|"By viewing the old, we learn the new"|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tortoise in the Month of the Fox in the tenth Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Tanzhe Plain
The party is in the Tea Tent in the Tanzhe Plain HQ, when Lijuan draws some art.
A soldier in uniform runs up, asking if anyone has seen Governor Xiao Fa? As no one has, he starts to run off again, but Cai Wen wants to know who he is and what he needs. He says he is Lieutenant Ming of the Dragon's Fang, and there is a report of banditry in Sector 3. Cai Wen starts gathering people up to investigate, and Lieutenant Ming says that the Governor wanted to have peaceful suppression of banditry. Cai Wen finds that a little odd, and asks around - are there orders from Xiao Fa saying this? Multiple people in the "Dragon's Fang" seem to claim this, but nobody else has heard it.
The group heads up to the bandit site, where they meet Sergeant Fushen of the Tanzhe Irregulars.
- "Not the Dragon's Fang?" -Kuan-Xi
- "Oh, is that what we're going with? I thought it was the Tanzhe Irregulars." -Sgt Fushen
There is an unconscious merchant, and an empty cart. The sergeant has thus far concluded that bandits have attacked the merchant and taken his stuff.
Cai Wen is very suspicious - Lijuan's art has some loot on the ground, and a bone. Where is the bone? Lijuan ignores the artistic quibbling, and casts about for tracks. It appears that the cart was coming from the main part of the Arcade in the northeast, when bandits came out of the tall grass and battle ensued. The bandits were masters, so the merchants were soon overcome, and then the bandits ran off to the northwest.
Those with first aid wake up the unconscious merchant - he says that he was traveling with two companions, and they were carrying food and other supplies to Leaves in Spring, to aid in the rebuilding. Cai Wen wants to know a detailed inventory of the supplies - several casks of nails, for example. This all seems suspicious - Lijuan is not sure why bandits would steal nails instead of buying them. Others think that stealing nails is hardly worthwhile, though the merchant certainly disagrees. Lijuan also notes that the other two companions are not here - they seem to have gone with the bandits, either willingly or not. The tracks themselves are silent as to whether the companions were in on it or captured. The caravan master says he will go complain to the Governor about Lord Zhen's banditry, and the party sends him off to go do that.
Takanata arrives, having finished his own painting, and shows it to the group.
The picture on the left is Lijuan's art, but while the picture on the right is very similar, it has the party from Caravans instead, as well as seeming to be a reflection. So maybe mirrors or mirror demons are involved? People quickly skim the Caravans log, and vow to not repeat the mistakes of the past, whatever they were.
The bandit tracks go off to the northwest; there are two columns of smoke rising in the air, one in the same northwest direction and one off to the northeast. The group heads to the northwest smoke, and finds a small hovel made of sticks, that appears to have been burnt. A woman inside shouts to stay away - she has a sword! The party persuades her that they aren't the bad guys, though she is still cautious about saying anything - she was a witness, and they said if she told anyone, they'd come back and kill her.
Kuan-Xi says that the Governor sent them to help - here's 5 li to help her rebuild her house - and asks if she can tell them any more. The money reassures her, and she says that a party of armed men rode by, and one shouted to another that she would warn people that they had escaped back to Lord Zhen, and to burn her house. And, if she told anyone, they would come back and burn her.
Cai Wen assures her that justice will be done, in the name of the Governor.
The What of What?
Rather than follow the bandits further, the group heads to the other pillar of smoke, where there is a man carefully throwing straw on a fire to make it smoke. He is dressed in a hooded cloak and carries a heavy staff, and Cai Wen thinks there is something of the Arbiter about him. He introduces himself:
- "I am the Advocate. I wish to be escorted to the Conference. I did not wish to cross your lands unannounced."
In particular, there is a meeting of the... alternative commerce interests... in the area, which will be taking place in the Tanzhe tomorrow. Happily, the Master of the White Pagoda has guaranteed the security of the proceedings. The Advocate himself is here on behalf of the Circle of Spite and the League of the Hidden Hand. Interesting - does he represent all of their interests in all things? How does that work, since they are generally competitors? He clarifies that he represents their joint interests in this venture.
