|"This is some rescue. You came in here, didn’t you have a plan for getting out?"|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Crane in the eleventh Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Lost Territory.
A new group of party members meets Sei-Lin, and he announces that it is time to go and break into the Cartogramancer's house in the Dragon's Throne. Right? Time to go? Nobody is convinced that it is time to do that yet. Sei-Lin begins to think that maybe his assignation to the party will take longer than he expected.
Xiao Fa, Min Feng, and Master Zhou have been thinking about how to solve the problem of people thinking that Master Zhou is guilty of murder. Their initial plan is to go to Lord Yu, and ask him to find Master Zhou guilty of mass murder and then sentence him to have to temporarily turn over the White Pagoda to a student for a few months. That should settle the issue to everyone's satisfaction. Sei-Lin overhears this plan, and is somewhat dubious.
- "So... you're going to go confess to killing people to the King? Do you have something to offer him to make him not mad at you? Because I just stole stuff, and my King sent me to you people." -Sei-Lin
- "Well, I'm not going to confess." -Master Zhou
- "I didn't confess to stealing stuff either... you may want a backup plan." -Sei-Lin
Lijuan draws some prophetic art, and shows it around. Hmm. Master Zhou thinks that the guys with hats are trying to prevent them from getting to the five temples. Are Five Temples a thing? Are Five_Sacred_Peaks a thing? Are there five temples on five mountains somewhere? No one is sure, though the Roof of the World is the most likely place to have temples on mountains. Xiao Fa thinks the interesting question about the art is why the edges are all weird-looking. What is the shading meant to indicate? That might indicate that the whole thing is a page torn out of a larger work. Hmm.
Sei-Lin tries again to suggest dealing with the Cartogramancer. Before he dies of old age. Or maybe before Midsummer or even Mid-Spring. But, it is not to be.
- "Thank the spirits you're still here!" -Gipeno
Gipeno reports that Yue Ping is in danger, and he needs the party to help save her. All he knows is that she was doing a tour of monasteries, in the area that got overrun by the Northern Barbarians, and now she's incommunicado.
- "Fine, fine, we'll rescue a princess. I guess that's what happens when you have this much money. The only people worth scamming are kings." -Sei-Lin
- "You're not wrong..." -Xiao Fa
Master Zhou is suspicious - how did Gipeno hear that something happened to Yue Ping? He's a little evasive, but admits that he was expecting a letter and didn't receive one. Well, not receiving a letter from a princess is hardly an indication that she's in trouble. Except that apparently Gipeno has been receiving letters from Yue Ping for a while. The last one mentioned a tour of the monasteries, and then the invasion happened. In her last letter, she was just about to set out for the House of the Mountain's Base.
- "Nothing would have stopped her from writing! Unless she was in trouble!"
So... where exactly is the House of the Mountain's Base? Gipeno thinks it is a monastery of the Wandering Path, but he isn't clear exactly where it is located. Perhaps another monastery of the same Path would know?
- "I make an Int roll to think of a wandering path temple in the Pewter district!" -Sei-Lin
There is a wayhouse called the the Hostel of Lucky Departure in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. The party heads there.
- "Welcome! Will you be needing..."
- "Refreshments!" -Sei-Lin
Xiao Fa asks them about the House of the Mountain's Base, and in particular where it is. They give him walking directions, and note that it is where members of their order tend to stop before dealing with the Roof of the World. The Roof of the World is a difficult journey, so they stop for rest and relaxation there. Apparently the Roof of the World is a tough place because of the mountains (and the monks of other orders, a monk remarks under his breath). Pretty much everyone's order has a monastery on top of a mountain in that country, which is just being deliberately difficult. The Wandering Path, not being difficult, puts their monasteries at the base. However, they have heard no word from the Mountain's Base since the invasion.
Lijuan asks around about Bobby Li. Someone says he's getting ready to enact the best plan ever, but she is persuaded out of bringing Sei-Lin to meet him.
