A New Shadow
|"No matter how fast a man runs, he cannot outrun his shadow."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Spider in the Month of the Tortoise in the eighth Year of the Spider of the Stewardship.|
The run takes place mostly around a hidden valley in the Roof of the World.
Bao, Bandit Queen
Lijuan, who has been meeting with Lord Hawk, lets him know that the circus will be heading into the Roof of the World. He tells her that he may be around, and that she can put a fresh pine bough on a campfire if she wants to summon him. Then, Lijuan catches up to Kasumi and they make their way back to the circus. Kasumi complains about having been sent away by Lord Hawk (who did not appreciate being snuck up on by a ninja). Lijuan is excited to see Yoshi, back from some travels to the Shrouded Isle, and asks for permission to get some tattoos: a Crane and a Bear and a Whale and maybe a Panda. It is clearly going to be one of those days.
Ringmaster Te says that the circus will be heading across the Roof of the World via the northern road, doing a performance, and then cutting south through the pass to the Reflected City, the capital. As the circus heads out, they run into a small group of soldiers heading south. They greet the circus, warning them of troubles ahead. They were acting as escort to a caravan, but were attacked by bandits - there are ever-increasing numbers of them these days (over the past month in particular). Yoshi heals the most injured among them with Healing Chi, and Wei Han asks about the bandits. Not the local Bluecloaks or Greencloaks - and in fact they seemed kind of Southern, like they were from the Strand. That's perplexing. They managed to question one, but all he said was that they were gathering in the northwest; he couldn't give them details. The caravan did survive, though, and is on its way to the Reflected City now; the soldiers are on their way to Basewatch Hill. Wei Han warns the soldiers about the recent zombies and necromancers, which doesn't make them any happier.
The circus camps after the first night of travel, and some new people have their first horse dreams. Wei Han notices a pair of guys - no doubt bandits - skulking around outside the circus. He goes off to wake Kasumi, telling her to scout and see what's going on out there. Cai Wen takes a moment to wonder if there's an assignation going on, and then starts waking up the others. The bandits start to flee, and Kasumi follows them, hoping to find their camp. Yoshi challenges one, who also starts to run. Yoshi tries to figure out if he's escaping with loot, or was thwarted, and decides that it doesn't seem to be either of those options. Anto and Lijuan start chasing the bandits too as well; Wei Han stays with the circus, suspicious and adamant that the fighters not leave the circus, in case it's a distraction. He spots Cai Wen starting to wander off with a new girlfriend, and tells them to stay put. Cai Wen says they're just checking the perimeter.
- "Is that what people are calling it these days?" -Lijuan
- "Indeed! That's what we're calling it these days!" -the woman, brightly
- "Now is not the time, sir." -Wei Han
Kasumi decides that there isn't actually a camp they're going back to - once any given bandit thinks he's lost any pursuit, he heads back to circle around the circus. Anto and Lijuan catch one of the bandits they're chasing - the bandit professes to have been thwarted, and bemoans his fate that he will never get the circus loot. Lijuan ties him up with string.
Wei Han tries to convince Cai Wen to come back, while Cai Wen tries to convince his moll to turn around. There is a bit of a standoff, as bandits continue to circle. Yoshi thinks Cai Wen thinks it's okay, so he stops worrying about it; Cai Wen heads for the wine tent, followed by Xian, as the woman insists that she wants something better than tea.
Eventually, Bao takes her hood off and is recognized by much of the party.
- "Ah! What are you doing all the way up here?" -Cai Wen
- "That's exactly what I want to know - I do not appreciate being summoned!" -Bao
- "Oh. Probably because, um... wow. Huh. Well, here, have some wine. It'll be great." -Cai Wen
- "Hm..." -Xian, as Cael crosses his fingers together in front of his face.
- "Hmm?" -Mike
- "I'm making the signal" -Cael
- "I forget what the signal means." -Mike
Xian decides that Cai Wen isn't mind controlled, but that when Bao says she just wants to have a nice private conversation with her friend, "nice" might not be very sincere.
Anto considers: is there someone who needs his help anywhere nearby? He entrusts the string-entangled bandit to Lijuan and starts heading off to the west, away from the circus, and not at all the direction he was expecting to go. As he heads off, two bandits announce "Oh, no, we've been spotted!" and flee, but neither of them needs help, so he continues on, ignoring them.
Back in the wine tent, Bao explains.
- "I was ordered to come up here, on pain of Doom" -Bao
- "Who orders you?" -Cai Wen
- "Exactly my point! People oughtn't be doing that. But when your lieutenants start dropping dead left and right for no apparent reason, you start taking these things seriously..."
