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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   "What just happened?" Sofi asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   "Almost certainly," agreed Hakam.

   Further searching in that same area turned up nothing else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   "What did you just say?" asked Sofi.

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

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

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

   Kytharrah shook his head.

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

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

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

   "Or there was an accomplice," suggested Belvin.

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

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

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

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

   Evening was coming. There were still a few hours before dusk, but they figured that making camp a distance from the trail and starting their investigation in Bunden in the morning was a wise plan. Leokas found them a good spot out of sight from the trail but still close enough to the fresh water and under the shelter of the strange trees. They set up three watches, as was typical, and took their rest.
Session: 124th Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 24 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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Tags: Chapter 3 , Recap , Wa
Chapter 3 — Tea House
The others continued on, leaving Kytharrah to play with the strange creature. As she passed by them, Sofi smiled and waved at the fish-dragon, and it yelled something back in return. Only Solisar could understand the words of course. The elf chuckled to himself, but he did not translate.

   "Does anyone know what that is?" asked Sofi quietly, as they walked away toward the little building.

   "He claimed to be a dragon," said Solisar, "the god of the lake."

   "I thought that dragons had wings," she said, "and breath fire."

   "Perhaps it is a sort of water dragon," said Belvin.

   "There are many types of dragons," said Solisar, "but this is not a type that I have ever encountered or read about before."

   "If it is a dragon," said Hakam, "it is only a baby dragon."

   Szordrin gave himself the ability to read thoughts as they walked. Passing another stone lantern and two gardens of sand and large rocks, the gravel path continued up to the building. Several glowing red paper lanterns hung from the eaves over the narrow porch. They saw that the wooden structure only had three walls. The northern wall was open, but the entry was low, only about four feet from the floor. Within, they saw a woman sitting on a mat before a small tray. She wore a pink kimono with a purple sash. (Solisar noted that the sash had a faint abjuration aura.) She was elderly, but her long gray hair was still full and was pinned up high in a style seemingly common among Wanese noblewomen.

   On her tray was a series of pots and cups, and a metal kettle was hanging by a chain from the ceiling over a square bed of hot coals.

   Just before the wooden steps to the porch and the entryway was a marble basin full of water. A pair of shoes were sitting on the ground before the steps, presumably the woman's.

   "Can you give her our greetings?" Hakam said to Solisar. "Do not step up onto the porch unless you take your boots off."

   Solisar gave a little bow.

   She nodded at them but did not speak. Szordrin heard her thoughts, which revealed confusion and a little fear at seeing the strangers.

   The woman waved her hands in front of herself and muttered some words. Solisar recognized that she was casting a divine spell to comprehend languages.

   "We greet you," said Solisar. "By magic, I can understand your language, but none of my companions can. I was told by the... dragon... that your name is Hina."

   "I am Hina," replied the old woman in Wa-an. "Welcome to my rojo. Are you here to take a rest and enjoy a sip of tea?"

   "That was not our purpose for coming here, but we would be happy to do so if that is either expected or allowed. Please forgive us, but we are not from this land, and its customs are strange to us."

   "In this land," she said, "the drinking of tea is a very traditional and ceremonious affair."

   "We have never participated in such a ceremony," said Solisar, "but we are willing to learn, should you be willing to teach us."

   "Are there any of you who are able to free themselves of stress and find true calm to participate in such a ceremony?"

   Belvin was very interested in tasting the tea, being specialized in herbs as he was, and Solisar and Hakam also agreed to join her.

   "Then come and enter through the nijiriguchi when you feel that you are ready to begin," said Hina.

   The three removed their footwear and placed them carefully next to hers on the ground before the steps. Then Hakam placed his hands in the water basin and began to wash them.

   "This is for washing, is it not?" asked Solisar.

   Hina nodded, and the other two washed their hands as well.

   Next, they slowly stepped up the stairs and ducked to enter the small room. Solisar sat down and sat cross-legged on the floor. The others joined him on the mat in a tight row. They realized that the floor was slightly sloped from each of the corners to the center, so that they felt a subtle sense almost of falling toward where the hot coals heated the pot.

   Hina remained mostly still, observing them. They got the sense that they were missing some key step in the proceedings.

   Solisar gave another slight bow, which was apparently the step that they were lacking, for she immediately bowed back.

   "First, concentrate," she said. "Free your mind and relax. Feel peace." Solisar translated this to the other two, and Hina closed her eyes and began to slow and control her breathing. The three guests attempted to similarly relax themselves. While they tried to meditate, Hina began to quietly reach for her paraphernalia and to prepare the tea. One at a time, she washed each and every bowl and utensil, carefully arranging everything just so and in a precise order. Then, she returned to her own meditation. The only sound to be heard was the sound of the minotaur splashing in the water a short distance from the rojo and the simmering of the about-to-boil water.

   Just before the water in the pot hanging from the ceiling began to boil in full, she removed the pot from its hook and placed it on a coaster. She set to work at preparing four tea bowls and poured the hot water into each. She set a tea bowl in front of each of them on the mat and finally the remaining bowl on the floor in front of herself. She then lifted the bowl from the ground and rested it on her open palm. She now seemed to be waiting for them to respond.

   All three of the guests noticed that she had used her right hand to raise the bowl and had set it in her left palm, so they mirrored this exactly. Hakam and Belvin were also careful to then rotate the bowl in their palm. Only Hakam observed that the rotation was a quarter rotation in the clockwise direction. He noticed that Hina gave him a gentle smile as he did this and nodded to him.

   Hina now raised the bowl to her mouth and sniffed the tea before drinking it. They followed her lead. Belvin took in the strong aroma and recognized immediately that it was a very high-quality sencha tea, and Hakam recognized that this was a very similar tea to what the Shou Embassy of Bral had offered them. Hakam bowed at her yet again.

