|"To repay good luck with bad grace invites darkness"|| The run takes place in the early First Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in Daizhou
After a tasty breakfast at Tahiti, our heroes think about heading to the Secret Benevolent Headquarters to ask for another mission. Cai Wen ponders his options for cheating, such as declaring one die to be a six.
Before they set out though, people digress into discussing Xian's mission for Horse. Does Xian know what it is? She thinks it's a shell game, but is not totally clear on the goal. She also wonders if some of the moves could be fake. Or possibly the intent is to make it easier for Horse and Wolf to use their influence in the opposite country. Master Zhou thinks it's so they can put Horse in the Arcade and Wolf in the Plains when the change happens, but others are less sure.
Master Zhou thinks about Altering the Cycle. Rolling for sevens, it's clear that what Xian is doing is not altering the cycle. Rolling for thirteens, on the other hand: it's doing a bunch of things that are intended to alter the cycle but don't alter the cycle? Possibly one of the purposes is to make sure that people who roll for sevens can't figure it out?
Next, people contemplate the Winter Scoreboard. Is the second score a voting mechanic? No, that's not quite it. It's more like the original mechanic is supposed to be an arm wrestle, and now there are more players with sticks standing nearby poking at the arm wrestlers. Hmm.
That's enough discussion of metaphysics, so some people head to the Secret Benevolent Headquarters to get a mission. Before talking to the prince, they head into the map room and stare at the maps for a while. Is there cartogramancy going on? Well, nothing is moving magically. Though, in the way that cartogramancy is "drawing on the map what you want to happen," the maps here are a little like that. It's like it's overly optimistic intelligence analysis, rather than strictly accurate intelligence analysis.
- "If you make your map conform to reality, you have gained nothing."
People think about what this means. Are the prince’s intelligence analysts incompetent? Or lying to him? No, it's more like the maps are drawn up with an underlying theme: Under the assumption that victory is possible, what should we do? Maybe that isn't a valid assumption, but the analysts are making it anyway. Another assumption that seems to be baked in is that the House of Gainful Protection will continue to stay loyal all winter.
That's about all they can figure out by looking at the maps, so they head in to talk to the Prince. He looks more vital than he did last time, probably due to the infusion of Bear spirit energy.
Cai Wen cheats to make sure at least one die is a six. The other is a 2, so it's Daizhou, yet again. (Offscreen, the snakes are very disappointed that Shuyan is not in the run.)
- "Close the Northern Gate before the Night of Gates."
Oh, that doesn't sound good. Hopefully, they have an idea what it might mean - there was that stack of rings that Merit thought was a gate for Northern spirits to get into the Empire. First, though, they have to get into Daizhou, which is always an interesting challenge.
Before they head off, there is training! Various people spar with Master Zhou, and Master Zhou notes with interest that Xian can't be healed. Did she know that?
- "No. That's new." -Xian
Also before they head off, there is some concern about taking a horse into the town of beastmasters. Maybe if Xian had a tinfoil hat to wear. Come to think of it, Kuan-Xi wouldn't mind a tinfoil hat of her own, and leads everyone to a delightful little haberdashery in that one-karma area of the shopping district: Master Ming's.
Xian says she is interested in a hat that will protect her from mental influences. Master Ming think about this for a moment and heads into the back. He returns with a hat which he presents to Xian. However, when she puts it on, everything seems yellow to her, and everyone else thinks the hat doesn't look right. Master Ming offers her a small stick to chew, and that causes things to not look yellow.
- "Oh. That's what I thought. Did you realize your friend is a horse?"
Everyone looks a little embarrassed, and says that yes, they did realize their friend was a horse. Master Ming thinks that they should have pointed this out, as hats for horses are very different than hats for people. In fact, this is only the second time that someone has asked him for a custom horse hat, and this one is almost the opposite of the last one. Well, that's very interesting. Master Ming doesn't discuss his customers, but after some thinking, people remember that hat that Horse was wearing several Night of Gates ago.
Master Ming brings out a different hat for Xian, which he thinks may work better. Things don't seem to be yellow this time. However, they don't have any mental influences to test it out with, and when Xian asks if it will work against beastmastery, Master Ming notes that beastmastery is not a mental influence. He then brings her a scholar's foofy beret, and says that this should work better against beast mastery.
Kuan-Xi asks about tinfoil hats, and Master Ming brings her a hat which - well, it's adequate looking. Not nearly as elegant as the other hats that have been seen so far. Kuan-Xi realizes that it is in fact, the height of fashion for a stupid-looking tinfoil hat and buys it.