The group heads off in Kuan-Xi's carriage to Base Watch Hill, which currently seems to be the Dragon Army headquarters for the west. The army recommends against going into the Lost Territory.
- "Don't go in there! It's terrible - there's a mechanic, there's battle magic all over everything... Only about half of the scouts who go in come back, and the ones who do come back are corrupted."
Shuyan visits a corrupted scout, Crazy Yao, who is restrained in a healing tent. He explains to her that the Beastmaster of Men is the one true lord. She listens intently until a priest convinces Shuyan to leave before she gets recruited to the Northern side herself.
So... if the group is going into Northern territory, chi-wise, they should probably not bring the Talismans. Lijuan gives Zhuai the Monkey Talisman, and he heads off, telling Lijuan that he's going to investigate his and Xian's theory that there are Nefarious Forces at work in Takanata's separation from the party. The Monkey Talisman should keep him from getting into too much trouble.
- "Zhuai said the Talisman was good for his plan." -Lijuan
- "Why does Zhuai have a plan? I am not pleased." -Master Zhou
The other two Talismans get ferried back to Tahiti in Kuan-Xi's carriage and left with the servants.
Back at Base Watch Hill, people look around to see if Mulan is there. Apparently, she doesn't perform until sunset. Wait, what? Gipeno doesn't think waiting until sunset is appropriate when Yue Ping needs to be rescued, but everyone else is curious about the performance: Fa Mulan, Hero of the Dragon Army, Defeating Northerners in a show-stopping extravaganza.
They wait for the show, and discover that Mulan is not, in fact, a very good singer. However, Sei-Lin and most of the audience think that the show is amazing. The group waves to Mulan as she tries to leave, and she and her manager head over.
- "A manager? They will rue the day!" -Zhou
Sei-Lin, flush with enthusiasm from the show, asks after the details of enlisting - a zhu a day plus room and board and armor and weapons. Those with special talents (Sei-Lin would make a good scout) do get paid more, of course. He's tempted, though then he remembers that he promised the King of the Savannah that he would help the party, so he can't join yet.
- "Signing an Imperial Recruitment Contract is one of the tried and true ways to get out of almost anything. You have to complain to the Emperor, and we don't have one."
- "I don't think that gets you out of pinky swears."
Everyone else talks to Mulan, and asks if she can help with a rescue mission, or if she is stuck in this performance thing. She looks torn, but when they say it's to help save Yue Ping, she declares that of course she will help. Those with good sense motive skill think that she thinks that this means she's going AWOL. They offer to try and put together some paperwork to get her assigned to them, but that could take a little while. Could Min Feng get her redeployed to the Navy? The Army seems pretty keen on having her be a performer, though.
- "This must be stopped!" -Master Zhou
Two of Xiao Fa's followers are ex-Dragon Army, and know something about what paperwork to forge. That should be sufficient to let the party walk off with Mulan to start with, but there will likely be trouble later, as whatever fake place she is being reassigned to won't actually exist in the Army. Well, they can worry about that part when they return, and if they put her back where they got her, it should be possible to leave things pretty clean. The manager isn't happy, but if it's just for a couple of days, he doesn't escalate all the way to the Obsidian Warlord, as he's threatening.
(People realize that Gipeno isn't around - he seems to have gone to pick up a snack at the beginning of the show, and never returned. Uh, oh. Well, he didn't seem very enthusiastic about waiting until after the musical performance to rescue his princess.)
Mulan gets them past the patrols, rather than having to sneak by. She doesn't look very happy about the whole thing, though.
- "Noble Dragon warriors! Today we will go forth on our secret mission, to strike a blow against the north!" -Mulan
- "Against the north!" -Border guards
House at the Base of the Mountain
Once in the Lost Territory, there is a hat mechanic that must be traveled through, avoiding both Northerners and Empire soldiers who have gone over to the Beastmaster of Men, as well as other perils.
