|"Many people together won't fear a tiger, and many dogs together won't fear a wolf."|| The run takes place in the early Month of the Dog in the Year of the Dog of the thirty-fifth Great Northern Invasion|
The run takes place principally in the Port of Propitious Voyage
The party has just finished defending Stone Drum from tunneling wyrms and other dangers, and is trying to decide where to head next when Takanata and Lijuan spend some time drawing their prophetic art:
Lijuan's art is confusing but comprehensible, but Takanata stares at his art in confusion. It seems to just be a jumbled mess. He passes it around, but nobody else seems to think that it shows much of anything either. At first it is only Lijuan who can see the hidden wolf, and declares that it is a picture of Wolf and Magpie (the treasure room). Since the Moon has suggested that there are werewolves in the Arcade, perhaps they should head there.
The party sets off, aiming to pass to the north of the Dragon's Throne towards the Arcade until they are stopped by a Dragon Army patrol, which recommends that they stay farther south.
- "Are there troubles in the North?" -Takanata
- "All the area north of here is under enemy control; it's not safe to travel in those areas. " -Dragon Army guy, boggling at Takanata's obliviousness
As fighting the entire barbarian army doesn't seem in the cards for today, they stay farther to the south, until they reach the Port of Propitious Voyage, and then head to the Cup of Five Virtues.
- "Oh, thank heavens you got my message. Come in." -Chashui
The mistress of the house herds them into a back room, and serves tea, before trading news of the war. The Moon has already informed the party that while Stone Drum held, the Northern Arcade did not, and there are men who have been turned partially into wolves that beastmasters can affect. (Takanata has no idea about how the assault on the Steppes wall, but it seems likely to have not been good). Chashui says that the Dragon Army headquarters moved south to the Port when Daizhou fell. The battle lines are drawn a little ways to the north, and the city currently seems safe, if overcrowded. The problems she mentioned in her letter aren't the highest priority, considering, but it won't be good if patrons keep falling over.
Takanata admits he did not get the message; Chashui is impressed that he showed up anyway, but then, the Cup of Five Virtues is like that. In any case, she has been providing meals and tea at a discount for refugees, so business is booming but not necessarily profitable - but the important thing is that about a fifth of the patrons are exhibiting signs of being poisoned by the tea. Some get stomach distress, some pass out, some get their face turned blue - it's strangely random.
Deng examines the tea but it seems clean to him. Chashui brings in someone with stomach cramps - can they help? Shuyan distracts the patron with an adorable snake, and then has another snake bite her. Min Feng thinks this is a case of straight-up food poisoning, but Shuyan (whose snake is an expert on poisons) thinks it is a mix of mild drift poison and an herbal emetic. Well, that's as may be, but Min Feng doesn't think this would turn anyone's face blue. Shuyan cures the poison. Another patron proves to have trembling hands - this appears to be due to an ingestible poison, but a different one than the first. Shuyan suggests that they drink a gallon of bicarbonated water.
Min Feng heads out to prowl around the city, gathering information. She learns that there is also a noodle joint that is making half its patrons sick, and that there has also been an uptick in people calling out the fire department to deal with minor things. Tomorrow, there is supposed to be a meeting between the Dragon Army and the Port Mayor to discuss dealing with the refugees (of whom there are a lot).
Lijuan also heads out to make her own inquiries, and learns that the Rat's Nest is full of sick kids too. She asks where they are getting food - apparently they get pork buns from the noodle house and the tea house as well as a particular place that gives them day-old pork buns, and they get "urchin stew" from a local woman.
Takanata tries to pay attention to the chi of the city, and thinks that there is a subtle kind of effect here, like when Yanyu puts an aspect on the situation, except that he can't tell what aspect it actually is.
Takanata, Yanyu, and Deng wander around the city as well, while Takanata puts up Eyes of the I Ching. He pays interested attention as a Dragon Army officer (Deng classifies him as a mid-level threat) heads up to them, and the Butterfly shifts the officer’s focus from trying to kill Yanyu to trying to kill Takanata. Deng disarms him, and then the chi effect on him dissipates, leaving the guy very confused. Takanata is pretty sure that the vanishing effect was that of a northern Beastmaster. Additionally, the weird aspect on everything may have had some effect on him as well. Takanata tells him to tell his superiors that there is a beastmaster in town, and the guy hurries off, still confused.
Min Feng eavesdrops some more, and overhears a guy in black telling a street thief that the boss said it himself - no rules are in effect right now.
- "Do whatever you want to anyone you want."
- "That's crazy! The guard will come down on us like a ton of bricks."
- "No, the guard's going to be distracted."
- "This is a trick!"
- "Would I do that to you?"
