Dawnbringer

Chapter 8: Dreaming

Ren once again ferries Kagari, Kazuo, and Miyo in his cart as the group leaves the capital city of Shinonome. The group passes through placid farm communities that permit them a night’s rest and some food. In one mountainside village Kazuo observes the road is lined with small statues of foxes in white and black, identified as having some association with Kikonon. While our heroes are asleep, a shining white fox-creature sneaks into their camp and steals away Kagari in her sleep. Ren and Kazuo pursue it, but it dissapears in a swirl of sparkling light some ways into the forest. Referencing their map, they wager a guess that Kagari is being taken to the feudal holdings of Reako Narihara, just across the narrow point of the mountain range. They decide to leave their cart behind for now and try to follow on foot.

Their walk is long and uneventful for a time, but several days pass and they are approached by a strange talking crow. Speaking in vague poetics with the voice of an old man, the bird suggests he can point them in the right direction to find Kagari…but first they must make a detour. The crow directs them to a crumbling village nearby, where an elderly kitsune woman is fighting off a pack of feral inugami near a large, beautiful tree. They assist her in slaying the dogs (driven mad by the death of their human masters), and join her in her small home for a cup of tea. Her name is Sachi, and she has resided in this village for her entire life, staying long after the other kitsune abandoned the region. She shares a bond with the cherry tree in the village square as a kami medium, and can’t bear to abandon it.

Sachi shares with the party a story about her daughter, Yayoi, a radiant woman with amazing celestial powers who eventually left home to become a lady-in-waiting at court. Disguised as a human, Yayoi felt she could never be in any danger and used her powers freely as she charmed her way into becoming the young emperor’s favorite. However, he once became deathly ill, and a young onmyouji realized her true nature and blamed her for the emperor’s state. The courtiers convinced him his lover was a foul creature in disguise, and he ordered her banished from Shinonome. As she wandered heartbroken across the westward plains, the emperor was further swayed to believe she would bring down a curse on his head, and he sent a regiment of soldiers to shoot her down with arrows. Sachi believes that her daughter may have been the divine incarnation of a kami, and that the present plague is some form of punishment for the sins the men of the capital comitted against her.

Considering recent events surrounding the haunting of the palace, Kazuo and Ren suspect Sachi may not be far off the mark, and hypothesize that Ohirume may be trying to once again incarnate herself through a mortal woman. Set in their resolve to ensure Kagari makes it to the Well of Souls, the party thanks Sachi and returns to the crow. After some needling and cryptic questioning, the bird tells them a shortcut to Narihara’s estate.

As Ren, Kazuo, and Miyo come down the mountain and approach the farm town surrounding the estate, they expect stealth to be required; however, an old woman is waiting for them on the road. She greets them calmly, and says she has been instructed to see that they get a good meal and then proceed to meet Narihara in her mansion. Confused, the party nevertheless conceeds that the element of surprise is clearly gone and they play along. Everyone they meet is polite but distant, and they make their way up to the seemingly abandoned residence.

Inside, all the rooms appear empty, until the party finds one open chamber where a ritual spellcasting space has been erected. Inside the boundary rope, Kagari is unconscious and can’t be woken up; Kazuo and Miyo determine that her soul (as well as the soul of Ohirume) have been removed using powerful magic, and unless they are retrieved soon she will die. In an adjacent room Narihara is waiting for them, fully armored but aiming to negotiate. She attempts to convince the party that she and Chiyo Kirihara have taken the best course of action; Ohirume must be allowed to rest peacefully until things have taken their course and they have had a chance to cement the social and political changes Shindai Kyoukai has been implementing. Ren retorts that such goals can’t be worth the deaths of innocent children, and when Narihara dismisses this he and Kazuo end the conversation. The fight that follows begins with respectable martial arts and ends with Ren and Narihara having a slapfight on the floor until Kazuo knocks them both out. Narihara is disarmed, bound, and stuffed in a barrel. (So much for cool boss fights)

All this still leaves the party looking for the missing souls on a fairly tight timetable. In the garden, they find a large pond with a small island in the center bearing an enclosed gazebo; thick incense smoke is pouring out the doors and windows. Though the smoke is clearly magical, they see no choice but to enter, and upon doing so each party member finds themselves in a different location.

(tbc)

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