Over the Mountains and Through the Woods
|"The start of a journey should never be mistaken for success."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Bear in the Month of the Monkey in the first Year of the Spider since the White Pagoda was abandoned.|
The run takes place in around the Iron Fortress and on the way to the Pass of Five Elements
Ringmaster Te declares that due to his injuries, there will be a bit of an extended stay in Iron Mountain. Master Deng takes his armor to a local armorer, paying to have it upgraded from 6 defense to 8 defense; the smith takes a down payment and says he'll spend the day on it - Master Deng should come back later.
Takanata wanders by where Yoshi is working on a cooking project, and provides some advice to him about the flat folded cookies he's creating. After Yoshi eats his cookie, he notices that Takanata had added a piece of paper, so the rest of the cookies are rescued and distributed to the others are Prophetic Art. Xian says he's not hungry, but when everyone else opens their cookie, they find slips of paper inside:
- Might is important, but balance is key.
- A wall in the wilderness tells you there is something behind it.
- Metal carries water, but water rusts metal.
- The journey of a thousand li begins with a single step, if you can but take it.
- It is easier to fool a good man with a bad reason than a bad man with a good reason.
- To spurn a fair fight suggests you wish to cheat
Next, Takanata officially presents Wei Han to Master Deng:
- "Blademaster: this veteran of the army has recently retired, and requests service in the court of the Butterfly King." -Takanata
After being briefly floored by the idea that Wei Han has resigned from the army, Zhi-Hao accepts his service to the extent that he's empowered to, which is basically "provisionally until we get back home."
Xian gets given several messages: Ringmaster Te wants to see him, Master Ying Quan of the Green Pagoda wishes to meet with him, and Lord Yu wants to see Li Merit, but he's not around, so Xian should go instead. He goes to see Ringmaster Te first, who instructs him that, since he's not able to do it himself, Xian should go around and check on everyone's act, and make sure they're practicing. And also, he should choose someone to be substitute ringmaster. He hands Xian a list of annoying things to deal with that Li Merit usually does, but that Xian should make sure get taken care of.
Xian, after some consideration, chooses himself as Temporary Ringmaster, but assigns Yoshi to be Assistant Ringmaster and Li Merit Replacement. He tells Yoshi to make sure that everyone is practicing, and gives him the list of annoying tasks. Yoshi starts out with an Event Planning roll, which he just makes, but fails his accounting check to balance the expenses. He escalates to Takanata to help with the various bureaucracy rolls, and an art roll, and Takanata is rather in awe that Merit deals with this all the time. Yoshi also has to decide which of the headliners will get top billing in the performance - Shuyan wins the negotiation roll, so it's her.
Xian, having delegated all his circus responsibilities, heads to the Fortress, where he is swept in to see Lord Yu. Lord Yu explains that the circus has the full support of the court, and he hopes there will be no undue difficulties resulting from the unfortunate business last week. Xian says that given Ringmaster Te's crucial role, he expects that nothing shall go as planned, but he will be pleased if anything does. Lord Yu summons a full tea service for Xian, and the ceremony begins.
A soldier runs up, and corners Shen-Ji, asking where Sergeant Shen Wei Han is. Shen-Ji, who has no idea and doesn't feel inclined to search, suggests that he try the tea tent. In the tea tent, the soldier finds Hana, who offers him tea while she goes to look for Wei Han, but the soldier is entranced by Hana's tea etiquette and starts up a conversation - his grandfather runs a tea shop, so he is well versed in tea ceremonies.
Shuyan discovers one of her smaller snakes has gone missing - after a search, she finds it at the top of one of the tightrope platforms. The poles are thick enough that it couldn't have gotten up there by itself, and it seems rather aggrieved about the whole thing.
