|"Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Phoenix, in the Month of the Crane, in in the three hundred and forty-fifth Year of the Spider since the forging of the First Blades of Deliverance.|
The run starts in the Port of Propitious Voyage, but mostly takes place in the disputed New Rivers area between the Jade Taiga and the Savanna of Tears.
The party is still gathered at the Cup of Five Virtues in the Port of Propitious Voyage, wondering what the next plan should be, when a soldier in the uniform of the Dragon Army comes in and announces a curfew. Everyone must be indoors from sunset to dawn, for one night only. Min Feng tries to ask him why, but he's off to tell the next place. She follows him out, and notes that other soldiers seem to be notifying establishments on other streets. When people try to object, they're told that the order comes from the Obsidian Warlord, and that shuts them up. Rumor has it that the streets are being cleared because the Dragon Army is pulling out and moving south tonight to crush - someone in the south, it's not clear. Min Feng investigates the docks as well - they're being told that sailors have to stay on their ships after sunset. There are some army supply boats being loaded - the blockade will be losing much of its land support, apparently.
- "We wanted the Dragon Army to go south and peace-keep, right?" -Yoshi
- "That's different than 'crush someone in the south'!" -Anto
- "The Obsidian Warlord's methods might differ from our own." -Yoshi
Back at the tea house, there is some brief excitement, as Anto hands the Butterfly Talisman to Cai Wen, who is already wearing the Magpie Talisman. He looks truly impressive indeed, but notes that he probably shouldn't have both of them, hands one away, and then passes out. Xiao Fa examines him and says that he just needs to sleep it off. This one does make it clear, however, that while multiple amulets can be used together, it will only work for a limited amount of time, and "there is no elegant way to get off of that bull once you are riding it."
Xiao Fa receives a message from a brother of his order and tells the others that he will need to go to the Savanna - the people of New Rivers need their Xiao Fa back. New Rivers is quite a ways away, but perhaps the group can take Kuan-Xi's little carriage which travels very fast. Anto suggests leaving tomorrow - he is worried about some sort of ritual, or mass arrest, or something going on during the curfew tonight - or why else would the Dragon Army have instituted it?
Seeking advice, Xiao Fa wakes Cai Wen up - his stats are all down by two. He tries to muzzily catch up on what's going on, and when he starts looking around for plots, notices some people in the back corner of the tea house, whispering covertly to each other. Then Xiao Fa gives Cai Wen some Sleepytime Tea, and he passes out again. Min Feng tries to overhear the whisperers - they are concerned that the army is on to them, and is probably going to round them up. Maybe they can pin it on someone else, or figure a way out of town or something... Yoshi, eying them closely, thinks the leader is a "Freedom Fighter", and Min Feng thinks that only three of them are actually in danger from the Dragon Army, while the others are just concerned and trying to help.
Yoshi, Min Feng, and the four Monkeys of the Apocalypse that Min Feng brings everywhere with her, sit down at the conspiracy table. Yoshi attempts to convince them that the party can help them:
- "We are extremely understanding of odd difficulties." -Yoshi
- "And we are friends of phoenixes." -Min Feng
- "... Yes, we are also friends of phoenixes!" -Freedom fighter, as if he has discovered a contact phrase
There are a few hours left until sunset and the curfew, so the three of them just need some help getting out of the city. Yoshi checks if anyone else needs to be brought, but they say it's just the three of them. Kuan-Xi's little carriage will not actually hold eleven people (it's built to seat four comfortably). She says that she normally hires a driver and the driver needs to be familiar with where they're going. Anto offers to drive, but she doesn't think that's a good idea. Xiao Fa (mistaking her concern for propriety) offers to drive, and she concedes that that might be okay. The three fugitives, Anto, Kuan-Xi, and the unconscious Cai Wen, are bundled into the carriage, and Xiao Fa starts to drive it out of the city.
- "So why are you being hunted by the Dragon Army again?" -Anto
They claim to be being hunted and persecuted for their beliefs, but these beliefs appear to be economic in nature.
Xiao Fa discovers that driving the little carriage is actually quite disturbing - he keeps thinking of where he's about to go, and finding that he's already passed it. By the time they reach the rendezvous point a few hours down the coast, Xiao Fa is down several resolve and very rattled and shaky. He pets Mr. Squeaky, trying to not look at how bendy the ferret is.
- "You guys just wanted to bring back "don't look out the windows in hyperspace", didn't you?"
The rest of the group heads out of the city the normal way, through the gate. Since it's close to sunset, there's a very long line to pass through by the soldiers at the gate. Shen-Ji has the Butterfly Talisman, so he brings his entourage forward when the status-10 people get to jump the line.
