|"When the mantis hunts the locust, he misses the shrike hunting him."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Spider in the Month of the Tortoise in the seventh Year of the Bear since the beginning of the Stewardship.|
The run takes place primarily in the Roof of the World
The Hunt is On
The butler informs Merit and Cai Wen that, apparently, Lord Takanata is approaching the gates of Tahiti with an invading force. The house guard is on alert.
- "I find myself strangely blase about this. Maybe I shouldn't be." -Merit
Kasumi warns Lijuan, and flees out the back of the estate. Peering out the windows, it appears that the group includes Takanata, Ming Lieren, and Tetsuzan, as well as a large number of soldiers in Tokai colors. Merit starts throwing together an emergency welcome reception.
Tetsuzan greets Merit and the others, taking charge of the visit. They are here to gather the Princess Lijuan, and anyone else who cares to accompany them on the great hunt.
- "Takanata. Welcome to Tahiti." -Merit
- "Thank you, Most Exuberant Li." -Takanata
Takanata explains, for those who have no idea what Tetsuzan means by "the great hunt", that dealing with the ice wyrm that killed his sister has been on his to-do list for a while, and Ming Lieren has kindly agreed to assist. Ming Lieren notes that the time for the hunt is drawing short, and the prey will escape if they do not arrive sooner than it will take the party to ride to the Roof of the World. Also, there are unnecessary, but helpful, preparations, which will delay further. She does not know the details of these preparations, and is not pleased by the odd caveats that her hunt senses are giving her.
Takanata sketches a picture, and contemplates what it might mean. The crown looks imperial, and the sphere is definitely a crystal ball (a tool) rather than an orb (a magic artifact). Xiao Fa thinks it's important that the crown is on the crystal ball in particular. Shen-Ji recognizes the gauntlet as part of the Obsidian Warlord's armor. Hmm.
One way to get to the Roof of the World faster is to use the house water gate to Bear Mountain. However, the horses won't be able to go through, so it will be a little slower at the end. Merit tries to convince the Huntress that she doesn't need to bring a whole army unit, but as far as she is concerned, she is not in charge of the hunt - she is along at Lijuan's invitation, and Tetsuzan does want the soldiers.
Merit asks Speedy about ways to get the hunting party to the prey. Speedy does specialize in speed and time, but the scale of moving an army unit across the Empire is rather large. After some discussion, shrinking the people and horses while they go through seems simplest, and he is willing to do this in exchange for a series of geometry drawings and watercolors to be added to his shrine.
Lijuan draws some art as well - it also has an ice wyrm, but there are a lot more people as well. The group examines it carefully. The people on the right are the party (maybe the guy to the side is Master Zhou?) The middle group is probably the Dragon Army. The left group has a guy with a bottle, and a guy with a guitar, so it's presumably a lot of Immortals of the Golden Palace.
- " That's too many immortals. Who is the immortal shoveler?"
The Huntress regards the drawing with some dubiousness - she identifies the group on the right and the group in the middle as hunting parties, but thinks that it is a very unflattering picture of the Golden Court. They have peasant hats, for one.
- "Who is the artist?"
- "A... student of many teachers."
The group turns its attention back towards getting to the Roof of the World quickly. Sending an army unit through the water gate might cause a bit of consternation.
- "I will tell them an army is arriving. They will know what to do." -Master Zhou
- "Could you use more words than that?" -Merit
Xiao Fa chats with Tetsuzan, who seems to be in reasonable chi health. However, he does seem tired, as the training that Xiao Fa has assigned him has been getting him up two hours earlier every morning. Xiao Fa decides that this isn't quite the right effect he was hoping for, so he cuts back to half an hour of meditation. Tetsuzan tries to find out when he will learn how to chi blast, but Xiao Fa explains that chi blasting is bad for one's chi. Tetsuzan is hoping to learn something more interesting than inner peace, but it seems likely that there is something worthwhile he can pick up.
