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Tag: uwaji

Chapter 3 — Yu Lung
~ 12th Term (Major Heat), 6th of Chu, the Year of Ji Chou, morning
Uwaji, Wa


The contingent of bushi and samurai sent to escort the party to the castle that morning had only been half as numerous as the previous day. They were only taken before Harada Seikwa, the shogun's Voice — and his tiger. Shogun Nagahide was absent. Seikwa confirmed that the shogun was very interested in the information that had been presented and was willing to give his blessing for them to travel freely about his country, provided that they abide by its laws. However, he was untrusting that they would report their findings back to him. He had asked that Hakam, the only "non-oni" in the group, voluntarily submit to being placed under a magically enforced oath, what those in Faerûn would call a geas, that they would not deviate from the course of their investigation and that they would return with a report at the end of it.

   Hakam had willingly agreed to this stipulation, provided they were provided written license to move about the nation and provided that nothing in the enchantment would force him to go against his own god and his laws. The magic compulsion placed upon Hakam would last for 30 days, and they had been told that, if they did not return to Uwaji Castle by the end of that time, they would be hunted down by the shogun's samurai and learn the strength of his wrath.

   From the tenshu-kaku, they had been led by Fujisawa Yorifusa to the chamber hall of the Council of Elders called the roju, where the chief councilor, or kahan, Fukazawa Michichika, scribed a license for them on a sheet of rice paper and stamped it with the seal of a large circle surrounded by eight others. (When asked, Michichika had explained that the nine circles were the monogata for the Matasuuri Clan.)

   While there, they had also requested a copy of the laws of Wa for Hakam and a book for teaching young children how to write for Solisar.

   Now they were walking out of the western gate of the city of Uwaji toward the village of Bunden. Bunden was on the trail leading from Uwaji to the Hayatura Road, which was the major thoroughfare through the Ikuyu Mountains that they could see to the west. It was along this trail that Yunoko had been found slain, and it was yakuza from Bunden who had been executed in response. They figured that it was a good place to visit for more information, since Yunoko's spirit was not likely to be able to reform — if it did at all — for a few more days.

   The road narrowed to a path, and the roofs of the houses switched from tile to thatch, as they headed farther from the center of the city of Uwaji. After a mile, the houses had shrunk to mere shacks before dwindling away and leaving open countryside.

   The landscape here was gently rolling hills specked with scattered deciduous trees of varying types. Atop most of the hills were farmhouses, and cattle were seen about grazing. In the distance, probably more than five miles away, was a forest. Beyond that were the foothills of the great mountains, now even more majestic when seen outside Uwaji's many walls.

   After a few miles, they saw that they were coming down from a hill to a creek. To the south, the creek had been flooded, filling rice fields with the water that they needed to thrive. Throngs of rice farmers in conical hats were in the water cultivating their crops.

   North of these crops, the natural flow of the water had been reduced to a stream, and the trail led down to it, crossing it over a set of flat stepping stones. Beyond this crossing, the waters cascaded into a tiny lake. After crossing the water, the trail took a turn to the north to run parallel to the stream.

   On their right, before the submerged stones, up a steep, rocky ledge sat a small tile-roofed structure. The building itself was only one-story and about ten feet wide, but it sat on a raised porch, as nearly all Wanese buildings did, and this porch was double the width of the building itself. It was the size of a shed but much too fancy to be one.

   Someone had also placed red paper lanterns to mark the path here, spread out every ten or fifteen feet.

   Kamil ducked his long neck down to drink the fresh water from the stream, while Kytharrah crossed it effortlessly and climbed up onto a rocky hillock on the other side to get a better view. Sif splashed into the cool water, and the others carefully moved over the stepping stones.

   "It is beautiful here," said Sofi, from the back of the chain. "Someone has cared for this place."

   "What do you see, minotaur?" asked Leokas.

   From his higher viewpoint, Kytharrah could see a rock garden and gray sand to the northeast, beyond the tile-roofed building. "Rocks and sand," he told his little friends, "and bridge." The single-arch wooden bridge crossed the stream as it left the small lake farther north. Belvin, riding atop his camel, could see the bridge as well. It seemed to lead away from the main trail to the little house.

   Kytharrah sniffed and smelled the aroma of herbs coming from the tiny building.

   As they continued along, Solisar wandered down to a beach of dried mud on the western edge of the lake. At other times of the year, he imagined that the water level would be higher, filling this area up to the rocky embankment just shy of the trail. "Leokas," he called, "perhaps you might look for tracks here."

   The wood elf came over and crouched low to the ground. "These are strange tracks here." He pointed. "They seem like lizard claws, but the animal seems to have been walking with only two legs and dragging the rear of its body behind."

   "A mud eel?" asked Belvin, but Leokas did not know of such an animal to be able to confirm.

   "It is larger than any eel that I have ever seen," said Leokas.

   Rounding the corner in the trail, they came near the bridge. The path forked to continue on to the north and to turn right to go over the bridge. A large stone lantern stood here on the side of the road to mark the fork.

   "We know that she was found near a bridge," Hakam reminded them. "I suggest that we cross and speak to anyone within the building about the bridge." He moved closer to it.

   Something flapped on the bridge. It seemed to be a fish, a very large one, with grey-blue scales, more than a yard long. Had it not flapped once, he would have thought it dead. It was barely moving, presumably suffocating out of the water. There did not appear to be a rope or cord leading from its mouth as if it had been caught by a hook.

   Solisar joined the cleric on the bridge. Approaching closer, the two soon realized that it was not a fish at all. It had an arm, a short, stubby, finned arm, but an arm nonetheless. The arm ended in sharp claws. Its head was not that of a fish either; it was rather more reptilian, and sharp fangs protruded from its closed mouth. From its chin hung a series of long, wispy strands of thick hairlike material, like a sort of whiskers. The rest of the creature's body indeed looked like a four-foot long blue carp.

   The creature had a nose at the tip of its snout, but it seemed to be trying and failing to breathe through a set of gills at its neck.

   "Is it magical?" asked Hakam.

   "Indeed, it is," said Solisar. "Moderate though, not strong. It is not any sort of planar creature about which I have read, however."

   "It is the creature that left the tracks," said Leokas.

   "It made quite a jump, if indeed it jumped," noted Hakam. The bridge was five feet above the water at its highest point where the fish-lizard hybrid creature lay. "Should we put it back in the stream?" Hakam asked.

   "I should think so," Solisar replied, "but it seems to have sharp claws and fangs. It is too large for me to move with magic."

   "The bridge has walls," said Hakam, "I cannot flush it back by creating water, else I would do that."

   At this point, Kytharrah simply hopped up onto the bridge and picked the creature up. It remained limp in his large hands, but it looked up at the minotaur with one of its yellow cat-like eyes. Kytharrah brought it down to the water south of the bridge.

   Suddenly, the creature opened its mouth weakly, and a single syllable came out? "Shu...?"

   Belvin tried to speak calming words to it in Druidic, while Kytharrah crouched lower to the water. Solisar cast his spell to speak and understand other languages. Then he instructed Kytharrah to place the creature in the water.

   Immediately, the creature darted away and began swimming rapidly back and forth, up and down the stream with powerful kicks of its fish-like tail and then vanished in the deeper part of the lake.

   About half a minute later, it popped its head out of the water. Its reptilian face was surprisingly expressive, and it clearly seemed elated.

   "Xiexie, xiexie, xiexie!" it exclaimed, but Solisar heard, "Thanks, thanks, thanks!" Then it said, "Wo de mingzi shi Tanoshihire, Tano, Tano." It had a voice similar to that of a young male child.

   "I am Solisar Keryth," said the sun elf. "We are glad that we were quick enough to save you. I apologize for the delay. We have never seen your kind before and did not know if you were a fish or something else."

   The creature's face showed sudden anger. "Wo bushi yu; wo shi lung." The creature then opened his mouth wide, closed its eyes tightly, and attempted a roar, but the sound that came out was a pitiful croak.

   "He informs us that he is not a fish; he is a dragon," Solisar translated for the others. "His name is Tanoshihire, or simply Tano."

   The elf turned back to the so-called dragon. "Forgive us, but we have never seen your kind before."

