|"If an enemy is annoying you by playing well, consider adopting his strategy."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Serpent in the Month of the Tortoise in the first Year of the Magpie since the White Pagoda was abandoned.|
The run takes place in and around northern Bear Mountain.
A Ramification Mission
Lord Yu summons his Minister of Ramifications for another issue to deal with. He has recently received complaints from the Steward of the Roof of the World - there is apparently a serious bandit problem on the border, and the bandits are retreating into Bear Mountain to escape the Steward’s justice. Determining whether there are actually such bandits, and whether they are Bear Mountain bandits going into the Roof of the World to attack or Roof of the World bandits going into Bear Mountain to retreat, will help determine what needs doing. So Min Feng should go and investigate, and determine the ramifications of crushing them, supporting them, or doing nothing. Lord Yu gives her a horn to call in the Bear Mountain army, in case that is needed, and she gives him some magical communication paper.
Min Feng asks what Lord Yu's relationship with the Steward is - he says fairly formal. The Steward is bound by rules and precedent, but that's fairly common out in the West. Min Feng notes that she's met the Steward already, which Lord Yu thinks should be a bonus in dealing with politics with the Roof of the World.
The circus begins the long trek home and heads off into the Taiga (going through about halfway down, near the Song estates), while the party heads north to investigate the possible bandits.
Merit's best guess for a place to start looking is SinChen Pass - if the bandits are heading from Bear Mountain into the southern Roof of the World, they'd probably be going through that pass. SinChen Village is the obvious place to ask around. There's a road north, though it's not an easy route, and after a hard day of riding, they reach SinChen Village.
There are three inns - more than usual for a village this size - and the group (since it has Takanata) goes to stay in the "important people who were forced to stop here" inn. Merit determines that the village serves as a gathering point for merchants to meet up before caravanning into the Roof of the World, which is probably why there's more than one inn. Takanata requests a suite with several extra rooms; the innkeeper looks relieved that he only needs one suite, as it would be difficult to free up the others. Dinner will be sent up for Takanata, and the others are offered dinner in the common room.
Takanata relaxes in the (relative) luxury, and draws some art:
Hmm. This is somewhat complicated, and also a little hard to read. Merit investigates who is in town related to the bandit plot, and determines that the players include Lord Hawk, some spies from the Roof of the World, some other spies, a possel of ninjas, and... someone who causes the investigator to not come back.
Min Feng asks around about current events and gossip, and hears that because of the banditry on the border, trade has been concentrating a lot into caravans for protection. There is good money in the making for caravan guards. Plus, there are a bunch of important people staying in the inn - two nobles from the Isle of Beauty, and a noble from the Hidden City. Finally, there are a lot of meetings in barns with peasants going on, but no one Min Feng talks to knows what they are about.
Takanata asks the servants to let Lady Autumn Rose know that he is in town. They go off to do so.
- "Wait, what?" -everyone
- "My art is covered in roses. She must be here." -Takanata
Min Feng and Shuyan look around for the Si Fan, and chat with one spy. They also recognize Ando, keeping an eye on the spy. The Si Fan agent is looking for a confidant of the mysterious Lord Hawk, in order to plant a black sash on him, which will cause him to be dealt with.
Shuyan wanders by the vegetable cart that Ando is standing behind, and spooks the horse with her Terrifying Snake. The horse bolts, upsetting the vegetable cart and leaving Ando in the open. The Si Fan spy disappears into an alley, and Ando and Shuyan fence verbally for a bit.
Takanata and Min Feng have dinner with Autumn Rose.
- "It is always pleasing to see a familiar face when one finds oneself in such straits. What did the two of you do to be exiled to such a backwater?" -Autumn Rose
- "My granddaughter has taken a position at the court of Lord Yu..." -Takanata
- "I am so sorry." -Autumn Rose
Autumn Rose is in some disfavor with her father, so he has turned her into a messenger. Once she has delivered her message, she will have to make her own way home.
