Shens and Shens
|"Gather dust to build a mountain"|| 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 in several graveyards
Death to Ghosts
Cai Wen provides a briefing on the plan for attacking Shen Dai Han. The party has a potion (from an interesting shop in Magpie's Bazaar) that can be combined with dust from a ghost's grave, to force its banishment. The trick is that Shen Dai Han's head is buried in the Field of Traitors, and his body was buried in his hometown. His hometown is a small town in the Steppes, in one of two cemeteries - apparently there is a family feud and the two sides of the feud have different cemeteries. So, there are two missions: find his grave in the town, and find his grave in the Field of Traitors, and then get dust from both, and then throw the vial at Shen Dai Han. Or stab him. Or something.
On the other hand, if he is immediately banished, he can't be interrogated. Would it be possible to capture him first, and find out what prophecy he gave the Light and Dark? Or, Shen-Ji wonders, where all his secret agents are posted and where the Warlord's forces are concentrated?
Cai Wen notes that capturing Shen Dai Han and interrogating him might introduce a bit of mission creep, though it would be nice if it turned out to be possible.
So - how exactly should the potion be used? First option: hit him with the vial, it shatters and gets all over him. That's a quick one-shot. Alternately, it could be used to coat lots of individual weapons, but then they'd all have to hit him. Master Zhou can hit ghosts naturally, and Xiao Fa has a ghost hook, so they can probably hit him even if he's not possessing someone. Takanata can probably keep him from fleeing, to boot.
Does Master Zhou's book about ceremonies of the dead have any way to summon him? Not by just standing around shouting his name, but if you combined his skull and his body and the authority of the Subcommander of the Fallen, that might work. Summoning him could well be safer than wandering around the military headquarters hoping to bump into him.
The Steppes town seems like the place to start first, but it has a bunch of military ghosts lurking around keeping an eye on things. That could be a problem once the party starts snooping around and digging up graves. Maybe there are more ceremonies that could help with this? Master Zhou doesn't have a portable moveable casual ceremony of "ghosts don't notice us" in his book, but wonders if maybe the monks of the Clear Melting Sect do. Unfortunately, both of the temples he knows about are behind enemy lines and not currently full of monks.
There are a bunch of temples in the corner of the Tanzhe Plain, so perhaps there is a temple of Clear Melting there? Possibly not, but there is a more general temple of the High Path that might have some monks.
The group heads there, and knocks on the door. A monk answers the door, and looks startled.
- "One moment, great sirs!"
A few moments later, a different monk in somewhat fancier robes opens the door again, bowing low.
- "How may the Brothers of the High Path be of service?"
Perceptive people have the sense that several doors beyond the monk have just finished closing. The monk leads them in, through a small central meeting room (with several shut doors) and up the stairs. There is no one in the center room, but it seems like the monk is trying to whisk them through as quickly as possible. Cai Wen glances around with as much perception as he can muster, and thinks that when the group knocked, there was some sort of illegal activity going on, and it has been moved and hidden behind the doors.
Meanwhile, Takanata observes the monk. He seems far from home - a follower of the Invisible Wind, and as he outranks the others here, he's the temporary abbott of the monastery (it has no permanent abbott).
Everyone reaches the monk's office, and he turns and bows.
- "Honored Governor. How may the High Path might serve the Government? I am Hong Jainyu of the Temple of the Invisible Wind."
Xiao Fa asks if there is a Brother of the Clear Melting Sect that might be able to help them.
- "Have the ghosts started coming over the border, then?"
- "It is a particular ghost that we wish help with." -Xiao Fa
Brother Hong says that all the brothers of the Clear Melting Sect who have been around here have gone to the Forest, for obvious reasons, but possibly he can find someone to assist.
Xiao Fa asks for tea while they discuss matter. The monk claps his hands, and a novice dashes off to fetch tea for the esteemed visitors. The monk apologizes that he does not have enough chairs for the whole group, but he offers the ones he has. A brother returns with tea service, which Xiao Fa notes is tea which is not the most expensive or fancy, but the one which is brewed most quickly.
