|"A fortress is surrendered from within."|| The run takes place late in the Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Arcade and the Steppes
An Unexpected Return
Our heroes are relaxing at Tahiti when the butler says that there is a... well, a visitor, who says that he is now a resident. Close on the butler's heels is Sei-Lin, who waves hello, and says that he's here while Ni Cheng helps Takanata get someone out of somewhere. And while he is here, Ni Cheng says that he should get Xiao Fa to teach him how to get to the Secret place of Secrets. But in the meantime, there should be snacks.
- "SNACKS FOR EVERYONE!" -Master Zhou, a little punchily
So... what is the Secret Place of Secrets, anyway? Xiao Fa fails to figure it out, but Master Zhou remembers - didn't Sei-Lin leave before he did a favor for Autumn Rose, so he doesn't remember that the Strand exists?
The group insists that he pinky swear like before, that he won't betray their secrets and they won't kill him, and then Cai Wen briefs Sei-Lin on how missions for the Prince of the Arcade work. Cai Wen notes that in addition to the party, Lady Jin does missions sometimes, and for the moment Cai Wen is basically trusting her. Does anyone object to that? None of the people who normally treat Lady Jin as a Suspicious Hostile are here, so there are no objections.
Rain ponchos are passed out, and everyone heads to No Longer Secret Benevolent Headquarters in Kuan-Xi's carriage, while people ask what Sei-Lin knows about the Wolf side of things. He doesn't know a lot of details about the Grand Plan, but he does know that the second son of the Great Khan is out of his brother's encampment now.
Fall of the Fortress
Security at the no-longer Secret Headquarters is still tight, and people's weapons are taken before they get in to see the Prince. He and Lady Jin are having tea.
The Prince asks if they are again prepared to take a mission for the Arcade, and Cai Wen notes that while there will be a final battle after this third week, then it will be done one way or the other. Xiao Fa makes a subtle chi diagnosis on the Prince - whatever the attempted interference from before, it is in disarray and is regathering its forces.
Cai Wen invokes House Rules: roll 3 dice and choose 2, and rolls an 8. The Prince stands up, his eyes go blue-and-blue, and he says "Investigate the Fall of Fort Chang." Everyone quickly runs for the map room before asking him anything else.
There doesn't seem to be a Fort Chang on the map. There are some possibilities that might be interpreted as a Fort Chang if you squint hard enough – a private residence or a Gainful Protection fort or a Dragon Army fort. Cai Wen is deeply suspicious of the name "Chang" - could this be Lucky Chang infiltrating the mechanic? He seems related somehow," which is generally bad news as far as Cai Wen is concerned.
Sei-Lin perks up - he met Lucky Chang's fiancée fighting the north! She's currently fighting with the resistance in the Steppes, and he thinks he could find her if needed. That seems like a good plan, so Sei-Lin broadens his underworld skill a bit and steers the carriage to a little town west of Stone Drum. He says that if Su-Yin is here, she's at one of the two resistance HQs, and he heads to the one that seems more likely. She isn't there right now, but he leaves word to be passed that he's looking for her, and when he returns in half an hour, she's there.
Sei-Lin explains that he's hanging out with the party again, and they are "investigating the fall of Fort Chang". They aren't sure what that is, but they think it's related to her fiancé.
Su-Yin thinks about it, and says that Lucky does own a house in the south Arcade, but that's the only thing he owns out there, except for the haunted place, and he doesn't own that anymore. A haunted place? Do tell. Well, there's an estate, east of the Gate of Shen. They just finished with their betrothal papers and had to document all their assets and holdings, and that one is listed as "liquidated (haunted)". Lucky claims to have no financial interest in it any more. He described it as something that was used in making arrangements for his previous employer, but when he left their employ, he liquidated the site and does not recommend going back.
When Sei-Lin reports back to the party, the Haunted Estate does seem like the most likely. People compare their ghost-fighting skills, and then Kuan-Xi declares that it is time to go shopping for ghost fighting equipment. She spends a karma, and then leads them to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, and down a dark back alley. At the end of the alley is a black door with several skulls painted on its surface. The door creaks open just as she starts to knock.
A short figure dressed in black hooded cloak greets them, and asks how they wish to interact with the Dead. Master Zhou states flatly that they wish to kill the undead. Kuan-Xi adds that they may also wish to know where the undead are, or be able to talk to them. Talk to ghosts, that is. The hooded figure points out that ghosts are the Dead, not the Undead. But he can help with that.
He brings out a box full of hooks, and says that they are very good for ensnaring the dead. Nobody is quite sure what "ensnaring" does in this context, but Sei-Lin, Master Zhou, and Cai Wen, Shen-Ji, and Xiao Fa all buy them.
