|"Better to have a thousand enemies outside of the tent than one inside the tent."|| The run takes place late in the Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place around the Empire and North of the Wall
Who is the Sorcerer's Daughter?
Due to the machinations of some Unknown Conspirators, the mission is already set: Free the younger brother and his love, the sorcerer's daughter. This will score Empire points rather than Arcade points, to be split between the party and the Unknown Conspirators.
Cai Wen notes that the terms of the agreement are "an alliance between your faction and mine for the duration of the one mission, and at the end of it we will split the proceeds." Takanata had thought it meant splitting the points evenly, and that the agreement was not intended to end in a backstabbing immediately after the mission, but Cai Wen is not convinced.
Three associates have joined the party: Master Knives, Lady Blades, and Lord Morningstar. They note that between the three of them they can succeed in nearly anything non-tao, at least once. Go to Lord Morningstar for physical, Lady Blades for mental, and Master Knives for social. They are very likely to make the first roll, but their odds will drop the more rolls they make. Additionally, they can contact their bosses in order to have them do research with their connections throughout the Empire, for an answer to reasonably arbitrary questions.
The group studies them carefully. They don't seem to be people that anyone has met before, though Lady Blades has a lot in common with Ti Jun's new weapons master. Merit doesn't think it's actually her, but perhaps they have a master/student relationship, or are sisters. And Master Knives has something in common with Blademaster Fa.
Then, the butler informs Merit that a messenger has arrived, who wishes to speak to him in private. After determining that the messenger is likely from the White Lotus, Merit brings him into a parlor. The messenger is returning the Amulet of Kali, and wishes to impress on Merit how hard it was to work on that particular item. Merit agrees that they are indeed awesome, but wants to know what they built for him. The messenger presents him with a green box, of polished and stained sandalwood stained. Inside is a velvet cushion, and upon it is an Imperial Signet, which when worn, allows the wearer to withstand the Empire's primary attack. (Right now, the messenger adds, that's the Sword of State). Merit sends a bag of Western Crystals into the shop.
When Merit returns, Knives is chatting with the junior butler, Morningstar is drinking tea, and Blades is pretending to drink tea while casing the joint.
So. It's time to go off to free the younger brother and his love? Who are they exactly? Hmm. Normally, they would go into the map room right now to see what it might tell them. But the Prince's map room has since been tuned back to Magpie, rather than Dragon, so it won't be so much help here. Kuan-Xi suggests that it might be Shen-Mei, Shen-Gao's daughter, who is one of Wolf's team. She lives in Cedar Haven, in the Steppes.
Cai Wen uses 'cheat at minigames' to try to improvise a map room, by asserting that Shen-Mei and the First Servant's Second Son are in love, and have been captured by the North. Then he runs Interpret Omens on it, and determines that it is incorrect, but not wholly so. Indeed, it is more true than false, but still not right.
Well, checking the state of a liaison between Shen-Mei and the First Servant's younger son might be something to try. Everyone squishes into the carriages, and Merit drives to Stone Drum. Lady Blades and Lord Morningstar appear shocked at how quickly they arrive.
Merit checks who is in town on the plot of the younger brother and his love - the answer is no one, aside from the party. Cai Wen does some information gathering about town, and finds out about the love lives of Shen Mei and the children of the First Servant. Shen Mei doesn't have a love life that anyone here knows about, as she pretty much never is here. She has a lot of secret meetings, but nobody has ever accused them of being romantic trysts. The First Servant's kids have complicated love lives because of dynastic concerns - the most notable gossip is still about Gipeno, who goes in and out of favor, probably because he is in the middle of a mechanic.
While they wait for Cai Wen to return, Xiao Fa fixes Deng's rho corruption by carefully punching him a bunch of times, which the three associates regard with interest.