- "Do you have any contraband?" -Soldier
- "Define contraband." -Shen-Ji
- "Well, why don't we just search everything, then."
Min Feng urges her monkeys to start jumping around and causing trouble; some things get swapped in the crowd, and the soldiers start to get impatient. They don't find anything that seems to count as contraband and Yoshi warns the soldier who checks out his Dangerous Peppers to not touch his eyes without washing his hands first. The party gets through the gate, and heads south, ignoring the shouting behind them.
- "Where's my pocket watch?"
- "Aaah! My eyes!"
They eventually catch up to the rest of the group waiting with the carriage. Min Feng briefs the "freedom fighters" about the fact that the blockade will be having supply trouble in the future. They do admit that they recently broke out of jail, having been caught sabotaging one of those very supply ships. Since they've fled the Port of Propitious Voyage, the party can find them or their contacts, in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival or the Port of Auspicious Voyage. But they're from the Arcade, not from the Shrouded Isle - they're just in favor of free trade.
Kuan-Xi and Min Feng (and the monkeys) sleep in the little carriage; everyone else attempts to camp outside. Yoshi and Anto prove particularly inept campers, specializing in rocks and fire ants, and wake up a bit down on energy. The monkeys, on the other hand, have a fun night, and Min Feng finds them juggling some of Kuan-Xi's money, having picked the lock on her strongbox of li. She convinces them to put the li back - at least, as many as she can find - before Kuan Xi wakes up. Cai Wen is finally in good spirits, having recovered from his talisman troubles after a good night's sleep.
Xian would really like to go back to the city and find out what happened during the night, while everyone else figures they'll find out eventually. They compromise by waiting near the Imperial Highway until a passerby exiting the city comes by. It sounds like "the army pulled out" is the only obvious rumor, though. Apparently the army has headed south "to plow under everything from the Tanzhe to the New Rivers." They're going to "stabilize" the situation, army style.
At this point, none of the party is willing to drive the little carriage, so the group heads down the road to the next town, where Kuan-Xi hires a driver who knows where the New Rivers area is. Yoshi gives the driver a pep talk, assuring him that he can totally drive the carriage, that the driver finds rather inexplicable; then the carriage sets off (Yoshi rides on top with the baggage, with his eyes tightly closed). A little while later, the carriage stops - the driver is apologetic, as he was heading for the center of New Rivers, but seems to have fetched up in the eastern New Rivers area instead. Still, that's close enough, so the party thanks the driver (who is about as shaken as Xiao Fa was after his ride, having lost substantially more Resolve - but Kuan-Xi hired him for his high resolve, so he'll be okay).
Five Fists of Fury
The group looks around for the nearest settlement - that would be a Savanna military encampment, licking their wounds after a battle - the flags indicate that they're the Seomung clan. People stride in, offering bandages and laying about with not-very-expert first aid, though Xiao Fa proves himself useful and gets some more respect. Shen-Ji introduces himself as a Myeong clansman offering assistance, which doesn't get the response he expects:
- "Another one? Okay, okay, you can come fight somewhere. We'll give you a guard post or something."
The Savanna is trying to push the Taiga invaders back to the small tributary that is the "original" border between the Savanna and the Taiga - they show the party the map of the disputed area, and the disposition of the units. The party happily chimes in that the Obsidian Warlord will be arriving soon - the commander interprets this as "so we should push them back before he gets here" rather than "we're all going to die".
Xiao Fa asks after the people who normally live in the area - for the most part they've fled the fighting in one direction or another, or are in larger "refugee" camps. Min Feng, wandering the camp, hears Master Zhou's name dropped a few times, as if someone else is asking about him. She starts spreading the rumor that Anto is a student of Master Zhou, on the theory that if someone is trying to find or kill Master Zhou, they will come and find or kill Anto instead. The rumor mill starts garbling things together - the Obsidian Warlord and Master Zhou are both coming to New Rivers, and when they arrive, they will fight!
Anto and Yoshi wander around, looking for whoever is looking for Anto. Suddenly, a rope drops from a nearby tree, attempting to loop around Anto - Yoshi leaps in the way and gets grabbed instead, and is hauled up into the tree. Anto leaps into the tree himself, wrapping the rope-user up in his kusarigama chain. She bows, noting "you truly are a student of the great master." She tells Anto to bring Master Zhou to the plain outside the camp, at sunset, and all will be explained. Anto hedges - Master Zhou actually isn't all that close by, but Anto can get a message to him.
