Three Hour Tour
|"The water that a ship sails on is the same water that swallows it up."|| It is the Day of the Early Fox in the month of the Tiger, in the third Year of the Fox since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run begins in the Butterfly Kingdom and ends in the far north of the Hon'eth Arcade.
In a local Inn, Cai Wen is having a drink on his final evening with the lovely Kiri, a local sailor lass he's been meeting up with the last few nights. She decides it's time to cut things off between them as she has to ship out in the morning and hates long goodbyes. His charms win her over, however, and she decides she doesn't really have to ship off until the actual morning... She slips away to her ship at dawn, prepared to leave the Butterfly Kingdom for quite some time.
Elsewhere, Corporal Wei Han of the Dragon Army is working on selecting a piece of land for an imperial garrison. He was ordered to escort Cai Wen to the Butterfly kingdom and then report to the local garrison for reassignment. Finding no garrison, he did the only logical thing and starting setting one up himself. A member of the royal guard arrives to question him on his activities and, on hearing Wei Han's explanation, rushes back to the palace for clarification, assuring the good corporal that he will return by dawn.
That night, the Ringmaster gathers the members of the Circus - old and new, party members and people not in on the secret plan - and briefs them on the Solemn and Important Task given to them by Ti Wren. Additionally, he reminds them all of proper behavior on the Imperial Highway, and how to convince VIPs to let the Circus pass.
In the morning, the circus sets off to be loaded on the boat - the Silent Wind, a huge cargo junk that will take them to the Port of Auspicious Voyage in the Hon'eth Arcade. Cargo and animals have been loaded on all morning, and it remains only for the members of the circus themselves to go aboard. Kiri, the ship's first officer, is stationed on the gangplank, greeting everyone who boards, and, apparently, searching them for contraband. Which, it turns out, is comprised of mice, musical instruments, cymbals, and other things that spook elephants. Anto, the first on board, protests that he has none of these things. Kiri nods knowingly - he must not have been with the circus long. The next aboard, one of the circus workers, is discovered to have his pockets full of mice, which are confiscated and locked in a box in the hold. He has, its seems, been with the circus on previous voyages.
Meanwhile, Captain Ko, captain of the Butterfly guard, approaches Shen Wei Han with a letter sealed with the king's seal. Reading it quickly, Wei Han rushes off to continue his escort duty of Cai Wen, with the captain of the guard wishing him luck. After Wei Han leaves, the guard captain arranges for some men to remove the stakes Wei Han was putting in the ground to mark his new garrison...
Back at the dock, Kiri is a bit surprised to see Cai Wen attempting to board. She realizes he did say something about working with a circus to make ends meet and is embarrassed at her earlier goodbye. Flustered, she neglects to search him - so his pet ferret is not, in fact, locked in a box in the hold with the mice.
Lijuan protests that her dog, Ho, does not want to be in a cage, and there is a very polite argument between Kiri and Lijuan; in the end, Lijuan promises to keep Ho leashed. Shuyan has only her green healer-snake, and promises that all the others are in a crate. Both Ho and the snake are told to stay away from the elephants.
Once everyone is aboard, the captain greets the travelers. They have, essentially, the run of the ship, but are enjoined to not open the boxes tied with red ropes. These are where the noisy and other elephant-scaring equipment is stored. The junk begins to make ready for departure, casting off ropes and pulling up ladders, when Shen Wei Han comes up the dock at a quick trot, declaring that he needs to be on board.
- "Hey, Wei Han, what are you doing here?" - Cai Wen
- "Following you, sir." - Wei Han
- "Isn't that done?"
- "No, sir. My escort duties have been continued."
- "Well. That'll be... pleasant."
Wei Han shows the letter with his new orders, much to Cai Wen's confusion. The captain concedes and allows Wei Han on board, and the junk sets sail! The weather is good, though the crew thinks that is a bad sign, as clear skies usually mean more wind. The captain promises to have them to the Port of Auspicious Voyage in a little over two days time.