Shen-Ji looks it over carefully, and concludes that... the hook is dead? In fact! The hooded figure says it was manufactured in the World After.
Sei-Lin also buys a set of "robes of spectral travel" which the proprietor says will allow him to walk without the limitations of his body. (Watch out for necromancers, Shen-Ji warns).
Is there anything he can sell that will help with an exorcism? The hooded figure brings out a grey vial: if you combine the contents of the vial with dust from the grave of the ghost, and throw it at them, it is guaranteed to send them to the World After. Well, what if you don't know who they are? In that case, here is a black vial – if the possessed person drinks it, then the ghost will be sent to the world after, after a spiritual battle. The vial has three doses. The group gets one of each vial, for party loot.
After that, they buy a red vial which has 25 doses of "ghost tincture". It can be used to coat a sword, arrow, whatever - after which ghosts can be affected by the attack. Party loot buys that too, and an Afterworld Visa, allowing those with the Blood of the Serpent to travel to the World After.
Sei-Lin gets the idea that there are other things, but they're not being shown in front of the Imperial Mystery Shopper. Sei-Lin drops the hint that he is a satisfied customer of Mistress Mai, and he, Cai Wen, Min Feng, and Shen-Ji are shown to the back room.
- "Okay, what actual necromancy do you sell?" -Shen-Ji
The hooded figure has a copy of the Unredacted Diaries of Mu the Mad, for 7 tael. Shen-Ji reluctantly concedes that that is too expensive - what about something to attack ghosts? The figure brings out a femur, which he describes as a wand of necromantic conversion, to convert any effect to necromancy. At nine tael, that is also too expensive.
- "How about a supercheap necromancer destroyer?"
Well, there's this: the Chest of the Black Void. When opened, it kills everything.
- "SIGN OF TORO IN A BOX" -Master Zhou
The proprietor will let it go for a tael and a half, just to get it out of the place. No one ever wants it. True to form, no one wants it now.
Sei-Lin, thinking a bit more practically, says that he wants a dagger and a pair of lockpicks that he can take while wearing the spectral cloak. That, the shop can do, and does.
Shen-Ji offers 25 li to read the back page of the Unredacted Diaries, and learns "Don't think of people as living, think of them as pre-dead. Necromancy works on them too." It is too tempting, so after borrowing four tael from Sei-Lin and one from Cai Wen, he buys the diaries.
Cai Wen buys the Afterworld Visa with party loot. Master Zhou and Xiao Fa buy a lantern of making ghosts visible, with two combats worth of special oil, and party loot buys some ghost money.
Master Zhou buys a book of Ceremonies of the End, that will allow his laying-to-rest to ceremonially affect a larger area than one ghost at a time, with priestly assistance.
Finally, this is deemed sufficient shopping, and the group heads off to Haunted Fort Chang..
Between the rain and the darkness, it is a particularly impenetrable map. The group starts creeping into the area, not sure yet what they are looking for. Master Zhou lights the ghost lantern.
Sei-Lin, the fastest mover, finds a ruined wall that seems to be part of a larger foundation. He also spots a ghost, and thinks about stabbing it. Xiao Fa finds another ghost, and attempts to make contact.
- "Go back! Go back! Fear the wrath of betrayal! The wages of sin!" -Ghost
- "Whose betrayal, unquiet spirit?" -Xiao Fa
- "This is your final warning. Go back. This place is cursed by the treachery of its masters and their servants."
The ghost gives Xiao Fa an action to go back, but Xiao Fa instead tries to persuade the ghost that they are here to lay all to rest.
Sei-Lin spots some cast-down Dragon Army flags. Hmm. A ghost dog appears, as well.
- "The new masters decree your death!" -Ghost
- "Where are your masters now?"
- "They feast for the Ravener."
Cai Wen tries to figure out if these ghosts are Lucky Chang's old molls? He thinks that one is, and one is not. (The dog also is not.)
Cai Wen thinks about any Hidden Advantage that can be gained here, and concludes that the best way is to lay the ghosts to rest without destroying them. Master Zhou, playing the part of Master Deng, runs around punching ghosts. He has a shtick in doing non-lethal damage, but given that they're ghosts, they aren't really going to be making death checks either way.
Sei-Lin heads far enough north that he reaches a stretch of water, and sees a skeleton creature swimming below the surface. He retreats, and finds some interesting ghostly sigils farther to the west. Then he returns to the rest of the group and points in various directions to the interesting sights.
Master Zhou smites the moll-ghost and the dog, and Cai Wen's hidden advantage dissipates. Sei-Lin, still wandering, finds some bones in a puddle, and a scary miasma. Shen-Ji heads up to the ghostly sigils, and determines that it is not the actual ritual circle - this is more like echoes. The results of a ritual somewhere else, still going on perhaps. He can't tell yet what it's doing - it seems there are several effects at once, and he may need more data.