Master Zhou explains that the ghosts in question are not Northern ghosts - rather, they are Imperial ghosts who were foolishly released from the World After in a way that is not to the ultimate benefit of the Empire.
Master Hong asks, flicking his eyes nearly instantaneously towards Xiao Fa, whether the ghosts were legally released? Were the appropriate petitions filed?
Cai Wen cautiously admits that yes, the proper forms were filed for the release. However, in at least one case, the ghost that was released was properly covered by the forms but there were very strong countervailing conditions, like that he had been interred in the Field of Traitors. Brother Hong sees why Cai Wen is seeking help from the Clear Melting Sect.
The monk walks over to the window, and looks out for a moment up into the sky. He takes a deep breath, and then looks puzzled.
Xiao Fa thinks that this is the look of someone who wasn't expecting the answer he got, and is somewhat pained by it. Cai Wen, who perceives in more detail, thinks that Brother Hong was going through the motions and expecting the obvious answer, and received instead a very clear and very unexpected answer.
Takanata is impressed - this is a long way from the Invisible Wind. Brother Hong apparently has shticks or a gift from Crane that let him consult the Invisible Wind from wherever. The monk was apparently using an easy crossroads "A or B" shtick, and the answer was something like "You are now using all your shticks, take this briefing and deal with it." (It's a bit like Takanata casting the I Ching on his recent adventure in the Forest of Chin.)
- "You would benefit from the services of Sister Yuan Shu. She will be brought."
While they are waiting for Sister Yuan, Xiao Fa makes the sort of small talk that could double as interrogation - where is Brother Hong from, and what brought him here? Brother Hong is gracefully diverting and answers very little with a concrete answer. Xiao Fa comes away with an impression: "You could totally crack him but he's not interesting enough to do so" while others think that Xiao Fa's heart isn't in getting the answers.
Sister Yuan comes in, and glares at Master Hong before noticing who else is there.
- "Ah... how may I be of assistance?" -Sister Yuan Shu
- "These worthies are on an important mission that they assure us will be to the aid of the Empire, and have issues dealing with summoned ghosts that I believe you might be able to assist them with." -Brother Hong
- "You do?" -Sister Yuan
- "Yes. I believe you might be able to assist them with it." -Brother Hong
- "Do feel free to contact us if there is anything else we can do to aid you." -Brother Hong to the party
This is an obvious, if polite, dismissal.
- "I do not know what is going on in this monastery. And now I am intrigued." -Takanata
- "I will watch the progress of this monastery with GREAT INTEREST." -Xiao Fa
The group begins to leave, but then checks if Sister Yuan needs to get her things. Er, she wasn't expecting to be sent off when she came to the office, so she should stop by the dormitory to get her bag. The party settles in in the courtyard to wait, noticing that the tables that were empty on the way in are now full of monks in different robes, at different tables, doing COMPLETELY HARMLESS AND LEGAL activities like knitting socks or mending a bowl. Two of the previously-shut doors are open - one is into a meeting room, another into a hallway.
- "Worthies, are you in need of refreshment?"
- "No, there was a generous amount of tea." -Xiao Fa
- "I'm always hungry!" -Lijuan
Lijuan is brought a generous (though not fancy) snack and happily eats it, pocketing some leftovers for later.
Takanata asks if any of the monks here are from Kiyasa's order. Alas, no. One of the monks says she is from the Shrouded Isle (Takanata notes the name with interest), from the Temple of Risen Smoke. Yes, the smoke is related to the smoked glass - they are also a divinatory order. (Takanata is very excited about all the diviners here.)
The Order of Risen Smoke seeks detachment from the physical form to see what cannot be seen by the eyes or heard by the ears. Ah - is that more like dreamwalking or worldwalking? She agrees - it is somewhat like dreamwalking, yes. It does not traverse the Dream as those in the Eternal Dream do, but it has similarities in seeking the dichotomy of insight or understanding. Master Zhou thinks that what she describes is the fast road to getting yourself possessed, but she seems to think it is standard operating procedure.
