Configuration of the Wall
|"2049:tcp,194:tcp,631:tcp"|| It is a little while after the defeat of the Shadow.|
The run takes place on the North Wall.
Arranging the Fireworks
Wei Han, Cai Wen, Merit, and Shen-Ji ride towards the North Wall, in preparation for the last step (Creation of Wei Han with Fire) of Wei Han's homework to change the Wall. Cai Wen considers the wind direction and other firework-affecting variables, while Wei Han locates the nearby patrols to warn them not to worry about the fireworks Cai Wen is planning. Merit promptly recruits one of the patrolmen as a spy, and then, in something of a feisty mood, declares that Cai Wen won't be happy without an audience (Butterflies perform with no audience, but Foxes don't), so they should move down the wall to set off the fireworks by the garrison.
Cai Wen packs up his fireworks, and the group heads towards the garrison. The garrison commander doesn't have too many men - they're spread somewhat thin, as a bunch of guys got reassigned to head south on some big secret mission for the Obsidian Warlord. "They think we don't have barbarian problems during the summer." Well, whatever that's about is probably bad, but it's not like the North Wall is ever not understaffed.
Wei Han talks to Merit's horse, letting it know that he wants to talk to the boss. Things darken in the traditional talking-to-the-Horse-spirit manner. Wei Han says that they negotiated before to spend four Horse points to get Horse to make the change they're about to make always have been that way. Horse thinks that a bit of an imprecise description, but you could call it that. Well, whatever the semantics, they want to be able to make sallies northwards, and while Horse thinks that's crazy, he's willing to take the points to do that.
- "If you all die horribly, do you still want me to make the change in the World Above?" -Horse
- "If we all die horribly, wait until we try again." -Wei Han
Horse finds Wei Han's optimism admirable.
Then, Cai Wen (with a bit of help from Shen-Ji), spends the Yin and Yang on Wei Han's rocks, and sets off his fireworks.
So. It's the middle of spring, so there presumably won't be a snowstorm to work with. Fine...we'll start as the last light of dusk is fading, with the Northern Wall as the backdrop, and we'll create a light snowfall with a steady stream of fireworks that burst into long-burning, twinkly white filaments. The first few of these will be on the loud side because everyone involved knows it's a fireworks display and expects it; but the follow-on charges are quieter. Cai Wen will aim for the muffled-sound feel of a windless, heavy winter snowfall; I suspect he has to play some tricks involving creating some white noise to mask the sound of the snowfall charges bursting.
The calm is interrupted by a few pops of red bursting charges over and somewhat beyond the wall, representing the advance of barbarian scouts. (Cai Wen uses perspective tricks here. The charges are mostly going off over the wall, but should seem to be advancing against it.) After the first several widely-spaced and irregular pops, the red charges start bursting in strings and clusters, seeming to approach the Wall--barbarian raiders! Three times the strings and clusters approach the Wall, and each time, as they appear to cross the Wall, they are blocked by a multi-colored display, biased toward green ("jade") and white ("winter"). The first block (Bear) is a straight block...it's like the invading column of red is simply absorbed and dies out as it hits layers and layers of defense. The second block (Dog) is energetic and disorderly -- the red column approaches the Wall, and it's set upon by swirly charges that break up the column and drag the disorganized dregs of red down to ground. The third block (Crane) is a strike from the sky; it does not try to be lightning fast, but rather a little arcy and graceful -- you see the red column approach the Wall, and then the defense swoops in from the sky, and you see it happening in time to sort of process it before the strike hits the red column and shatters it.
So, that's the small stuff, in which the Wall has not particularly had to awaken.