- "Surely your father has people who are less busy, who can send messages?" -Takanata
- "He was divining the source of some of his troubles, and kept landing on his own house. I tried to commiserate - so often in life one is the source of one's own troubles - but he decided I was in need of chastening, and so here I am." -Autumn Rose
Takanata says that he would be happy to help her regain some of her status on his return, but she thinks that if her father's associate's errand is successful, then family harmony will be restored. Takanata looks a little alarmed, but Autumn Rose assures him that it is not one of her father's close associates. They shift to making small talk, which for Autumn Rose includes the bandits plot - she thinks it's unrelated to what she's doing, and wonders if they know more about it. They only know what Lord Yu told them, which is not much. Oh - does Autumn Rose know who the occupant of the third suite is? She thinks it's a noble from the Qin Chao steppes, according to her servants. Well - that's a little odd. He's some sort of rotating noble?
Meanwhile, Xiao Fa is outside around town looking to get himself invited to a peasant meeting. It turns out to be quite difficult, but his status as a priest and healer does eventually manage to get him invited. He’s warned not to bring anyone else though, as just about anyone whose name you know is likely to be not on the guest list. Well, maybe he can bring an extra healer.
Elsewhere, Merit looks for Ando - according to Merit, Shuyan being here is totally coincidental to the reason the rest of the Si Fan is here, so Ando should open up a bit. Ando doesn't have a connection yet between the spies and the bandits, but he knows that someone hired a bunch of Si Fan, and then Shuyan thwarted him while he was investigating, so it seems likely that she knows what's up. Merit doesn't think she does, but says that they're here looking into the bandits, and warns Ando that the Roof of the World has spies here too. Ando suspects those spies would be looking into Lord Hawk and his rabble-rousing.
Kasumi is confronted in a different alley by another ninja. From his voice, she recognizes him as the one from the House of Night's Promise who trained her.
- "You are the only one here who is not active. Why did you come?"
- "People always ask me 'why' questions, and they never like the answer. Anyway, there are lots of reasons to be places other than being instructed. I hear they have excellent scallions here. Actually, I have no idea what's going on. I hear there are bandits."
He asks if Kasumi is here on errands of honor (which means, are you hired to do something?). She says she isn't. He nods - in that case, he will not trouble her, as long as she does not trouble him.
Everyone gathers back at the inn to report on the things they have discovered. Xiao Fa suggests that some people go to the barn meeting at ten, though not anyone who's noble. The high-status non-noble people can probably be disguised some. Min Feng starts to put on a disguise, but Merit raises an objection.
- "You're actually a noble, as it turns out."
- "Because I'm the Minister of Ramifications?"
- "No, because your parents were noble and your grandfather is a noble."
- "You know, I never got that sense from my stepmother."
Xiao Fa, Kasumi, Merit, and Shuyan head towards the barn meeting, all disguised to look low-status. Zhi-Hao and Min Feng stay back a ways, and Takanata stays back at the inn in his comfy suite. A whisper from a guard on the way in asks for the password, which Xiao Fa gives, but as they get closer, there is a whistle, and people start scattering out the back of the barn and into the woods. Three guys with swords head for the party, and tell them to not move. They try to look as non-hostile as possible, until a minute later, Lord Hawk arrives. He recognizes the group, and, moments later, recognizes Kasumi.
- "How many times do I have to say it - do not sneak up on me with ninja!" -Lord Hawk
The group protests that Kasumi wasn't sneaking, but as far as Lord Hawk is concerned, the operative word is "ninja" rather than "sneak".
- "I don't see what Lijuan sees in him. Good thing she's engaged now." -Kasumi, loudly
- "Um." -Lord Hawk
The others start to explain to Lord Hawk about the bandits (over Kasumi's protests, since Lord Hawk is so rude about ninja). The Steward of the Roof of the World has been complaining about the bandits coming from Bear Mountain, and wanted someone to look into it.
