Part III of an open-ended, multi-setting, event-driven Forgotten Realms campaign

Per Multiversum continues the adventures of the eclectic band of "Misfits" who seem to have been chosen by the gods to stop the mysterious Samber, as they travel through the multiverse known and unknown in an attempt to complete their callings.

The adventure continues what began in Part I: Imago Deorum and continued in Part II: De Exilio.

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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 - Monday, Nov 23 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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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 - Monday, Nov 23 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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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 - Monday, Nov 23 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Tags: Chapter 3 , Recap , Uwaji , Wa
Chapter 3 — Chess Lessons
~ Eve of the 12th Term, 5th of Chu, the Year of Ji Chou, highsun
Cormyrean Embassy, Uwaji, Wa


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   "Have you already slept tonight?" Solisar asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   No one had a good answer to this question.

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

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

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

   Hakam did not know how one would go about this, but Solisar made an attempt. He set up Yunoko's chess set on her desk and made the first move, queen's pawn forward two squares.
Session: 123rd Game Session - Monday, Nov 16 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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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 - Monday, Nov 16 2020 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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