|"Freedom is the beautiful bird which gets caged."|| 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
Everyone is in Tahiti, and there is a moment of confusion as everyone remembers it is not time to go get a mission from the Prince. Instead, the plan is to go and break Shen Mei out of a fortified Northern Prison. Fun times. Wei Han is in charge of Yanyu not dying, but is going to the Land of Beastmasters going to be a problem for her? Perhaps some defenses can be found.
Cai Wen dashes to the Dragon's Throne to visit Wu Wangmu for lunch, and advice. He explains to her that one of his comrades is a werewolf, and thus is affected by beastmastery. Can she suggest anything helpful? She thinks she may be able to do something, but will require some components. Does Wei Han have anything spiritually attuned to wolfiness? Not on him, but he may be able to find something. He gives her 20 li to start putting together a fast emergency ritual, and runs back to Tahiti to grab an origami crane of beastmaster detection and a potion of fire resistance. When he returns with them, she goes into her laboratory to do the ritual. There's a hollow shrieking sound, and some other odd noises, and then she returns with some soot on her face, and a potion of Resist Beastmastery.
Back at Tahiti, Master Knives, Lady Blades, and Lord Morningstar remind people 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. People wonder if the bosses can get anything on the prison defenses, since it is in the North? Come to think of it, can they ask about things that are not related to the mission? Master Knives says that the bosses kind of like loopholes, so they probably can ask about things not related to the mission.
They decide to ask about th emission. It takes a little while, but they do get a reply. The boss thinks it's a "fortified" prison camp, containing high value prisoners, from both the South (the Empire) and the North. "Fortified" in this case means well guarded by factions from multiple clans, with a mix of the three standard types of mage. Stealth should be able to get them reasonably far, but once the alert goes up, all the defenses will be raised, and each of the mages will put up a different combat-wide debuff.
Wei Han gives some lessons in "Strength and Unity with the Empire" (Master Knives attends this one) and "Parry". Master Zhou, of course, gives lessons in Kung Fu. Shen-Ji hands out fireproof potions to Master Zhou, Cai Wen, Kuan-Xi, Yin-Chiang, Wei Han, and the three NPCs, just in case.
Battlemaster Recruitment Prepping
Since you can never have too much preparation, Master Zhou suggests visiting the White Pagoda to talk to Broken Sword and Yue Mei. When he checks in, Yanzi says that things have been strangely quiet around the Pagodas.
- "Is Po still in the Green Pagoda?" -Master Zhou
- "Shh! Yes, he’s still there, unless you say his name, and then maybe he's standing right behind you." -Yue Mei
Anyway, Master Zhou is going North to rescue prisoners from the Beastmaster of Men. Do they want to come help? Broken Sword and Yue Mei agree. They ask Broken Sword to debuff a battlefield-wide buff that another battlemage has raised? He thinks that's tricky, especially since they have probably prepared the area, and he might end up in a standoff with them while they have the advantage. However, he can probably provide a general buff himself.
How about evacuation? Getting a bunch of prisoners out may be tough. The group does have an evacuation boon from the Very Large Horse Spirit to rescue Tsai Su-Yin from the dreamscape she was trapped in, but it doesn't quite fit for evacuating Shen-Mei. Well, maybe it can be adjusted.
Cai Wen tells the Danger Squad to stand in the rain so they should be fireproof, just in case it comes up. Then, he heads to the stable to talk to Li Merit's horse, and Horse. He offers Horse an exploit to get into the Imperial Scoreboard, in exchange for modifying and expanding the current boon. Horse agrees to redo the boon in exchange for the Imperial Scoreboard exploit (which will require borrowing four uses of Cai Wen's cheat in minigames shticks), but expanding the power of the evacuation will require appropriate horse points or other offerings. The current boon doesn't include a trap situation - that would be one point, and another horse point would cover an additional dozen people. If they can take down all of the enemy mages before the evacuation, then it wouldn't be a trap, and that part wouldn't be necessary.
They spend Shen-Ji's last horse point, but Kuan-Xi doesn't want to authorize spending Anto's horse point just in case he needs it.
