular faces of the omlar gem. We were told over a year ago that the triangles on the gem were the alchemical symbol for fire."

   "These are all alchemical symbols then," said Hakam. "Unfortunately, all of them except for the purple and yellow ones integrate a triangle in some way. Minotaur, have you seen these shapes before?"

   Kytharrah shook his shaggy head. "Pretty!" He was very tempted to touch them.

   "Do not touch them!" said Hakam.

   "There are four of each color besides the yellow one," noted Szordrin.

   "I can see no pattern in how they are arranged," said Hakam.

   "There is a room beyond the prismatic wall," said Szordrin. "I can just make it out through the intense light."

   "Prismatic wall?" said Sofi.

   "It is an exceptionally powerful spell effect," said Solisar, "far beyond my own capabilities to create. Each of the colors in the wall has a unique defensive property. Notice how the wall is angled back slightly with red and the bottom and violet at the top. The red light, for example, has fire as a defense. To pass through the wall, you would have to pass through seven separate fields of energy, each of which also blocks seven different kinds of attacks."

   "Could we get through by countering each color with the appropriate elemental spell?" asked Belvin. "Could a beam of ice negate the red color?"

   "Yes, that is indeed possible," said Solisar, "but while we collectively could negate some of the colors, we simply are not powerful enough in the arcane or divine arts to negate all of them. If we still had the genie's wish, perhaps, but without that, this is hopeless for us to pass without determining the code that Onran has presumably left in the sigils before us."

   "If Uminonagame were a city, we might be able to purchase scrolls with the needed spells," added Szordrin, "but it is not."

   "How deep below the surface are we?" asked Hakam. "Belvin has summoned creatures to dig us around barriers before."

   "Do you want to destroy Onran's property?" asked Belvin. "No, we can solve this riddle; no riddle has stopped us before. These are elemental symbols. Red is fire. Leokas is correct that these are alchemical symbols."

   "Are there not four elements, not five or six?" asked Leokas.

   "I want to try something," said Hakam, "but I need everyone to clear the room first."

   "What are you going to try?" asked Solisar.

   "I am going to create water upon one of the blue glyphs in the back rows," said Hakam.

   They stepped back into the first room, Hakam offered a brief prayer, and now there was simply a large puddle of water on the floor amongst the glyphs.

   "I have a feeling that you are supposed to walk over the tiles in a certain order, which will lower the wall," said Szordrin.

   "I am willing to step on one of them and see what happens," said Hakam.

   "If you are going to risk that," said Solisar, "you need to step on the red one first. If Szordrin is correct about the order of colors in the rainbow, that would be the obvious choice. Although, on the other hand, perhaps white symbolizes ice, which would be the first element required to overcome the color red. There are also formally seven colors in a prismatic wall, but only five of the six colors of the sigils match the seven colors said to compose a prismatic wall."

   "True," said Szordrin. "There is no white beam in the wall, for example, to correspond with the four white sigils on the floor."

   "And there are no orange or indigo symbols on the floor," said Solisar. "Perhaps we would need to somehow mix the colors like one mixes pigments in paints."

   "We could summon our friend Krynn and have him run through the rainbow to see what happens," said Belvin, referring to a satyr that he had summoned several times in the past. The others assumed and hoped that he was only joking.

   "I cannot even find a path over the tiles where we would touch each color once in the correct order," said Hakam, "even if they did, in fact, correspond to the colors in the rainbow."

   "Did you consider diagonals?" asked Solisar.

   "If diagonal steps are allowed," said Szordrin, "then blue is the only path that is fully connected over the four rows. I doubt, however, that that is significant."

   "I do not think that I am canny enough to help much," said Sofi, "but why do you think that there is only one yellow sigil, while there are four of all the others? It is also the only one that does not have a triangle within it."

   "I think that it is the final symbol that needs to be stepped on," said Belvin, "but I do not know why it is yellow or lacks a triangle."

   "The purple symbol also does not have any triangle in it," said Leokas, "only two lines that intersect and form an angle. That leaves four symbols with triangles for the four elements."

   "Could these be the symbols for planets? And could the yellow one represent the sun?" asked Hakam. "We know, after all, that Onran was a spelljammer."

   "An interesting idea," said Solisar, "In the field of planetology, scholars classify all planets by the element that corresponds most closely to their makeup. For example, there are fire bodies, water bodies, earth bodies, and air bodies. In Kara-Tur, scholars of wildspace also include plant bodies as a fifth option, because Kara-Turans hold that there are five elements, not four. I do not know which classification Onran would follow, but in Realmspace, this would only be a conflict with how one classifies Garden; is it an earth body? or a plant body? Toril is considered an earth body, while Coliar is considered an air body."

   "How many planets are in our crystal sphere again?" asked Hakam.

   "Eight or nine, because the sun is also counted as a fire body, the only such body in Realmspace. After the sun comes Anadia, an earth body; Coliar; Toril; Karpri and Chandos, both water bodies; Glyth, another earth body; Garden; and lastly H'Catha, a final water body."

   "I do not see how this adds up to a solution," said Belvin.

   "We currently stand on Toril, so perhaps we start there," said Solisar.

   "I want to make sure that I have this right;" said Hakam, "the sequence from the sun is earth, air, earth, water, water, earth, earth or plant, and water, correct?"

   "Correct," said Solisar.

   "So we step on the path through the glyphs that corresponds to that," said Hakam.

   Belvin asked, "Do we start from Toril? from Anadia? from the sun?"

   "That is an open question," said Hakam. "If Onran was following Faerûnian scholarship, then there are four earth bodies, and there are four of each symbol, so that might help us narrow a path down. You would also have to step on two water symbols in a row. I suspect that the two blue symbols in adjacent rows in the middle represent water. If so, knowing that the final planet is also water, the blue symbol in the center of the back row would be the last tile, and if we are supposed to go in reverse, than this tile would be the last." He motioned toward the blue symbol against the north wall in the nearest row.

   "If the yellow symbol represents the sun," said Leokas, "that implies moving toward the center of Realmspace, since it is the final symbol."

   "Going from out to in would have us step on an earth symbol last," said Hakam.

   "If that is true," said Solisar, "then the green symbol could not represent earth, because Anadia is an earth body, and there is no green symbol at all in the final row. That would suggest that the green symbol represents plant and therefore that Onran was using the Kara-Turan classification of planets."

   "But the sun cannot be the yellow symbol," said Leokas, "because Solisar told us that it is a fire body, and the omlar gem is marked with a triangle."

   "There are no triangles in the yellow symbol," said Sofi.

   Hakam sighed. "Perhaps the yellow symbol is not a planet and simply marks the end of the sequence. If that is the case, then this red symbol here is where we start, symbolizing the sun as the fire body, and the blue symbol in the last row is the final water body, and we must connect those two symbols with a path."

   "Earth would be green," said Belvin. "Walking in a straight line, from the red symbol, we would step on green and then white for air."

   "Yes," said Hakam, "but then we would need water next, which we do not have."

   "Unless you can step diagonally," said Belvin.

   "You left out Toril after Coliar," said Solisar. "We need to follow the path red, green, white, green."

   Hakam pointed out a path, "Red, green, white, green, blue, blue, green...." The path had led him backwards, and now he was blocked by tiles already mentally crossed. "Oh, but if you are allowed to reuse tiles, you can step forward again onto that green tile in the center: green for Garden and then water and then the yellow symbol at the end."

   "So we are ignoring plant as an option again," said Belvin.

   "There are five runes," said Solisar.

   "...Which does suggest five elements and not four," said Hakam. "So, one would assume that one of them is plant, but maybe it is simply a decoy. Perhaps Onran knew that most people stumbling upon his puzzle would be from Wa and confused by the five symbols, expecting there to be five elements when there are not."

   "What does the yellow symbol represent?" asked Sofi.

   "What is beyond the last planet?" asked Hakam.

   "The crystal sphere itself," said Solisar, "and beyond that the phlogiston, within which all the crystal spheres in the Material Plane float. Now that you bring it up, the phlogiston is also called the 'rainbow ocean' because its substance is usually described as multicolored. I do not know why I did not think of this at first."

   "So, the yellow symbol represents the crystal sphere," said Hakam, "and beyond that is our rainbow ocean. This means that we have the directionality solved. I am willing to give our path a try."

   But they began to second guess themselves. "Is there an alternative path that does not involved stepping on the center green symbol twice, without making a loop?"

   No one could see such a path, even using diagonals.

   "And why are we assuming that white is air?" asked Solisar.

   "If purple is air, I cannot see any solution, even if diagonals are allowed," said Hakam.

   "Purple does not have a triangle," said Solisar.

   "And what about plant?" asked Belvin.

   "I thought that we had agreed that Onran was not using plant," said Solisar. "If so, I think that we would need to touch all four of the green symbols."

   "That is not possible," said Hakam. "It is impossible to solve unless we are allowed to reuse the symbols."

   Still, they were too nervous about testing the theory, afraid of the consequences if they were wrong.

   "Was there no book of alchemy in the other room that might help us?" asked Hakam.

   "Yes, there was," said Szordrin. "I do not know why we did not consult it." He quickly retrieved it from one of the side rooms. Leafing through it, it did not take long to find examples of each of the symbols of the four elements. They did not match the symbols on the floor exactly, but they soon confirmed that fire and air used upright triangles, while water and earth used inverted ones. "Nothing here disagrees with our assumptions thus far about the symbols; fire is red, air is white, water is blue, and earth is green. Purple is perhaps plant, or it is something else altogether."

   "Are there no circles in the book?" asked Hakam.

   The tiefling wizard could find none.

   "The combination of the circles with the triangles is probably used to indicate that these are planetary glyphs, not simply elemental glyphs," said Solisar.

   They paused to think through their options again.

   "We forgot the Tears of Selûne," said Solisar.

   "Does that not count as orbiting Toril?" said Szordrin.

   "True," said Solisar, "like Selûne."

   While they were debating the path, Kytharrah was growing ever more bored and confused by what they were talking about. The red symbol looked fun, so he stepped onto it.

   "Kytharrah, no!" shouted Sofi, but it was too late.

   However, nothing at all noticeable happened — no sound, no sensation, no shimmer in the magical auras, nor change in the colors of the prismatic wall.

   "Step back, minotaur," said Hakam. Kytharrah obeyed. Hakam then took the path that he had first proposed, three symbols forward, starting with the red one, then three to the north, one to the east, one south, and then three to the west to reach the yellow sigil. He recited the order of the planets with each step, while the others watched anxiously. "Fire, earth, air, earth, two waters, two earths, one more water, crystal sphere."

   Instantly, the prismatic wall vanished into nothing.
Session: 128th Game Session - Monday, Jan 25 2021 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — The Dranyr Minka
~ 9th of Chu, the Year of Ji Chou, morning
Cormyrean Embassy, Uwaji, Wa

Morning came. The guards at the gate had delivered the message to the shogun's castle. Harada Seikwa, the shogun's Voice, was willing to meet with them that afternoon, if required. However, the reply also included permission for Hina to enter the city, and, instead of a written order for Bunden's shoya, they were told that the shogun's officials would look into the matter of the records for them. Not wanting to lose more time, Hakam sent a reply back saying that meeting with the Voice that afternoon would not be necessary; they would continue on to the next location, which was Uminonagame, the village where Onran and Yunoko had lived, and would report back at a later time, probably after first visiting Rukimbaru.

   Uminonagame, they learned, was said to be on a road through the foothills that ran parallel to the south-to-north highway known as Tawata Road, which ran from Uwaji to Rukimbaru along the coast. The much smaller road from Uminonagame instead reached the Akano River, which flowed out of the mountains and eventually crossed the Tawata highway. Thus, they could pass through Uminonagame on the way to Rukimbaru without going too much out of their way.

   That morning, before setting out, Hakam and Szordrin ventured into the city of Uwaji itself and sought a moneychanger. They quickly learned that no moneychanger would exchange their currency, only currency from Shou Lung or another Kara-Turan nation. However, one merchant did give them a tip that a goldsmith might be willing to buy gold bars from them as a material. Before highsun, they finally succeeded in selling four gold bars for 120 ch'ien, which were small silver trade bars, bringing their total number of ch'ien up to 143.

   It was sixteen miles, roughly, to Uminonagame. They first retraced their steps back over fields, hills, and bamboo forest to Bunden. Along the way, they returned the teacup to Hina, who was delighted to hear all that they had to share of their successful communication with Yunoko's spirit. Tano continued to talk endlessly in his unknown language as he rode in the water-filled basket hanging from Kytharrah's back. Mostly, they ignored him, but Solisar noticed that when Kytharrah would sniff a new smell, Tano would sometimes make a reply, as if explaining what the smell was.

   At Bunden, the gate guard let them enter. They walked through the middle of the village and then to the northern path just before the trinket-seller's shop. This led them past a cart seller, the herbalist, a clothing shop, a potter, a wheelwright, and a saddler, before they came to a two-story wooden guard tower and the north gate.

   The path from Bunden to Uminonagame was less well-tended than the road to Uwaji. It rose continuously but gradually in a series of wide ess-curves around and up the sides of hills, moving roughly to the northwest. As they went along, there were several overlooks, marked with stone lanterns, that gave beautiful views of the valleys and rice fields below. Belvin noted that here the hills were covered with cedar, cypress, and pine.

   It was almost dusk when they arrived at the gate of Uminonagame, after walking all afternoon and into the evening. The sun had long since dropped below the snow-capped mountains to the west, but its light was still present. The village was probably about the same size as Bunden, but it was not surrounded with a wall like Bunden; instead, the gate was simply a wooden archway painted red. Neither were the minka arranged in rows; here, they were instead erected wherever they fit into the sloping and rocky hills, and there were far more trees growing among them.

   As they approached the red gate, the road provided them a view to the east. They were high enough now that they could see all the way to the coast and to the ocean beyond.

   "If I understand the language well enough, Uminonagame literally means 'View of the Sea'," said Solisar.

   They passed under the gate. The road continued northward, veering a bit to the left between two minka, and before that was a grassy area encircled by a dirt path on all sides with a stone lantern at the center. Further north, at the top of the hill, they could see a walled complex, which they suspected was the shoya's estate.

   There was a lightly armored watchman standing by the stone lantern. He nodded at them, but otherwise made no movement to intercept them or question them. Beyond the guard and the dirt path, a seller was carrying what seemed to be musical instruments into his shop for the night.

   The dirt path ran atop a short cliff to their left. Looking down, there were several small minka but also a statue or idol carved into the rock. A brazier of fire was lit before it, and two tatami were laid out.

   Solisar tried to greet the guard in Wa-an, without the use of magic, and asked the name of the statue below them.

   Apparently, his Wa-an was passable, and the watchman answered that the god's name was Komoku the Big Seeing — or something close to that — the Guardian of the West.

   By magic, Hakam also queried the guard, presenting the notice from the shogun and asking if anyone currently lived at the former ambassador's house at the top of the hill.

   "The house at the top of the hill is abandoned and locked," said the guard. "Someone now owns the building, but he does not live there, and I do not know who it is."

   Knowing that the sun would set soon, and having received directions from Yunoko that her old home was northwest of the village proper, they continued along the main path. They passed under two strings of red paper lanterns hanging between two row houses. The people here did not seem particularly welcoming, but neither did they seem surprised or scared at the sight of the elves, horned woman, camel, wolf, or even the minotaur and his noisy little dragon.

