Council of Enemies
|"A lost road will remember your footsteps because someday you may want to return."|| The run begins in the late Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place principally in Daizhou
Shen-Ji announces that he has been reading Beastmaster Ze's notes, and has begun to have some insights into the matter: Beastmastery of Men springs from the understanding that men are only greater animals. Merit asks if he can read the notes, and Shen-Ji grudgingly agrees, as long as Merit promises to give them back again. Merit speed-reads them, and notes an apparent relation between corruption and sanity.
It is probably time to talk to the Magpie Prince, but, as always, people are concerned about the politics. (They don’t want to roll a seven yet.) Merit wonders whether something could be offered to Speedy to postpone the end of the week? Most of the low hanging fruit for bargains with Speedy have already been done (Shen-Ji has constructed a very nice garden of strange and exotic plants), but there's always spirit energy or house resources held down, etc.. Merit produces an easter egg which contains three karma for speed/time shticks; in exchange for the egg, Speedy will provide three pips which can be added or subtracted from any d6 rolled (usable by Merit or other House members).
Two couriers show up with deliveries for Merit - items that have been duplicated in the shop. One is a Monkey hat, which is clearly awesome to wear. Another is a soapstone soul clip, which is more ominous. Shen-Ji takes a look at the Monkey ring (the original of the Monkey hat), and thinks that it is something like a small weak amulet, without any power. Merit wonders why he didn't look at the monkey hat instead of the monkey ring - as the monkey hat is the actually new item, but Shen-Ji points out he was already wearing the hat, and thus couldn't see it.
Speaking of things to send to the shop, would it be bad to send the Amulet of Kali? It is a blue item card, so there might be side effects. Merit sends word that someone should come and get a briefing about the amulet before they experiment with it.
Then, it is off to the Secret Benevolent Headquarters. There is more security now than there was at the last visit. Weapons must be checked at the door. When people wonder why, the guards explained that there were some "incidents". Were they captured? Well, they were stopped. Two dead servants were found, at the same time that those servants were serving dinner. The people disguised as the servants were leapt upon, but they were not taken alive. The soups they were serving were not obviously poisoned, but perhaps they had not made it to their actual plan yet.
Apparently, the Secret Benevolent Headquarters is not so secret any longer, and henceforth it will be referred to as the Relatively Unknown Benevolent Headquarters. Merit asks the prince who they should talk to in order to be able to help with the matter. Could Shen-Ji help?
The prince's eyes go blue-and-blue, and he says 'YOU CANNOT ROLL A NUMBER THAT HIGH. When he snaps back out of his prophetic daze, he finds it odd that he didn't remember this one. Ever since his chi was strengthened, he has remembered the prophecies, but not this one.
The group retreats to the map room to discuss. Does this mean that rolling a thirteen would allow them to help with the infiltrators? The last time a 13 was rolled, it was to save the Prince's life. Interpret Omens suggests that it might not be a 13 specifically but anything higher than a 12. Was Merit's question related to the answer? Often the prophecies are not related to the questions. But this one seems different. It wasn't a mission, because they didn't roll the dice. But it was mission-y, because the Prince went through the standard prophetic trance. The tentative conclusion is that it was informational and related to the question, and related to die rolls, but that there was disagreement between the spirits the Prince was channeling - either about the answer, or whether Merit should receive it at all.
The group probably shouldn't ask him any more questions about that particular topic, but perhaps they could ask the butler.
Merit checks the Prince out medically - He does seem to be better at dealing with the prophecies, and the damage is being handled.
Time to roll the dice for real! The group toys with the idea of burning some of the pips from Speedy to get to a 13, but they roll a 9, which is a little out of range.
Disrupt the Council of Daizhou.
- "Shuyan will be so disappointed." -Yanyu
Before heading out, they decide to do a bit of investigation about the incursion. Butler shows them where the two servants' bodies were found. They were found by another servant, who really shouldn't have been looking in that cabinet in the first place - apparently he was planning to steal something, which means that he wasn't fired because he brought the assassination attempt to their notice, but he also wasn't promoted for doing so.
Shen-Ji looks around with detect magic. He thinks that several yellow items were used - probably Imperial rather than Northern, but it's hard to tell, because one of them was an item of some sort of concealment.