- "If Anto comes back as a PC, the loss of a horse point is not going to be on his radar."
However, Horse will offer a virtual horse point if someone (or multiple someones) do one of Xian's missions. Cai Wen takes that deal.
- "I like the cut of your jib, don't forget the lockpicks, gotta go." -Horse
Lockpicks. That could be a problem. Does anyone have the ability to get past locked doors? Everyone looks back and forth. Apparently not. This calls for another shopping trip!
Kuan-Xi brings Master Zhou, Yanyu and Cai Wen to look in some dark alleys for places that take karma to find. They go past a lot of seedy areas, and finally reach a closed door with bars and a window in the middle. Cai Wen knocks, and a little man dressed in red lets them in.
- "Greetings, exalted ones! Come in, come in. What brings you to the Den of Thieves?"
- "Breaking people out of prison."
- "Of course, of course. Is this a new career or a one-shot? Do you wish to trade services or cash?"
The group explains - just the once, and cash. But they wish to be covered as they move around, not just for an instant. Oh, and they are also worried about alarms.
The little man offers them a fine set of lockpicks which grants double skill, but they admit they are looking for something more... amateurish. Ah, of course. He offers what looks like a tiny mini-crossbow.
- "Take this, put it into the lock. Press here. Either the lock opens or this explodes. One in ten chance of explosion."
They buy that for one and a half tael, and also the Tome of Thievery, which lets someone declare one thief skill inherent. And a pouch of "I was never here" powder - Oblivion in an easy delivery system.
As the prices keep rising as the objects get cooler, they decline to purchase a trained magpie.
- "Point at someone, and the bird will take the most valuable item he possesses and bring it to you, unnoticed."
That ends the shopping session, and Deng uses the Tome of Thievery to buy the Pick Locks skill.
With Horse's help, the group quickly reaches the outside of the prison camp. They are at the foot of a cliff; the camp is on a small butte, ringed with a palisade. Due to the rain, all flame attacks are at one level of blunt, and things are dark. After some consideration, the group requests that Broken Sword give everyone a movement buff, which he does.
Deng, Wei Han, Cai Wen, Kuan-Xi, and Lord Morningstar all climb up the cliff. They can see the faint light of a watchtower with two guys and a bird, and people run close to the palisade, or into some nearby trees, to try to get cover. One of the guards in the watchtower thinks he sees something – he can just see Pao's flames, but hasn't made out what it is yet. He thinks it's a bird, and unusual birds are not uncommon in the area, given the number of beastmasters, so he keeps trying to get a better look. Shen-Ji puts Pao back in his cloak to keep her out of sight, rather than send her forward to scout.
The advance team starts to cross between the watchtowers, staying away from the view of the nearby watchtower and the next tower over.
More people begin to climb the cliff, and Cai Wen directs them into the trees to move westward. Yanyu and Yin-Xiang head to a building, and Yanyu listens at a door - she thinks it sounds like a bunch of Northerners eating dinner. Master Zhou listens at another building, and hears an angry voice in Torghut: "You speak as if they have some honor. They will kill us before the week is out."
Master Zhou waves people over - this sounds like prisoners! Shen-Ji gets a little too close to a wolf, which starts to prowl over, and Deng takes it out in a blow before it can alert anyone. Deng picks the lock, and Shen-Ji drags it into the tent, which does prove to have three Northern prisoners.
There are two men and a woman, each in manacles. People try to shush them and interrogate them simultaneously, but the prisoners have no inclination to call for help and alert the guards.
- "Be silent and you may escape this place with us." -Yanyu
- "Why are you prisoners?" -Deng
- "The Beastmaster of Men will imprison all whom he cannot control." -Purple 2
Deng and Yanyu start working to unlock the manacles, and Shen-Ji melts a chain fastening the woman to the tent pole - that frees her but she can't use her shticks until the manacles are open.
Can the prisoners be of help in the escape? One says he is a scout, who can avoid both damage and detection. The next is a warrior, and she will not condescend to hide from her enemies. The third says he is what they would probably call a life mage. They think there are other prisoners to the west, and maybe to the north.