   Then, the path curved more to the left and meandered uphill through a cluster of tiny homes. They passed between the shops of a cooper and a florist before reaching a fork in the path outside a shop selling tatami mats. Here, the hillside was too rocky to directly ascend, and it looked like either path might work its way up and around to the top of the hill.

   They chose to go left, because it seemed steeper and more likely to reach the top of the hill, where they expected to find Yunoko and Onran's home, more quickly. Sure enough, the road passed shops and minka and another stone lantern and made a u-turn back to the north. After passing two final shops, which smelled strongly of leather, the road turned almost east to go around another rocky slope. At the top of the slope was a cluster of a maybe a half-dozen small homes, and then the road curved north over the flat hilltop. At the center of the hill top, they at last could see the large house, standing two stories tall, built elevated above the ground like many houses in Wa. Unlike all the other structures in the village besides the shoya's, this building had a slate roof. It would have looked like a typical medium-sized home within the city of Uwaji, except that it had a short, square tower or castle turret build atop, which looked like a hybrid of Wanese and Cormyrean architecture.

   The main sliding doors on the western wall were shut, and a chain and padlock secured the house. The padlock was rusted, implying that the house had not been entered in some time.

   "We should go inside," said Hakam. "Can someone pick the lock?"

   "Hakam!" exclaimed Sofi, "I thought that you were opposed to breaking the law. We even know that this house is owned by someone else now. How would it be legal to force our way in?"

   "All property is owned by the shogun, ultimately," Hakam replied, "and we are expressly his agents and thus have his will to enter."

   She furrowed her brow but did not argue further.

   Szordrin took his tiny tools for such purposes from his belt and set to work. Sofi watched him with interest, having never seen someone use tools to pick a lock before.

   Solisar, Belvin, Leokas, and Kytharrah walked to the other side of the house. Bamboo trees were planted here, on either side of an extension coming out from the otherwise square house. The trees provided afternoon shade for a sand garden and a pool. A mildly worn path from a back door led between the pool and sand garden east to an outhouse that sat just before the hill sloped downwards into the forest at the northern border of the village. Kytharrah let Tano hop out so that he could splash around in the pool a bit.

   Solisar examined the back door. It was chained like the front door, but when he looked more closely, he found that the padlock was not actually locked; it was only made to appear closed.

   "Kytharrah, go tell Szordrin to stop and come to this side," said Solisar.

   Everyone now gathered at the back of the house, and they went to slide the door open.

   Leokas stopped them. "Let Kytharrah smell the lock and the area first, and let me search for tracks." Kytharrah smelled the lock, but he did not recognize any scent on it.

   "There are fresh humanoid tracks," said Leokas, after a few minutes of searching about the yard, "of at least two different persons. The larger set comes from this trail beyond the outhouse and leaves the same way. They come up to the house but never seem to go inside. The smaller set goes from inside house to the outhouse."

   They removed the chain and slid the door to the side. They entered the extension, an entryway about ten feet square. This connected to a much larger room that must have occupied most of the area of the home and likely served as the kitchen and dining room. An irori was in the center, surrounded by a tatami in the common manner, and a second mat sat on the southern side of the room with a low table upon it for eating. Also on that side of the room were a wine rack and a small book shelf with dusty booklets. On the other side of the room, against a windowless wall, was a staircase ascending, and a wooden wash basin and broken bucket. A few kegs and several pottery pieces were also scattered about. The kegs had rotted and leaked their contents over the wooden floor.

   The ceramic wine bottles and books on the shelf had clearly not been touched in a while and were covered in dust and cobwebs, but Hakam observed that, otherwise, the place was not as dusty or dirty as he might expect for a truly abandoned house.

   There was a pot sitting in the irori, and Kytharrah sniffed it. There was leftover food residue in it. "Fresh," said the minotaur.

   "Whoever belongs to the smaller set of tracks I found takes shoes off to walk around barefoot inside," said Leokas.

   Kytharrah sniffed where Leokas directed, he crouched low to the floor and followed the scent out from the kitchen and dining room and into the main entry room of the house. This was a long and narrow room, about 25 feet long. It had another, taller bookshelf, and some empty flower vases and a tatami by the southern window. Besides the main door to the outside, there was a small screen door at the north end.

   Solisar picked up a few books at random from the shelf. The first book that he grabbed was written in Wanese characters and seemed to be mythological stories of Wa. The next was written in Lantanese and was children's stories about gnomes and fey creatures of the woods. There were illustrations of rainbows and pots full of gold.

   Kytharrah tracked the scent to the little screen door. Szordrin slid it open, revealing what appeared to be a tiny prayer room. There was a small household idol of a feminine deity and a tatami and only about enough room for two persons to kneel on the floor shoulder to shoulder.

   Szordrin spoke arcane syllables and waved his hands. A aura appeared from something under the mat. "There is a secret door under the mat in here," he called to the others.

   Underneath the mat was indeed a trap door. A string or cord was tied to the corner of the mat and led between the crack between the door and the floor.

   "Someone is hiding under the mat," said Hakam.

   "We should check upstairs first," said Belvin.

   The second floor had four rooms — one at each corner — and a stairwell with a spiral staircase going up on the western side of the building. One room was empty, one had an old table and a shelf, one had two sleeping mats upon the floor, and the largest room was clearly the master bedroom. It displayed an interesting mixture of cultures. The bed was a large four-poster bed, yet it sat on a wall-to-wall tatami. There was a wooden bathtub and a marble dresser and white-washed wardrobe. Atop the dresser sat a silvered mirror.

   The staircase led up to the tower, a small ten-foot-by-ten-foot room with windows on all the walls. A ladder here led up to the top of the turret. It had a small square-pyramidal tiled roof supported by four narrow beams in the center, leaving the rest of the area open to the sky. The edges of the turret were crenelated with wooden merlons. From here, one could see over the trees all the way to the ocean. In one corner they found four grooves carved into the wooden floor of the turret, clearly intended to support some sort of stand for an object.

   "A spot for a telescope, perhaps," suggested Hakam.

   Kytharrah found no trace of the scent of the footprints left on any of the upper floors. They returned all the way back downstairs and readied themselves for whoever or whatever was below the trap door. Szordrin drew his dagger.

   "Put that weapon away!" said Hakam. "We are only dealing with townspeople here."

   "Whoever is here is occupying my master's home," said Szordrin, "without permission. Is that not illegal?"

   "Property rights do not remain when one is dead," said Hakam.

   "In Calimshan, does property not pass down from father to son?" argued Szordin. "In that case, this home belongs to me, and I have a right to defend it."

   "Only if you were formally adopted."

   "Bar that, you berks," said Sofi. "What if the rakshasa is here in disguise, waiting?"

   Szordrin kept his knife in his right hand and lifted open the trap door with his left, revealing a staircase going down into the darkness. He descended.

   His darkvision revealed that there was an old woman standing there in the darkness, a broom held in a sad attempt at a defensive stance. She looked frazzled, as if she had just been woken from a deep sleep.

   Modotte, matawa watashi wa anata o tatakimasu! she shouted.

   Solisar guessed that this meant, "Get back, or I shall hit you!"

   Hakam, still up the stairs, cast the ability to understand and speak her language.

   "Aisatsu, beannachtai, and alae," said Solisar, trying to greet her in three different languages that he thought she might know. He then lit his staff with magic.

   The woman looked very confused, but she did not whack Szordrin with the broom after hearing Solisar's greeting from the stairs. Szordrin took the moment to cast a few spells as the others slowly filed into the basement.

   The stone-walled and -floored room was 25 feet square. The stairs came down from the east, so, in fact, the place was not a basement at all, as it was not below the Dranyr house. They were in an underground chamber or series of chambers west of the actual house. There were three doorways from the room; the ones on the north and south walls were doorless, but the one on the western wall was shut. Unlit sconces adorned the walls, and a pile of boxes and crates was in the southeastern corner. A table, attached by a hinge to the eastern wall, so that it could be raised up for space, was to their right, and just before that on the stone-tiled ground was a small tatami with a sleeping mat, upon which the old woman was standing.

   Her thoughts began to come into focus for Szordrin. Am I in trouble? Are they going to arrest me? Are they going to send me back to Sanfirudo?

   "We are sorry to startle you," said Hakam in Wa-an.

   The woman remained terrified, but she seemed to be taking intentional deep breaths as if to calm herself down.

   "What are you doing in Onran's house?" said Szrodrin in Common.

   Her face seemed to react to the name of Onran.

   "We are not here for you;" said Hakam. "We are here to investigate the property. We are looking into the pasts of Onran and Yunoko."

   "Did Onran-sama send you?" asked the woman in Wa-an.

   "No, it was the spirit of Yunoko who sent us."

   "Watashi wa kanojo no tamashi no tame ni inorimasu," she said quietly to no one, which Hakam's magic translated as something similar to, "I pray for her soul."

   "Watashi no namae Negi," she then said, giving her name.

   "Are you the cleaning lady of whom Yunoko spoke to us?" asked Hakam.

   "Hai, I was the maid of Yunoko-sama. I worked here five days every ten and stayed in the guest room upstairs. I returned home to my minka in Sanfirudo on the other days."

   Hakam translated for the others.

   "Ask her why she moved down here." said Szordrin. Hakam did so.

   "After Yunoko-sama died, Onran-sama allowed me to remain and work so that I would be able to live. Even when he left about four years later, he allowed me to stay here and keep the place. He would return once every few years or so to check on things, but after about ten years, he never returned."

   Hakam translated again.

   She added, "After that, the shoya of Uminonagame sold the house to a rich samurai or daimyo. I do not know whom. Whoever it is, all they ever did was come once and remove expensive furniture and items, locked the door, and have never returned. I had nowhere to go, for my minka in Sanfirudo was burned to the ground, and my husband was executed for not being able to pay a debt. Without my husband, I have no way to make a living."

   When Hakam translated, Sofi gave a gasp in response to the mention of the husband's execution.

   Negi continued. "The shoya of Sanfirudo died of an illness, and his brother, the shoya of Karyu, claimed that he had the right to take over the leadership of the village. He doubled the tax rate and effectively enslaves its people, having them work the mines. This is why my husband was unable to pay his debt."

   Hakam paused to consider the legality of what she reported before translating. He knew that Yunoko was a noble. If she had owned the house, it would not have been in the shoya of Uminonagame's rights to have sold it, unless Yunoko's nobility was somehow revoked by a daimyo. However, he thought that someone had mentioned that it was originally Onran's home before his marriage to Yunoko. If so, he was unclear how a gajin's property would be handled.

   "By the laws of my land," said Hakam, "it seems that this home should be yours, not the shoya's, but we can investigate further and perhaps offer you help in obtaining justice."

   These words seemed to calm her greatly. She lowered her broom at last and offered several bows of respect to each of them in turn. When she bowed toward Szordrin, her thoughts revealed that his beard reminded her of Onran.

   "I do regret to inform you, however," Hakam said, "that Onran has died. That is why he has not returned."

   It is as I feared, Szordrin heard her think, but she said nothing and only nodded. He was such a nice boy!

   "Ask her who else lives her," said Szordrin, referring to the second set of footprints that Leokas had found outside.

   "I am the only one here," she said. "I only come out at night to eat and find food. A few villagers know that I am here and leave scraps for me."

   "Has the house ever been burglarized?" asked Szordrin through Hakam.

   "Three or four years ago I found the door over there unlocked," she said, motioning to the door in the wall, "but I have no idea who did it or how I was not woken."

   "What else is down here?"

   "This is where Onran-sama did his wu-jen stuff, but it would have been dishonorable for me to pass behind those doors unless invited. The door was always locked until three or four years ago, when I was shocked to find it slightly ajar. I still have not passed through those doors. I never even opened the door; I simply pressed it shut again. I have maintained my honor, though I was afraid to sleep here for many nights."

   "I am suspicious that the rakshasa was here," said Hakam to the others in Common. "However, on Coliar, the rakshasa totally ransacked the house, yet that is not the case here. Maybe it was Samber."

   "The rakshasa would have slaughtered this woman," said Leokas, agreeing with their cleric.

   "It was Samber," said Belvin confidently.

   "What was Samber doing three or four years ago?" asked Hakam. "Was that when he lost his magic?"

   "I thought that he lost his magic more recently than that," said Leokas.

   "When did Onran die?" asked Hakam. "About five years ago?"

   "She said that Onran stopped coming here ten years ago," said Solisar.

   "But that does not mean that it was because he had died," said Hakam. "It was Szordrin who learned of his death."

   "Onran died four years ago," said Szordrin, "in the early months of the Year of the Gauntlet. I met Onran eight years ago, in the Year of the Sword, specifically on the 19th of Mirtul."

   Hakam turned to the woman again. "The furniture that was taken from upstairs, did any of it contain any scholarly books or equipment? Or was it all just furniture? Could any of the furniture have contained any information from Onran or Yunoko inside of it?"

   "As far as this poor woman knows, Onran-sama kept most of his books and journals down here, and Yunoko-sama had her own office in Uwaji. When Onran-sama began traveling about twelve years after Yunoko-sama had died, he took much of his library and magical things with him.

   "I try to keep the minka as clean as I can. I do not touch their wine, for it would be improper for me to do so. I apologize for the spider webs on the bottles and the leaking keg, if you were wanting to drink their sake."

   They began to spread out a bit to examine the area, but Leokas halted them again. He checked the floor for prints in the dust and commanded Kytharrah to smell for recognizable scents. The ranger could find no other footprints besides Negi's however, and Kytharrah did not recognize any scents.

   There was a a half-circle-shaped room off both the northern and southern ends of this main room. The north room had a worn out padded stool and a stone desk, with a paper lantern and several tomes and scrolls upon it. The south room looked to have been a small laboratory for working with alchemical substances. There were two smaller stone tables. One had green glass vials and flasks of an assortment of shapes; the other had an open book covered in alchemical symbolism. A large brass brazier sat on the floor as well. When the wizards examined the scrolls and tomes, they found only notes from Onran, no complete spells or magical items.

   Hakam opened the door, revealing an even larger chamber on the other side, nearly 50 feet in length, and the curious minotaur rushed right in, followed more cautiously by the others. Negi peaked in after them but did not cross the threshhold.

   "Stop!" commanded Hakam. "There are runes on the floor. Do not step on them!"
Session: 128th Game Session - Monday, Jan 25 2021 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Another Nightmare
"Morning is coming soon;" said Sofi's voice, "I will not be able to manifest for much longer, and I suspect that you and this young woman need to get some sleep.

   "I truly thank you for doing what you can to help me. I am happy to have learned that Mieko may have survived after all and that at least one of her descendants still lives. This gives me some hope, and I further hope that you can go on to solve the mystery, stop the rakshasa, and perhaps even free Onran's and my souls as well. How will you contact me again if I am needed?"

   "We have the means of sending messages across the planes by our magic," said Szordrin. "We shall be able to contact you."

   He added, "Will you be able to visit the bridge where we found your pin, now that we have carried it back here?"

   "I do not know; I suspect not, but honestly, I have little desire to visit such a place as that ever again. I have no pleasant memories of that bridge...."

   "We will be taking the items with us," said Szordrin. "Perhaps, you may be able to visit with us at night."

   "One of you is welcome to wear the pin in the meantime," she said. "It would have to be returned to the queen, but until then, it is a very useful item. It protects one from possession or having one's mind read. It defends against magical projectiles as well."

