|"There can be no judge without an accused."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Butterfly in the Month of the Fox in the first Year of the Magpie since the White Pagoda was abandoned.|
The run takes place in Bear Mountain.
As everyone relaxes on the Shrouded Isle after their victory over the South, Master Zhou suggests that some people (Anto, Xiao Fa, and Min Feng) come with him to Bear Mountain to help him re-attune the White Pagoda Senchi chamber.
It is a long journey to Bear Mountain, and a steep road to the Pagodas, but eventually they arrive (without incident or Dragon Army encounters!), and on the steps of the White Pagoda is Yanzi, waiting for them. She asks Master Zhou how long he will be staying this time, and he says that he intends to be more consistently at the pagoda in the future. He will probably return to the party periodically but will mostly be on the Mountain.
- "In that case, I have three questions. What have you heard from the Steadfast Heart, what do you intend to do about the Senchi Chamber, and who is it that is spying on you from the rooftop?" -Yanzi
The morning light backlighting the guy on the rooftop of the Red Pagoda suggests the answer, and sure enough, the dramatic figure dressed in black and white is Po, who gives the salute that is appropriate between Men of Action.
As to the other two questions, Master Zhou hasn't heard from the Steadfast Heart since he reclaimed the Pagoda, a month or so ago, though some monks from that order did come to his aid against the Southern Armada. They didn't discuss the White Pagoda, though. And, he wants Xiao Fa to look at the chi of the senchi chamber, to advise on how to attune it.
As Master Zhou explains, a less-impressive Po, though still dressed in black and white, comes out from behind the Red Pagoda, and bows to Master Zhou.
- "Oh most illustrious Master Zhou, I have done your bidding and travelled far and wide and learned many things from throughout the land. Did you want to hear about the stuff I learned before or after we fight the army that is coming up the path?" -Po
There is definitely a group of monks coming up the path. Was Master Zhou... expecting some sort of invasion by monks? He says that the Steadfast Heart was somewhat grumpy when he came and reclaimed the Pagoda - but perhaps it is unrelated. Xiao Fa nods as if to say "that seems unlikely." Min Feng notes that she has a horn which will summon Lord Yu's army, if needed. Just in case.
But why were the monks grumpy? Well, for a long time, Yanzi was the only student of his remaining in the White Pagoda, after Master Zhou's memories were taken by Spider. In order that Yanzi could leave to pursue the homework that Master Zhou assigned her, as well as assist Broken Sword and Yue-Mei, Master Zhou arranged for some monks from the Steadfast Heart to look after the pagoda. They were unwilling to do so as permanent guests, so their master declared that if Master Zhou did not return to take care of his pagoda, after a year and a day, their guardianship would become permanent. When Master Zhou returned with a week to spare and told them to leave, some of the younger monks were less than pleased, and their master did not quash them. But they did leave. In any case, it looks like a bunch of them are coming up the mountain now.
- "I wonder what happens if we summon some of them to defend us?" -Anto
Po declares that he will stand in defense of Master Zhou even unto perilous doom! Xiao Fa goes to stand just behind and to the left of where he thinks Master Zhou should stand to meet them at the top of the trail, but Master Zhou goes and stands at the White Pagoda instead. Xiao Fa eyes him, and goes back to the White Pagoda.
While they are waiting, Po can give a summary of the homework he did.
Master Zhou told him to watch predators and prey in a forest, and observe and predict predator attacks. Po observed that the thing most likely to predict a predator attack is moving very very fast towards the prey, and to disrupt the attack, you have to scare off the prey before the attack.
Master Zhou told him to watch people in taverns and marketplaces, and predict which ones would become violent, and to get better at predicting that. Po determined that the best way to become very accurate at predicting violence was to incite it by insulting the guys who were bigger than him.
Master Zhou told him to observe masters and students at dojos and arms colleges, and predict their skill level and aggressiveness, and then compare his predictions to watching them practice. Po predicted that the masters would be awesome, and they were, and that the students would be less awesome, and they also were. And that sword students are more aggressive than martial arts students.
Overall, he has learned that the way to have things happen the way you predict them (or want them to happen) is to make them happen that way yourself.
Most people maintain straight faces throughout this recitation. Master Zhou is not sure this is what the lesson was meant to teach, but he cannot deny that Po has done the homework, and learned something - and the thing he needs to know is that not every test is an epic battle between good and evil, and not every tavern is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Master Zhou wonders if those lessons lie ahead in his future. No doubt eventually, though they will come more swiftly if someone teaches him.