- "Tell him he will not avoid the Five Fists of Fury so easily, and we will see him at Sunset."
- "Will he recognize the name?" -Yoshi
- "Of course!"
Actually, Anto recognizes the name himself - Master Koji would probably disapprove of calling them masters, so perhaps "adepts", who travel about fighting other masters of the art. They have heard that Master Zhou is developing the Ultimate Art of kung fu, and they wish to defeat his students so that he will teach them. Yoshi, ever focused on end goals, wants to know what they will do once they learn the Ultimate Art, but they seem to see it as an end rather than a means.
Anto agrees to go and meet the challenge in Master Zhou's stead. Xian thinks this is idiotic - can anyone just make Anto fight with them by issuing this sort of challenge? Anto thinks well, yes, if they follow the appropriate forms - "it's a kung fu thing." Xian thinks hiding in a tree isn't much of a form. Anto explains that it was more complicated than that - first she showed off, then he showed off, then she bowed and issued the challenge.
- "Master Zhou does not have to deal with this kind of nonsense because he has Anto to do it for him." -Yoshi
Min Feng offers to pretend to be Anto's student, and then Anto can send her to the fight instead. Anto thinks that isn't really right, but he does borrow the Magpie Talisman, since he's still down some energy from his failed night of camping.
Meanwhile, a Myeong clansman has found Shen-Ji, complaining that the warleaders will not give the Swift Tiger a place in the battle. Now that their warband has their luck back, they need a chance to earn glory! Shen-Ji says he'll talk to people about that, and proceeds to do so. The Seomung are dubious - what does Myeong bring to the battle that other clansmen do not, and what can Shen-Ji provide that will assist? He says he has already brought a trained healer, but will also do what he can to bring information about the enemy. The Seomung warleader agrees that if Shen-Ji can provide more information about the enemy troops, they will allow Myeong a place in battle.
At sunset, the party heads to the agreed-upon field. Standing at the western edge, backlit by the sunset, are five people in a line, in dramatic stances. Anto introduces himself formally as Anto of the Way of Fivefold Essence, a student of Master Zhou. As Master Zhou is not here, he will fight in Master Zhou's stead. The leader of the Five introduces himself as Ti Gri of the Five Fists of Fury, and asks which five of the group are here to fight. Anto demurs - the others are not Master Zhou's students, they are not here to fight. Well, actually, technically, Xiao Fa is Master Zhou's student. Kind of. Ti Gri nods and says that Anto and Xiao Fa can choose two of the Five to fight them, then. Xiao Fa clarifies that while Master Zhou has taught him things, he is not here to fight. Very well, Anto can choose one of them to fight. He chooses Ti Gri.
Yoshi notes that if Anto wins, their sense of honor will probably mean that they'll be helpful to the party somehow, possibly in the army mechanic. Kuan-Xi thinks that this is the best thing to happen in weeks, as Anto gets to be particularly glorious. Cai Wen arranges for a betting pool, but the local soldiers are just betting in zhu.
Anto starts with his traditional grab-with-chain maneuver; Ti Gri is a basic fighter, strong and fast, but he doesn't have Anto's x3 weapon damage. However, after the first round of fighting, Yoshi notices one of the other Five (Man Ti) surreptitiously raising a blowdart, and calls him on it. Min Feng and the Four Monkeys of the Apocalypse have distracted Mon Ki, so no cheating happens at this time. Anto puts up a wall of earth between the fight and the others of the Five, and they have to move to see around/over it.
- "Even if your skills are great, if your spirit cannot resist temptation, you will never become a master." -Yoshi
In the end, buoyed by the extra energy of the Magpie Talisman and Kuan-Xi's buffs, Anto prevails over Ti Gri. The Five all bow, and say that if they cannot defeat a student of Master Zhou, they cannot wrest the secret of the Ultimate Art from him. They will come back again to fight Anto again when they have trained further. Yoshi counter-suggests that they should come back only when they have learned his lessons about not cheating, and they agree that that is just.
In the meantime, though, they will act at Anto's direction in a fight - they are a grey "scissors" unit which can be dropped anywhere. The party still hasn't decided what their plan is, though, so they leave the scissors in reserve for later. Then, it's time to turn in for the night, before a move to a different space tomorrow.
The next day, everyone heads farther towards the Taiga, looking for villagers and refugees. They find a village that is over-stuffed with people, serving as a refugee camp itself. At first, there is a shout as the party is assumed to be more displaced villagers, but then someone recognizes "the Xiao Fa" and a different shout goes up.