   "We were told that you and Onran had a home in a village called Uminonagame. Is this true?"

   "Yes. It is in the hills west of Uwaji. One would take the northern fork from Bunden to get there. It is the next village that you would come to in the hills. Our home was in the northwest, overlooking the village. It was probably the nicest home in the village after the shoya's and would be hard to miss. Technically, it rests just outside the village."

   "Did anyone else live at your home in Uminonagame with you?"

   "We had a maid who lived there part time to clean the house. That was all."

   "What about Onran's adopted parents? Are they still alive?"

   She laughed a little. "You may not believe me, but his parents went by the names Slyeye and Littlesun. I do not know how often that you have interacted with gnomes, but they go by nicknames more often than other names, and these were the names that they asked me to call them. I was probably a bad wife for it, but I cannot recall their actual given names. They were from the world of Krynn, which Onran explained to me is in another crystal sphere. The Dranyrs lived in Wa for a while, but they left and returned to Krynn in the same year that my father, who was ambassador for Cormyr before me, died. That was in the Year of the Dark Dragon, the same year that I helped Mieko, that Azoun IV became king of Cormyr, and that Nagahide became shogun of Wa. I suspect that they left because they feared Nagahide's xenophobic decrees.

   "I do not know why the Dranyr's came to Wa, but when they arrived here, their spelljammer was discovered by Wanese officials, and the incident created a huge diplomatic scandal. This was one of the first major diplomatic incidents that my father had to deal with as ambassador of Cormyr. Slyeye Dranyr was arrested and interrogated, and my father sought and obtained his release. That is actually when I first met Onran, at the trial of his father, while my own father was defending him. Onran had only recently come of age at the time, and I was two years older than he.

   "Now, my mother, Tsuki Blacksilver, who used to be named Hirayama Tsuki, actually became the Minister of Spelljamming of Wa after the Dranyrs had become her friends."

   "I have another question, if you have the strength to remain for a little longer. During our travels, a seer gave me a prophecy, 'The ninth emperor of the seventh dynasty is in your past.' Does that mean anything to you? We think that it has to do with my relationship to the rakshasa through Mieko."

   "Wa has only had three dynasties," said Yunoko.

   "That is what everyone keeps telling us," said Szordrin, "but Hakam thinks that the two traitorums count as dynasties, bringing the total number of dynasties to seven."

   "I am not sure that I understand. I know that there were two interruptions to the Goshukaras and that one was the Shou Lung Traitorum and that the Empress Bishkammon reigned afterward, but I do not know more than that."

   "We received a list of all the emperors while we were in Cormyr," said Szordrin. "I think that the list was translated by your father in fact." He retrieved the copy of the names from the long scroll and showed it to her.

   "Kochi is the first dynasty," said Yunoko, pointing with Sofi's finger at the top of the list, "followed by Kasada. The Kasada dynasty died out in the 581st Year of Kuni, which was still the prehistory of Wa, so it is probably all just myth. In any case, Goshukara is the third dynasty."

   "Then the Shou Lung Traitorum occurred in the 222nd year," said Szordrin, pointing. "If one counts this as a fourth dynasty, then when Bishkammon retakes the throne, she does so as the founder of the fifth dynasty."

   "Ah, I understand now," said Yunoko. "So, when Nitta Kyozetsu slew Goshukara Sukui in 685, that would have been the sixth dynasty, the Nitta Dynasty, essentially, and Goshukara Yami would be the founder of the third Goshukara Dynasty, or the seventh dynasty overall. And if you count nine — Yami, Seisei, Yorokobi, Meiyoko, Saimukansai, Oku, Takeoji, Noburu, and... Bohatei, the first emperor who I believe was impersonated by a rakshasa."

   "When you mentioned Bohatei before, I had forgotten that that was the same name that Hakam had predicted when we first examined this list in Cormyr."

   "This is a truly amazing prophecy," said Yunoko, "and it confirms what had only been a theory of mine. If you are related to Mieko, than you are related to the false Emperor Kando, not to Bohatei. The only way that you could be related to both is if Bohatei — or rather the rakshasa impersonating him — reincarnated. I wonder if perhaps the gods have not forgotten me after all and are choosing now to work through you instead, continuing my work."

   "I also received a second prophecy," said Szordrin. "'Within the twelfth circle of the seventh circle, the empress abides.' We believe that this is a reference to one of the moons of the planet Garden in Realmspace. Do you know who the 'empress' might be?"

   "Unlike Onran, with the exception of our honeymoon, I have never left Toril," she said.

   Then she yawned deeply. "My host is growing very tired," she says. "I hope that you will try to contact me again in the future, adopted son. Meeting you has been a special blessing."

   Before Szordrin could reply, Sofi gasped, as if coming up out of water after holding her breath. She looked terrified and confused for a moment and touched her own face and arms as if checking to see that she was actually in bodily form.

   "Barmy!" said Sofi, "that was jarring." She looked around to figure out where she was. "How late is it? The last thing I remember is saying, 'I am ready.'"

   "It is close to dawn now," said Szordrin. "Do you feel healthy, otherwise?"