Yue-Mei, examining the fallen wolf, wonders whether they want it to stand and attack them when the beastmasters heal it, or when the necromancers raise it? The life mage nods, as if she has said something wise, and Deng thinks the necromancers will fall the fastest, so Yue-Mei snaps the wolf's neck and leaves to catch up to the advance group.
Meanwhile, Cai Wen and the Danger Squad are listening at another building: "It is not about damage. You are immune to damage. What we are discussing is pain."
Master Zhou, Kuan-Xi, Wei Han, and Yue Mei circle around the northern edge of the camp. A wolf observes them from the treeline, but keeps its observations to itself.
Deng asks the warrior to wait until she hears the combat start to leave the tent, and sneaks out again. A guard runs into Yanyu and Yin-Xiang, but again is taken out by the nearby fighters before he can give an alarm. Shen-Ji hands the warrior prisoner a sword, and has her start dismembering the wolf's body, so if it comes back as undead, it will have a harder time.
At the northernmost tent, Master Zhou hears sounds of a blade being honed, and someone crying. That could well be another prisoner.
Two of the guards start their rounds, and pass by Master Zhou, but in the rain and the dark and their abysmal per rolls, they don't notice him.
The door is locked, and Master Zhou isn't one of the people who has trained up in thievery, so others start heading that way. However, the guards keep wandering around and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep them from noticing.
Guards 2 and 8 are taken down quickly, but the necromancer just inside the tent notices the sudden death count, and the alarm is raised.
- Blades are 1 level blunt.
- Non-bladed attacks are 1 level blunt.
- Healing is half effective.
- Every drift, everyone takes 10 points of damage, no defenses.
- Shield and armor are half effective.
- Any bad guy near a bird gets a free dodge pool.
Wei Han and Master Deng, who have been waiting for this moment to unleash, bring the chopping, and Skull is quickly destroyed (taking down the drift damage), as well as the two additional guards next to him A flying beastmaster (Bison) swoops in, as Deng frees the new prisoner - this turns out to be Shen-Mei! Victory! Is it time to evacuate?
The party is still pretty scattered around the map, though. They will need to be within line of sight of each other in order for Horse to get them all out.
Farther south towards the middle of the camp, Cai Wen tells the Danger Squad to throw fireworks around, which gets some more light in. Another necromancer, and four guards become visible, as they hurry towards the fight.
The Flying Bison beastmaster goes down, and with it the free dodge. Shen-Ji spots a wolf next to Shen-Mei, and shoots at it, but she aborts to jump in the way, taking the damage herself, as this wolf is one of her secret protectors.
- "Well, that's what she gets [for not having an action to tell us.]" -Shen-Ji
Kuan-Xi asks Shen-Mei if she knows about other prisoners - she thinks the rest of the Empire captives are to the west. One was immune to magic, one had two souls (she is not sure what that meant) and one was the apprentice of a chi master. But the fighting is getting very hot where they are, and it isn't clear that rescuing another tent of people will be possible.
Master Zhou dashes down to the three Northern escapees. He bows to them and asks them not to dodge, and then punches them with knockback up towards the "evac zone" to the northwest.
Shen-Ji searches another nearby tent, but it is empty - it appears to have held a number of the guards who have already run out. The two Battle Mages close - Hammer is nearly as good at ripostes as Deng, while Spiky starts making other people's armor spiky. Most of the dead bodies start getting up as skeletons, and joining the fight again. Another beastmaster, Rhino, charges through lines of combatants, damaging them all.
Master Zhou remembers that Broken Sword is in the south, outside the palisade and providing the movement buff, so he runs down there to tell Broken Sword to join the evacuation in the northwest corner.
Cai Wen, meanwhile, is heading south towards the interrogation tent near the gate, and Master Zhou joins him. The enemies in the tent have already left for the fighting, so just the prisoner and a couple of guards are left. An older northerner, he is both manacled and tied down. Master Zhou shatters the manacles, and tells him to come join the prison break.
Back in the thick of things with the battle mages, Lady Blades goes down, and Master Knives is looking pretty iffy. Wei Han feeds Lady Blades a healing potion, getting her up again. Master Rhino charges again, and Yue Mei, Lady Blades, and one of the Danger Squad all fall.
