|"Revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tortoise in the Month of the Fox in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place mostly North of the Wall.
Having saved the world from a Southern invasion, Shen-Ji, Wei Han, Kuan-Xi, and Kasumi turn their eyes in the other direction, to see if anything can be learned about the upcoming Northern invasion. Oh, and Wei Han wants a horse - can Shen-Ji sell him one? The party proceeds to the Arcade (Kasumi tucks the Monkey Talisman into party loot), and the North Wall. Wei Han's best guess of where to start scouting would be north of Bitterwind, so the group heads to Shen-Ji's horse farm in the Steppes, where Wei Han buys a sturdy fast horse.
Then, they head to the Wall. Shen-Ji postpones saying that it's okay for everyone to go over as long as possible - whether to needle Wei Han or to keep the Secret Plan secret is an open question.
From the Wall north of Bitterwind, the group looks for a good place to cross where they can climb back up easily. Well, there isn't anywhere where it is easy to climb over, as that would defeat the purpose. However, there is a guy hiding in a bush keeping an eye on the Wall. Kasumi is dispatched to backstab him while the rest of the group stays obvious and distracting on top of the wall. Kasumi takes care of the Northern scout, but Wei Han thinks that some sort of necromancy happened, so it's time to hurry. (This is quadrant A3, for the record).
Northwards, the terrain slopes down into a ravine (B3) - probably a good place for an ambush. Kasumi sneaks forward and spots the expected ambush, and there is some stealthy climbing to try to ambush the ambushers. Kasumi gets into position just as the alarm is raised, and more archers prove to be on the other side of the ravine. A Northern beastmaster calls a cloud leopard, and some of the arrows prove to be interestingly poisoned with Blood magic, but neither of these keeps the party from happily slaughtering all the Northerners.
- "Maybe we could take some alive next time, to interrogate?"
North of the ravine is what appears to be a... pen of small elephants wearing fur coats. We'll call them baby mammoths, despite no one having seen a mammoth, ever. One of the mammoths trumpets excitedly at Kuan-Xi, and some soldiers come out of a shed to see what is going on and calm it down. (Kasumi gets Kuan-Xi hidden behind a bush a little better).
Wei Han doesn't think that small furry elephants can be very good at wall-climbing, so presumably they're being bred as cavalry mounts. This must be stopped!
Kasumi sneaks up to one of the sheds, and overhears some snippets of conversation. Her Torghut is not good, so she doesn't catch all of it.
- "Not too much longer, as soon as they're ready for growing hubda hubda, get them to full size and send them to hubda hubda."
- "Okay, just as long as I get to hubda hubda."
Kuan-Xi feels kind of bad about the upcoming slaughter of the mammoth shepherds, but the others assure her that these are invasion-hungry and bloodthirsty shepherds who would kill all right-thinking Empire shepherds if given the opportunity.
The party splits up to try to sneak up on both sheds at once, but the mammoths find Kuan-Xi and Shen-Ji interesting, and start making noise. Shen-Ji disintegrates a section of the fence surrounding the mammoth pen. A northerner comes out of one of the sheds, and notices something amiss.
- "Come on, mammoths, I'm trying to... intruders!"
- "Kuan-Xi wasn't very stealthy..." -Wei Han
- "Look, the fence is gone. That's not my fault." -Kuan-Xi
Shen-Ji flails around with a shovel, trying to startle the mammoths into stampeding, and the Battle of Two Sheds begins.
Wei Han grabs one of the northern soldiers, hoping to take him for interrogation, and the soldier shouts out "Trample me!". Nine baby mammoths start charging in his (and Wei Han's) direction. Shen-Ji puts up a wall of iron in the way, which bounces several of them, but the wall falls to the last of the charging mammoths. Wei Han squeezes his captive into unconsciousness, and then flings him aside for the mammoths to trample. On the other side of the pen, Kasumi grabs a different soldier, with less impending mammoth peril, and several other of the soldiers are taken down by Shen-Ji's arrows.
Wei Han notices some more necromancy going off - probably another warning of some sort.
Having taken one prisoner, the group thinks it might be time to regroup for interrogation. Kuan-Xi stops to grab a bag of mammoth treats from one of the fallen northerners, and lures two mammoths along with them. Shen-Ji suggests bringing one of the mammoths back, in order to trade to Pir Pir for the invisible amulet that came from the Monkey Cart. The craftsman who made it got kind of hosed by losing his masterwork when the monkeys stole it. Everyone else boggles at what appears to be Shen-Ji's belated attack of conscience.
The forty mammoths remaining in the pen don't seem particularly inclined to run away, so Shen-Ji disintegrates another section of fence, and then firestorms the map after everyone else has left. The nine mammoths who have been trampling around flee along with the others, and the hawk (apparently the beastmaster transformed) who was taking no damage from being trampled leaps into the air and flies off to the west. Shen-Ji takes a shot and wings him, and then sends Pao after him. However, the hawk also seems to take no damage from Pao, and manages to escape.
