Boots on the Wall
|"A friend made is a road paved; an enemy created is a wall built."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Spider in the Month of the Magpie in the eighth Year of the Magpie since the thirty-fourth Great Northern Invasion|
The run takes place principally on the North Wall in the Qin Chao Steppes
An Ominous Visitor
Winter is coming, so the group considers that they should start heading to the North Wall, and the spot in the Steppes where the battle is expected to happen on the Day of the Early Bear. On their last day in the Golden Nest, Takanata and Lijuan turn to prophecy after dinner.
Hello, enemy o my enemy –
Do you hear the winter music?
Which of our knives…
Are those boots?
That is my foot.
Leading a dance
Is not the same
As leading a charge
The first part tends to indicate the Marked, and the Alchemist in particular - the second part could be the Obsidian Warlord, and possibly he's stomping on the Alchemist's plans. Wei Han tries to hurry the group into heading northwards, but Takanata declares that he's spending one last night in the inn, and heads to bed.
Everyone else stays up late, drinking tea, when a soldier in a Dragon Army uniform pokes his head into the tea room. He suggests that Wei Han spiff up his... um... uniform that he's not wearing. There is someone important on the way, but the soldier really can't say who. Wei Han leans on him to tell him who is coming, but he insists that he can't say. As the soldier spots Deng, he decides that there may need to be some better reinforcements, and two more soldiers are called in, these in the uniform of the Jade Guard from the Dragon's Throne. But, the soldiers ask, where is Takanata? He's asleep. There is some foot-dragging on going to wake Takanata up without telling the party who is visiting, so the soldier takes matters into his own hands and says he'll go wake Lord Tokai. Wei Han goes along with him, still curious about the visitor.
Takanata is awoken, and asked if he would like to receive a visitor here or downstairs.
- "Is it the Alchemist or the Obsidian Warlord? Or both?" -Takanata
- "Oh, I do hope it's not both, er, I really couldn't say." -soldier
They head back down to the tearoom, and wait for a while, when voices are heard outside in argument. Wei Han identifies the grumpy voice as the Obsidian Warlord, and the other as the soldier who can't say.
- "What are you all doing here?" -Obsidian Warlord
- "Maximum precautions, sir!"
- "Against what? There are just six of them!"
- "But, but one is a weapons master, and there are the other two..."
The two Jade Guards are shooed out (one is Yanling), and the Obsidian Warlord comes in.
- "I was hoping that one of you might be able to tell me why I am here?" -Obsidian Warlord
- "Is it the attack on the North?" -Lijuan
- "From the north" -Takanata
- "Our north, their north... " -Lijuan
Wei Han gives the Warlord the briefing on where the attack is planned to fall, at a specific location in the Steppes, under the Northwest command. The Warlord says he is familiar with that particular intelligence. However, that doesn't answer the question of why he is here.
Wei Han notes that he does plan to go to the Steppes, to aid in the defense of the Empire, the way all good citizens should. The Warlord thinks that all good citizens are not really called upon to defend the Wall - the Dragon Army can handle it. But is there anything that Takanata can add? Takanata figures that the Alchemist asked the Warlord to be here, but doesn't know why. Lijuan asks if the Warlord knows about all nine attacks. He says he has received unverified reports that there will be nine, yes. Takanata says that he can use his arts to divine why the Warlord is here, but suspects that there has been enough of that already. The rest of the party continues to be confused - how can the Warlord not know why he is here?
- "I thought we had been over this." -the Warlord, giving Takanata a 'they're your subordinates' look
- "The Imperial Alchemist sent him here." -Takanata to the party
As no more enlightenment is forthcoming, the Warlord declares that they leave at dawn, and stomps out of the inn. Lijuan tells Zhuai that he should probably come with them, and he can network with the Warlord. Everyone else looks a little horrified at this.
Takanata writes a note for the Warlord, and has one of the soldiers deliver it.
I can think of two possible reasons that the Alchemist sent you. One, he thinks there could be a demon involved in the attack from the north. Two, he is setting a trap for both of us.
To the Wall
At dawn, there are a bunch of soldiers getting ready to march, in the main street outside the inn. Wei Han looks incredulous - marching to the wall will be slower than riding. Lijuan makes sure Kawaii is instructed to not kill anyone in any sort of Dragon Army uniform. And not to kill the Obsidian Warlord today or tomorrow, unless Lijuan changes her mind.