- "The approaching horde is not a matter for great masters such as yourselves, so I would be pleased to go and deal with it for you." -Po
This is tempting, but Master Zhou declares that if the monks of the Steadfast Heart have a quarrel, it is with Master Zhou, so it is he who should deal with them. But Po may remain. Po would be honored to watch Master Zhou in action, and settles back to watch an Epic Battle of Awesomeness.
A Platoon of Monks
Two dozen monks form into ranks before Master Zhou. The master steps forward.
- "Zhou of Bear Mountain. I am Master Tsung of the Steadfast Heart, and I have come to bring justice for our fallen comrades. Will you surrender yourself to our justice? We have already defeated your students upon the path, and if necessary, we will defeat you here. There is no place for you to run."
- "What fallen comrades do you speak of?" -Master Zhou
- "As you know, we had brothers of our order here, guarding the sanctity of the White Pagoda in your absence. You were to come in a year and a day to relieve them. When they did not return after a year and a day, we investigated and they are not here, and our sources suggest that one of them rests in the World After, now named 'Monk Kai Shou, murdered by Zhou Wei'."
- "He... wasn't disguised as a Southerner in the Southern Armada, was he?"
- "He was not."
Master Tsung wants to know if the rest of the people here stand with the criminal Zhou.
- "Any criminal activity has yet to be proven to my satisfaction." -Xiao Fa
Master Zhou is dubious about the Steadfast Heart's ability to look into the World Beyond, but he doesn't think that he killed Kai Shou. He did relieve the master and his students from their job, but he does not believe he has seen any of them since.
- "Then why were we set upon by your students coming up the Mountain? They named themselves the Five Furious Fists, or some such nonsense."
- "Them. I have encountered them before, but they are not my students." -Master Zhou
- "They said no others would have precedence over your time but them."
- "I have encountered these individuals, and they have a grudge against Master Zhou." -Anto
- "Well, if this is how he conducts his affairs, then a great number of people will have a grudge against him."
Anto wants to know how they determined the death of this monk. Master Tsung says that their allies in the Clear Melting Sect found his name in the books of the World Beyond.
- "Hmm. Did someone Li the Wanderer me?" -Master Zhou
Master Zhou says that he is grieved as well by the death or vanishing of the monks, but he has no knowledge of it. He too would like to understand more about what brought Kai Shou to the World Beyond, but to his knowledge it was not an act of his. Anto would also like to see justice, but he believes Master Zhou. Xiao Fa frowns and gestures that no one has said anything that suggests he should change his opinion from "nobody has proved anything bad has happened", and Min Feng has nothing to say. Po looks like he's about to say something, but Xiao Fa elbows him.
- "It will not be said that the Steadfast Heart was the one to strike first, so we will go down the mountain and beg for Lord Yu's justice."
- "One of Lord Yu's ministers is here right now. I would like to present the Most Honorable Song Min Feng, Minister of Ramifications for Lord Yu." -Xiao Fa
- "Then it is to her that we ask for a ruling."
Min Feng directs them to await the results of her investigation.
The party confers. If Kai Shou broke into the White Senchi Chamber and was killed, would that count as Murdered By Master Zhou? Maybe (nobody is really an expert on the World After), but the rest of the monks all went missing too, so that wouldn't be a complete explanation. If they all broke into the senchi chamber and died, surely someone else would have noticed.
Min Feng notes that Tai Lung is about thirty miles east, which is not as far away as it ought to be. This is most of the way to the Steadfast Heart monastery that the White Pagoda guardians came from; Master Tsung's group is from the larger temple in the Taiga.
Xiao Fa checks Master Zhou's chi, but there aren't any big Li-the-Wanderer-shaped holes recently.
- "As far as his chi reveals, if he's murdered anyone recently, he was of sound mind when he did it." -Xiao Fa
Anto checks if Master Zhou is bound, and yes, there's definitely a subtle trap/binding going on. The traditional ways to "unbind" someone from being accused of murder is to find the real culprit or find the murder victim still alive.
Yanzi says that things had been quiet here, especially now that Kar Fai is out of town. There had been no further word from the Steadfast Heart, but she hadn't expected there to be.
So... maybe when Spider stole Master Zhou's shticks and gave them to Tai Lung, he also stole Master Zhou's name, and gave it to Tai Lung too. If the monk in question was killed by the Quivering Palm, then that would be good evidence it was actually Tai Lung.