Nothing else seems to be immediately determined, so the group heads north to Daizhou.
Splitting the Party
Merit disguises himself as a Northerner, and rides Xian to the city, after leaving a piece of duplicating paper with Yanyu. They arrive in a stable, where the stableboy is shocked that he didn't notice their arrival. Merit scowls at him, and the stableboy begs that he please not report him. They leave, and do some gathering information around the city. Some places are more secure than others right now, but which neighborhoods are stricter changes. The recommendation is to stay in the southern neighborhood - things are the least restrictive and the least dangerous there right now. Everyone thinks it's important to avoid the Necromancers, and while the Battle Masters can be dangerous, the Beast Masters are often okay.
As there are not enough magic horses to go around, everyone else has to sneak through enemy-controlled territory to the city of Daizhou. Master Zhou takes point on the stealth rolls, and because the war went well last round, he only has to make one set of rolls.
At the city gates, they're still doing the thing where people have to either fight or turn in their weapons. Nobody is excited about the idea of leaving Master Deng with no weapons, so they make plans to send some people in and have some people climb over the wall.
Master Zhou gives his bracers to Shen-Ji, and he and Yanyu get in line. Yanyu gets in without much trouble, but Master Zhou is asked several times whether he has any weapons. He says no, pretending to be confused and nervous, but they make him wait while a higher-ranking warrior is summoned. The gate guard says that Master Zhou has more dice than the guard does, and the warrior looks at him with some interest.
- "Do you wish to enter the fighting room? In the city? For you?"
- "No." -Master Zhou
- "You are coward?"
- "Fighting room!"
- "I chop!"
The warrior chops at Master Zhou, who dodges all but one success. That seems proof enough of competence, so the warrior tells the gate guard to take him to the fighting room.
- "Much honor you will earn in the tournament! "
Once Master Zhou is inside, Yanyu meets back up with him. The gate guard declares that if he needs to go with his woman, then he must have a small cut to allow him to find the tournament. The guard doesn't take no for an answer, so Master Zhou punches him across the road. Everyone goes silent and stares at them, and the two of them flee into the narrow streets of the northern neighborhood, losing their pursuit and getting quite lost.
As they sneak through the back alleys of the northern neighborhood, someone waves Yanyu inside.
- "What are you doing walking around being all SUSPICIOUS? Don't rile them up!"
This is apparently a safehouse of the Daizhou Liberation Front, and they tell Yanyu that there are a lot more necromancers in the city than there used to, and they're the ones running things in the northern quarter. The advice is to keep her head down, but don't sneak, and don't go about in a group. Yanyu vows to make the necromancers pay, which alarms them with this Liberation-Front-Of-Daizhou-esque talk. The DLF plans to keep going under Chi's guidance and then be led to victory when the Founder returns, while Yanyu confirms with him that the United Liberation Front has a council of the leaders of the other groups.
Elsewhere in Daizhou, Xian disguises herself as Old Hop, or someone like. Merit recognizes the inn next door to the one they arrived at, as one that the Northerners have heavy surveillance on.
Merit and Yanyu exchange notes on the duplicating paper
- "Casing Inn" -Merit
- "Plot is here" -Yanyu
Merit doesn't understand how you disrupt a bunch of liberation fronts that are already bickering with each other, but Xian assures him she can disrupt anything a whole lot more than it is already disrupted.
Merit and Xian make their way to the DLF safe house, and Merit introduces himself as Li Rebel, from out of town.
It gets confirmed that Daizhou is currently organized into three quarters - the northern quarter is under the charge of the necromancers, the middle is the battle masters, and the south is the beast masters. Then, people head back out into the city. Merit recruits a bunch of thugs to cause a distraction near the south wall, suitable for having Deng and Shen-Ji cross. He claims to not be part of any liberation group, but he's pro-freedom. The thugs agree. Freedom! They'll draw eyes away from the south wall, and then get away before anyone grabs them.
In the central quarter, there is an area being set up for a tournament. The northerners there are confident that Redblade will win, and then he'll bring their will to the Council, and then the city will be run the way they want.
- "Ahah!" -Zhou
- "Just to be safe, maybe we better disrupt both."