Kuan-Xi notices that there is an environmental effect of Northern magic all over the place. Some is a cumulative mind control, some is looking for something, and some is enforcing the travel mechanic. The second two are Battle Magic; the first is Beastmaster.
However, the peril can be circumvented, and the group makes it to the House at the Base of the Mountain, which looks like a boarding hostel, except that it is completely boarded up. Lijuan notices Gipeno's tracks all over the place, including climbing to the roof of the building. Sei-Lin climbs up as well, and notes a secret entrance - well, it's probably meant as a secret exit, and he sneaks in.
Inside, Sei-Lin notes that there are traps all over the place. Traps on the door, traps on the walls and floor, traps on the next door, traps on the front door to the wayhouse... he sneaks back out and warns everyone to not knock on the door. He thinks that he could probably disarm all the traps if he goes slowly, though he is better at disarming them than actually finding them all. He’ll likely miss some. The group discusses what could be going on - where are the monks? Where is the princess? Where is Gipeno? Do monks leave traps, or did someone else do that? There is little evidence and ample room for speculation, so Sei-Lin is quickly bored, and sneaks back into the wayhouse again, disarming enough traps to get to the door to the next room. The next room proves to not be trapped after all, and has a map of the village, with pins in all of the buildings except for one. Sei-Lin heads back out to report, and the group heads over to that house. Xiao Fa notes that its chi is actively trying to fit in, and Sei-Lin notes that it isn't trapped.
The door is duly knocked on, and someone inside says "Speak, friend, and enter." Happily, "friend" proves to be the right password, and they are let in to a small house, where there are a bunch of monks of the Wandering Path holed up. They congratulate the party on surviving the difficult trail. So... have they seen Gipeno?
- "We were sorry that we had to tell him that his princess was in another monastery."
When she left here, she was headed towards the Order of Silent Wisdom, a temple of the Spiral Path nestled into a dead end valley some ways away - Gipeno was given directions, and the directions are repeated for the party.
The monks have been waiting for any further travellers who make their way here, and helping them if they can. However, it has been a day since anyone but Gipeno and the others have come, so they are considering moving. Master Zhou warns them about the insidious mind control - they say that they are not personally concerned about it, but those with more closed spirit can fall prey. The best way to stay safe is to not stay long. Sei-Lin finishes wolfing down the meal that he has been given, and the group takes its leave.
- "Be safe. May you reach a destination."
Path of Silent Wisdom
There is more peril on the way to the box canyon, but they reach it without too much trouble. There is a sign indicating the Path of Silent Wisdom lies up ahead, and the group carefully proceeds down the path. A monk bows to them, and everyone bows back in silence. The monk bows as if to say "How may I or my brothers be of assistance, worthy travelers?" Xiao Fa is impressed by their amount of expressive gestures, and uses his own expressive gestures and mime to indicate a juggler. They nod, grave, and indicate inside the monastery, where Gipeno is lying on a bed, unconscious. He has apparently taken a lot of sonic damage.
- "Is he about to be mind controlled?" -Xiao Fa
- "No more than Shuyan. Or anyone else." -Mike
- "Wait, am I about to be mind controlled? " -Shuyan
- "No more than Lijuan. Or anyone else." -Mike
Xiao Fa heals him, and then puts his hand over his mouth so he doesn't say anything. Gipeno frantically gestures, and then writes a note asking if the monks have seen Yue Ping. Xiao Fa gives Gipeno a cloth to wear over his mouth, "just to remind yourself not to talk." Gipeno gestures frantically to the monks. They gesture back that the princess has gone over the hill to the right, and then makes some more gestures covering their eyes, and poofing out their cheeks. Shuyan finds some paper, and writes "Underwater?" The monks don't seem to approve of writing, but they shake their heads no. Master Zhou figures it out, and leads everyone out before explaining that they were gesturing about the Temple of Invisible Wind.