   She finally took a sip and then drank all of it. They did the same. It was delicious tea, some of the best that they had ever tasted. Belvin was particularly impressed.

   She now set the empty bowl down on the mat in front of her. The guests noticed that she rotated her bowl back by a quarter turn. Once they had rotated their own bowls, she leaned forward to take them back, and she began to slowly wash each bowl in turn and return them to their original positions on her tray. The guests sat patiently for her to complete her task.

   When all was arranged exactly as it had been at the beginning, she gave a final bow, and they bowed back.

   "Very good," said Hina. "With a little more practice, you will have the ceremony down perfectly."

   Solisar passed on her approval to Belvin and Hakam. This was followed by an awkward silence. Hina said nothing further, but they could not tell if she was meditating or waiting or if the ceremony was fully complete. Leokas, Sofi, and Szordrin, having waited in boredom outside during the actual ceremony, now stepped closer to hear if any conversation might begin. (Ferry hopped from Szordrin's shoulders and ran off to bathe in the sand of the rock gardens.)

   Solisar said, "Thank you for the wonderful tea. To get right to the reason for our coming to you, we are here to investigate a murder that happened here roughly 35 years ago. We were told that a body was found near a bridge on the way to the village of Bunden, and this is the first bridge that we have crossed coming from the city."

   Hina looked deeply and intently into each of her guests' eyes before answering. Belvin and Solisar could tell from her facial expression that she knew exactly whom they were talking about. Szordrin could hear her debating with herself whether she could risk trusting these strangers from another land.

   Hakam sensed her hesitation and removed the shogun's license to show her. "We have the shogun's express permission to investigate this matter."

   Ordinarily, that would make me trust you less, thought the old woman, but she said, "Ordinarily, I would not so easily trust strangers at my rojo, but you have tried your best to follow our people's practices while accepting my hospitality graciously." She paused for Solisar to translate and then looked directly at Hakam. "You, I sense, are an especially honorable man, and I can see that you have allowed any stress that you had carried to flow off of you upon crossing the nijiriguchi."

   Then she said, "Since I have decided to speak more fully with you, let me make it easier for all of us." She gave a short prayer, and afterwards, everyone could hear her words in his or her own native tongue.

   "Tell me more about the murder that you are investigating," she said.

   Hakam asked for the picture from Szordrin, who handed it to him to share with Hina. Upon seeing the portrait of Onran's wife, an obvious sign of recognition was present on her wrinkled face.

   "Poor Yunoko! She saw me the day that she died. I may have been the last one whom she saw in life."

   "The gods of fortune, then, have brought us here," said Solisar.

   "It is fitting that you speak of good fortune," Hina replied, "for I have seen your other companion through the window before you approached, the young oni. How fitting that it is Ji Chou, the year of the bull and the year of earth. I foresee that this is a special year for him, when earth and bull will meet."

   She seemed almost to be staring beyond them as she spoke these strange words, reminding Belvin of the druidess Yashiera. Hina then returned to the original topic. "Fortune also may be for the rest of you, if my words can assist you in learning who truly murdered her."

   "What can you tell us about the day that she died?" Hakam asked.

   "She had been having nightmares," answered Hina. "She came to my rojo for peace and calm, while on a journey to Bunden. Young Yunoko would always stop at my rojo, both when coming and when going from the city, for she lived beyond Bunden. On this trip, she was to stop at Bunden and not continue to her home, so the journey should have been shorter. It was only when nearly ten days had passed and she had not returned that I realized that the rumors of the death of a young woman along the road were about her.

   "I had told her that I would ask the spirits if they knew what might be causing the nightmares," continued Hina. "Too late did I hear from them that the Lady of Compassion believed that Yunoko's life was in danger from a fiendish tiger spirit."

   "It is as we suspected then," stated Hakam.

   "What do your words mean?" asked Hina.

   Hakam summarized their theories about how a rakshasa had killed her. Hina wanted to know why their group was interested in an ambassador to a foreign land, and they explained Yunoko's connection to Szordrin.

   Hina seemed content with their answers. "Beyond this minor revelation about the Lady's concern, I know little else. I was never even able to warn Yunoko before it was too late. I was going to tell her when she returned to me."

   "Have you yourself ever encountered such a tiger spirit?" asked Hakam.

   She had not.

   "It is possible that he was disguising himself as the Emperor Kando."

   She chuckled. "No emperor has ever visited my humble tea house."

   "Do you know what her business was in Bunden that day?" asked Hakam.

   "I know that she needed to speak with the yakuza for diplomatic reasons," said Hina. "I remember her telling me that a man from Faerûn had been beaten and left for dead near Bunden, and she needed look into the matter."

   "Did the man die?"

   "I think that the man lived, but the conversation, as you know, happened several decades ago."

   "Are there many Faerûnians in the area?"

   "Her husband was not from Wa. I do not know what became of him. Beyond her husband, no, people from your part of the world are very rare to see."

   "The shogun informed us that thirteen yakuza were executed for her death," said Solisar. "Their bodies were left along the road as a warning. Do you know where they were hung?"

   "It must have happened closer to Bunden," said Hina. "My own minka is between here and Uwaji; I never saw these person's bodies."

   "Do you know the number of bridges on the road?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not, but streams are more frequent as one continues into the foothills. I do not often travel beyond the two sunazetchin outside these doors. I only ever visited Bunden once during the Double Seventh Festival when I was a young maiden. People in Wa do not travel often. In fact, the laws forbid us to do so without the permission of our lords."

   "We think that we may have encountered Yunoko's ghost two nights ago," said Hakam. "Do you have any idea what might be binding her spirit to our world?"