She says then, when she saw the circus, she figured, Cai Wen is all about being this knowledgeable man of the world, who knows what's going on, and she figured he'd be able to tell her what it was about. Cai Wen concedes that he doesn't actually know. Bao says that the original summons was a letter signed "The Shadow", though she was pretty sure he's fictional. Cai Wen perks up - that's something he does know about. But the Shadow expert is someone else. Bao asks if the someone else is a goon, and when Cai Wen tentatively nods, she pokes her head out of the tea tent and whistles.
Half of the bandits peel off, and the other half cheerfully surrender.
- "You got us. We are captured. Take us to your leader!"
- "Now my captured guy isn't special!" -Lijuan, pouting
- "The others won't be tied up with string...." -Yoshi, reassuringly
Wei Han, still suspicious, ensures they are still guarded.
Anyway, as Bao continues, now to Yoshi as well, every "independent contractor" within 500 li has received a letter instructing them to bring their men up here, "on pain of doom". They're to report to the eastern Roof of the World, commit some acts of banditry, and then they'll be contacted. Bao is hoping to get information on the Shadow, ideally enough such that she can go kill him.
Yoshi briefs the others about what he's been learning about the Shadow: there has been speculation that he's the Eighth Marked, though there are other signs that he isn't. He's a semi-legendary super-mastermind of crime lords, never seen during daylight, who sets the rules for how various tongs interact with each other. The party has also met the Arbiter, who was trying to determine the facts in a dispute between the Circle of Spite and the League of the Hidden Hand.
Meanwhile, Anto has been jogging west, for several hours, marking his trail with blazes, until he reaches a cliff over a valley. From the cliff, he can see a small stone fortress, built into the side of the opposite mountain, with a large army gathered in the valley below. None of them are wearing Dragon Army uniforms; they look more like disparate clumps with varied dress, probably bandits. A huge bandit army! But it's not amongst the army that the person who needs his help is.
- "Have you met Reiko?" -Mike
- "I think she put a knife to my throat once." -Kurgan
- "Well, good that you have fond memories of that, because here it is again."
- "We have got to stop meeting up like this." -Anto
Reiko demands to know what Anto is doing here, and where he is. Anto says Yoshi is a few hours away still. Reiko looks exasperated, says Anto will have to do, and tells him to follow her to help her capture a couple of scouts from the army. Anto doesn't think Reiko is the one who needs his help, but she's leading him in the right direction. She says there are two who will be coming this way soon - make sure they don't give the alarm, and take them down quickly and quietly. Anto manages to grab his scout, a hand over his mouth, in a grapple, while Reiko ambushes hers, and then quickly tortures him for information. She says there's a back entrance to the fortress, but this guy doesn't know where it is. Anto's probably does, though. At this point Anto realizes who it is who needs his help, and protests - no torturing! They can drag him back to the circus, and ask him questions more politely. Reiko frowns - there's no time for that. She briefly considers going off to find another bandit, but then returns and feints at trying a killing blow on Anto's bandit, causing Anto to lose his grip and the bandit to try to escape. Reiko waits for Anto to go after him and knock him out, whereupon she uses her torture shtick on the second bandit - though she leaves this one alive for Anto. She gets the location of the tunnel out of him, and tells Anto to tell Yoshi that she'll be going in to kill the Shadow, and he can come and assist if he likes, and gives him a meeting place a little ways back. Anto stashes his unconscious bandit and starts heading back to the circus.
Jib Jib, Tengu of Prophecy
Back at the circus, the rest of the party has noticed Anto is missing. Lijuan remembers him wandering off after she tied up her bandit prisoner, but wasn't really paying attention. Cai Wen asks Bao if her guys captured any of the circus people. She says they weren't supposed to, and the surrendered bandits say they didn't, but just to make sure, a few people head out to Bao's camp where the other half of her guys are. Bao's second is apparently sick. He's got what they call the shakes. It only comes at night, and has happened to each of Bao's lieutenants in turn until she brought the bandits up here. Now that Bao is stalling though, it appears the shakes have returned.
On the walk back from the camp to the circus, Hiro makes the call of the Tengu in the forest. A few minutes later, there's a shriek in Enlightened Melina's tent. Everyone converges there, and finds a long-nosed tengu leaning over Melina. Apparently, he claims to be the Tengu of Prophesy, and was going to jump-start Melina's mojo. Hiro asks Jib-Jib if he can help them find Anto. Melina doesn't want anything to do with tengu, but is convinced to see what he can do. He has her lay down and leans over her saying "Jib-Jib, Jib-Jib." She suddenly sits up and says in an ominous voice: "By the second rising of the sun, there shall be a new shadow."
