Against the North!
|""|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Magpie in the Month of the Crane in the eleventh Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in and near the Lost Territory
The run begins with a possible snide message from the Obsidian Warlord being delivered to Tahiti. Basically it summarizes as, “Thanks for your ‘help’ in the Lost Territory, I’ll take it from here.” People grumble about that a little, but don’t immediately decide to rush off to the west to seize control.
Merit discovers Sei-Lin wandering around Tahiti pestering people about going to the Dragon's Throne, and is appalled. Who is this guy and why is he here? "Oh, he's a master thief that the King of the Savanna sent us" does not prove reassuring, nor does "but he pinky-swore!". However, the fact that the Butterfly Talisman thumped to the bargain of "you don't kill me and I don't tell anyone your secrets" mollifies Merit a little.
Wei Han reports on the current state of the North - the incursion area on our side of the Wall is Northern, but the Wall itself is still part of the Empire. The Wall hasn't been breached (yet), though the Northerners are enthusiastically trying.
Po arrives at the front gates of Tahiti, looking for Master Zhou. He has been sent to let Master Zhou know that Quan Lo and Kar Fai will be on the field of battle in two days, and that Master Zhou is also expected to be there.
- "Did they request my presence or just inform me?" -Master Zhou
- "I, ah, am not really qualified to evaluate whether something is a request or a demand or an invitation. I was just sent to make sure that Master Zhou wasn't late." -Po
Wei Han guesses that the field of battle would be near Base Watch Hill, which is about two days' travel for anyone except Cai Wen, who doesn't know where the Steppes are. The Little Carriage can get part of the group there faster - perhaps the carriage should detour by the Dragon's Throne to talk to Autumn Rose and have Cai Wen do her a favor in order to get his map sense of the area back.
Wei Han heads off to Base Watch Hill along the Wall to get there early. He meets with Commander Hsiao, who is a bit standoffish. He knows that the Obsidian Warlord has distributed a list of people essentially barred from the battle zone. He’s not yet had a chance to look at the list, but is likely to do so soon. He instructs Wei Han to go talk to Fa Mulan and asks her to give him whatever he needs. He’ll be busy looking over the list of proscribed people after Wei Han leaves, though, so he probably shouldn’t come back and bother the commander further. So, Wei Han and Sergeant Fa Mulan become liaisons for "various people" (the party) and the Dragon Army.
Xiao Fa, Cai Wen, and Min Feng head to the Dragon's Throne in Kuan-Xi's carriage on horses with courier horseshoes (the horses to be left in the Dragon's Throne when the group is later picked up by the Little Carriage).
Cai Wen tries to find out about Willow, but all he can discover in the Silver District is that he's not authorized for that information. Okay, maybe rescuing Willow won't be done as a casual drive-by - that plot is tabled for later.
Alas, finding Autumn Rose is also unsuccessful. Asking around after her does find some of her usual haunts, but she is away with her father at the front against the North.
Finally, Min Feng sends a covert message to Precious Jade that she is in the city and wishes to meet. Not long after, a carriage arrives, accompanied by a group of Jade Guards, looking around in puzzlement (as Min Feng is very well disguised). A nearby hooded figure starts coughing meaningfully just as Min Feng looks ready to head for the carriage, so she detours there first. It is the Blue Dragon, who says that it was wise of her to summon him (she did so in puttering) before she confronted Precious Jade in her lair. He would be happy to accompany her. Min Fing insists on bringing Xiao Fa and Cai Wen as well, "to keep them safe". The guards are non-plussed, but allows the men to head into the Jade District and stay in a closely guarded lounge while Min Feng continues to the meeting with Precious Jade. The Blue Dragon urges her to keep up her self-confidence, and not let Precious Jade talk her into anything untoward. And then, the three are left behind in the lounge, where Cai Wen glares at the Blue Dragon with as much of a frown as he can manage.
- "This is an interesting time to be pressing this claim. Is it related to the war? Will you require assistance?" -Blue Dragon
- "I'd answer you except for the glare." -Xiao Fa
On the other side of the door, Precious Jade greets Min Feng.
- "It's so good to see... oh. I see. Well, that makes a lot more sense." -Precious Jade
- "I vastly misinterpreted a piece of information I acquired, and I don't know how this happened." -Min Feng
- "How terrible! You poor thing! Well, I'm sure we can fix it!" -Precious Jade
Precious Jade offers all the assistance she has to set Min Feng free of the burden she has inadvertently acquired.
- "Once there is an Emperor, I think that it would not fit well with your current lifestyle." -Precious Jade
Min Feng hedges, neither confirming that she wants to remain Imperial Consort nor agreeing that she wants to stop being it. She wonders if Precious Jade had been planning to make someone else Consort? Precious Jade had not, but now that Min Feng has suggested it, that could also certainly be arranged. Well, no, Min Feng isn't suggesting it, she just thinks that there might need to be an Emperor, and might need to be an Imperial Consort... Precious Jade notes that there are a lot of people looking for the Imperial Consort right now - is that something that Min Feng wants to deal with? Min Feng thinks that Precious Jade doesn't need to waste the resources in trying to de-consort her.