The party agrees to escort him to the center of the Tanzhe (where the meeting is to be), but Cai Wen notes that there is likely to be exuberant interference in the meeting, unless there is some discussion of the matters in question first.
- "Nice little conference you have here. A shame if anything were to happen to it." -Everyone
Those that the Advocate speaks for, wish to secure control of the Tanzhe's criminal commercial endeavors on behalf of the eastern powers. People are still confused about why he is using the Shadow-type shticks - is he working with the Shadow? He explains that the Arbiter worked for the Shadow, but since the fall of the Shadow Castle, the new masters of that place have not seen fit to replace him. But where there is a void, it is filled regardless, so the Advocate has arisen to fill that space. (Cai Wen notes that he pulls off the Shadowy Figure shtick pretty well, though he is possibly not at the level of the late Arbiter).
Master Zhou finally wakes up, and gets up to speed on the bandit meeting that he has volunteered to provide security for. Of course, he has done no such thing, and is rather put out that anyone would believe he had.
- "Why does anyone believe that I do anything?" -Master Zhou
He introduces himself to the Advocate, and points out that he has made no guarantee of safety. Where did the Advocate hear this? Both the Circle of Spite and the League of the Hidden Hand understood this to be true, but he does not know who told them.
He believes that Bao, Queen of Bandits, and the masters of the Shadow Castle are also attending the meeting. Perhaps others as well.
Master Zhou looks at Lijuan's art - those armies up on the mountains might be country-level armies, or they might be bandit armies. Bandit armies aren't usually in direct open warfare with each other in the same way that country armies are, but in either case it would be bad to be the battleground.
Just in case, Takanata checks if Lord Du is around. He is not.
The group heads back in the direction that the bandit trail went - the tracks peter out in Zhen lands, so the party goes to talk to House Zhen. Cai Wen explains that they are on the trail of bandits who passed through this area, and they wish to ask some questions about whether House Zhen knows anything about this.
The House Zhen guards are offended, and insist that if Cai Wen has any evidence of his accusations, he should take them to the Warlord. In either case,, begone! Cai Wen tries to clarify - he thinks House Zhen is being framed for banditry, but the best way to be sure is to speak to the higher-up lords of the house.
A Zhen noblewoman (not the head of house, but a cousin) comes to speak to Cai Wen, but she is also not particularly helpful. She denies any involvement in banditry. Cai Wen agrees that House Zhen wasn't involved in the banditry. Well, then, why is Cai Wen here? So that he can discuss the banditry that House Zhen of course has nothing to do with. She is not persuaded of the usefulness of the conversation, and party members start muttering darkly to each other about how this particular House Zhen person is clearly an idiot.
Cai Wen attempts to steer the conversation in more helpful directions - are there any enemies she can think of who might have wanted to frame House Zhen for banditry? She sneers - obviously House Sung and House Foon are both plausible contenders as House Zhen's enemies. Well, how about if the bandits came through Zhen lands and kept going - where would they end up? That would be Siew Keep. Well, her suggestions are of no use at all in the investigation, and the lady herself does not seem to be interested in actually contributing helpful clues, so the group takes their leave again, complaining about how House Zhen totally deserves to be framed for banditry.
Still, they should go talk to Lord Siew to see if he noticed anything.
- "Can we bring Zhuai?" -Lijuan
On reaching Siew Keep (or Foon Keep, depending), Yanyu heads off for the stable to find Fin, the orphan who Xiao Fa told her to go investigate.
Everyone else talks to Zhuai, who has several thoughts.
- The prophetic art says there's parallels or mirrors or inversions or something, with the Caravans run. But what happened then? For example, how many caravans were attacked? No one really remembers, but Zhuai has read the logs, so he answers his own question: three. Maybe there were three attacks this time as well. Perhaps there are more clues at the other attack sites.
- To put it politely, it is common knowledge in the near countries that any time the House of Exuberant Interference talks about bandits, they're about to do something crazy. So House Zhen is probably bracing for an invasion, and their rudeness is perhaps to be interpreted in this light.
- Perhaps whoever put the party on this path is counting on the historical precedents.