- "She is good. We should work together more often." -Jib-Jib
- "Get out of my tent." -Melina
After all of this, Anto finally returns, and everyone gathers in the war room (including Bao and Jib Jib). Anto explains about Reiko:
- "Your girlfriend / nemesis / whatever she is..."
- "Old friend..." -Yoshi
- "Anyway, she's over there waiting for you."
Wei Han takes the opportunity to re-use his previous lecture to Lijuan about Not Going Off Alone Without Telling People Where You're Going. Anto protests that he made marks on trees for people to follow him, but since he didn't tell anyone he was doing that, no one tried to find the marks. What is Reiko's plan, anyway? Is she going to cope with the lesser evil to take out the bigger evil? What is her plan with the Shadow? She told Anto that she was going to kill the Shadow - is she going to try to take over from him? Yoshi thinks that's unlikely - she's never shown any tendency to want to be a criminal mastermind.
Wei Han checks in with Ringmaster Te. He thinks it's safer to keep going than stay put, so when the circus stops at the next town to give a performance, the others can catch up to it then, before the circus heads south. Jib Jib wants them to do the fun stuff before going through the pass to the south - you definitely don't want annoying people with you when you go through the pass. They might get overly annoyed and then get banished. People find this inexplicable, but don't really get any clarification.
Yoshi checks in on Shorty the bandit lieutenant - he's mostly better now that it's day. It seems to have been some sort of chi-based attack, but none of the chi experts are around to ask.
There is some confusion about what the exact plan will be, and how to get out again afterwards, but Yoshi thinks that it's going to be hard to know the details without talking to Reiko. He suggests talking to Reiko first, then accompanying her into the enemy camp, and then improvising. In the meantime, Bao's crew will pretend to be part of the bandit army and also improvise.
- "I reformed all the prisoners, do we let them go now?" -Lijuan
- "Yay! We're all good now!" -the 'independent contractors'
The bandits head off, still worrying about Shorty - the best suggestions that anyone has are to keep him in light all the time at night, though they have no idea if that will really help.
Hiro thinks that if it's going to be an improvisational plan, with people split up, they ought to agree in advance on what the priorities are. A list is drawn up:
- Don't die.
- Don't kill Reiko or our allies
- Don't kill Bao
- Disband the bandit army
Yoshi notes that Reiko probably won't hurt anyone if they don't get in her way, though he admits he might think of getting in her way himself.
Xian, frowning, says that he thinks there's something around, but he can't see it.
- "Let's stop discussing our plan." -Yoshi
- "Hello! We're really very friendly!"
Kasumi tosses Pooky out of the monkey cage, in the hopes that he will find anything hidden. He wanders around the tent, and then climbs the tent pole, disappearing from view.
- "Oops, I forgot to do the monocle first." -Kasumi
Kasumi tries to lure Pooky back again with monkey treats, but to no luck. People ask Jib Jib if he can do a prophecy on whatever it is, but he says he's blocked.
- "By what?"
- "I can't tell, because I'm blocked."
Lijuan offers Jib Jib some plum wine, which he happily accepts, but Hiro insists that he be given tea instead. He sulks.
Yoshi continues to attempt to convince whoever is unseen to say something, and eventually produces a result.
- "It's coming straight for your head!" -Mike
- "I parry!" -Yoshi
Yoshi parries the hapless monkey, which has been tied up and tossed down at him, smacking it across the room. It glares at him, but Yoshi gives it a Chi Healing, which placates it somewhat. There's a scroll tucked into the monkey's bonds, which Wei Han takes, and reads in some confusion.
Kasumi notes that earlier, while she was walking around alone, a voice already asked Kasumi what her code was, and she said "to solve problems".
Jib Jib thinks he's not blocked any longer, unless he tries to think about what was blocking him. Xian questions Jib Jib - is he afraid of anything? Xian is afraid! Xian is afraid that the invisible thing that was here before might kill him. Or kill Jib Jib. Unfortunately, this does not cause Jib Jib to be able to tell him more. Anto wonders if he can unbind Jib Jib from being blocked, and Jib Jib says that possibly with some eps of Anto's, he'd be able to get armor piercing on his prophecy. Anto declines to donate any eps.
Lijuan sends Tofu out with a blank piece of paper; he swaps around some things, but does not seem to get any more notes from the invisible whoever.