And then, with Speedy's help, everyone (and their horses) leaps through the water gate.
Yue Mei bows deeply to greet Master Zhou and Takanata, and bows to the others as well. Asked for a briefing on the situation, she warns them that it would be politically safer if they clearly and obviously display banners identifying you as not soldiers from Bear Mountain. If a Bear Mountain army unit crossed the border into the Roof of the World, that would be bad. And, er, maybe Master Zhou should be disguised, distasteful as that might be.
- "Tensions are high, then?"
- "It would not be appropriate for one such as myself to criticize one of the great masters."
Lijuan checks to see if Zhuai wants to come on the ice wyrm hunt - he isn't really interested in a big combat, but he does look over Lijuan's drawing and think that the guy holding cabbages is not an immortal. That provokes a new round of interpretation - are they peasants? Are the peasants bait? That would be like the Obsidian Warlord, to use people as bait. The bait-peasants must be rescued!
Master Zhou allows Merit to disguise him, and then the group sets off for the Roof of the World. They are obviously a hunting party from the Butterfly Meadows, lead by the infinitely-high-status Takanata, and Tetsuzan hams it up as the leader of his "humble escort".
Merit checks in with the Dragon Army on traveling conditions, and gets three hints:
- Don't practice kung fu.
- If you see anyone who is obviously and plainly bad (and you'll know) don't look like you care. Don't take sides.
- Stay out of the Reflected City.
- "Maybe this is bigger than the previous problem we thought we had." -Merit
- "That would be novel." -Master Zhou
Unnecessary, yet Helpful Preparations
A Q branch messenger shows up with a package for Merit. They are a bit confused - the map he gave them seems to just be a map. So they brought him another map, of the Dragon's Throne. (The death of the Cartogramancer has apparently caused the maps to the Talismans to stop working).
The Dragon Army soldier says they're just here to try and maintain peace and order. They've heard that there's going to be a big dragon hunt or worm hunt or something like that. Merit asks after the bandit situation as well, and learns that the Bandit Queen is keeping things under control.
Merit starts to lay down the foundations for a propaganda campaign against the ice wyrm, making sure that people know it's not a dragon, only to find that there is already one in place. Everyone in town knows someone who knows someone who was eaten by the ice wyrm, said to be the Last Of The Great Wyrms. Good thing the Obsidian Warlord is here to deal with it.
- "Good thing it's not a dragon. They're more fearsome, but also more friendly." -Merit
- "Um, okay...?"
Merit finds an old buddy who knows the area, and asks if he'll help find the ice wyrm. The buddy is not very enthusiastic about this, as it sounds a lot like "come be bait for us," which Merit figures means that other people are already bait. He tries to find out where the bait victims are, but the buddy isn't really clear. Once they return to the party, the confusion is exacerbated...
- "Oh, you came back with some bait." -Shen-Ji
- "Sorry, he's an acquired taste." -Merit
- "I am not an acquired taste! I taste terrible!" -Old Buddy
The group skirts well around the Reflected City, to the ice plain that Takanata believes to be the ice wyrm's home hunting grounds. The plain has three small towns around it: Bitter Chill, Icewind Dale, and Snowfall.
The old buddy says that Snowfall is known for its forges, Bitter Chill has alchemists - or at least herbalists - and Icewind Dale is the administrative center for the area. Alchemists sounds most interesting, so the group heads to Bitter Chill. There's a Dragon Army encampment just outside of town, where the central tent is flying the flag of the Obsidian Warlord.
Then, there is Much Shopping. Healing potions and frost salve and incense of chi replenishment. The herbalists are also selling an interesting batch potion of bravery, for very cheap, which everyone is deeply suspicious of. Investigating, it’s apparently a limited time item using a recipe that has come down through guild channels for a limited distribution run. It won’t be available after this. The herbalists claim to not have any sleeping poisons or ever-burning fire.