Then, after a calm, the drumbeat of red charges across the Wall resumes, and the sound of bursting charges resolves into a steady march as the red charges intensify and organize. Then they begin to advance. This is not raiding and harassment; this is a mortal threat to the Empire. All of the previous blocks rise up to defend as the advance crosses the Wall, but they are manifestly not big enough to stop the advance alone. As the advance crosses the wall, there rises up a large, soldier-like figure of white and jade (I don't think I can do better than "evoking the shape of a man", but that's adequate), with a color swatch for an enlisted-rank insignia (again, I know I can't do detail here...). The figure sort of dissolves or hollows out as it absorbs red, and splits off swirly attack dogs on red, and zaps red with swoopy attacks; and as it hollows out, two things happen. It accumulates little swatches of color representing campaign service ribbons (I assert the existence of a service ribbon that you get the right to wear on your uniform for having been in a campaign), and it is slowly replaced by a Dragon Army coat of arms, featuring a jade-colored dragon figure. (Can't do a detailed dragon, but I can do a squiggly-S jade figure with a few accents.) The coat of arms is maintained by a stream of short-burning bursts in place; the service ribbons slowly fall to the ground (long-burning) and they are joined, in and among the yet-continuing snowfall, by more color swatches. It's kind of snowing service ribbons. There are so many of them that they must stretch back beyond memory.
As the figure of the man disappears, the dragon figure leaps out of the coat of arms, leading blocky, swoopy, and swirly defenders across the wall. There is a sound and fury across the wall, at the end of which, the red fireworks scatter and retreat.
And then, when the battle across the wall is over, the great soldier resolves out of the snowfall once again, standing over the Wall, with the same color swatches as before (Dragon Army coat of arms and enlisted rank insignia), and a single campaign ribbon on his shoulder, in a new color (gold) which I have not used before. He stands there for a timeless moment, as timeless as Cai Wen can make it, before the display comes to an end.
The rocks are starting to glow, and then Merit's horse neighs, and things start to get somewhat fuzzy.
There's a huge ka-thump, as a rock hits the Wall. Off in the distance to the north, beyond the range of arrows or magic spells, there seems to be a catapult wound up and launching boulders. Wei Han declares that this is just what the changes are designed to permit - they should go and destroy it! He leaps to the bottom of the Wall, and Shen-Ji summons his floating disc, and the two head off quickly. The non-fighters are a little less sure what they will be doing, but Merit eventually lowers a rope that they can descend.
- "The Wall serves two purposes - to sally from and to cower behind." -Merit
Wei Han and Shen-Ji cross an empty battlemap before arriving where the catapult is - Shen-Ji sets everyone who isn't himself or Wei Han on fire, killing the crew and scorching the guards; the guards charge Wei Han, but don't hurt him much. Shen-Ji starts filling people with iron arrows, as Merit and Cai Wen arrive, and Cai Wen cuts the tensioning ropes, disabling the catapult. It is not long before all the guards are killed, and the group returns to the Wall and climbs back up Merit's rope.
Once they are back up, Wei Han thinks they are elsewhere on the Wall. Several ropes have been flung across the southern crenulations, and Wei Han charges over, assuming Northern invaders. But no, it appears to be several peasants climbing up. They panic on being spotted, and the party shouts down to them. What are they doing? Where do they think they are going? They're from a terribly oppressed village, where the taxes are crushing and their young people keep being drafted into the Dragon Army and never return. They want to go somewhere where there are no taxes and no draft and maybe some freedom. Wei Han tells them there is nothing good for them in the North, only slavery and death. It's all horrible there.
Merit suggests that everyone pause for a moment - this may be somewhat more metaphysical than it seems. As he suggests this, the peasants, and everything that isn't the party, freezes immobile.
So... does Wei Han want to allow people to leave the Empire? More generally than just right now? Wei Han says no. The north is horrible. Shen-Ji points out that the Life Masters don't seem to be so bad. Wei Han is unpersuaded. Well... does Wei Han want to allow people whose lives are really awful to have this as an escape route? No, he doesn't. The rest of the group shrugs - this is mostly his decision.
Time starts up again, and Wei Han orders the peasants back down again. No matter how bad things are, they have to solve them on this side of the Wall, they can't try to leave. Where are they from, anyway? They say they are from the village of Oppressive Horribleness, in the northern Taiga. They include a knifemaker and a candlemaker and some other tradesmen. Merit says that they can go to the Gate of Shen instead. The peasants trudge away again, dejected.