The first day at sea passes relatively uneventfully. Anto and Kasumi climb the rigging, and no one opens the red-roped boxes.
Ships on the Horizon
On the morning of the second day, Anto is in the main crow's nest talking with the lookout, when they spot a number of dots on the horizon. Ships, the lookout says. Quite a lot of ships, in fact. More ships than you usually see in the Straits of Silent Winds. The lookout reports (not too loudly, to avoid spooking the elephants) on this new situation, and Kiri asks Cai Wen if there is anything that they should be aware of that would cause what looks like a fleet to be lurking near the Butterfly Kingdom.
Everyone rushes to the front of the junk to look at the fleet. The second officer assures them that it must be a convoy, not a fleet, as a fleet would be rather more threatening than a simple convoy. Once the junk is a bit closer, the flags being flown are identified as from the Savanna of Tears - Kiri hadn't realized they had that many ships, but they're in something like blockade formation now. They're definitely warships, with ballista and fire-throwers and such. Cai Wen professes to not know anything about fleets.
However, he does give Wei Han a bit more of a hint - that there is a particularly valuable item in one particular crate in the hold, that must be delivered at all costs. Wei Han asks if this is something that he is willing to risk his life for. Cai Wen allows as he has been asked to do so.
Kiri notes that the blockade force may not actually be a blockade after all - three of the warships are breaking formation and heading for the junk. The captain declares an emergency meeting with the first and second officers, the Ringmaster, and Cai Wen (the highest-status member of the party currently on deck), and Wei Han (not that the last was invited, but where Cai Wen goes...)
The captain wants to know why there are three warships heading for the Silent Wind uncovering their ballista? The Ringmaster suggests, weakly, that it was because they knew the circus was going on tour? The captain finds this unlikely. Well, does the circus have anything able to defeat warships with ballista and fire-throwers? Not so much. The captain declares that they will be making a run for it, then. The junk heels about in the wind, pursued now by five warships.
Kasumi, ever mindful of the Particularly Valuable Item not to be stolen by pirates, takes the Sphere of Harmony out of its crate, and arranges with Shuyan to hide it in the crate of snakes.
The junk, unfortunately, is a rather large and heavy cargo ship, and the warships are rather sleeker and smaller, so they are gaining on the hapless merchant vessel. The captain calls to deploy the Yellow Sail. Kiri explains that the yellow sail is a once-per-voyage artifact of the captain's. Generally, they only deploy it to escape storms on the Strait of Silent Wind. It should help get them away from the attacking fleet, but then they won't be able to use it until they make landfall.
- "Who has the highest status, of the people that make the boat go?" -Heidi
- "That would be the captain." -Mike
- "That's the one I have to shoot at, then."
- <everyone stares at Heidi>
- "On the other boats."
Kasumi and Anto are sent back up into the rigging to assist as lookouts - in order to escape the warships, the Silent Wind has left the safe passage, so they should be on the lookout. For what, Anto wonders? Rocks? Reefs? Pirates? The ship's lookout laughs nervously - no, no pirates out here. What, then? Kraken? The lookout shushes him quickly:
- "Don't say the K word. If you don't say it, you won't see it."
The elephants begin to grow restless, and the warships in pursuit do eventually turn back. Then, the whole junk leaps a few inches to the left, nudged hard by something in the water. Most people keep their balance, but one elephant slips and falls over. Cai Wen heads over, though he has no actual elephant helping skill.
- "I'm only going over there so that you'll be over there if we need someone to lift the elephant." -Cai Wen to Wei Han
Up on the high prow of the boat, Su-Yin thinks she sees something in the water, and starts to warn the captain. At first, he scolds her for her poor attempt at humor, but then realizes that she is serious. He starts to warn the rest of the crew:
- "Everyone! It's very important that, whatever you do..."
but is interrupted by a tentacle coming over the side of the junk, which grabs him and pulls him over the side. A few moments later, the ship stops, dead in the water, and eight more tentacles slither aboard.