- "Aaaaah that was a terrible place!" -Sei-Lin
Temple of the Invisible Wind
The party heads up the mountain (with some more peril) to where they have visited the Temple of Invisible Wind before. Many people have small visions or brief hallucinations relating to cycle spirits, though Sei-Lin is oblivious, and then Xiao Fa collapses. That is a bit of a surprise - Shuyan doesn't see anything physically wrong with him, but it's like his chi is gone. Ah - everyone else was protected by their Cycle Spirit, but Dragon isn't in the cycle.
The monks greet the travelers - they are afraid that they cannot aid those who have been taken by the North. Everyone protests that Xiao Fa isn't taken by the North - he's just touched by a dragon spirit instead of a normal Cycle spirit. The monks are dubious, but do not argue.
Gipeno leaps in to ask if Lady Yue Ping journeyed this way. She did - she spent many days gazing up at the peak, but she was not resolved how to proceed. The High Path proved too potent for her, and so she sought to journey next to a healing house of the Meihua Sannong.
Gipeno is ready to go, but Master Zhou wants to see if the Crane can help him resolve the problem in the White Pagoda that is plaguing him: that the Steadfast Heart monks believe him guilty of murder. He spends some time gazing into the wind, and comes down again after many hours, mulling over his conflicting visions.
While Master Zhou is meditating, Lijuan and Shuyan keep Gipeno distracted; Xiao Fa's followers are also distracted by Shuyan's mesmerizing snake dance, as are some monks. The elder monks are not pleased. Then, everyone heads down again, and as they pass outside of the area protected by the monastery, Xiao Fa wakes up again.
More peril ensues, as they head to the healing hospital. Sister Aiyu is there, and glad to see Xiao Fa - did he bring the supplies? Er, no, he is not sent from the home monastery. However, he can spare some healing potions. Sister Aiyu is concerned that there is a group of villagers in danger one peril-card to the north, but she wasn't able to reach them.
Gipeno leaps in, again to ask after Yue Ping. Sister Aiyu notes that she is a valued target of the enemy, so she was sent to take shelter in the monastery of the Steadfast Heart, which had a method to spread her chi among others in order to confound the enemy's seeking.
Sister Aiyu prevails on the group to go to the villagers to the north, where they find several Northern necromancers blowing smoke into a cave in which the villagers have barricaded themselves. Sei-Lin lays about with his backstab, and soon thereafter the necromancers are down. Master Zhou lays their ghosts to rest, sending one to the World After and the others to the Northern world of ghosts.
The party leads the villagers back to the healing house, and then heads through several more peril cards to the Steadfast Heart.
A Digression to Dragon
Master Zhou calls a halt before the group arrives, to brief everyone on his troubles.
First, there was Reattunment that he was accused of murder by the monks of the Steadfast Heart. Min Feng used her authority as Lord Yu's advisor to declare him not guilty, but there has continued to be a lot of muttering and complaining about favoritism, probably due to a whispering campaign that Master Zhou thinks is being run by Li the Wanderer, and it's beginning to reflect badly on Min Feng and Lord Yu. Inspector Fu is investigating, but Quan Lo has told Master Zhou that the frame is bolstered by Spider's action during the last Night of Gates to make "Master Zhou did it" a truth.
When Master Zhou meditated at the Temple of the Invisible Wind, he saw that a number of the ways forward are fuzzy, but there were two clear possibilities. In one path, he goes to the monks of the Steadfast Heart, and gives the White Pagoda into their care. Spider is angry at this, and Bear is somewhat ambivalent. The other path involves defeating Tai Lung and throwing his head before Lord Yu and the Steadfast Heart - Master Zhou retains his position, and the justice of the Mountains of Steel is upheld. A less clear path involves Min Feng and Lord Yu arguing (but it is difficult to see a vision of someone else's choices), and other unclear paths of investigation.
Xiao Fa asks Dragon for an audience, using his shtick, and Master Zhou and Min Feng accompany him, while everyone else cools their heels. As is usual, they travel through the battlefield to the ruined castle, with Dragon in the throne room. Everyone bows and advances and bows and advances and bows again. Then Master Zhou bows alone, and says that he wishes to pose a question to Dragon.