   "I am told that the Spirit World is much closer to the realm of mortals here in Wa than it is whence you all come in Faerûn. Spirits of the dead are everywhere present here. It is an honor for our ancestors to be allowed to live close to their families after death. We respect such spirits and seek advice from them. I myself speak regularly to various ancestor spirits and nature spirits to ask for guidance.

   "Our shukenja teach us that a recently departed spirit must travel the River of Three Routes, which guides it to its final resting place. For those who have lived an honorable life, that final resting place within the Spirit World is often parallel to its ancestral home here on the mortal plane. I would thus have expected Yunoko's spirit to visit her family's home in Iiso, which is south of Uwaji. Your words make me fear that something prevented her spirit from finding the River."

   "Do you think that her spirit may be retracing the steps that she made on the final day of her life?" asked Hakam.

   "It is possible," said Hina. "Sometimes, severe events are thought to prevent a spirit from finding the River, such as a murder before a victim can experience womanhood or dying before completing an important task or fulfilling a sworn oath — things that go against the divine and natural order established by the Celestial Bureaucracy."

   "Such things are said to likewise prevent spirits from reaching their final destination in our stories also," said Solisar, "although it is a place called the Fugue Plane where spirits wait, instead of a mystical river."

   "I wish that I could be of more help to you," said Hina. "I felt for Yunoko as if she were my daughter. I shall pray that her spirit may be freed. Have you tried communicating with her spirit?"

   "How could we do this?" asked Belvin.

   "I assume that some among you are workers of magic; have you no means to communicate with the dead?"

   "None of us are necromancers, no," said Belvin.

   "My god prevents me from accessing certain magics involving the dead," explained Hakam.

   "I can speak to lesser spirits," said Hina, "but only to those that are nearby. However, I am not permitted to enter the city without my lord's permission."

   "In her room at the embassy," said Hakam, "we found a chess board, a calligraphy set, and a parasol. Do you know if any of these items were of any particular importance to her."

   "Yunoko was highly educated," said Hina, "trained in the ways of nobility. She knew poetry and the arts of calligraphy and tea ceremonies, high crafts. She was an elegant noblewoman. I do not know, however, if the items that you mention would have held a strong emotional connection with her beyond death. It is true, if this is what you are implying, that a spirit can usually only materialize in a limited area of some importance, in the same way that the spirit of a tree is bound to the region of a tree and lives parallel to that place in the Spirit World."

   They all suddenly heard Kytharrah give a sort of yelp. Leokas, who could see the minotaur from where he stood waiting outside Hina's tea house, informed them that the minotaur was fine and simply playing still with his new friend.

   "Leokas, Kytharrah is bleeding!" said Sofi.

   "He is fine," Leokas repeated.

   Hakam asked Hina about this. "Is the fish-dragon dangerous?"

   "Ordinarily, I would say no," Hina replied, "but for the last several months he has been snappy and unusually hungry and generally quick to anger. I do not understand what is wrong with him, but he is not acting like he used to act. While always playful, he had also been calm, peaceful, and very, very shy. It is only by my magics that I knew that he existed at all. He would never hurt a fly, but now he will chew up the plants along the shore of the lake."

   "The rage affects him," said Solisar.

   "He really is a dragon then," agreed Hakam.

   "Oh, he is certainly a dragon," said Hina. "He is a yu lung. They are the juveniles of the dragons of the Spirit World of Kara-Tur."

   "In Faerûn," explained Solisar, "there is a powerful curse currently affecting all dragonkind. It seems that this dragonrage extends to the whole world of Toril."

   Hina seemed fascinated by this revelation. "He is a dragon, so that would explain why he has been behaving so strangely."

   "If this is the extent of his raging," said Solisar, "truly, he must have been good-natured. The evil dragons of our land have been attacking settlements, and even the noblest dragons have been going mad with jealousy and retreating from Toril for relief."

   They thanked Hina and indicated that they should probably continue their journey to Bunden.

   "Would you like to take one of my tea bowls?" Hina offered. "Perhaps it might help you connect with Yunoko's spirit."

   Hakam said that she should keep it for now; if needed, they could always return to her, since the tea house was so near to the city.

   The three inside the little one-room house rose and bowed again and then departed.

   Separating the yu lung Tanoshihire from Kytharrah — literally, Tano was biting into Kytharrah's calf — was challenging, and once the strange creature was back on the ground waddling about on his stumpy forearms, he begged to be taken along with them. "Are you not my friends? Let me come! Let me come!"

   Kytharrah had no idea what Tano was saying, but the minotaur nodded vigorously.

   "We would need some sort of container of water," Solisar said to the others in Common.

   "I can shape us a large stone vase," said Hakam, "if the minotaur is willing to carry it."

   "I could shape one of wood," said Belvin, "but not today."

   "Can anyone enlarge my mug?" asked Sofi, but no one had a spell that could do that.

   "We could invert a bag of holding," said Szordrin.

   "We would not be able to use it any longer," said Leokas.

   "Kamil could carry the extra items," said Belvin.

   "I have not had a friend in ten years!" said Tano. "This is so great. Great, great, great!" He sort of danced around in a tight circle.

   "If we do not have a spell to make a container for him now," said Solisar, "we know that we will be coming back. Let us just tell him that we will return tomorrow, when we can make him a container for him to breathe and that he can come with us then."

   This was agreed upon, and then they had to explain this to both minotaur and carp dragon, which was challenging. Tanoshihire did not take the answer well, but he did not take out his anger on any of them at least. He instead stomped down to his lake like an angry, pouting child and splashed into the water and disappeared.

