Chapter 4: The Creeping Morning

Wherein things become clearer

Sen has an ominous dream that seems to fortell danger for Ren, and which hints at a shadowy purple building. After a few more days of travel our heroes have reached Suiko, another large city along the trade roads. A historic city with a great history of magic and religion, Suiko is in the grips of a paranoid racist panic thanks to Lord Raicho, a bigoted old man who routinely sends his agents to hunt out non-humans in his city and banish them. Currently he has checkpoints at every gate to the city. More than a few of our heroes are hot under the collar, as almost all of them are visibly outsiders or have things to hide; however, Kazuo’s strategy of smiling honesty wins the vote. At the gate everyone presents their papers and explains how they came by Hiiro honestly as the wizard Lilie inspects their cart. Lilie is greatly annoyed that students of the arcane with better things to do are at Raicho’s beck and call, and gruffly befriends the group.

At Sora’s request the group heads to the local shrine to see if the regalia stored there, a holy sword, is safe. There they find a crowd of locals watching a magic contest taking place between the twin priests; brother Saroku, a cleric of Takahaya, has challenged his sister Kureha, a cleric of Ohirume, for control of the shrine. Overconfident Saroku rubs the party the wrong way, so they side with Kureha; Ren seeds the women of the crowd in her favor while Sen playfully trips him up with her own spells. After Saroku huffs off, the group introduces themselves. Kureha confesses that her magic has been highly unreliable for several years, though on this occasion it was much stronger than ever before. Normally she finds her magic waning seasonally, with a sharp dropoff after midsummer. Noting that this is the deadline for getting Kagari to the Well of Souls, the party begins to suspect Kagari may be influencing Kureha’s magic. Kazuo sends for Lilie to investigate.

Expecting trouble, the party splits up; Kazuo, Sora, and Kagari stay at the inn while Ren, Sen, Hiiro, and Genbe guard the shrine from any attack. A minor scuffle breaks out and is quickly thwarted, as the intruders are quickly deterred. During dinner Kagari suddenly enters a fit, poisoned by the tea she requested as her supper. Sora holds her steady while Kazuo runs for help, fetching Sen and healing cures. By the time help arrives Kagari has entered a strange stasis, glowing blindingly bright. After she is healed the party finds that the maid who served dinner is not an actual employee of the inn, but may have been an SK member.

Meanwhile, Ren’s underworld contacts have led him to believe there’s something afoot in town that may threaten the shrine. He and Sora comb the city and begin to notice communications left by tengu; these avian residents have been hassled into hiding by Lord Raicho, but are apparently communicating with a criminal element familiar to Ren. He and Sora find a young catfolk girl, Mimichi, destroying the kites the tengu use to communicate, and the pair decide to interrogate her. After some highly impolite coaxing Ren finds that Mimichi primarily speaks the language of money, and pays her for information. At the direction of a mysterious source the tengu have gone underground (quite literally) and are planning some kind of attack on Raicho. She insists that the adventurers spare any tengu children they find before fleeing. Ren continues to investigate this info by nightfall.

At the shrine Lilie is investigating the effects on Kureha’s divine magic when a tearful mother comes to thank Kureha for saving her son. When the infant fell into the river the omamori he carried held him buoyant above the surface until his father could rescue him, a true miracle. Lilie reports that the omamori to Ohirume has an unusually strong connection to the divine energies, such that it enacted magic on its own. Kazuo discovers a koropokkur yosei named Monashir being heckled by a crow in a tree, and befriends her. Crows around town are behaving strangely, acting as sentinels for someone, but they won’t tell Sen who they serve.

With Monashir’s ability to see the invisible, Kazuo stumbles upon the purple building from Sen’s dream in an empty lot. Monashir reports that an otter answered the door and told her to come back another time. Kazuo brings Lilie to the location where she finds herself overwhelmed by the various spells that keep the place undetectable. The building is the storefront of one “Kuuya-Yuusha, spirit doctor”, and is only visible to those who have something with which to barter with the owner, an arch-mage sylph.

In a private display of uncharacteristic cunning, Genbe manipulates Saroku in attempting to infiltrate the group of thieves intent on stealing the sword so that he may claim the resulting glory for himself. By the next morning however Saroku is nowhere to be found, and Sora’s attempts to divine his location suggest he is no longer even alive. Attempting to locate the AWOL tengu leads the party to a mortuary near the river, but they are unable to find any evidence of secret passages.

Genbe, Sen, and Hiiro elect to depart from the group in order to go on ahead at a faster pace and ensure that safe passage through the Dragon’s Skull will be possible; Genbe knows of a fanatic cult that is better dealt with to clear the way early. After they depart, Kureha is suddenly exhorted to bring the holy sword to Lord Raicho’s next dinner party as a show of his power. Due to her questionable status as inheritor of the shrine she can hardly refuse; Kureha explains that her father was dishonored after he performed a secret marriage for the late emperor Kuranosuke and the mother of his children. Kuranosuke was convinced that his love would be driven from the palace should he not bestow her with royal status before his death. The party decides that the best solution to their predicament is to attend the dinner party as a group, disguised as shrine attendants. At the party Raicho is heady with power, and gloats about his bigotry and oppression of non-humans in Suiko. In attendance is a Lady Sanjuu, a charismatic female samurai. As Raicho’s raving reaches a fever pitch the hall is stormed by a crowd of tengu, who incapacitate the party-goers with a trance spell. A tengu ninja leads them in an attempt to steal the sword, but the group’s combined talents along with the aid of the fiesty Sanjuu overcome the attackers. After sending the ninja, Kusuk Gozen through the storehouse roof, Kazuo takes the sword back to the shrine while Ren questions Kusuk privately. Ren finds out that the Mu ninja clan has been hired to steal at least one regalia by an unknown client who stands to gain from even temporary disruption of the whole set.

Ren, Kazuo, Sora and Kureha visit the spirit doctor Kuuya-Yuusha, who will only accept the sword itself as payment for information on who hired the Mu and what they want. Everyone rejects this trade out of hand; however, Kuuya will trade information on Kagari’s condition for the chance to examine her himself. After curiously performing several divination circles on her, Kuuya reveals that Kagari is pregnant not with a flesh-and-blood child, but with the sun kami Ohirume herself. All of her strange powers and ailments are attributable to the influence of the solar powers she carries, and the child likely has to be born at the Well of Souls before midsummer for reasons of its own. Their suspicions confirmed, Kazuo and Ren then head to Raicho’s manor to deal with his unjust rule. The pair convinces Raicho, a notoriously superstitious man, that a powerful kami has called him to a sacred mountain to devote himself to enlightenment; this leaves his grateful son-in-law to take control of the city. Having hopefully put the city in better hands, the pair departs with Kagari, leaving Sora behind to help Kureha restore her shrine.


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