- "Oh, is that a little magic love letter? That's mine." -Cai Wen
Before heading off to meet Reiko, there is a bit more discussion. Anto draws a quick map of the valley and the fortress, and notes that the entire floor of the valley is "terrain type: bandits".
- "Who here has met Reiko? She was in the mini-run with the Secret Swords, and the run with Xiao Fa's brother." -Yoshi
- "Was that the run with the fighting...?" -Wei Han
Hiro suggests that Jib Jib not come to the negotiation with Reiko - extra bonus annoying is not what that particular person needs. Jib Jib asks if he can play with some of their prophecies while they're gone - he can make them more true, or more false.
- "Can you pick which way?"
Cai Wen asks for a prophecy about his statuette of the Golden Palace, and gives a couple of Tao to Jib Jib. As before, he has to lie down, while Jib Jib says "Jib-Jib", and then he wakes up to prophesy: "With the next setting of the sun, you will meet a denizen of the palace. If you allow him to solve your problem, several of you will probably die." Well, that's depressing, so it's probably a false prophecy, right? Cai Wen contemplates the hidden risks - the main one is that if they decide it's a false prophecy, and don't actually meet the denizen of the palace, he might solve their problem without consulting them. Hmm.
Lord Hawk, Outlaw
The group troops into the mountains, following Anto's blazes, and meet up with Reiko at the pre-picked spot. She shushes them as they approach, and they mostly shush. She whispers to Kasumi, "Come with me, and we'll get him." Reiko, Kasumi, Lijuan, and Yoshi head to the edge of the cliff, where there is another guy looking out over the bandits, and Yoshi steps on some dried branches. Lord Hawk turns.
- "I have to stop sneaking up on this guy, it never goes well!" -Kasumi, leaving
Yoshi introduces himself, and Lord Hawk recognizes the name as one of Lijuan's masters. Once he speaks, it is clear to everyone that he is an Outlaw, a Banished Evildoer. Lijuan notes that he's swung from dreamy through dull to roguishly sexy bad boy now. Yoshi frowns, and demands to know what he's doing here. Hawk says he's investigating the bandits - they are clearly up to no good. Yoshi considers his motives.
- "He feels that he has a duty to prevent the bandits from preying on the people. Probably for nefarious reasons." -Mike
The group invites Hawk back to the previous clearing, though Reiko has vanished into the shadows of the trees before he appears. He introduces himself, and Wei Han glowers, as the man is clearly a criminal and a menace to society.
Yoshi notes that based on his reputation, he can't imagine why Lord Hawk is doing this, and Hawk agrees that based on his reputation, that seems likely.
- "You'll redeem him, right, for me?" -Lijuan
- "I'll do my best. He's a very bad man." -Yoshi
- "He just needs someone to understand him." -Lijuan
Yoshi interrogates him.
- "In truth, our aim is the same as yours, as we understand it." -Yoshi
- "If your goals are the same as mine, I suggest you overlook my reputation." -Hawk
- "Can you provide us with reason to do so?"
- "Are not Lijuan's good words before this day sufficient?"
- "What are you really here for?"
- "To end the menace."
- "And then the menace will be no more?"
- "That is obviously something we would hope for, but men like you and I can't actually believe that will come to pass."
- "While striving for something is the only way to see that it is done, I would not diminish the importance of hope."
- "Shall we proceed and share the prize among us?"
- "Wait, what prize?"
- "You came to get my help - did you not want it?"
- "We really just stumbled upon you."
- "Well, darn."
Hiro wants to know how Lord Hawk can actually help. What is his plan? He admits that he did not previously have a plan to defeat an army of five thousand; while he has heard that Yoshi's culinary arts skills are formidable, he is not convinced that even with all of them, they can do so.
- "Do you know what the bandit plan is?" -Hiro
- "They have all gathered here, and are being set loose among the populace."
- "This is an elaborate thing to be doing for no point."
- "If they're defeated, their point may matter less."
- "Trying to thwart a bandit army all by yourself if you don't have a plan is stupid."
- "Such is my fate. Though do note that I have not charged the army. I am still gathering intelligence on what they're up to."
- "That's good, then Reiko can't torture him." -Lijuan
Hiro asks what skills he has to assist them, and he says that he is deadly enough with a sword and a bow, and has some skill in woodcraft.
- "Think of me as a ranger."
- "A ranger up to no good...." -Wei Han
Hiro declares that he doesn't see any evidence for accepting Hawk's help. Xian says, well, let him talk to him.