- "It is my understanding from speaking to Quan Lo that on the Day of the Spider on the Night of Gates, that Spider changed the world such that my guilt in the death of the monks is a truth of the world. I do not understand how this was done, or how it can be undone, or how to change such a truth of the world." -Master Zhou
- "It would be difficult for another Guardian to oppose Spider in this way, because war between Us is not proper. It can be undone, but it is difficult. It would need a powerful patron who owed you a great deal, to take Spider's wrath, and force the change you made in the world, to make it be true. And, you would have to make a change in the world. As with other changes you are familiar with, it must happen both in the World Above and the Material World." -Dragon
Dragon explains, with considerable distaste, an example: Master Zhou could contrive to demonstrate that while he killed them, they deserved it - perhaps by impeccably forging documents proving their heinous evil. The documents would convince those who believe in documents, and the action of the Patron would make the documents "true". This would not undo Spider's truth, but it would make it acceptable
Master Zhou wonders - is the level of favor that would be required on the order of "a descendant with ten [bear/horse] points of spiritual energy"? Dragon does not really approve of horse points, but he thinks that with a descendant and enough participation, it might be enough. It would be easier if the Night of Gates fell upon the appropriate day, such as the Day of the Bear.
- "There are other ways to thwart Spider's design without directly opposing Spider's effort, for it is often easier to redirect his efforts through seeming to surrender. The path Crane has showed to you is more certain than many, in that it would be difficult for Spider to make it fail. But there are also paths that will cleanse you of stains that you are not guilty of: it depends on whether you are more devoted to truth or honor. For example, another path to cleansing yourself of wrongdoing is to be pardoned by one in authority over you. Spider planned for Lord Yu's pardon, and took steps to use that. But if one higher than Lord Yu pardoned you..."
- "Finding someone higher than Lord Yu to pardon me is hard." -Master Zhou
- "A challenge many have accepted. But Imperial power is felt now even without an emperor."
Master Zhou speculates that having an Imperial Inspector find him innocent would count, then, or the Imperial Bureaucracy? Dragon agrees, though notes that if he arranges through various machinations to have the Bureaucrat pardon him, then that is the justice of the Mountains of Steel. If you take a true and honorable inspector, and accept his decision, that is one thing; bamboozling the same inspector would be another. Master Zhou frowns, distrustful of outcomes he cannot be sure of.
In Dragon's judgement, is Crane or the Serpent or the Sun better for seeing through Spider's lies to truth? Dragon says that Crane and Serpent are equal to Spider. The Sun is not one of the Guardians, and may assist whom he wishes, but the Sun rarely wishes to intervene. Master Zhou wonders whether "the information of the contrivance to frame me" falls into Tortoise's realm? Dragon believes that all such information does.
Master Zhou bows, finished with his questions.
Dragon notes to Min Feng that if she were to appear in the Hall of Imperial Supremacy, there is one who would wish to speak to her.
Then, he nods to Xiao Fa, more familiarly.
The audience concluded, the three bow their way out again, and return to the rest of the group. Lijuan attempts to reassure Master Zhou.
- "I know what it's like to be guilty of something that's not your fault, so if you need someone to talk to..." -Lijuan
- "I'm not guilty!" -Master Zhou
- "I know just how you feel." -Lijuan
The group finishes past a few more peril cards, fairly conservatively, so they run little risk of losing to the peril, but don't earn much karma for the outgoing mechanic, and reach the monastery of the Steadfast Heart.
Master Zhou explains the Ascending Path knocking protocol - the petitioner should knock on the door and call out something like the following (choosing the things that he is strongest in appropriately):
With the focus of my mind, I beg entrance.\\ With the power of my spirit, I request entrance.\\ With the strength of my body, I demand entrance.'
Gipeno considers for a moment, and knocks:
With the fidelity of my mind, I beg entrance.\\ With the devotion of my body, I request entrance.\\ With the love of my spirit, I demand entrance.
