Dawnbringer

Chapter 7: Liars and Theives

(Order of events for this post in particular may not be entirely linear. A lot of subquests were being juggled and at the notes became somewhat messy)

In order to restore peace to the capital, Kazuo believes it is paramount to first heal all the ill members of the government to prevent Princess Ama from further undermining the empress’s rule. After some inquiry around the city, he is able to establish a meeting with a young councilman who has eagerly been seeking out more leads on how to cure the senior advisers. This young man, Ono-san, arranges for Kazuo to meet with and heal two cabinet members in order of seniority; should both recover, the party will be granted an official invitation to attempt to heal the young prince. Since this process will take the better part of a week Kazuo patiently sets up these appointments, making sure to take Kagari and Miyo with him as assistants so that he can create the appearance of an elaborate healing ritual while Kagari applies her healing.

Meanwhile, the ever-confident Kuuya Yuusha sends a messenger to deliver a letter to the party; he offers to trade information the party seeks for custody of the princess, who he would then see returned to her mother to complete other deals with nobles who would take the credit. Ren scoffs at this barely-concealed attempt to get back into the Empress’s good graces and declines the offer. However, later that night the party is attacked at the inn. A lone assassin breaks into the girls’ room and attempts to kidnap the princess; her attempts are foiled, and she is apprehended by the party before she can make her escape. Unmasked, the ninja is a dark-furred catfolk woman named Ayaka who Ren instantly recognizes as a high-ranking member of the Mu clan. She does not divulge much helpful information before freeing herself and making a hasty getaway across the rooftops of the city. Tracking her to the Red Palace, the party concludes that she must be hiding there under Ama’s protection, and decides to make a break-in to investigate.

On the following night Ren and Kazuo enter the palace through the bedroom of a high-ranking woman, who is asleep in her bed. Poking around the grounds, they find Ayaka’s bedchamber, which contains a secret passageway to the first floor of the Red Palace. A sweep of the first floor seems to reveal only a few insomniac staff members (one of whom mistakes Kazuo for a member of another monk order, and loans him a powerful tome containing ki techniques). In the library however, a single lady-in-waiting is milling about suspiciously. Kazuo confronts her alone while Ren dallies about pickpocketing various items found around the palace; she seems agitated with his presence and eventually admits that she is Ayaka in disguise as a human. However, they are in a stalemate; either Ayaka or Kazuo could call for the guards and expose the other at any moment, though doing so would be disastrous for all of them. She instead offers to negotiate a sort of cease-fire, and eventually comes to agree with Kazuo that since the party has thwarted her assassination of the princess, she will lay low for a few days to monitor the situation. Should her foes succeed in saving Izuna and her children, Ama’s schemes will be for naught and she will be unable to offer the special compensation promised to the Mu, at which point Ayaka would merely return home with no consequence.

On their way out of the palace Ren decides to steal the pricey outfit laid out in the bedroom they entered from, and hawks some of the items therein to Kuuya Yuusha; during this sales process it is revealed that the outfit belongs to none other than Princess Ama herself, who used the magical properties of the items to enhance her ability to sway others to her ideas. While there, Kazuo conceeds that Hinata would be safest staying at the shop for a few days until things quiet down. In exchange, he tasks the spirit doctor with identifying the black substance being secreted from the royal family’s private shrine in the White Palace. Kuuya Yuusha confirms that this substance is a powerful necromantic by-product normally only found in the underworld, and that if touched by a human man would infect him with the plague. As for why the holy statue of Kikonon would secrete such a substance, there are no concrete answers. While they are there, Kuuya Yuusha performs a medicinal ritual to allow Kagari to release excess celestial energy building up in her body to mitigate the symptoms of her pregnancy.

Finally, after days of waiting the party is invited with Ono-san to visit the white palace and administer healing to the young prince himself. However, when they arrive they discover that Izuna has requested that Chiyo Kirihara, a close confidante of hers, accompany the party to visit her son. No one in the party is comfortable with this idea but Kazuo cannot find any legitimate cause to decline this requirement. Kirihara, for her part, performs a consecration of Prince Yukiteru’s chambers, aligning the room with the energies of the goddess Kikonon. Kazuo attempts to quickly heal the prince in such a way that Chiyo (an accomplished caster) will not be able to detect that Kagari is the real source of the magic. However, Kagari is behaving strangely; upon seeing the young prince she seems strangely entranced by him, and behaves jealously towards him. Kazuo is only barely able to prevent her from touching the child, an act which doubtless would have seriously injured a child in his condition given the burning touch many are afflicted with upon contact with her. Suspecting some manner of possession, Ren asks Kagari who she is and what the date is; she reports her name is Yayoi, and the date is some 50 years prior. Confused but successful, the group retires to their inn once more to await signs of Yukiteru’s recovery.