Cai Wen starts folding the Dragon Army flags - a ghost salutes him and heads for other combatants instead. The skeletal pond monster lunges at Min Feng when she gets too close to the water, and then retreats back in the pond.
Sei-Lin tries to figure out where the loot is, and determines it is up to the north. He starts working on how to get there without swimming through the haunted pond. It's dark enough that Master Zhou falls in the water, and Kuan-Xi ends up stepping in as well. She thinks that the water was something like ultra-pure water before it became corrupt - as it's much less corrupt than one might expect from the surroundings.
Xiao Fa does a Ceremony of Quiet Rest on the Dragon Army flag, and one of the ghosts passes peacefully to the World After.
More watery ghost-monsters try to get Kuan-Xi and Shen-Ji, but they're both in the air and hard for water creatures to reach. Kuan-Xi calls lightning after the bone shark, and after a few bolts, it explodes. Master Zhou hits the ghost attacking Sei-Lin (who has been dodging), and it dissipates. Shen-Ji runs into a nightmare, which can run on air, and it starts chasing him.
The creepy miasma has drained some of Sei-Lin's body, so he heads for Xiao Fa to see if the latter can heal him. Min Feng kites the ghost away from Xiao Fa, while Xiao Fa heals Sei-Lin's actual drift-miasma damage which is continuing to drain him. She gets the ghost away, but Xiao Fa has wandered too close to the water and the pond monster comes for him. The nightmare tramples Shen-Ji, and he loses some resolve. Insanity looms ever-closer!
A sludge monster comes from the water for Master Zhou, and True Kung Fu proves good at dodging area effect attacks. Master Zhou gives Kuan-Xi an action to save him; she hits it with lightning, and he hits it while bypassing a defense.
- "Do you want to bypass its poison thwackback or its deathsplosion?" -Mike
He chooses to bypass the deathsplosion, which is probably a good idea. Thinking about it based on the explosion, the sludge monster was not undead, but an actual demon, instead.
Cai Wen thinks one move deeper, and concludes that the next tactical development is that someone will eventually find one of the objectives.
On closer examination, the broken building where the nightmare was, seems to be the remains of a broken water tower. Hmm.
Xiao Fa starts laying ghosts to rest with their flags, while the nightmare chases Shen-Ji around. Finally, Master Zhou spots a ritual circle, guarded by a spider-ghost and a strange amphibious thing.
Sei-Lin circles around the eastern side of the map to finally reach the north end, and finds some Loot and another ritual circle.
It seems to be some sort of monolith, which was once carefully buried and a temple built on top of it. Then, more recently, the building was smashed and the remains of the monolith uncovered.
Master Zhou, fighting the spider-ghost, thinks that it is the ghost of a spider spirit, which doesn't make any sense, cosmologically speaking. He and Kuan Xi finish taking out the nightmare, and then Master Zhou kicks the smaller amphibian away to the north, into the larger mama-amphibian, which gets larger as it gets angry.
Sei-Lin keeps wandering around the top of the map, and finds some buried bones. They seem to be buried much more recently than the monolith was. They aren't a trap, exactly - no, wait, they are a trap, but a trap for the country, not for Sei-Lin.
Master Zhou takes out the small amphibian, which makes the mama amphibian even larger and angrier.
Cai Wen finds the submerged ritual circle next to the ruins of the water tower. That makes the third of the three map objectives. Hooray!
Xiao Fa starts trying to figure out the tao of the area - it's generally terrible. All the weird semi-glowing sigils are generated by the waves of Imperial ritual magic, Northern ritual magic, and the magic of the World After, clashing with each other. After spending a karma, he concludes that - once past all the horribleness, all sorts of things could be done with this location. It is a source of spirit magic, death magic, spiritual power - there is surely some sort of longer term opportunity here.
Master Zhou knocks the amphibian farther north, where Sei-Lin is nonplussed to have it nearly land on him.
Shen-Ji takes out the pond monster, and encounters a spectral cat, which promptly takes off chasing KaPao.
Sei-Lin, fleeing from the giant amphibian, finds a ghost next to a statue of what may be Lucky Chang. This ghost is different, and seems to be the ghost of a Northern necromancer, rather than of a local. Sei-Lin is just as good at dodging those.
Xiao Fa investigates the underwater ritual circle, still being guarded by the spider-ghost, and concludes that it has been there for at least a year. Given the way it was laid down, the buildings were still up then - the chi of the circle is balanced against buildings, not ruins. The purpose of the circle seems to be to poke a hole between the worlds, to Spider's realm. The circle still has power, and thus it is interacting badly with the power from the other two circles. Xiao Fa thinks it won't be very hard to take down, but probably needs to be taken down at the same time as the other two, to avoid unwanted side effects.