   As they headed north along the main trail, Tano poked his head out of the water one last time. "You better not be lying!"
Session: 124th Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 24 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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Tags: Chapter 3 , Recap , Uwaji , Wa
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 - Tuesday, Nov 24 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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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 - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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License
I, Fukazawa Michichika, kahan of the roju of the Empire of Wa, hereby grant the holders of this document license to travel through the lands under the protection of the shogun on an errand endorsed by the shogun himself. This license shall expire upon midnight on the fifth day of the month of Hsiang in the year of Ji Chou.
Session: 123rd Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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The Code of One Hundred Articles
The Code of One Hundred Articles

  • By right of kirsute gome, a samurai is always authorized to destroy a member of a lower class who offends him.

  • Persons of common rank shall not change occupations without permission from the daimyo.

  • Persons of common rank shall not travel outside their immediate district without permission.

  • The sale and acquisition of land is forbidden.

  • By right of sukego, the government may requisition horses and men for days at a time to work on roads or repair government buildings.

  • Theft, murder, and treason are all punishable by death.

  • The entire family of a criminal convicted of a severe crime may be executed with him.


  • [...plus 92 other sundry laws...]

    Session: 123rd Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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    Keian no Furegaki
    Keian no Furegaki

  • The husband must work in the field, and the wife must work at the loom. Both must work at night.

  • The husband should rise early and cut the grass before going to the fields.

  • If a wife neglects her household duties, her husband must divorce her, regardless of her beauty.

  • Farmers are forbidden to squander their money on sake or tobacco.

  • Farmers are forbidden to wear silk. All clothes must be made of cotton or hemp.

  • Bamboo trees must be planted around the house. The fallen leaves must be used as fuel.


  • [et cetera]

    Session: 123rd Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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    Buke Shohatto
    Buke Shohatto
    Rules for the Military House
    With commentary from experts in law

  • National laws of Wa are determined by the shogunate.

  • Daimyo and local officials may pass laws exclusive to their own provinces, so long as they complement national laws and meet the approval of the shogunate.

  • Military arts shall not be pursued at the expense of academic subjects.

  • Those who give shelter to lawbreakers shall be considered lawbreakers themselves.
  • Commentary: Those who protect a criminal are criminals themselves and will receive the same punishment. If the murderer and his family are to be killed, then all of the village who shelter him will meet the same fate.

  • Landholders are required to expel soldiers guilty of treason or murder.

  • Sanctuary shall not be given to citizens plotting treason or rebellion.

  • Any conspiracy against the shogun or another daimyo must be immediately reported.
  • Commentary: To conceal a plot is the same as concealing a criminal and is worthy of the same punishment. Therefore, anyone who conceals the plottings of others must be a part of that plot.

  • Unauthorized repair or construction of castles is forbidden, without the express permission of the shogun.
  • Commentary: For a lord to build his fortifications is a sign of warfare and rebellion, certain to create unrest against the shogun. Therefore, repairs can only be made with the shogun's permission.

  • No daimyo will make improvements in his lands or recover new lands from the wilderness without the permission of the shogun.
  • Commentary: To make one's lands better than a neighbor's is to create discontent and strife. But to show one's lord your devotion and talent is a worthy thing. So should all improvements be reported to the shogun, that he might bestow his reward and turn away from those who would speak badly of the lord.

  • Marriages of lords or great samurai shall not be privately contracted.
  • Commentary: Marriage is the way of alliance and plotting. This causes unrest in the state. Therefore, the shogun will say who is allowed to marry whom.

  • The family of a daimyo will reside in the city of the shogun.
  • Commentary: To prevent the daimyo from becoming unruly, their wives and children are required to remain hostage in the capital. In this way the safety of all the land is assured.

  • Extravagant or brightly colored clothes are forbidden except on festival days without the consent of the government.

  • No person of common rank may ride in palanquins, except for doctors, invalids, and the aged.
  • Commentary: There are four classes of people in the land—merchant, craftsman, farmer, and lord. Each class must know its place and cannot presume upon the privileges of those greater than it. In only this way will harmony be preserved.

  • Daimyo should choose capable advisors to serve them.

  • Drunkenness and wanton or lewd behavior is prohibited under all circumstances, as this is unbecoming and leads to the downfall of the state.
  • Commentary: For the state to remain strong, the warriors must remain always vigilant. Drunkenness, gambling, and other vices cause daimyo to look weak in the eyes of the people.


    [et cetera]

    Session: 123rd Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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    Kinchu Kuge Shohatto
    Kinchu Kuge Shohatto
    Rules for the Palace and the Court
    Issued by decree of the shogunate in Wa Year 1663

  • The emperor is to devote himself to learning and leave the details of governing to the shogunate.

  • The shogunate shall appoint ministers to assist the emperor in his duties.

  • The ministers shall have authority over the princes of royal blood.

  • The emperor shall approve all major government appointments made by the shogunate.


  • [Afterwards follows a pedantic list of rules for costume and rank in the emperor’s court.]

    Session: 123rd Game Session - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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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 - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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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 - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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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 - Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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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 - Tuesday, Oct 13 2020 from 12:00 AM to 3:00 AM
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    Official Corrspondence
    Filfaeril Selazair Obarskyr,
    Queen of the Kingdom of Cormyr
    Grandmother to King Azoun V, the rightful heir,
    & Her daughter, the Royal Regent,
    Princess Alusair Nacacia Obarskyr,

    To His Eminence,
    Lord Matasuuri Nagahide,
    Shogun of the Empire of Wa:

    The favor of the Celestial Bureaucracy be upon thee.
    We beseech thee to grant a favor on account of the peaceful standing of our two nations.
    Several decades ago, in Wa Year 1756, Ambassador Yunoko, our emissary to thy great empire and, moreover, a daughter of Hirayama Tsuki, daughter of Hirayama Taiyo of Iiso, was slain, murdered while on assignment. Her murder was never solved, as your records will confirm.
    Bearing this letter are seven persons who have been chosen by our gods to find new evidence pertaining to Yunoko’s death. We shall not explain the matter here, because of its sensitivity, but we trust that this new evidence will be of great interest to the shogunate, as it pertains to the imperial line of Wa. These seven persons we now send to thee, as a token of good favor and as official representatives of the Kingdom of Cormyr in respect to this matter. We humbly request, first, that thou hearest their discovery, and, second, being convinced of its importance to both of our nations, that thou grantest them permission to investigate the matter further upon your soil until the matter be resolved to thine and our satisfaction.
    Perhaps, thou wilst see in this plea and this information a benefit to renewed trade between our two great peoples.