A hawk circles, high overhead. It swoops down, snatches up a mouse from the grasses south of the Wall, flies up again, and lands north of the Wall to eat it. A long-limbed monkey climbs across the wall from the North, and starts to eat some Imperial fruit from a tree. And a wolf leaps to the top of the wall, and then down on the other side.
Wei Han draws his crossbow, and shoots the hawk, and then jumps down to punch the monkey and take its fruit away, flinging the monkey back over the wall to the north. The wolf looks a little concerned, and leaps back over the wall to the south. Merit keeps Wei Han from shooting the wolf - the party has promised to not attack lone wolves! The wolf, apparently curious, leaps back and forth a few times, and is left alone.
A small girl runs up to the wolf, shouting "Doggie!" in Torghut. Her mother shushes her - they might hear!
Off in the distance, a horseman with a club starts riding towards the mother and her two children, brandishing a club. Wei Han jumps down, and dispatches the horseman, but this has apparently not solved the problem, as the barbarian mother says that more will come. Will Wei Han let them flee to the south? No, he will not. Well, could he stay and protect them? No, he will not.
The others protest - it doesn't seem right to leave innocent Northerners who intend no threat, to be slaughtered just because Wei Han doesn't want to let them across. If this is about him changing what he thinks, maybe he should change what he thinks, to do what's right instead of what's defensive? Merit is particularly persuasive on behalf of Innocent Northerners.
Wei Han allows that "do what's right" is a pretty good argument, and warns the family that if they enter the Empire, they can never leave again. The mother is a little suspicious, but the children think that sounds like a fine idea. Wei Han carries them across.
- "So... all our cows can go north, but refugees can only come south." -Merit
Wei Han's undead-radar starts going off, and from the north side of the Wall, two figures approach - Hana, and Grezak son of Mortak murdered by Shen-Ji (that is, Xian's Hoop Guy and beastmaster).
Hana says that she has rescued several Imperial ghosts, who fell in the North long ago. They were imprisoned by a northern necromancer, and have been forced to serve him for some time. She wants to return them to the Empire, to their own afterlife, and to where their own ancestor shrines might be. However, they are in fact, technically, undead.
Shen-Ji ponders the question of whether all ghosts are alike. Well, obviously not, but they tend to fall into several categories in the Empire: the ones that go to the World After (and are called ancestor spirits), the ones that stay around haunting a place, and the ones that return from the World After, generally because they were pulled back by a necromancer. In the North, though, the World After isn't a separate place, and pretty much all ghosts are susceptible to being controlled/used/destroyed/eaten by necromancers.
In any event, Wei Han declares that No Undead are Permitted, no exceptions.
Hana nods, disappointed, and tells Grezak that they will follow his plan instead. The two of them mount a wolf, presumably under Grezak's control, and ride off again.
- "You have to say 'no' sometimes, or the 'yes's don't matter." -Wei Han
A group of clearly respectable merchants makes their way northwards towards the wall. They hail the party - they hear that trade restrictions might be being lifted, so they are hoping to trade some medicinal herbs from the Strand for other medicinal herbs and tinctures from the Life Masters. Wei Han says that that's totally unacceptable, and they should go home again.
Merit interjects - can he make a case for trade? Wei Han grudgingly permits him to.
So, when Merit meditated in the mosaic in the hedge maze in the Strand, he contemplated the difference between a Dragon Empire and a Spider Empire. Leaving out any differences because of Aku being a demon, a Spider Empire is more insular than a Dragon Empire - the Dragon Empire is more yang-ish, both in trade and in conquest. The Dragon nature is to engage with the world, while the Spider nature is to seal itself off from the world. So while Wei Han disapproves of trade outside the Empire, that is a change Spider made in him.
Well, if there's anything Wei Han hates more than Northerners, it's Spider. So maybe trade is okay, as long as no traders cross the wall. He tells them that they can trade with people at the bottom of the Wall, but they can't actually go down there. The traders are a little dubious - how will anyone find them? That's their problem. Hmm. Can they hang advertising banners? Wei Han seems poised to say no, but Merit persuades him that setting up official marketplaces on top of the Wall, overseen by the Dragon Army, is a great fundraiser for the Army.