- "So the Steward has noticed our activities? Excellent." -Lord Hawk
Merit says that the Steward has noticed so much that the city is crawling with spies and ninja. Lord Hawk thinks spies are a good sign, but he really needs the Steward to send troops. Wait - does he want war with Bear Mountain? No, no, that's not his plan. He intends to engage with them over the border.
- "Awkward for Lord Yu." -Merit
- "Well, these are trying times." -Lord Hawk
Merit points out that there are two other teams on the field, and shows him Takanata's art. Hmm. Lord Hawk assumes that means that the scion of the Usurper is here as well. The Usurper's father deceived one of the Sentinels into betraying the Steward, but that man (Bo) now works for him, and they plan to use the same plan. They can steal the Sentinel's amulet and perform a ritual to undo the curse and smite the Steward, who is the guardian of the curse, and then retake the throne.
Xiao Fa says he has a ritual for undoing the curse as well. Lord Hawk is glad to hear it, though he thinks his plan is rolling right along, so maybe they should help him with his plan instead? Xiao Fa points out that his ritual also renames the country. Lord Hawk isn't clear why the name of the country is the important thing - it has a perfectly fine name now - though he seems willing to include that in a plan.
So... does Lord Hawk want a ninja on his team to help ninja-ize his enemies? No, he does not. He still doesn't like ninja, even the ones going after his enemies. Merit idly wonders if Lord Hawk's anti-ninja sense modes will protect his companions, since there are ninja going after them too. Well, Bo is on the other side of the border, so he should be safe from the ninja here.
Merit tries to convince Lord Hawk that he should help them with Xiao Fa's plan, as that doesn't involve anyone having to fight troops. It just involves gaining the assistance of the Spirit of the Lake, and the cooperation of the Steward. Lord Hawk thinks that that last bit is a little unlikely - the Steward won't cooperate if he knows Lord Hawk is involved. Merit hints that if he thinks Lord Hawk is a prisoner instead of a participant, he might cooperate.
- "So, we lure the Steward into the trap of thinking I'm at his mercy? I'm liking my plan better." -Lord Hawk
Kasumi says she's going to go sneak into the first suite at the inn, to see who it is, since Lord Hawk claims it's not him. She waves to Zhi-Hao and Min Feng on the way back, so they can join up with the rest of the group. Min Feng gives Lord Hawk the other half of the bronze knot that she gave to Bo about a year ago, though the two of them were able to hook up anyway. She also warns him that the Si Fan are looking for Bo to plant a black sash on him, in order to target the ninja after him.
Merit and Xiao Fa continue to not like the idea of Lord Hawk doing the usurper's ritual. Won't that make him the new usurper? Lord Hawk says it's not a ritual of usurpation, but he does like the symmetry of using his enemy's tool to thwart them.
Xiao Fa consults the Voice of the Dragon, and determines that the line of the Usurper is Spider's pawn, and has no place in Xiao Fa's ritual. So the plan Hawk has is very spidery. It could well work - Spider probably isn't still actively betraying the Usurper a hundred years later - but it's still not appropriate for the Dragon's plan. The Dragon way of putting Lord Hawk back on the throne would be for the Steward to recognize the rightness of his claim. (Or, possibly, with armies.)
In any event, since they have disrupted his meeting tonight, he can't have another one until tomorrow, and it will take a few days to march. If they want to meet with him again, they should go into the woods, build a fire, and put a fresh pine bough on it, and he'll find them. But no ninja.
Back at the inn, Kasumi successfully breaks into the first suite. She finds a note reading "nothing yet, but we are making progress". Some random papers suggest that the room's occupant is a noble from the Illuminated Precincts, and she thinks that she is at least the second ninja to have searched the room this evening.
Everyone gathers together at the inn again, and compares notes. It's still very confusing what is actually going on, but one thing is clear - there are ninja in town, so Watches Must Be Set.