- "I thought you would be pleased that it was someone that you already had a relationship with." -Min Feng
- "I thought that you would not find the lifestyle... convenient." -Precious Jade
Min Feng begins to sense that Precious Jade is actually uncomfortable in the conversation, which is a rare thing, and that she thinks the conversation is in some way dangerous, but Min Feng can't read her nearly well enough to know how or why.
- "Have you committed to making someone else the Imperial Consort? Are you in a personal bind?" -Min Feng
- "No, I wouldn’t say that." -Precious Jade
Precious Jade suggests that Min Feng take some time to consider how she actually wants to proceed, and then the two of them can arrange things, and Min Feng suspects that she is trying to put an end to the conversation, again, for somewhat unclear reasons.
Min Feng asks on an unrelated topic - her friend has a friend named Willow, who is in some sort of bureaucratic trap and is unable to leave the city. Precious Jade is sure that she could do something about that, given a bit of time, if it is something Min Feng is interested in having done. Min Feng allows as she is sure that the guests outside in the library would appreciate it, at least. Precious Jade will see what she can do, and Min Feng finally takes her leave. The group heads back out to meet Kuan-Xi's carriage, and the Blue Dragon says he will no doubt see them later.
Back at Base Watch Hill, Mulan and Wei Han continue to confer. The Bear Mountain masters will need to know where on the battlefield they need to go - Quan Lo will be conferring with the Imperial Cartographer about that - and they will need permission to enter into the Lost Territory. Master Zhou is permitted to bring his retainers, as long as he doesn't bring anyone on the proscribed list. Wei Han assures the Commander that they would of course not bring anyone that they know to be on the list, and then ducks out before anyone has a chance to show him the list.
The rest of the party arrives, though Cai Wen passes out when the carriage enters the Steppes. Merit makes sure everyone is disguised as a martial arts student of Master Zhou's, except a few conscientious objectors who are disguised as healers tending to Cai Wen.
Mulan has to show up to a rehearsal, which most of the party watches. There is a fake battle against Northerners, in which Mulan defeats a giant two-person puppet of the Beastmaster of Men. Wei Han is appalled at her having to be a performer, and that she isn't much of a singer, though Master Deng notes that a lot of the onlookers do seem to be fans of hers.
There is a commotion up the road from Bear Mountain, where a processional has begun to arrives. There are a pair of monks dressed in green, and then another pair, and then another pair, and then four monks bearing a green palanquin, and then three more pairs of monks in green. Wei Han goes to the carriage to ask Quan Lo where Master Zhou should be meeting him, and Quan Lo’s monks answer that they may confer after the evening's performance.
The party does a lot of worrying about Mulan, and her ignominious fate of having to perform. (It is probably a good thing that the Ringmaster is unconscious for how appalled everyone is about this.) The group begins to put a plan together to wrest her from the clutches of her manager, until Yanyu checks her birthday and reads her horoscope:
- She wants to be a fighter. She needs to be a hero - no, strike that. What is needed is for her to be a hero. First she was painted as a hero; now she poses as a hero. That is actually the path to being a hero, but it comes by going all the way through the role and out the other side, rather than simply ducking out of it to do something she enjoys better. Of course, she could certainly pursue the path of ducking out and doing something else like being a plain fighter, and she might be happier that way...
Yanyu spends a yang to strengthen the "become an actual hero part of the horoscope
The group persuades Mulan that instead of trying to act in the fight (which she isn't very good at), she have an actual fight with someone, and they volunteer Master Deng.
- "Don't riposte!" -Everyone
The manager is kind of dubious about this idea, but does admit if they don't have to use her fame to counteract the bad acting, they can use it to better purpose elsewhere, like increasing troop morale. Mulan is persuaded to use an actual army sword rather than the almost mystic Sword of her Father, and better (if less impressive) armor.
When the time for the performance comes, the audience consists of soldiers, townsfolk from Base Watch Hill, a green palanquin, and a woman in a hood with a gold braid. When the time comes to fight the puppet of the Beastmaster, he calls out his "elite guard", Deng, who easily parries Mulan's attacks. This is not necessarily the way the plot should go, so he finally skips a parry so she hits him, and draws blood. He fakes falling down (so now Mulan's lack of acting has been replaced by Deng's lack of acting, but the party doesn't seem to find that nearly as appalling). The manager panics upon seeing the actual blood, but Merit reassures him it's all pretend.
Finally, Mulan calls upon the audience:
- "It takes us all to man the Wall! Come fight with me - Against the North!" -Mulan
Everyone watching gets eight bonus fortune dice.
