The PCs and their companions depart from Zipang to the Empire of Zhou Dang, specifically the new capital of Khanbaliq, still being constructed by Kam Kobra, the conquering emperor from the Horselands. The PCs are part of a diplomatic mission—mainly samurai of disfavored houses, plus a few other adventuring-types like themselves. Most of the other diplomats regard the assignment as a significant punishment, not only for the danger in their hostage-like status should the two countries go to war, but also for everything they’re missing at home. Separated from their lands, their families, and the centers of power in Zipang, they know they are losing wealth and influence back home. Finally, restricted in their movement to a lavish, but small part of the city, it’s a little boring.
One source of amusement involves posting insulting poems about each other in hopes of goading a rival family into doing something rash. Tetsukichi, however, is a bit more ambitious, and begins a love affair with Su-Laing, the daughter of Mehwa one of the Kam Kobra’s chief warlords. In the course of several secret meetings with Su-Laing, Tetsukichi gets to know her lady-in-waiting who is named Kei-lo, and needs Tetsukichi’s assistance.
Kei-lo, like her ladyship, has a “special friend” who is strong and brave and handsome. And poor. Despite his swagger and the bells on his boots, Ikhbayar the guardsman cannot afford to marry Kei-lo the lady-in-waiting, who is technically Mehwa’s slave. Ikhbayar is starting to think of doing something desperate.
Khanbaliq, the PCs have learned, is built on the ruins of another city (destroyed by Kam Kobra’s grandfather). In the ruins of the older city, in the floodplain between the new city and the river, a few buildings still stand more-or-less intact, including the house of a very rich and evil lord, and rumored to still hold his exotic treasures. And so, reasons Ikhbayar, what better way to die than in pursuit of happiness for himself and the one he loves? He will not listen to Kei-lo’s protests and over the past few days has stopped sharing his plans with Kei-lo, a sign for her, that he has resolved to put them in action.
And so, begging forgiveness for her over-familiarity, the lady-in-waiting requests that Tetsukichi might agree to counsel her suitor, to recommend a compromise like the one Tetsukichi has chosen in trysting with a princess whom he cannot hope to have by way of a legal and honorable union. And Tetsukichi agrees that yes, the next time he visits Su-Laing, he will do his best to advise Ikhbayar against burglarizing the houses of lost souls.
Despite his discretion, Tetsukichi’s dalliance is becoming an open secret among the diplomats from Zipang. His companion Hatsu, without betraying any particular knowledge, reminds him that were any one of them to insult their hosts, the entire mission might pay for it with their honor or their lives.