With some intimidation and interrogation, they get the prisoner to talk, but he is, alas, not a great expert on all the Great Khan's plans. He has been raising mammoths in this camp - he brings them to west, to the camp of the Great Khan, when they are more grown. (To C2 on the map). He has personally delivered four groups of mammoths, but he is not the only one raising them. Once they are grown, their tusks are made sharp and strong for battle.
- "Go and talk to the Great Khan's son. He will tell you many things, for he is a beastmaster of men!"
There is a Temple of Life in B2 - the one that has been encountered before.
Shen-Ji offers to let the captive soldier come south - if he trains mammoths for the Empire instead of the North, then when he dies his soul will stay in the Empire rather than being used by necromancers. The soldier says that the Empire will not stand against the Great Khan, and it will be better for him if he dies here rather than after the Great Khan conquers the south. Well, okay then.
Heading south through the ravine, there's now a larger patrol where the original scout was - four soldiers and a captain. It will be difficult to sneak past them with mammoths in tow, so Kuan-Xi and Wei Han stay in the ravine, and Shen-Ji and Kasumi sneak for the Life temple.
Despite being fairly stealthy, two outriders from the Life temple head towards them quickly. As before, the outriders are dressed in different clan colors, and seem to be wearing the equivalent of Northern dress uniforms.
They say, in not-very-good Xiang, "Who you? What you want?". Shen-Ji says, in better Torghut, that they want to speak with the Life masters. Kasumi hands over her many weapons, and Shen-Ji temporarily relinquishes his bloodspear.
Also as before, the visitors have not thought to bring any good gifts. Shen-Ji presents the Life master with a phoenix feather and some minor just-created art, and Kasumi gives him sixty li.
- "A great battle is brewing. The Great Khan seeks to send a great force south to extinguish our lives. Can you do anything?" -Shen-Ji
- "We have no way to stop the Great Khan from doing what he does. But if your people surrender, we can impress upon the Great Khan that he must feed and house his slaves, and not kill them."
- "I wish to mitigate the loss of life." -Shen-Ji
- "You could renounce violence; if the battle is over swiftly, few need die."
- "Can you tell us something about the mammoth beasts? They sound like great purveyors of destruction and death." -Shen-Ji
- "It is not for me to reveal the plan of the Great Khan to his enemies, just as it is not for me to reveal to the Great Khan that his enemies are here."
Is there anything that Shen-Ji could do to earn the favor of the Lord of Life? He thinks for a moment.
- "There is a great force of Death that travels this land. It ambushes people of the Khan and disrupts their works, and the Death is followed by the Master of Beasts. I would have her come and speak with me."
- "This is a ghost?" -Shen-Ji
- "Did I not just say so?"
- "Is the beastmaster alive? " -Shen-Ji
- "No. They are both Dead."
- "Well, I think I know who you mean, but I haven't talked to them in a while." -Shen-Ji
- "Tell her to come and speak to me. We must determine the bounds of her activities."
He says that she is in C1, and agrees that Shen-Ji will be compensated appropriately if he is successful. As they are leaving, the Lord of Life also warns them to not return here if they are actively engaging with their enemies - the truce is not meant for such things.
Shen-Ji and Kasumi regroup with the other two in the ravine, and the mammoths. The mammoths can't climb the ravine walls, so they can only go north or south from there. If they go north, the Great Khan's camp is between the mammoth pen and where Hana is. Or they could go south, fight the patrol, and go through quite a bit more unexplored territory before reaching Hana's area. And then they would have to return again, and the alarm would probably be raised.
Those with tactics also begin to worry - they have set off necromancy-based alarms in A3 and C3 already, so B3 may not be the safest place to hide forever.
So... they can probably keep the mammoths, or talk to Hana, but not both. Well, either way, taking out the patrol is probably the next step.
This fight proves tougher than fighting the mammoth shepherds - the captain is a battle master, and has quite a few tricks up his sleeve. The party takes out the mook soldiers without too much trouble, but taking out the captain leads to a lot of damage. Sadly for the captain, his final vengeance bounces off of Wei Han's immunity to corruption.
The battlemaster has a x6 sword, and his soldiers have x5 swords, but Wei Han declares them corrupted and northern, and breaks the captain's sword while Shen-Ji melts the soldier's swords.
Now that they're somewhat more battle-worn, the plan of going to visit Hana seems like less of a good idea, so the group retreats across the Wall again, Wei Han burning a karma to bring the mammoths as part of his "wall travel" abilities.
The group writes up a briefing of the mammoths and their scouting report on the map, and sends it along to the Dragon Army.