   The creature's anger seemed to have passed, and now he happily stated, "I am the god of this lake!" Then he made another failed roar attempt. "Do you want to see my mud castle? Do you, do you? It is really, really, really, really grand, but you cannot touch it or I will have to eat you!" Tano's words were coming so rapidly that Solisar did not have time to translate.

   "Where is this castle?"

   The creature swam to the center of the lake. "In the lake! Come on! Follow me!" He disappeared below the surface.

   Solisar explained what was happening to his companions and then said, "If he comes back up again, I will inquire as to his age. If truly some sort of god, he may have witnessed the murder of Yunoko."

   Tano's head popped up again and immediately began talking. "Why did you not follow. Are you scared? You must be scared. Scaredy-rat! Why are you scared? I do not really want to eat you. Ew! Okay, I kind of do, yes, but I do not know why. I have never eaten people before. People are usually nice. Are you nice? Do nice people taste nice or nasty? Do nasty people taste nasty? Do you taste better than dead fish? I like dead fish. Do you like dead fish? Dead fish are great. I also like rocks. Rocks are shiny." Tano vanished below the water again.

   When he reappeared, Solisar quickly answered, "I cannot follow you to see your castle, because I cannot breath under water like you."

   Tano, however, seemed to have no interest in discussing his castle anymore. "I want to eat a lot more lately. I think it is because I am growing into a big dragon."

   "How long have you lived in this lake?" asked Solisar.

   "I thought that it was my birthday, but I am not very good at counting. I am a big boy though; I am 25 years old!" The 'dragon' began counting now from one to 25. Solisar quickly took this opportunity to translate the gist of Tano's earlier comments to the others.

   "Yunoko died 35 years ago," said Hakam, "before this thing was born."

   "Do you count time by the revolution of the planet around the sun?" asked Solisar.

   "What is a planet?"

   "How do you count the time?"

   "The leaves on the trees change pretty colors sometimes. Then they fall off. I count them when they do that. I thought that I saw one fall off, but maybe it was just a wind spirit trying to trick me."

   "Ask it if it knows the king of the lake before it," said Hakam.

   Solisar translated, but Tano had swum over to Kytharrah's feet. "Ni shi oni ma?

   Kytharrah had no idea what was asked of him, but he sensed it was a question and shrugged back at the silly fish creature.

   "No, he is not an oni," said Solisar. "He is called a minotaur." The elf then tried to ask Hakam's question again.

   "I have no idea!" said Tano, and he then began rambling again at Kytharrah. Solisar's magic translated. "Maybe I can grow big horns like you. Will you be my friend? Will you? Will you? Do you want to play a game? We can swim and jump over the bridge and see if it is our birthdays!"

   This time Kytharrah nodded. Even though he had no idea what words the little guy had asked him, he had a hunch that it was a request to play, and of course, his answer to such a question was always yes.

   "I am the only one who can understand you, god of this lake," said Solisar. "Is that how you landed on the bridge, by trying to jump over it?"

   "Yes! I thought it was my birthday, but I must have been wrong." The fish-dragon looked sad, though only momentarily.

   "What would have happened if it had been your birthday?"

   "I would have grown up! Is not that what happens on your birthday?"

   While Solisar paused to translate things to his companions, the creature continued, oblivious. "I really am hungry. Do you have any rats? Do you have any dead rats?"

   "He is hungry," said Solisar. "Do we have any food?"

   They mainly only had simple sailing rations with them, stored in Kamil's saddlepacks.

   "We do not have any rats, and I am not sure that you will like this, but this is what we eat." Solisar offered some to the god of the lake.

   Tano made a face of disgust, but he did say thank you as politely as he could. "It is not as tasty as the rocks at the bottom of my lake, but it is okay, I guess."

   "He likes to eat rocks. Do we have any low quality gems, Szordrin?" Solisar asked.

   "We gave them all to the crysmals," said Szordrin, mostly honestly.

   Kytharrah knelt down to the water and extended a shiny blue-violet gem that he had, an iolite of low value.

   Tano swam over and removed the gem from Kytharrah's open palm with a long, forked tongue. He chomped it down. "Mmm!" There was a pause. "Are you sure that you cannot swim? It is dumb that you cannot swim."

   "Kytharrah, he is asking if you want to swim with him," said Solisar.

   Of course Kytharrah did.

   "Kytharrah, do not touch its mud castle!" warned Hakam.

   The water was too murky for Kytharrah to see much of anything as he tried to follow behind the fish creature, but it was a fun swim anyhow. Tano continued to speak while underwater, which only sounded like bubbling to the minotaur, but this at least allowed him to follow roughly behind until he had to rise to the surface again for air.

   Tano popped up next to Kytharrah, did a few flips out of the water, and then said, "That was great, right? It took me a long time to build." He continued rambling, but the words went untranslated. Kytharrah did not mind.

   Tano then swam to the shore and hopped out, awkwardly waddling along on his two stubby arms. "Why can you not swim? I can walk like you. See?"

   Kytharrah swam to shore as well and climbed out of the water. He then pretended to have a little race with Tano, who was about as slow as a tortoise.

   "Where are you all going? Did you only come here to visit my lake?"

   "We are here to investigate the murder of someone," said Solisar.

   "A murder? That sounds horrible! Can I come? Can I come? I can find clues. Oh! and I can eat the murderer and spit him out again."

   "We heard that her body was found near these waters," said Solisar, "maybe 35 years ago."

   Tano seemed to be doing math in his head. "35 is bigger than 25, is it not? Let me check." He began counting aloud from one to 25 again.

   Solisar interrupted his count. "Do you know of anyone who was alive then, before you were here?"

   "There are lots of old people! The lady in the house is old. She has gray hair. You people with four legs and hair have gray hair when you are old. What does it mean that he has yellow hair?" Tano was looking at Leokas when he asked this.

   "Do you ever talk with the lady in the house?"

   "Sometimes, but she does not like to play much, and she told me that I have been mean lately, so she said no to playing until I stop being mean."

   Solisar translated again.

   "The woman in the house can understand this creature?" Hakam asked.

   "Apparently so," said Solisar.

   "I do not think that it is speaking Wa-an," said Szordrin, "but something else Kara-Turran."

   "What is the old lady's name?" Solisar asked Tano.

   "Hina."

   They asked if she was here now, and Tano told them that he thought that she was.

   "Ask it why this Hina did not help it back into the water," said Hakam.

   Tano shrugged as best he could with his underdeveloped shoulders and then squirmed back into the water to take a breath of water.

   "Ask if it ever found any jewelry or other items from humans in its lake," said Hakam.

   It took a few attempts for Solisar to explain what he meant by jewelry to the lake god, but Tano had not found such items. Apparently, the bottom of the lake was mostly mud and rocks and roots of lilies and was free from lost human objects.

   Figuring that this childish fish-dragon could not be of much further use to them, they told Kytharrah that he could remain to play while they went to the house to meet this Hina.

   "I hope that you have a good day, Tanoshihire," said Solisar, "and may your birthday find you soon."
Session: 124th Game Session - Monday, Nov 23 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Tags: Chapter 3 , Recap , Uwaji , Wa
Chapter 3 — Chess Lessons
~ Eve of the 12th Term, 5th of Chu, the Year of Ji Chou, highsun
Cormyrean Embassy, Uwaji, Wa


The rest of the day was a welcomed time of rest for the adventurers, while they awaited the shogun's decision. Sofi taught Kytharrah some new martial arts postures. Leokas carved a bunch of arrows to replace the ones he had loosed the night before. Belvin examined just about every wild herb and plant present on the complex grounds. Sif chased Ferry around the courtyard for hours. Hakam touched several of the large stones on the grounds to ask them if the ghost had ever touched them, but they remained silent to his queries.

   Solisar, however, noticed that Sofi seemed to be acting more distant than normal. She was not conversing as much as usual with anyone, and, in particular, she seemed to be avoiding Szordrin, someone she generally had always seemed keen on.

   After all of them shared trail rations for dinner, Solisar said to her. "As you know, Sofi, I have a great interest in the planes. If you are willing, I would be most pleased to hear further stories of your travels among them when it is my turn for watch. Planar talk would bore the rest of the group."

   "Certainly. You know how I am," she said. "I do not sleep much. Whenever you are out of your trance and ready for your watch, I will probably be awake and can do the watch with you."