The Battle-aligned Northerners think it's stupid to sacrifice everyone to the Horrors. Of course, the necromancers aren't wrong - if you sacrifice an entire city to the Horrors, the Horrors would definitely bring it in the war effort. But it's kind of a waste of a city. The beastmasters, on the other hand, are just wrong. This is no time for noodling around and trying to figure out southern magics. There's a war on!
Tournament of Blood
The Tournament of Blood is about to start, so Xian decides there's no time to wait for darkness, and decides to leverage her horse powers. She horses away to where Deng and Shen-Ji are, while Merit grouses about why Xian is only just now informing them she is a wheelbarrow. Xian tells Deng to get on, it's time for a tournament. Deng wonders if there will be a problem with him showing up with his weapons, but Xian assures him that it will be fine, and Merit will take care of it.
Inside, a bunch of Imperial soldiers are being lined up in a scraggly line. The guards ask if anyone else would like to join the tournament? Then, Deng rides in on Xian, in the center of the tournament field. A few of the Northerners start to draw swords to go and get him, but he is on the Sands for the tournament, so having weapons is apparently allowed. Xian sidles back off the field again when Deng dismounts.
Merit disguises Master Zhou as a Northerner to infiltrate the tournament - but do northern barbarians have martial fighting styles? The average battlemaster might have unarmed combat, but it doesn't look like "kung fu", it looks like "bladehand". But True Kung Fu (which Master Zhou has) could let him impersonate Northern Kung Fu, even though that isn't a thing. Merit also disguises himself as a Northerner.
The Imperial fighters (including Deng) are put in a straggly line, and then there is a call for the Brave Masters of Battle to prove their worth. Deng thinks that the guy with the bright red sword and Master Zhou are the two most dangerous Northerners.
The fighters pair up, one Imperial Soldier and one Northern Soldier. Master Zhou faces off against a soldier who ties a green scrap around his head - the last remnants of a uniform - and calls out "For the Dragon Army!" Deng faces off against Redblade.
The battle starts. Merit starts edging towards Deng to loan him a shtick, but then he worries about battlemasters being able to detect cheating. Deng sticks to his wheelhouse: disarming and chopping. Redblade is pretty good, but Deng just has more successes. Sergeant Fade (Master Zhou's opponent) succeeds in dodging Master Zhou, impressing everyone. Master Zhou suspects he has some sort of blessing on him to double his dodge, and manages to squeak a success or two through. Master Zhou shouts at him that Commander Yao would tell him to stop resisting, but if being told to give up by Northerners was enough to convince him to do so, Sergeant Fade wouldn't have gotten this far.
Redblade's blade glows, and he seems to have gotten more abilities, but Deng cuts away magic on him.
Sergeant Fade runs out of actions and Master Zhou finishes defeating him. Deng takes down Redblade at the end of the second turn and a hush goes over the crowd. Merit, appointing himself as the speaker for Master Zhou, calls him "Nosword", a man of few words.
An urchin comes to lead Deng to "the pleasure palace" to recover from his wounds - this proves to be a mildly comfy room at an inn that has been commandeered. A Northerner in red robes comes in, and tells Deng it is a great honor for him (Deng) to be cleansed of his wounds, but Deng is unimpressed, as he wasn't even wounded.
- "Oh, please." -Master Deng
They tell Deng that the next round of the tournament will be the following day, at sunset; he sneaks out in the middle of the night rather than be stuck in the inn until then.
Master Zhou, on the other hand, is escorted back to the battlemaster headquarters, accompanied by the disguised Merit and Yanyu.
Finally, Xian has fetched Shen-Ji, and the two of them are standing in the dispersing crowd wondering what the heck is going on. Shen-Ji, along with "his horse" go to look for the Unified Liberation Front. They let him in, though they think the horse should stay outside, until Xian sneaks off and comes back as a person.
The pair ask how unified liberation is going. Is there a lot of infighting? No, there isn't really, there's a lot of reasonable discussion. Xian (calling herself Li Han) asks what the council is, briefly derailing things, because she hasn't been recognized yet. Apparently, the ULF is rather bogged down by Robert's Rules of Order. They explain that "the Council" is in fact the present rulers of the city - the council of the three factions of the enemy.