    Filfaeril Selazair Obarskyr

    Session: 122nd Game Session - Tuesday, Oct 13 2020 from 12:00 AM to 3:00 AM
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    Chapter 3 — The Dowager Queen
    The queen spoke. "I have summoned you to one of the robing rooms, because the words that we shall speak together should not be heard in public. The War Wizards have told me of their conversation with you, and while the matter does concern Cormyr, I am more concerned about the other angle of things.

       "I knew Yunoko. To be more frank with you than wisdom says I probably should be, I was her 'handler', her superior, in the Harpers. I did not know her especially well, but we were close in age, and I respected her and her work. We played chess together once. I won the match, but I had to struggle to do so; she made me think."

       Hakam responded. "We were troubled to learn of her death and the manner of it. We express our condolences to you as her friend."

       "Thank you," said the queen. Then she asked, "How were you yourselves acquainted with Yunoko? The humans among you, at least, seem much too young to have known her in person."

       "We did not know her personally," said Hakam, "but Szordrin here was the ward of her widower."

       Szordrin continued, "Just as your disciple Yunoko passed away unexpectedly, so too did my master also, and I believe now that this is all linked to what Yunoko had discovered was happening in Wa. We are here to discover what befell them both and possibly avenge their deaths."

       The queen nodded. "My War Wizards did inform me of your findings, but would you present the same evidence to me to read?"

       They handed over Yunoko's letters, which Filfaeril read carefully.

       "I remember all of this, yes," she said. "Yunoko put her life in danger to protect a woman that she had only just met, who had come to my husband seeking asylum. Yunoko continued to dig up more and more information about historical matters in Wa. She never was able to solve the mystery and all of its details. She believed that a too-thorough investigation would garner suspicion and put herself at risk, so she bided her time and observed and investigated carefully, trying to learn what she could. Alas, I suspect that she had not been careful enough."

       Hakam said, "We believe that our companion Szordrin here may be a descendant of the woman Yunoko aided."

       Filfaeril seemed fascinated by this information but had nothing to add to it. "I see now why this matter is so important to you." She handed back the letters and then began to provide more information about Yunoko's past. "Yunoko joined the Harpers in the Year of the Marching Moon, the year after I became queen. She had been educated here in Cormyr and must have been noticed by one of the Harpers who worked as a professor at her school. She was assigned to me. The Harpers had few agents in the lands of Kara-Tur, and we thought it wise to take advantage of the fact that she could easily access that part of the world through her father's ministry. Yunoko did not at first have a particular mission from the Harpers; her role was initially that of an observer in a part of the world where we were otherwise blind. In many ways, she acted and made decisions on her own."

       "We only know what is reported in these letters," said Hakam, "and few details about the actual incident of her death, which we know only second-hand from Szordrin's late master. We do not even know where her death occurred or when. We of course suspect that it was this rakshasa mentioned in the letters who killed her. Are the facts that you know about her death consistent with this?"

       "You believe that the rakshasa she mentioned came after her?" the queen queried.

       "Beyond the letters, we also found recent evidence that a rakshasa was in pursuit of Szordrin's master, Onran, and likely Szordrin himself in one of Onran's homes — tiger-like claws and prints with the thumbs in the wrong places."

       "All that I know about her death comes from an official letter that we received from Wa," said Filfaeril, "stating that they regretted to inform us that our ambassador had been killed. At the time, Wa had already expelled all foreigners from their nation. When she died, the only persons permitted to work at the embassy in Uwaji were those of Wanese birth or their spouses. Thus, we did not have many Cormyreans there who could speak more to the circumstances.

       "However, since I knew that I would be speaking with you, in preparation for our meeting, I have summoned a man named Malark Dauntinghorn. He was assistant to Yunoko and took her role upon himself upon her death. Lord Dauntinghorn served Cormyr for over three decades until he was expelled from the country upon my late husband's death three years ago. Mind that you do not make any mention of the Harpers when he joins us; speak only of Yunoko's diplomatic role and her death. I shall not call him in until we have finished discussing what we will as far as the Harper's role in this, but he may know more about the specifics of her death."

       Solisar asked, "Your highness has stated that Yunoko had been collecting evidence, such as about the woman and her situation. Is this evidence to which we might have access?"

       "As for evidence of rakshasa activity, she kept any physical evidence hidden, presumably in Wa, or else simply made mental note of what she found. She believed that a conspiracy went deep into Wanese history. As for the woman, it was Khelben who arranged for a spelljammer to take the woman and her son to safety somewhere off-world, but only Onran and Yunoko knew where the location was."

       "You knew Onran?" asked Szordrin.

       "I remind you that I did not know Yunoko very well; I was technically her superior, but she was very independent in her work. I knew that she was married to a man named Onran whom she met in Wa. Her wedding was actually held in this very court. I did not attend her wedding, though I would have liked to have. My role in the Harpers was greatly secret at that time; even my husband was unaware. It would have been unusual for the nation's queen to attend the wedding of an ambassador to a country most thought only a legend, a sailor's tale."