At present, the village is known as Verdant Tithings, in the Recondite Tributaries region of the Jade Taiga, as it has most recently been conquered by the Taiga forces. The armies keep tramping back and forth - being conquered isn't so bad, but the going back and forth is a pain. They've been harvesting winter rice so they're not starving, but they're going through stores faster than they'd like, due to all the extra mouths to feed.
Speaking of which, some wagons marked with the insignia of the Red Duke pull into the village, and start loading sacks of rice into the wagons. That provokes the party to rush over in a flurry of "oh no you don't!". How dare the soldiers take food from the village? The soldiers explain that this is the way it always is with villages, and that the army needs food to drive the Savanna interlopers from land that belonged to the Taiga only a hundred years ago. The party is unconvinced. Yoshi tries to convince the supply soldiers to not have a war on this land, since the villagers are using it, but there isn't really anywhere to have a war that isn't currently in use by someone. The party chases the cart away, back to its army unit.
Anto has noticed that the peasants farming the winter rice are using sickles, flails, and other farm implements that could be used as weapons. Xian is worried that sending peasants into battle will just get them all killed, but Anto is more optimistic. He starts teaching them to fight with their tools, and Yoshi starts providing tactics advice. Min Feng gets them to hide some of their sacks of rice. Oddly, training the peasants seems to invoke what seems like a group shtick - from a distance, they really look like fighters, even if close up they are still kind of novices. They'll count as a "rock" unit if attacked, though they can't move.
Min Feng forges some credentials for Cai Wen identifying him as an emissary from the Red Duke. He heads to the army camp, and tells them in no uncertain terms that Verdant Tithings is off limits - they'll have to resupply from somewhere else, but it's not his problem where. He also tells them that the Dragon Army is coming in soon, and suggests that they retreat before that happens, but, like the Savanna commander, the Taiga commander thinks that means "get as far as you can before the hammer falls", so he's going to charge forward.
Shen-Ji thinks that the red unit is probably "paper", intelligence worth reporting back to the Savanna. Cai Wen checks in with the blue unit in the same area, as a "great friend of Duke Lan" - not even inaccurate - and determines that the war is in fact at the direction of the King, and not due to the Dukes being in rebellion. It would be a fairly strange rebellion that put Duke Lan and Duke Hong on the same side, in any event.
Back at Verdant Tithings, Xiao Fa finds out that the thing that is worst for the villagers is when a unit "disbands" in the area - in the mechanic, if a unit which has previously had its unit type (rock, scissors, paper) revealed gets beaten, it disbands entirely in a rout. That leads to the losers causing chaos as they flee, and the winners doing some victory looting, so it's bad all around.
Shen-Ji reports his findings to the Savanna commander, and gets permission for the Myeong unit to charge in. They do so, taking out a Taiga unit in the backfield. (It turns out they are paper and cover the rock unit they are lucky enough to encounter.)
The next day, the party heads to an area with units of both the Red and Blue Dukes. There is a frozen lake between the two army camps, with refugees camped near the edges. The refugees warn Xiao Fa to watch out for the lake, which everyone finds amusing, until the villagers clarify - no, really, the lake is treacherous. It is the first thing to freeze in the autumn, and the last thing to thaw in the spring, and it always looks solid, until the ice shatters and you go under. They think it's cursed.
Well, the obvious thing to do is to taunt the two armies into charging across the lake at each other - but this leads into a discussion of what the party actually should be doing with respect to the war. Xian disapproves of drowning armored soldiers wholesale, so there are questions of both tactics and strategy. Xiao Fa, as the expert in the local area, thinks that for stability and goodness for the region, the best thing is for it to not be split between the Taiga and the Savanna - better to be all Taiga or all Savanna. As far as the border goes, this is the natural spot for the two countries to fight - there will likely be another war eventually, no matter where the border is, so sticking with the status quo will not automatically mean more peace later. Well, based on the fighting so far, and Shen-Ji's support of the Savanna, the Savanna troops are doing better than the Taiga troops, so the easiest way to get the New Rivers area to not be split at this point is to keep supporting the Savanna.
And, while "everyone drowns in a lake" does feel meaner, it will actually be more like "some people drown, some people get cold and wet and retreat" in much the same way as if the unit were taken out in a fight, some people would be killed and some would be wounded and retreat. Because it's a mechanic, the effects upon an "army unit" are pretty similar. That reassures Xian and the others with moral qualms.
A plan is undertaken: wait until night, and then steal the flags from each camp and plant them in the center of the lake. Since the red and blue units are rivals, they will likely both charge in to avenge the insult. They nearly are foolish enough to plan to walk out to the center of the lake with the flags ("it should be safe for just one small person, right?") but Shen-Ji volunteers to fly on his disk instead.