After a long battle with the tea ceremony, Xian finally gets to drink a cup of tea and takes his leave of Lord Yu. He finds a castle representative and tells him that Xian has a meeting with Master Ying Quan, indeed, he might even be late already. The castle servant is aghast! “You have a meeting with the representative of the Perfect Master!? Dressed like that!?” A seamstress is summoned and Xian is taken to a private room for a complete makeover in preparation for his meeting. After several hours of this, Xian starts debating the wisdom of these preparations with the servants. Is it not better to have the meeting, rather than constantly prepare for it? He eventually drops the full weight of his Confoundery upon the assistant castle steward, and convinces the kid that right makes right, and not frippery. The kid, having his alignment moved from Lawful Neutral to Chaotic Good, signs on with Xian and swears, this meeting shall happen, even if he has to sneak the Master Ying out of the palace under cover of dark and bring him to the circus. He rushes off and Xian returns to the circus to wait.
Back at the circus, Takanata is presented with another bureaucracy task - this strikes him as odd, since he thinks he did a fine job with the last one. He goes over the paperwork again, and sure enough, there is a subtle error that he made - but he's sure that Merit wouldn't have been able to catch it, so there’s not way this is the standard set of annoying tasks Merit sees before every performance. There's definitely something going on. He considers whether it's the Revenge of Inspector Fu, but it seems a little scattershot to hit the whole circus rather than a particular target. Maybe this has to do with the fortune cookie "The journey of a thousand li begins with a single step, if you can but take it"? That seems more likely. Interpret Omens confirms that whatever is going wrong is... some kind of enemy action, though exactly how it works is unclear.
In the tea tent, the soldier realizes he's overdue back, and leaps up to leave - since he missed Sergeant Shen, please let him know that there was an irregularity in his retirement papers. He's technically still in the army until the glitch gets resolved, but he'll be back tomorrow at their convenience. Hana tells him to be back at ten.
Master Deng heads back to the armory to pick up his upgraded armor, and discovers that it's on fire (the armory), with people rushing around to throw buckets of water.
- "You have got to be kidding me."
The smith assures Master Deng that this is a minor problem, and it will all be resolved by tomorrow. He promises that if Master Deng returns tomorrow, he'll have his armor then.
Wei Han reports to Ringmaster Te that there are bureaucratic problems all over the place, and all sorts of random things are going wrong. Ringmaster Te says that when there's trouble like this, he usually has Merit deal with it, but the important thing is that the show must go on.
- "Just take the girl and throw her in the air and trust that everything else will sort itself out." -Ringmaster Te
Takanata tries to figure out how to tell if the problem is party-specific or all over the Iron Fortress.
- "I want to go and find out if it's all the circus or it's just us, but if I go, I think I will *find* problems even if they weren't there before." -Takanata
Shen-Ji wanders around with detect magic up, thinking about the chi of the area, and thinks that it reminds him of the Cup of Five Virtues, Cai Wen's tea house - there's some sort of … something, with shticks hanging on it. Xian is reminded of the time in the City of Spires when everyone needed seals for everything (Bureaucracy for Beginners).
Meanwhile, there is some disagreement as to what to do next. Some are in Ringmaster Te's camp - the Show Must Go On. Shen-Ji disagrees - the show should not go on, and the circus should pack up and move, out of the chi effect! It isn't clear how far they'll have to go to escape, though.
- "Must the show not go on, or simply may it not go on?" -Yoshi
Shen-Ji is outvoted, especially since the performance tent is already full of people waiting to see the show and it would be tough to move now. Xian goes in and gives an opening speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMlKmELIhgY), and the show does, adequately, go on.
Afterwards, there are two men waiting in the tea tent - a guy with wild eyes, and a serene gentleman in green robes - asking after Xian. The wild-eyed guy is happy to explain that he has snuck Ying Quan out of the Iron Fortress.
Hana makes tea, as Ying Quan explains that Master Quan Lo has asked him to speak to them, and it is his duty to tell them what is coming next.
- "As the Master has alluded, you and your associates will be making the journey through the Pass of Five Elements on a mission that I do not need to know about. However, the way to the pass is... obstructed. Before this mission can take place, the obstructions surrounding the pass must be overcome. To the Master's knowledge, there are eight such obstructions possible; it is not clear if all of your enemies have set themselves against you here, but earlier circumstances indicate that at least one of them has. It is important that you go forth with the intention of not entering the Pass - should you intend to enter, you will encounter the resistance without a chance to disarm it. However, if you do not intend to enter, you can clear the way for those of your fellows who follow. So long as your heart is clear on this point, you should not have undue difficulty. It is defended, not directly but by intention - though some people's intentions are more direct than others."