   "My bladder is about to burst, I think," said Sofi, "but otherwise...."

~~~~

Szrodrin went back to Yunoko's old room and laid himself down to sleep on the large bed. Sofi visited the outhouse, passing the sylvan elves, Kytharrah, and Tano, and then returned to the courtyard. Solisar had just come out to take the watch from Belvin and Leokas, who entered trance. Sofi was indeed feeling tired, but she was used to taking watch with Solisar, and she strangely did not need the amount of sleep the others did, so she figured that she would stay up with him for at least a part of the watch and keep him company.

   "What was it like?" she asked him. "Was it weird to all of you with Yunoko possessing me? Did she make me do anything... awkward?"

   Solisar explained how they could tell from subtle posture and behaviors that it was not Sofi controlling herself. "She did apologize to Szordrin for causing you to enter his room the last time."

   Sofi blushed. "How thorough of an apology was it? Did she go into any details?"

   "None were given, and I would have been the only one to have overheard. I was in the adjacent room in the interdimensional space. Everyone else had gone to bed or was out here to take watch."

   Sofi gave a little sigh of relief.

   The two were in conversation about other matters, mostly things about Wa and its religions that Sofi had learned from Imoko, when they heard an agonizing scream from one of the upstairs windows to their left. The sound was loud enough to startle Belvin and Leokas from their reveries. It took a moment to recognize that the scream had come from Hakam, who was not prone to such vocal outbursts of emotion.

   "I have never heard that sound before," said Belvin, as the four rushed into the building and up the stairs.

   Leokas reached the door first, and slid it open. Hakam was sitting up on the bedroll with the blanket at his waist. He was visibly covered in sweat. There was no one else in the room with him.

   "It was just a nightmare," said Hakam.

   "Show us your hands," said Solisar.

   "No, I am not a rakshasa!" said Hakam. "Do not be foolish. It was just a dream. It seems that these have been spreading around the party recently." He was referring to the vivid nightmare that Szordrin had when they had spent the night at Onran's house.

   "There are no unexpected magical auras here," said Solisar.

   Belvin wanted to search under the tatami just to be safe. Hakam was annoyed to have to move his bedroll. They found nothing, even after waking up Kytharrah and having him give the room a sniff.

   "You are wasting your time," said Hakam. "The last time that this happened, we were on another planet. If there is even any connection between the two nightmares at all, it cannot have anything to do with this place."
Session: 128th Game Session - Monday, Jan 25 2021 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Yunoko
~ 8th of Chu, the Year of Ji Chou, dusk
Cormyrean Embassy, Uwaji, Wa


Yunoko's letter confirmed much of what they had already discovered; however, it suggested that not one but three rakshasa might be involved, a leader, who had impersonated Emperor Kando and been assassinated by his own half-fiend son, and two minions, called the Twin Panthers. She had written it the night before she had left for Bunden.

   "It is extremely likely that Yunoko's spirit will return tonight," said Solisar. "I intend to wait for her, all night if need be. Who wishes to join me in waiting?"

   "I need almost as little rest as you, it seems," said Sofi. "I am willing to stay up with you, as long as I do not have to face her ghost alone. Kytharrah should probably stay outside with Tano."

   "That would probably be best," said Solisar, "since that is where she had first appeared to Leokas and Belvin."

   "Someone else should stay out there with the two children," said Hakam.

   "I can keep watch in the courtyard for much of the night," said Leokas, "as before. If she attacks again, I already know that she can be repulsed by magic arrows."

   "Minotaur," said Hakam, "if you see a ghost woman, do not attack her. Use the tricks that Sofi has been teaching you to dodge around and not get hit."

   Kytharrah seemed to understand the directions.

   "I suggest that we put all of her belongings that we have found, including her Harper pin and the rusted sword, back into her chest," said Hakam.

   "I can find some herbs in the garden outside that can serve as passable tea," said Belvin, "and we can leave that out for her in Hina's teacup."

   "More than that, perhaps Belvin and Hakam can actually perform the tea ceremony that we learned from Hina with her if she appears," said Solisar.

   "We would need to purchase more pieces of the tea set for that," said Hakam, "which we could do, but it grows late, and I am not certain that the shops in Uwaji will be open."

   "Perhaps I can alter myself to look like Onran," said Szordrin, but the others thought that it might anger her when she discovered that it was only an illusion.

   "We should plan how to respond if things go awry and she chooses to attack us," said Solisar.

   "I am not overly concerned," said Hakam. "Leokas was able to banish her on his own; if it comes to it, we can certainly do that again."

   "What if she uses her dreadful howling again to fill us all with fear?" said Sofi. "I think that we may have been overly fortunate the last time."

   "Anachtyr will protect us;" said Hakam, "we have nothing to be afraid of. I will surround us with a circle of protection against chaos, fear, and possession."

   "I have similar spells to protect against evil," said Solisar, "which could be cast to protect those outside."

   Night came. Leokas, Belvin, and Kytharrah remained outside. Leokas calmly sat on the main steps and carved arrows. Belvin chatted with Kamil in druidic, and Kytharrah splashed with Tano in the pool. Tano talked a lot. While Kytharrah had no idea what the carp dragon was saying, Tano always seemed to understand exactly what Kytharrah wanted to communicate. They played many simple games in the courtyard, headbutting each other, exploring the other wings of the courtyard, rolling in the sand garden, climbing the thicker bamboo trees. For a four-foot-long fish creature, Tano was rather strong, probably stronger than some of his other "little brothers" in the group. Eventually, the minotaur and the dragon grew sleepy and rested, leaving the elves to remain on watch.

   Upstairs inside the embassy, Solisar sat at the desk in Yunoko's room. He replaced the fallen rook to the board and placed Yunoko's black pawn where she likely had intended it, blocking his own queen's pawn from moving forward. He took his +next move, placing his king's knight to defend his pawn. Then, he sat and waited, reading his spellbook to pass the time. Hina's teacup was filled with tea brewed by Belvin and sat at the corner of black's side of the chessboard. Hakam sat in one of the opposite corners, leaning against an old dresser in the room. Szordrin sat on the floor a yard from him. Sofi, who seemed to have been avoiding Szordrin for most of the last few days, asked if she could sit next to him while they waited. He nodded. Those who could were dressed more formally and not wearing their armor or carrying weapons, and everyone was barefoot, to respect the culture of Wa. The room was lit by the glowing tip of Solisar's walking staff.

   Ferry crawled up on Sofi's shoulders and snuggled against her neck and ears. Szordrin had instructed him to block her ears if the ghost began to moan again.

   An hour passed, mostly in silence, as they waited. Hakam dozed off and started to snore a little. Sofi giggled at this and joked with Szordrin about it, but after another hour, she too fell asleep. Her head fell to the side to lean against Szordrin's shoulder. Ferry gave a little squeak, as he got squished a little and readjusted his position.

   Outside in the courtyard, Leokas was lying on his back staring up at the stars. Suddenly the crickets grew silent. Kamil snorted. "She is here," said Belvin, and Kytharrah snapped instantly awake.

   Belvin and Kytharrah saw the faint, glowing form of a figure hovering along the porch on the western side of the complex, just as before.

   "Hello!" Kytharrah called out, and before Belvin could stop him, he rushed after the ghost. It passed straight through the northern wall, however, just as before, leaving Kytharrah confused.

   "Inside!" said Belvin. He and Kytharrah rushed into the complex and began to ascend the stairs to the second floor, but Kytharrah was much faster and was already at the top by the time Belvin had just reached the door.

   The thundering of Kytharrah's footsteps coming up the stairs and down the hall woke Hakam and Sofi immediately. Sofi blushed, upon finding her head on Szordrin's shoulder, but then Kytharrah slid open the screen door with a big smile. "Glowing lady!" he said.

   "Thank you, Kytharrah," said Solisar gently. "Now, please go guard the end of the hallway."

   Belvin joined Kytharrah in the hall, but Leokas stood outside with an arrow nocked and aimed toward the window.

   After this initial commotion, there was no evidence of Yunoko's presence. A full hour passed after that. Solisar remained determined, and continued to sit at the chessboard.

   Close to midnight, the black king's knight began to shake and wobble a little and then was still.

   "It is a pleasure to me for you to join us, Yunoko," said Solisar calmly.

   Everyone else was silent in the room.

   "My name is Solisar," the sun elf continued. "We have come from Cormyr. We are friends of your people."

   "We are friends of Onran's," said Szordrin aloud.

   Solisar picked up the black king's knight and moved it to defend the queen's pawn, mirroring his earlier move. He hoped that it was the move that she wanted; there were only two possible moves for that piece, and he chose the standard move to follow the opening with which he had begun the game.

   There was no sign of any response, but everyone felt strangely uneasy in the room, as if someone else was there with them. Solisar made his move, sliding the queen's bishop's pawn forward two spaces. He waited. Nothing. He then carefully and slowly removed a tiny vial of talc and silver powder from his component pouch. He snapped it with his fingers, rubbed the powder between his fingertips, and pressed them to his eyes while waving his left hand gently and speaking words in an ancient elven tongue.

   Suddenly, there she was before his enspelled eyes. Yunoko was sitting on the floor on the other side of the desk, neck scarred, face blue, eyes wide, mouth locked in a perpetual gasp for breath. She was wearing a white kimono. Her transparent fingers were touching her king's pawn, trying desperately to move it but unable to affect the matter of the Material Plane of which she was now an alien.

   Szordrin recognized the spell that Solisar had cast and performed the same one, so that he too could see his master's deceased wife.

   "Do you wish to move the pawn forward one space or two?" asked Solisar.

   Yunoko's mouth moved; it looked like she was trying to speak, but neither Solisar nor Szordrin could hear any sound. She kept her left hand on the pawn but moved her right hand to cover her neck, as if to indicate that she could not speak.

   Seeing this, Szordrin immediately rose to his feet and gave a little bow. "Yunoko-san, I was a disciple of Onran. I see that you cannot speak. Will you permit me to cast a spell to read your thoughts?"

   The ghost turned suddenly to stare at him, which startled him and caused him to jump back a little. She did not nod, but neither did she shake her head. He took a chance and cast two spells. Unfortunately, he could not sense her thoughts, not even a force trying to resist his probing.

   Suddenly, Yunoko fully manifested in their plane, making her ghostly form visible to both Hakam and Sofi. The appearance was sudden and shocking, and Sofi gasped. Ferry snuggled tightly around her neck.

   As soon as this happened, Szordrin knew immediately that he was in the presence of an intelligent entity. She must have entered more fully into the Material Plane so that he could read her thoughts. It took a few seconds for them to come into focus.

   "She wants to move her pawn forward one space," said Szordrin, "to defend her own."

   "Ah, she is declining the queen's gambit," said Solisar. "Let me move the piece for you, Yunoko." He did so and then considered his own follow-up move. Solisar tried to be slow and deliberate with each of his actions, as he had learned from the tea ceremony with Hina. Yunoko turned back to look at the board instead of at Szordrin. Her motions were slow, as if she were tired and weak.

   Who are these people? Why are they here?

   Solisar moved one of his clerics. "Check," he said.

   He knows that I can simply move my king forward, since I declined the gambit.

   Szordrin could sense her contemplating all manner of future moves, not in words, but in images of various states of the pieces on the board. Her thoughts also seemed as slow as her motions, however, and it was perhaps two minutes before he could translate her next request to Solisar. "She wants to move her king forward one space."

   Solisar took his time on his next move. He did not want to play either too aggressively or too leniently. He kept glancing up at the apparition to ensure that she was not growing suddenly angry. Unfortunately, her expression changed little.

   Where is Onran? Where is my husband? What did you do with him?

   "I am Oran's disciple," repeated Szordrin. "We are here to help you."

   Yunoko placed her ethereal fingers upon the piece that she wanted to move next.

   "I was raised by Onran," continued Szordrin. "He found me in the Underdark. He rescued me from the streets of Guallidurth and taught me how to live and how to manipulate the Weave."

   Why the Underdark? Onran had never been to the Underdark.

   "I thought that it was only by chance that Onran had encountered me," said Szordrin, "but now I believe that he sought me out. I have come to suspect that I am the descendant of the woman you helped, of Mieko, perhaps her grandson, making me also a descendant of the rakshasa who arranged for your murder and who swore to kill all of his offspring. Thus, my own life is probably in danger. Onran did everything that he could to protect my life, but unfortunately, I have to tell you that Onran is no longer with us in life."

   From her appearance and posture, Yunoko did not appear to be paying any attention. She still had her finger on one of the chess pieces and, had she been alive, they would have thought that she was about to fall asleep at the table. Szordrin suddenly wondered whether she could still hear anything that they were saying at all.

   Suddenly, however, she jerked violently back from the table. She threw her head back and screamed. The scream was a visceral grief supernaturally transformed into physical sound waves. The hideous moan seemed to run through their very skin. Sofi shrieked, slid across the floor and clung to Hakam's arm. Ferry tried to press his body against her ears, as Szordrin had instructed him to do.

   Outside in the hall, Belvin and Kytharrah heard the moan, and Kytharrah had the sensation that the roof was caving in on them. He leapt over the balcony railing and landed on the first floor of the embassy welcoming chamber. Belvin chased after him, rushing down the steps and trying to calm him, but the minotaur was already out the door. The wild elf saw that Leokas, too, was sprinting for the embassy gates.

   Zenmeliao? Zenmeliao? shouted Tano loudly from his pool.

   "Be calm!" commanded Hakam, and inside the bedroom, Sofi and the others there immediately felt peace. So too did Yunoko, for she ceased her cry of anguish and returned to her normal posture. Then, she vanished, though Solisar and Szordrin could still see her in the ethereal plane. She covered her face in her hands.

   She remained fully within the ethereal for several minutes. "Take your time, Yunoko," said Solisar. "We know that this news is shocking to you, but we cannot communicate with you unless you hold yourself partially in our world."

   She slowly faded back into existence on their plane. Somehow, I knew that he was gone. I never was able to finish my letter. He never was able to read my final words to him. I do not understand why I cannot find Sanzu-no-Kawa. Why does Kwan Ying show no compassion to me?... Such were the questions that Szordrin heard her repeat over and over in the mind.

   Hakam spoke up. "Yunoko, I am a cleric. Perhaps I can ease your mind. Permit me to also hear your thoughts." Hakam completed a quick prayer, and he, too, could now know her thoughts; however, most of them were currently in Wa-an.

   "I am so sorry to be the one to have brought you the terrible news of your loss," said Szordrin, "but I want to learn the truth about what happened to him, and I believe that you are the only one who can help us."

   Szordrin felt a chill as she turned her translucent head and stared at him with her undead eyes. Her thoughts switched to Common, so that both Hakam and Szordrin could hear her words. How can I help you? I am dead. There was bitterness in the final word.

   "You have knowledge about Onran that none of us have," Szordrin replied in as calm a tone as he could muster. "Onran never spoke much about his past life before he met me. If you can tell us what you know about the rakshasa, perhaps we can track him down and bring you and your husband justice."

   "We believe that Szordrin here is the child of the child who we know you were trying so hard to protect," added Solisar, in case she had missed hearing Szordrin state this earlier.

   What do you want to know?

   "I am sorry to have to discuss such a painful subject with you, but we also have been sent by your friends in Cormyr to investigate your own death, your own murder," said Hakam. "We believe that it was the rakshasa who killed you. We found your Harper pin and what we think to be your family's sword and the skeletal reversed hand of the one who murdered you on the bridge near Bunden. We have returned the items here to this room. What do you recall of your own death, if it is not too painful to share with us?"

   Someone ambushed me as I was crossing a footbridge and strangled me. The stranger tore my pin from my kimono, making my thoughts naked to him or, I suppose, her. I drew my wakizashi and severed the hand. The pin, the hand, and my family's blade fell into the water below the bridge as I began to lose consciousness. The thoughts changed from words in Common to feelings of sad and painful emotions. Then, the thoughts returned to words. I was weak of mind, and in my dying thoughts, I feared for Mieko, and I dread that those thoughts may have given her away.

   Hakam quickly and softly spoke a quick summary of what she had communicated to Solisar and Sofi.

   "We do not know what happened to Mieko," said Szordrin, "but if you were trying to protect her child, you must have succeeded, for I am here."

   "We also know that the rakshasa did not find all that he was looking for," said Hakam, "because we found that he had ransacked your home on Coliar, searching for more clues."

   They sensed confusion from Yunoko's spirit. I never lived on Coliar.

   "It must have been Onran's house alone," said Hakam. "I apologize. We found there several of your writings to him and your photo."

   "He missed and loved you greatly," added Sofi, speaking to the ghost for the first time.

   "Yes, we know from letters between Onran and his friend Samber that he grieved mightily for your loss," said Hakam.

   "Further," said Szordrin, "although I was initially led to believe that it was a drow who took my master's life, I now believe that the same rakshasa was responsible for taking both of your lives."

   "From your writings," said Hakam, "we know that you discovered that this rakshasa had infiltrated the Wanese imperial family. If you help us, if you can explain your theories to us more fully, we think that we can track him down and kill him or banish him from this plane forever."

   I shall do my best, but it is hard to think clearly of things in the past. My world is all shadow, all mist, all straining. Do you know how long I had to concentrate simply to press that rook from the board and from the table? I wanted you to destroy me, the last time that you saw me. Every time that anyone attempts to destroy me, I always find myself reforming here at the embassy. I can not reach the Spirit World, nor can I remain in your world. Even now, I grow weak holding myself here so that you can hear my thoughts.

   "The time of our spells is also limited," said Szordrin. "It will only be for a few more minutes that I shall be able to maintain the connection."

   "I am willing to allow you to possess me," said Hakam, "so that you can speak through me to the others. A ghost can do this, can it not?"

   Yunoko's unblinking eyes looked across the room toward Sofi, making the tiefling woman feel very uncomfortable. I have possessed one of you before, yes. No offense, but I would feel far more comfortable in the body of woman than of a man. I am not used to man's body.

   They explained this to Sofi.

   Sofi said, "Now that I understand what would be happening, I would submit to her possessing me, provided that you can promise me that I would come back when you are finished speaking with her. We could try that. What do I have to do?"

   I only have the power to manifest at night. I do not understand where I go during the day, but I do not seem to exist while the sun shines. So if this young woman allows me to possess her, I can only do so while it is still dark.

   "Can you leave the embassy grounds?" asked Szordrin.

   No, I cannot haunt far from this room or the place where I was killed. Something irresistibly compels me to return to those places if I try to go elsewhere.

   "Could we simply carry your chest with us, so that you could travel with us," asked Szordrin. "Perhaps it is the items within that are holding you here."

   She did not know.

   Szordrin's magic spell ceased, which meant that Hakam's would soon as well. Solisar offered to use his skill in the Art to extend the duration of Hakam's spell, but Sofi again volunteered to be possessed. "That will be much easier for everyone, will it not? And we need to do this before twilight comes."

   Sofi stood up and tried to relax. Her eyes closed and she shook her limbs and took a deep breath. "I am ready."

   Yunoko's spirit rose into the air and hovered over to Sofi, so that their two forms were almost superimposed. Then, Yunoko vanished, Sofi's body gave a sudden jerk, and her eyes blinked open again. She looked around at everyone, then at her own two hands. She touched the bed, taking in the feel of the old blankets. She crossed the room, picked up the teacup, tasted the tea, and grimaced. She made another move on the chessboard and gave Solisar a little smirk.

   "Konnichiwa?" said Yunoko, testing the sound of her voice. It was fully Sofi's voice, but her facial expressions and movements were not Sofi's at all. It was highly disturbing for the others and hard to adapt to. "I think that it worked."

   Then she asked, "I recognize this teacup. Is Hina still alive?"

   "She is, and she is well," said Solisar.

   Just then, the two sylvan elves and the minotaur slid open the door. Tano was propped on the top of Kytharrah's head, something like a hat. Belvin had recovered them after their short bouts with intense, supernatural fear, and they had returned to the embassy second floor and had been listening outside the door, not wanting to risk interupting the efforts within. Now it seemed safe enough to enter the room and introduce themselves as three additional companions.

   "Is that a yu lung?" said Sofi's voice. "You found a yu lung?"

   Kytharrah was very confused how Sofi could forget about their new friend.

   "Yu lung are the shyest of all dragons," Yunoko continued. "One never sees them; they simply hide at the bottom of their lakes until they grow up."

   "Play," said Kytharrah.

   "There is a strange magic currently affecting dragons all over Toril," said Solisar, "which is changing their behaviors in drastic ways, but that is another matter for another time and is outside our purposes for now."

   Sofi nodded. "Shall we begin, then," said Sofi's voice. "I shall tell you everything that I was able to learn about the rakshasa before I was killed." Slowly, Yunoko was able to communicate many of the things that she had discovered or surmised. Completely contrary to her fears, she was able to remember even some of the specific names and dates of persons involved, perhaps because it was easier for her to do so when she no longer had to struggle to maintain the incorporeal appearance of a body. Solisar began to furiously copy the key information into the back pages of his spellbook.

   Yunoko's belief was that the Emperor Kando was actually a rakshasa, but such an impersonation had happened multiple times in Wanese history, beginning with Goshukara Bohatei. She theorized that this emperor was murdered in year 458 of the Cormyr Reckoning. Goshukara Shirukuburo, brother to the real Bohatei, discovered the deception nearly fifty years later and assassinated the false Bohatei, becoming emperor and restoring the true line. However, Shirukuburo himself was assassinated in the same year by two of Bohatei's former bodyguards, and Shirukuburo was replaced by his son Okurimono. Yunoko believed that these assassins were in fact two additional rakshasa working for the first, but that Okurimono was in fact a human and of the true imperial line. "I believe that this was the first time that they tried to enter into Wa's imperial line."

   History repeated itself almost 800 years later, in Cormyr Year 1202, when Goshukara Raimei was impersonated. Raimei's cousin, Konoma, supposedly discovered the deception and assassinated the false Raimei. As before, Raimei was almost immeditately assassinated by twin assassins. The reports of that day strangely noted that the men had "deformed hands." They fled the scene and were never seen again. Raimei's brother, Komo, then took the throne.

   "I discovered all this after months of research at the Great Library in Rukimbaru," said Yunoko. This was as much as she had been able to discover before her own death.

   "Do you know if the shogunate is somehow connected to all this?" asked Hakam. "Should we trust the line of the shogun? Or is he not to be trusted?"

   "Who is currently the shogun?"

   "Matasuuri Nagahide."

   "He is the same shogun as when I lived. He came to power around the same time as Queen Filfaeril's husband, Azoun, did. I have had many dealings with him. He is extremely untrusting of outsiders, extremely harsh in his judgments, and extremely legalistic. He believes that such things as the playing of cards will lead to the moral downfall of Wa. If you do not break any of his laws and stay in favor with him, he is actually a strong leader and skilled at the matters involved in actually running a country, but he is ruthless."

   She gave an example, "There was one time where a peasant approached him — illegally; no peasant can come near the shogun — and told him that he had proof of the betrayal and plan of assassination by one of the daimyo. Nagahide immediately had the peasant executed, on the spot, and then he ordered the removal and punishment of the daimyo and his family. There was no thanks for the fact that the peasant had saved his life. He has no mercy, so be careful. He certainly does not trust you, and if he is using you, it is because he must truly want to understand what is happening with the emperor."

   "We learned that you had investigated the beating of a foreign merchant right before you were murdered," said Hakam. "Does this have any significance to your investigations?"

   "No. I do not think that there was any relation. It was a local diplomatic matter. I believe that the shogun arranged for this foreigner to sell cards with a magical means of tracking them, to catch the yakuza of Bunden in the act of violating the law."

   "We also learned that there was also a false tax collector sent to Wa the day before," explained Hakam. "We suspect that this was the rakshasa who murdered you the next day."

   "I know nothing of this," she said.

   "Why are the rakshasa specifically interested in Wa?" asked Szordrin.

   Yunoko had no theories about this question. "I wish that I could tell you more. I truly hope that this information can help you. I take no small comfort in learning that one of Mieko's descendants still lives. Perhaps not all hope is lost among the living. Yet no hope I have for myself or for my love. Is there nothing you can do to help me reach Onran?"

   "We would be happy to try to put you at peace," said Hakam, "but, unfortunately, we have bigger business with the same Samber who was friends with your husband. It seems that he has since gone mad with power. We were hoping that some details that you might remember about him could help us prevent him from bringing great evil into our world."

   "I do not know how much I can help you on that topic," said Yunoko. "I only met the man a few times. I had a few nice conversations with his wife at each of our respective weddings, but that is really all there is to say. No doubt, Onran and Samber were best friends in their youth on Lantan. In some ways, Samber understood Onran better than I ever could. I know a small number of spells and cantrips, but my understanding of the Weave and the multiverse is nothing compared to their combined knowledge of such things. I know that Onran was actually the one to first teach the Art to Samber, when they were young."

   "Here," said Hakam, "let me show you the letters that we found from Samber to Onran and one unfished letter that he appears to never have sent back in a reply. He shares some of his thoughts about you in it, which may give you some comfort. In the letters there is also mention of an 'empty' sphere. Did Onran ever discuss such a crystal sphere with you?"

   She did not recall him ever mentioning an empty sphere. "His spelljamming interest was not the part of him that I fell in love with. It was his hobby alone. We surely talked about it on occasion, but not frequently. He would share some of the amazing sights and sounds and people and cultures that he had experienced or met, but except for... where we honeymooned, I was not able to experience most of these wonders for myself, and the pure astronomical matters that he and his mother discussed were outside my interests and harder to remember. Similarly, I rarely talked with him about my love of tea."

   "Yes, in one of the letters," said Szordrin, "Samber mentioned a specific vacation home that you shared with Onran. Where was that vacation home? And a related question: When you discovered this whole rakshasa plot, where did you hide Mieko?"

   She paused for a moment and then said, "I want to believe that you all have good motives and that everything you speak is true, but I cannot risk betraying Mieko a second time, if I have been wrong to trust you thus far. However, if you could somehow prove your willingness and ability to help me by somehow delivering my final letter to Onran, I would be willing to tell you where Mieko is."

   "We will do our best," said Hakam, "but it will surely be very difficult, since Onran has also died."

   "And so have I, and yet here we are speaking together."

   "Who was his patron deity?" asked Hakam. "On what Outer Plane would we even hope to find him?"

   "He worshiped Celestian," said Szordrin.

   "Yes," said Yunoko, "a god of wildspace. He always told me that Celestia's petitioners become one of the stars on his black robes, but surely that is only religious myth."

   "Hakam," asked Solisar, "is there no spell for which you can pray that would grant her spirit rest?"

   "Only if I have the individual's body," said Hakam. "Such spiritual matters are greater than I have been granted power from Anachtyr to control."

   Belvin offered to reincarnate her, but she did not want to come back to life in a body not her own, much less a potentially non-human one. "I also have little desire to live in a world absent from my husband. I want to join with him."

   "What do you want us to do with your items that we found?" Hakam asked.

   "Is my mother still alive?"

   "We do not know," said the cleric, "but we have intended to look for her in Rukimbaru when we travel there soon."

   "Of course, I want my letter to reach Onran, wherever his spirit is. I want my other items — especially the wakizashi — to go to my mother, if possible, except for the pin, which I would like to have delivered to the queen of Cormyr."

   "The letter that you started is with your other items in the chest," said Solisar. "Finish your letter tonight, if Sofi's body is rested enough for you to do so, and we will take it with us."

   "May I have time alone to do so?" asked Yunoko.

   They left her alone in her old room, at her old desk, with her old calligraphy set, and she completed her unfinished letter. Some of the others went off to the empty rooms to get their rest for the night, but Szrodrin waited up by the balcony overlooking the lower floor.

   "I am sorry about the other night," said Sofi's voice behind him, an hour later.

   He did not know at first if it was Sofi or Yunoko speaking, but the way she swayed when she walked was not typical of Sofi. Sofi walked on her toes, and — unless she was meditating — always seemed tense, like a tigress ready to spring. Her next sentence confirmed this. "Your hair and beard immitate his; in my undead state, it confused me greatly."

   Szordrin assured her that it was nothing. "It was... an interesting experience."

   "Did you grow your beard intentionally to look like his?"

   "It is how a proper man should look."

   She laughed, and then gasped, having never laughed with Sofi's body before, and finding the laugh very foreign. Once she had gathered herself again, she said, "Well, that is very strange. Anyhow, I was going to note that I see that you have inherited his sense of humor as well, and I agree; the beard looks very nice."

   She handed him the finished letter. "It is fine if you and your companions read it. I am dead, after all; I can hardly get embarrassed about personal matters anymore."

   He then asked her if she had any questions about Onran's life after she died.

   "What did he do after I died? Of course, I know nothing. Sit with me and tell me."

   When Sofi's body sat down, it was in a way that Sofi would never sit, with her back straight and head upright, such that one could probably have balanced books on top.

   Szordrin did not know much about the period of time from when she had died to when he had rescued Szordrin from the streets, but after that, the tiefling was able to tell her many stories of their years together. For most of his story, Sofi's face wore an expression of sadness, but there were a few times when a smile would begin to form.

   "In some sense, then," said Yunoko, "I would be your long-lost adoptive mother, would I not?"

   "Yes," said Szordrin, "you would."
Session: 128th Game Session - Monday, Jan 25 2021 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Return to Uwaji
The party were convinced that this false kashindan from Rukimbaru was the rakshasa murderer in disguise.

   "Keep your eyes open for strangers wearing gloves," said Belvin, after they had regrouped with Sofi and Kytharrah at the monastery.

   "We have a murder suspect now," said Solisar. "We simply need to determine where he currently is."

   "We need a better description," said Belvin, "but that is only going to be helpful if the rakshasa is maintaining the same disguise."

   "Why would he?" asked Leokas. "Cannot they take any humanoid form? It has been more than 30 years."

   "Still, whatever name or persona that he chose could still be of great help in finding him," said Hakam.

   "We also need a motive," said Leokas.

   "It is revenge for him, is it not?" said Hakam. "He wants to eliminate the entire line who killed him."

   "I meant, before he was first assassinated," said Leokas. "Why would an immortal being care about the politics in a place like Wa?"

   "Power?" replied Hakam. "We can certainly try to ascertain the greater motive as well."

   "Rakshasa are said to love manipulating mortals," said Szordrin. "They take great pleasure from it."

   "The emperors are worshiped in Wa," said Solisar.

   "You think that the rakshasa has the same ultimate goal as Samber," said Hakam, understanding Solisar's implication. Then he said, "In any case, I suggest that we return to the shogun's capital, obtain some information on the past emperors from Uwaji's libraries or historians, and wait for Yunoko's ghost to haunt us again."

   "Would there have been a record of the taxes paid to this imposter kept at the shoya's house?" asked Solisar. "We could then confirm with the officials in Uwaji that they did not send a tax collector on that day."

   "Yes," said Hakam, "we should try to speak with the shoya here one final time before leaving the village, if we can even obtain an audience again."

   Shoya Nambu had not seemed happy with them when they had left him, however, as he was sensitive to the topic of yakuza in his village. They considered whether a gift might put him back on their good side, and they discussed what sort of gift this might be. They could not agree on anything, but they walked to the shoya's estate anyhow. The guards at the gate indeed informed them that the shoya was "not interested in taking any more visitors at this time."

   "We are truly sorry if we have offended the shoya on our previous visit," said Hakam. "As outsiders, there were certain complexities of your society that were beyond our understanding. However, if the shoya will not meet with us, we only need to see the tax collection records from the day before ambassador Yunoko was murdered. It would be sufficient for us to meet with one of the shoya's officials instead."

   "I strongly doubt that the shoya will share official government documents with gajin," said the guard, with contempt in his voice. "Begone!" He waved his pole arm at them.

   "We are returning to the shogun," said Szordrin. "We shall pass on the fact that your shoya was not willing to help his official representatives in this investigation." He held up the legal notice from the shogun as a reminder of their formal authority.

   "We might also have to report to the shogun that the yakuza in this village were improperly convicted during the time of the previous shoya," said Hakam. "I hope that Shoya Nambu's intransigence will not reflect poorly on him."

   This angered the guard. "Are you trying to threaten and blackmail a noble? Dishonorable gajin dirt! I tell you one last time, begone from our village!" He lowered his weapon.

   "Very well," said Hakam, "we shall leave your village, but tell the shoya that if he changes his mind and cares to respond, he can reach us at the embassy in Wa."

   The guard nodded but continued to keep his weapon lowered. The adventurers turned and departed.