Unfortunately more trouble arises at the palace. By evening, small fires and disturbances have begun that draw everyone back to investigate. According to guards along the first few palace walls, people in the inner sanctum have been attacking each other and they have no idea whether the royal family is safe with all the chaos. The Flower Guard, under the direct command of their patron Lady Narihara, are preparing to mount a rescue assault; while urging her to be cautious, Kazuo discovers that Chiyo Kirihara is inside, and fear over her lover’s safety is spurring Narihara to be somewhat reckkless. The party offers to head inside first and see if stealth will get them inside.

Within the inner walls, servants and staff have seemingly lost their minds. Many are asleep in random positions while others wander wailing and attacking people on sight. Strange obsidian elementals scurry about the gardens, but don’t pose any real threat. Inside however the party finds that dangerous haunts have sprung up, afflicting the party with emotional manipulations that tempt them to flee one another or do each other harm out of sexual jealousy. Troops of spirits emerge from the walls to attack them with hexes, each ghost a cackling woman wearing a fox mask. Kazuo is stricken blind during combat as they push their way to the upper floors. As they proceed they discover the necromantic fluid has begun flowing much faster, and is flooding the castle with runny, sickening tar from the topmost floor down. At the top floor, they find a grim sight; an enormous black fox with many tails is doing battle with a beleaguered Chiyo Kirihara, who has set herself between it and Izuna, who is cradling her son. Unable to move lest she lose control over the magical shield she has erected, Chiyo entreats the party to aid her. The strange creature’s negative energy attacks prove difficult to combat, but even blinded Kazuo is able to put it down with his mystic techniques. Once the fox is defeated the castle begins to return to normal, and the necromantic tar dissolves; the Kikonon statue appears quiet once more after Chiyo instructs Kagari to help her cleanse it by channeling her celestial energy through it.

The next day our heroes returned to the palace to check up on things and see how the young prince is faring in his recovery after the supernatural ordeal. But already it seems pandemonium is breaking out again inside the palace walls; Princess Ama has set her husband’s samurai against the Flower Guard, bearing the accussation that Izuna was responsible for the haunting of the palaces and was attempting to assassinate the royal family. (While some members of the party may have simply neglected to check on the Red Palace, others seem to not have cared what became of Midorikawa’s family). Given this golden opportunity to give voice to her distaste for Izuna, Ama appears ready to seize the throne for her own children by calling in the famed onmyouji, Kawataka, to seek out a kitsune witch in the palace. Righteously offended on her mistress’s behalf, Lady Narihara is intent on holding back Ama as long as possible, but she cannot stop Ama from bringing her concerns before the royal council, which still sits in her husband’s favor with several crown loyalists still recovering from the plague. The heroes consult with Izuna, who fears that she will finally be exposed and executed along with her children. She laments that Ama’s many attempts to wrest the throne away from her may finally succeed due to lucky opportunism rather than crafty plotting. Kazuo, who still suspects that Shindai Kyoukai and the ladies Kirihara and Narihara are plotting to use their magical container to steal the third regalia, asks where it is held. Izuna informs him that the Gem of Compassion is actually held in Lord Midorikawa’s Red Palace, and has been ever since the shrine to Kikonon in the white palace became tainted. Ren remembers a locked door in the Red Palace, and the two conspire to sneak back in during the night and retake it for Izuna, solving a number of problems in one fell swoop. Meanwhile, they urge Izuna not to panic when the onmyouji arrives, as her marriage to the late emperor will do much to shield her from his examinations if she does not change her behavior significantly.

Breaking into the Red Palace a second time proves a bit more difficult, with many more guards posted. However, Ren’s training easily overcomes these obstacles as he carries in Kazuo, shapeshifted into a small fox. The two combine their skills to break into the magically fortified, trapped room, and retrieve the Gem of Compassion from a basin of water within. Ren and Kazuo return the gem to Izuna, who places it in a warding box among her posessions.

All that was left to do was to take away Ama’s influence in the court, to prevent her from making further moves against her sister-in-law. To this end, Ren and Kazuo visited the high council to answer questions from Lord Midorikawa about the recent troubles in the palace. Thorugh a skillful combination of the truth and lies of omission, they were able to convince Midorikawa that the Mu clan had stolen the Gem of Benevolence, and his reaction suggested that he had not been privvy to his wife’s negotiations with them. Furthermore the party managed to make Ama (unable to represent herself at the meeting) appear paranoid and troublemaking, damaging her reputation enough to make her witch-hunt seem pointless.

Peace had thus been restored to a capital on the brink of disaster. After receiving a few rewards from the emprss, the party quietly departed, hoping to complete their journey before high summer.

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