The group questions Ying Quan - is there any danger of accidentally entering the pass when you don't intend to? He is quite definite - no, not at all. Not if you don't intend to. Ying Quan also notes that as Wu Yuan (Xian's new friend) discovered, the easiest way to deal with an obstruction that does not directly block the way is to just walk through it - but some things do directly block the way. Xian asks his Yuan to see Ying Quan back to the palace, and takes the opportunity to ask if he's okay - he does seem to be a little more wild-eyed than Xian was expecting.
- "I thought I was strengthening him..." -Xian
- "As you rise in your skill, you will find that there are few more fervently dedicated to the path than those you have just set upon it. I will see to him." -Ying Quan
There is some discussion about whether or not it is worth trying to sort out the various problems now, rather than in the morning, but it isn't clear that waking people up at midnight will make them inclined to solve problems like missing armor more quickly, so the party turns in for the night.
In the morning, the Army messenger shows up at ten, as requested, looking for Hana. She's not there, but Wei Han intercepts him. The messenger says there are a few things missing on his paperwork - his height, his date of joining the army, that sort of thing. Takanata leaps into the breach, and puts "See enlistment form" under the start date. The messenger says that should be everything, and shakes Wei Han's hand: "You're a free man now." He does also have a satchel full of additional paperwork, for a retirement pension, which will need to be certified on the date of departure. Should they start working on that now? Wei Han grits his teeth and declines to start that paperwork, though he does ask if there is an extension possible. The messenger says he can go and get an extension form, to file that today instead of the pension paperwork. Wei Han tells him to hurry.
Zhi-Hao, Shen-Ji, and Yoshi head back to the armorer - there is a problem with the fit of the armor. Zhi-Hao offers to help, along with the other two, and they're all put to work at the forge. They spend the morning fixing up Zhi-Hao's armor, and then put another few hours in generating a free +1 helmet for him, in compensation for the difficulties. The armorer says everything is going so smoothly - would they like to take the afternoon to work on another free helmet? No! No! They will not!
- "They have stepped up from 'things which are irritating' to 'things which are tempting'." -Takanata
Speaking of tempting, Shuyan hears that the hills to the north have a lot of deadly dark adders in them - snakes with a nerve-poison bite, which some people think are good for throwing. Shuyan heads out into the hills to search for dark adders. Xian, on the other hand, is pretty sure that there are works in the library on the disarming of chi-based traps and the like, which would be useful to get before heading out. He tries to get Takanata on board with investigating it. Takanata finally throws a Connections reading at the question: "Will we more successfully clear the whole set of obstructions by taking the time to look at the book about how to defend against chi attacks, or by just leaving?" Connections says that if they spend more time getting more plusses, they'll be better able to defeat the traps - but as he says that, he spends a Yin to realize that it's not actually correct. Sneaky. Takanata declares that it is Time To Go. Now. Really.
Wei Han, very sad about missing out on the retirement pension he didn't know he was due, goes in to ask Ringmaster Te to try to deal with it. Ringmaster Te has a list of things for the next performance that need to be dealt with, but Wei Han says he won't be here to deal. Well, can he send in Xian? Xian won't be here either. No, there is no one who will be able to deal with the list of problems, but Ringmaster Te should please take care of filing out the extension when it comes. Ringmaster Te isn't sure he'll be allowed to do that, but Wei Han brings in Takanata to fill out a form designating him Wei Han's attorney. Xian declares Enlightened Melina the Temporary Ringmaster in his absence, much to her consternation.
It's late afternoon by the time that's all dealt with, and people gather in the tea tent, only to discover that Shuyan (who is off hunting snakes) is not there. Yoshi asks around, and finds out where she's gone.
- "You know what, I never much liked her anyway." -Xian, throwing up his hands
- "Who has riding? Someone go get her and come back." -Wei Han
- "No! We are LEAVING! Now!" -Everyone else
The party resolutely heads south, not north to look for Shuyan, and not anywhere else to do anything else.