       "Do you know where Yunoko grew up," asked Szordrin, "and where her surviving family might be?"

       "I know that her mother was named Tsuki, and she became the Minister of Spelljamming in Wa about the same time that Yunoko replaced her father as ambassador."

       "So, Yunoko was born and raised in Wa?"

       "Yes, until she was old enough to attend school. Her father sent her to a boarding school here in Cormyr, where she received her training."

       "Do you know what came of her mother?" asked Hakam.

       "That is all that I know," said the queen, "but Lord Dauntinghorn may know more, as he was the ambassador after Yunoko and would have spent a good deal of time in Wa."

       "Do you know the captain of the spelljamming ship that took the mother and her child to safety?" asked Hakam.

       "No, though I am sure that Khelben would know. I could ask my War Wizards to send a magical message to him if it proves that important for you to know."

       "Does the queen know where Onran and Yunoko might have honeymooned?" asked Jayce.

       Filfaeril had no idea.

       "Did the Harpers ever pursue the rakshasa mentioned in Yunoko's letters?" asked Hakam. "Or did they ever pursue the potential illegitimacy of the imperial dynasty in Wa?"

       "Such were the pursuits of Yunoko herself," replied the queen. "Our plan at the time was, since we had an observer there, to have her continue watching and listening to see what she could learn, monitoring the situation. When Yunoko died and it was so hard to send further agents over there, the rumors were largely forgotten. Wa is so far away that it is not considered a severe threat to Cormyrean security, and the majority of Harpers do not feel that it is a threat to Faerûn as a whole. We were very interested in Yunoko's findings, but we simply did not have the manpower to continue her investigations."

       "Speaking of the great distance from here to Wa," the queen continued, "the gods may have favored your coming to us first rather than attempting to journey to Wa directly, if that is what you next intend to do. Wa is 6,000 miles from here. Traditionally, the only way to reach it is a long journey along the seemingly endless Golden Way, then through the empire of Shou Lung, and finally over the Celestial Sea to one of the few ports of Wa open to trade from Shou Lung.

       "Fortunately for you, five years before I was born, when Davin Blacksilver, Yunoko's father, became our first ambassador, after returning from a ten-year journey to the far east, Vangerdahast, the Court Wizard before Caladnei, of whom I am sure you have heard tell, created a large gate, a portal to the city of Uwaji in Wa. The portal connects Suzail to the embassy in the Wa capital. By such means did our ambassadors have direct access to the capital. Presumably, it still functions."

       "Did Wa know of this portal?" Hakam asked.

       "Yes, they know of it. It goes directly to the Cormyrean embassy, and since, technically, the embassy is Cormyrean property, presumably, if Wa respects that claim, the building and the portal should still be there."

       "Would your highness permit me to examine this portal?" asked Solisar.

       "Certainly," said Filfaeril. "I am further willing to write a letter to the shogun of Wa, requesting that you be allowed to enter Wa as official investigators for the Kingdom of Wa. I, of course, cannot promise that the letter will be acknowledged, but it is worth an attempt."

       Jayce expressed his sincere thanks to the queen for this offer.

       "Shall I summon Lord Dauntinghorn?" asked the queen.

       "We should discuss amongst ourselves what we shall ask him and tell him," said Solisar, "for we cannot give him Yunoko's letters to read." The adventurers discussed briefly what they intended to ask him. Hakam was most interested in the details of her death that the queen mother did not seem to know.

       When they were satisfied with what they would discuss, the queen turned to one of the knights. "Gorstag, you may retrieve Lord Dauntinghorn now."

       It only took a couple minutes for the former ambassador to arrive. He was a brown-haired, bearded man in his 50s, wearing a doublet and a matching half cape. He introduced himself and asked how he might be of service.

       "We are investigating the death of Yunoko Blacksilver," Hakam began, and then he shared information about their evidence of rakshasa involvement. "We received this information from letters that contain other sensitive information, so we cannot share with you the letters themselves or all their details, but we ask if you can share any details about the time, place, or manner of her death, which might aid us in tracking this fiend down."

       "Why do I not simply start at the beginning," said Lord Dauntinghorn. "One never knows what details may be key in such an unfortunate query into the truth.

       "I was very young when I began working for Yunoko, barely past the age of majority. My family made its wealth through shipping in the Inner Sea, but I longed to see the oceans beyond that, so I happily joined the small group of diplomats that Cormyr sent to Wa to work under Davin Blacksilver in the Year of the Leaping Dolphin. I was but an errand boy at first, but I picked up the Wanese language, Wa-an, and customs faster than most, and when Davin's daughter Yunoko became ambassador after him two years later in the Year of the Striking Falcon, I was also promoted to be her assistant."

       "Did her father die?" asked Hakam, "or did he retire?"

       "He retired," replied Lord Dauntinghorn, "but he died a few years after that."

       "Did he die of natural causes in Cormyr?"

       "He died of old age in Wa," replied Malark Dauntinghorn. "He lived in Wa with his wife after he retired.

       Malark continued with his story. "I was intimidated by Yunoko at first, because she was so intelligent and beautiful, with an exotic beauty unlike the women of Cormyr. I admit that I was rivvim for her at the time, but there was this other fellow who also was after her hand, an aasimar, certainly, and I did not stand a chance against him. He was the adopted son of two gnomes who were part of a diplomatic scandal in Wa in that first year that I was working there at the embassy. The man's name was Onran, and his 'father' had been arrested when the Wanese discovered that he had entered their nation on a flying vessel from the Sea of Night. Ambassador Davin fought hard for his release, rescuing him from possible execution.