Cai Wen asks about hats which inspire people to do the things that he wants them to do, and is offered a very dreamy hat. That isn't quite what he wants, though - he says he wants to inspire more than compel. Master Ming notes that this particular hat is one that was made for a customer, but it turned out that he couldn't handle the hat, and brought it back. He didn't even ask for a refund. However, if Cai Wen doesn't want it, there are definitely other hats on offer. The hat of +5 charisma is nearly insulting, but the tall hat with a holdout slot in it, proves more to Cai Wen's liking.
Master Zhou asks if there is the possibility of a hat that uses his status instead of charisma. Master Ming brings a hat which, when Master Zhou wears it, causes everyone nearby to buy levels of kung fu. That is amusing, but not what he was looking for. Well, a different hat then. He brings another, a fairly simple straw hat. When Master Zhou puts it on, people become puzzled - it isn't Master Zhou there, maybe it's one of his students, or something. However, when he takes the hat off, he reveals himself dramatically as Master Zhou of Bear Mountain.
- "Even now, he stands among you!" -Mike
Ah! It is a hat of dramatic reveal! Master Zhou takes it.
Wei Han gets an old and worn military cap.
- "Clearly a hat that has seen the world."
- "That's a hat that has seen the world, sergeant."
Kuan-Xi pays nine and a half tael for the set, and various people pay her back.
Digressionary shopping all through, people hop into Kuan-Xi's carriage and Xian pulls it to "outside Daizhou", a place suitable to hide the carriage, and sneak inside the city.
Cai Wen and Kuan-Xi head towards Daizhou, with duplicating paper and no weapons. The situation at the gate is similar to what it has been in the past, but a little more strongly guarded. There are two guys with armor and battle axes. As before, they are told that they have to throw their weapons in that box, or fight that guy there. They are not asked about their souls. Both of the pair declare that they have no weapons, and are let in.
Cai Wen asks around in order to find a basic inn (it is pretty crowded). He sends the address of the inn to the rest of the group, via duplicating paper, and notes that after he leaves the inn, he is being followed by a cat. Kuan Xi asks around to find a safe house. There are three choices, and she picks choice number two, having no previous experience with the Daizhou underground. She learns there are three groups - the Daizhou Liberation Front, the Liberation Front of Daizhou, and the United Liberation Front. According to the Liberation Front of Daizhou (group 2), the weakest members from both of the first two joined the United Liberation Front. She asks if they can get a message to the United Liberation Front. Oh, certainly. The LFD has that group well infiltrated. Kuan-Xi is puzzled - aren't they all fighting the Northerners? Yes, well, some more effectively than others.
After a little while, someone shows up to talk to her. She says that she wants to talk to his friends about infiltrating Dragon Headquarters.
- "Do you mean Dragon Army Headquarters or "Dragon Army Headquarters"?"
- "I mean... wait. I mean the building formerly known as the Dragon Army Headquarters."
- "Last time we ran a raid on that place it got messy. "
She also mentions that Zhu Cai Wen is in the city.
- "Did he bring her with him?"
Kuan-Xi makes a face.
- "Oh. So, he did."
- "This time? No."
Kuan-Xi says that they don't actually want help with the raid on the Dragon Army Headquarters, but they might want a distraction, or info on changes since last time. She also learns about the organizational setup of this new third Liberation Front. As they are the Unified Liberation Front, they have a council, which includes the heads of the other Liberation Fronts.
- "We gotta stop rolling eights." -Xian
Cai Wen scouts out a good place to cross the wall into Daizhou, and Kuan-Xi makes it foggy. The people on the outside sneak up to the wall. Master Zhou and Wei Han are good at climbing, but Xian not so much, so Wei Han carries her while climbing. Unfortunately for the sneaking plan, as they are climbing down inside the wall (and Xian has finished leaving "outside Daizhou") she turns back into a horse. Wei Han is strong, but carrying an unexpected horse down a brick wall is beyond even him, and they plummet to the ground.
After the ensuing damage, Xian realizes that not being able to heal isn't quite as bad as she thought, as she has 350 hit points.
What with horses and guys in great armor falling off of a wall, nobody at all notices Master Zhou crossing. And once Wei Han gets on the horse, they ride very quickly to the inn. There are fewer horses in Daizhou than there used to be, but there is one other horse in the stable. Once everyone regroups inside the inn, Wei Han kills a mouse that Kuan-Xi thinks was listening. Kuan-Xi also notes that the mouse wasn't even paying attention to Xian. Ah! The beastmastery defense hat works!