Someone bursts in, and the ULF board stops to vote to suspend discussion to hear the emergency report.
- "Seconded!" -Xian
The newcomer reports: They came out of nowhere, set fire to a barn, set the horses running, and shouted "The alternative freedom coalition will free us all!" Then they melted into the night. After this, there is a great deal of discussion as to whether or not the Alternative Freedom Coalition needs to be included in the ULF. They seem like another Liberation Front, but they seem to have made it very clear that they are not in fact a "liberation front" but a "freedom coalition". So... where was this uprising? Near the south wall, about where Merit's distraction was supposed to be. Hmm.
More reports come in, these on the tournaments. Now that the Northerner's popular favorite Redblade has unexpectedly lost, Noblade is said to the favorite,
Xian wonders what would happen if the Imperial guy wins the tournament? The others don't think that the Northerners would allow that. Well, does that mean they would just declare defeat and leave? Probably not. It seems more likely that the Imperial guy will just not wake up in the morning. But that does probably mean that the Beastmasters faction or the Necromancers faction will get control of the city.
Meanwhile, "Noblade" is receiving a number of congratulations on his preliminary victory in the tournament. If he wins, will he destroy the necromancers on the council? There's a great deal of squabbling as to who actually will win the tournament. It seems to be politically important, but also, Battle Masters can't help being fascinated by combat tournaments. "Noblade" declares himself to be part of a distant Life Temple associated Clan, explaining his strange fighting style.
Merit, speaking for Noblade, says that Noblade could certainly stand up to the necromancers and the beastmasters. In fact, Noblade took his (Merit's) clan as vassals all by himself, he is that amazing! But Noblade is a man of few words. The other battlemasters think that being taciturn will work against the necromancers, but against the beastmasters it will be more tricky.
- "Tell us what we need to tell the beastmasters." -Merit
The Battle Masters remind Merit that there are two goals. First, don't sacrifice the city! What is the point of taking an entire city if the necromancers are just going to kill everyone in it? Second is to get the beastmasters to participate more. Because of their new werewolf powers, they have spies everywhere, but all they do is noodle around experimenting and trying to combine animals. It's such a waste. They need to be taken in hand.
Meanwhile, after escaping from his pleasure palace, Deng goes to the inn that Merit told him to go to. However, no one he recognizes is there. He gets dinner in the common room, hoping that someone will recognize him - and, as it turns out, a lot of people do. He is now apparently the Hero of Daizhou, and all his drinks are free, and some people offer to put him in touch with the ULF.
Merit, Yanyu, and Master Zhou leave the Battlemaster discussion, undisguise themselves as Northerners and disguise themselves as locals. They find Deng, and disguise him, before taking him to the ULF. Finally, everyone is in the same place again!
Xian thinks that what the party needs to do is disrupt all three pick-the-delegate plots. Shen-Ji and Xian want to observe the necromantic battle.
- "So that leaves the two of us to take care of the beastmasters." -Yanyu
- "NO NO NO" -Xian
The ULF is in favor of letting Deng kill all the battlemages in the tournament. However, a better strategic plan might be to kill off the three delegates in a way that makes it obvious that the different factions have attacked each other - such as killing the beastmaster with zombies. "If only the party had a way to make zombies at our disposal", Shen-Ji points out.
Maybe they should get the battlemaster policy put in place (as it seems less objectionable than the other two), and then kill the non-beastmaster representatives, and then have Noblade disappear? Actually, does "Council" mean a three-way fight or something more political? The ULF doesn't really know.
Anyway, the next thing to do is to see how the other two contests are being run. The Necromancer contest starts at midnight, obviously.
Merit and Xian head off (back in disguise as Northerners) to find out what the Beastmaster contest will be, while everyone else heads to watch the Necromancer meeting in the northern quarter graveyard at midnight. Shen-Ji dresses as a necromancer (he has a couple of necromancy-flavored magic items), while everyone else is his entourage.