       "I saw Onran several times at social events after that. At first, Yunoko seemed to resist his advances, perhaps because he was about my age and younger than she was. However, after a couple years, it was clear that he had won her over. He even began staying in one of the guest rooms at the embassy sometimes. In any case, Yunoko married the man, here in this very Court in the Year of the Snow Winds.

       "I was not in Wa when Yunoko died. None of us who were not of Wanese dual citizenship were at that time. The year after Yunoko's wedding, in the Year of the Highmantle, when Azoun IV took the throne, that was also the year that Matasuuri Nagahide became shogun. Nagahide was extremely untrusting of foreigners — he still is — and banned most of us from the country, even those working in the embassy. Only those who were of Wanese nationality or those who had married someone from Wa were permitted to stay. Now, he did reverse his decision in the Year of the Weeping Moon, three years later, but that was the year after Yunoko was murdered.

       "Thus, those of us working from here in Suzail at that time heard about it from Sakura, one of our Wanese diplomats who had married a Cormyte and still worked at the embassy in Uwaji. Sakura explained that Yunoko's body had been found garrotted in a forest somewhere between her home and the embassy. The government of Wa confirmed her death shortly afterward but gave fewer details. Since it was a year until we were all able to return to Wa again, when the shogun had a change of heart about foreigners, I do not think that her death was ever investigated further. She was buried in Wa, but there never was a funeral held among her friends at the embassy."

       "Was her own husband not permitted to see her body?" asked Szordrin.

       "I actually do not know," said the former ambassador. "I do not know what became of Onran. He was not a part of the Cormyrean contingent, so he was not sent back to Faerûn with the rest of us. I know not if he was expelled or no. I never saw the man after I was sent back."

       "Is the garrote a method of assassination common to Wa or to any groups operating in Wa?" asked Hakam.

       "Yes, actually," said Malark. "There are a couple unlawful organizations — organizations in the broad sense, not necessarily related to each other — operating in Wa. There are organized gangs known as yakuza who have been known to assassinate those hindering their businesses, but they are known more as businessmen than assassins, despite the picture that the daimyo and shogun paint. I find it unlikely that they would be the ones to murder her. A group more likely to use assassination would be the ninja, but like the yakuza, to call the ninja a single group is a mistake; there are many ninja 'families', just as there are many yakuza 'families'. The ninja are often hired by various noble parties to do their 'dirty work'. I do not know what Yunoko would have done to anger any ninja or 'dishonor' any nobles. To answer your question though, yes, the garrote is a common method of assassination in Wa."

       Lord Dauntinghorn continued, "I suspect that whoever murdered her must have known where she lived and when she traveled. She was targeted and killed between her home and the embassy.

       "I should note that, in my new role as ambassador, I did obtain a sworn oath from the shogun that the government of Wa had no part in her death. Nagahide is a hard man, but I do not believe that he would order the murder of a Wa-born woman unless she had done something truly dishonorable, and then he would have had her publicly executed, not secretly murdered in a forest."

       "The shogun's government does not include the emperor, correct?" asked Hakam.

       "That is true," replied Malark, "although the emperor is little more than a puppet to the shogun; he really has no separate government at all. The shogun's granddaughter is the favored concubine of the emperor. That is undoubtedly by design, so that he can monitor the activity of the emperor through his granddaughter. She is Nagahide's spy in the imperial house, and everyone knows it. (It is purely coincidence, but her name happens to be Yunoko as well, Kisha Yunoko.)"

       "What is Yunoko's family name on her mother's side?" asked Solisar.

       "Yunoko's mother's name was originally Hirayama Tsuki. She was the daughter of a famous astronomer in Wa named Hirayama Taiyo."

       "Does she have any other family? Siblings?"

       "I am not certain," said Malark, but then he corrected himself. "No, actually, I remember her once telling me that her mother almost died while giving birth to her. Yunoko's mother always told her that a Lady of Compassion, one of the Lesser Immortals, a woman in a white kimono, came and comforted her. Are you familiar with the religions of Kara-Tur?"

       They were not, so he explained. "There are a variety of religions in Wa and in the rest of Kara-Tur, but while the religions and nations hold to different philosophies and practices, most believe in the same pantheon, though they worship its members in different ways. The pantheon is known as the Celestial Bureaucracy, and it is headed by the Celestial Emperor. Beneath him are the Nine Immortals, followed by the Lesser Immortals and then a whole plethora of administrative spirits. Many of these spirits are dragons of the Spirit World, who rule over various aspects of nature or society.

       "Now, the Ladies of Compassion are servants of Kwan Ying, Goddess of Compassion, one of the Nine Immortals serving directly below the Celestial Emperor.

       "In any case, Yunoko's mother believed that her daughter's birth was a miracle from Kwan Ying. Whether true or not, she apparently never risked trying to have another child."

       "It sounds like a very lawful and hierarchical society," noted Hakam.

       "It certainly is," agreed Lord Dauntinghorn.

       "We obtained a list of emperors of Wa from one of the scribes here," said Szordrin, showing the paper upon which they had copied down the names. "Could you help us to understand when the seventh dynasty began?"

       "Wa has only had three imperial dynasties," Dauntinghorn replied, repeating what others had also told them. "The Goshukara have been the emperors for millennia."

       "How did you learn the language of Wa-an?" Solisar asked him. "Did you learn from any particular books?"

       "No, and I do not believe that any such books have ever been written. I learned the language from traveling there and having little option but to figure out how to communicate."

       "Is their number system at least similar to ours?" asked Szordrin.

       "I am not sure that I understand the question," admitted the former ambassador. Szordrin explained how they had traveled to a place where the number system was based on the number 8 instead of the number 10, and once he understood, Lord Dauntinghorn confirmed that Wa used a base-10 system.