   That night, everyone made sure to sleep in the same wing of the complex, just in case. They moved some of the mattresses around to make this possible.

   Belvin was hesitant to take first watch again, but Leokas convinced him that things would be fine. "We are not going to have Erevan play a joke on us two nights in a row."

   Leokas was correct; the two elves' watch passed without incident.

   Szordrin and Kytharrah took the second watch this night, which also passed safely.

   In the third and final watch, Sofi joined Solisar. "So what did you want to scan?" she said.

   "Have you ever played chess?" the sun elf asked.

   "No, I have not," she said. "I do not think that I am canny enough for that."

   "You have learned all manner of postures and stances; I saw you teaching them to Kytharrah today. Surely, you shall find the various chess moves and responses similar."

   "I am happy to give it a tumble," she said.

   Solisar acquired the chess board and pieces from Yunoko's room. (Szordrin did not want to sleep there again this night and had chosen one of the other rooms with Hakam where Solisar had also set up his interplanar space.) They played outside, sitting on one of the porches. Sofi learned quickly and concentrated well on the game. She soon became very good at knowing which responses should follow certain opening moves, but she did not seem the best at thinking multiple moves in advance. In any case, Solisar was more interested in her answers to his questions than to her playing skill.

   Solisar also was constantly glancing around the grounds, wondering if using her chessboard would draw the ghost of Yunoko to them.

   "Can you tell me more about the vessel upon which you traveled across the Astral Plane?" he asked Sofi.

   "The githyanki called it an astral carrack," Sofi explained, "but I was trained by the githzerai, their mortal enemies, and the vessel I boarded was owned by the mercane, who had purchased it from the githyanki and modified it with their own arcane technology."

   "You have mentioned these mercane before, but I have never heard of them. Can you tell me more?"

   She described tall, alien humanoids with blue skin, elongated faces, and extra-long fingers. "They are commonly seen in Sigil as merchants," she added. "I believe that I saw one on the Rock of Bral also."

   Solisar asked her more about her brief travels through the Astral Plane on the way from Limbo to the Prime, and she described the swirling black color pool of Limbo and the silvery sheen of the pool leading to the Material Plane.

   Then, Solisar completely changed the topic. "I noticed that you seemed bothered yesterday and especially that you were not talking to Szordrin at all. May I ask if everything is okay?"

   Sofi did not answer immediately, but then she said, "Please keep it dark that I told you this, because it might bother or embarrass him, but the other night when the ghost came, I seem to have walked in my sleep into Szordrin's room, and it was rather awkward, and I felt like a sod, and I have no idea how I got there. That was right before the ghost appeared and moaned so loudly."

   "Have you already slept tonight?" Solisar asked.

   She seemed confused how his question followed what she had just shared, but she answered yes.

   "So you did not sleep walk again tonight; that is good! Sofi, I suspect that Yunoko possessed you last night. Remember, Szordrin slept in Yunoko's room last night. It is only a theory, but perhaps it makes you feel a little better."

   "What if Yunoko returns and possesses me again?" Sofi asked. She sounded afraid of this prospect.

   "I have read that ghosts that are banished from the Material Plane usually take at least two or three days to reform on the Ethereal Plane. It can take as long as even a tenday. Hopefully, we can learn more to protect you from another possession before then.

   "When we finish this game, do you mind if we go up to your room and search it for evidence of Yunoko's presence?"

   Solisar put Sofi in checkmate in a few more moves, and both of them went upstairs to the north-facing room where Sofi had slept both nights. Besides the floor mat, two mattresses, and a dresser with empty drawers, there was little else to find there.

   They walked into Yunoko's old room together next. "I have a newer spell that I have never used before that might provide us some information. I can briefly pass into the Ethereal Plane for a few seconds at a time before returning. I tell you, because you will probably see me appear as a ghost for a few moments, as I blink in and out of our reality."

   Solisar completed his spell, and an immaterial fog seemed to cover his eyes. Everything that he could see, the walls, the bed, the furniture, seemed covered with a mist, and the force of gravity ceased to exist for him. Then, a moment later, all flashed back to normal. He willed himself into the parallel reality again. From Sofi's point of view, the sun elf became temporarily transparent and then solid again repeatedly.

   Solisar first glanced around the room. Nothing seemed present here in the Ethereal Realm except for its mist. He flashed back and felt the weight of gravity again. Then he blinked into the Ethereal Plane and pressed his face through the top of the desk. His eyes saw nothing but the interior of the empty desk drawer. He blinked back. He walked quickly to Sofi's room and then blinked again. The Ethereal Plane was as empty in that room as in the other. He returned to Yunoko's old room and used his magic to check within the frame of the bed and the chest. Both were empty.

   Before the duration of his spell expired, the sun self glanced outside. Within the Ethereal, the range of his vision drastically dwindled to only a score of yards, but even in this short radius, he saw a sight that was at first startling. The sky above Uwaji was filled with crowds of translucent entities hovering over the city. The spirits outside did not seem at all malicious; they were simply many, and they were moving about, like a crowd of people going about their daily business. He glanced up, and above his head, he saw what might be described as a rippling, glittering curtain of even deeper, thicker mist. Then his spell ended, and he was looking only at the stars in the pre-dawn sky.

   At dawn, Belvin and Hakam rose to perform their daily prayers.

   "Now that I understand that my sleepwalking was more serious than I had thought, I supposed that the others should know about it," said Sofi. "Please let us still not tell Szordrin that we are talking about this though, since it sounds so inappropriate."

   When the two divine spellcasters had finished their rituals, Solisar took them aside. "From my conversations with Sofi last night, it appears that Yunoko may have possessed her that first night that we were here."

   "At the same time that we saw the ghost?" asked Belvin. "How is that possible?"

   "Immediately before that, I suspect," said Solisar. "I believe that she released Sofi and immediately attacked you and Leokas. I do not believe that we are in danger of Sofi being possessed again, at least for a few days, because it generally takes several days for a ghost to reform to its previous power."

   "What would cause Yunoko to have ceased possessing Sofi after doing so?" asked Belvin.

   No one had a good answer to this question.

   "I have a strange question for you, Hakam," said Solisar. "What do you know about Wa and religious shrines?"

   Hakam had heard that religion in Kara-Tur was complex. There were multitudinous gods, including spirits of nature and dead ancestors. Most of these could not grant spells, but people often turned to them for advice or guidance. There were supposedly millions of shrines throughout the country because of this, as people kept shrines of their ancestors, shrines of particular heroes in history, shrines to the guardian of the local stream or hillside. There were temples also, but shrines were far more common and far more personal.

   "I asked because I wonder if we could create a sort of shrine to Yunoko to calm her or to communicate with her," replied Solisar.

   Hakam did not know how one would go about this, but Solisar made an attempt. He set up Yunoko's chess set on her desk and made the first move, queen's pawn forward two squares.
Session: 123rd Game Session - Monday, Nov 16 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Matasuuri Nagahide
As they stepped out into the courtyard the next morning, they were greeted by the beautiful view of towering, white-capped mountains to the west. The nearest peaks were probably more than 50 miles away, but they felt nearer from their immense size. The morning breeze let them know that the sea was close, by carrying its scents with the wind, but they suspected that the sun would soon warm things to a mild summer temperature.

   Hakam healed Leokas of the affliction that the ghost's touch had left on him, restoring him to full health and agility. Meanwhile, Belvin prostrated himself low to the ground and appeared to be listening. He spoke words in his secret druidic tongue and then paused, closing his eyes.

   After several minutes of thus communing with the earth, he shared his new knowledge with his companions. "The earth within a nearly dozen-mile radius of where we stand contains a multitude of remains of humans within its womb," said the wild elf, "but no graves appear present within this complex. No tunnels are hidden below the embassy either, but a system of tunnels, likely a sewer system, is below parts of the city, I believe, mainly to the west of us. Lastly, I asked what sort of dangerous flora and fauna live in this area. I sensed the movements of many animals that I recognized, among them badgers, bears, leopards, and snakes, but not in great numbers."

   The second item on the day's agenda was to seek an audience with the shogun, and so Hakam headed out to check on the two Wanese guards. When he looked through the gate house, he saw that a crowd of armed warriors were waiting there for them, four of whom were on horseback.