Shuyan returns to the circus a few hours later, having successfully caught a throwing snake, and finds the note in her tent saying that everyone else has left. One of the circus roustabouts says that the Ringmaster doesn't want headliners wandering around in danger, and offers to arrange for someone to protect her, but Shuyan evades the attempt and flees southwards in pursuit of the party.
The first encounter they find is a rickety bridge across a deep mist-filled chasm; on the other side, there are a lot of bandits, who glare as if to say "Don't even try to cross." Wei Han steps onto the bridge, and one of the bandits steps on as well. As the two clash in the middle, Yoshi leaps to where Wei Han is to block the attack. Another bandit steps onto the bridge to match Yoshi at this point.
Wei Han retreats back off the bridge again, leaving Yoshi and two bandits; Shen-Ji flies out above the bridge, and starts plinking the bandits with arrows. Zhi-Hao runs across the bridge at top speed - a bandit tries to body-slam him, but the Cane of Free Action dodges him, and he gets to the other side of the bridge. People on the bridge start to notice that as more people get on the bridge, it bounces more ominously, and their actions become capped by different stats.
The bandits on the other side don't seem hostile to Zhi-Hao; they seem to be waiting their turn to engage people on the bridge.
Takanata shoots an arrow at the second bandit fighting Yoshi, as it seems to him that it's cheating to have two on one. The arrow doesn't beat the wind, which whips it away. As one of the bandits attacks Yoshi, Wei Han leaps back in the way - a third bandit steps onto the bridge to match him. The bridge groans alarmingly, and sags quite a bit.
Master Deng, tired of waiting for the bandits to do something, attacks them all instead; this leads to them attacking him in return, with an air of offense - he is clearly not playing fair! Yoshi leaps to the far side of the bridge to protect him; that puts two party members on the far side. Shen-Ji shoots one of the bandits on the bridge, and he plummets down into the mists. Master Deng finishes stabbing some of the bandits on the far side - as they fall, three new bandits come down the hill to attack him. Hmm. Killing them not on the bridge is not so helpful.
Takanata walks onto the bridge, and calls out to the bandits.
- "Normally, there is a price charged for passage. I have not heard one yet."
- "Declare yourself a servant of Tai Lung and you may pass."
- "Tai Lung is no more worthy of our servitude than yours. He is without honor and will be defeated." -Yoshi
Yoshi manages to talk one of the bandits on the far side into surrendering, but then another bandit runs down from the hills to replace him. Okay, so persuading people not on the bridge is also not so helpful.
- "Tell me of this Tai Lung - what does he plan to do and why should I serve him?" -Takanata
- "Tai Lung is the one true master of Iron Mountain - if those who would hold themselves against his reputation would simply show up he would prove that to all."
- "I'm thinking of joining you on the bridge." -Yoshi
- "I'm thinking of joining Tai Lung." -Xian
Yoshi walks on from the bandit side, so Xian walks on from the starting side, perhaps on the theory that Yoshi counts for the bandits now? This puts the total bridge load up to five again, and there is more ominous groaning and creaking.
- "What do I have to do in order to serve Tai Lung" -Xian
- "Just declare yourself a servant of Tai Lung, and you may pass!"
- "Tai Lung has been driven from the mountain by the bears of the mountain, and has fled to the Taiga. Reconsider your allegiance!" -Takanata
Xian wonders how he might swear to Tai Lung but cheat. Is there an equivalent of crossing your fingers when making a spiritually binding promise? Well, it depends on what sort of spiritually binding is actually in effect. If you're promising to a Great Cycle Spirit, you're just done. If it's a shtick, there might be some contest of Tao involved. Xian decides not to swear at this time.
After a little while longer of Zhi-Hao chopping an infinitely replenishing series of bandits on the far side, and Shen-Ji shooting bandits on the bridge so they tumble into the chasm unable to get replaced, the bandits are finally defeated. On the other side, they find Shuyan, who has managed to catch up.