Cai Wen refreshes Broken Sword's shticks, and he ups the movement buff to three-fold. Then, once he gets out of the interrogation tent, everyone gets within line of sight of each other, and the Horse evacuation is triggered - everyone is transported back to Tahiti.
Wei Han takes his leave, so that he doesn't have to hear if the Northerners are freed and can have plausible deniability.
Cai Wen heals Lady Blades and Master Knives, and they thank him for not removing their masks.
Shen-Mei also leaves, so that she can "send up the wolf signal" to let a friend know she is free. People ask if her friend can think about a friend of theirs who was captured (Hana, who Takanata has determined was the "miasma" in the tent in the Beastmaster's camp). She says that the wolf signal will just tell him that she's free, but when she sees him next, she can ask him about the miasma.
The Northern prisoners carefully ask if they have been freed from prison or simply moved to a different prison. Cai Wen suggests that they start by considering themselves as guests and talk for a bit, and hopefully they can be free to go after that. But as they are significantly south of the border now, they will need assistance in order to get back north of the Wall.
Tea and pork buns are summoned - the warrior eyes the tea suspiciously, suspecting drugs. She says that she cannot be controlled by the Beastmaster of Men, because she is no man. But, if he tries to control you and fails, he kills you unless you are "too important". So she was held hostage for her father's good behavior.
So... what would she do with her freedom? She says she would go back to the North, and then her father would be more obstreperous. Would this... obstreperosity... be helpful to their side in the war...? Not directly - her father isn't on the Empire's side, obviously. But he thinks beastmastering men is wrong. Does she think he would be willing to withdraw troops? Not away from the front, she says - that's where the glory is. But possibly away from guarding the Beastmaster of Men.
The older prisoner from the interrogation tent says that he is a deposed clan chief. He could be controlled by the Beastmaster of Men, but he would heal the effect away afterwards, because he was blessed by the Life Masters when he was a baby. His clan was staying in line because he was still respected, even if he wasn't still clan chief. He notes that he would have escaped if he had had but a moment with a knife, because manacles cannot hold him.
Would he be willing to take his clan out of the fight if they let him go? He says they would not allow him to leave the fight entirely, but he could take it to the far west of the front, and move slowly (so they would not be in the next round, only in chapter end)
The life mage is impressed with Southern generosity, as they rescued four of his people but left three of their own behind. His heart has been moved, so he says that if they liberate all four of the prisoners they now hold, the Life Temple will grant them a boon. He knows a little more about the Southern/Empire prisoners, also. Shen-Mei was too important to kill for some reason. One was immune to the tao, and the Life Masters couldn't read him either. One had two souls, and said that only one could be beastmastered at a time. Finally there was one who erected a barrier of southern mysticism. (That last one, the party concludes, was probably Gi-Su's apprentice.)
The scout was able to dodge beastmastery, as he says he is a powerful battlemage. Yanyu listens closely, and determines that he is a defensive battle mage only - he can dodge nearly anything but has no offensive capability. In fact, he is a coward and hates the sight of blood. Now he is humiliated, having confessed his weakness.
Shen-Ji wants to know if he is willing to teach his abilities. He says he's willing to try, but he thinks that in general, Southerners cannot learn battle magic. His shtick affects the walls of his square on the battle mat - damage cannot penetrate the squares that surround him, and "damage" is very liberally defined (and includes nine different shticks).
The deals are cut:
- The clan chief will move three points of opposition in week three to the west front for the finale.
- The clan chief's daughter will make sure that her father pulls back his defenses of the Beastmaster of Men.
- The scout will teach Shen-Ji one of his anti-damage square abilities.
- The Life Temple will grant a boon to the party.
The northern prisoners are transported to the wall and set free. The trio of Morningstar, Blades, and Knives are also released without betrayal.The Imperial Scoreboard tickets up 1.66 "Wild" points for both Xiao Fa and Lady Xing. There are no Magpie or Horse points for this mission (though now Horse has a new plan to get on the Imperial Scoreboard.)