- "It's just one ghost spider. You can deal with it!" -Master Zhou
Master Zhou finishes taking out the giant amphibian, and notes that the creatures in this area have very odd properties.
Now that most of the monsters are dealt with, it is Investigation Time. Speaking of which, how much money is the statue of Lucky Chang worth? Sei-Lin is pretty sure that the north obelisk is the main loot on the map, though. Kuan-Xi goes to investigate the middle ritual circle, and more people start poking at the obelisk.
Master Zhou offers to train Cai Wen in Strike of the Bear to punch the statue of Lucky Chang, but Cai Wen decides that's petty.
Shen-Ji concludes that the obelisk is an icon of spiritual power. It probably used to give the place a Spiritual adjective, and probably has about three points of spirit power in it.
Kuan-Xi's ritual circle is designed to open a portal to the World After. It was laid down after the building was broken but before everything else went all creepy. This circle has a very mechanical feel to it, as if it was laid down by a ritual-making tradesman, not a master sorcerer with a feel for the aesthetics.
Looking at the statue of Lucky Chang, it's not part of the tripartite ritual but it does appear to be carved by his own hand.
Xiao Fa investigates the bones, using Symbology & Dragon's Discernment. He concludes that they are the bones of large Northern creatures, buried to add to the necromantic component. This circle is only about a week old, created by a combination of all three northern combat mages, plus a touch of Blood magic. It is attempting to spread northern corruption through the other magics present, especially the spiritual obelisk, in order to make the area a better place for the Ravener.
How might the area be cleansed of the rituals? Well, the obelisk is the oldest thing here, and has been providing the "Spiritual" adjective since then. That was probably why the portal to Spider's realm was built here in the first place. The connection of the Southern circle probably just blew the whole thing up. It would be hard to get the spiritual power to Speedy, without Speedy being here, or without a lot of digging and a heavy cart.
In a final round of cleansing the map of monsters, Kuan-Xi takes out the shadowcat. The miasma doesn't take damage, but pouring pure water on it gets rid of it.
A well is discovered near the statue.
- "If anywhere in the world someone dug their well too deep, it is here."
And, in fact, it seems like it goes down to the Underdark.
- "There could be purple worms or something, but in practice, it's probably not the biggest issue here."
The pool with bones might or might not be the moll whose ghost Cai Wen was trying to reach. The bones are female, but there was more than one female ghost.
So... what should be done? Well, the mission was actually to investigate, and that has been done. The actual disposition of the property doesn't affect the mechanic (unless rolling the 8 again does something else, which, given the potential of the area, might.)
The group divides up the ritual circles - Shen-Ji stands by the necromantic circle (which proves to be the hardest one to dissipate), Kuan-Xi takes the World After circle, and Xiao Fa takes the spiritual circle.
Sei-Lin shouts "Three, Two, One!" very loudly, synchronizing everyone, and the rituals shut down non-destructively.
- "I helped!" -Sei-Lin
Xiao Fa and Kuan-Xi help Master Zhou lay the whole area to rest, and with 36 successes, they manage to do so: the betrayed Imperials, the sacrificed Dragon Army, and the conquered Northerners, are all put peacefully to rest.
Sei-Lin notes that if they can get the obelisk into a cart, he is pretty sure he can get it out of enemy territory. But all the nearby towns are enemy - except the Gate of Shen. Stealing the cart would be cooler, Sei-Lin opines, but buying it would be okay. But Cai Wen points out that given the magnitude of the loot, it really will not be possible to traverse the Gate of Shen without interacting with Ezokin. On the other hand, if they give him a cut, he can undoubtedly eliminate all the remaining barriers to getting the loot home. No one wants to give Ezokin a cut.
Xiao Fa heals Sei-Lin's resistance damage, and looks at Shen-Ji's resolve damage. Since he's at zero sanity, there is no easy roll, but the hard roll heals back four resolve.
Xiao Fa and Cai Wen look closer at the statue - it's carved in his own hand, but it looks like he looks now. They conclude it was carved for practice, before he carved his destiny into his soul. Possibly something could be learned from it.
Sei-Lin heads off to a nearby occupied town, and steals a cart disguised as a northerner. It turns out he needs a heavy draft cart, so he can't quite steal it casually, but with some bribery he succeeds (and the party loot reimburses him).
Master Zhou uses True Teaching to teach Cai Wen feats of strength - it turns out that this means Master Zhou can put as many levels as he wants on Cai Wen's sheet, but Master Zhou has to spend the points for it. After a lot of digging, and then a lot of heavy lifting, the obelisk goes into the cart, and Sei-Lin Escapes With The Loot to get it back to Tahiti.