Lijuan shoots one of the tentacles - it withdraws back below the surface. And, in fact, Anto remembers adventure stories about Kraken - its tentacles can be driven back, but in order to defeat it, one must strike the head. Or, better yet, have the Horrible Head of Han-Wa, to brandish at it. However, there are more tentacles than fighters, especially since Wei Han is guarding Cai Wen. The latter promises to stay in the middle of the boat (where the tentacles are finding it hard to reach), if Wei Han will go deal with the monster.
The second mate leaps bravely towards the tentacle holding the captain to try to rescue him, and a few moments later, Lijuan shoots that tentacle. It retreats into the water again, leaving both the captain and the second mate in the ocean. Shuyan shoots a tentacle trying to steal one of the elephants, though the elephant nearly falls overboard at that point.
With the captain off the boat, Kiri is in command and can use his shticks, and calls the crew to battle stations. (Unfortunately, while they can more easily attack the tentacles this way, they can also more easily be grabbed.) The party starts to get into the rhythm of chopping tentacles to chase them away before they can grab people or elephants, but one elephant is badly spooked, and runs into the mainmast and then tramples Shen-Ji (who is generally at a loss for what to do, as his metal sorcery can't summon anything with no earth to bring it forth from.)
Both Kiri and the second mate are grabbed by tentacles. Then, the monster's head surfaces, eating the captain and the second mate as it does so. Kasumi leaps onto the monster's neck, climbs up to its head, and grabs its nose, stunning it briefly.
The tentacle holding Kiri drags her underwater, but Ho bravely leaps after her, and woman and dog are paddling in the water shortly thereafter. Cai Wen grabs some rope to toss to them, while the Kraken attempts to eat Wei Han (who proves somewhat more crunchy than the captain).
A tentacle tangles in the rigging, and starts to pull down the yellow sail, while others start pulling off pieces of the boat, such as the rudders. Cai Wen gets one end of his rope thrown to Kiri, while the sea monster chomps Su-Yin (she's tastier and less armored than Wei Han). One persistent tentacle keeps trying to grab Anto, but he just barely manages to evade it.
The sea monster attempts to finish Su-Yin off, but Wei Han leaps in the way, probably saving her life. Cai Wen manages to anchor the rope well enough that Kiri can climb up, with Ho.
- "You saved Ho! You're my hero!" -Lijuan to Cai Wen
The battle with the Kraken continues; the tentacles pull down the mainmast, but the Kraken's head is beginning to drip quite a bit of ichor on the deck. The monster takes a last chomp at Lijuan, and she and Kasumi deliver the final blows to drive the Kraken away again. Anto's tentacle makes one last attempt to take him with it, but fails.
- "It's going to be a much bigger tentacle when I tell this story." -Anto
However, Kasumi, who has been clinging to the monster's head, is pulled overboard as the Kraken submerges again, and one tentacle pulls Ho in as well. Ho can swim, but Kasumi, less so, and the ninja flails around haplessly in the water.
- "I use Look At Me to try to get someone to notice that I've fallen in."
- "You have "Look at me"? You're the strangest ninja ever."
Ho proves able to rescue himself, and Kasumi is pulled aboard just as the storm clouds roll in. Unfortunately, the junk is in no shape to do anything about it. The main mast is splinters; the crew starts taking down the first sail, but the last is badly tangled, eventually requiring ropes to be cut. The rudders are smashed and no longer connected to the wheel. Then, the storm hits, and everyone who is not consumed by sea-sickness is busy keeping the elephants from panicking.
Storm at Sea
With the dark of the storm, it is not completely clear how much time passes - the seasick people are sure it is weeks, maybe years, but the rest think that it is at most a day or two in the wind and the darkness. Then, finally, there is some light, followed by a horrendous crash, as the boat grounds on a rocky shoal.