- "But our ninja is harmless!" -Merit
- "WHAT?" -Kasumi
- "Friendly! I meant friendly!" -Merit
Merit and Kasumi are on the second watch, when Merit vaguely notices that the window is open. Kasumi closes the window and then pokes her head in Takanata's room. There seems to be a ninja, carefully reaching for Takanata's covers. Kasumi grabs for his nose in the surprise round, but in the extra-surprise round, things seem to get even darker, a moment before Kasumi finishes her grab. Kasumi shouts to try to wake the others, but her voice is muffled in the complete darkness and silence of the unexpected ninja-only combat.
Kasumi has the early advantage due to her nose-grab, and she stays ahead, doing more damage to the interloper than she takes, but he eventually uses escape smoke to flee when he has a few hit points left.
- "Well done, child, though your edge over him was in equipment, not skill. I was here on another matter and witnessed a battle between two of mine, so I chose to make it a test. You have passed - what is it you would ask? " -Hirasoto
- "I ask that you train me, so I will not be as reliant on my equipment!" -Kasumi
Hirasoto says that he will send someone who will improve her skills. Then, the gloom fades out again. Merit thinks there might be ninja in the other room! He bursts in to find Kasumi, and Takanata waking up in the surprise round.
Zhi-Hao thinks that the greatest source of danger nearby is something undetectable, which bothers him on general principles, and Kasumi notes that it's probably Hirasoto.
- "Should I be worried?" -Deng
- "Yes, but you could put your swords away." -Xiao Fa
Then, there's a knock at the door, and it's Autumn Rose in a night-robe, looking concerned.
- "Were you attacked? Did you prevail?"
- "Well, none of the blood is Lord Takanata's."
Autumn Rose says that she knows several things that they definitely want to know as well. They also have two things that she wants to know; she thinks that it is a fair bargain, but she cannot explain hers first. Takanata checks - along the lines of the bargain they made about Ezokin? Yes, like that. Well, that would definitely be valuable information. Takanata thinks that there is something else that would be valuable, but if Autumn Rose has not mentioned it already, that implies that she cannot know it.
Takanata (after a brief conference) counter-offers - instead of the two she is thinking of, he would like to give her only one, but he has two others from similar items elsewhere, lesser but with great ambition. Autumn Rose allows that one greater and two lesser would be fair, and Takanata gives her the true names of Monkey, Horse, and Whale.
- "I said I was banished here as a messenger. The reasons for that, we discussed previously. The message was from my father to a ninja named Zeng Tai Hoi, who was sent here to claim the Crane Talisman, and the message was that two more Talismans were arriving and he should attempt to claim them as well. I had not realized that meant you, until he appeared in your rooms as I was tracking him. My father has decided that now is the time, and is making a campaign to gather the Twelve. He has a map that tells him where - well, where eleven of them are, as one cannot be tracked. He has decided on this plan to regain ground for some recent failures, so you may be seeing more attempts of this sort. I believe that each of the Twelve has its own defenses, but with concerted effort they can be overcome, and this particular ninja was hired because he was known to be skilled enough to overcome the Crane's talisman's defenses."
She believes the Crane talisman is carried by the guy in Suite Number One. She has tried several times to meet him, but he never seems to be there when she looks. Her servants have reported seeing him, and he seems to be there all the time, except when she looks for him.
Having delivered her message to her father's agent, Autumn Rose will be leaving tomorrow, and bids Takanata and the others farewell.
Xiao Fa offers to heal Kasumi, but she wants to keep the scar from her First Ninja Battle. He treats her gash with some powdered herbs, to make the scar more visible.
- Takanata traded the name of the Great Magpie Spirit to Autumn Rose in exchange for her divining who had the Talisman with that name on it
- Iron Mountain has just been renamed to Bear Mountain
Scion of the Usurper
The next morning, Merit checks who is in town on the "stealing the Crane amulet" plot. There's Autumn Rose, Deng and Takanata, and Lord Du (a noble from the Strand). Plus another of Merit's agents doesn't return.
Takanata sends a note to the guy in Suite One suggesting lunch, and burning his reputation. He receives a reply proposing lunch for two elsewhere in town (the invitation is clearly 'not in my place, not in your place, and not with a bunch of minions'). Merit gets a dossier on the "scion of the usurper" - that would be Lord Du, whose house was banished from the Roof of the World for treason. He has connections in a lot of other countries, and has been keeping a low profile since his father died last year.