Min Feng tasks Master Tsung and his followers to not do anything against the White Pagoda until she has finished her investigation. They say they will give her some time, but she must make demonstrable progress. Unless Master Zhou is given into their custody, in which case she can take as long as she likes. Min Feng tries to figure out if Master Tsung seems unreasonably biased against Master Zhou - well, no, it seems more like reasonably biased, in that he seems to think Master Zhou has murdered his fellow monks, and is about as upset at that as one might expect.
Monk Chen, one of the Steadfast Heart, is assigned to be their guide to the small temple; Po is instructed to guard the White Pagoda, and the group heads (with Monk Chen) down the mountain.
Halfway down the mountain, the group runs into the Furious Five, somewhat bandaged. Anto scolds them - now is not the time to air their grievances. No, they are not here for grievances - they are here to learn from Master Zhou. Ki Ran tells the story of the battle.
- "On the road, we encountered a large group of warriors who said that we would not be seeing the Master today, but we showed them the error of their ways."
Min Feng thinks they are embellishing in a "you should have seen the other guy!" way, but not really lying. The other monks didn't look very injured, but they might have been disguising it in front of Master Zhou, or they might have had a healer with them.
Master Zhou says he has another matter to attend to before he can train them, and sends them to the White Pagoda to wait.
- "Go to the top of the mountain, and give a wide berth to the other monks. There is no cause for fighting among you and they." -Master Zhou
- "And if you make trouble with the monks of the Steadfast Heart, that would be an affront to Lord Yu." -Min Feng
The party passes two villages, neither of which has anyone who saw anything of particular interest, but the third village has a great funeral procession, for what they say is a traveler found dead by the road, probably beset by bandits. Min Feng claims rights over the investigation, to be done directly after the funerary rites.
Xiao Fa thinks that the man was killed in a kung fu battle - he was clearly fighting with kung fu himself, and was beaten up by kung fu, but he was killed after that, by having his neck broken. Monk Chen identifies the man as one of the other missing monks, not Kai Shou, and declares that he must be brought back to the Temple of the Steadfast Heart, not buried to hide the evidence.
The farmer who found the body says that it was off of the road, in a gully running beside it; it does seem to have happened some time ago. When the group looks on the road, there are a few indications of a fight having taken place, but it has been cleaned up afterwards (and rained on and walked on) since then.
Anto talks to some local spirits and demons, and finds some who were attracted to the fight, between two groups of humans, but when no one was struck dead in anger, they grew bored and left. The demons aren't very good at exact numbers or descriptions.
It is odd for one body to have been left behind like this, but Tai Lung does seem to leave clues pointing to himself a lot, sort of like a calling card or a taunt.
Monk Chen thinks that none of this contradicts what he was expecting - death after a kung fu battle. There is some protest that Master Zhou doesn't have a team of kung fu fighters, but it is known that he can call others to his aid when he needs to. Not to mention clearly having allies. The exact style of kung fu used seems to indicate that one side was using Steadfast Heart style and one side was using the Path of the Balanced Strike, that is, the style of Master Zhou and his students. Whether this is evidence indicating Master Zhou or indicating Tai Lung depends on who you ask.
Tai Lung being nearby seems like the only further lead that can be pursued, so the group spends the rest of the day chasing him north towards the Roof of the World until Min Feng starts discovering that she has already used her location shtick. Well, that's where Li the Wanderer was last seen.
Monk Chen thinks that this is time enough investigating, and no evidence has been found exonerating Master Zhou, while more evidence seems to support his guilt. ("We could have lied about the evidence if it was really Master Zhou" does not seem to convince him of Master Zhou's innocence). He will take this body back to the temple, and send a messenger to Master Tsung.
- "I trust you will do the right thing." -Monk Chen
- "That's nice, but you don't give the orders." -Min Feng
Asking around at the villages indicates that the bandits normally associated with Tai Lung have been seen in the past, harassing travellers not on the main road to the Three Pagodas - but not so much in the past month or so. That... could be evidence? It does mean that it will be difficult to capture them an interrogate them about Tai Lung's doings. Perhaps they are guarding the captive monks?
Well, it is time to go back to the White Pagoda, and tell the Steadfast Heart that they can't have Master Zhou. Master Zhou wants to stay and find the bodies of the other monks first, but since no one knows where they are or how to find them, that seems a futile quest. And he does have a senchi chamber to attune.