Kiri and the remaining crew climb down and take stock of the situation. This appears to have been the last voyage of the Silent Wind. Her keel is broken, the mainmast is missing, and one side is close to stove in. All that remains is to get things ashore (and Kiri grabs a backpack from the captain's cabin). There is a bit of water (though it's not deep) between the shoal and shore; since the junk is being abandoned, parts of it are cannibalized into rafts to ferry the cargo ashore, and some block and tackle is rigged using one of the remaining masts and some convenient elephant power. Coaxing the elephants into the water is a bit of a challenge, though.
- "The sailors are wondering, at this point, whether you really need to bring the elephants."
- "Yes! We spent a long time saving the elephants!"
It is a bit odd that no one has showed up on shore to gawk at the shipwreck. Where are they, anyway? ("A desert island" seems to be a popular theory, just on general principles.) The party decides that spending the night on dry land is preferable to one more night on a half-sunk ship, so the makeshift rafts are put to use, and land is reached.
Once each person steps on dry land, they have a quick and disconcerting vision - a very rapid zoom out from where they are standing, increasing swiftly in scale to show the whole of the Twelve Kingdoms, but then the vision pops, leaving nothing behind. No one is very sure what to make of this, though Shen-Ji has enough chi to concentrate on where he is in the vision, and decides that they're rather farther north than the plan was to be. Anto thinks that calls for exploration, but half the party is still very seasick. Su-Yin has three herbal cures, which she uses on Cai Wen, Shuyan, and Shen-ji, who are the worst off and not otherwise likely to be recovered by morning.
Before night falls, Shen-Ji summons a sword from the ground - it's more jagged-edged and serrated than the usual sword he creates. Then, he floats up on his metal disc to take a look around. Far to the south, in the distance, there is a black line... that would be the Wall. Oh, dear.
The party settles in for the night, with Wei Han making sure that there are watches set. Anto calls up his adventure tales of monsters north of the wall - they feature ravening undead, and creatures which have many teeth but no heads. Lijuan bursts into tears, to be reassured by Shuyan.
- On the first watch, Cai Wen and Wei Han notice a lot of people, off in the western distance, traveling south.
- On the second watch, Anto and Su-Yin hear faraway noise, and see some flashes, like distant lightning, off to the south.
- On the third watch, Kasumi and Shen-Ji see some people heading from south to north, fewer than the people reported by the first watch.
Then, it is dawn, and Wei Han makes sure everyone is up and moving. They start marching south, in a caravan of elephants and wagons.
After a journey of a few hours, the party is approached by three barbarians on shaggy ponies. Unfortunately, only Wei Han has any Torghut at all, and he only has one rank of it, so communication is limited. The party is declared to be from the Happy Tribe, up north. They are here (in the lands of the Bloodspear Tribe)... to attack the wall! With their big animals.
In addition to having not much language, Wei Han also doesn't have very much diplomacy or charisma, so he does not manage to convince the Bloodspear Tribe to join with the Happy Tribe to attack the wall together. The Bloodspear leader declares "No! We attack wall! You die!"
- "That might have been somewhat awkward later, if we showed up with a barbarian army..." -Anto
It does seem rather odd that the three barbarians think they are sufficient to take an elephant train and a whole lot of people. Wei Han thinks they're trying to lure the party forward, and charges, so as to make himself the target.
The leader rides forward, raises his staff, chants something about the hungry dead, and zombies rise from the ground. Well, that would even the odds a bit more. Lijuan thinks hopefully about getting undead elephants.
The leader is quickly stuck with arrows and distracted by snakes, while Kasumi heads for the two lieutenants, with Wei Han. Anto hooks the leader with his kusarigama and pulls him off his pony.
- "Mr. Soldier Man, Yoshi would want you to tell them to surrender." -Lijuan to Wei Han
- "I'm sure he would." - Wei Han mutters
Zombies shamble forward and start biting people - people who take damage also take corruption points. The leader, having particularly noticed Anto at this point, lays his hand on the young man and does six corruption points. Anto wraps him up in the chain of his kusarigama, but the leader speaks to him in Torghut and tells him to unwrap him again. This burns some of Anto's corruption points (as many as he has Resolve, in fact), and he unwraps the leader. (This appears to be a body-control effect rather than a mind-control effect).