On the other hand, shady guys trying to tunnel under the wall to trade with the north, are promptly run off. They try to protest - if there's going to be trade with the north, why not sell opium to the northerners, to get them hooked? Wei Han is unpersuaded.
Wind blowing from the north, leaves on the wind, and snowflakes, are deemed acceptable to cross the Wall, and Wei Han does not try to shoot down any snowflakes.
At the eastern end of the Wall, as it heads into the sea, there are a bunch of stragglers coming down the coast. Stragglers with elephants, as it turns out, and circus tents. They claim to be a circus, their boat driven to the north by a storm, where they were shipwrecked. Can they please come home?
Well, are any of them nasty icky necromancers? One of them does set off Wei Han's instincts, but they all claim that their friend Ji-Shen was bitten by a zombie, and has a bunch of corruption points from that. Wei Han tells them that they can't bring him back across the wall until the corruption points get fixed, but they don't know what they can do to fix it. Shen-Ji tries, but he's not a great and powerful chi master, so he can only ameliorate the problem a little.
On the other hand, Wei Han worries that not letting people back if they have been corrupted in fighting northerners will be a bad precedent for soldiers, who fight that sort of thing all the time. All right, all right, they can come back, but they have to go and fix Ji-Shen immediately. Right away immediately, not just someday immediately.
A group of Northern merchants, bearing soft and luxurious furs - black sable, white wolf, white mink - approach the Wall, interested in trading, and "in return, we ask for a couple of good potshards." Wei Han starts to tell them that they can go down the wall to where the advertising banners are, but Merit protests. He's a perfectly licensed merchant, why can't they trade with him?
Merit zips off to get a couple of nice vases from a supply cache, and trades them for some of the Northern furs.
Finally, the North attacks.
- An elite warrior tries to climb over, and Wei Han flings him down again.
- His larger friend appears from behind a tussock, and Shen-Ji shoots him.
- A great chief of warriors leaps up, and Shen-Ji shoots him as well, throwing in some fortune and karma to get enough successes.
- The battlemage who trained the chief leaps to attack, and everyone coordinates to strike him.
- The Great Khan stands forth, ready to battle, and Li Merit is almost able to defeat him alone with his bladed hat, but needs some help in the end.
- A dark spirit of Blood and Death comes for them, and Cai Wen's sword cane, plus a lot of chopping help from everyone else, defeats it.
- The mountains rise and the entire lands of the North come for the wall. Okay, this one could be tough (and requires more than 29 successes to defeat). Shen-Ji is the only one who can get anywhere near enough dice, if he spends a karma, but nobody else has any sorcery to coordinate with him. Maybe... if Cai Wen hits Shen-Ji with the exploding bracelet from Ming I, the explosion will add (a little) to his magical attack, and push him over the limit? Oh, wait, Shen-Ji remembers he is rolling for fives. The exploding bracelets plan goes off the table again, and Shen-Ji gets 33 successes.
On the verge of success, does he want to spend four more karma? Of course he does!
With that, everyone wakes up, apparently having been stunned by an unlikely fireworks accident.
The group reviews the precedents that have been set:
- Trade is permissible, but only from atop the wall, between respectable traders, and with no direct contact. Northern traders cannot come up to the top, and Empire traders cannot go down.
- Shipwrecked Empire citizens can return to the Empire and bring their stuff.
- Leaves, wind, and snowflakes are okay.
- Animals are not okay, except for wolves, which can do whatever they want.
- Refugees can enter the Empire, but Empire refugees cannot leave.
- Sallies are okay, even encouraged.
- No smuggling.
- No ghosts, even Empire ghosts. No necromancy.
- However, all of these rules can be set aside at will by Shen-Ji (go karma!), if he's present.
Because things are not perceived to be different, the social customs surrounding the North Wall are different now, but the laws have not changed, and there are not (nor have there always been) gates.Wei Han takes the group out for beer, paying particular attention that Shen-Ji gets quite smashed.