Shadows and Light
|"Only your shadow knows your true height."|| The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place mostly in and around the City of Light in the Illuminated Precincts
A Chariot Plan
Wei Han and Shen-Ji have been thinking that what an aquatic cavalry needs is War Chariots. Horse agrees that this is a great idea, and suggests that what they need is to talk to a Boat-Building Genius, like the Illuminated Master Kimura Etsuko. Well, that's a good lead, since neither of them is really a master boatbuilder themselves.
Wei Han is keen to ride a seahorse to the Illuminated Precincts, but Horse thinks without water breathing or staying awake for three days that could be a tough slog. He suggests instead that they go down to the dock and talk to Old Li and tell him to take you to the Precincts. So they troop off to the docks, and find Old Li. When he asks for the password, Shen-Ji guesses "Horse" but Wei Han remembers that it is in fact "Take us to the Precincts". His ship is small and old, but not decrepit, and it makes the journey across the Strait of Silent Winds to the City of Light in reasonable time. At the dock, there's a stablehand with a sign for "Shen Wei Han and party". Wei Han looks around for ninjas, but there don't seem to be any. The stablehand leads them to several horses, without ambush.
Shen-Ji directs the horses to take them to Kimura Etsuko's place, and the horses give the equivalent of a shrug, and go into a brisk amble for about six hundred yards to another area of the docks, with a sign saying "Boats by Kimura".
Shen-Ji and Wei Han are met by a young man asking how the Kimura family can be of service? Can they offer a fishing boat, or a barge? Wei Han explains that they are looking for something more interesting - there are these sea horses in the Isle of Beauty, which would need custom-designed water chariots. Ah, a custom design... he says he can take their names, and a deposit, and put them on the waiting list. The pair is not pleased by this - how long exactly is the waiting list? Well, that would be up to Master Kimura, and she is very busy now. They say they will wait, right here. Um... perhaps they could come back later, later in the month, when she is less indisposed?
Shen-Ji is pretty clear that the guy is trying to put them off since they don't want off-the-shelf boats. He draws a feather from Ka-Pow (his phoenix), and says that he was hoping to present it to Master Kimura as a gift. The young man dithers for a few moments, and then goes into the workshop and returns with an older man, who looks a bit more distinguished. The new Kimura brother says that they can give the feather into his care and he will see that it is placed at the master’s feet. Shen-Ji says that this sort of thing really needs to be presented in person. Well, perhaps later towards the end of the month? Shen-Ji glowers. Is there some problem here? No, no, assuredly not, the man assures Shen-Ji. The master is simply indisposed. If they could return later, towards the end of the month? Wei Han unleashes his icy glare, and the brother says maybe a very brief meeting could be arranged. Very brief. If they return tomorrow morning.
Shen-Ji asks around the local gossip networks - has anyone heard more about Master Kimura? The rumor mill says that Boats by Kimura used to be quite renowned for their style and grace and ingenuity and inventiveness, but their recent offerings have been fairly dull. It's presumed to be the fault of the brothers, who are trying to take over the business. But then, that sort of business really isn't women's work, and when two strong brothers want the trade, it's hard to not turn it over to them.
Wei Han asks the Dragon Army local soldiers if the Kimuras have been in any legal trouble that the army knows about, but they don't know anything useful. Shen-Ji turns to his high society contacts, and hears that Yuwen Fire-Eye has also been out of the public eye recently. She is apparently ill, and her majordomo has been turning down invitations.
Shen-Ji and Wei Han head to Master Yuwen's house; the majordomo tries to put them off, saying that she is indisposed and not available for consultation at the moment. Again, the suggestion that they will stand there and wait in the antechamber until she is able to see them is not very well-received, but Shen-Ji pulls out his reputation shtick, and convinces the majordomo that as a Master of Sorcery, he can help identify exactly what the problem is to recommend the most appropriate healer. The majordomo, persuaded, says he will rely on their discretion, and escorts them to a room which is locked from the outside. He unlocks it and gingerly peers inside, before saying that Master Yuwen is asleep. The room is very bare, with a ceramic tile floor and mosaics, but very little which is flammable. Nevertheless, there are scorch marks on various walls and the charred remains of a rice bowl. Master Yuwen is sitting huddled in a chair, wrapped in a shawl.