The hooded woman proves to be Ting Ting, and she stomps off in disgust at the nonsense. Master Zhou follows her to Quan Lo's tent, followed by Sei-Lin. Ting Ting is complaining to Quan Lo about these "supposed heroes", doing who knows what. Master Zhou wants to know where Kar Fai is, but he is apparently dealing with "more serious problems"; he will arrive when he is needed.
Quan Lo explains: the Cartogramancer will be doing a ritual in concert with the Bear Mountain masters. The chi ritual requires three rolls every drift in Yin, Yang, and Chi, while the more sorcerous ritual requires elemental rolls. People can swap in and out, as long as there is someone there to make the rolls in drift. The purpose of the rituals is to retake the "Northern" ground, and suppress the mind control effects. There are also portable Walls, which will be moved forward until they reach the real Northern Wall.
- "Does balance matter between the elements?" -Master Zhou
- "Balance always matters"" -Quan Lo
- "But not really in this case." -Ting Ting
Does Quan Lo think that Su Song intends to shape the working in a way beneficial to Spider? Quan Lo thinks that seems probable. But he also assumes the party will attempt to shape the working similarly.
A message arrives that the Su Song’s party was attacked on the road, and the sorcerers he was to bring for his portion of the ritual are either slain, injured, or fled. He’s currently off searching the army for backup apprentice sorcerers.
Merit and Sei-Lin head down the road, looking for where the attack on the sorcerers was supposed to have happened. There was definitely some elemental sorcery going on - there are scorch marks and walls in the middle of the road. They also note a fair bit of kung fu was used against the sorcerers, and it looks like it was of Master Zhou’s teaching. Well, that seems to point to Tai Leung, and nobody particularly wants to encounter him themselves without the rest of the party, so they don't continue to chase the mysterious attackers.
Well, there are other sorcerers who might be able to be recruited to do the rituals. Merit and Shen-Ji head to the Arcade, where they pound on the door of Eternal Redoubt, and persuade him to help in the battle against the North. Su Song has also apparently found some apprentice sorcerers, though they may not be sufficient to the task.
Merit's final concern is that the Dragon Army forces seem a little thin in the area near the ritual - is it a betrayal? Asking around, it seems more likely that the troops are being used to fight the Northern troops, and the Bear Mountain masters are assumed to be competent to protect themselves.
Soon enough, morning comes, and battle is joined. Sei-Lin is given strict instructions to not mess with the Cartogramancer - if Sei-Lin steals a Talisman from him, he is likely to fall over, and that will be VERY BAD.
Everyone acquits themselves bravely - a few points of interest follow, but many more were not written down.
- Kuan-Xi persuades Anto to come and help.
- New interesting villains appear every drift. Allies can be summoned with points gained from defeating villains; alternately, "Dynasty" cards can be drawn by someone who defeats a villain.
- Mammoth riders appear; Shen-Ji memorizes the Control Mammoth spell from watching a beastmaster use it and catches a mammoth for himself. (It dies gloriously in battle.)
- Master Zhou punches Merit's guys into the heart of combat, much to Merit's consternation - they aren't being paid to just get killed.
- The Cartogramancer moves people around the map as he thinks best. Sometimes he's mistaken, such as when Kasumi is running away to get back into hiding.
- The Beastmaster of Men (calling himself the Great Khan, which Xian particularly notices) calls on everyone to serve him. Several people have to take a round to attack a teammate; others are farther gone. Master Deng starts trying to kill Mulan, and her sword turns on him when he disarms her. Su Song does his best to separate them in opposite corners of the map, but Deng can run pretty fast when he tries.
- "He's going to kill himself on my father's sword!" -Mulan
- "Then you'll have to marry him!" -Master Zhou
- "WHAT?" -Mulan
- "We have lost track of the plot of this combat..."
- Various sections of the map are spawning horrible creatures, horrible undead, and horrible battle masters. Unfortunately, pushing the Empire boundary farther forward just uncovers more of them - Merit eventually figures out that there are buried items spawning the trouble, and calls on his guys to start digging them up.
- Xiao Fa finally cures Deng of having to kill Mulan, and receives a Dynasty card for his trouble.
- "Okay, I'm going to deal with this. But if you fail a roll while I'm gone, I'm killing you." -Ting Ting
- "<rolls eyes>" -Quan Lo
- Several demons of Toro show up, and break a hole between the Empire and the North. Before they can do anything terrible with the hole, Anto leaps over to close it again.
- Min Feng summons the levies from Lord Yu that are in the Dragon Army.
Due to the lateness of the evening and difficulties with the room reservation, the final portion of the battle goes into summary mode. The Obsidian Warlord never shows up, nor does the Beastmaster of Men. (Both of them, along with Kar Fai, are off elsewhere in the fighting; this was but one small part). The ritual is successful, and the Northern incursion driven back over the Wall.
Xiao Fa has earned three points towards Support of the Army (from the Dynasty cards), and Wei Han has earned two.==Puttering==