|"It is often more difficult to come back home than it is to go away."|| The run begins in late Crane|
The run takes place in the Savannah, and south of the Wall.
While stopping by the Butterfly Meadows after the big fight with the North, Shen-Ji receives a message from the animal handlers at the Silken Wings Circus.
When Shen-Ji stops by, one mammoth seems to be eating grass contentedly, but the other one keeps lifting up the elephant trainer to shake out his pockets, and then putting him down again. Ah, Shen-Ji can guess what is going on here.
- "Finally. What took you so long? Come meet me in Jabon."
- "Do I recognize the voice?" -Derrick
- "It's a mammoth." -Mike
- "Don't forget your purse. You're buying. And bring some of your guys."
The elephant trainers grumble at Shen-Ji (and don't seem to have heard the voice), but the mammoths do seem to have calmed down.
Shen-Ji casts around for whoever he can find - that includes Wei Han, Lijuan and Zhuai, and Sei-Lin. He says that there is something interesting going on in Jabon, and invites them along. They hire a boat to cross the Strait of Silent Winds, and then head up the Jasmine river.
The group disembarks from the boat at the border of the Precincts and the Savanna, and Wei Han finds a garrison of Dragon Army troops to talk to. He is not met with his usual deference, but when he asks them if they are about to walk into any trouble, they say there is nothing much going on, as there doesn't tend to be much in the winter. There are bandits, or marauders of some sort, who have been spotted south of the Wall, but they haven't tried to cross.
Heading upriver again, there begins to be word of a big festival in Jabon. Sei-Lin remembers this - every three years, the Jade Festival involves a lot of art and jewelry and other things that rich people like to buy, as well as a lot of fancy restaurants having special menus and long hours. It's usually very good pickings for an enterprising thief.
Sei-Lin waves at everyone, whether he recognizes them or not. A few do recognize him.
- "I'm back!" -Sei-Lin
- "I thought you got pinched by the Sonwu."
- "I'm on a mission!"
Sei-Lin indicates the rest of the party as his "keepers", but notes that side jobs are okay.
Shen-Ji looks around for Myeong clansmen - ?they're mostly doing guard duty? - and catches up on gossip. The current gossip for the Festival is that the Ivory Table is doing so well that even the King couldn't get a reservation at it.
Well, that seems worth investigating. The Ivory Table, one of the fancy restaurants open for the Festival, has a crowd outside, and a guy with a list standing at the door. Sei-Lin checks around for roof access, and notes that the building next door is probably the best way to get there. Shen-Ji surveys the crowd, and apparently, some "really important big shot" has taken the place over and is using all the tables. Lijuan checks with the urchins, but the Ivory Table is way too expensive for them and they don't know much.
Shen-Ji heads to the guy with the list, and introduces himself.
- "Yang Shen-Ji."
- "Hah, right, pull the other one."
However, between his reputation and the phoenix on his shoulder, he can convince the doorman who he is, and is invited in (with his entourage), much to the grumbling of the rest of the crowd outside.
The main room of the Ivory Table has a large chair, almost a throne, on which sits a man weighed down with a lot of jewelry. Waiters bring him plates with delicacies, and he samples this and that, and the doorman introduces Shen-Ji.
Lijuan heads off to speak to the stable hands, who don't know who the patron is, other than a particularly rich customer, but they do know that Yang Shen-Ji is going to come and settle the bill.
Sei-Lin starts happily eating the food provided with the bottomless appetite of a young man; Shen-Ji notices that each dish is the signature of a particular area. Wei Han stands guard.
- "So... you got my message!"
- "How much is this going to cost?" -Shen-Ji
- "Well, price is based on information."
The rich gentleman wonders how Shen-Ji feels about crossing the border. Crossing the border into the South is fine, but crossing out of the south is no good. The gentleman notes that there is an enclave of his compatriots, who are preparing to return home, but alas, their return will probably result in their massacre by the Empire's soldiers.
The gentleman is afraid that he cannot say - he has been contracted to keep their location hidden. However, they tire of the life of exile and are preparing to return en masse.