- "Do you trust this one?" -Hawk, indicating Xian
- "He's confounding, but I think you can take him. Don't believe anything he says." -Lijuan
- "Hey!" -Xian
Hawk and Xian wander off to chat for a few minutes, and then return.
- "Xian has convinced me that there is no use in speaking further. I am now off to join with your enemies." -Lord Hawk
- "What? Wait! Is that part of the plan? Stop!" -Everyone else
Xian tries somewhat cautiously to explain - he can certainly infiltrate the bad guys, because he really looks like a bad guy, doesn't he? Everyone else agrees that he certainly looks like a bad guy, and that's why they don't trust him. Xian clarifies - he's under a curse to appear to be an outlaw, but he wasn't under the curse when Lijuan met him before in the Qin Chao Steppes. It's only active in the Roof of the World. However, Xian is very worried about the curse, and doesn't want to try to poke it too hard.
Jib Jib notes that curses and prophecies are very much like the same thing, and he could make the prophecy false for a little while, just for right here. Xian spends two Tao for Jib Jib to do this, and then for a little while, the group ceases to find it quite so blindingly obvious that Lord Hawk is a bad guy.
Xian says that Lord Hawk is of the line that was on the throne of the Roof of the World, until an usurper tried to take the throne. Somehow, that caused a curse upon the line, making them all seem outlaws. Now, the throne is held by a steward who seems to be a decent guy; Lord Hawk isn't trying to get back on the throne, he's just trying to look after his people. But, at least for the moment, the curse is useful - he looks like a SuperBandit.
Hirasoto the Implacable
Yoshi thanks Xian for seeing through the false front to the truth, and thanks Reiko for not just immediately chopping Hawk, doing her a Compassion tick mark in their battle of ideals. But, if Lord Hawk was out here, who dropped the monkey?
- "Who dropped the monkey the what?" -Xian
- "I got him! One confounding point for me!" -Yoshi
Another few points are added to the list of overall goals:
- Don't die.
- Don't kill Reiko or our allies
- Don't kill Bao
- Disband the bandit army
- Xian is not Reiko
- Don't let an immortal solve our problems
Reiko notes that they can't go through the back entrance yet - enough of the group is way too non-sneaky, and can't make their way around without being spotted during daylight. Well, then there's time to answer the note. Kasumi heads out to meet... whoever... at sunset, bearing a note that has Yoshi's code written on it.
- "That's "The gateway of redemptive principles"" -Yoshi
- "What?" -Xian
- "Three times! Woo!" -Yoshi
- "Does a pony show up?"
- "An arboreal monkey-dropping horse spirit?"
Kasumi tries to sneak up on whoever it is, but she doesn't see him, and she seems to be spotted. More cryptic dialogue ensues.
- "Tell me, little one, what is your code?"
- "My code is solving problems. Yoshi's is the gateway of redemptive principles."
- "Yoshi is irrelevant. What problems do you solve, and why?"
- "Problems that we think the Butterfly is throwing us at that we would be good at."
- "So you are the servant of a spirit?"
- "More like the independent contractor of a spirit."
- "What principle do you use when choosing what contract to take?"
- "Sometimes because it would be fun, sometimes because I've asked the advice of my elders."
- "Then hear the advice of your elder, little one: The Shadow is too great for you to pierce. I can do it, but only in the presence of the righteous."
- "The elders I met before said we shouldn't ask for help from the denizens of the Golden Palace."
- "Then they are wise, for help from the Golden Palace is uncertain at best, but in this at least we share the same goal - for I am committed to the downfall of the Shadow."
- "But you can't do something unless I ask you to?"
- "I can act as I choose, but if you strive against the Shadow with the unrighteous, I will not be given an opportunity."
- "I need a cheat sheet. Are there different types of unrighteous?"
- "Do you know what the Shadow is?"
- "That is the problem."
- "If you do not know what the Shadow is, why do you fight it?"
- "All the bandits in one place can't be good. But the Shadow being bad came from my elders."
- "I will not stop you, as I have not been asked to do so. If you provide me with the opportunity I need, I will strike. If not, I will wait for another opportunity."
- "But you're not going to tell me anything about what the Shadow is?"
- "The Shadow is a demon, bonded to a human. Only with the human's death is the Shadow free to be destroyed. It can only be killed at night; it can only be destroyed in the day. In between the two is a chance for the unrighteous to take up the mantle."
- "Thank you."
- "Do not thank me, for I have not yet aided you."
- "Good!" -Yoshi, kibitzing
- "I will be watching you. You are still young, but you have promise. Know that you have the eye of Hirasoto upon you."