~~~~

Later in the day, they found themselves back at Hina's teahouse and Tanoshihire's tiny lake. They heard splashing and an excited, childlike voice shouting, in an almost singsong way, "Ni huilaile! Ni huilaile! Wo mei xiangdao ni hui!" They saw the strange fish-like dragon doing flips in the water. As soon they reached the bridge, Tano, jumped out and waddled over to Kytharrah on his two stubby limbs and clamped his jaws down around Kytharrah's ankle, which, one would hope, was a sign of greeting. Kytharrah shook his leg back and forth violently until the smaller creature was tossed through the air to land back in the water. The minotaur had a large grin on his face, not caring that he now had blood above his hoof.

   "Kytharrah! Why do you let him do that to you?" said Sofi.

   "Play," said Kytharrah.

   Solisar used his magic to communicate with Tano, and Kytharrah and Belvin showed the odd creature the basket and how it would work. While their minotaur kept the young dragon entertained again, the others walked the short path up to the teahouse to greet Yunoko's old friend. Hina was happy to see them, and she hosted them in another tea ceremony, this time as a gift, not as a test.

   Hina had no memory of seeing anyone wearing gloves pass along the road the day after she had last seen Yunoko, but she once again offered to let them take one of her teacups back to the embassy as a means to help communicate with Yunoko's spirit, and they accepted one of the cups.

   As they walked the remainder of the way back to Uwaji, Tano rode in the water-filled basket and made endless comments about everything they passed that he found interesting, but only Solisar had any idea what he was saying.

   "Why did we agree to take this non-stop-talking fish with us again?" said Leokas.

   They reached the gates of Uwaji. It took some effort to get Tano to quiet down so that they could approach the gate guards and gain entry.

   Back at the embassy, Hakam requested that one of the guards deliver a message to the shogun, asking for an audience to report on their progress. He also requested permission for Hina to enter the city to visit them at the embassy if needed and for an order to the shoya of Bunden to release its tax collection records. (Hakam had the guard repeat the details several times before releasing him.) Then, they entered the compound. Tano was lowered into the little pool in the courtyard. Solisar immediately entered the complex and went up to Yunoko's old room.

   He saw at once that the chess pieces had moved. Particularly, the black queen's pawn had been moved forward, in response to his earlier move, though the black pawn had fallen over. The black rook on the king's side was also missing.

   "Yunoko responded to my move," said Solisar. "She must be able to materialize again. However, one of her rooks is missing."

   Hakam, who had followed Solisar up to the room, immediately prayed a short prayer. "It is under the bed."

   The cleric crouched down and easily found the piece. He set it back on the desk. Kytharrah picked up the black piece and sniffed it. "Dead!" he said.

   "This must be symbolic somehow," said Hakam.

   Szordrin crawled low to the floor and looked under the bed. "What if she was trying to indicate to us something else that we should find?" he said. The bed was set upon a tatami. He lifted the mat up, near where the rook had fallen.

   There was a tiny wooden panel, about a foot square, with a slot for one's finger to lift the panel up.

   Everyone gathered around with excitement. The panel was not locked, and Szordrin lifted it up. Below was a simple, small storage area, under the floor, containing a war fan, two fake feathers made of silk and bamboo, and a miniature token or talisman of a fan made of black paper. All of the items had magical auras — faint evocation magic for the large fan, moderate conjuration magic for the feathers, and faint abjuration magic for the tiny fan.

   "That is the fan that she tried to slit my neck with," said Leokas, referring to the larger item.

   "There is also a letter here," said Szordrin, lifting it out. "It is Yunoko's handwriting, and it is addressed to Onran, and it seems to be unfinished."
Session: 127th Game Session - Monday, Jan 04 2021 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Kaji Kumi
~ 8th of Chu, the Year of Ji Chou, morning
outside Bunden, Wa


The morning light filtered through the bamboo leaves above them, casting a green light upon their campsite as they awoke or exited trance to the pleasant sound of the flowing stream to the east.

   As always, Belvin was up at dawn. After his morning prayers, he sat cross-legged on the ground, having gathered bamboo stalks from around the forest floor, which were piled before him. He called upon his druidic magic and began waving his hands intricately back and forth. The bamboo pieces began to dance and move with unnatural flexibility, weaving themselves into the shape of a large basket. After only a few moments, a large, water-tight basket with a long handle for carrying over one's back sat finished on the ground. This would be the basket for carrying around the carp dragon, Tanoshihire, when they returned to Uwaji, hopefully later in the day.

   Haketoko had returned to the village the night before to inform her boss, Kaji Kanamura, that the party would join him for cards in the morning. Solisar had explained to her that they would need more magic to be able to communicate and had to wait until morning for that. Hakam had further instructed her with the following: "We all need to be present, including our bodyguard, and if we play, he must answer our questions."

   As they packed their things together for the trip back to the village, Szordrin expressed surprise that Hakam would be joining them, since card playing was illegal in Wa. The lawyer justified his presence by explaining that, as an official emissary from a country where cards were not illegal, he would be able to observe.

   They made the short journey together back to Bunden, were greeted by the same constable at the gate as before, and entered. Haketoko had told them that she would meet them behind the inn, so they began heading into the center of the village. Hakam, however, explained that before they went with her, he had two quick errands to run on his own. He would join them at the inn in about a half hour. "I need one of the silver bars, Szordrin," said the cleric, holding out ten gold pieces. "This should cover it." Szordrin took the coins and handed Hakam one of the ch'ien. Then the cleric left them and headed south between two of the large shop minka.

   The cleric's two errands were to visit the sick woman and to heal her of her disease, as he had promised. This he did quickly, not even remaining long to receive the thanks and praise from the shocked and delighted family. His second stop was to the trinket dealer, Tensui, where he returned the silver bar to the man, since Szordrin had, in his mind, sold the clothing yesterday for an unfair price. Tensui was dumbfounded, but again, Hakam did not wait around to discuss the matter further. He simply turned, departed the shop, and headed down the dirt road to the inn.

   "That was quick," said Belvin.

   "I told you that I would be," said Hakam. "Now, where is the Wanese woman?"

   "She just told her people that we are here," said Sofi.

   Haketoko came out the back door to the inn just then. "Kaji Kanamura is ready for you. He has agreed to your terms. Please follow me." She gave a bow and seemed to be acting more formal than they were used to seeing.

   Haketoko led them up the stairs in the center of the inn and to the hall to the left. At the door to the small room where Hakam and Solisar had met with Ishi, the innkeeper, the day before, she stopped. "Those of you who will be playing or observing may continue around the corner and down the hall." She then spoke to Sofi, and Solisar translated. "Women are not permitted to play with men; do you wish to play a separate card game with me in the tea room? It is called e-awase."

   "Only if Kytharrah can play too," said Sofi through Solisar.

   "Kytharrah?"

   "Me!" said the minotaur.

   She nodded. Hakam gave her the ability to speak in Wa-an again, and then the two women and the minotaur entered the tiny room.

   The others rounded the corner and walked down the short hall past the western-facing windows. At the end was a huge, hulking man. He was bald and shirtless, and his body was covered in intricate tattoos of dragons, oni, flowers, and warriors. He nodded at them, slid the door open behind him, and stepped aside so that they could pass.

   This room at the corner of the inn was about fifteen feet square and had a low table on a tatami. Nine bowls were arrayed on the center of the table, just as Haketoko had described, and tiny cups of sake had also been provided. Sitting on the floor in the corner of the room on the other side of the table was an older man, presumably Kaji Kanamura. Kanamura was almost as large a man as his body guard at the door. There was a second massive bodyguard, also shirtless and covered in tattoos, standing watch on a small connected balcony that overlooked the road on the southern side of the building. The guard at the door stepped back out of the room and slid the door shut.

   Solisar did not see any magic auras, nor did Hakam observe any chaotic ones.

   Kanamura gave a seated bow. "Yokoso. I am Kaji Kanamura. I take great delight in being challenged by new players. Which of you shall be my three opponents for this game of karuta?"

   Solisar sat next to Kanamura, and, moving clockwise from him, Belvin and Szordrin seated themselves on the other side. Among them, they had enough magic so that all three players could converse with Kanamura in Wa-an, and Solisar introduced himself and his companions. Hakam and Leokas stood to the back and observed. "No cheating," Hakam said firmly in Common, "especially you, Szordrin."