- "So the question you have to ask is: do you believe House Zhen is involved, and do you believe that the clues were clumsily dropped, or that someone pretended to drop clues clumsily in order that they be disregarded? Because if the perpetrators are that clumsy, we have one suspect pool. If they were pretending to be that clumsy, we have a different suspect pool." -Zhuai
(This leads to some confusion, as "the perpetrators weren't trying to drop clues at all, they just thought 'we are going to burn your house down so that you don't tell anyone that we are going to House Zhen' was a normal thing to say" isn't actually one of the options, it's one level below clumsy. But Zhuai obviously doesn't think this is the case, and neither does anyone else.)
Anyhow, Takanata thinks that this points to Tai Lung, who is both a master and clumsy.
Cai Wen asks the Advocate (who has been wandering along with the party, as they said they would escort him to the middle of the Tanzhe where the meeting is, and they still haven't gone there) if Tai Lung is coming. The Advocate is offended at the mere suggestion! Cai Wen dares speak that name before the Advocate of the Hidden Hand? Tai Lung would not dare attend! People suggest that Tai Lung doesn't seem to have issues with daring per se.
Lijuan goes off to nap, to see if Kibo can ask the Spirit of the Forest where the bandits are. He is clearly alarmed at the idea of bothering the Forest, but she talks him into it. Then, she is woken up before he can return, by Yanyu and the young orphan Fin. Fin really doesn't want to go home, but Yanyu has told him that he has to go back to visit. He wants to know if Lijuan says he has to. She says he does.
Takanata leads the group back to the Tanzhe to wander about randomly (but auspiciously) to see if any other bandits are encountered. Sure enough, the party is surrounded by bandits, who demand that their leader be sent forth to surrender. Cai Wen gives a quick brush to his hair and heads out to be captured, trying out Lucky Chang's "hands of peace" to see if they work for him. They do, and Bao, the bandit queen, takes Cai Wen off for more capturing.
Everyone else wanders around further, until a House of Exuberant Interference messenger finds them - Corporal Rider, from the Glorious Brigade. Bandits took a caravan just outside of Buzhen Port. The party heads there, where they learn that the banditing is being investigated by the "Special Anti-Bandit Patrol", led by Johnny Tong.
Well, that's very confusing. Johnny says he's representing the Shadow Castle at the Bandit Conference. The Shadow Castle turns out to have a lot of Bandit Reputation, but they're the anti-bandit bandits. Johnny plans to make some bargains with Bao - though he is cagy about what - and when they arrived they heard about the bandits and kind of leapt in on general principles.
The evidence indicates that a small force of bandits sacked a caravan, and then hopped on a boat and sailed downriver. The boat was the River Gold, a trading barge owned by Clan Sonwu.
Takanata asks the Jasmine if the River Gold is still afloat, and she takes him to the bank where it has gone to shore - it's empty with no bandits in it. Takanata builds a fire and throws straw in it, to summon everyone else. Kuan-Xi hops over first, and everyone else has to take a boat of their own. The tracks from the boat head inland, towards Sonwu lands, and then peter out.
Kuan-Xi and Shen-Ji think that there was some sort of weirdness going on where the tracks end - whatever it is is fading now, and it definitely wasn't sorcerous. It's... sort of like worldwalking without leaving the world?
Xiao Fa adds his expertise with chi to the analysis, and thinks that it sounds like a chi nexus sort of thing - like Master Changling's healing nexus, or the thing that the Obsidian Warlord did when he was waiting to show up where he was needed.
Meanwhile, Bao "questions" Cai Wen, and they chat. Cai Wen was surprised to hear that the Tanzhe was holding a "bandit conference", and Bao says she was surprised too - she didn't think they had it in them. No, Cai Wen explains - he actually was surprised. They didn't know about it. So... Master Zhou just sprang it on them? No, Master Zhou was just as surprised. Someone seems to have set this up rather mysteriously. Bao is disappointed to hear that Master Zhou is reneging on his promises of safety - that is not going to be good for his reputation.