Min Feng thinks he would totally do that to her, though it isn't clear what the point is. She also hears that there has been a huge uptick in petty theft going on. Current rumor has it that the refugees are behind it, though. Other rumors mention that giant direwolves leapt over the wall in the North. And that the Dragon Army got its butt kicked. This is surprising, but none of it is good.
Lijuan gets Shuyan to come join her at the Rat's Nest, where Shuyan examines the poisoned kids. It seems like about two out of three of them are poisoned but seemingly randomly like someone is rolling on a random poison table.
Xian spends a while staking out the kitchen of the Cup of Five Virtues, but she doesn't spot any poisoners.
Takanata thinks that the weird spiritual overlay is intended to be Imperial, though what that means is sort of unclear.
- "Is it Imperial underneath or on top?" -Xian
- "That is yet to be decided." -Mike
Shuyan heads to talk to the woman who serves the urchin stew (which does not appear to be made from urchins), and notes that it seems filled with a bunch of different poisons. She spills the stew pot "accidentally" and then whispers to the woman that it is poisoned. The woman is offended - how dare Shuyan accuse her of such things? Shuyan claims that she isn't blaming the woman - where did she get the ingredients for the stew? The woman protests that she isn't trying to hurt anyone, and comes with a totally implausible-sounding story about having bought the grain from some guy in the market. Shuyan grabs her and starts dragging her away, and the woman starts screaming for help.
Shuyan tries to convince the onlookers that her friend is... distraught... and Shuyan needs to get her somewhere else to calm her down, but this doesn't strike anyone as very convincing, and the guards are quickly summoned, and take both women away for questioning.
Eventually, Lijuan reports to the others that Shuyan went off to deal with the poisoner and never returned. Min Feng goes off to find out what happened, and since there were about thirty witnesses to Shuyan's attempted kidnapping, it isn't hard. (Min Feng also learns that the stew woman's name is Fong Yuzhu).
Lijuan asks the urchins if they think the urchin stew woman steals the grain she uses for the stew. They think so, but they never see when she does it, so they're not sure.
Takanata sweeps to City Hall, entourage in his wake, and tells the magistrate that Lady Wu of the House of Exuberant Interference grabbed Fong Yuzhu because she was poisoning people. Ah. Well, the whole kidnapping thing had been very clearly witnessed, but Yuzhu appears to be using a false name and is in disguise, so there was something going on.
The Vice Mayor gives them some time alone with Fong Yuzhu, and reminds them to leave her in the same condition that she is in now (that is, unharmed but tied to a chair).
Tied to a chair! Lijuan is proud of her prophetic art.
Yanyu starts the interrogation, in order to match the art. Did she know the stew was poisoned? Lies! She would never! (Xian thinks she is telling the truth here.) Yanyu wants to know if she knew it was poisoned. Lies! She would never! Yanyu pulls out some intimidation - then where did she get the grain? She admits that she stole it from her father's granary, like she always does.
Meanwhile Takanata sees a vision of her past - she's younger and dressed more elegantly, being bundled away by an older relative, who says that he has to get her out of the city, or they're all dead. Huh, that's not what he was expecting.
Who is her father? Fong Yung-Fat, but he wouldn't poison children either. Xian fixes her with a stare - what is her father's actual name?
- "I can't tell you! They'll kill him!"
- "So who are they poisoning instead?"
- "They're killing the city!"
- "You have good intentions, your means are questionable, but now you can make it right. Maybe Lady Wu will drop charges."
- "Um, this is a different plot. That was two years ago." -Takanata
Fong Yuzhu and Lady Wu agree to mutually drop the charges. Yuzhu maintains that she wouldn't poison kids, but she thought Shuyan was "one of them".
- "We're all doomed, and now we're poisoning everyone in the city." -Yuzhu
The magistrate is not happy at everyone forgiving everyone else, but the Vice Mayor is thrilled. Takanata wants to know where the guy in the long beard is who was getting her out of the city. Unfortunately, this panics her again - the party is with them! She starts to fleet, but Min Feng gets her calmed down.
Takanata thinks maybe her dad was the last of the original high nobles from the original House of Continuing Sustenance, but doesn't see how that has anything to do with anything.
Yuzhu admits that they sell grain to both the Cup of Five Virtues and the noodle house. Chashui agrees to throw away all her current grain; the noodle house is a little more suspicious at the random advice to throw away all their groceries for no clear reason, but is eventually persuaded.
Then, people head to Fong's Granary, where there is an older man and a younger one, who are happy to see Yuzhu, as they had heard confusing stories about her being kidnapped. She explains that these people kidnapped her, but they rescued her after that, so it's all good.
- "The stew that your daughter doesn't want you to know that she's feeding urchins with has been poisoned." -Takanata
Min Feng, Shuyan, and Deng examine the grain bins - all the short term storage bins have been poisoned. Takanata thinks that the younger guy was beastmastered, about eight hours ago. So... how might he have come into contact with Northern magics? He says he doesn't know - he hasn't left the city (Xian thinks he is lying).