- "I was assured that beating on Master Deng is acceptable." -Master Knives
Merit puts together the collection of datasets to ponder:
- The actual task description: rescue the younger brother and sorcerer's daughter
- How the mechanic usually works
- How the mechanic has been co-opted for Imperial points
- Cai Wen's speculation is more true than false, but is not true
- No one was in Stone Drum related to the omen/plot
- Cai Wen's gather info results
From that, he wonder how to answer the question: who does the omen refer to? The best place to investigate that is to ask Mondo.
To the circus, then!
- "Ah, the infamous supreme headquarters of the House of Exuberant Interference." -Lady Blades
Mondo asks them what they know and what they do not know, and points out that Kuan-Xi's original suggestion was what they knew already, and Cai Wen's version was entirely correct except for the words "First Servant".
Well, perhaps the next thing to do is to see what they can find out about Shen-Mei, not in Stone Drum. To Cedar Haven! They head there in the carriage and arrive momentarily.
- "I begin to understand why you people are always a step or two ahead of the Master." -Lord Morningstar
Kuan-Xi leads them to Shen-Mei's house. There is someone working in the garden, but it is not her. The gardener tells them that the mistress of the house is not home. Does he know where she is? He says that he couldn't say, and Kuan-Xi doesn't recognize him, so they decide to not explain further.
Gathering information in Cedar Haven, Cai Wen finds that Shen-Mei frequently takes long trips and doesn't say where she has been. She has been gone longer than usual this time, though. He also suspects that about 10% of the people in town secretly work for her, and are trying to avoid leaking any information to Kuan-Xi. For example, there are two farmer boys in a nearby field keeping an eye on the house - at least one of them probably works for her.
Merit recruits a spy in the older boy’s organization - it's the Secret Society to bring Peace with the North. Hmm. This confirms that Shen-Mei crosses the Wall frequently, and decides to come clean with the brothers. The group is here, pursuing an omen in order to save the Empire. And, in fact the actual omen is that they are to free the younger brother and his love, the sorcerer's daughter. And sorcerer's daughter is Shen Mei. One of the brothers looks accusingly at the other, before deciding that doesn't make any sense.
Anyhow, if they hear anything more that can help, please send word to Li Merit from the circus, who is here to help.
- "I've figured it out. The younger brother is the younger brother of the Beastmaster of Men. It's pretty terrible, which makes it absolutely compelling." -Cai Wen
In fact, the party has met briefly before, and he was with Shen Mei at the time. He wasn't named, but he said he couldn't speak for the Great Khan because he was exiled, and his older brother was running things from behind the scenes.
- "So, if you just replace "First Servant" with "Great Khan" the prophecy is entirely true." -Mike
The group heads back to Tahiti, to have the butlers pack for a trip to the North and ash-stay the alismans-Tay. Knives, Blades, and Morningstar all get bento boxes from the butlers, and Knives gets one extra.
Then, the carriage goes back to Cedarhaven, and Deng tracks down a wolf outside town. He tells the wolf that the party thinks Shen Mei has been captured by the north, and they want to find her and free her, and are asking for help. The wolf leaves, and everyone camps in the rain, which is generally miserable.
After about an hour, a nervous-looking young woman approaches.
- "Hello the fire!"
She introduces herself as Si Po, secret maid to Shen Mei, and has a message that she has been told to give to them.
It is a map, with an X north of the wall, labeled "Investigate Carefully". She says that the X is the war camp of the Beastmaster of Men.
Well, that's exciting.
Merit burns his book of Natural Philosophy, so that if he is beastmastered then he can remember it and maybe no longer be affected by beastmastery. Everyone else asks how that might work, but it’s entirely unclear. Why doesn’t he just do it now then? Apparently, it’s a trap.
The three associates ask if they should ask their boss for any further information he can provide. He does have intelligence on the north, not just in the Empire. The group agrees this is a good time to get an info dump, as once they have crossed the wall it may be a little more difficult.
The boss confirms to them that the X is the current war camp headquarters of the Beastmaster of Men. He's currently holding council with the most powerful of his underlings, and they're probably in the center. He also says "The camp of the Beastmaster is a hat mechanic and doesn't turn into a battle map unless you screw up."
Okay, maybe that's doable.