   Hakam returned to his fellows and let them know that a contingent seemed to be waiting for them. They headed together out of the embassy, and Hakam prayed for the ability to speak with the natives.

   When they came out of the gate house, a man with a goatee approached them. "I am Fujisawa Yorifusa of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," said the man. "You are to come with us to Uwaji Castle as soon as you are ready."

   "We are ready," said Hakam, "but I caution you that I am alone among my companions who can speak and understand your tongue. Moreover, I alone among the group am human. My companions are all oni." To be safe, he continued to describe the appearance of each of them. "I assure you that they mean no one in your city harm."

   Yorifusa nodded, while scanning the strangers with his eyes. "Hai," he said. "Follow me."

   Leaving the gates of the embassy, they were escorted along a path to the west. The soldiers formed a square around them, with the horsemen at the four corners. Sofi made certain to walk in the back, a few paces behind the nearest male in her group. As they all went along, peasants stared at them with confusion and curiosity.

   At a stone lantern, the path turned to the south and went along a tall stone embankment that formed a sloped wall to their right. The city seemed built in tiers. The embassy was upon one of the middle tiers, and this embankment next to them supported the next-higher one.

   They looked up as they were led along the steep sloping walls of granite. At the top were wooden walls and multi-storied wooden buildings or towers. Both walls and towers were whitewashed and topped with sloping, tiled roofs.

   As they walked, the steward warned them. "We come to Uwaji Castle. Know this: to draw a weapon in the castle is to earn execution, and you must bow to all nobility."

   Hakam repeated this information to everyone in his party, taking care to communicate it twice to Kytharrah. "There will be no playing in this castle!"

   "Kytharrah," called Sofi, "why do you not walk back here with me. I shall feel safer." He happily drew back to walk just in front of her.

   "Ask them if there is a sign of nobility," said Solisar.

   Hakam repeated the question. "We are very foreign to your people's ways."

   "All true nobles wear an ancestral wakizashi of their family," said Yorifusa. This was as Solisar had suspected. "Samurai, however, wear the full ancestral daisho of katana and wakizashi," their guide added. "One bows like this," he then said, giving a demonstration of the subtle motion.

   "I shall help you know when to bow and when not to bow, Kytharrah," said Sofi. "It will be practice for that discipline thing that we talked about."

   They came to a dirt ramp at a gap in the fortified wall and began climbing upward. The ramp zigzagged upward, left and right to a higher level, and they found themselves walking along more fortified stonework with walls or buildings atop it. Sometime later, they came to another ramp. In this manner, they progressed higher and deeper through the multilayered complex. This "castle" was unlike any they had seen in Faerûn. Rather than a moat and stone buildings, this complex's defenses seemed to rely on the fact that advancing armies would have to pass through multiple levels of walls and structures, each layer higher than the previous, with no direct route to the center, where presumably the most important structures were erected.

   It soon became clear that Uwaji Castle was the size of a small town. Besides barracks and apartments for officials, they passed by or through pagodas and shrines, an outdoor museum with statues of previous shoguns, a peach orchard, and an amphitheater.

   The grounds were crowded with samurai, hundreds of them, more than a quarter of them mounted, ready to defend their shogun, with even further guards posted beyond that.

   As they had worked their way toward the center of the castle, they had gained a good deal of elevation. To the east, they now looked down upon the tiled and thatched roofs of the multitudinous buildings in the city of Uwaji and upon its wooden walls, canals, and moats that clearly and orderly divided it into districts and other subdivisions. In this way, its layout reminded Hakam of the cities of his own country, perhaps even more orderly arranged, if he could admit that. The sabbans of Calishite settlements were joined together more like a puzzle, while these districts formed a grid with walls joining at right angles.

   At the far end of the city were its docks and, beyond that, a bay swarming with square-masted sailing vessels. The morning sun reflected off the waters, where a good deal of fishing was underway.

   In the very center of the castle grounds was a six-storied building. Unlike all the other buildings of the castle, this one was made not of wood but of black marble. Gold-trimmed ivory columns supported a tiled roof that covered the porch that surrounded the building on all sides. Surrounding the beautiful structure were several equally elaborate but much smaller pagodas and shrines.

   "Behold! the Palace of Imperial Prosperity," announced the steward, "yet you are being taken to the shogun's audience chamber in the tenshu-kaku."

   They were led up to another six-story building, presumably the tenshu-kaku, but this structure was made of wood and had a narrower base. It was a tower, where each higher level was smaller than the one below, with sloping tiled eaves at each level. The steward stopped at the base of the wooden steps leading up to open doors, and the soldiers who had escorted them formed two walls on each side, so that they could only go up the steps or back.

   "Do not speak directly to the shogun;" said Yorifusa, "it will bring him dishonor. You must speak to his Voice instead."

   They ascended the steps and entered the tower. The audience chamber was a forty-foot square room, simply decorated with two tapestries on opposite walls and a few clay vases in the corners. A second-story balcony looked down into the room from above, supported by a series of wooden posts. Opposite from the doors were a number of shelves of varying sizes built into the back wall, upon which sat all manner of small trinkets, pottery, and art. As was the case at the embassy, many mats were laid out on the floor.

   Along the north and south walls were a line of armored and masked guards bearing pole arms. Two more were at the doors, and another two were at the western end of the room where the remaining two figures sat and stood. The shogun sat cross-legged upon a low wooden seat; another man stood beside him.

   Solisar immediately bowed to the two nobles in the room, and his companions followed his lead. Sofi did not even step through the threshold of the doorway but bowed from outside, and she made sure that Kytharrah gave his curtsy.

   The shogun was a large man. Even sitting, it was clear that he was taller than the average Wanese male. His grey hair was styled in a top knot, much like Maru's had been, and his bearded, expressionless face was full of wrinkles that showed his old age. Despite his clear age, he sat upright with perfect posture. He held a wooden rod as some sort of symbol of authority. At the side of the silken red sash of his billowing gray kimono were a pair of scabbards, one long and one short.

   The man standing next to Matasuuri Nagahide was dressed in a black kimono. He only bore a single scabbard at his side and carried a staff with some sort of religious ornamentation dangling from a hooked head. The man had a goatee but was bald, and his head was tattooed in red stripes like those of a tiger.

   Speaking of tigers, the strangest presence in the room was the massive orange tiger lying on the ground next to the tattooed man like a reclining housecat. It was licking its forepaws and ignoring everything else happening in the room.

   Solisar's magic revealed multiple auras among the items worn or carried by the shogun and his "Voice". Hakam did not detect any signs of chaos. Belvin observed that the tiger seemed to be entirely natural. He particularly glanced at the tiger's paws, which seemed completely normal. Besides the strong smell of the tamed tiger in the room, Kytharrah also noticed the scent of incense coming from some of the vases in the back.

   Shogun Nagahide stared straight ahead, unflinching, as if they all were invisible to him, but the other man acknowledged them with a nod of his head before speaking.

   "You are in the presence of Shogun Matasuuri Nagahide. I am Harada Seikwa, the shogun's shukenja. I am his Voice; he will speak through me, and my words are his. You shall address your questions and your answers to me alone."

   Seikwa spoke in excellent Common, but with a strong accent, so everyone in the party could understand without the need for Hakam to translate. "Now," Seikwa continued, "I have translated the letter from the queen of Cormyr and read it to the shogun. He is very interested in your presence here. You will explain the new evidence that the letter claimed has been discovered."

   "We have discovered letters written by the slain ambassador, written to her husband, and describing events slightly prior to her death. We believe that she was being hunted by a rakshasa, a fiendish spirit in the form of a tiger." Hakam was especially careful not to imply anything by his tone or body language about the present tiger when he spoke the final words. "We also believe that this same rakshasa spirit is hunting one of the members of our own party, who once was trained in the magic arts by the husband of this same ambassador. We found evidence that a rakshasa had ransacked the same home of this man, where we found the letters."

   The Voice replied, "According to our metsuke, her body was found on the shore of a creek north of the road to Bunden. Our investigators deemed her death a murder at the hands of a yakuza gang from the village of Bunden. Thirteen persons from the town were crucified along the road to bring justice and honor to her family. Nothing further came of the investigation, but we found no evidence of any influence from the Spirit World."

