As things continue to develop in the Otomo lands the group of protagonists go on a small pheasant hunt with the Ward Otomo and his half brother Hatshuro (and retinue). Taiki makes a quick stop to find some good, and strong, alcohol (which he trades for the haunch of a boar and bone to a wily old man).
During this trip Ishida encounters a strange man with a large nose and rice picker hat traveling with a loud Raven and young boy named Shinsei. He shares lunch and some conversation with him.
Later Ishida encounters Salacious Salamander wading in a pond, whilst searching for water lily tubers. After talking to Salamander he invites him back to their hunting camp to share in lunch, which he accepts.
Taiki and Mako are able to hunt a large Pea Hen, and find 5 large eggs (for later use and eating).
Taiki is not taken at all with Salamander’s countenance and personage. Mako engages him in friendly conversation and questions.
Otomo’s relatives return to town along a more direct route, and the fellows take their time traveling back shortly after, giving them time to talk about things and plan the way they can help the Zokujin and deal with the malign magical interference in Otomo lands.
Returning to town Ishida encounters Takehiko in the hot springs, the older brother of Otomo, but from Lord Otomo’s second wife (therefore second in line for the tribes holdings). Takehiko engages Ishida in conversation and asks if he is interested in aiding him in future endeavours, such endeavours that will require his skill as a swordsman. Ishida agrees tentatively to such a possible event.
During the dinner at Lord Otomo’s hall Taiki begins sizing up the cane Lord Otomo uses to form a better manner of plan to replace the corrupted gem it holds. Later on he also makes a trade for a boar haunch for his previous arrangement for the strong and illicit alcohol.
Later that night the Ward Otomo gathers the men from the tribe of Seppun and takes them out of the town to aid him in his evenings business. As they are sworn to aid him as they would Lady Seppun they comply. Taiki automatically understands what is about to happen and is ill at ease.
They travel to a small house north of Otomo Hill, in the woods alongside the old trail they had returned on from their hunting trip. They can hear the sounds of horses near it and when they go behind the home they find two riders robed in blacks and dark colours who are attending to their horses over the form of a badly beaten young man.
The young man appears to be a smith, and has two dozen of so steel blades that he has been slowly forging nearby. The Ward Otomo takes his gag off and begins to question him concerning what he is doing, why he is doing it, which of his brothers he is working for, and who has given him the knowledge and skill to work with steel (which only a few rumoured individuals know how to do). The young man seems unable to answer the questions, and is eventually tied to the horses on the right and left while they start to walk apart from each other, pulling the young mans limbs in a horribly painful fashion. The torture seemingly goes nowhere and no answer is given. Mako sees that magic may be at work controlling this young man’s tongue, preventing him from speaking.
When given the command to end the boy’s pain, Ishida refuses to do so, knowing the boys skill as a steelworker is invaluable to the Seppun (and to his own ambitions). Otomo agrees and as he sends away his horsemen (Right and Left) he takes the group and the smith to a shrine nearby where he can rest and be held securely without anyone knowing.
The Shrine is that of his Mother’s Ancestors, created years ago while she was alive. No on in Otomo lands use it, and very few know if it.
At this Shrine Mako begins to heal the boys wounds and take away his pain. Using skill and magic to reset his bones and seal his wounds. During which he beings to meditate and sense the spirits surrounding the boy, attempting to diving what prevents him from speaking of his masters, even to save his life. He finds the cold touch of black magic surrounding the boy, his spirit subdued after a fashion by the foulness of one of the darker spirit realms. In his attempts to break the control and speak to the spirits to free him he inadvertently calls forth the power of the sorcerer who has put the hex upon the young smith. In an arcane struggle the boy rises before the near catatonic Mako, speaking from the voice of the spells master, and begins to pour out malevolent energy towards the kindly Seppun seemingly killing him for the termity of interfering with his plans. With a quick action Taiki hurls his spear towards the possessed boys throat, crippling his magical voice and killing the lad, thus saving Mako.
Though saved, Mako is seemingly scarred by the magic, and has aged nearly 20 years in a few seconds, drained and wracked with that pain he falls to the ground trying to understand what just happened.