Shen-Ji thinks that she has all sorts of spells and magic items about her, but there isn't an obvious magical spell affecting her. There is something odd, though, as if her Yin is suppressed. It's not at all necromancy or life magic, as far as he can tell. Wei Han, looking around for anything out of place, finally figures out what is bothering him - she has no shadow! His jumping back is enough to wake Fire-Eye, and she eyes Shen-Ji madly - is he here so she can pay him back?
- "How are you feeling" -Shen-Ji
- "Well enough to take you! Prepare the dueling circle!" -Yuwen Fire-Eye
- "Um... right away, mistress...?" -the majordomo
She grins, talking about how burning Shen-Ji to a crisp will be a research point, as long as he tries to not get burnt, and starts forming a huge fireball. Luckily, Shen-Ji can distract her into setting a chair on fire instead of him.
- "Prepare to be researched!"
Shen-Ji keeps trying to figure out exactly what's going on, but she says that she isn't enlightened, so she doesn't know where it is. If she did know where it was, she could burn everything up. Shen-Ji suggests that when they were discussing the research before, she was talking about Master Kimura... does she remember what that was about? She scoffs - why would a wood person be helpful with fireproofing? Shen-Ji coaches some more - wasn't Fire-Eye going on about boats before? She agrees - you can't sail on the River of Fire if your boat's not fireproof. Ah - can she tell them more about the fireproof boat? She complains that the problem is that she doesn't know anything about it, because she's not there, she's somewhere else working on it. Well... where is she working on it? She looks excited and declares that they should find out! She pounds the wall a few times and shouts to her majordomo to prepare the ritual circle. He looks to Shen-Ji for some clue, and Shen-Ji nods in a "play along" fashion.
Shen-Ji wonders where there are rivers of fire. Well, there are lots in the World Above and World Below and the World of Dreams and the like, but there aren't a lot in the actual Material World. There are lava flows, but that's about it. He asks Fire-Eye if the fireproof boat was her idea, and she is back to scoffing - why would she want a fireproof boat? She's fireproof, herself! Shen-Ji suggests that she might want to bring other people along in her fireproof boat, but she thinks she hates people who want fireproof boats.
She's still fixated on figuring out where she's working on it, and stomps into the middle of the ritual circle, raising her hands. She gestures to both Wei Han and Shen-Ji to join her in the circle. Wei Han tries to hang back, as he's not much for rituals, but she looks ready to start setting intransigent people on fire. She invokes the Yang, letting the light shine from a giant ball of fire, casting shadows from everyone else. Shen-Ji invokes the Yin, and she tells Wei Han to do his step.
- "Maybe you should remind him what to do? He's very forgetful." -Shen-Ji
- "No, he'll have to make his KS: Twelve Kingdoms roll all by himself or he'll never learn." -Fire-Eye
Then, Shen-Ji distracts her with some ashes from a previously set-on-fire bush as "experimental results", and the majordomo escorts her back to her room while Shen-Ji and Wei Han get to a safe distance. Shen-Ji asks the majordomo if he knows if there are other masters who might be afflicted? The majordomo thinks that it is fortuitous that she is indisposed right now, because her great enemy, Great Wave Tseng, is also under the weather. Interesting - is he a water sorceror? The majordomo demurs - Master Yuwen would never call him such, he is not worthy of the title. Shen-Ji suggests that they could pay him a visit - might he be behind her woes? The majordomo is dubious - he would not have thought even the Circle of Spite would have such powers.
Shen-Ji vaguely recalls the name as someone who does "water gates" such as the one used by the League of the Hidden Hand in Boot to the Head and Truth and Beauty.
Shen-Ji, who has a bit of streetwise, asks around after where Great Wave Tseng might be found. He is eventually told to go down a particular alley, and not knock on the door on the right. When they head there, the sounds from the right hand door indicate a card game, while the sounds from the left hand door sound like... it's raining? Well, the left hand door sounds like the right place.
Shen-Ji pushes the left hand door open, and, sure enough, it's raining inside. There's a guy sitting in the tub, and the light is pretty dim, as the fireplace is being rained on.
- "Master Tseng, I presume?" -Shen-Ji
- "You dare presume?! Wait, no, that's me. Yes. So... did you bring the stuff?" -Master Tseng
Shen-Ji apologetically says that he only just got to town, but arrangements are being made. Master Tseng asks where he wishes to be sent. Shen-Ji backpedals - he was hoping for information instead. Master Tseng sighs, and says all right, for twenty tael a question. Shen-Ji invokes his Professional Courtesy shtick, to ask instead for a favor from Master Tseng, for information. Master Tseng suggests that if he goes out the door, turns left, turns right, spins around three times, knocks on the door, and tells them that there are two number sixes, that could be interesting.