A frontal assault against Dragon Army Headquarters seems like a bad idea. Cai Wen raises the idea of a prisoner con, or a loot con. Or maybe a talking fish con? Or they could just break down the wall again! Xian points out that the first time they went after the building, they had some distractions to pull guards away, but those turned into angry mobs that got people captured or killed. Perhaps Cai Wen can disguise himself as a beastmaster, to kite the guards out of the way.
Various people start contacting various Liberation Fronts.
Kuan-Xi finds the Daizhou Liberation Front. They say they have the United Liberation Front infiltrated, but the Liberation Front of Daizhou is not to be trusted. Lu Chi, the heir to the founder, runs the DLF, and they can provide Kuan-Xi with a beastmaster "uniform", so Cai Wen can in as a beastmaster to get guards out of the way.
Wei Han contacts the Dragon Army, using his protocols, and wearing his new (old) hat. He explains that they're hitting the old headquarters because of a tunnel letting in horrors from the north. The Dragon Army says that the Northerners have the usual casters inside, and traitors are outside as guards. Also, they can give him a use of reinforcements that won't burn out for having to be summoned through enemy territory.
He asks them for their opinion on the resistance groups? They think the first two merged to form a third, but the ones that didn't want to merge stayed behind. Wei Han wonders if all the competent people joined the United Liberation Front? The army guys don't think so, but don't think there are enough competent people in total to staff three separate Liberation Fronts.
- The leader of the Daizhou Liberation Front is pretty competent.
- The leaders of the Liberation Front of Daizhou are very competent but indecisive.
- The United Liberation Front is the most effective but it's a committee plot to decide to do anything.
- The leaders of the Daizhou Liberation Front and the Liberation Front of Daizhou are also the board of the United Liberation Front.
Master Zhou wonders if any of the secret organizations know anything about the Clear Melting Sect or Steadfast Heart Sect, so Kuan-Xi asks her contacts about them, but they haven't been paying attention to the monk situation (which also suggests that the monks in Daizhou are either dead or keeping a low profile).
Attack on the Headquarters
Cai Wen, in disguise as a beastmaster, with Wei Han pretending to be a turned army soldier, heads down the alley that the party is fond of using to break through the wall. He gestures to the soldiers on duty in the alley, telling them to come along, and leaves Wei Han to guard the alley. As he gets 18 charisma successes, he can swoop up all six of them. But if he runs into any more, that will be a problem. Unfortunately as he rounds the corner of the building, there are more soldiers.
One of the soldiers not under Cai Wen's control wants to know where he is taking the others. Cai Wen claims they're on a secret mission, with a "nest of rats" to clear out. And one karma later, with some more successes to apply, he sweeps them up in his entourage as well.
Meanwhile, back in the alley, Master Zhou starts playing Xian's Ocarina of Time, giving Xian enough time to rearrange the environment, using her hoop (now set to "environment harms hearing") to essentially make a zone of silence in the alley. Then, Master Zhou uses his Bear Kung Fu to punch through the wall into the room with the pipe. In addition to the pipe, which was there before, there are several altars with bones on them, which Wei Han really doesn't like.
Kuan-Xi identifies the pipe as a rent in reality being supported by the twelve rings - each ring is proof against a particular great spirit. Wei Han heads in and kicks over an altar - this sends ghosts out of it, shrieking, and they head through the walls to alert the other people in the building. So much for the silence field.
- "That's going to take some of the heat off of me." -Cai Wen
A necromancer, in ghost form, appears through a wall. Master Zhou, who has ghost touch, punches him back through the wall and twenty-seven hexes away, alerting even more people that there is definitely something going on. Wei Han holds the door to the room closed against another necromancer, so the Northerner gives up and goes to another room to stock up on death power.
Kuan-Xi blasts the rings with sorcerous energy, but this only destroys the Phoenix-attuned ring. Ah, that suggests a method for destroying the rest, at least. Master Zhou uses Strike of the Bear, and destroys the Bear ring.
Xian notes that the mood of the room is primarily that the Northern Guardians (the altars) are watchful, vengeful, and angry. One seems to go off when an animal enters, and another triggers when weird Southern magic is used. At this point, everything has triggered (and as it turns out, kicking them over also triggers them.)
The combat settles in to carry out two different goals:
- Break each of the rings, using an attack or an effect specific to that spirit.
- Keep the influx of battlemages, necromancers, and beastmasters from killing the people in the room.
Meanwhile, outside, Cai Wen marches his soldiers around the neighborhood, keeping them out of the combat entirely.
Inside the headquarters, everyone is very brave and clever and fighty, and eventually, the rings are destroyed. Master Zhou is vaguely offended at the idea of letting any of the Northerners escape, but is talked out of chasing them all down.Escaping Daizhou after that proves somewhat anticlimactic.