The graveyard is being guarded by several Northern warriors. Shen-Ji is permitted in, but his associates are told to stay outside. He tells them that the signal for starting a fight is if he sets the map on fire, and then heads in. Shen-Ji is surprised to discover that it is not a necromancy battle, but a perfectly civilized discussion as to who should be chosen for the representative to the Council. All the necromancers seem familiar with the leading contenders, so Shen-Ji doesn't really have the ability to nominate himself, especially since he can't demonstrate any actual necromancy. However, he is pretty persuasive, and manages to steer the discussion in the direction of picking the representative who will be highest energy: the Spirit Lord, whose power will depend heavily on how many ghosts and how much ghost energy, is in the building when the meeting takes place.
Once the discussion is concluded, the ritual sacrifice is brought forth. Shen-Ji doesn't think he can take out a graveyard full of necromancers by himself, so he directs Pao to swoop in and disrupt the sacrifice enough to allow the poor soul to go to the world after, rather than be used for necromantic power.
Outside the graveyard, everyone hears a scream, and sees a burst of flame deep within the graveyard. Well, that sounds like the signal for a combat! Shen-Ji's entourage tells the guards that everyone needs to run in to make sure everything is okay. The guards are pretty clear that under no circumstances is anyone supposed to disturb the necromancers. The party runs in anyway, but the guards are pretty clear that it is not worth chasing them.
By the time they get to the Necromancer meeting, Shen-Ji has his "how dare you disturb us?" face on, and they all fling themselves onto the ground in abasement, and flee again. Luckily for them, they are all pretty fast runners, so they get away before they are smote.
The next morning, Merit finds out that the Beastmaster competition will be held at noon. Apparently, it would have been earlier, but it was distracted by a nearby barn burning down. Asking around, he finds out that Rocha is said to be the favorite, as he has a griffin. The really good beastmasters aren't actually here in Daizhou so it's a competition among the lesser beastmasters who happen to be in the city. They certainly aren't expecting another Beastmaster of men to appear in this competition. Certainly not. Probably.
The previous night, Rocha is said to have been on duty guarding the wall. Apparently people have been flying over, or throwing horses across the wall, things like that. So they always have a full ranked Beastmaster on guard now
The group discusses the best way to appear to be a really cool Beastmaster. Is having a horse that nobody else can control but you can control really good? That might be a little too meta. And also, the only reason the horse can't be controlled is because of her hat, and having a horse-hat is different than being a powerful beastmaster yourself.
Merit and Xian go to the beastmaster conclave, which turns out to be in the market square (not currently a market). In various cages are:
- A dire dire wolf.
- A box of rats - 3 or 400 or 2 or 60, it's really hard to tell. .
- A guy with an empty cage looks smug (Xian notes that it's an invisible bear)
- A barking bird
- A lion with wings.
The lion with wings does in fact appears to be the most impressive, but everyone was expecting a griffin! Rocha spends a lot of time pointing out how the lion actually flies, but, alas, it just isn't as cool as if there was a third animal stuffed into it.
Then, Merit unveils his "horse", which is Xian in human form. And she can talk! The beastmasters do in fact agree that she is a talking horse. But why doesn't she look like a horse? Xian points out that she does look like a horse to them. Well, fine, why doesn't she look like a horse to that guy over there who knows nothing about beastmastery?
- "Isn't this useful? I can fit into smaller spaces." -Xian
So is she a werehorse? Merit points out that his horse not only speaks Xiang and Torghut, but also Senatali. This is not impressive, as the Northerners are not clear that Senatali is a real language. However, they are impressed by her smooth transformation back into horse shape, and that it does not seem to require the moon or the sun or any limitation like that.
Xian walks to the cage, and writes "Bear" in front of it.
- "We can all see the invisible bear! Can the horse fly?" -Rocha
Xian heads over to the flying lion, and cows it with an intimidating gaze. Okay, the horse does seem to be pretty versatile. Rocha declares that this is enough demonstrations, and it is time to vote.
The beastmaster version of a secret ballot is to take a stick and break it in the appropriate place, and then hand it to a monkey, which goes and puts it in the correct box. Merit keeps giving his stick to the monkey, but it does not seem to know what to do with it without any beastmastery hints. Stymied, he throws his broken stick on the ground and stomps off.
Still, after counting all the sticks, Crazy Horse wins.
Merit is given instructions for the meeting: most important, don't let the necromancers win. Also important, they don't have time for the battlemasters to win. The most important development in beastmastery (aside from the Beastmaster of Men) is werewolves. But nobody knows how they were made or why they were made or who made them! Much research still needs to be done.