- "Is there no danger that you will end up possessed by that which you do not wish?" -Master Zhou, intruding into the conversation
- "That is the reason that it is not done away from the volcanoes, within the warmth of Lady Phoenix's protection."
Takanata notes that with the change from Shrouded Isle to Hearthstone she should be able to return within the week, and the monk blanches as if she has been politely slapped.
Sister Yuan Shu returns, putting an end to the pastime of monk-interrogation. She wears traveling clothes, and carries a small pack.
The party leaves, with Sister Yuan, and the door closes politely but firmly behind them.
Takanata looks at Lijuan's art, and concludes that the upper left is the Field of Traitors, the upper right is the Town of Many Shens, and the lower triangle is the final confrontation with Shen Dai Han. Oh! The upper right is a set of athletic contests! Huh.
Cai Wen briefs the monk on Shen Dai Han and the Invisible Web, and notes that she seems to have resting disapproving frown.
- "This executed traitor has been summoned by the Imperial Warlord for SERVICE? This is an outrage. And he is commanding other ghosts? That is not acceptable." -Sister Yuan
Perceptive people think that before the briefing, she was assuming the Abbot assigned her to this mission to get her out of the way. But no, this is an actual thing she needs to deal with. She says that she can in fact distract ghosts - for minutes, easily. For hours with planning. For days with some resources and planning. And yes, it is important to not include dust from the wrong graves - that would be disastrous.
- "Anything useful in that herb satchel?" -Sister Yuan, in a surprisingly challenging tone
- "Take a look." -Xiao Fa
The bonesap beetles are interesting, but that works on living people, not possessed/dead ones.
- "If indeed, as you claim, the Governor is the Subcommander of the Fallen, I can certainly assist with making sure they abide by his orders." -Sister Yuan
- "I filed the paperwork, so..." -Cai Wen
- "You filed the paperwork?"
Master Zhou thinks she's a rule-following hard-ass and is awesome. Takanata thinks that she's a rule-following hard-ass who thought initially she was being gotten out of the way from the temple doing illegal things, and is starting to re-evaluate.
Xiao Fa and Shen-Ji take advantage of the pause in travels to do some fixing of Shen-Ji's stat damage from the Hive.
Master Zhou offers combat training, including how to strike ghosts with physical strikes and see unseen things. It also lets him learn a bit about Sister Yuan.
She is level 4, from the sect of the Way of the Righteous Soul. There is something not quite right with her aspect, but she's a Tortoise. And, Master Zhou concludes, if he pressed her, she would probably betray the High Path to Governor Lo.
One problem with the plan is that there are two graveyards in the Town of Many Shens, and Sister Yuan can only be at one. If Xiao Fa sees a ghost in uniform, he can send them to their family graveyard, but the trick will be which one. Takanata uses Crossroads to determine which one she should be at, which probably also indicates which one Shen Dai Han is buried in. Sister Yuanshu clarifies: command them to go to the graveyard of their master. Check.
Town of Many Shens
When the party arrives in town, they discover that there is a fancy mayoral election ongoing that seems ridiculously over-complicated for such a small town. There are several slates of electors, who will be electing the mayor, and the choice of electors is based on a Festival of Worthiness currently taking place. The Shen family has a slate of electors, as does the Shen family, and also the Bai family.
Asking around about the three families, people learn that the Shen family is wide and has deep roots - about 40% of the people in town are related. They are the Family Machine that currently runs the town.
The Bai family, on the other hand, is a coalition of technically unrelated families, trying to work together to get past restrictions which seemed to be enforced primarily against non-Shens.
The Shen family, on the other other hand, has not been here nearly as long. However, they have more money, more influence, higher-level characters, and so on. This is the year they are trying to make their move to gain some political power.
Judging by the cadence and word choice of that briefing, everyone here thinks that Shen and Shen are completely different words, and none of the locals are confused about which one is being referred to at any given time.
Xiao Fa follows the chi downstream - it circles around and around, and finally ends up at the center of town, where there is a marker stone. The stone was placed here several Great Cycles ago, at the founding of the town. (Astrology based on the date indicates that the town was founded about 23 years before Shen Dai Han was proclaimed a traitor.)