In the next valley, Shen-Ji's detect-magic shtick goes off all by itself - the valley is full of pure elemental magic. Essentially, each hex is its own deathtrap, in each of the five elements.
- "Very dangerous. Someone else go first." -Shen-Ji
Xian is finally convinced to open his cookie ("Watch your step before you become lost, rather than after"), but it doesn't seem to help. The group wonders if they can go around the valley - well, yes, but remember that the point of this mission is to clear away the obstacles for the next run, not to avoid encountering them. Whoops, right.
The magic doesn't seem to have been deliberately set - more like a lot of strong magical flux clumping together to individual dangerous spots. A spot check : pouring a waterskin on a metal trap makes it rust away to nothing. Well... one down, several hundred to go?
A more general strategy is devised: Shen-Ji sets off Firestorm on the valley, which melts the metal traps and burns the wood traps, but leaves the earth traps stronger than before. The group starts making their way carefully through the valley, stepping only on ex-metal and ex-wood traps, and drawing their path with the elemental marker. When their way is blocked by only un-destroyed traps, Shen-Ji can drop a metal wall (floor) over an earth trap to progress further. In this fashion, a path across the valley is created.
No Defilers Allowed
Entering the next valley, a voice from above and behind (with excellent cover) calls out to the group.
- "Halt! We have been forewarned of your treachery - you will not defile the Five Elements Pass! Go back or die!"
Everyone tries to explain, somewhat haphazardly, that they're not actually going to Five Elements Pass, just camping nearby, but the voice seems to find this unconvincing. Wei Han claims to be insulted that his honor has been doubted, and Yoshi tries charisma dice and sincerity.
- "No, you're just going to go 'camp near it'. Hah. Go camp somewhere else. If you come this way, you will perish."
- "Who are you?" -Yoshi
- "I am a man of Lord Xun."
- "Hmm, I consider why they do this." -Yoshi
- "He's a good man, fooled by a bad reason!" -Takanata
Wei Han asks who Lord Xun is - he is a great lord of Iron Mountain, second only to Lord Yu - and even that remains in doubt.
- "What exactly defiles the pass?"
- "What, you expect us to give you ideas?"
Is Lord Xun nearby? No, he is back in his fortress, where he cannot be captured by defilers - they are here on his behalf to defend the pass.
- "Who told you that people would defile the Pass of Five Elements?"
- "Lord Xun was informed by his trusted advisor, Machan Li." -Mike
- "What? No! He was called that once!" -Laura
- "But that's what they always call him..." -Mike
- "Dah." -Laura
- "... Lord Xun was informed by his trusted advisor, someone you have never heard of, but you are clever and figure it out."
Takanata thinks this is not very reasonable - how does Machan Li get to set traps after he is dead? Well, he probably set it some time ago, so it may not be as strong as the others.
- "Alas, your master has been deceived by a traitor, who works even now to bring ruin upon him and upon us." -Hana
Hana is pretty convincing, and Takanata throws in his reputation and status. Lord Xun's men find this all very persuasive, but... the story of "We're just going camping, don't mind us" is proving a little too implausible to swallow.
- "The time is not right for the gate to be entered for any of us. We do not plan to do this at this time."
- "Then why do you go?"
- "Because the Perfect Master says the time is coming, and the way must be cleared."
That's nearly convincing. Xian chimes in, with persuasion and name-dropping - he sat through a full tea ceremony with Lord Yu just the other day, and then spoke with Ying Quan, the representative of the Perfect Master himself, on this subject. He promises that they have no intention of doing anything other than clearing a path, and that pushes them over the edge. Lord Xun's men will let the party pass - but if the gate is defiled, Lord Xun will find them and have Words, of the sharp and pointy kind, with them!
The next encounter is with eight monks in red, who calmly block the way. One steps forward to address the party.
- "You shall not pass."
- "Why not?"
- "You have not proven yourselves worthy. We shall both draw tiles from this pai gow bag; if mine is higher, I may take a shtick of yours (until your next run). If yours is higher, you may claim a forfeit from me, which could include leaving."