   Hakam nodded and then said, "We further believe that he, the fiendish spirit, may be disguising himself as a Wanese human. More importantly, the ambassador's private letters to her husband reveal investigations that led her and us to believe that he may have gone so far as to impersonate members of the imperial line."

   At this, Seikwa's eyes widened, and he repeated Hakam's words quietly to the expressionless shogun in Wa-an. Nagahide mumbled a reply, without turning his head or eyes, that was so soft that Hakam could not make out the words.

   Seikwa began a series of specific questions about where they found the letters, how they knew that the letters were genuine, and so on. Hakam clarified that Yunoko received her information from a direct witness, the wife of the son of the rakshasa. "We are not trained thoroughly in the history of your people," said Hakam, "but our humble studies lead us to believe that your emperor Goshukara Kando was the one impersonated." Hakam continued to explain how Yunoko learned that Kando's murderer, Goshukara Eichiro, a mand with backwards hands, was himself slain by a tiger-headed fiend, presumably a reincarnated "Kando".

   Seikwa wanted to know more of their specific plans. "It may well be a gift from the immortals that you have found these letters, but what do you seek from us and from our nation? Where do you wish to investigate further and how? What answers do you seek here in Uwaji?"

   "First, we want to investigate the location of her death," said Hakam, "to learn if we can gain any information from the local area through our magics."

   "May we ask also where she was buried?" added Solisar.

   "As I said already," said the shogun's Voice, "her body was found on the shore of a creek on the way to Bunden. That is as specific as her report states. I read the report this morning. As far as where she was buried, her remains lie in her family's ancestral tomb in the city of Rukimbaru."

   They remembered that the wrestler Maru had taught them that Rukimbaru was the imperial capital of Wa, while Uwaji, rather, was the capital of the shogunate. They also knew that Rukimbaru was somewhere north of Uwaji but on the same coast of Wa's main island.

   "We wonder if you might also grant us permission to investigate the graves of these thirteen yakuza that you ordered executed," said Hakam.

   "Criminals in our nation are not given the honor of graves," said Seikwa. "Their bodies remained impaled until they fell naturally from the poles, no doubt ultimately consumed by natural scavengers."

   "Do we have your permission to speak with survivors of this yakuza clan to speak with them?"

   "We shall discuss your specific requests after you leave here today and shall call you back when we have decided on answers. For now, we wish to know of your intents."

   "That is most fair," said Hakam. "Other points of our desired investigation might include speaking with any surviving family members of Yunoko, the ambassador, and visiting any places that she may have stopped on her journey on the day that she died."

   "Your requests sound reasonable at first hearing," said Seikwa. "We have heard what we need to hear and are very intrigued by such revelations of a possible imposter within our imperial line. The shogun cares very much for the protection of the honor of Wa and its divine emperor. Most likely, we shall be willing to work with the queen of Cormyr in discovering the truth of this matter. We shall provide a specific answer to what we shall allow for you after we contemplate the facts on our own.

   "Do you have any further questions of the shogun, or do you have any remaining information that might sway his final decision?"

   Hakam added, "We believe that this murder may also be connected to a separate quest given to us by our own gods, a grand mystery that we must solve. We would be eternally thankful for anything that you can do to allow us to investigate these events."

   "Wakarimas," said Seikwa, but he did not seem convinced.

   "As a justiciar, a man of law," said Hakam, "I am also curious to know the laws of your land, so that we do not offend or violate the honor of your rulers and your land."

   This request made Seikwa smile a little. "We can certainly provide you with such documents when you return to us tomorrow for our final answer to your other requests," the Voice of the shogun said.

   "Our concerns are primarily about the murder of the ambassador," said Hakam, "but we were also sent from Cormyr to present the queen's request to consider the possibility of reestablishing trade between your two nations."

   "We shall see," said Harada Seikwa. "For now, I shall send you back with Fujisawa to the embassy to await further summons."
Session: 123rd Game Session - Monday, Nov 16 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Ghostly Matters
Leokas felt ice touch the back of his bow hand as he lowered his weapon. He looked to the side to see a wolf seemingly made of ice standing there. Sif was spooked by the foreign "animal", but it did not worry the wood elf; he figured that it was one of Belvin's summons, albeit a late one. Then he noticed Solisar exiting the embassy, followed by Sofi. "What was that?" she exclaimed. She and Solisar looked up at the wall of the embassy, which looked liked a dart board with nearly a dozen of Leokas' arrows stuck in it.

   Ferry successfully woke Hakam and Kytharrah and then scurried back to his master's room on the other side of the large building. Kytharrah followed the weasel, and they found Szordrin crouched in the corner, trying to snap himself out of an intense feeling of dread. Once composed, they all joined together outside in the courtyard.

   "The ghost's moan woke me from my sleep," said Szordrin, "but the sound terrified me, and I did not understand what was happening. I thought that it was a nightmare."

   "She was no real threat," said Leokas, as he began to recover what arrows he could.

   "Can you describe the ghost to us?" asked Solisar. "What did she look like?"

   Leokas did his best to describe the ghostly woman. "She wore a Wanese robe, a kimono. She had a short, mildly curved scabbard at the waist."

   "A wakizashi, most likely," noted Solisar. "Their nobles wear them."

   "She never drew it," said Leokas. "She attacked rather with a fan, a lady's fan, but it had sharp edges."

   "What did her face look like?"

   "Her skin was bluish, like death, not like Mythlos' skin," said Leokas.

   "Her neck was scarred," added Belvin, "as if she had been garroted."

   "I suspect that it was Yunoko then," said Hakam. "A spirit often maintains a dim appearance of how it appeared at the moment of death. Did she look like the woman in Onran's portrait?"

   "A crazed ghost was swinging a bladed fan at my neck," Leokas replied. "I did not pause to look closely at her face, besides noting the color. I was too busy trying to aim and to avoid her swings. Moreover, she was constantly phasing in and out of our reality."

   "All I saw was her neck," said Belvin. "Then she let out that horrible moan."

   "Did Leokas just destroy Yunoko?" asked Sofi.

   "Highly unlikely," Hakam replied. "For a number of possible reasons, a spirit can become trapped in the Ethereal Plane, unable to reach the Fugue, though I do not know how the gods of Wa have established things in their domain. Most likely, Leokas did not destroy her, as a spirit cannot be destroyed when not on its native plane, and, having died, Yunoko is no longer native to our world."

   "What happened to her then?"

   Hakam did not know, but he added, "she will likely reform over time to haunt again, unless the cause of her entrapment between life and the afterlife is removed."

   "Hopefully, this is not a nightly occurrence!" said Belvin.

   "We have encountered a ghost before," said Leokas. "In that case, it was a concubine of a genie ruler, who was slain in a great disaster."

   "She was freed when we removed her journal from a magical container," said Belvin. "We gave the journal to Sseth. Maybe we need to find some of her personal items."

   "We already found her chess set and calligraphy tools," Szordrin reminded them.

   "I certainly think that we should do everything in our power to free her from her entrapment between the planes," said Solisar. "Especially since we just fought with her, we shall need some way of convincing her that we are not her enemies. Do you have any power to calm spirits, Hakam, should she return?"

   "I have means of quenching the power of undeath," answered the cleric, "but that is probably not what we want if this was truly Yunoko. Although, if we could find her dead body, I could ask a few questions of that."

   "Has anyone found any grave sites here on the embassy grounds?" asked Solisar. No one had, nor could Hakam locate a nearby grave with his divine magic.

   "Where exactly did she appear?" asked Solisar, and the other two elves described how Belvin had first noticed her floating to the north along the porch and then how she had passed through the wall and swung at Leokas while they were investigating.

   "She emerged directly below my window," Solisar noted.

   Kytharrah tried to sniff at the spot on the wall, but he noted nothing unusual. Solisar and a few of the others took time to look over the rooms again in the west and south of the complex, but they were mostly empty and yielded no clues.

   "She may have floated in from outside the embassy," noted Hakam. "My theory is that she is reenacting events that occurred on the day that she died. She entered the embassy, collected some items that were hers, and then left the embassy again."

   "If so, we should reexamine her chest to see if anything has moved since we opened it," said Solisar, but nothing had.

   "Are you feeling well, Leokas?" asked Sofi. "You keep stumbling a bit as you move."

   "Her touch seems to have affected my balance somehow," said Leokas, "but I shall be fine."