At dawn, there are a bunch of guys ready to march. Wei Han is dubious - wouldn't it be faster to ride? The Warlord emerges from a nearby inn, and glares at the soldiers in formation. What are they doing? They're practicing for the Day of the Magpie parade (New Year's Eve). Bah. He starts to stomp down the street, and various Jade Guards emerge from doorways and alleys to form up around him. The Warlord and his escort head for their horses, and the party gets theirs, and the group begins riding up the Imperial Highway. Wei Han thinks that the Warlord's party is staying at a courier-horseshoes pace, out of courtesy, but other than that, they mostly ignore Takanata's group.
When there is a brief break for lunch, people end up in three groups - the party, the Jade Guards, and the Warlord looking north. The party discusses what the Alchemist could be up to, in quiet voices. Maybe he thinks that Toro will attack? Maybe he knows that the Butterfly Talisman isn't moving them around, and they need a lever to get them where they need to go?
- "I expect he enjoys using the Obsidian Warlord as a lever." -Takanata
Lijuan notices a flock of magpies nearby, and heads over to give them some crumbs.
- "I am flattered that you are all spending the entire Day of the Magpie under the Warlord's wing." -one of the magpies
Then the birds fly away again. Ezokin does seem to think that it's all about him.
When the travelling party crosses into the Steppes reaches the army encampment (it looks like about a seventh of the North Wall forces, plus a separate encampment for the Steppes militia), the Warlord heads into the command tent, followed unobtrusively by Wei Han. The briefing is that there's a large Northern force just outside of range, and there's "something strange on the wall." The something strange is not a problem, though, so the Warlord doesn't think he needs to know about it.
Wei Han reports this back to the party - one obvious strange thing is a large scaffolding framework with ropes and boulders and pulleys. No one has any mechanics, so it's deeply unclear what it does. The people staffing it say it's for rapid deployment of troops off the Wall.
- "It's like a see-saw?" -Zhi-Hao
- "No, but yes, it's like a see-saw."
Also on the wall is a large terra cotta warrior facing northwards. Interesting - that wasn't there when the mammoths were attacking, but it's standing almost directly above where the mammoths were striking. Wei Han also notes that deep in the wall, there are several spots of almost un-noticeable corruption. He wouldn't have noticed them at all if he wasn't examining things closely, so they aren't doing anything. Shen-Ji thinks that the spots are where he killed some Northern soldiers during the mammoth attack.
Shen-Ji notes that if people would just let him become a practicing necromancer, he would know more about this sort of thing, but as it is, there's not much he can do. Well, other than give their ghosts permission to go. The Wall is probably preventing their ghosts from coming into the Empire, or from leaving to the North. Shen-Ji gives them permission to go, and Wei Han thinks about pushing them, but he decides that he can't manage to push them out without accepting the help of some sort of terrible specter of death to the north, and he won't accept its help.
Wei Han gives the Warlord an additional briefing:
- The terra cotta warrior is from House Xing in the Forest of Chin. If it runs around and chops people, it's on our side, but it's not clear what it will do.
- The three spots on the Wall where Northerners died are a problem - necromancers might be able to use them somehow. The Warlord sends a runner to get a painter to mark the spots. Should they be guarded heavily, or avoided? Wei Han says to guard them, but not walk on them.
Muster is called for an hour before dawn, on the Wall.
Takanata looks for his nephew, Tokai Won, among the soldiers. They have not seen each other in many years, and catch up quickly. Won is puzzled why his elderly great-uncle has come to the battle, but Takanata says the Warlord invited him.
- "Then I expect that we shall have a glorious victory worthy of your art." -Tokai Won
Won is both shocked and pleased that the Obsidian Warlord is here to oversee this battle personally, and lets slip that the Warlord says that the great army gathered to the North is actually just a feint - but a feint that has to be repelled.
Wei Han takes a quick trip before dawn to the Clear Melting temple near Daizhou, and asks for the assistance of a priest in dealing with the corruption in the Wall. A priest named Pan Lo comes back with him. He says that dealing with the corruption will be difficult, surrounded as it is by the massive edifice of the Wall, but he is confident that they will not cause more than 15 successes of trouble.
Wondering what will come in the battle, Takanata gets a vision of Deng’s future. He sees Deng mowing through mooks of various cohorts, but the top three members of each cohort keep coming back to finish him no matter what he does.
Zhuai has been investigating the army camps, and checks back in with Lijuan. Their plan isn't to lose, right? Because just say the word - the Steppes militia and the Dragon Army are really not working well together, and he could probably disrupt that enough to cause the battle to be lost. In case that's what they want. Lijuan assures him that that isn't what they want - they want a Dragon-ish victory, and maybe Zhuai can arrange for a big party afterwards with both sets of troops together, to boost morale.
Xian thinks about how to change the appearance of the corrupted spots. Her shtick is more about Images than about changing the actual chi, but perhaps there's something she can do to make it look less hospitable to necromancy? She starts setting up preparations to make the area look like an ancestor shrine.