Takanata, contemplating his fortune cookie, thinks that the pai gow mechanic is probably a fair contest; that they won't cheat, but if the party spurns the contest, the resulting battle will likely be heavily weighted in the monks' favor.
The group decides to try the tile-drawing contest:
- Zhi-Hao loses, and loses Riposte
- Wei Han loses, and loses Reinforcements
- Hana wins, and asks her monk to leave (he does so, and takes the shtick in "all my enemies roll for 9s" with him)
- Yoshi wins, and asks his monk to leave (he does so, and takes the shtick in "we all roll for 5s")
- Shuyan loses, and loses Mesmerizing Dance
- Takanata loses, and loses I Ching Reading
- Takanata wins, and claims the forfeit: "When Lucky Chang returns to the Red Pagoda, alert me what he plans to do there."
- Takanata wins again, and wins back I Ching Reading
- Takanata loses and loses Eyes of the I Ching
- Takanata loses again, and loses I Ching Reading
- Shuyan wins, and asks her monk to leave (he does so, and takes "no range mods for us")
- Wei Han loses, and loses Protect
- Yoshi loses, and loses Why Do You Do This?
- Wei Han wins, and asks his monk to leave (he does so, and takes "x4 multiplier for us")
Wei Han suggests that the group could probably kill the remaining four monks at this point - Takanata vetoes this as poor form.
- Xian wins, and asks a monk to leave (he takes "dodge pool for us")
- Xian wins again, and asks a monk to leave (he takes "no resistance for you")
- Xian cheats, and draws a ten from the nine tiles, and asks his monk to leave. When the monk does so, everyone else gets the feeling that Xian is a cheater.
- Takanata wins, and asks to be told of the challenges that remain.
- "All that remains is the battle with the Dragon Army and the maze of twisty little passages."
- "I believe you are in error."
- "I speak as truly as I can."
- "That, I believe."
- Hana wins, and asks for the last monk's shtick. He apologizes - what he gives her is the ability to give any red monk any one of her shticks when needed, and vice versa.
- Hana loses, and loses the red monk shtick
- Hana loses, and loses Walk Through Walls
- Walk Through Walls goes back and forth a lot, until the monk hits a winning streak and also pockets Miasma of Fear and Feign Death.
- Hana wins, and takes Walk through Walls back; everyone else persuades her to stop playing with the monk, as she seems unlucky.
- Takanata loses, and loses Sense Mistake
- Takanata wins, and the last monk leaves.
Twisty Little Passages
The next valley is cluttered with twisty ravines and switchbacks, so that it is difficult to make it through without becoming lost, and it is impossible to make a map while in the ravines. (This is mechaniced by a traditional Hat Maze, with the twist that when the end of the maze is reached, everyone has to sit down and not look at the tiles, whereupon they're quizzed about the state of the map.) Each pass through the maze takes about a day.
After the first journey through the maze, they fail to answer "how many different colors are the hill icons?" but now they know what they're up against. Takanata starts picking up leaves as he goes.
The second journey is also failed, with the question "how many of the tiles have grass as a background?"
The third journey is very long and filled with many many tiles - Zhi-Hao missed the question "How many un-taken paths are left?" but only by one - he was counting, and just missed one.
The fourth journey is quite short, and a map is successfully drawn afterwards.
Stupid Li the Stupid Wanderer
The party returns from their journey, victorious. Ringmaster Te, who is up and about now, says that they were certainly gone longer than just one night, which is what he was told, but it is time for a performance. No one quite knows what to make of this - is it an illusion? A dream? Takanata asks around, and doesn't find out anything more incriminating beyond "Where have you guys been for so long?" With nothing obvious to do, Shuyan and the others give a performance. There are no ninja hiding anywhere obvious; nor are there invisible heat sources visible to snake-vision, or invisible anything else visible to Xian. Nor does Yoshi spot Kibo lurking around waiting to tell him about the dream that this must be.
Takanata determines the strongest connection between Ringmaster Te and Xian - it appears to be the relationship of a grumpy employer and an employee whose job is in peril.