The doors open, and Gipeno is admitted. After a pause - will they all have to knock separately? - everyone else rushes in as well.
The princess is, at last, not in another monastery, and Yue Ping rushes over to hug Gipeno. Two other women follow and hug him too, which is not what he was expecting, and he looks a little worried. Xiao Fa reminds him of the part where her chi is spread out among the others, though that doesn't seem to reassure him. He asks if they could put her chi back together? A monk says that that is not recommended at the present time.
The group says that they are here to bring Yue Ping out of the Lost Territory. The monks do not advise that - it will be problematic to remove her from the temple, because their superior is not yet returned to allow them to break the battle magic effect searching for her. Without their superior, the monks do not have enough chi.
So... why is the Northern magic seeking her? The monks think it's obvious - she's a princess of the Steppes, so were the Beastmaster of Men to capture and marry her, that would have a lot of generally terrible results. The party suggests that Gipeno marry Yue Ping now, to forestall that, but neither Gipeno nor Yue Ping is willing to do so without the permission of her father (nor do the monks approve).
The working would need about a hundred chi successes - the monks currently in residence can manage about half of that, but the superior is expected to be returning with reinforcements, who would be able to cover the rest of it. They expect the breaking ritual to have some side effects on the other Northern battle magic active in the area (the peril mechanic), which will make getting Yue Ping out more difficult. However, they cannot hold out much longer in this location, but they cannot leave while there are innocents in danger.
Lijuan tries to send Ho out to find the reinforcements, but that's a little beyond him.
Before attempting to help with the working, Xiao Fa attempts to clean the residual mental effects off the party - Sei-Lin is the most affected.
Then, the party helps with the working, and between their chi and the monks', they can break the seeking effect. The effect shatters into pieces, throwing new peril cards into the travel mechanic - each of Yue Ping's ladies in waiting/army buddies that accompanies the group out will increase the difficulty. The group spends their three hard-earned mechanic karma to have one of the friends count as an old buddy of Sei-Lin's, and not count in the mechanic.
Before leaving, Master Zhou decides that he needs to make a concession to the Steadfast Heart.
- "Your brothers who came to guard the White Pagoda in my absence served nobly, and were brutally slain. I intend to prove that I am innocent of their murders, and if I have not done so within a year and a day, then I will step aside from the White Pagoda and give it to the Steadfast Heart." -Master Zhou
- "Proven to whose satisfaction?"
Master Zhou pauses for a long minute to consider the answer. He knows what answer might sway them, but he can't bring himself to trust them enough to give it.
- "Proven to the satisfaction of the Steadfast Heart or the Empire." -Master Zhou
- "Well, we will see."
- "I know I am not welcome here, but I too have sworn an oath to protect the innocent. I would join your patrols if you would have me." -Master Zhou
- "If you would defend the innocent, you should run your own patrols."
Unsatisfied but unable to come up with anything more to offer, Master Zhou joins the party to escort Yue Ping and the others back to safety. The peril of an escort mission proves more difficult and unusual due to the remnants of the seeking magic cluttering things up (clipping errors, pathfinding errors), but with only a little awryage, they reach the border back to the "normal" Empire.
The Dragon Army is not keen to allow probably-mind-controlled people to waltz in, but Mulan proves useful here again.
- "My friends have struck a blow AGAINST THE NORTH!" -Mulan
- "AGAINST THE NORTH!" -Border Guards and Sei-Lin
Kuan-Xi pulls some strings to get Mulan back into her performance role without getting in trouble for having accompanied them, and Yue Ping thanks Gipeno and his friends for their assistance.
- Xiao Fa and Min Feng finish their meditation on the Golden Spire.
- Takanata leaves his house!
- Xian talks Zhuai into an investigation, and then leaves for a visit to Zhao Feiyan.
- Lijuan catches a bug, at Xiao Fa's suggestion.
- Xiao Fa, Shen-Ji, and Yue wander around the Steppes sampling the chi.