   Kanamura silently raised his arm in some sort of hand signal, and the guard at the balcony entered the room with a medium-sized pouch. "Twenty-four shells per tael," said the guard in a gruff voice. They purchased 48 shells each to begin, as that is the amount of shells that the guard first handed to Kanamura, enough for a minimum of six hands.

   After arranging the shells in front of him, Kanamura gave a bow, and they each bowed back. Then the man slipped his kimono from his shoulders and let it fall to his waist, baring his chest. His torso also was heavily tattooed, like the guards. Solisar observed that since the kimono had fallen over the obi, the belt, it covered the man's sword. It also meant that there was nowhere for him to be hiding any cards.

   Kanamura did not pause for any conversation; he immediately began filling each of the eight outer bowls with a shell, so the others followed his lead and anted up. Kanamura then dealt the cards, five to each person, and turned over the top of the deck to reveal the trump suit for the first hand, chalices.

   Solisar earned the most shells in the first hand. ("It must have been the luck of a beginner," he commented, not wanting to offend their host.) Belvin dominated the second hand without comment. They all played mostly in silence, as Kanamura never spoke beyond his initial greeting and seemed intently concentrating on his hand and upon looking each opponent in the eyes, trying to read their facial expressions. His opponents were wizards, however, and Belvin was more intelligent than average as well, so for all three of them, the logical plays came quite easily. While the middle phase of each round could involve bluffing and strategy, for the most part, they played algorithmically, and who won each hand came down mostly to the luck of the draw.

   The luck of the draw was against Szordrin, however, and he was the first to run out of shells. He sat back and continued to observe.

   Solisar then decided to introduce some small talk to the table. "When did you learn to play kakkuki?"

   "I have been playing since I was a boy, and my older brothers taught me," answered Kanamura, without looking up from his cards.

   "This version of the game is new to me," said Solisar, "but the betting phase is similar to that of a game that we play in the west called talis, and it uses many of the same cards."

   Kanamura glanced up at Solisar briefly, as if to discern if the elf were trying to distract him.

   Szordrin spoke up, while the others were laying down cards. "So, I would propose a modification to the rules. After the trump card is revealed, it would make the game more interesting if three additional cards were turned face up, which anyone could use in combination with their own hands to score points."

   Kanamura looked taken aback. "You would change the rules of a game that have been in play for generations?" Szordrin could not read whether the Wanese man was angry or just surprised.

   "Think of it as a new game to try sometime," said the tiefling wizard.

   Kanamura seemed to consider this and laid down a card. "Your play," he said to Solisar.

   "Since you are so accomplished a card player," Szordrin continued, "why not invent a new game of your own and become known for that?"

   "I shall give it some thought," said Kanamura, still looking at his cards.

   It was the first phase of a hand now, and the shells in the bowl for the sequence of cards had been building up for several hands. Solisar managed to claim them with a run of nine-knave-knight in the trump suit.

   "Oh ho ho!" said Kanamura, with a raise of an eyebrow. "Your ancestors favor you this morning." Apparently, he was not upset to be beaten by a good hand.

   Solisar now had enough shells to take more chances and raise in the second, betting phase. He quickly drove Belvin and Kanamura to fold. Solisar also played all his cards in the second phase, meaning that this hand did not even have a third phase.

   "You are a good opponent," said Kanamura.

   Kanamura and Belvin still had at least eight shells, so they were able to play another hand, and the cards were dealt again.

   Kanamura had an excellent hand, but Solisar, once again, had a better hand, playing the trump version of two of the otherwise winning cards that Kanamura placed down.

   "I have another rules suggestion," said Szordrin. "Suppose a rule were added where, upon being dealt a hand, each player, one time, would have the option of rejecting those five cards and instead receiving another?"

   "I would not like such a rule," said Kanamura, "for it would make it far easier to keep track of the probabilities of which cards were in play instead of in the deck."

   "Have you played many card games in your past, Szordrin?" asked Solisar.

   "In the Underdark, it was a popular activity."

   Solisar knew that the drow played a game called sava, but it was not a card game; it was more similar to elven coroniir or human chess but with a dice-rolling element. He kept his doubts about the other wizard's comment to himself, however.

   Another hand went strongly in Solisar's favor.

   Kanamura looked embarrassed. "I am not playing well this morning. I am glad that my uncle is not here to see me bring so much dishonor to his legacy! You have beaten me fairly, but I admit that I am also distracted by these ideas for new rules. What was the first idea that you shared?"

   Szordrin repeated the option of a set of shared face-up cards from which any player could score.

   "I will pay for more chips for you," said Kanamura to Szordrin, "so that we can play one more hand with this new rule, but let us start with only one face-up card to begin and see how it works."

   This they did. When Kanamura was dealt his hand, he grinned. "Ah, now I shall regain my honor."

   Kanamura indeed had a sequence of four cards for phase one and so also was the first to go out in phase three, but Solisar still managed to earn the most shells in the round overall. There was friendly debate about how to handle a situation when the face-up card was a single scoring card in the first phase, and this discussion lasted as long as two whole hands.

   By now Kanamura's persona had changed considerably since before the game began. "I have never considered such interesting options before!" Kanamura exclaimed.

   Now that Szordrin was back in the game, he managed to win the next hand with a pair of pairs in phase two. Just then, a messenger entered the room and came and whispered something in Kanamura's ear.

   "Arigatogozaimashita. This has been a very enjoyable morning, my guests," said Kanamura, "and now I have many new ideas to consider. I am happy to have had the opportunity to meet gajin with a sense of fun and honorable competition.