- "Eventually the Beastmaster of Men will tell us and then we'll know. "
The Council meeting will be tomorrow at noon in the Dragon Army Headquarters building.
In the meantime, though, is the final round of the tournament. Deng is put up against Three-Sword, the new favorite - his trick is that when he runs out of die pools, he gets an unblockable stab by his unseen third sword. However, while this causes Deng to start taking damage, he still can put enough out to take Three-Sword down.
Master Zhou / Noblade also wins his bout, and the Imperials in the crowd are starting to get very excited. The battlemasters are concerned - if they have to kill Deng now, there may be a riot. Noblade has to win.
Deng surrenders to Noblade, putting his sword down, whereupon Master Zhou picks it up and breaks it and demands that he bow. Normally surrender would not be sufficient, but the battlemasters are still concerned about riots, so Deng is allowed to leave. The morale of the locals is crushed again, and Deng gets no more free drinks.
- "We'll send someone to kill him tonight."
- "He is not worth this!" -Noblade
So... two out of the the three Northern council members are in the party, and the third’s power is dependent on the spirit density in the Dragon Army Headquarters. Everyone switches into disguises as a vassal of Nosword, and when they arrive at the head quarters, they find the Spirit Lord being denied entrance by a pair of terrified guards.
A lot of shouting ensues about who, exactly, is not to be trusted, and the guards are truly sad at the idea that they are about to be rent down to little necromantic bits, but the guards really can't let in some council members and not others. Noblade sends Merit off to find the beastmaster councilor, and Merit returns in his previous disguise.
More shouting ensues as to who is allowed to go in.
- "Okay, you can bring your horse, you can have a squire, and I will bring just one vampire."
After more squabbling, it is agreed that just Merit and Noblade and Spirit Lord will go in together to inspect the premises.
The headquarters is now empty, and the vivisection room has become a council room with a triangular table. Master Zhou thinks there are a lot of ghosts here, and Spirit Lord also seems pleased.
Merit wonders what happens if Master Zhou were to just start punching ghosts - well, probably a combat would start. Spirit Lord seems to be making his own calculations as well, but in the end, everyone leaves again, eying each other suspiciously.
- "Until tomorrow."
Everyone leaves, and regroups to plot (without Spirit Lord).
Merit suggests two options on the table: kill Spirit Lord before he gets to the meeting, or sneak in tonight and get rid of the ghosts. Xian wonders about the talking fish - was it still in the building? Nobody checked. Merit has picked the guard's pocket and has a key to the front door, but Zhou may not be able to get all the ghosts before some flee.
Is killing Spirit Lord disrupting the council? Decreasing the number of ghosts and winning the council vote is probably not disrupting the council. Xian is in favor of trusting the mechanic - the council has to be disrupted. But are the words of the mission important?
Merit thinks about it with interpret omens. Well, "disrupt the council" is not the same as "pick the council vote you want". But maybe they want what they want, which is different than what the Magpie Prince (or the spirits) want. Sometimes the choice between Wolf and Magpie is about how close the party sticks to the plan.
A third option is to have both Noblade and Crazy Horse vanish mysteriously before the meeting, and blame the necromancers. That could be disruptive - but would the necromancers win by default?
Yanyu uses "Winnow the truth" on two facts, to see which is more important.
- The prophecy said "disrupt the council"
- Killing Spirit Lord is a good tactical plan
She decides that the second fact is less true. Killing one necromancer is good, but there are a lot of them out there, and it won't by itself tip the balance. Shen-Ji grumbles - he was looking forward to a good fight - but it seems like framing the necromancers for cheating may have a bigger effect in the long term.Master Zhou uses True Kung Fu and the Second Way to think about the best ways to succeed without a fight: Pin the murder of the leading battlemaster and leading beastmaster on the necromancers. Xian composes a song of satire, and two more thug groups are recruited for the singing throughout the city. The Second Way assists with framing hints (with necromancers in the mix, you don't want fake dead bodies), and in the morning, the Council meeting is called off because the necromancers have treacherously murdered the other two council delegates, whose bodies are never found.