The next morning, the group heads back up to the Three Pagodas, where Yanzi and the Furious Five and Po are standing somewhat defensively against the Steadfast Heart monks.
Master Tsung bows to Min Feng, and awaits her judgement.
She says that they found the site of a battle between monks of the Steadfast Heart and others. No one was killed in the battle, and the site was cleaned up, and then one of the men was later killed and left in a ditch, as though accidentally, as if the villain wanted to be known. So, she believes that the crime was committed by Tai Lung, though she admits the evidence is inconclusive.
Master Tsung is incensed - she will do nothing? She says that Master Zhou has expressed an interest in finding out the fate of the other monks, so she will leave it to him to do so.
- "I see that we shall be receiving no justice from Lord Yu this day. We shall carry out our own 'investigation', and there will indeed be ramifications from the deeds this day." -Master Tsung
Min Feng protests - they didn't need to investigate if they were just going to declare Master Zhou innocent either way.
- "I do not think that you are attempting to cover it up, but I feel that you have not yet found the evidence you are searching for, as opposed to the evidence that was there." -Master Tsung
- "The evidence that was there was inconclusive." -Min Feng
- "Some of Master Zhou's abilities are now held by Tai Lung - he can no longer kill someone with the Quivering Palm." -Min Feng
- "Was the man you found killed by the Quivering Palm?" -Master Tsung
- "Well, no. But someone was a while ago, and that showed up in the World Beyond as 'killed by Master Zhou'."
Master Zhou says that the Steadfast Heart has long been an ally of his, and those who would drive a wedge between them should be confronted. Master Tsung does not doubt there will be a confrontation, and leads his monks down the mountain. (No, they don't want to leave anyone at the White Pagoda - that didn't work out so well the last time.)
- "You drove them off without even a single blow! Well done, Master Zhou!" -Po
Xiao Fa takes Po away to practice, and then assigns the Furious Five to take turns supervising him.
Now, for the actual purpose of this trip!
Xiao Fa examines the chi of the senchi chamber - it's very Yang and ferocious. There aren't any particular chi booby traps, just extra choppiness. In order to attune the senchi chamber, one must defeat the previous attunement - which in this case is defeating Master Zhou, the old Master Zhou, in combat. That... sounds difficult.
However, the new Master Zhou takes strength from his students in a way that the old Master Zhou did not, and that is something that needs to change in the senchi chamber, so the others can come with him. Having three martial arts masters (Yanzi also wants to come), one of them a healer, can't hurt. Min Feng says she'll wait at the lunch table - she's not Master Zhou's student and isn't interested in becoming one.
They enter the senchi chamber, and in the center stands Master Zhou. The "new" Master Zhou will tend to say "Come and train with me" - this one has more of a look of "why have you not trained yet?".
- "I am Zhou of Bear Mountain. Who dares invade my chamber?"
- "I am Zhou of Bear Mountain. I come to take back what is mine."
- "Then why are these here?"
- "They follow me. We work together."
- "As a spaceteam!" -Jerry
- "Then you shall fall together."
Xiao Fa strikes "old Zhou" with a chi block, but that proves to block "new Zhou"'s tao too. Maybe that isn't a thing he should do again, Master Zhou suggests. Anto grabs old Zhou, and luckily, that doesn't end up grabbing new Zhou. However, in drift, old Zhou disappears and reappears behind Master Zhou, striking him with the Strike Without Shadow, which cannot be blocked.
More battle ensues - old Zhou has a lot of blunting, and a lot of choppiness. But he doesn't have Xiao Fa's healing, and he isn't four people.
In the next drift is Di Mak, the Strike that Cannot Be Defended Against, against Anto.
Finally, old Zhou strikes at Yanzi with the Quivering Palm, the strike that cannot be survived. There is a mysterious free action - Master Zhou attempts to get between them, and Anto attempts to wrap old Zhou in the chain. Only sacrificial actions take effect, so Master Zhou takes the strike instead of Yanzi. The senchi chamber explodes in light, and Master Zhou spends three karma to push "Pebbles cannot move a mountain" to be immune to any deleterious effect.
When everyone wakes up, Master Zhou is meditating in the center of the chamber, and everyone else is sitting around the edge. A voice, which sounds much like Master Zhou's but full of inner peace, speaks from the center of the chamber.
- "The strength of a master comes from his students, not his teachings."