Kasumi returns and reports back. People vaguely remember hearing the name Hirasoto before - someone who scares ninja? Hiro contemplates the killing of demons, from what he knows of them. What's the difference between killing and destroying? Normally when you "kill" a demon in the Material World, it just goes back down to the World Below. Destruction is much more rare (like Amikiri the Unbinder was destroyed), and often the method of doing this is specific to the particular demon.
Wei Han thinks it shouldn't be that hard - just have Kasumi kill the Shadow late at night, which should defeat it, right? Others are not sure it's quite that simple. Maybe the spirit bottle can capture it, though it might be too large.
People question Reiko about the Shadow being a demon - did she know that? She admits she didn't. She doesn't want to give up on killing it, though, just because it might be complicated to permanently destroy it. If it gets sent to the World Below, maybe at least it'll have to start over again. Or if Hirasoto can destroy it, that would be fine with her. The lack of a plan to get around the unknown potential danger of people getting killed doesn't deter her - if she had to know how it all worked out in advance before doing anything, she wouldn't get anything done. One of the main things that makes it hard to kill the Shadow in general is that he can step into a shadow and vanish - but she has a shtick in mortal combat - neither of them can flee before one falls.
Then, night deepens, and it's time to head around to the secret passage into the fortress. Before Jib Jib leaves (as he doesn't want to take part in an actual assault), Wei Han asks for a minor (1 Tao) prophecy about how to destroy the demon Shadow. It's not a very good prophecy, Jib Jib admits, and it doesn't have a very good ending.
- "I've fought worse odds on less information. Let's go." -Wei Han
As the party heads around the valley, they try to figure out what might cause people to die. Maybe when the Shadow is killed, there's some sort of terrible thwackback?
- "Who can protect themselves from indiscriminate cataclysm?" -Cai Wen
- "I can get hit a few times before falling down, but that's not really the same." -Hiro
There doesn't end up being a Final Plan of How To Permanently Destroy the Shadow, but Reiko declares that she's going in anyway. People can come with her, or not. People come with her.
The final secret tunnel ends with a door. Anto tries to open it, but isn't so good at traps, and a needle stabs him in the hand - or, at least, a needle is about to stab him in the hand when Yoshi knocks him aside and takes the damage. Bao unlocks the door instead - apparently bandit queens are better at thief skills. The group begins to enter what appears to be a large hall, with torches casting ominous shadows from pillars.
Wei Han is the fastest, and ends up going around a corner to where a number of bandit chiefs (including Lord Hawk, and Shorty) are looking at a map. He tries to intimidate them, but doesn't do very well, until Hawk says "Ah, Wei Han of the Greycloaks, please join us" as he moves into what Wei Han is sure is backstab position. One of the other bandits asks what Wei Han's people have learned of Tai Lung? The party whispers excitedly to itself.
- "Tai Lung? The Prince?"
- "No, that's Ti Jun."
- "Oh, right, that's the Dragon guy south of the Wall."
- "No, that's Car Fai."
- "It's the tiger guy in Kung Fu Panda!"
Shorty, who doesn't recognize Wei Han, continues to try to warn the others.
- "I understand that's the problem, but there's a strike force coming at us right now."
- "Impossible! There's no way they can get through the terrain type filled with bandits!"
- "Yes, we are! But we are not here for you - you may leave now." -Yoshi, stepping around the corner
Shorty is the only one sufficiently spooked to try to flee, and Wei Han tips the table over into the assembled bandit chiefs. Someone with a Very Spooky Voice calls out from further back, wanting to know what's going on.
- "Your assumptions of safety are a little unwarranted." -Wei Han
- "Fools! You will never be victorious! Kill them, my allies!" -Hawk, obviously being villainous as he heads for the back.
Most of the bandit chiefs attack Wei Han, but the Black chief, with poison, is the only one who can get past Wei Han's defenses.
Back in the throne room, Lijuan picks up a torch from a wall sconce, but it vanishes from her hand and appears back on the wall; as the shadows briefly shift around, the Shadow shows up beside her.
- "Ooops. Um... surrender!" -Lijuan
Combat breaks out between Lijuan and Anto and the Shadow - Anto grabs him with kusarigama and grasping vines, but he turns to a shadow, and they fall to the ground. His cloak becomes dark and spooky, and people are briefly too afraid to attack him. Yoshi shouts to give everyone courage against this trickery, and gives them some increased resolve.
As he has taken some damage, though, he starts to fade out.