Takanata tells the others that the beastmasters can just beastmaster everyone because there's a wolf effect on everything, but that isn't true. So... maybe the young guy is a werewolf? Whatever that is. The Moon just invented the word, as far as they know. Xian talks to Fong Yung-Fat; the conversation meanders around, talking about the business and children and war orphans and compassion and so on. Yung-Fat thinks that those who have more to spare have more room for compassion, but Xian basically whammies him into an unspecified "compassion for children".
Lijuan sends Ho off to do something useful, possibly to find a beastmaster.
Then it is back to the tea house, where Takanata auspiciously summons Ni Cheng. She is tired and looks wounded, and really not happy at being in the city. Takanata says he is hoping that she has some information about Wolf's status in current events: it seems plausible that there is a conflict as to whether Wolf will remain an Imperial spirit, and they would like to make sure that happens.
Ni Cheng says that there are consequences to sharing information, given the desire Takanata just expressed. She would be willing to assume those consequences, but she cannot speak for them or those of this place. Well, if they leave the city and speak elsewhere, at least any consequences will not fall on the tea house, so they do that. Rumors start to spread that the wealthy and powerful are fleeing the city, but Min Feng quashes them.
Ni Cheng explains that circumstances are such that if she shares information, they would be presumed to be on a certain side in a certain battle, so the other side would be displeased.
- "Magpie is trying to get Wolf thrown out as an Imperial spirit?" -Takanata
Ni Cheng shrugs as if to wonder if Takanata wants her to answer that question. Well... what about the agreement they already have for Wolf to provide them information? If it was permissible, she would already have told them under that deal.
People think about other things, while trying to decide which way to choose.
Does Ni Cheng have any advice on fighting beastmasters? She thinks stabbing them should work.
Where is Ezokin? He's quite a ways to the north, closer to the Wall - definitely in territory held by the barbarians. Possibly he's in the Gate of Shen, and maybe he's doing something as Magpie's agent. Hard to tell from here, though.
Takanata contemplates the contours of whatever it is that's going on in the Arcade. Well, Dragon Army aside, this is a country defended by Magpie, as incarnated in the Great Houses, which just got their butts kicked. Which is good if you want to put Wolf in the cycle - but that only works if the country doesn't just completely fold and fall to the barbarians.
Xian suggests that they pick the "save the city" side - if getting information to do that puts them on Wolf's side, then so be it. Takanata allows himself to be persuaded, and no one else has a strong opinion.
Ni Cheng says that the quickest way to save the city is to track down and kill the beastmaster who is influencing Wolf's people. He cannot affect anyone who is not a werewolf - which is someone of the clan of the Wolf who is, thanks to the auspices of the Moon, hidden except under moonlight.
Magpie is playing a dangerous game - the objective seems to be to make Wolf's victory as "northern" as possible, thus tainting it beyond usefulness as a play to get in the Cycle. Ni Cheng emphasizes that Wolf did not lead the Northern invasion- if anyone did, it was the party, and Wolf did what he could to get information to the army (such as by assisting Mulan). But he did take advantage of the opportunity, once the wolves were here and fighting. What werewolves actually are, she says, is not to be shared. They are spreading, but to a limited extent. If all goes as hoped, such people will become a natural feature of this land. She also thinks that in order to be affected by the beastmaster, the werewolves must have been near him at some point recently.
The group heads back into the city, to interrogate the guy at the granary who is suspected of having been beastmastered (Ling Su-shun). Xian leans on him - he totally left town recently - and is initially interpreted as a blackmailer. When Xian promises to not tell the boss or his daughter, the guy comes clean - he has a friend who is a doctor in the refugee camp, who he went to visit. He knows nothing about the Clan of the Wolf.
Doctor and Soldier
Hmm. Well, that suggests the next place to look is the refugee camp, so the group heads back out of the city again.
Deng thinks that the most dangerous person in the camp is Captain Lu, the Dragon Army soldier with the greatsword and more weapons than Deng has. He's not an enemy of the Empire, though. Yanyu lures him away to somewhere more private for some conversation/interrogation, and learns that he had something of a nervous breakdown this morning, and attacked Commander Yao. He didn't get executed because of his previous exemplary service, but he did get busted down to camp guard.
He also mentions that he had the honor to be there at the fourth invasion, when the Obsidian Warlord led the army of the slain to break the siege of the World After. The Obsidian Warlord now has the title "Commander of the Fallen". People wonder whether this is a sign of Toro. Xian remembers that she brought a Northern sorcerer into the World After, via hoop - so maybe this is all Xian's fault. It definitely seems likely to be an Omen of some sort, though.
The group heads to the medical tent where Yanyu and Min Feng are roped into assisting with first aid. Tang Cixi, the doctor in charge, determines that they are not awesome enough to help in surgery, and sends them to the recovery tent. (Yanyu notes that she is Dog-aspected).