Lijuan asks among the urchins, who advise her to put all her money on the Shens to win. But aren't they smaller, Lijuan asks? Sure, but they have the mojo for it this year. Some say they aren't playing straight. Or... they're just evening the odds because the other side always cheats. What side is this urchin on? He's a Shen, and proudly notes that a Shen's word is always good.
Cai Wen asks around, and learns that Graveyard B is the Shen family, and Graveyard A is the Shens. Graveyard A has the grave of Shen Dong and Shen Wong, while in Graveyard B there are graves of Mother Chen and Shen Feng. Mother Chen, of course, was the grandmother of Shen Ming Li. He picks up 4 temporary skill in KS: Shens.
Xiao Fa notices the ghost following Cai Wen around while he asks questions, and sends him to the grave of his master (which proves to be Graveyard B, which is where Sister Yuanshu has been stationed.) Graveyard B is the "old" Shen family. Graveyard A is the "new" Shens.
So, who is Shen Ming Li that she is relevant? Well, she wins the beauty contest every year. Cai Wen perks up his ears, but is still focused on the graveyards. Graveyard A only has graves which are 6-7 cycles old, while Graveyard B does seem to have older ones. As Cai Wen prowls around looking for the oldest graves, Sister Yuanshu starts chanting again, and Xiao Fa thinks the ghost he sent has arrived,
Meanwhile, Takanata asks around about what the contests are. There is a pork bun eating contest, an archery apple shoot, and a headstand drinking contest. Huh. There are nine contests every year, but the exact contest changes. Otherwise the Shens cheat, apparently. Takanata cautiously agrees - if the bureaucracy is against you, that's all that is left.
The current mayor is Shen Ju, who is Shen Feng's grandson. Shen Niu is his wife. So, is Shen Ju running this year too? The locals explain that the question is between slates of electors, though the Shen's slate of electors picked Shen Ju last time, so if they win, probably.
- "You're doing the oogly booging in the graveyard while I'm looking at the minigames. It's a fine division of labor." -Takanata
Lijuan heads to talk to the Bais rather than just getting an urchin report on them. They seem to be in general agreement about "there have been enough Shens, and also we don't want Shen thwackback." It's not clear to Lijuan whether those are the same Shens, though it's obviously clear to the people she is talking to. They seem to be moderately normal people, and not obviously The Good Guys, which disappoints Lijuan.
Some bells begin to ring in the town center, announcing the fourth competition: pork bun eating. Lijuan leaps to enter, proclaiming herself the Bai family contender. She is up against the Tiny Titan Shen Wen and the Bun Behemoth Shen Gong, and learns that the main difficulty in the contest is that using your hands is not permitted.
- "Lijuan: fast bites!" -Master Zhou
Lijuan wins, getting the minigame point for Bai, bringing the total to:
Cai Wen starts asking more direct questions about who is protecting Shen Dai Han, and Xiao Fa has to send off two more ghosts. Cai Wen finally finds an old member of the Bai family willing to talk to him. The old-timer says the graveyard is a confusing nightmare - he'll have to get a member of the Shen family to show him around. It hardly matters which one - they all know the tales.
Did they put any of his relics somewhere? No - just read the inscription on his grave.
This whole Shen vs Shen thing is getting annoying, so the party summons Mondo to try and keep them straight. He listens to them explain what they do know.
- "It sounds like you've figured out which Shen family you care about, and which graveyard. The first thing is you do not want is to wait around for all nine contests. Your goal is not to become mayor." -Mondo
His actual advice is to get one of the Shens to give them a tour of the graveyard (including the secret plots) by winning a contest for their side. Perhaps Shen Ming Li? The bargain is quickly made.
At this point, Mondo has four ghosts following him, and as people start publicly swapping Talismans around in preparation for the blindfolded footrace, a ghost starts heading elsewhere. Master Zhou manages to pummel him before he gets too far, but it looks like Sister Yuan Shu is distracting seven ghosts, which is starting to be a bit taxing.
Master Zhou runs against Fan the Fleet, and Little Blind Ya; Takanata gets ready to start turning people's feet, but using the Monkey Talisman, Master Zhou can in fact win.
