|"Go, ye heroes, go to glory,
Though you die in combat gory,
Ye shall live in song and story.
Go to immortality!"
| The run begins on the Day of the Late Magpie in the Month of the Monkey in the first Year of the Bear since the crowning of the Viridian Queen.|
The run takes place principally in the Strand
Shen-Ji briefs Shuyan and Lijuan on his intended mission: in order to change the Southern Wall to be more open, favors from the four relevant Dragon Army commanders (SouthEast, SouthWest, Construction, Highway) are needed, though the captain of the Bearers of Swift Response can substitute for one of the last two. Commander Sun (Southeast) and Commander Mushashi (Construction) have both been acquired, but two others are needed.
The group starts by heading to the Plains of Honor, where Lijuan asks some random urchins where various military commanders are. Urchins, even those in the Plains, are not very informed on military movements in other countries, but they do know that the Bearers of Swift Response are over near Nine Terraces in case there is a war with Bear Mountain.
Shen-Ji checks in with the Myeong clan, who locates Commander Teng, the Southwest commander, up near Iron Fortress. They confess to being a little disappointed that there wasn't a proper fight with the Forest of Chin, but think there might be some potential trouble that could be caused in the New Rivers area. Shen-Ji encourages them to run amok there, and gets a lecture from Lijuan about not starting wars for fun in random personal plots.
- "If I were allowed to do that, House Zhen would no longer be a problem." -Lijuan
The group hires a riverboat to take them to the bend in the Jasmine River, and then rides towards Nine Terraces. Once they reach the border between the Taiga and the Strand, they stop by one of the Healing Houses, where they get scrolls of what not to touch. All the people do a reasonable job of not stepping in anything too poisonous, but Shuyan's horse didn't read the scrolls and gets green-hoof from a misstep.
Nine Terraces is more decorated than it usually is - word on the street is that the group has just missed the Festival of Three Queens. Huh. That's not a seasonal festival - is that something new? It is apparently a competition between the three queens, all of whose identities are unknown. One was the Queen of Mystery, one was the Queen of Secrets, and one was the Queen of Night. Many cycles ago, there were actual fights between rival queens, after which one would rule, but that doesn't happen any more. Well, perhaps this was someone's renaming ritual. Or not-renaming ritual. Or some other ritual. In any event, it seems to be over now.
Lijuan asks the Whispering Network where the Bearers are - rumor has it that they are south of Nine Terraces, training their new recruits. When asked what secret she will tell the Whispering Network, she tells them that the Festival of Three Queens was the result of nefarious parties trying to influence the Strand. The rumormongers are dubious - that sounds like Lijuan is just making stuff up - but she sticks to her story.
Shen-Ji asks for more details about the festival, and learns that it was a close battle until the Queen of Mystery came in on the side of the Queen of Secrets causing the latter to win, also with the assistance of the monks of the ex-Ice Pagoda. So the Viridian Queen is secure on the throne. In return, he tells them about the contention for the throne in the Craneslake Heights.
Bearing Swift Response
The group heads through the Strand jungle to the southern camp, without getting too entangled in perilous foliage. Shen-Ji asks to talk to the commander.
- "I know what you're going to say, but our lives depend on the rules. You've probably come with something to offer, so make your offer, but if she's late, she's not getting in."
- "Um, I understand your position, but perhaps you could enlighten my companions?" -Shen-Ji
The commander explains: if Lu Chu does not arrive in the next hour and twelve minutes, then she doesn't pass her exam. But nobles have to offer their blandishments, so what does Shen-Ji offer? Shen-Ji's offer is that he wants to change the rules of the Southern Wall.
- "Imagine raids thundering down across the southern wall. Your troops swiftly striking at all times." -Shen-Ji
- "Someone's been talking to Commander Teng, I see. Yes, I can indeed imagine the thrill of being constantly in enemy territory."
Shen-Ji continues to wax rhapsodic about the joys of invading the South and getting their stuff, which the commander seems oddly unenthusiastic about. Eventually it becomes clear that he thinks it is a "moral hazard" but allows Shen-Ji to make his case anyway.
- "Teng and I have been over this several times, but make your persuasion roll."
- "Imagine the glorious battles!"
- "Look at it this way. You can tell the troops on the North Wall to go out and scout - they get information and come back. Nobody likes the North. They always come back. Nobody thinks 'Oh, I'm going to meet a nice necromancer family to bring home to meet my parents.' Look at the soldiers who came back recently - they came back with barbarian men and women! The South is full of blandishments!"