   "However, I know that you came here not just to play cards with an old man. You should speak with my brother, Kaji Norizane, at the largest building in the village. He will be able to connect you with the information that you seek."

~~~~

   "It was barmy!" Sofi exclaimed as they were walking to the yakuza house. "I mean, I am not the most canny blood, but I did not expect.... Well, Kytharrah never made a single mistake, not one! It is a good thing that we were not playing for money; I would have lost all my jink!"

   The game that Kytharrah and Sofi had played with Haketoko was called e-awase. It used the same deck as kakkuki but only the black suits. The cards were arranged in a grid face down and turned over two at a time in an attempt to make pairs. If you overturned a pair, you kept those cards and went again. If the cards were not a pair, you turned them back face down, and it was the next player's turn.

   Kytharrah was beaming, knowing that his little sister was impressed with him.

   They approached the west side of the large minka. It was only a single story, but it covered more ground than even the shoya's house. The main entrance was open now, with two large men guarding the jambs. Haketoko had run ahead to tell her "family" that guests were coming, and one of the large guards from the inn — now fully dressed with a robe covering his tattoos — was walking ahead of them as an escort.

   "Kytharrah, let us go visit Imoko at the shrine again," said Sofi, knowing that she would not be welcome in the building. He agreed, and the two veered off from the others.

   "Sif and I will stay here outside on watch," said Leokas.

   The two men at the entrance made no comment or movement as the other four came up the steps and into the entrance room. It was about 25 feet wide with a large tatami on the floor. A weapon rack with swords was against each end wall, and other boxes and crates were in the corners. The opposite wall had two windows and a doorway into a central courtyard of sorts, and white lilies floated in blue vases on each side of this open exit.

   A third man, not quite as large and intimidating as the other two, was in the entrance room and asked what business they had in house Kaji Kumi.

   Hakam replied, "We just came from a meeting with Kanamura, and he asked that we speak with his brother."

   "Kaji Norizane," added Solisar.

   The man who escorted them nodded in agreement to the guards, and then he turned and went back toward the inn. The smaller man asked them to wait and entered the courtyard through the smaller, open doorway.

   He was gone for less than a minute. "You may enter the central garden. Uncle Norizane will come to you shortly."

   The garden was fifteen feet square, with a little pool of water surrounded by rocks in the center. There were open entrances back into the building to the north and south and a smaller, shut door to the east. The minka was apparently a square in shape, with an open center to the sky. Haketoko was in the room to the south, sitting on the mat with her back to them and combing her long black hair. Two men stood in the room to the north conversing quietly, too quietly for them to make out any of the words.

   One of those two men stepped down into the courtyard with them. He was wearing a dark blue kimono and looked to be about 60 years old. "Aisatsu, guests to our house. I have heard that you impressed my brother Kanamura with your ideas for card games." (The man did not look at all like Kanamura.) "Welcome to the home of our kumi." The magic did not translate this last word. "What business do you gajin have in our town?"

   Hakam thanked the man for his hospitality and then explained that they were there to investigate the death of a former ambassador named Yunoko. "We believe that the shogun's previous investigation came to the wrong conclusion."

   Norizane nodded. "You would need to speak with the oyabun about that, but the oyabun is particular about whom he speaks with. I can put in a good word for you, on account of the good word that I have already heard from Kanamura, but you would need to bring a gift for your host, to do him the honor necessary to be welcomed into his presence. If you already bear such a gift, I can deliver it to him and see if he is able to see you. Or you may leave and return upon obtaining something suitable for his station."

   "Forgive us," said Hakam. "As you know, we are foreigners to this land. We do not know what an appropriate gift would be for one as esteemed as your kumi's oyabun. Perhaps you might be able to provide us with an example."

   Norizane replied, "Yoshio, the oyabun, does like to collect small magical trinkets. I do not mean powerful magics or weapons but simple things, more for entertaining others than for true displays of power. That is what I would recommend."

   "I have some interesting alchemical means of creating fire," said Szordrin, "but only one time. Should the gift be something that can be used repeatedly?"

   "I am not a collector of magic items myself," said Norizane. "It is ultimately up to you to see what gift would be pleasing to the oyabun. Whatever you decide, I shall take it to him, and he will make the judgment of how worthy a gift he deems it to be."

   Szordrin considered instead gifting Yoshio with a sunrod, a sort of rod of iron with a tip at the end. When this tip was struck against a hard surface, it triggered an alchemical reaction and glowed brighter and longer than a torch without any of the heat. Szordrin explained the details to Norizane while holding it out for him to see. "It will glow for six hours."

   Norizane seemed interested and agreed to take the item to Yoshio. "I shall return to you with his response soon. Wait here in the garden." He entered the smaller door on the east side of the little courtyard, sliding the screen shut behind him.

   While they waited, the door opened again, and an old woman came out with a tray of tea. "Would you like to drink any tea?" she asked.

   They accepted the cha, but Belvin told them in Elven to pause before drinking it. He sniffed it and tasted it, to ensure that they were not being poisoned. He nodded to the others approval. It was delicious tea, not quite as high quality as the tea that Hina had served but definitely better than the tea served by Shoya Nambu.

   When they had finished the tea, Kaji Norizane returned to the garden, and the woman took the tray with the empty cups back into the house. "The oyabun seemed pleased with the gift that you had me present to him in your behalf. He was quite intrigued by it. He would like to meet with you now. Whenever you are ready, you may join him in the onsen. If you pass through the door behind me, you will enter the kitchen, and there is a screen immediately on the right. You may undress behind the screen, and the onsen is in the room beyond that."

   The word onsen was not translated by their magic, and his mention of undressing seemed rather odd to them without any context. They kept this confusion to themselves however.

   They stepped up into the kitchen. The old woman was sitting on the floor by the irori, the fire pit, stirring the contents of a pot. The southern third of the kitchen was currently divided off from the rest by paper screens. More noticeable than the smoke rising from the irori was steam coming from the other side of the paper screens. Belvin noticed the scent of familiar herbs carried with the steam. One of them slid the right side of the screen open and passed behind. The others followed. There was a bench behind the screen, and a few buckets. A set of clothes was hanging on hooks on the wall, and this wall opened up into the corner of the minka, the floor of which apparently was almost completely filled by a large circular stone bath. When their eyes adjusted to the steam, they saw a large man standing at the far end of the bath, the water up to his waist. His chest was, not surprisingly, highly decorated with tattoo ink. He held a tea cup in his right hand and was sipping from it slowly. Left of the man in the bath was a tray of tea, with the sunrod lying upon it. A tattooed guard wearing only a small loincloth stood guard on the bathing man's right, though he carried no weapons beyond his massively thick arms, which were crossed in front of him.

   "Welcome, tomo," said the bathing man with a deep but pleasant voice. "I thank you for your most fascinating present. I am Kaji Yoshio. Please, join me in the water. It is freshly heated." Indeed, they saw at a near corner a large brass basin tilted on its side, having emptied its contents into the bath in the floor.

   Belvin started undressing without hesitation, and Solisar slid the door shut to give them privacy from the kitchen. It was a bit crowded behind the screen, but they managed to strip and to hang their clothes next to the oyabuns on the remaining hooks. Solisar was hesitant to place their magic items out of sight, so he made sure that they were set on the bench where they would be visible from the water, and the others did the same.

   They lowered themselves into the water one at a time. It was very hot — too hot at first — but soon felt soothing to their muscles. The oyabun said nothing until they all had entered the spa, sipping his tea while he waited for them all to join him. Solisar scanned the bath room and saw no magical auras anywhere, apart from Szordrin's faintly glowing, very pale skin.

   "Ah!" said the oyabun, as if sighing in pleasure on behalf of his guests. "See, here we are, host and guest, naked and exposed before each other as a sign of trust. What questions do you have for me?"

   The oyabun was probably about 45 or 50 years old, but he was more muscular and fit than most men his age. He would have been alive but very young when Yunoko died. Hakam began his questioning in much the same way as he did with Kaji Norizane.

   The cheerful countenance of Yoshio faded at Hakam's words. "Yes, I remember that day. It is the day that my father and uncles were murdered by the shogun without a fair trial." Solisar sensed a seething rage in the man's voice, which he was trying hard to hide behind a smile to his guests.

   "That is the conclusion to which we have come as well," said Hakam, nodding. "However, we were hoping that you could provide further information about her true murderer."

   "Regretably, I have no knowledge of who killed the woman. I only know that it was no one in Kaji Kumi. We had great respect for the woman Yunoko. She understood the role that we play and our importance to the existence of this town."

   "We believe that we know the man," said Hakam, "but to call him a man would not be correct. We believe the murderer to have been a rakshasa, a kind of spirit or oni, and we believe that he was wounded when murdering her. He can change his form to appear as a human, but we think that he would be missing his right hand, even when in such a form of deception. I suspect that you must know of most people who pass through this village; does such a description sound like anyone you have seen?"

   "Would this have been around the same time that she visited our village the day of her death?" asked the oyabun.

   "Likely so, yes, but perhaps in years after that as well."

   "I recall no gajin, no strangers, with only one hand. A strange man did visit the town before the ambassador arrived and was then murdered, the day before, claiming to be a kashindan, a tax collector, from Uwaji. While it is true that the government sends different kashindan to collect taxes each season, I suspect that this man was a special agent from the shogunate, looking for a way to frame us. The man had two hands, however, but it was the day before. I do not know if he still had two hands the day after, for we did not see the man again."

   "Did you ever hear of any of the villagers reporting seeing a copy of themselves?" asked Belvin.

   Yoshio shook his head. "This is a small village, and we have many eyes among my nieces and nephews. I have heard no such tales."

   "It is possible that the rakshasa was working for or pretending to be working for the shogunate," said Hakam, "as we also believe that the rakshasa had impersonated one of your emperors in the distant past."

   Yoshio made a brief expression of surprise but not necessarily of disbelief. He then nodded. "I shall speak truthfully that I am biased in my answers to you, as I have no love for the shogunate. Thus, I would not be surprised to learn of such pretense and deception."

   "Do you know any further information about this man, this tax collector? Did he ever return here?"

   "I do not know his name, but you might speak with Aunt Yoritoko. She is the keeper of the house. You may have already seen her. You will likely find her in the kitchen here after dressing. She was young then and worked at the inn. She was the one who notified us of the kashindan's arrival. Perhaps she can tell you more about him."

   "There was also a gajin merchant," said Solisar, "who visited some time before the murder and who was the reason that Yunoko came to Bunden on the day that she was murdered."

   Hakam added, "It is possible that he was related to this rakshasa, perhaps setting a trap for Yunoko."

   "I know of this man too. The story is simple. I am sure that you will find it uninteresting and unhelpful, but at least you will have enjoyed a warm bath and have clean and soft skin. The gajin trader was an agent from the shogunate. He sold a series of tainted decks of cards to our fence at the edge of town. The decks had been enchanted, so that the shogunate could catch us breaking his foolish laws. My brother, the waka gashira, learned of this scheme and sent the wakashu to teach the man a lesson, which I am sure that he learned. This, unsurprisingly, caught the notice of the abassador for the gajin, this Yunoko. She came to speak with us. She met with my brother, Fujifusa, (not here in the onsen, of course, for that would be inappropriate, dishonorable, and unbecoming. Fuji was a man of respect, as all yakuza are.) It is regretable that she was found slain the next day, but we had nothing to do with that."

   "Did you also know a man named Onran," asked Szordrin, "who was the husband of Yunoko?"

   "I have never heard of this name. Yunoko spoke with the oyabun, who was Fujifusa, directly and without her husband present. I did not converse with her. I know the basics of what they spoke, for I was saiko-komon to Fujifusa. I was young for the role, but I have been with the kumi since only a boy."

   Hakam queried Yoshio about the bridge where Yunoko was murdered. "Is the bridge east of the village known as a place of ambush to travelers? Or is there anyone in your group who might have witnessed events at the bridge that day?"

   "The people of this village have been tasked by the shogunate to maintain the road from here to Uwaji, and thus there have been members of the kumi who have repaired the bridge in the past. The village carpenter would be the man to tend to the bridge itself, but the road and the grounds around it are also tended by the villagers, and the lanterns along it are made here in Bunden too. If you are asking me if we of the yakuza ever have 'used' the bridge in the administration of justice, I tell you that the wakashu generally work within the village walls, unless they are tossing an unwelcomed individual outside those walls." The man smiled, but maintained a calm tone as he spoke this last sentence. "It would be dishonorable to go beyond the bounds of our authority."

   "Are there no bands of highwaymen in the region about?" asked Hakam.

   "Between here and Uwaji? No. It is too close to the city, and the forests are not deep enough to shelter such criminals. There are indeed robbers and bandits as one travels west. It is more dangerous as one heads into the mountains. Such bandits know not to challenge our kumi here."

   "May I ask where it was that your family members were executed?" asked Solisar.

   "They were lined up along the road near the bridge," said Yoshio.

   "Where were they buried?"

   "They were not buried. The law of the land is that the executed are not permitted the honor of a burial."

   The party could not think of any further questions for the oyabun. Also, they were starting to feel a bit dizzy from being in the hot water for so long. Yoshio seemed to observe this. "I sense that you have soaked long enough. If you have no further questions of me, let us dry ourselves and dress. I have business elsewhere in the building, and Brother Norizane can show you out after you have spoken with Yoritoko, if you so choose."

   After they had clothed themselves again and entered the kitchen, Kaji Yoshio crossed the room and entered another to the north, sliding the door shut behind him. The old woman who had served them tea still crouched by the coals, working on her soup. They greeted her and asked about the so-called tax collector.

   Yoritoko did not remember the kashindan's name, but she did note the following. "He could not have been from Uwaji; he must have lied to us and to the shoya. When I cleaned his room, I found that his clothes were of a silk only made in Rukimbaru, not Uwaji." They remembered that Rukimbaru was the emperor's city and also the home of Yunoko's family.

   "Did you happen to see what the man's hands looked like?" asked Hakam, but she had never actually seen the man from up close; she had only cleaned his room as the maid at the inn and heard about his claims.

   "Did the shogun's real tax collector later arrive?" asked Hakam.

   She did not know, but she did say, "The kashindan are not known to be consistent at their tasks. There is little order to their comings and goings."

   Norizane entered the kitchen and then led them back to the main entrance. Leokas and his wolf were there waiting for them. Solisar and Szordrin were convinced that the oyabun had been truthful with them, and they quickly updated the forest elf on what they had learned within.

   They decided to return next to the inn to ask Ishi, the innkeeper, about the kashindan. Ishi also remembered the man, though he too did not recall his name. "I did not have a long interaction with the man. Kashindan collect their money directly from the shoya; I only know about him, because one of my maids seemed to think that he was not really a kashindan. Even so, he came, spent the night, collected the taxes, and left the next day.

   "I thought it strange though," he continued, "because the man wore gloves the whole time that he was here at the inn and never took them off."
Session: 127th Game Session - Monday, Jan 04 2021 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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 - Monday, Dec 21 2020 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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 - Monday, Dec 21 2020 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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 - Monday, Dec 21 2020 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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 - Monday, Dec 21 2020 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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 - Monday, Dec 21 2020 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Battle , Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
Chapter 3 — Shadowed
The grocer's shop was next to the stable and diagonally across from the inn. When the shopkeeper, a very old woman, saw the gajin approaching, she entered the minka and slid the screen door shut. They saw her peaking nervously through the openings in the door. Szordrin used one of his magic scrolls to allow himself to speak with her, and he cautiously approached with Hakam.

   Hakam spoke gently to her through the grated door. "Do not be afraid of us. We know that we must appear strange to you, but we have heard that you were friends with a woman named Yunoko, and we are trying to help her family."

   The woman hesitated but ultimately slid open the door. "How could you possibly have known Yunoko?" asked the frail woman slowly. "You are far too young."

   "It is true that we did not know her personally," said Hakam, "but Szordrin here is the protégé of her husband, Onran."

   Szordrin attempted a bow of respect and added, "Onran was the kindest man who ever lived on Toril. We need to understand how it was that he and his beloved wife were taken from us."

   They spotted a tear in one of her eyes, which she quickly wiped away. "Come inside," she said quickly and quietly, waving them up the short steps. They followed her inside, and she slid the door shut again. The inside of the shop must have doubled as her own kitchen, for a fire pit was at the center of the 30-foot-wide room. The west and eastern sides were loaded up with crates and baskets of various fruits and vegetables, in addition to those that she kept on display outside along the path.

   "Yunoko-chan and her husband — who was indeed a very nice man.... He had very strange hair. It was silver. His eyes were gold. I think that he was of the spirit folk. We have a couple spirit folk in Bunden. They are twins. I always used to wonder whether Onran was born of a bamboo spirit or a river spirit, but I think he was born of a river spirit. Yunoko always laughed when I told her this, and she said, "No, Rumi, he is not a spirit folk." She told me that he came from the stars, which is why she loved him. She was joking of course; she loved him for who he was. Strange it was to hear of a marriage formed because of love. My husband married me because my father gave him a pair of pigs. I came to love my husband, but I did not know anything about him until he took me into his minka...."

   She rambled on like this, and Hakam struggled at first to translate what he could to the three elves, though he eventually stopped bothering. They ultimately had to gently guide her back to the original question.

   "Yunoko-chan and her husband stopped by my shop every time they traveled through Bunden to and from their home in the hills, in Uminonagame. Sometimes it was the two of them; more often, it was only Yunoko. They stopped and purchased fruit from me. Pears were Yunoko-chan's favorite. She used to stand right here in this corner and cross her left leg over her right leg as she listed to me gossip." Rumi moved to the corner and demonstrated Yunoko's stance. The old woman then discussed which teas they drank together and showed where Yunoko sat for that and provided all manner of mundane details. She described how beautiful Yunoko's hair was and how many different ways she used to tie it up.

   Just when they thought that they would be trapped here listening to her for another 30 minutes, she simply stopped abruptly and sighed. "She was such a nice young woman.... I suppose that you want to know about the last time that I saw her?"

   They nodded.

   "I remember the very day that Yunoko-chan last came into my shop. There was a poor man who had been beaten by some thugs and left for dead. Yunoko had come to the village to investigate, for she had an important job like that."

   "Did this man have a missing hand?" Szordrin asked, interrupting.

   "No, I do not think so," said the grocer. "He had blond hair and blue eyes. He was probably from one of your strange lands. I took him food when he rested across the way at the inn." She described in detail each of the meals of vegetables that she had fed the man before backing up in the timeline. "When he first came to Bunden, they say that he visited the trinket-seller, near the western gate. His nephew works there now. Then he — the visitor, not the trinket-seller — left the village. Then he was beaten. Yunoko came to investigate that. She talked to many people, but I do not know to whom, because it was not my place to know about her official work. She told me that she found the answers that she had come seeking. She purchased one last pear from me, and then she headed back to Uwaji. That was the last that I saw of poor Yunoko-chan."

   Hakam translated.

   "So, we now have confirmation that she made it to Bunden and was murdered on the return trip," said Solisar.

   "So, she learned something...," said Belvin.

   "Did she ever tell you who had beaten the man?" Szordrin asked the woman with his magic.

   She repeated that Yunoko did not talk about her work.

   "What happened to the man after this?" asked Hakam. "Did he leave town?"

   She nodded. "Yes. He left the village and headed west on the trail to the highway."

   "What do you know about Yunoko's death?" asked Szordrin.

   Rumi gave a sort of moan or wail before answering. "I knew nothing about her death. It was only when I missed her visits and I asked other shopkeepers if anyone had seen Yunoko that I learned the dreadful news. When men had come from Uwaji, bushi and samurai, and rounded up some thugs, I thought that they were the thugs who had beaten the man. I had no idea that their visit had to do with poor Yunoko-chan!"

   "Do you believe that the thirteen thugs who were executed were actually guilty?" asked Szordrin, "Or do you think that they were the scapegoats?"

   "Those thirteen men were unsavory, lowlifes, men of dishonor and shame, familyless, gamblers, card-players, men who had women who were not their wives." She spoke matter-of-factually, without any hint of disgust in her voice, yet not out of any sort of compassion either. They sensed that she would have used the same tone to describe a dirty dog that one happened to know about. Perhaps notably, the word "yakuza" was not spoken by her. She then leaned forward and whispered what she seemed to consider the worst sin of them all. "One even had a tattoo on his wrist!"