   "I can restore you after dawn comes," said Hakam. "Speaking of which, I suggest that we all retire back to sleep."

   "I agree," said Belvin. "I shall pray Thard Harr for the power to speak to the earth tomorrow morning, to learn if her body is buried anywhere near here."

   Kytharrah slept in the courtyard this time, not wanting to be far away from anything that could harm his friends in the night again. Thankfully, the rest of the night passed without any such harm.
Session: 123rd Game Session - Monday, Nov 16 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Kuei
With a sudden snap of the wrist, the fan unfolded, and the apparition swung the edge of the fan at Leokas. Leokas' superb reflexes spared him any harm, as he bent back at the waist. The sharp edge of the war fan swished by, just missing his neck.

   Leokas sprung back while nocking an arrow. He knew that the arrows from his magical bow at least had a chance of striking a manifested ethereal being, so he drew back and loosed an arrow. The arrow stuck into her sternum and faded into etherealness itself. He loosed a second arrow, but she began drifting swiftly side-to-side. He missed a third shot, but the fourth was perfectly timed to hit her. However, it passed through her form harmlessly and struck the embassy wall.

   Behind him, Sif growled. "Stay!" her master commanded.

   The ghost threw her damaged neck back and began to wail, a gurgling moan. Belvin felt himself panic. He turned and stumbled over the weeds into the darkness and let out a scream of fear.

   The spirit ascended high into the air, her kimono billowing in a nonexistent breeze.

   Leokas stepped farther back toward the middle of the courtyard and continued firing arrows up at the floating undead woman. He stumbled on a root, and the first arrow went wide. The second arrow shot straight through her. The third missed, but the fourth struck her in the gut.

   Her mouth opened in a silent gesture of pain, and she dove down out of the air toward Leokas. Her incorporeal palm touched the elf's forehead. He felt a chill touch and a sense of dizziness, while the ghost straightened out more and began to glow a little bit more brightly.

   "Leokas, flee!" Belvin shouted. He himself smacked into the southern wall, unable to find an exit in the dark. He yelled out in Druidic and made his buckler glow with magic.

   The light was a boon to Leokas, who took in the terrain about him. He hopped back onto the porch and loosed arrows one after the other, as he strafed her while moving south along the western porch. About half of his magic arrows struck her. But Belvin, still filled with dread, darted into one of the open doors to enter the western wing of the complex, which took the light from the courtyard and left Leokas in the darkness again, alone with the angry spirit.

   Meanwhile, Solisar, in the extradimensional space, felt himself startled awake. Little Ferry was licking and nipping at this fingers.

   "Where is Szordrin?"

   Ferry did not seem to understand, but Solisar began climbing down the rope. Ferry seemed ready to follow. The sun elf reached the bottom and filled the room with magical light.

   Outside, Leokas saw the light come on in Solisar's room. At last, one of his companions had woken. However, this brief distraction allowed the ghost to reach him. She swung her fan. Once again, Leokas dodged back, avoiding the swing; however, she caught him on the neck with a sudden backswing. Fortuitously, it was little more than a nick. He was bleeding, but he was fine.

   Leokas continued shooting. Another arrow passed through her; another three missed. The ghost swung again with a fury; the fan passed wholly through Leokas' neck, but it remained ethereal the whole time and did not harm him at all. As she slashed back again, he felt another mild nick, leaving a small cut on the back of his bow hand.

   In the upstairs room, Solisar saw Ferry dart out the window and scurry to the right down the hallway. Then, Sofi burst into his room from the left. She nodded at him and moved rapidly to the window. Wrapping the towel at her waist around her fist, she smashed the glass at the window. "Ghost outside, fighting Leokas. He needs our help!"

   The sun elf spoke magical words of hasting while clutching a bit of licorice root. Outside, Leokas felt a surge of speed rush through him. Moving more quickly now, he put two yards between himself and the attacking ghost and fired back.

   Solisar looked out the window and saw the faintly glowing back of the apparition. He exited the room and moved toward the stairs. He saw Ferry pausing at the steps. Solisar looked Ferry in the eyes while making to go down the stairs. Ferry nodded his tiny head and continued on to go wake Hakam and Kytharrah.

   The sun elf reached the ground floor and rushed out the main door to the courtyard. He saw Leokas shoot an arrow straight through the mildly glowing figure. Then, he watched her fall to her knees, though she still floated, struck by another arrow. Leokas sent one final arrow directly into where her heart should have been. The two elves watched her grab hold of the ethereal shaft, as if trying to pull it out, but she faded away into a mist and then completely vanished.
Session: 123rd Game Session - Monday, Nov 16 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — The Cormyrean Embassy in Wa
Back at the indoor garden, the group returned to Sofi and Belvin, each of whom seemed to have been meditating. After they informed their two companions of what they had learned, Jayce said that he thought it best that he remain with the Frihet. "With Wa as protective as it is of its borders and with the power of their spelljamming fleet, we cannot risk using our spelljammer to travel to Wa. That means that I need to pilot the ship and look after our crew, as before, while you are off adventuring. I need a backup pilot, so Oma will have to come along with me, and Nargroth is the ship's cook."

   "What will you be doing while we are gone?" asked Solisar.

   "I will not be staying on Toril, not while the dragons have collectively lost their minds. I am sure that I can keep Ombert interested in a trade route between Bral and the halflings of Anadia. Remember, they have a formula for smokepowder as well."

   "Could he maybe find a way to trade something other than weapons of war?" said Leokas.

   "Anadia had medications also; we could look into that."

   "Will it be bothersome if I continue to travel along with the rest of you to Wa?" asked Sofi.

   "Of course not," said Szordrin. She smiled.

   "You should know that Wa does not look favorably on women, Sofi," Jayce explained. "They consider it 'immoral' if a woman walks in front of any man, for example."

   "I can walk in the back," said Sofi. "It will not bother me."

   "You could wear the magic hat that Onran left behind," suggested Szordrin.

   "No, thank you. I must rely on the power of my patron only and not rely on magical items. I have taken a vow."

   "Having a woman in our party may be the least of our concerns," said Hakam. "I will be the only pure human, and I do not look Kara-Turan at all. We shall all stick out like an eyesore to the people of Wa. We shall have to hope that the queen mother's letter sways the shogun."

   "What do we have left to do here before we set off through the portal then?" asked Leokas.

   "I want to examine the portal with magic before we pass through," said Solisar, "and then I want to spend some time learning what I can of basic Wa-an grammar from Lord Dauntinghorn. He said that he would meet me here in the atrium in a quarter of an hour when he also brings the portal key and the queen's letter to us."

   "How long will that take?" asked Szordrin.

   "I only need about an hour, I suspect, to learn the basics."

   "You can learn a new language in one hour!" Sofi exclaimed.

   "Not the whole language, of course," said Solisar, "but enough."

   "While you are doing that," said Belvin, "perhaps Maru can answer some more questions about Wa, so that we are better prepared."

   "We need to sell the rest of the leucrotta bones, if we can, to that pawn broker we passed yesterday," said Szordrin. "I can take care of that while Solisar sees to the portal."

   "Do you still have your rod of sending?" asked Hakam of Jayce. "If so, perhaps you could see if you could arrange a meeting with Captain Grak at some place safer than the Nelanther Isles for when we return."

   "I can do that," said Jayce.

   "Do you think that you could also check in with Mythlos," said Solisar. "See how he fares in Tethyr's army and find out, if you can, if his sword has been acting strangely. I still suspect that Yashiera's prophecy about Eldenser may somehow relate to Mythlos' moonblade."

   Jayce nodded.

   "I also want to know about the safety of my mother," said Leokas, "and of Cassiera in the High Forest. I know that its trees hide the lairs of many great wyrms."

   "Consider it done," said Jayce. "I assume that you will use the sending stones to contact Oma or me when you need us to return to Suzail to retrieve you."

   "Yes," said Szordrin. "Also, can you check to see if the rod of retracing has been repaired by the Consortium. It seems to be taking an especially long time."

   Jayce agreed. Then, Lord Dauntinghorn appeared. He handed them an official letter, with the seal of the infant king and the signature of the queen mother, and a wooden token imprinted with the symbol of House Obarskyr, not surprisingly, a dragon.