Wei Han heads out into the alley, does the hokey pokey dance, and then decides to knock on the door behind him instead of the one in front of him.
- "If you wanted me to knock on the card game, you could just tell me." -Wei Han
- "Sure! Just knock on the card game, yeah. They're probably cheating." -Master Tseng
Master Tseng complains - normally he gets the big bucks for his esoteric knowledge, but when they take it, they're cheating cheaters. They should go teach them a lesson! You can't put a boat on a River of Fire, that makes no sense.
Okay! It's time to get the cheating cheaters! Wei Han and Shen-Ji head back out into the alley, and Wei Han kicks the door of the right in and takes a step or two inside. It looks like it's a pai-gow game between five tong bosses, each with their own personal enforcer. The people in the room are momentarily baffled, so Shen-Ji points indeterminately at several of them and shouts "He betrayed you!" with fast talk. He's no Xian, but this does provoke one of the enforcers into taking a swing at another.
- "Are we doing this?" -Shen-Ji
- "Yes." -Wei Han
- "Okay, I step into the room, and create a wall behind us, trapping us in the room with them." -Shen-Ji
- "You... what?" -Mike
The bosses are less fooled by Shen-Ji's fast talk, and the enforcers are quickly all turned on Shen-Ji and Wei Han. One of the bosses throws some knives, and a second does something tricky to his knives first, which scares Shen-Ji into dodging. Another boss starts pocketing most of the gambling stakes while everyone is distracted. Wei Han is invulnerable for a little while, but one boss studies him for a little while and advises everyone to stab him in the armor chinks under his arms, which gives them armor-piercing, so Wei Han does start taking some damage. Both Shen-Ji and Wei Han start guzzling healing potions.
Condensation begins to form on the wall. Shen-Ji puts up another wall, trapping himself and Wei Han in a somewhat smaller combat with only two enforcers and one boss. In drift, Great Wave Tseng enters through the water gate which has formed on the wall.
- "Who dares... hi, boss!" -Master Tseng
- "Is this your fault?" -Boss
- "Isn't it fun?"
Realizing that the invaders may not be wholly to blame here, the boss offers Shen-Ji and Wei Han an action to surrender, but they refuse. Shen-Ji tries to convince Master Tseng that his bosses have betrayed him, like he was saying before, but the boss protests - they're the people trying to cure him. And while they're at it, his guys now have armor piercing against Shen-Ji too.
Shen-Ji goes down soon after that, but Master Tseng, in shock over however he has been betrayed by someone, sends a great wave through the room, smiting everyone's noses and briefly halting the combat.
- "You idiot..." -Boss
The boss offers Wei Han a second opportunity to surrender; Wei Han says that's not acceptable, but perhaps a truce is in order. The boss says that a truce with reparations will be acceptable, given that his gambling stakes are long gone and one of his guys is dead.
- "Let us say, the amount of money I had on the table that is now lost... forty-nine li." -Boss
- "For that, you'll need to talk to the guy who was picking up the tiles from the table." -Wei Han
As Wei Han's truce is insufficiently like surrendering, there are more speed rolls. Wei Han pours a healing potion into Shen-Ji, standing him up again by a little.
- "Look, Master Tseng, we talked to the Cryptomancer, we got a map of where your shadow is." -Boss
Shen-Ji shoots the boss with two iron arrows in late 1 and early 2, burning all his actions, but sadly for him, that doesn't drop him, and he is taken down again by the enforcers soon thereafter. Wei Han takes down the boss, but that doesn't fix the armor piercing, and the last enforcer takes him out.
Some time later, Great Wave Tseng wakes them up - they have one hit point each, and several items are missing:
- Wei Han's Great Armor
- Shen-Ji's armor, one of his two Bloodspears, and his lacquered egg
They spend the night resting up to regain a few hit points, and grumbling. At least they now have two maps.
The next morning, they head back to Boats by Kimura, and are escorted to the family home by the elder brother. He instructs them to go in, to say their piece, leave the feather, and leave without disturbing her further. Master Kimura is in a comfortable chair, veiled and silent. Shen-Ji introduces them, and makes some chit chat as if she might answer, but the brother answers for her. The brother says she is pleased to see him and is prepared to accept his gift, and offers Shen-Ji a tray. He places the phoenix feather on the tray, and the brother accepts it on his sister's behalf. Through all of this, Master Kimura is unresponsive.