       "They use a variety of writing systems in Wa," he then said. "It used to be one unique symbol per word, but now they use what is called a syllabary instead of an alphabet."

       "What about official documents from Wa that were translated into Chondathan?" tried Solisar. "Would any of these exist that I might study?"

       "I could probably acquire some for you, yes, with the queen mother's permission, of course."

       The queen gave her consent.

       The group then explained to Lord Dauntinghorn the information that they had learned about a rakshasa usurper. "We have two theories about her murder," said Hakam. "One, that she was murdered by this same rakshasa himself. Two, she was murdered by some other member of the emperor's line, trying to prevent the information of the usurpation coming out."

       "Whoa, this is out of my league now! This sounds like deep conspiracies and spy stories. I would not know how to confirm or reject either of these theories. It does seem very strange to me that a rakshasa would even be present in Wa. They are told in stories coming from a land far southwest of Wa known as Malantra but do not play into any Wanese tales that I know."

       "How do you anticipate that the emperor's line would react if confronted with this information?" asked Hakam.

       "Oh, the people of Wa would be outraged, to say nothing of the emperor's line itself! The citizens take great pride in the fact that they have such a continuous line of rulers, even if the current ruler has no true power. The emperor is a symbol of their nation to them. In their legends, the Spirit of Wa gave a sacred arrow to the first emperor Kochi of the Peach Tree. Supposedly, that arrow has been passed down through the generations and confirms that the gods have chosen the Wa emperors as the divine rulers of the islands. To learn that the gods' plans had been thwarted by some fiends — it would wreak havoc on the populace!"

       "Would you be able to trace out the lineage of the emperors decending from Kando?" asked Hakam.

       "No, I do not have the imperial line memorized. It means a lot to Wanese people, but the emperor rarely played into the politics between Cormyr and Wa. I can tell you that the list that you have is out of date. The current emperor is relatively young and is not named there."

       "What is your perception of how the shogun would react to learning about a potential imposter in the imperial line?" Hakam asked.

       "Honestly, I could not say," Malark replied. "The shogun is exceptionally legalistic, believing that the nation needs to become more isolated, because outside influences have dirtied the morals of the people. The man wants to ban tea houses! However, he cares about law and order but not spirituality. I do not know whether he would consider such news as favorable, because it lessens a superstitious belief in a divine figurehead in place of the rule of law, or terrible, because it implies an intrusion into Wa life from an outsider. He would want to know about it, in any case."

       "Is the emperor a figurehead only under the current shogun?" asked Szordin, "or has it been this way for a long time?"

       "It has been this way for at least a couple hundred years," said Lord Dauntinghorn. "There was a war among the daimyo of Wa. It was General Matasuuri Shogoro who unified all the daimyo into one nation. Before that, there had been the northern daimyo, the central daimyo, and the southern daimyo. He unified all three factions to become shogun of the entire country. At that point, the emperor ceased to have any true power."

       "Do the shoguns also follow a line of succession, then?" asked Szordrin. "Will this Nagahide's son become the next shogun?"

       "Yes," said Malark, "though the line is much shorter thus far, going back to Shogoro. Before the Matasuuri, there were other families who held the title of shogun, but that was when the emperor had power, and they were only his generals. Some historians claim that Shogoro had the shogun of the previous family assassinated (by ninja) so that he could rise to power, which triggered the start of the war that I mentioned. There is no official law written that says that the shogun's son must be the next shogun, however."

       "What else can you tell us about the legal system of Wa?" asked Hakam.

       "Especially under the current shogun, there are many 'morality' laws. For example, if you have any women in your group, they will need to walk behind the men. Men and women are not supposed to eat in the same rooms or sleep at the same inns, in the minds of the most strict adherents to such a morality. As here in Cormyr, you are expected to bow to the nobles. There are very particular rules about what colors and fabrics peasants are permitted to wear. A farmer can be executed for wearing the wrong-colored scarf, but such rules would not apply to you as foreigners. For the most part, the citizens accept these laws as a part of life ordained by the gods.

       "The daimyo set their own laws for their provinces, provided they do no conflict with any mandates of the shogun."

       "Are the daimyo like a governor or baron?" asked Hakam.

       "They are provincial rulers, but a province in Wa is generally a single city and its surrounding towns. They are not very large."

       "Is there a separate daimyo for the capital? or is it simply run directly by the shogun?"

       "It is run by the shogun, yes."

       "How would the people of Wa look upon the non-human creatures in our group?" Hakam asked.

       "They would generally think of your non-human members as monsters from the Spirit World," said Lord Dauntinghorn, "even your elves. You would not be welcome in many villages, but it would depend on the feelings of the local populace toward denizens of the Spirit Realm."

       "It is my hope that my letter sways the shogun to give you some sort of special protection and license to travel his lands, whatever the locals may feel," interjected Queen Filfaeril.

       "Do you think that Yunoko diseminated any of this information about the imposter to the shogun when she was ambassador?" Hakam asked.

       "If she did, she never let me know about it," said Malark. "This is the first that I have heard of such a rumor."

       "Have either you or the queen mother heard anything about a man named Samber?" asked Leokas.

       Neither of them had.

       They tried some of Samber's common anagrams and then described his appearance.

       Suddenly, the description clicked with Malark's memory. "Wait a minute, now that you describe the man, he may have been the best man at Yunoko's wedding! Onran's best man had red hair and green eyes, just as you describe. He stood out from all of the Cormytes and Wanese. I never learned his name, but perhaps it was he."
    Session: 122nd Game Session - Tuesday, Oct 13 2020 from 12:00 AM to 3:00 AM
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    Tags: Chapter 3 , Recap , Suzail
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