Cai Wen expects that everything is going to turn into a big mess. Bao suspects that means Yoshi is behind it - he tends to like messes for bandits. Cai Wen is less sure - he meant the "massacre" sort of mess, and Yoshi doesn't like those so well. Oh, well, if he means massacres, that's probably the Circle of Spite. Cai Wen mentions the Advocate (or would-be Advocate) - Bao is not sure that's the sort of position you can just step into. Normally it involves dark powers.
Anyhow, if Master Zhou isn't going to be guaranteeing her safety, then she's going to bring her guys to the meeting too, armed for bear. She agrees to not start trouble, but she doesn't want to finish last if trouble starts. She also thinks that nobody else is likely to show up unarmed once word gets out that Master Zhou has stopped guaranteeing anyone's safety.
Cai Wen notes that this seems to be leading to a lose-lose situation, where Master Zhou gets all the blame for any massacres that happen, or gets all the blame for backing out of a deal. This seems a little subtle for Tai Lung, but maybe someone helped him.
Over in the Sonwu lands, Takanata looks through Echoes of the Past where the trail fades out - and sees the Dark Pagoda - the bandits run into it, and then it vanishes back into the chi.
Lijuan notes that Tai Lung's pagoda is cooler than Master Zhou's, and Master Zhou glares at her.
The party heads back to Buzhen Port, and briefs Johnny Tong. He whistles - Tai Lung is going to be in trouble with Master Zhou. Or is freelance banditry is okay?
- "Yoshi wouldn't approve." -Lijuan
- "Well, not us." -Johnny Tong
Yoshi has been spreading the word that Tai Lung is not a legitimate bandit - maybe he's going to show up just to cause trouble.
- "Who called this meeting?" -Master Zhou
- "You did...?" -Johnny Tong
- "I need to change all the security protocols..." -Master Zhou
Johnny heard from Reiko, so like the Advocate, he doesn't know where the rumor started. Anyway, the thing that he wants to do here is talk to Bao about putting a moratorium on banditing refugees leaving war zones, and in exchange there might be a little less anti-bandit pressure from the Secret Swords.
- "Let it be known throughout the land that any time the White Pagoda says it's doing something, it is lying!" -Master Zhou
Takanata summons a vision of Johnny's future but declines to discuss the specifics with anyone. He says it is interesting, but far enough in the future that Johnny is not obviously destined to be massacred immediately following. (It was something about an old Johnny with greying hair commanding armies from the walls of Shadow Castle.)
Yanyu offers to bring her husband in order to help kill Tai Lung if he shows up. The prevalence of other bandits who shouldn't be killed might be an issue, but if Lijuan can keep Kawaii under control, Yanyu can probably keep the Son of the Moon on target.
Then, a dramatic shadow falls across the dock, from a guy standing on top of a nearby hill, in front of the setting sun. It is, of course, Po. He leaps down to bow in front of Master Zhou, panting and out of breath.
- "Master Zhou! Bandits! Attacking! A whole battalion of the house of the stabby guys!" -Po
When Po can catch his breath, he notes that he was surprised that Master Zhou didn't invite him earlier, but he only just heard, so he came as quickly as he could.
- "Nobody ever thinks Quan Lo would set up bandit conferences..." -Master Zhou
Po leads the group back up to the no-longer-existing border with the Arcade, where there is a camp of the House of Gainful Protection. See - it's the bandits! But there were too many of them for Po to beat all by himself, so he went to find Master Zhou to get help.
So... how did Po find these "bandits"? He says that he chased them from the caravan they attacked, and they led him here. When pressed, he admits that they ran faster than he did, and they had just gotten out of sight before the Gainful Protection camp.
The bandits he was chasing definitely had kung fu, though. Fung doesn’t have that much kung fu. Wait, who is Fung? Fung is a bandit and enemy of travelers and merchants throughout Bear Mountain, and Po's arch nemesis.
- "When did you get an arch nemesis?" -Master Zhou
- "...Recently." -Po
- "I have not authorized this arch-nemesis. Where is he now?"
- "He's in jail! He was sulking that he wasn't invited to the bandit meeting you called."
- "By "jail" do you mean the basement of the White Pagoda?"
- "No! I mean actual jail! Where he was actually banditing!"
Master Zhou is baffled by this idea that Po has been having plots, especially successful ones.
