Dawnbringer

Prologue

After the end of the last great war, when the warlords laid down their weapons and order once again blanketed Nijii, an era of peace opened up. The people were reassured; a few years went by with plentiful harvests, profitable business, and peaceful politics. Lord Mifune had triumphed over the other warlords, and had situated himself in the capital beside the emperor, laying down new regulations for samurai to abide by and fostering a new wave of creativity and innovation in the cities. Self-absorbed politicians began making plans for social changes; perhaps, they said, we can finally chase the tengu and catfolk from the cities, expand foreign trade, and claim the Dragon’s Skull to cement the emperor’s rule over all of Nijii…
These things were not to come to pass so easily however. 6 years ago, at the start of the tenth month, Emperor Kuranosuke-no-Homura unexpectedly passed away. He died young, and the government reported no cause. The public was uncomfortable; rumor spread through the cities and farming villages that perhaps it was an ill omen. Such rumors are common, of course; to a superstitious gossip, anything is worth calling a sign. But then Lord Mifune disappeared from the courts, ill with some strange malady the priests and onmyouji could not cure. He soon died as well. Shortly thereafter people were falling ill everywhere. A cursed disease was running across the land, from the largest cities to the smallest villages. The plague was slow-working, and did not appear to spread; rather it seemed as though it had struck all corners of the country simultaneously. Alchemists, healers, and onmyouji studied it, and soon came to name it the Plague of the Son, for only human men were taking ill and dying. Those who took ill began to show sores and pox, and were dead from wasting and and a choking cough within three months.
Although the curse only took a few at a time in any one place, it continues to hit again and again in waves across the kingdom. As a result, a great deal of social chaos has arisen in the nation. After the death of Emperor Kuranosuke-no-Homura, the throne remains empty. His son Yukiteru has been named successor, but the young boy has yet to be coronated. The death of various lords across the kingdom has thrown other lines of succession into chaos, as the curse naturally dampens efforts to patch failing patriarchal lineages with male heirs brought in by marriage. In some places, the daughters of samurai lords have taken up the spear and inherited the feudal holdings, while in fighting and squabbling leaves other areas in sore need of central leadership. Merchants, farmers, and craftsmen are similarly struggling to see their trades carry on, and smaller communities are committing more open-minded and eager social restructuring to ensure their survival, even at the expense of the traditions of the Noble Code. The cities have become hotbeds of political discord and social unrest; traditionalists are not pleased to see women and catfolk emerging from their traditional professions to take up openings in businesses, trade organizations, and social leadership positions. As a result, the police samurai of the Blue Swords have had to increase their patrols to deal with the increase in disruptions to the peace. Meanwhile, a social movement known as the Shindai Kyokai has seen increased membership as they enthusiastically back the social changes taking place. Led by a charismatic woman, the group’s open-membership policy has nonetheless created a sharp divisionist feeling in the capital, where the group is viewed as an extremist organization by those in power.
In the southern islands of the Dragon’s Tail, things are looking less unstable; the Noble Code’s system of sex and class division never took root there, and most noble families shared rule between lords and their ladies equally, so even the death of a clan head only amounts to an added burden on his widow. Meanwhile, the northern island of the Dragon’s Skull has become even more isolated. Kino people have been sighted south of the divide less and less frequently, and have been reported to chase out intruders from the south with even greater vigor than before. Merchants on the undine trade routes have perpetuated rumors that the Kino shamans may have found a cure for the plague, and while this is not widely believed to be likely it has spurred on politicians in the capital to reopen the possibility of a full-scale invasion of the island, in order to save the kingdom…

Meanwhile, at a small monastery, a battered criminal pursued by literal wolves has dropped off a teenage girl who had been his hostage, begging for the forgiveness of the heavens. Suspicious of the girl’s mysterious condition, the abbot sent for a famous exorcist…

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