Wei Han notes that she is like the others, and they need to find her shadow, hoping for a response, but the brother is puzzled and the sister still says nothing. Wei Han explains further - she's not the only one missing her shadow, and he needs to let Master Yang do what he needs to do to find it.
- "There are at least two other masters whose shadows have been stolen..."
- "Yes, we know, Sun Peng and Qing Lu."
Master Yang convinces his phoenix to burn extra-brightly, casting shadows all over... generating another map, and then it's time to consult with the last two masters. Well, Sun Peng is a master stonecarver, but Qing Lu is only a journeyman ironsmith. Kimura's brother urges them to speak of this terrible affliction his sister has to no one!
Then, they head to Qing Lu. His master says that his journeyman was just on the verge finishing his final work to become a master, but the pressure became too much, and his mind snapped. Now he's at home with his mother. Shen-Ji and Wei Han call upon him - he seems to be suffering from "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" syndrome, but in his home workshop, they can find a wrought metal map.
The workshop of Sun Peng, Master Stonecarver, is closed, but (since it seems to be a day for nobody remembering to lock their doors) they troop in anyway, panicking the young girl who seems to be looking after Master Sun. They quickly run through the whole shadow-stealing thing, but the girl says that Master Sun is carving something far too terrible to look at, so they can only speak to him with blindfolds on.
They grudgingly put on blindfolds and head into his workshop, where he is working on... some sort of sculpture, maybe a sculpture of a person or two judging by the feel of it. However, it proves difficult to search the place with a blindfold on, so Shen-Ji finally turns his back to the art and takes his blindfold off, taking care to scan the room only where the sculpture isn't. Several karma later, he finally finds a small carved stone map.
They retreat to the best-stabled hotel in town (the hotel the horses chose), and spend a long while putting the maps together to find the one spot that is in shadows on all five. Then they head there, and find a Southron guy waving a stick at a bunch of shadows, who are conducting magical experiments.
Wei Han summons reinforcements, so this combat makes short work of the guy, who proves to be working for Mola Ram. The shadows have been creating a design for a fireproof Stone Boat, which can go underground and sail through and on lava.
Looting the body, they get a bunch of notes on the ritual being developed, a holy staff of Kali that commands shadows, and a holy dagger of self-sacrifice that he didn't have time to use. Shen-Ji determines that if he breaks the staff of Kali, the shadows will return to their casters, or he might be able to roll his chi with Shadow Mastery to command them. Intrigued, he tries to send Yuwen's shadow home, though he isn't very good at Shadow Mastery.
- "Master Yang, this is about as good an idea as not surrendering in the Tong's place." -Wei Han
Shen-Ji compromises with Wei Han - he'll send one of them home, learning something about Shadow Mastery in the process, but then he'll break the staff to free the others. But they'll see if they can bargain Great Wave Tseng's shadow for their stuff, first.
Three corruption points later, Master Yuwen's shadow has been sent back, and when they return to the capital, her majordomo says she is sleeping peacefully.
Shen-Ji arranges to send a message through his few streetwise contacts to the Circle of Spite: "We have found the solution, and we will solve his problem when we get our stuff back. Leave a message for us in the little metal can here." Shen-Ji lurks somewhere sufficiently far away that he can keep an eye on the metal can but not be jumped by people at it. Eventually he thinks there's a message in it, though he didn't see it appear. The scroll is sealed with a sticky sort of seal, so Shen-Ji opens it carefully with a knife. The return message reads: "If you are reading this, you have unfortunately not been contact poisoned. Tseng has brought this upon himself, and it is no longer profitable for us to pursue this matter."
However, Shen-Ji has no good way to prevent Tseng's shadow from returning when he breaks the staff, so he does so and the remaining shadows all return to their people.
Shen-Ji and Wei Han descend back on Master Kimura, who is properly appreciative, and designs a water-chariot. One tael and several days later, they have a prototype to bring back to the Isle of Beauty, and a place to tell the Prince to commission more. Wei Han checks around at some less reputable shops to see if his armor is for sale - he finds Shen-Ji's, but not his.
- Shen-Ji and Wei Han troop around the City of Light pointing out to the other masters who recovered their shadows that Favors Are Owed.