Takanata, accompanied by Master Deng, goes to lunch. Master Deng is seated in a nearby room with another dangerous-looking guy who is the bodyguard for Lord Du. The two of them eye each other, taking each other's measure. Deng notes that the bodyguard has a pair of collapsible bows, which is a little unusual in a body guard.
Lord Du is pleased that even in places like this, "men of civilization" can meet. Takanata agrees, and notes that his divinations have revealed that a ninja may be after Lord Du. It seems clear to Lord Du that Takanata, like him, has a Great Talisman, as the spikiness of their stats makes that highly likely. Lord Du hears that Takanata's ninja fought the original ninja, and that the original ninja was defeated in a master’s duel. In order to regain his honor, he will have to return and battle Kasumi again, so perhaps she could be bait? That seems like a fine plan - he will have his bodyguard assist.
Min Feng and Shuyan go to look for the Steward's spies, and Min Feng introduces herself as here on behalf of Lord Yu to sort things out. The Steward's men think it's pretty simple - there are bandits striking in the Steward's territory and hiding in Lord Yu's, so it's his job to stop them. Min Feng says it will be hard for Lord Yu to stop them when they're in the Roof of the World, but the Steward's men think the Steward will be happy to hammer them wherever is convenient for Lord Yu if he can't take care of it himself.
Min Feng confirms that after memorizing Lord Du, she can locate him (across town). Maybe the "never there" doesn't work against her locating?
The group gathers together again to discuss what the heck is going on and what they should do about it. Why is Hirasoto here, anyway? Maybe he's watching Lord Hawk because the Implacable Blade approves of people who go full blast at their doomed plans.
The best idea seems to be to somehow interrupt Lord Hawk's spidery plans in such a way that doesn't burn the party's bridges with him for later. Maybe they can put someone else in the middle to blame things on? Thoughts turn to Ando, and Merit goes to find him.
So... what does Ando think of this whole renaming to Bear Mountain thing? He's a little surprised - he had thought that was the party's doing. Was it not? Ando doesn't think it's his plot, and is vaguely disconcerted because he had gotten used to calling it Iron Mountain. The group tells him that the Si Fan is here to determine where to send the ninja (Ando notes that if there are multiple ninja in town, that's probably because they're doing multiple things), and Lord Hawk is pursuing a goal they don't mind, but in a way they find stupid, and they want to avoid his getting in a fight with an army. Maybe Ando could arrange for a Dragon Army troop to be marching around the border? Ando might be able to do that, but, on second thought, that makes Lord Yu look somewhat ineffective if the Dragon Army takes on the bandits instead. Maybe Ando could betray the bandit hideout to Lord Yu?
- "I understand that you want me to be the cutout, but you understand that Lord Yu's advisor is sitting closer to you than I am?" -Ando
In exchange for Ando doing that, he says they should go and save Bo from the ninja, thus thwarting the Si Fan's ninja-targetting.
Before nailing the plan down, Takanata checks with Connections: what maintains the status quo better, following this plan or doing nothing? Definitely following this plan. Doing nothing does not maintain the status quo, because lots of things are happening without the party doing them. Takanata "blesses" Ando to be in Iron Fortress in two hours, without a clear idea of how he will do that. Ando runs out the door.
Then, the party heads out, making a big fuss of leaving, and picking up Lord Du's bodyguard as well. Kuan-Xi, however, is nowhere to be found, and her little carriage is missing, so the group figures Ando has left with her, and doesn't worry about it. Merit grabs some thugs, and the party heads through the SinChen pass into the Roof of the World to look for Bo.
Combat is a Many-Sided Thing
As they travel up the road, across the border, and towards the nearest town, they encounter a commotion just off the road. With the addition of the party, the Most Confusing Combat Ever ensues. There is a group of bandits with Bo, surrounded by a group of soldiers with a Sentinel.