Everyone else leaves Master Zhou to interrogate Po about whether Fung is a worthy arch-nemesis, and investigates the bandit tracks, which in fact trail off at a similar fading echo of a chi nexus.
- "So... sending bandits towards people that we would normally blame for banditry is way subtler than Tai Lung usually is." -Takanata
Takanata briefs Johnny Tong, Cai Wen briefs Bao, and Master Zhou talks to the Advocate. The whole briefing seems to be: "Tai Lung is up to something nefarious and is trying to get people to fight and is probably going to attack but you shouldn't bring bodyguards because then fighting is more likely to start". Everyone is pretty certain that if Tai Lung is going to attack them, they want bodyguards. Unless Master Zhou is guaranteeing their safety. Grudgingly, he admits that he is. So they agree to have their bodyguards on ambush-summonable hair triggers, but not actually at the meeting.
Yin-Xiang arrives to help - he says he'll fight Tai Lung or Tai Lung's guys or anyone who threatens Yanyu or her child or her friends. That has a bit of mission creep, but it's probably okay.
The three "bandit representatives" show up, and ask the party to vacate their meeting tent. Most of them do. Takanata wanders around with a bouquet of flowers, preventing any combat from breaking out, including when the Black Pagoda shows up and the black monks pile out.
- "Tai Lung's gentlemen are here. Please do not panic." -Takanata, heading into the bandit tent
Yanyu puts the blessing of the Phoenix on the combat, but it doesn't appear like anyone is really able to initiate combat. Master Zhou, thwarted, goes around to the back of the pagoda to punch it, debuting his Strike of the Bear to do significant structural damage and put a hole in the wall.
- "Tai Lung, this abomination will not stand!"
Since they can't start combat either, but causing trouble for buildings is okay, the black monks start pouring suspicious liquid on the outside of the meeting tent. Master Zhou shouts at Lijuan to go outside of Takanata's range to shoot them all, but she doesn't think starting the massacre herself is something Yoshi would approve of.
- "Followers of Tai Lung, you can feel the peace that Master Zhou has brought to this place. Go back into your pagoda and begone!" -Takanata
Kuan-Xi purifies water on the liquid on the tent, and manages to nullify some of it, but much of the rest of the tent starts to catch fire. Bao starts to talk about summoning her guys, but Cai Wen gets her to calm down again.
The monks start fleeting back into the Dark Pagoda as Master Zhou keeps punching holes in its structural integrity. Kuan-Xi puts the rest of the fire on the tent out, and Yanyu calls down Wrath of the Phoenix on the pagoda, which starts to burn merrily. The doors to the pagoda slam shut, but Shen-Ji destroys them with his Disintegrate Wood spell. Tai Lung, inside the pagoda, glares through the doorway at Shen-Ji, but does not have the spare action to slay him, and instead holds up a black stone key to get the pagoda to start vanishing while it still can.
Takanata throws the meeting tent flap open to point out Tai Lung, in case any of the bandits at the meeting were unclear on who was behind things at this point. The Black Pagoda finishes vanishing, and the bandits discuss the idea that Tai Lung be censured.
As a favor for having done all this saving, the bandits are willing to leave the Tanzhe bandit-free (or, at least free from the banditry of the Circle of Spite, the Hidden Hand, the Bandit Queen, and the Secret Swords (who are not actually bandits)) for the next while.
Master Zhou thinks about the effect he was encountering where the pagoda was resisting his strikes - he thinks the chi effect of the Dark Pagoda's senchi chamber is anti-Master-Zhou. So the damage he was causing was being backfilled by the senchi chamber's chi, Doors are repairable and fire can be put out, but the damage Master Zhou was doing was more serious; so the senchi chamber ameliorated it to keep the pagoda from collapsing, but the senchi chamber is probably underpowered now, and will be for a while.
The key that let Tai Lung "steer" the pagoda seems likely to have been the work of the Alchemist - it doesn't power the chi nexus itself, but it does direct it.
The bandits leave, bowing to Master Zhou and noting that they will recommend him to their friends for any future bandit conference needs.Takanata writes a bardic satire about Tai Lung trying to make an attack but being driven off by a bunch of flowers and people punching his building.