Ringmaster Te pulls Wei Han aside, and explains that while he tried to convince the army messenger to let him fill out the extension, the messenger was unwilling to take Ringmaster Te's signature instead. If it's going to be a hardship to not have his pension, Te says, he can write a letter to the Prince asking for an increased salary for Wei Han.
Wu Yuan drops by to see him, as well - he says he escorted Ying Quan back up the mountain without problems, and talked to some of the monks. He thinks things are back under control at the palace. Xian offers to cast his I Ching:
The hand that has been set upon his life moves his path to a place that will provide him with great opportunity, but also provides him an enemy yet unseen.
Xian asks if everything is clear to him now - he admits that it isn't really, but that he understands that this sort of thing is not always clear at the beginning.
Takanata thinks hard to try to remember the fortune he wrote on the cookie Yoshi ate - he finally concludes that it was "It's not like I'm going to read this one, anyway." He ponders whether they're still on the path, or if they're lost now. Well, it's not clear there is a leaving-the-path in the way he means, but if there is, they've already left it.
Having no other idea of what to do, the group sets back out into the mountains after the circus performance. They cross the unguarded bridge, follow the lines across the mine field, travel through several empty valleys, and traverse the windy ravines. Then, before going any further, Shuyan puts on her Ring of Feigned Death, and Shen-Ji sends Ka-Pow (his phoenix) forward using the monocle to look through her eyes. Shen-Ji sees another pass, with soldiers building a large stone wall being built across it. The uniforms look like Dragon Army.
The group proceeds forward, and are immediately waved back again by the soldiers. They'll have to turn back - orders from the Obsidian Warlord. Beyond this wall is considered to be outside the Empire.
Takanata and Hana launch into a panic-inducing persuasion attack - the soldiers doing the construction on the other side of the wall are outside the Empire! They're not permitted to be outside the Empire! It's a suicide mission! Exile for sure! Doom and despair! After a concentrated barrage of this, they convince several of the soldiers on the far side of the wall to flee before they're executed.
Xian notes that one of the soldiers on this side of the wall is being evasive about whether he actually "crossed the wall", and incites him to panic too. Before he can desert into the wilderness, two of the other soldiers grab him, in a brief scuffle, and then drag him back to their camp.
Takanata goes back on the offensive - are they really saying the Obsidian Warlord has ordered them to cede land of the Empire, part of the land the Empire was founded on, without even a fight? Well... yes. The party suggests that maybe their orders are in error. The chop looks legitimate, but maybe they have been altered? They don't have a company forger to confirm that the orders aren't forged, so there's nothing much they can do there.
Though Takanata has lost his Eyes of the I Ching to the red monks, he climbs up a ladder to the top of the wall and asserts that that is definitely Imperial Chi on the opposite side. Takanata and Wei Han set up a clamor that the Wall Must Not Stand, and Hana, emboldened, asserts that if that is so, they must take it down now, but that is deemed to be going a little bit too far. And it's a bit too substantial for Wei Han to just push over.
However, the group is able to convince the remaining soldiers that they should accompany the I Ching Master to determine where the chi of the Empire actually ends, and the group sets forward again.
The party returns, victorious, to the circus, just in time for a performance. Ringmaster Te grumbles at them about wandering off in the middle of the night for another multi-day journey, but at least they're back now. Off in the mountains, the Dragon Army soldiers return to their camp, also confident that they were victorious in their wall-building mission.
- Shen-Ji goes back to the mine field to talk to a fire spirit
- Shen-Ji talks to monks at the Three Pagodas
- Cai Wen goes to the Green Pagoda to ask about the history of kung fu. He escapes some hours later.
- Xiao Fa helps a monk of the Green Pagoda to design a new garden.
- Xiao Fa and the white-robed monk visit the circus.
- Wei Han heads to the west Strand to talk to some Army guys.
- Cai Wen goes shopping in the City of Spires.
- Merit and Min Feng go to the Dragon Army garrison to see if they can pry loose Wei Han's multi-century pension.
- Master Deng trains Lijuan in sword, after which she trains some local pages.
- Master Koji turns up, having heard that Tai Lung has been driven away...