   "Meet back here in two hours," said Solisar. "Will that give everyone the time that they need to be ready?" The plan seemed satisfactory, so they parted ways.

~~~~


The leucrotta skeletons sold for 2,500 golden dragons at the Ring of Coins, the pawnshop that they had passed the day prior. (They avoided purchasing the stool that folded up into a walking stick and dragon masquerade costume that were pushed on them.)

   Maru could not be found at the Dragon's Jaws. Milo said that he only ever came for the competitions at night.

   Meanwhile, Solisar was led to the portal. It was a massive magical gate, made of yellow brass, erected in a hard-to-find courtyard deep in the Royal Court complex. With a small crystal and mirror, Solisar used his magic to examine it. The portal was still active and stable. It functioned in both directions, provided that someone passing through it had the wooden portal token. Gazing into the mirror, he saw a large open porch of hardwood, then an overgrown garden in a sort of courtyard, lit by the dim light of late afternoon. He saw no one moving about on the other side; it seemed quiet, empty, and peaceful.

   Afterward, Lord Dauntinghorn took him to a government library, where he was shown a number of record books taken from the embassy in Wa when the diplomats were expelled three years ago. Solisar spent about an hour with Malark learning some of the more common symbols in the syllabary and going over basic pronunciation and common grammar rules. Despite his fluency in so many tongues, Solisar had never learned a language even distantly related to Wa-an. Wa-an was also unrelated to the Trade Tongue, the "Common" of Kara-Tur. Solisar was fascinated to learn that Wa-an was a member of the Han language family, along with Kozakuran and Koryo. Koryo had a very distinct vocabulary from Wa-an, but Malark said that Kozakuran and Wa remained similar enough that the two peoples could usually communicate without issue. The ancient Han people group had been the original settlers of the Koryo Peninsula in Kara-Tur, which was north of Wa and east of the great Ama Basin. Seafarers from Koryo were the ancestors of the modern Wanese and Kozakuran peoples.

~~~~

Kytharrah, Hakam, Szordrin, Solisar, Belvin, Leokas, Sofi, and their three animals stepped through the portal. They felt nothing; they simply found themselves in another place. The light was dimmer, the sun had already set, and crickets were starting their sounds. The air was also cooler. They were thousands of miles east of Cormyr now and hundreds of miles north.

   As Solisar had earlier seen in his magic mirror, they were standing in a wide covered porch. Wooden walls framed them on three sides. The massive magical gate of brass stood behind them atop a hardwood platform, which was itself atop a foundation of tiled stone. The ceiling was supported by seven thick wooden beams.

   Kytharrah sniffed the air and took in the scents of foreign flowers and plants, as they stepped forward. Surrounding the stone foundation was an outer porch of wood, about five feet wide, with slender beams supporting the roof above it. They looked out into an overgrown courtyard, about 60 feet square. The embassy complex, all constructed of wood, surrounded the courtyard on four sides, with an opening to the south. Two stone-paved paths intersected in the center of the courtyard, dividing it into four quadrants. The two northern quadrants each had a cluster of strange trees growing in a circular stone plot. The southeastern quadrant had a calm pool and boulder, while the southwestern quadrant had a bed of gray sand and large rocks. All around these intentionally arranged pieces of natural art were thick weeds and ferns.

   The narrow wooden porch or veranda extended around most of the complex and was raised off the ground by about a yard. In fact, the whole structure of the complex was elevated off the ground on stilts. Tiny red spherical objects, seemingly made of paper were hanging from the eaves of the roof all around the courtyard at the edge of the veranda.

   Two steps led from the porch down into the courtyard, and the group proceeded down them and began to spread out to look around. Looking up, they saw that the complex was two stories high. Curved, sloped, and tiled eaves between the two stories extended over the veranda, and the second story too was topped with a sloping roof of dark tile. The second story of the northern wing of the complex rose higher than the other three sides.

   "It certainly looks like no one has been here in three years," noted Hakam, observing all the untended plant growth.

   "I think that these are lanterns of paper," said Solisar, upon examining one of the red balls. It had a circular opening at the top, and there was wax inside at the base.

   Belvin continued across the courtyard and stepped up two steps to the porch on the other side. The door before him did not swing open; instead, it slid smoothly to the side, apparently hanging from a grooved railing above the frame on the inside. Within was a large room, 30 or 40 feet in length. There was no furniture in the room, but it had a square hole in the hardwood floor, lined with stone and filled with what appeared to be ash. The pit of ash was surrounded by a large floor mat. Hanging directly over the ash pit from the high, open-raftered ceiling was a chain with a hook at the end, perhaps for hanging something over burning coals. He noted that the only windows, paned with glass, faced into the courtyard.

   Szordrin followed behind Belvin. On the south wall, he moved aside another sliding door and entered into a long narrow room lined on both sides with book shelves. The shelves, however, were completely empty. The diplomats apparently took their books back with them to Cormyr but left the bookshelves behind.

   Belvin stepped back outside and crouched low to examine one of the plants. These were of a kind not known to him in any of his travels.

   Kytharrah wandered north up steps unto a porch and then slid aside another door to enter the northern wing of the complex. He entered a large chamber. There was a large, square mat in the center and two smaller square mats in the far corners. Eleven wooden beams supported a balcony that looked down on him from a second story above. A flight of wooden stairs on his left ascended up to it. Directly ahead of him, on the opposite wall, hung a large tapestry. It depicted knights and cats, and thus was unmistakably Cormyrean in origin. A hallway extended from the western and eastern walls each.

   Szordrin exited the left wing and followed the stone path south between the gap in the southern wing. Stone steps led him to a smaller lower courtyard. Two benches were here, one on each side of the path, which turned sharply to the left to pass through an opening in the stone wall that surrounded this smaller courtyard.

   Solisar, Hakam, Sofi, and Leokas still stood in the center of the courtyard, watching the other three move around. Leokas was looking up at the darkening sky. The brighter stars were beginning to show. "We should probably stay together as a group," cautioned Solisar, but his companions did not seem to heed this. Hakam strolled back to the east and walked south along the veranda. Solisar then himself went north to look after Kytharrah.

   Belvin walked along the narrow porch and opened another door into the western wing. This revealed a small room with another sunken hearth and chain with a mat around them.

   In the north wing, Solisar and Kytharrah found a number of small rooms, probably diplomatic offices, each with a floor mat and a small table that was low to the ground. Solisar examined one of the small rooms more carefully to ascertain if anything had been left behind, but there seemed to be nothing remaining but the mat and low table.

   Hakam found what was likely a kitchen in the southern corner of the eastern wing. Three kegs were left behind, but they were empty. A door in the back of this kitchen led to an outdoor well and more abandoned barrels.

   Szordrin passed out of the wall around the smaller courtyard to enter a space between inner and outer walls, a bailey. The wall behind him had a small tiled roof on the outer side, and the southern wall of the bailey was also roofed. The path split here, one branch passing through the eastern wall of the bailey and the other heading west. He followed the western path between the two walls and passed under a series of paper lanterns hanging from a rope to reach another courtyard. Among the thick weeds were three tiny structures, two shacks with thatched roofs and a stone object that looked like a giant lantern. The two shacks each had only three walls. A hole in the floor revealed them to be outhouses.

   Solisar climbed a set of steps at the southwest end of the veranda and found himself on a roofed balcony overlooking the large inner courtyard, where Leokas, Belvin, and Sofi were now standing with the wolf and the camel.

   Szordrin returned back to where the stone path split and passed out of the second wall into yet another courtyard. To his left, there was a statue of a Cormyrean knight. To his right was a gate house in the outermost walls.

   Coming from beyond the gatehouse, he heard voices. He crept closer to the gatehouse, making sure not to be seen, and peeked outside. He saw two guards. They were wearing a kind of armor that he had never seen before, with metal plates woven into the fabric. The armor had a back and chest piece and a skirt to protect the lower body. Their helmets were sloped and pointed and had horns. When one of the guards turned to speak to his companion, Szordrin saw that he wore a mask that covered his lower face and was crafted to look like the face of a devil or demon. Each warrior carried a long pole arm that looked like a staff with a slightly curved sword attached at the end. (The weapon reminded Szordrin of Kytharrah's new pole arm, but it was not the same.)