- "Fools, you cannot seek to destroy a shadow" -The Shadow
- "No, vile fiend, your reign of terror has finally ended. You shall not leave this place until one of us is dead." -Reiko
- "Your challenge is accepted. If I shall not leave this place, neither shall you."
- "That's fine, we weren't leaving anyway..." -Hiro
Shadows fill the secret corridor, leaving it filled with solid blackness, and everyone standing in any of the shadows on the map takes a bit of damage.
Bandits are beginning to come up the stairs to the throne room from the valley below, having heard fighting, but Cai Wen sets off a firework fountain on the stairs, and tosses an ice chip onto it, blocking the reinforcements at least temporarily. The fighters continue to pound on the Shadow. Xian, who is disguised as a bandit, shoots Reiko (for one successes), and Anto (for one success). It is not clear whether Reiko is willing to forgive this, but it does prevent Xian from taking damage the next time the shadows damage the good guys.
The Shadow, displeased at the amount of damage he's been taking, disappears and reappears in his room of darkness, which Hawk spots (having been poking around in that area). Lijuan grabs a torch to try to summon him again, but it does not seem to force him to appear. Ho barks, indicating which way the enemy has gone.
As the battle continues, the bandit reinforcements are growing more numerous, and they've begun to throw grappling hooks and ropes over the railing of the balcony - they'll be in the throne room soon.
Then, Reiko and Hawk take down the Shadow, leaving a body lying on the floor and a dark and spooky figure hovering over it. (Lijuan, who has already made a crayon drawing of this, bounces excitedly to discover that she can also draw prophetic art.)
The Shadow-demon calls the bandit kings by name, and tells them that as they have fallen, they may not take his bargain, but he gives them this second chance, so that those who oppose him will not survive - and they stand up again.
Lord Hawk is the first to be given a chance at the bargain:
- "Take the mantle of the Shadow's power upon you and you can save those who you will and finally retake what is rightfully yours." -Shadow demon
- "Never!" -Hawk
- "Hawk's plan is far more fiendish than we imagine..." -Cai Wen
Cai Wen, sure there must be a second secret passage somewhere, pokes around under a very fancy antique carpet, but much to his dismay, finds 15 li instead.
Wei Han, close to falling down from poison, contemplates his options.
- "I break a finger bone, since I should be immune to the corruption." -Rob
- "Make a resolve roll to use necromancy on yourself." -Mike
- "Never mind."
Yoshi gives a rousing speech, exhorting everyone to be good and not give in to the Shadow's temptations. Reiko is the next to be offered the bargain.
- "Assume my mantle, and wreak vengeance against those who have wronged you!"
- "I will not sell my soul for the power of evil. I deny you."
The group retreats out of the throne room to the back rooms, throwing some more ice chips and the last of the fireworks (including Lijuan's spare box) into the doorway to block the incoming flood of bandits.
- "How are we going to get out of here again?"
- "We really hadn't thought that far." -Wei Han
- "Do we have a way to get out through the sealed box, once the bandit terrain goes away?" -Anto
Bao is the next to receive the offer (as a still-standing bandit chief, albeit one who wasn't at the meeting.
- "Accept my mantle of power, and become a Bandit Queen in truth. And it will be in your power to save Cai Wen, who is now dying from poison." -Shadow-demon
- " ... I'm good, thanks." -Bao
- "He's been refused three times - by the rule of threes, he's defeated!" -Cai Wen
- "You know, that is a good point..." -Xian
The offer is opened up to the rest of the group, as the Shadow-demon points out that many of them will be dying shortly, and there is no escape. Yoshi agrees that he's dying, but says he's willing to give his life to prevent the Shadow from surviving. Lijuan, going through her pockets, finds a lacquered egg of mystery, and breaks it, finding a small green vial, which she gives to Yoshi. Yoshi, however, gives it to Anto to use with a first aid roll on Wei Han, who is worse off.
Kasumi loots the carpet, still hoping for a second secret passage, and finds twenty li. Xian goes into a room with a larger firepit, and spots Hirasoto, who offers him little hope.
- "Stand firm. Shen Wei Han, Zhu Cai Wen, and Yoshinosuke shall surely perish, but in their deaths, the Shadow shall be destroyed." -Hirasoto
- "Shoot him!" -Lijuan
- "I'm not shooting a Golden Palace Immortal Ninja with my bow" -Xian
Reiko starts getting cranky.