- "Given their donations and faith, I said I would see what I could do, but they didn't donate very much, and they don't have a lot of faith, so here I am, seeing what I can do."
There are fifty of them, once soldiers of the Empire who through accident or mischance, set foot south of the Wall, and were not permitted to return. And also their spouses and children.
- "Other than settling your bill here..." -Shen-Ji
- "A most generous offer! The bill will be entirely sufficient. If that were settled, I would be enough in debt to tell you where these people are and what perils they are likely to face."
While they are there, though, is there anything anyone else wants to enquire about?
- "Who is this guy?" -Lijuan
- "Can we get a doggy bag?" -Sei-Lin
- "What is the richest city in the South?" -Sei-Lin
- "The easiest way to refer to it would be Ghat."
- "Does the South have immortals?" -Lijuan
- "What do you mean by that?"
- "People who used to be people who never die."
- "There are many people who have never died."
- "People who have not died for two hundred years."
- "There are fewer of those."
Wei Han asks if the gentleman could damage the shield with Southern magic. He thinks that is an odd thing to want, but he certainly could, if Wei Han were to assist Master Yang with the tab. Wei Han agrees, and more wine and food is called for.
The gentleman looks at the shield, borrows a zhu from Sei-Lin, and smashes it into the shield with great strength. It does not leave a hole, but the shield is clearly one of the worst, cheapest shields that anyone has ever seen - worth about a zhu, but it still (coincidentally) has all the powers of the Storm Shield.
- "Anyone else?"
- "Back slowly away..." -Zhuai
The manager shows up with the bill on two small plates: 1d10 tael each. Shen-Ji is charged two tael, and Wei Han ten. (Shen-Ji has to loan him 570 li to cover the bill).
As they leave, they are offered mochi balls - Shen-Ji eats his, and gets eight temporary skill in KS: Imperial Exiles, and Wei Han gets four temporary skill in KS: Magical Signatures.
Shen-Ji contemplates what he knows about the Imperial Exiles. They are all Dragon Army, who were exiled after entering the South, whether in an attack or falling off the Wall. They have a small enclave, and though many have taken wives and husbands from the South, and have children, they still keep to some Imperial ways. They have paid for protection from Kubera, who has kept them hidden, but once they leave their enclave they will leave that protection. They will have to face three great trials:
- Raiding parties of Kali
- The wrath of Da-Xie
- Interminable bureaucracy
Sei-Lin finally realizes that the plan is to cross the Wall and fight Kali raiding parties?
- "That's stupid talk! That's how you get exiled!" -Sei-Lin
However, everyone else thinks that this would be a good excuse to get Sei-Lin outside the Empire so he can notice country name changes.
Across the Wall
The group heads for the bit of the Savanna that borders the Wall, and spends a week watching the Dragon Army patrols. At the Wall itself, there is an apron of ash on both sides, due to the fire mages that were drafted into the Army.
If only there were some way to call fog, to sneak everyone back over. Zhuai says he can arrange that, and he'll meet them at the predetermined time.
Sei-Lin and Shen-Ji contact some smugglers - can they smuggle a hundred people from the South into the Empire? They protest - that's an invasion, not a smuggling operation! Also, soldiers tend to just show up, even if they were nowhere in the area, though. They can provide some advice, but aren't willing to do the job.
Lijuan wants there to be an operational rule: no chopping Dragon Army soldiers. Wei Han is somewhat sympathetic (even if these are the lesser Southern Wall variety of soldier), but she is unable to get complete buy-in to this rule.
Shen-Ji arranges with Clan Myeong to have a ?distractionary celebration?
Then, it's time to cross. Wei Han is a little worried that his crossing directly will alert Da-Xie, so he decides to winter-port across the Summer wall (moving to where Sei-Lin tries to stab Shen-Ji), but this turns out to not be less noticeable for the magical Wall Guardian. Wei Han disappears in a swirl of snow, reappears in the South in another swirl of snow, and Da-Xie gives a shriek:
- "WHAT IS GOING ON? Him (indicating Shen-Ji), I would expect. Who knows what she (indicating Lijuan) will do. I don't even know who that (indicating Sei-Lin) is. But YOU CANNOT LEAVE THE EMPIRE." -Da-Xie
Wei Han tries to explain that he knows best, and the Walls are out of balance.