Crossing into enemy territory takes the traditional scouting rolls and stealth checks. Master Deng takes point, but runs into the Kasumi problem of being way sneakier than his perception, and nearly leads the group into a patrol. For the second leg of the journey, Cai Wen takes point and it goes more smoothly.
Once they reach the wall, between a combination of flying, walking on raindrops, ascension grappling, and just plain climbing, the group gets over. More stealth is needed to traverse the Northlands. Merit provides disguises, and the group approaches the camp.
It is a Shadowrun hat mechanic!
The group creeps from tent to tent, gaining clues and trying to avoid alerting any of the tent's inhabitants or being seen too much by the patrolling guards.
Master Zhou rolls True Teaching here, and his next strength roll can be for sixes.
The group gets two successes on one of the clues, and also learns that the Life mage is deeply upset that his master was maimed in this way, and unhappy that they’ve been told to refuse to explain why the beastmaster of men is powerless against his brother.
This tent is deemed too hard, and is skipped.
Another tidbit is learned here - the warriors aren't sure why their leader is trying to become a NecroBeastmaster of War. Is that even necessary?
This one earns two clues worth of extra information. There are both dead Northerners and dead Imperials reporting here. One of the Imperial soldiers scoffs - the necromancer may have summoned him, but he'll be drawn back soon, because the Commander of the Slain has a mission for him. One of the Northern ghosts reports that there was a ghost from the south who was interfering with the plans of the great Necro Lord, but she appears to have been dealt with and "pinned".
The beastmaster recognizes Kuan-Xi through her disguise when she comes in, and warns her that she should flee before she is found out. Kuan-Xi says that they are there to get him, but he says he will go nowhere until Shen-Mei is safe. Well, they're there to get her too. Does he know where she is? He says she is not in the camp, or he would have freed her himself.
- "I will not raise the alarm, but beware, I will not stop them if you are caught."
- "Why is the Beastmaster of Men powerless against you?"
- "I don't know, but he has attempted to use his power on me many times and has failed. He cannot kill me, so he keeps me close."
The group leaves again, as the younger son is clearly not yet rescuable.
The patrolling guards start getting faster. Merit recruits one, and Lady Blades has to kill one.
The clansmen are speaking of the Great Khan, who is still near death. Well, at this point he seems to be past near death, but not actually dead. They hope that he will hang on long enough to clear the succession, and put the nonsense of his younger son down.
Cai Wen uses a cheat in the map tent to get better factoids if he hits double successes.
The warriors remark that the eastern front has been more problematic than the central and western fronts, but that west has done better than central. On the other hand, they think central may be sandbagging in preparation for a big push.
Having a Necro-Beastmaster is definitely useful, as proved with some testing on prisoners. Anyone who falls down once gets back up to fight again. It is a little surprising, but the Southerners also seem to be developing necromancy of their own. Of course, why wouldn't they? The Southern warmaster has some necromantic talents, which the Northern necrolords are looking for ways to counter. But they scoff at him - he can't control all the dead, only the ghosts who were in his army.
The map tent is the last of the clue tracks that they need, and they learn the location of the highly fortified prison camp where Shen Mei is being kept prisoner. (Next run will be a jailbreak combat, not a hat mechanic)
A few more tents are hit on the way out.
Rumor has it that the talking fish captured in Daizhou has escaped and is back in the ocean, after an utter disaster. The beastmasters were sure they could use it to make someone super-powerful, but then it turned into an argument, and it didn't go well.
The Life Masters know, even if no one else does, that the reason the Beastmaster of Men cannot control his brother is that no matter how depraved his thinking, he cannot believe his blood brother is simply an animal.
As the group heads back to the Empire, they contemplate the rumors about Hana. If she is "pinned", could she be the bound entity in the Miasma tent? It did seem to be a bound nexus of necromantic power, and a sentient one, but not an Abomination. So some sort of powerful ghost, but without more information, it is hard to determine if it was Hana.
- With more investigation, it is determined that it is, in fact, Hana.