Min Feng overhears that Captain Yeh (the liaison officer, the one who tried to attack Takanata) was patched up here, as well.
Takanata tries to get echoes of the past in the medical tent, and sees a montage of various people - Ling Su-shun, Captain Yeh, Captain Lu, the thieves' guild guy in black - in the medical tent, and being chuckled nastily at by one of the patients. Well, that seems likely to be the beastmaster. Takanata draws him, and shows Deng the picture. Deng pokes his head in the tent, and confirms that the guy who looks like that is an enemy of the empire.
Takanata and Yanyu go to see the camp commander, and explain the situation. The commander tells Captain Lu to accompany them while they take out the beastmaster, but Takanata and Xian tell him to stay outside.
Lijuan suggests bringing the panda, but is shouted down.
- "I don't think I could come up with a worse idea." -Xian
They all burst in, and chop the empty cot. Apparently all the looking in at the guy alerted him that the jig might be up. They track him out the back wall of the tent, and then around to... where he is telling Captain Lu to get them. Deng starts chopping, and Yanyu starts flamestriking; Xian tries to hold the beastmaster's gaze, but Shuyan's distracting snake distracts her.
Takanata disentangles the beastmaster's future from Captain Lu just as the beastmaster dies, but that doesn't stop the combat. Captain Lu focuses on Deng (who parries) and Yanyu, who is unable to use her defenses against Lu as she is someone who is a danger to the Imperial Warlord, and is stabbed badly. Since she is carrying the Sankara Stone of Death, she automatically fails her death check, as Deng knocks Captain Lu out.
A moment later, there is a flash of moonlight, and Yanyu is gone but the Son of the Moon is there, ready for vengeance.
- "Run!" -Lijuan, sprinting away and leaping into Flying Squirrel mode.
- "Puppy dog eyes!" -Xian
Takanata auspiciously arrives wherever Yanyu went. Min Feng points at the fallen beastmaster, blaming him, and Deng cuts the tension (one of his new shticks from Master Miyamoto). This calms the Son of the Moon down a bit, and he plunges his sword into the ground through the beastmaster's head, rather than trying to kill everyone left standing. Then, the Son of the Moon vanishes again in another burst of moonlight.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Yanyu is not dead, and in a comfy bed. Takanata shows up wherever they are, and the Son of the Moon is soon back. He lets them know that until the Moon's grandchildren are born, at the beginning of every run, someone is going to have to declare that they are responsible for Yanyu's safety, and they will be held responsible. Any death that she might suffer, they will suffer instead.
Yanyu takes a moment to point out to her husband that the real villain here is the Obsidian Warlord, who was so villainous as to have a dangerous soldier who could be mind controlled by a beastmaster into stabbing Yanyu. He nods - he should definitely go kill the guy who stabbed her, not just the beastmaster. Yanyu tries to explain why the Obsidian Warlord is the one who needs killing, rather than the guy who actually killed her, since he's the one who has such easily mind controlled guys, but Yin-Xiang doesn't seem to have fully followed this train of logic, and heads off again. (Takanata thinks that Yin-Xiang also seems a lot calmer than he should be.)
Back in the Material World, the urchins point the party towards a way to contact the Thieves' Guild, and they leave word that the distractions are likely to be dying down.
Min Feng and Deng try to get in to see Commander Yao, but ends up talking to his XO (since Yao is wounded and recovering). They let the XO know that the beastmaster in the refugee camp has been dealt with, but that if more beastmasters show up they might be able to still influence the same people. Also, the vice mayor might be affected. The XO says she'll put a team on the vice mayor.
- "We can't just give a blanket pass for all aberrant behavior just because it might be beastmasters."
She also notes that Commander Yao was briefed by the First Servant - his regent has commissioned a team to detect people who have been beastmastered, so when they learn more about how to do that, she'll let the party know.
- "Hmm. I think that's us."
The front line is currently static, about midway between the Port of Propitious Voyage and Daizhou. There are some points of hard resistance, behind enemy lines - so if the party wants to go on a relief mission, let her know.
Can they be part of the conversation with the vice mayor? The XO says that meeting is not going to happen, not if the vice mayor is mind controlled. Min Feng says she can go to represent the Dragon Army, and Deng can make sure everything is safe.
In the next several days, several things happen:
- Min Feng and company deliver the Dragon Army's position to the mayor.
The Dragon Army position is "we have a war to fight, you deal with the refugees" while the city's position is "you lost the war, the refugees are your fault." Min Feng is extra persuasive, and the city ends up on the hook to deal with refugees.
- Captain Lu turns up dead.
- Ho returns with a new collar, with a key dangling off of it. Rumor has it that the city constables are looking for the vice mayor's new dog, who did something heroic.