Merit gives in and buys a potion of bravery, though the alchemist suggests he might need forty. Huh.
Shen-Ji examines the potion, and thinks it is standard sorcerous alchemy, not anything weird and demonic. But he understands why the herbalist suggested forty - your soldiers drink it to support your combat prowess, capped by status. It is the sort of thing the Obsidian Warlord might use to go one on one with an ice wyrm. Is Takanata planning to fight it by himself? No, he had not been.
Lijuan notes that it would be a really good idea if someone sneaky, such as perhaps the ninja, should go and find out what the Obsidian Warlord is doing.
- "Because whenever we decide his plot isn't our problem, he does a sign of Toro." -Lijuan
Merit talks to his local contact again - any word about the Bait Victims? He doesn't think anyone has been kidnapped, but the Dragon Army has been hiring an interesting assortment of peasants to be witnesses.
Merit arranges to have his thugs buy the Dragon Army soldiers a lot of drinks, so they won't be so good fighting the ice wyrm, and Xiao Fa succumbs to temptation and buys forty bravery potions.
Lijuan chats with the local urchins, and discovers that they tend to not run about on the streets, because it's cold. Sometimes they do local odd jobs. However, while she notes that "urchin" is a social group that she thinks the Obsidian Warlord can't get access to, she doesn't know what that signifies. Xiao Fa tells her to meditate on the subject to figure it out.
Those more familiar with how mechanics work conclude that each town is a preparation round - there are a maximum of five, and the Obsidian Warlord is in his second. Defeating an ice wyrm is a lot of glory, if properly witnessed. So is "being the bait and surviving. Xiao Fa might be able to do the latter, and has a lot of experience with being thrown under the bus, though surviving is still tricksy. Merit wonders how much damage an ice wyrm actually does. Well, that depends on how old it is - mature, old, or ancient? (Mature ice wyrms have 20-30 dice; old have 30-45, and ancient have 45+). Xiao Fa feels less confident about the surviving being bait thing.
If the plan is to fight the ice wyrm before the Obsidian Warlord does, it will be important to fight before he is done with his preparations. If the maximum number of rounds if five, then he might fight in round four, so the party concludes that they should be ready to go in round three.
Lijuan persuades Kasumi to sneak into the Obsidian Warlord's camp to find out what he's up to, as she's still concerned about the whole "do a sign of Toro when you're not looking" thing. Kasumi overhears a detailed briefing from the Warlord to his trusted staff about his Emperor checklist and the status of his various plans; she reports back that there are no obvious signs of Toro, or renaming or tagging the country, just "stupid Emperor stuff". Well, that's still worth thwarting him about. One thing to be concerned about is if he shows up while the party is killing the ice wyrm, to finish the job.
Merit details his strike team to replace the Warlord's bravery potions with water, and Kasumi checks back with the alchemist shop to see if they have any ninja gear they didn't tell the nobles about. She picks up some escape smoke, and some arrow poison for Lijuan. Merit buys some fireworks, and a bunch more bravery potions.
Ming Lieren identifies the ice wyrm as an 80-die ancient wyrm, which will probably have multiple sections. At least any section can probably only attack once per target.
The group takes another preparation round to head to Snowfall. There is a shrine there to Takanata's sister; everyone in the Tokai troop goes, a few at a time, to pay their respects and burn spirit money. Merit, still suspicious about the whole "spirit money" thing, makes his own. A local printer, Crazy Zhu, is selling spirit money at full face value, which is particularly odd - Takanata thinks there is something significant about his spirit money, but can't figure out what it is. He paints a watercolor of her and burns it.
Shen-Ji burns half a tael of spirit money, and Master Zhou and Kasumi also burn some. Lijuan bribes the local urchins with pork buns in order to get them to visit the shrine.