The ringmaster goes down, under a small mob of zombies!
Lijuan continues to shoot the leader, so he burns the rest of Anto's corruption points to send Anto after "the girl with the bow". Apologizing profusely, Anto attacks Lijuan with his sickle (and the best attack roll he's ever made).
- "Ho doesn't like you any more." -Lijuan
The leader manages to corrupt Shen-Ji a bit, but not enough to turn him, before falling to the blades and arrows of the party. People with corruption take more damage at the leader's death, and the ringmaster kind of explodes, moments from death. The two lieutenants are finished off (causing the last of the zombies to fall to dust), and Wei Han, thinking quickly, shouts that people should grab the ponies before they run for home. Lijuan and Shuyan grab the lieutenants' ponies, and Anto grabs his with his kusarigama chain.
Su-Yin manages to keep the ringmaster from dying, but he's in very bad shape and not waking up any time soon. Shen-Ji searches the leader, and finds several jagged daggers and his necromantic staff (the Bloodspear).
The caravan starts moving south again; Kasumi, Anto, and Lijuan disguise themselves in barbarian furs on the shaggy ponies, with the hopes of distracting or drawing off any further barbarians. They try to get Wei Han to teach them insults in Torghut. However, no further barbarians are encountered, save for the bodies they start to pass as they get closer to the Wall, as if there was a battle last night.
Then, the Wall is reached, looming above the circus train. The soldiers on the Wall tell them to halt, and that there will be no crossing the Wall! One of the soldiers runs for a lieutenant, who returns to argue.
The North Wall
Wei Han brandishes his letter, and says he's escorting Zhu Cai Wen and this group, and they need to re-enter the Twelve Kingdoms. Cai Wen is put forward as the leader, to try to explain all this.
The soldiers seem to think that the group is "wall tourists", which means that they are expected to already have paid bribes to cross over, and be good for more bribes to cross back. Cai Wen's best guess is that for a group this size, the right price would be something like 50 copper zhu per person. (Lijuan frets that she doesn't have 50 zhu, and will be left behind in the barbarian northlands).
Cai Wen offers a performance, instead, and while the lieutenant is not convinced, he's willing to see a demonstration. Shuyan starts with some snake tricks, Kasumi's failed attempt at juggling is passed off as a not-very-good clown, Anto does some acrobatic tumbling, and Shen-Ji finishes it up with a very impressive demonstration of sword-swallowing (dispelling his previously summoned sword). The soldiers have never seen a sword swallower who actually ate the sword before. Each of the successful performers gets to bring a few friends across; Cai Wen brandishes Wei Han's letter (which has the seal of the Butterfly Kingdom on it), and that gets the two of them through. For the rest, five silver li are sufficient to bring through everyone else and their stuff (including the elephants).
The circus is directed to proceed south a little ways, to the town of Daizhou at the head of the Imperial coastal highway, to recover from their ordeal and set up for the performance.
- Xiao Fa examines the ringmaster's chi and physical health.
- Ringmaster Te hires on most of the now-boatless sailors as crew, and hires a translator, Qin Yanyu.
- Hiro and Xiao Fa gather up Merit and Shen-ji to meet in Merit's tent to talk about Hana.
- Takanata, Shen-ji, Anto, and Xiao Fa discuss the chi beyond the Wall.
- Cai Wen and Kiri check out the local gambling houses. Shen Wei Han accompanies them without comment. Cai Wen's notes about people selling ships recently
- Shen-ji communes with the magic items in the party loot.
- Anto and Min Feng wander around town.
- Master Zhou spends some time finding a good stick, suitable both as a walking stick and a staff for whacking people with.
- Stick in hand, Master Zhou wakes Xiao Fa up for training.
- Cai Wen (accompanied by Wei Han) takes a trip down the coast to visit the Hidden Orchid Flower House.
- Takanata casts the I Ching for Hanako.