Lijuan notes that he's pretty set in his opinion - is there anything they can offer to change his mind? Well, he isn't one of those favor-traders, bending the rules in exchange for power.
- "We wouldn't be bending them, we'd be changing them." -Shen-Ji
- "That is exactly what I mean."
However, he is willing to consider the idea that he is being overly intransigent.
- "In some ways, this is a question of character. Is this man (Shen-Ji) someone I should put my trust in..."
- "No." -Lijuan, interrupting
Lijuan and Shuyan step in. The reason this is important is that the North Wall changed, and now the walls are unbalanced. The commander isn't sure why being different is such a big deal, and Lijuan and Shuyan aren't entirely sure themselves, but they assure him that their chi masters and sorcerers like Shen-Ji think that it is a big deal.
- "Tell me about Master Yang. I need to take his measure."
- "Um... could you take Shuyan's measure instead?" -Lijuan
- "Well, she doesn't seem as committed."
Casting about for more data, the commander asks about Shen-Ji's family. Shuyan and Lijuan assure him that they are very nice. And they were instrumental in uncovering an evil Southern plot, of a secret shrine in a cave.
Using Shen-Ji's sister-in-law as a stand-in for him, the commander sets a challenge. He notes that Lu Chu will have to return in time and answer truthfully whether she has received aid, so no cheating will be possible. Looking for clarification (and loopholes, the party determines that technically, this only means she has to believe she is telling the truth. The party assures the commander the Lu Chu is up to the task and accepts his challenge. Then, Shen-Ji wanders around the camp examining horses and being Obviously There (he finds a white-fetlocked horse that is likely a descendant of Horse), while Shuyan and Lijuan sneak into the jungle looking for Lu Chu.
They find her, trapped by a tree with huge leafy (and sticky) fronds. A number of the other fronds seem to have been pulled away by someone who has managed to escape, but Lu Chu hasn't gotten free yet. She seems to know more swear words than one would expect from someone of her age.
Shuyan and Lijuan contemplate a number of methods to get her free without her realizing it, and settle on using a Terrifying Snake to scare her free. Shuyan psychs up her snake and then sends it in to drop out of the tree onto her head. That is sufficient to give her another die of strength, and she pulls free to escape the snake, and runs screaming through the jungle. Unfortunately, she is not quite running towards the camp, so more snakes (and Ho) have to be deployed to scare her back towards the camp.
- "On the flip side, your stealth rolls don't seem as necessary now." -Mike
When Lijuan and Shuyan finally return to camp, Lu Chu has been welcomed back with the other recruits, and is deemed by the commander to have held up the honor of Shen-Ji's family; if Shen-Ji will agree to talk to Commander Teng and make sure the Bearers don't bear an overly large burden of the raids to the south, he will support their "balance the wall" plan.
Shen-Ji leaves a sarcastic note for Lu Chu and then the three head towards Bear Mountain.
- "Brothers are the most annoying things." -Adina
One more passage through the Strand jungle (Shen-Ji's horse steps in some nasty swamp slime, but it doesn't get on anyone), and the group arrives at the Iron Fortress, where they try to make an appointment with Commander Teng.
Lijuan pulls rank - she's the last heir of the Bear Emperors, and the matter they need to discuss is vital to the security of the Empire. Unfortunately, this isn't quite the right place to do that - Lijuan recalls Zhuai telling her that she should use her Forest rank in the east, and her Bear rank in the west, but not with the Dragon Army. For the Army, she should use a high ranking Bear Mountain noble or similar as an intermediary.
Shuyan tries her wiles on Commander Teng's schedule-keeper instead, and some flirting and subsequent entertainment ensue. The next morning, Commander Teng is declared curious to meet the Bear Pretender and an appointment is scheduled.
The group tries the general persuasive plan of "imbalance between the north and south walls", and Commander Teng is more receptive. However, he is also a political creature, and in exchange for his support, he wants some assistance of his own. Shen-Ji professes reluctance to dictate policy to the Dragon Army, but is willing to discuss what favors can be pulled for where.
After much haggling, and some more advice from Zhuai, the party burns a favor from "Nameless's patron" to arrange that if the Wall is changed, the Obsidian Warlord will appoint Commander Teng in charge of a raiding force, separate from the Bearers.That is four commanders on board with the plan, so Da-Xie can be persuaded to start the wall-changing ritual at any time. They party has had enough of the Dragon Army, so takes the water gate in Bear Mountain back to Tahiti for a well-deserved rest.