Merit buys a set of light armor that provides "blunt v monsters and cold"; Shen-Ji buys a heavier set. Ming Lieren buys something mysterious - Lijuan tries to quiz her about what it was, but she is not forthcoming. Merit buys three halberds of status enhancement, and Xiao Fa buys two. Tetsuzan buys a flaming sword, and Merit buys some illicit flaming nunchaku for Master Zhou, some sandals of knockback - and, concerned about icefalls, enough climbing gear for the party. Shen-Ji buys a pair of surefoot horseshoes for his metal horse.
Merit talks to a shopkeeper about the shipment he was "expecting" to get, explaining that he, um, wants to get close to a fight with an ice wyrm. The shopkeeper corrects him - he wants to get just close enough to the fight? Yes, that! Having confirmed that Merit is the person he has a box ready for, the shopkeeper sells him a set of witness goggles. There isn't a ninja preorder, but Kasumi buys a "stealth hamock" for long-term surveillance. Xiao Fa buys two flaming swords for his liegemen.
Merit's old buddy provides the final tactical briefing on ice wyrm attacks. For an ancient wyrm, there will probably be three segments: head, body, and tail. The body will be able to area-effect squash a group. The head bites a single target, and has ice breath. The tail can sweep or stab more than one target.
Master Zhou trains most of the group in Illicit Kung Fu (Tetsuzan trains, but not the hundred soldiers). The soldiers are given courage potions and frost salve and allotted to people they are supporting in the fight.
|Yue Mei||Lijuan||Shen-Ji||Tokai Tetsuzan||Xiao Fa||Li Merit||Master Zhou||Ming Lieren||Takanata|
Takanata uses Alter the Arrangement and Save the Date to push the Warlord's arrival until later in the combat. With karma, he pushes the arrival until three drifts later.
- "If we haven't damaged it by two drifts, then we kind of want him to show up to save us." -Kasumi
Merit intercepts a shipment from Icewind Dale to the Obsidian Warlord's camp - this contains a crate of +2 status cloaks, with the regalia of the Spider Emperor.
- "Well... we do still want to keep them..." -Merit
After much dithering about destroying expensive and useful loot, the group decides to burn them. Merit's old buddy friend gets a set of witness goggles, so the party has one witness to their impressive battle.
Then, it is time to begin. The group proceeds to the ice sheet where the ice wyrm is believed to lurk, and Xiao Fa prances about enticingly.
The ice wyrm surfaces, and tries to eat Xiao Fa. Kasumi tries to grab its nose, but it does not have one, and it bites her and takes her down. Lijuan shoots it with a poisoned arrow for 500+ damage, putting her well in the lead for Scary Ice Wyrm Slayer. Shen-Ji summons some ripper demons.
The head submerges in the ice, and the body thumps a lot of people. Takanata manages to turn its lack of foot, and delays it for an action.
The first drift arrives, but the Obsidian Warlord does not. Cold breath does not damage anyone but Shen-Ji's demons, due to the abundance of frost salve. Xiao Fa starts burning Bear Points for hit points.
Two drifts and much carnage later (plus four Tokai soldier deaths and nearly the death of Kawaii), the ice wrym is defeated and the ice field explodes in its death throes, just as the Obsidian Warlord finally arrives.
- "Oh. I see." -Obsidian Warlord
From the traces in the ice, the Warlord replays the battle, and is most impressed.
- "May I ask why you chose to fight it at this time?" -Obsidian Warlord
- "It killed my sister." -Takanata
- "...Of course it did."
The Warlord stomps off again, muttering about butterflies.
Shen-Ji supervises the harvesting of ice wyrm teeth, which Ming Lieren notes are good trophies. Since Lijuan was instrumental in killing the wyrm, and did not marry it, the Huntress seems to approve of her a bit more.
Merit gathers some ice wyrm blood. Xiao Fa and Lijuan manage to keep Kawaii from dying, but she was grievously wounded and will need to take a vacation for about three runs before she is up to fighting condition.==Puttering==