- "I hear you're going down (to Wei Han), and you (to Yoshi) have a turn to live. Someone tell me a plan." -Reiko
Hawk waves his sword through the Shadow's space a few times, but it doesn't do anything. The throne room becomes fully Bandit Terrain - there is no going out that way. Anto tries to trap the Shadow in the spirit bottle - the demon loses his next action, but the bottle explodes.
Yoshi spends seven karma and glows with sparkly light, hitting all three poisoned people with chi healing, curing their poison.
- "You people are really starting to annoy me." -Shadow-demon
The Shadow disappears, and reappears in the throne room with the bandits.
- "Um. If one of them accepts the mantle, is there anything else we can do?" -??
- "Don't answer questions like that." -Kasumi
- "Kill him again." -Wei Han
Xian attempts a bluff with Hirasoto, but the ninja does not appear to have a better solution.
- "Tell me a different way to destroy the demon, or I'm taking his offer right now." -Xian
- "Accept his offer, and you will save the lives of your friends, but the demon will not be destroyed. Accept your deaths, and I will finish this." -Hirasoto
Wei Han shouts through the ice wall at the bandits.
- "If you accept that offer, you're going to die. A sergeant of the Dragon Army with a small force did all of this. The rest of the army on its way is going to kill you if you don't leave now."
Unfortunately, with only two successes, and given that the intimidator is hiding on the other side of a wall, the bandits are insufficiently frightened.
- " I will not allow you and your friends to die for my vengeance." -Reiko, to Yoshi
- "What point do you wish to make from this? There are larger things than the Shadow, and we have all accepted the cost." -Cai Wen
- "We're not dying for your vengeance, we're dying for our cause." -Yoshi
Discussion continues all over the map.
- "Very well, accept my mantle, and you can teleport your men inside and finish them." -the Shadow to a bandit
- "Your cause is your code. Stand to it and you do yourself honor. My code is different." -Hirasoto to Xian
Reiko gives in, and takes the Shadow's deal.
- "The battle cannot be won this way. The only victory we can hope to achieve here is the lives of you and your friends." -Reiko to Yoshi
- "I accept your offer!" -Reiko to the Shadow
- "Noooooooooo!" -Yoshi
- "Live, and fight another day." -Reiko
The castle goes dark, and fills with shadows; the last thing Xian sees is Hirasoto, shaking his head sadly. Then, the shadows clear, and everyone is back in the woods (including Hirasoto and Hawk, but not Bao, who had been sneaking back in amongst the other bandits).
Hirasoto bows to the party, and declares that his task is not yet fulfilled. He turns, and begins to walk into the woods.
- "Wait, what is your task?" -Wei Han
- "The end of the Shadow. It cannot be done by me alone. It apparently also cannot be done by those unwilling to make the sacrifice."
- "Why is the sacrifice required?" -Anto
- "The sacrifice is not strictly required, it just turned out to be necessary in this case, and it often tends to be necessary. The only thing that is required is the requirement that the righteous do not give in to his offer."
It appears to Hirasoto that each of the party stood to their own code; it is only in a violation of one's code that one's honor is lost. He turns, and begins to walk into the woods.
- "Wait, how do I destroy the demon?" -Xian
- "The demon can only be destroyed during the light of day, and only by one who can pierce its flesh after it has been refused. Maybe the little one can do it someday. But until you understand how to hit things that cannot be hit, it is hard to explain."
- "And... the demon influences, and provides power. But it does not control."
Hirasoto also notes that while the death of the host is necessary for the destruction of the demon, death is not necessarily the end. He glances at Hiro there, and then finally manages to head into the woods without being stopped.
Yoshi declares that he can't leave Reiko in there alone with the demon - he has to go back.
- "The demon is likely to be hostile; Reiko isn't all that friendly herself." -Xian
Now, it is time for Hawk to leave as well.
- "The loss of your friend is regrettable but necessary. Take solace that the plan continues." -Lord Hawk
Nobody has questions to ask him, so he heads off without being stopped. When Yoshi gets back to the bandit valley, the fortress appears to be
on fire encased in a huge amount of ice, now the second of the Great Ice Castles of the Empire. The bandits are beginning to disperse, but Yoshi manages to give them a speech as they go, crushing illuminating their spirits in strengthened by his anguish over Reiko.
- Hiro and Lijuan go looking for Jib-Jib.
- Anto visits some other kusarigama fighters near Stone Drum.
- Wei Han sends in a report about the encounter with the bandit army to several Dragon Army commanders.
- Wei Han heads back to Stone Drum to look for Inspector Fu.
- Wei Han and Takanata head south to the City of Spires in search of a Taiga bureaucrat.