   "Where were the bodies of the executed men displayed?" asked Hakam.

   "On the road to Uwaji," she answered, but she had no further specifics.

   "Do you know if the trinket-seller and the innkeeper were here when those executions happened?" asked Hakam.

   "As I already said, the old trinket-seller's nephew, Tensui, now works there. The same innkeeper runs the inn, though, yes."

   They thanked the grocer and left her shop. Outside on the road, they discussed where to go next. Hakam was of the opinion that they need not talk to the new trinket-seller, unless he could give them some local currency, since the man was not present when Yunoko had last visited, but he wanted to speak to the innkeeper before heading back toward Uwaji. Szordrin was strongly in favor of trying to gain some local currency from the trinket-seller, so they split into two more groups, one led by Hakam to visit the inn, and the other led by Szordrin, since both of them could speak Wa-an by magic for a brief time longer.

   Hakam and Szordrin crossed the road to enter the inn. Szordrin began walking west down the road. Belvin and Leokas followed him. It looked to be about 100 feet to what was presumably the trinket shop.

   As he walked, Szordrin cast his spell to see invisible creatures in objects. The effect was somewhat shocking at first, as nearly every minka had an ethereal spirit or two hovering around, above, or through the structure. They seemed to be going about much like the living natives of Bunden, moving from place to place as if on short errands. One ghost sat on the nearest steps, drinking incorporeal tea. Another seemed to be meditating on a roof. A few were in conversation with each other, though the spell revealed no sound.

   About half way to their destination, the road forked. It was at this point that Belvin noticed a figure behind them. After passing where the fork branched off to the north, he confirmed his suspicion with a follow-up glance. They were being followed. It was a woman, and she was trying not to be seen, but Belvin had already spotted her before they had entered the grocer's and was nearly certain now that she had waited the whole time they were within for them to come out of the grocer's.

   The woman wore a red kimono, but it was particularly short, relative to other women's dress in Bunden. In most lands of Faerûn, it would not have been considered short, but by the standards of Wa, he imagined that the kimono would have been scandalous — her knees were visible. She wore a farmer's conical hat upon her head. When Belvin spotted her, she moved quickly between two of the minka north of the road and out of sight.

   Belvin tapped Leokas on the shoulder and spoke quietly to him in Elvish. The forest elf nodded. "I am on it."
Session: 125th Game Session - Monday, Dec 14 2020 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
Chapter 3 — The Monastery at Bunden
They walked over grass due east from the shoya's gatehouse, the wall on their left and the brewery on their right. They next came to a large structure that seemed to be built in a square shape.

   "Is this the monastery?" asked Hakam aloud. However, there were no monks seen about, and Belvin thought that he could spot the tiled roof of the shrine farther off.

   Belvin was correct. After passing the large, square building, there was an open space in the shade of a large bamboo tree where two monks were sparring. Just beyond them was the shrine now, fully in view. It was similar to a gazebo in structure, with four open sides. A large statue filled most of its interior.

   They were quite surprised to see that the shrine was being guarded by a woman, considering the strict cultural rules in place for women in Wa. This woman was not dressed in simple linen clothing like the sparring men or like Sofi. Instead, she was wearing a full set of armor that looked like scale mail but was made of reddish leather. She carried a strange double-headed weapon that was shaped like a shovel or spade at one end and a crescent at the other. Her feet were sandaled, and her forearms were bound in leather strands similar to Sofi's. As for the woman herself, her long dark hair was braided and tied back in a ponytail.

   South of the shrine was a two-story minka that must have been the monastery itself.

   As they neared the woman and the shrine behind her, they were able to better observe the idol at its center. The statue was of a warrior in golden armor and mounted upon a demonic-looking horse. The god or demigod wore a fierce expression and held a sword ready to swing down upon a foe.

   The shrine guardian eyed them as they neared her. Her face showed no discernible emotion. When they were close enough to speak with her without shouting, she spoke in a calm, monotone voice, which Hakam's magic translated for him. "Why would a group of foreigners be coming to see one of our sacred shrines?"

   "I greet you, guardian," said Hakam. He held up the official notice one again. "We come with permission from the shogun to this village. We are not so much interested in this shrine as in the spiritual guidance of the monks who reside here."

   She squinted a little, contemplating the unexpectedly thoughtful answer. "Surely you do not follow our spirits," she replied after her pause. "Do you not have divine spirits of your own?"

   "We do indeed, but it is a particular spirit, of which we know little, that we are seeking out, a vengeful spirit. We hope that you here can provide us with helpful information."

   Again the woman considered the reply carefully before responding. "I am only a simple sohei," she said, and the magic left the final word of her declaration untranslated. "However, the monks within the monastery may be able to answer your questions, if you ask them with sincerity and not for ill."

   Sofi waved excitedly at the shrine guardian. The woman did not wave back. "What is her name, Hakam?"

   The cleric asked for her name, and she answered, "Imoko."

   "Well met, Imoko," said Sofi. "My name is.... I call myself Sofi. I am so happy to see another woman monk. I have never seen a human woman monk before, only githzerai ones."

   The woman had no idea what Sofi was saying, but she cracked a partial smile, showing the first emotion that they had seen her express. She turned back to Hakam, however, and spoke to him again. "Let me enter the monastery and learn how the shukenja feels about visitors at this hour. Please remain here."

   Imoko walked past them and entered the monastery through a doorway at the northwestern corner of the building, leaving them standing before the fearsome warrior god.

   Sofi's attention was now drawn to the sparring monks, and she carefully watched their posture and movements as they circled each other and gave out and received calculated blows. "He should have sprung from his left foot," she explained to Kytharrah, who had come next to her to watch as well.

   "Play?" he asked.

   "I will see if Hakam will let us play with them later, Kytharrah," she said. "First, we must wait our turn."

   Imoko returned. "You are welcome to enter the monastery," she said. "Follow me, if you please."

   She took off her sandals and left them at the side of the building before going up the single wooden step. They all did likewise, at Solisar's insistence. Imoko waited in the entryway for those with boots to unfasten and remove them.

   Unshoed, they entered a hallway that extended the width of the building. At the opposite end of this entry hallway was a small prayer mat before a smaller shrine idol holding a small basin of water in its lap. On the right wall, just before the prayer mat, was the opening into the monastery proper. Imoko passed through this open doorway, and they followed her into a 20-foot-square room with a staircase in the nearest corner and a large square sparring mat filling most of the remaining floor space. This mat was occupied by another pair of practicing monks. There were two closed paper doorways on the right wall as they looked south, and the other end of this room opened into a kitchen. They followed their guide past the monks and into the kitchen, which had two long, low, wooden tables on either side of the fire pit and an assortment of barrels, jugs, kegs, and bottle racks against the walls. What must have been the main entrance to the building was opposite where they stood, and, looking up, they saw two balconies above them and the rafters of the roof two stories up.

   "The shukenja will be coming down shortly," said Imoko, and Hakam translated.

   "Are we invited to sit?" asked Belvin.

   Hakam asked her this, and she seemed embarrassed with herself. "Yes, please. I am sorry that I am not trained in matters of hospitality. You may sit at the tables."

   This, of course, meant sitting on the mats on the floor beside the low tables. They sat down, and Imoko joined them, though she kept herself distant from the men and sat by Sofi. "What are your names?" she asked. Solisar immediately answered, being able to understand such a basic question in Wa-an by now, and the others also answered in turn.

   "Where are you from?"

   "We are from Faerûn," said Hakam, not wanting to get into the complexities.

   Imoko nodded, and it was likely that she had never heard of Faerûn before, though she did not state this. "I am not from Bunden," she said. "I am from a monastery in the foothills to the north, in Jiyu, a couple days walk to the north."

   Hakam translated for the others, and Sofi asked him to ask her why she had come to Bunden.

   "I am relatively new in my path as a sohei," Imoko said. "I took my vows to follow the Path of Enlightenment only last Spring. As part of my training, I am sent to different regions in Wa to learn about different ways of life and to experience the practices of varying monastic schools and to serve them as I am able." She spoke slowly and deliberately, pausing between sentences to give Hakam ample time to translate. "My role here for the last month or so has been to defend this shrine to Jikoku, Guardian of the East."

   Hakam asked her a question. "As a non-villager, perhaps you might be able to answer a question with more freedom than most here: Is the shoya an honorable man?"

   Once again, Imoko took some thought before answering. "He is an honorable man," she said, "but he is weak. I do not mean weak in character or honor, rather weak in power. He is rarely seen by the villagers. I have not seen him speak or act in public. His time is always within his compound, drinking tea, playing igo. This I have heard. I have never been within his house myself. He seems to let others lead for him."

   "Who then leads the village?" asked Hakam. "Is it the monks?"

   "The monks seem to keep to themselves," she answered. "I am not sure who runs things. Things do run, but I do not understand how that is. The people here seem very disciplined, but such are the people of all the villages that I have been sent to visit. To speak honestly, sometimes I wonder why the common people need anyone to lead them at all. Such words may be considered blasphemy, but I only ask questions. I am sure that wise men have good answers for my questions. I suppose that, in larger populations, there are more dishonorable people who need to be controlled, since they cannot control themselves.

   "I have only been here about a month; I am only an outsider. There is probably much more for me to learn here before it is time for me to move on to my next post."

   "Are you on a pilgrimage?" Belvin asked through Hakam.

   "Of a kind. I always travel back to my monastery between visits to other places to receive my next task. This is only my first assignment as a true sohei."

   "You fight with a weapon that I have never seen before," said Sofi. "What is it?"

   "It is called a monk's spade. It was created for monks having to travel on long journeys. Such monks would often be called upon by poor villagers to care for and bury the dead. That explains the shovel end. The moon-shaped end is used to hold back without killing dangerous animals that a monk might encounter on the narrow mountain paths. Most monastic schools are opposed to killing, even of animals." She asked of Sofi, "Are you a monk yourself? Which path do you follow?"

   "I am a monk," said Sofi through Hakam. "I follow the path of Pistis Sophia, but I am not a part of any monastery currently, though I am interested in scanning more about them. You are not a monk yourself though? You called yourself something else?"

   "I am a sohei, a temple guardian," Imoko answered, without any further clarification.

   At this point, an older man entered the room. He had thick gray hair, bushy eyebrows, and a beard that hung to his waist with no mustache. He wore a faded blue smock over a reddish-brown skirt with a yellowed cord for a belt. A prayer wheel hung from this belt. He walked slowly into the room leaning on a hooked shepherd's staff for support, from which dangled an assortment of berries, beads, bells, leaves, and feathers. He seemed like a cross between a hedge wizard and a shaman.

   The man bowed to his guests and then sat opposite them. Imoko dismissed herself and returned to her post at the shrine, leaving them alone with the man. He introduced himself as Ieharu and asked how he could be of service. "I hear that you come with questions about the Spirit World. It is very strange for gajin to visit this simple monastery in this simple village to ask questions, but I am happy to answer what I know."

   They realized that they could all understand him without the need for Hakam to translate, and they suspected that this was because of magic. (The man had a faint magical aura about his lips, Solisar observed. Beyond this, there was only the faintest aura from a small talisman on his belt, so Solisar supposed that he must have cast a tongues spell before entering the kitchen to meet with them.)

   "We are most interested in one particular spirit, which we believe has passed through this area," explained Hakam, "approximately 35 years ago, a rakshasa. Are you familiar with this kind of spirit?"

   The man seemed to ponder this. "The spirits with the distinctive mirrored hands? Are they not spirits common in the far away land of Malatra?"

   "So we are told," said Hakam.

   "There may have been rakshasa who have entered Wa in the past. I have heard tell of this. There is a monastery to the north of here, a much larger one, outside the village of Jiyu in the foothills. One of my brother shukenja there once told me of rumors that creatures of such a description were spotted by some villagers living near a volcano in the mountains north of Jiyu. I heard nothing more of this. It was communicated only in a time of shared storytelling, and I do not think that my brother believed the report."

   "We believe that the creature with whom we are concerned has also disguised himself as human," said Hakam.

   "Many spirits have the power of deception to do so," said Ieharu with a nod. "You may all be spirits yourselves. Who am I to know?" He smiled at them.

   Hakam now shared the theorized details about Yunoko's murder by the rakshasa on the bridge — though he did not mention her by name — and brought out the severed hand that they had found the previous evening. "Can you divine anything from this hand or from our story?"

   Ieharu took the hand and looked at the bones carefully. "The bone has certainly been cut — and cleanly."

   "We believe that it was severed by this sword." Hakam then showed the blade that they had also found.

   "That may have been a noble's wakizashi, and this was likely a rakshasa hand, as it seems very feline to me. The fingers are longer than a human's hand, I think, and there may have been claws here once."

   Solisar pointed out how the wrist bones attached to the forearm bone fragments, and the man agreed with the assessment.

   Ieharu passed the hand back to them and spoke to Hakam. "As far as my powers of divination, I surmise that you are a holy man yourself. I observe the silver amulet hanging from your neck and the prayer box upon your forehead. I suspect that your powers to divine matters are more powerful than my own. However, I am willing to speak to the local spirits that hover about this place on your behalf and see what they might know."

   "Speaking of local spirits," said Hakam, "do you know anything about a spirit named Yunoko?"

   "Oh, Yunoko? Yes, I knew a woman named Yunoko once. She was the ambassador of a gajin country. She was married to a strange but very kind man. He had a beard much like yours." He motioned toward Szordrin when he said this.

   "He was, in fact, Szordrin's master," said Hakam. "This is why we have come to your country, to investigate his wife's murder."

   "Yes, yes, I was very saddened when I learned that the yakuza had killed her. She was a very kind woman. She often stopped on her way through the village to buy fresh fruit from the grocer. Occasionally, she would come and bow to Jikoku. She was not a follower of the Path of Enlightenment, as are we, yet she was a woman of strong faith. She followed the teachings of the Nine Immortals.

   "I did not realize when told of the murder of an ambassador on the bridge that you were referring to her death. I should have recognized this, as the time of death is correct, but we were told that the yakuza were involved. I see now that you question this narrative."

   "Forgive my caginess from earlier," said Hakam. "Yes, from the evidence that we have presented to you here, we believe that the story of the yakuza's responsibility is a fabrication or at least an incorrect assumption."

   "I am intrigued by your theory, but how would one prove this?" asked Ieharu.

   "There is more," said Hakam. "We believe that we have encountered her spirit. Can you help us speak with her spirit or learn when we may be able to encounter her again?" They then shared with him their encounter with her in the embassy at night, how they had unfortunately banished her spirit, and the signs of the ethereal essence of the two items being pulled in the direction of Uwaji. "We suspect that she may manifest again."

   "I am certain that I would be able to speak with her spirit. However, my powers are limited by distance. I would have to be face-to-face with her, which would require knowing where she would be and when. For me to speak with her now, she would have to be present with us here, but I have no sense of any unexpected presences with us here now. If you took me to her, I could speak with her.

   "As to when you may encounter her again, I cannot say, but spirits rarely wander far from their resting places in the Spirit World. For spirits who cannot find the River of Three Routes and are trapped in our world, they usually cannot leave our world until a certain task is accomplished that frees them. If she was murdered in an act of dishonor, it is understandable that she may be trapped until the deed is avenged and her honor is restored."

   "Are there any rituals to summon the dead to speak with them?" asked Szordrin. "We have found several items of hers; can these act as a way to connect to her?"

   "Are these the objects whose ethereal essences you saw being pulled toward Uwaji?" asked Ieharu. "I wonder if these are not the very objects tying her to our realm. Maybe if they were returned to her, she would appear to you again. Though, I suspect that her state as a lost spirit is more likely to be because of her terrible manner of death at the hands of fiends."

   "Could she be summoned by them, though?" repeated Szordrin.

   "It is possible," he said. "They may attract her. A ghost often can interact with certain objects when she manifests that still retain a connection to her. Perhaps this connection can also be a means to call her to you or attract her attention."

   "Do you remember when the shogun sent men to Bunden to investigate her murder?" asked Solisar.

   "I was not involved in the investigation," said the shukenja. "They did not speak to any of us at the monastery. We were ignored."

   "Forgive me for being indelicate," Hakam began, "but we wish to speak to people who might have known the thirteen accused. I suspect that we may have already offended the shoya by asking this of him."

   The old man looked at each of them in turn and then answered, "I sense that you are honorable people. In some sense, you remind me of Onran. Though I did not know him well, he was, in fact, the one who taught my younger self that gajin can be as honorable as Wanese."

   He lowered his voice a little. "The fact of matter is that this village is still fully controlled by the yakuza. The shogun failed to wipe them from the village as he had hoped three or four decades ago. The shoya has very little power here. None want to admit that, of course; the yakuza are truly dishonorable criminals, but the situation is as it is. To be fair, they, the yakuza, allow us spiritual seekers to live as we will. They do not interfere in our pratices. In many ways, this monastery is entirely separate from the rest of the village. Obviously, you must be able to see how this would be a sensitive issue. I advise you not to speak of it and to be careful whom you ask about the yakuza. Even mentioning the word itself may result in offense here."

   "Do they come here often? How do the yakuza control Bunden?" asked Szordrin.

   "They live among us," said Ieharu, "integrated into Bunden's society in secret. The oyabun resides in the large house immediately next to our grounds. It is larger even than the home of the shoya. So that is where a number of the yakuza live, but you cannot exactly just walk up to it and offer greeting. You would need to be invited."

   "How would one gain an audience with them?" asked Szordrin.

   The old man made a funny face. "You are speaking with a holy man; I do not know how to gain an audience with criminals without violating my vows!" The comment was spoken with a mark of humor.

   Solisar thanked Ieharu for these insights and then returned to a question about the rakshasa. "Have you ever seen a man with one hand passing through Bunden?"

   "The rakshasa in disguise? I do not recall ever encountering such a stranger, no."

   "Besides the grocer," asked Szordrin, "can you tell us any further places that Yunoko would have visited in this village?"

   Ieharu could not think of any other places.

   "Kytharrah is hungry!" said Kytharrah.

   "We would need to exchange our currency to be able to purchase food here," said Solisar.

   Kytharrah did not know what currency was, but he knew that Solisar's answer meant no, and he frowned.

   "Is there a jeweler in the village?" asked Belvin.

   "...Or a place to exchange our money?" added Solisar.

   "We have no jeweler," said Ieharu, "but there is a man here who sells trinkets that he finds or purchases from passersby that he finds interesting. Maybe he would be able to take something off your hands in exchange for our currency. There is no official moneychanger here, nor are there craftsmen of the high arts here; this is a poor village. The trinket seller's shop is the last minka on road as it leaves the village to head toward the Hayatura highway."

   "There is another matter," said Hakam. "Can you tell us anything about a foreigner who was beaten at around the same time as Yunoko was murdered? We are told that her purpose in coming here that trip was to investigate that beating."

   "Oh, that was a horrible incident as well. A gajin like yourselves — I do not know the details of his place of origin — was passing through. I know that the man — strangely enough, since I just now mentioned the place — had business with the trinket seller. (It was a different seller at that time but the same shop.) The gajin sold some items and was later found beaten outside the village. He was taken to the inn, where he was nursed back to health. That is all that I know for certain. Many in the village suspected that he was beaten by the yakuza for some 'misdeed'. As a holy man, I cannot speculate as to what sort of misdeed would have been worthy of a beating. In any case, the yakuza never leave evidence to tie them to any violent act."

   The party discussed their next course of action. It seemed that they would visit the grocer and the inn next.

   Hakam made a last request, "Would you permit for our two monks in training to spar with your pupils here while the others of us continue to talk with folk around the village?"

   Sofi was delighted that Hakam had thought of her in this way. Besides a chance to learn new techniques, she was not particularly welcome most places in the village anyhow, being a woman. Kytharrah was happy too, once he understood that it would soon be time for him to play after all of his long and difficult patient behavior. Sitting still at a table during all this talking was hard work! It was exceptionally generous for Hakam to have used the phrase "monk in training" of him, but whether the cleric had been serious or joking was lost on him. Ieharu was more than happy to grant their request.
Session: 125th Game Session - Monday, Dec 14 2020 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
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Tags: Bunden , Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
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