- "Yes, the walls are out of balance. ONE OF THEM IS BEHAVING VERY ABERRANTLY." -Da-Xie
- "In the words of the Dragon, it is hard to see a trap when you are in it." -Wei Han
Sei-Lin says that they're just rescuing soldiers who fell off the wall, but Da-Xie is having none of it.
- "One of the things that I shouldn't have to explain to you is that people who leave the Empire become corrupted and can't be let back in." -Da-Xie
Um... but what about them? She says that they haven't left the Empire yet, because she's protecting them. So they should go back now! Sei-Lin decides to not mention that he went over first, before Da-Xie appeared.
- "In the North, the corruption can be removed." -Wei Han
- "I don't know what sort of pansy corruption you have, but in the South, when you are corrupted, you are done." -Da-Xie
Wei Han launches into a longer argument - Dragon said he was doing the right thing, the Walls are unbalanced now, etc etc, but everyone else thinks it is pretty obvious that just as Wei Han assumes Da-Xie is wrong about everything, Da-Xie assumes Wei Han is wrong about everything, and neither of them is likely to convince the other of anything.
Lijuan suggests that Da-Xie send Takanata a letter, because he is sad - she will try to remember that, but right now she is busy with this RIDICULOUSLY FOOLHARDY PLAN TO GET CORRUPTED .
Shen-Ji notes what could be a group of marauders approaching - they manage to scare off one, and kill the rest without breaking much of a sweat. Sei-Lin grabs some Southern cash, some daggers, and some amulets. He finds the coins very odd - they clearly are debased metal, and not based on the weight.
Wei Han and Da-Xie continue to argue, and everyone else herds them in the direction that Shen-Ji knows the village to be. They are spotted by watchers who start to call an alarm, but Shen-Ji introduces the party as "self-appointed representatives of the Empire who have come to help you get back into the Empire", and that is sufficient to get them welcomed into the little village.
Lijuan looks for a soldier who might recognize Da-Xie, and finds someone fairly recently come to the village, who is appalled.
- "Why did you bring the Company mascot down here?"
- "She's really upset that you were lost from the Empire, and I was wondering if you could talk to her about being exiled." -Lijuan
Lijuan brings the soldier over during a lull in the argument, and Da-Xie admits that she is sad about his exile. Then Lijuan lures Wei Han away by asking him questions about logistics - he's always interested in an excuse to talk about logistics, a fascinating subject.
Lijuan, Sei-Lin, and Shen-Ji bend their persuasion on Da-Xie, to let the ex-soldiers cross the Wall (the matter of the spouses and kids is glossed over for the moment). She is eventually persuaded that they could be brought, temporarily, to an internment camp north of the Wall, and priests and bureaucrats could be brought to un-corrupt them.
The party brings the villagers to the Wall at the appointed time, where there is a dense soupy fog, and a loud Myeong clan party nearby, so the soldiers guarding the Wall are fairly oblivious.
One of the villagers has an impressive horse, but horses don't climb, so he is starting to bid farewell to it, when the party intervenes - a horse is loot! Setting your loot free is no good! Shen-Ji puts Pao on it, and there is an explosion of fire when Da-Xie isn't watching, and the horse appears on the other side.
The internment camp in the south Savanna is set up, and the party promises to arrange to get priests and bureaucrats to deal with corruption and paperwork. Many of the villagers have met Kar Fai, and seem to think that he's likely to deal with Kali, but they haven't seen him in a while.As far as Da-Xie, it seems that the best way to get her to agree to be changed similar to Wei Han is to get the four Dragon Army commanders (Southwest, Southeast, Highway, and Construction) that she deals with, plus the Bearers of Swift Response, to ask her.