- "Surrender! We have you surrounded!"
- "Never! Our reinforcements have arrived!"
- "Wait, are those our reinforcements?"
Master Deng notes that there are four ninja who he can't place, and the Sentinel is the most dangerous person on the map.
The Sentinel's troops think the plan is to crush the "reinforcements" before they can join up with the bandits, while Bo goes straight for the Sentinel, trying to get his medallion. Master Deng rides in, and tries to pull Bo onto his horse.
- "There are many more dangers here than you expect! Let's end this fight!" -Master Deng
Merit threatens to use a magical device to close the SinChen pass forever, but it's clear that he doesn't know how to use it and it will actually kill everyone as well. Bo's bandits start to flee, but the Sentinel's soldiers start moving in on Merit.
All the ninja (including Kasumi) are briefly enveloped in gloom, and Kasumi hears "Disregard his threat. You may die, but as long as your honor is satisfied, you are victorious." The ninja all get back on task, regardless of Merit's threat, and attack Bo, the Sentinel, Takanata, and Kasumi.
Hmm. This is more ninja than anyone (except Master Deng) thought should be here. The ninja who went after Takanata is presumably trying to get Kasumi now, so who is attacking Takanata now? It's all very confusing.
The ninja on Takanata chops him ferociously - there's blood everywhere! The ninja on Bo redirects Master Deng's strike into Bo's side - more blood! That's sufficient to get Bo to flee with Master Deng after all. Takanata's ninja goes after Min Feng, brutalizing her as well, though then Min Feng intimidates him into surrendering.
Merit "disarms" his magic device, claiming that he only did it in order to get the ninja to show themselves, to help the Sentinel. The Roof of the World troops are still pretty dubious.
The bandits escape, as does Deng with Bo. The Sentinel's soldiers surround Merit, Kasumi, and Xiao Fa, but Kasumi finishes killing her foe, and then flees in ninja smoke with Xiao Fa. Hirasoto shows up, tells Min Feng's surrendered ninja that he has done well, and confiscates him. He thanks Min Feng and Takanata for their participation in the test, and trusts that they are not badly hurt.
Kasumi, apparently, has passed - rather than be distracted by people killing her friends, she stayed on target against her own foe until he died. (Kasumi notes later that this is because she didn't know which ninja was her teacher from the House of Night's Promise, who she had agreed to not interfere with.)
Min Feng introduces herself as Lord Yu's advisor, and begins to blame all the ninjas and bandits on Lord Du - he's clearly an enemy of the Steward and his family already tried to steal the amulet, and Lord Du himself is in SinChen Village. Lord Du's bodyguard beats a quiet retreat.
The Sentinel, on behalf of the Steward, requires that Min Feng get Lord Yu to stop all bandit problems originating on the Bear Mountain side. She assures him the incursions will be stopped, even if Lord Du himself is not caught.
Then, the party heads back to SinChen Village. There's a message for Takanata at the inn - Lord Du is pleased to hear that the ninja who was trying to steal the Talismans is dead now, and congratulates Takanata on the trap. Lord Du himself has checked out, though.
Not long after the party returns, Lord Yu's army converges on SinChen Pass and SinChen Village, having been sent by Ando. Min Feng has the army march around a bunch looking impressive, and decides to give the army-summoning horn back before she leaves the country.
Another message appears for Takanata, this one from Ando. "Assuming Bo survived, you're good, otherwise you owe me."
Lord Hawk appears to have escaped in the confusion as well, heading towards the Taiga.
Takanata lays his hand upon the pattern, and places a curse on Lord Du: his family name can only be redeemed by atoning for the wrongs it has done, not by pursuing the plans of the wrongdoers.
- Takanata visits the Teng estate again.
- Master Zhou visits Kar Fai.
- Shen-Ji visits the Green Pagoda.
- Yanyu goes to a reception to meet with Lord Yu.
- Shen-Ji visits the Gate of Shen.
- Takanata talks to Horse.