The Obsidian Warlord gives a speech to the assembled armies (though there seems to be some muttering amongst the Steppes militia officers), and then the army charges forward from the Wall via the scaffolding. The Warlord himself comes over to where the party is gathered, one battlemap over from the giant fight - there are some armed Northerners in the field, but not many. His honor guard from the Jade Guard thinks he should be with the army, but he insists that it is a feint, and not the true threat. He gestures to Takanata - send one of his soldiers out, to see what happens.
Takanata turns on Eyes of the I Ching, and sees that there are areas of the battlefield marked with Death, and marked with Life. Hana is standing in one of the Death areas, and waves at him. He checks where Grezak (the Hoop) is - that would be one battlemap further back, and Grezak is really healthier than any ghost should be. Takanata wonders if he is standing in one of the marked-with-Life areas.
- "Incoming!" -the Obsidian Warlord
Everyone ducks, and there is a sudden invisible, intangible explosion. Except for Takanata, who sees an incoming fireball from one battlemap further back, which is batted away by the terra cotta warrior.
The Warlord looks puzzled - that was less of an "incoming" than he was expecting, but Takanata clarifies that it was more chi than physical, and Shen-Ji says it came from one battlemap beyond where they are. In the next drift, another attack comes in, and is similarly deflected.
Takanata calls up a vision of Hana's past, and sees her speaking respectfully to Qutugh, the Lord of Life. Then after that, they are fighting, with Hana's death magic versus Qutugh's life magic, then they are respectfully speaking again, and then Hana bows and leaves.
The Warlord still thinks Takanata should be sending scouts to see what is going on further back, but before that happens, another "incoming" comes in, and hits the corrupted area. It seems the terra cotta warrior is ignoring that area for some reason, so didn’t deflect it. Five of the Jade Guards in that section of the Wall are knocked off of their feet, and Wei Han takes some un-healable damage.
Okay, that's a problem.
Takanata points out the areas marked by Life and marked by Death (possibly part of a bargain between Hana and the Life Master), and warns people that Grezak may be farther back. Master Deng declares the plan to be "get the Northern sorcerers", and the fighters start charging forward.
Lijuan uses Flying Squirrel to get to the next map nigh-immediately - there are a number of troublesome thornbushes, controlled by a group of Northerners, and a large thorny wall blocking access to the huge catapult-ish construction. As the shelling continues, Master Deng charges to the next map, followed by Shen-Ji and eventually Wei Han (who runs into a thornbush during the map transit). Shen-Ji sets the map on fire, but Grezak laughs madly in revenge as he transmutes that to healing everyone on the map.
Takanata puts his hand to his ear as if to say "I once knew someone who could whisper across battlefields", and Hana whispers to him that if he goes to a touched-by-death zone, she can give him a briefing. Pan Lo objects that Takanata shouldn't listen to the spectre of death, and tries to banish her.
- "I try to plant a thought in one of the injured Jade Guards: you should probably identify yourself to your commanding officer, just in case." -Xian
- "Um, Cael, remember Rule One." -Mike
Xian's plan is to see who they report to, in case they are mind controlled, but she isn't able to hit the Jade Guard fifteen defense, and it bounces. The injured Jade Guards form up around the Obsidian Warlord, and start directing the others to escort Takanata to the next map. That's... a little suspicious. Takanata borrows the Obsidian Warlord's telescope - he can't see the other map (the Warlord already tried that), but he can see the aura of the "life spectre".
Xian starts playing "winter music" on her guzheng, preventing nearby combats from starting. The Jade Guards are really starting to think that it's time to get the Warlord, but they don't do so. The Warlord tells them that they should report to the field hospital, but they don't seem inclined to do so.
- "Do you want the large problem to be at the base of the wall, or out there?" -Takanata
- "Bring it here and I can kill it." -Obsidian Warlord
On the other map, the Northern vine team gets their (now on fire) vine to grab Shen-Ji. He dodges most of it, and flies across the wall of thorns, which dispels his flying disk. He analyzes the catapult, and points out six sections of Northern magic to dispel. Wei Han calls for reinforcements. Lijuan flying-squirrels past the thorn wall, and Wei Han leaps in front of an attack against Shen-Ji in order to get past. Deng decides that going around it will be simplest, and steps back off the map to make a dramatic entrance later.
Takanata summons Grezak to the Wall, to a nearby touched-by-Life area. He appears there, making the back map a bit easier. The Obsidian Warlord leaps down next to the ghost, and is followed by both sets of Jade Guards. The mind-controlled Jade Guards are sure that it's time to stab him now, but due to Xian's music, still no one is willing to start it.