   Szordrin heard Hakam approaching from behind and made hand motions that two figures were nearby. Above them from the balcony, Solisar moved to the southern side of the complex and was able to see his two companions and the two guards on opposite sides of the small gatehouse.

   The others began making their way after Hakam and Szordrin. Szordrin began to cast a spell to comprehend languages, but Hakam pulled him back so that he would not be spotted.

   "Did you buy any fish at Northern Market yesterday?"

   "Yes, it was especially cheap."

   "Yes, it was. That was why I asked. The fishermen must have found a bountiful catch this tenday."

   "The sea gods are favoring us."

   "Yes, they have."

   Such was the boring conversation of the two guards, who then fell silent again.

   Hakam spoke to his companions as they gathered in the bailey. "I suggest that I go out and speak to the guards by magic and show them the queen's letter," he whispered.

   No one objected, so the Calishite carefully passed through the gatehouse. Usually, such a tiny building would have had a guard on each side of where the path passed between, but these posts were empty.

   Hakam readied himself and cleared his throat to get the guards' attention, as they were facing the other way, guarding from someone entering the complex, not trying to exit it.

   They spun around and lowered their weapons. "Halt!" they said, and Szordrin and Hakam's magics translated the word to their minds.

   Beyond the guards was a road moving east to west and on the other side a wooden wall with a sloped roof. To the east, the road passed under a red-painted, ornamental wooden gate and down a ramp to a lower part of the city.

   Hakam tried to calm the guards with his words. "I come with an official message for the shogun from the queen mother of the Kingdom of Cormyr. We have discovered information that your government may find useful, and we humbly request an audience. We intend to remain here in our embassy until our message can be delivered."

   The two guards glanced at one another with confusion in their eyes. "Was not the embassy empty?" "Where did they come from?"

   "The embassy was empty," said Hakam, "but we have traveled here by powerful magics."

   At this point, a peasant, pushing a wheelbarrow and heading home for the night, passed by on the street. One of the guards called out to him. "You there! Yes, you! Let go your wheelbarrow and come here."

   The poor man, looking terrified, immediately obeyed. "What did I do?"

   "Leave your things here and go, summon a messenger from the castle. Say that the bushi at the old embassy need a message delivered at once."

   "Yes!" said the man, and he rushed off.

   Then followed an awkward silence where the demon-masked guards stared at Hakam and said nothing.

   Five minutes passed, and a similarly armored man, though without a mask, ran up. Hakam held out the queen's letter to them. "The letter is written in the Common tongue of Faerûn," said Hakam. "Will that be a problem? I can dictate the message to you, if there is no translator to be found."

   "The palace will have a translator," replied one of the warriors. They took the letter and handed it to the third man, who turned and darted away. The peasant now arrived back at his wheelbarrow and kindly asked if he would be permitted to return to his home now. They gave their permission.

   "The shogun's ministers will respond when they will respond," one of the guards said to Hakam. "It is not permitted for foreigners to enter our city. You shall have to remain within until a reply comes to us in the morning."

   Hakam nodded. "We shall respect your laws. Be cautioned, however, that it is only by magic that I am able to speak your language now. Such powers of mine are fleeting. I may not be able to understand immediately if you summon us in the morning."

   The guards looked at each other and then one of them answered back. "We or someone else will be here at all hours. We shall not summon you; we shall wait for you to come out to us to see if a reply has been sent."

   "So that you are aware," said Hakam, "there are seven of us in total. All of us shall remain on the premises."

   The men at the gate nodded.

   Hakam returned to his companions. It was getting dark now. "We should rest for the night. We shall not have an answer until morning."

   "Should we set a guard?" asked Szordrin. "What if the shogun sends soldiers to take us by force?"

   "The fact that they still have guards here watching an empty embassy three years later says to me that they are respecting Cormyrean territory," said Hakam.

   "Could we just return to Cormyr through the portal and come back in the morning?" asked Szordrin.

   "We should at least leave a person behind in case the guards call for us," said Belvin.

   "By my words, I said that all of us would be remaining here tonight," said Hakam.

   Solisar created light, and Kytharrah withdrew the never-ending torch from one of the magic sacks. They found that the second story of the north wing was full of sleeping quarters, six in all, each with floor mats, one or two sleeping pads, and a dresser with drawers. It was almost like an inn.

   Gazing out the windows of these rooms, they could look down onto the sprawling city of Uwaji. Its streets were lit with the red glow of its paper lanterns, and this red light reflected off the endemic tiled roofs of every building. They saw now that the entire embassy complex was build atop a steep, sloped stone embankment, an artificial hill built higher than the lower city.

   "The lanterns are beautiful," said Sofi. "It reminds me of the street lights in Sigil at night."

   One of the six bedrooms, however, was the exception to the others. This was the room in the northwestern corner, and it had a "western-style" bed with a wide mattress in a frame. The same room also contained two dressers, a desk, a large oil lamp on the floor, and a metal chest.

   Szordrin crouched down to examine the chest. It was locked, but he got out his lock-picking tools and set to work on the mechanism. It took him a full two minutes, but at last there was an audible click, and he lifted open the cover, as the others looked on with interest.

   First, Szordrin lifted out a very expensive looking chess set. The pieces were made of jade and obsidian. The pawns looked like little three-eyed, horned ogres, and the king and queen wore noble kimonos. The knights were mounted samurai with katana raised, and the rooks were pagoda-style towers.

   Second, he removed a small mahogany box. Opening it revealed a set of calligraphy brushes and inking stones.

   The final item in the chest was a woman's parasol, made of paper and delicate tubing.

   None of the items had a magical aura, but Kytharrah could smell perfume on the parasol.

   Hakam got out Onran's letter box and opened it. "Kytharrah, can you smell the ink on these letters and see if it matches the smell on those stones?"

   Kytharrah was delighted to help, and indeed, he thought that the inks were definitely the same.

   "This is her calligraphy set then," said Solisar.

   "And we know that she played chess with her superior," said Hakam.

   "There are enough rooms for all of us," said Sofi. "I know that it is hours later than it was in Cormyr, but shall we each find a room and rest?"

   "Leokas and I shall take first watch, in the courtyard," said Belvin. "I want to examine all the new herbs and plants that I have never before seen."

   Szordrin claimed Yunoko's old room with the large bed. Sofi and Solisar took the two rooms next to that, although Solisar simply used his magic to create an extradimensional space from that room as he usually did. Hakam and Kytharrah headed to the northeast corner of the complex, beyond the balcony overlooking the room with the tapestry, and settled there. (Kytharrah picked a room with two sleeping pads, so that he could push them together.) Belvin and Leokas went downstairs with Kytharrah's torch, where their animals were already lounging.

   It was rather peaceful in the courtyard of the abandoned embassy. Belvin remained fascinated by plants that he had never seen before, and Leokas was captivated by new constellations overhead in the cloudless night sky.

   Belvin noticed something white and mistlike float past in the corner of his vision. It had moved over the western veranda and then vanished in the corner among the overgrowth.

   He tossed a pebble at Leokas to get his attention back from the stars and then motioned that something had moved in the corner and to be quiet. Leokas drew an arrow.

   Quietly and carefully, the two moved together from the center of the courtyard to the northwestern corner, around one of the planted clusters of trees and through a bunch of ferns. Sif lagged behind, tail between her legs, as if she could sense that something was amiss.

   They could see nothing in the small corner that was about fifteen feet square. Leokas stooped down and investigated the ground carefully. There was no indication at all that any of the plants or the grass had been recently disturbed; there were no tracks of any kind.

   "Are you certain that you saw something?" whispered Leokas in Elven.

   "Certain," said Belvin.

   Leokas stood back up to his full height.

   Suddenly, from the north wall, a being floated through the wood. They saw the transparent figure of a woman in a short white kimono. She was hovering in air, arms held out from her sides. Her face was expressionless, but the incorporeal skin was bluish, as if drained of blood. At her hip was a small curved sword in what appeared to be a wooden sheath, though it too was insubstantial.

   The ghostly being also carried a woman's folding hand fan. With a sudden snap of the wrist, the fan unfolded, and the apparition swung the edge of the fan at Leokas. Leokas' superb reflexes spared him any harm, as he bent back at the waist. The sharp edge of the war fan swished by, just missing his neck.
Session: 122nd Game Session - Monday, Oct 12 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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