Shen Ming Li gives the tour as promised, pointing out an unremarkable grave as Shen Dai Han. The inscription above the door is old and unreadable.
A ghost leaps for Shen-Ji to try to possess him, but he manages to resist. Xiao Fa sends the ghost to the Sister, who is definitely looking harried. Shen-Ji uses his magic digging spell to get through the initial soil to where the body is interred, and Master Zhou earns three points of mojo about Shen Dai Han's birth date / death date / etc. (Cai Wen notes that his demerit against Shen Dai Han from a previous run also counts as a point of mojo.) Grave dust from his body: acquired!
Master Zhou punches the ghosts around the Sister to rest, Cai Wen gives Shen Ming Li a flower, and then the party leaves, before being lured into the Archery Apple Shoot.
Field of Traitors
The party heads to the Field of Traitors, and Xiao Fa looks at what people have been describing as a chi wall around the graveyard. There's definitely chi involved in the walls, but Xiao Fa doesn't think that opening the gate will matter - the ghosts won't all run out or anything like that. Possibly if you knocked the walls down, it would damage the chi barrier, but don't do that. The walls do also have a strong function of preventing crossing the walls in the World After, so everything is pushed a little bit in that direction.
Can Sister Yuanshu and Master Zhou summon Shen Dai Han here? The sister thinks that it should be possible to summon him to the Field of Traitors. (That would be a necessary but insufficient step to free him, if that was their goal; if it isn't, they don't have to worry that it would automatically free him).
The party heads through the gate into the graveyard, and those who can see ghosts note that there are two ghosts stationed on either side of the gate.
- "That one is not technically a necromancer." -ghost, pointing at Shen-Ji
- "Then I guess we don't technically have to do anything about it." -other ghost
- "Agreed." -Xiao Fa
When Xiao Fa mentions the ghosts, there is some concern. Should they be lighting the ghost lamp?
- "If this is the combat, let's light it up."
- "This had better not be 'the combat.'" -Ghost, drawing sword
- "No, no, gentlemen." -Xiao Fa, bowing to the ghosts
- "I think that one sees us." -First ghost
- "There are more necromancers than I thought." -Second ghost
- "This one is most definitely nothing like a necromancer!" -Xiao Fa, offended
- "They wouldn't let me be a necromancer." -Shen-Ji
Two more ghosts appear, and one of them regards Xiao Fa sternly.
- "It has been a long time since anyone entered this place. We are its guardians. Who are you?"
- "I am Lo Xiao Fa, scion of the Lo line of Emperors. You may stand down, gentlemen."
Three of them stand down; the fourth, who appears to be an officer stands straighter and asks what his business is here.
- "We are here to collect a traitor's dust so that he may be dealt with properly."
- "Is he not properly dealt with now, being cast into this place? "
- "He was cast into this place, but folly called him out. "
- "Leaving is neither appropriate nor possible. "
- "Nevertheless, he he has been called forth."
Well, if they are dealing with a ghost who has been removed, the ghosts are willing to let them proceed. The ghost captain says to let them know if assistance is needed.
Cai Wen wonders if they know whose head went where, but they do not know which marker is for which traitor.
Faced with a large empty walled field, people begin to mill around uncertainly, until Ho starts digging some markers out of the snow.
Next, Takanata draws some art.
Both Takanata and Master Zhou fuss about the White Pagoda being upside down and underground, but they independently realize that it's not the White Pagoda.
The circus tent and Kasumi probably indicate some sort of Monkey influence in the Shen town, but it's not clear what.
Meanwhile, Ho keeps uncovering more markers. They seem to come in three types of metal: lead, copper, and bronze. And they have a letter, a number, and a symbol.
Xiao Fa identifies one as his, a Lo marker:
After a lot of digging and searching, all the markers seem to be uncovered. They include:
- three types of metals
- six types of symbols, which might be dynastic
- ten different letters
- numbers ranging from 1-100, but there are only about sixty total.