Pan Lo, observing the far combat, notes that both the little girl (Lijuan) and the mage (Shen-Ji) are corrupted. As are the five Jade Guards surrounding the Warlord.
Another catapult blast heads for the Wall, but is deflected by the terra cotta warrior.
The Warlord leaps off the wall and stabs Grezak with the Sword of the Empire. He is already dead but also filled with life, so he does not die, but he screams. The Warlord seems to be doing "Imperial Corruption" damage to Grezak, which Xian thinks sounds better as "Purification".
- "Huh. He started that fight. Did you secretly let him out?" -Takanata
- "...Nope." -Xian
Wei Han heads for the catapult, and destroys one of the battle magic foci. The defense on his armor drops by 12 (including the Storm Shield), and the multiplier on his sword drops by 3.
- "Xian, if you can get to one of the areas of death, Phoenix's emissary has a message for us. I can't get there." -Takanata
- "What do you mean you can't get there? You're closer! Why do I have to jump off the Wall?" -Xian
Wei Han breaks two more magic foci - one turns his blood to poison and one commands all the animals on the map to attack him. He freezes in place until the next Drift, ignoring the poison. Ho and Kawaii start charging at Wei Han, and Pao suggests to Shen-Ji that she will teach him how to channel the Life fountain into the most powerful attack ever, if Shen-Ji will just shoot it at Wei Han.
Xian stops playing the guzheng, and plants the thought in one Jade Guard that the reason that the others didn't attack is that they are the only "loyal" one. That drops that guard out of the coordination, but they all attack - the coordinated group is able to bloody the Warlord, who is a whirlwind of parry. The other Jade Guards attack the "traitors".
Takanata curses Grezak - he is a servant of the Empire, and Life rejects him. The combination of Curse and Tweak Substat switches his Life stat for Yang, and Grezak explodes. Shen-Ji, in another touched-by-Life area, is healed, but takes some corruption damage.
The necromancers Lijuan is fighting burn her corruption for damage, and she falls. Wei Han tells his Dragon Army reinforcements to save her. Deng continues to chop through Northern soldiers, and when he kills #1 and #2, they are reborn next to him, and demonstrate that when he ripostes their damage, they do it back to him.
Xian makes it down to a touched-by-Death area, and gets the briefing from Hana. The Wolf spirit, along with the Great Khan's second son, put together the "Attack on the spirit days" plan. The second son also wants to be Great Khan, but doesn't like the current Northern Barbarian philosophy of spending all their people on a war with the South. They need to regroup and gain strength (and possibly invade again in twenty years for real). Nobody sees the Great Khan - he speaks through his two sons, though mostly the first son, who is more favored.
Wei Han takes out the last catapult focus, and the thwackback takes out Deng. He grabs Deng and swings him onto his horse; as the horse jumps over the wall of thorns, some of their magic items are disenchanted (including Wei Han's ivory armor of extra-strike, which was already down to only 4 defense). A few healing potions later, Deng is up again.
Xian convinces some nearby barbarians that they're losing - the thing they need to do is go and get some blood of the enemy commander and run off with it to a blood mage. (As it turns out, they get chopped by Deng before succeeding in this, but it's a good distraction). She also ponders the deepest connection between the Obsidian Warlord and Takanata - it is that they are the two people here that the Alchemist really notices.
Back on the first map, Master Deng chops some more northerners - it turns out that #1, #2, and #3 on this map are raised as undead next to him too, including Jade Guard #3. He stabs one of them and does himself more damage.
The Dragon Army reinforcements are being cut to pieces trying to get Lijuan out; the last of them hands her off to Shen-Ji before falling, and he spends a karma to keep his flying disk afloat with another passenger as they flee.
Xian uses her Intimidating Gaze shtick on the undead Jade Guard, and with a few karma, it actually disintegrates him before damaging Master Deng.
- "You killed a Jade Guard with your death stare! Good job!"
Now that it's reasonably safe to climb down the Wall, Takanata does so and gets a similar briefing from Hana. He notes that Wolf can get information to them, and asks if Hana has any message for her parents. She thinks that she is unlikely to return from the dead, and it might be time to start thinking about how to break that news to them.
Things start to wrap up.
The Obsidian Warlord heads over to the "feint" battle, and helps them drive the Northerners off. Pan Lo cleans Shen-Ji of corruption, and Takanata summons Mystic Melina to play around with a shtick he is learning from her. Yanling asks the others to say hello to Cai Wen, before she heads off with the Obsidian Warlord again. Wei Han and Pan Lo arrange to have more of the temple arrive to do some rituals on the corrupt spots in the Wall.
Zhuai's party for the Dragon Army and the Steppes Militia is a success - beer for everyone!