Min Feng sneaks into the Red camp while Anto sneaks into the Blue camp; Shen-Ji hovers overhead on his flying disk, watching for trouble. Both are able to get in and get their flags without incident; Anto uses the opportunity to demonstrate his "Minor Control of Metal" shtick that Shen-Ji has taught him, and levitates a shuriken to cut the flag free from its pole. The two thieves escape, and tie the flags to new poles. Shen-Ji takes the flags out to the center of the lake and stands the poles up. He's tempted to climb down for better stability, but resists the urge.
As expected, the armies discover their flags missing, and charge into the trap; they subsequently have to retreat to the Taiga, cold and drowny. The party sends the Five after one of the last of the Taiga units, and it takes them out. Victory is close at hand!
A Cryptic Vistor
The party heads for one of the last remaining Taiga units, soldiers from the Red Duke. The soldiers are looking a bit worse for wear, and the officers are talking to a man in a heavy hooded cloak. Min Feng creeps closer, to overhear - he appears to be telling them poetry.
Battle is joined
Both sides look alike at dawn.
This is puzzling. Is he an evil poet? Is he warning them that both units are rock (as the party suspects)?
Men run and hide in fear
The party is still baffled. Is the poet talking to the officers? Does he secretly intend his words for the eavesdroppers?
Rock in a mirror
Battle is inconclusive
Then, he turns and begins to walk away into the cold mists, but the mists are not thick, and the party chases after him. Anto, counting syllables to himself, wonders - are there multiple prophecies, and the one in the right meter is correct? Why would he be telling them conflicting prophecies, though?
Anto considers how the cloaked man is bound - the answer is "by a huge sacrifice, freely made". How could he be unbound? With a bigger grand magical ritual than Anto has ever seen. It is all very mysterious, but the party does catch up to the man in question, as they wonder what to say. A somewhat confusing conversation ensues.
- "Good evening, sir. Er, good day. It seems that night follows you, in that huge cloak." -Xiao Fa
- "The sun is yet high//My words are not always heard//There is still yet time."
- "Are your words not often heeded? " -Xiao Fa
- "It is hard to say//If I'm not there at the end.//Sometimes they are heard."
Xiao Fa notes that there is a huge hole in his chi, with a tiny little patch that does a little to fix it. The man moves to leave again, before being intercepted a second time.
- "I have tarried long//we should not speak much further//I must go shortly."
- "Xian, you're the only one who can possibly outconfound him." -Cai Wen
- "Do you provide your wisdom to all sides in the battle, or just one?" -Xian
- "I have no wisdom//Only what I hear within//I speak for my art"
Yoshi wonders why he does this - the answer is that this is all that's left to him. Anto suggests that he stay around and meet Takanata, who might be here eventually. Xian is still fixated on why he's only providing prophetic advice to the Taiga.
- "Only they listened?//I speak freely to both sides//I walk very slow"
Xian, suspicious of the deep cloak that hoods the man's face, spends a karma to spend a Yin seeing his true form, and declares it to have been the least helpful karma ever, but the mysterious poet does manage to leave, walking off into the mists.
Back with the Taiga officers, Cai Wen (an emissary of the Red Duke again) convinces them to not go after the village. They're thinking of charging sideways towards the Savanna front, avoiding the known units that can beat them. Shen-Ji goes to warn the Savanna, but they are suspicious - if their unit goes after the Red unit, they'll mutual, and Myeong will claim all the glory. Shen-Ji convinces them that Myeong will give all the credit for this last turn to the them, and they are finally convinced.
The plan works - the Taiga reinforcements don't get onto the board, and the Savanna holds all the territory when the Dragon Army finally sweeps in and stomps out all the fighting. They declare the border to be where the armies lie - so, the original Savanna/Taiga border, and the area is all still New Rivers, and not Recondite Tributaries after all.
In other army rumors, the Forest of Chin has been awarded most of the Tanzhe plain, except for the little corner with the Temple of the Eternal Dream in it, which is still Savanna. Apparently, no one was willing to attack that area, having had dreams and visions and heard rumors that it was under the protection of the Dragon Army.
In total, there have only been four disbanded units, so Xiao Fa has four "wounds" to heal to the New Rivers area.
- Master Zhou and Xiao Fa go to visit the Hand of the Wind monastery.
- Zhi-Hao borrows the Magpie Talisman and visits the Dragon Army training battalion to upgrade his armor.
- Wei Han visits Chang Hu to ask about armor upgrades.