Master Zhou notes that there are three types of treason: Treason against the Empire, against the Emperor, and against the Imperial Family. The group puzzles for a bit about whether there have been six different dynasties - weren't there just the Los and the Foons? But no, Takanata thinks the first Emperor after Dragon was Xing, and the last Emperor was from the Lisan dynasty. So there were probably more.
When Master Zhou looks at the markers with Worldsight, he thinks they are very explicitly cut off from any influences from any other world, and Xiao Fa thinks that the feng shui of the field is all about being forgotten.
In Takanata's art, does the puzzle piece indicate that the way to decipher the markers is in the Imperial Archives? Yes, exactly.
Takanata and Mondo head to the archives.
- "Make a roll. Can't you feel the mechanic?" -Mondo
The research rolls requires 10 successes to succeed in the Silver district, and grow more difficult with each roll. Each time someone succeeds, they can roll a d20 to unearth a clue.
Clue 6: Treason against the Imperial Family is punished by strangulation and the hands and heart are buried in the Field of Traitors
Clue 7: The letter is actually of the given name; the traitor's family name is severed from them.
When Mondo rolls a 17, he gets the option to roll twice or choose a number. He chooses to roll twice.
Clue 1: A Bronze marker indicates Treason against the Empire 6:52 Clue 4: Treason against the Empire is punished by beheading and the head is buried in the Field of Traitors
Based on these clues (and the fact that Xiao Fa has already identified the Lo marker), Cai Wen thinks that Shen Dai Han is buried under marker 47.
Can the Sister tell if the grave dust matches? She thinks she would be able to determine, with a proper ritual, but also thinks that they don't want to use up the spiritual power of the grave dust on other matters.
They come back, and Cai Wen refreshes Takanata's crossroads shtick.
Will they be more successful in securing Shen Dai Han's grave dust if they use dust from grave 47, or if they keep researching and take grave dust from somewhere else?
Phrased like that, the first choice is preferable, but the wording niggles at Takanata. Does that mean that the best option is to do more research and then use dust from 47? It seems so: interpret omens suggests that 47 is the right grave, but more research would be helpful in dealing with Shen Dai Han.
A larger group, including Zhuai, heads to the Dragon's Throne to do more research. Cai Wen's true minigames skill indicates that duplicate rolls will get something else useful, as the clue chart fills out, and in fact, rolling a 19 after rolling again earns another mojo point, and a duplicate roll of 15 earns a mojo point. .
After a lot more rolling, the only missing clues are 3, 8, and 9, and the party has 21 mojo from the Archives, plus 3 from the town, plus 1 from Cai Wen's demerit.
Sister Yuanshu says that they have more than enough mojo to summon him - they can throw the vial at him and be done with it. Or, others suggest, maybe with a clever trap, it would be possible to take him out carefully or capture him, in order to get in more of an interrogation.
Speaking of interrogations - should Xiao Fa try to crack Sister Yuanshu about whatever is going on at the High Temple? He goes for a walk with her, hitting her with persuasion and good listener - so why was Brother Hong trying to get rid of her.
She says that she suspects he wanted to get rid of her with time consuming assignments so that she won't be able to prove what he is up to. She doesn't know for sure, but one of the Orders of the Selfless Path is running some sort of fugitive retrieval service to get fugitives from justice out of the country. Logistical assistance is being provided by the High Path at the direction of the Invisible Wind. While Sister Yuanshu is staying in the Temple of the High Path, she is under Brother Hong's jurisdiction, and he keeps throwing her off the scent.
Since this all seems to be a great mystery to everyone, Zhuai reminds people of when Sima showed up at Foon Keep to take
prisoner 24601 a fugitive from justice back to his righteous punishment, in the minirun Light and Dark.
- "If it's not the Meihhua Sannong behind this, someone is doing something terribly wrong." -Takanata
She was going to spill the beans on Brother Hong, but... it has seemed less pressing over the last couple of days. Indeed? That's also interesting. Takanata casts her I Ching:
That seems likely to be why Crane said "yes send Yuan Shu" to get her away - though Crane probably doesn't approve of Shen Dai Han, Crane certainly doesn't approve of the Light and the Dark.Next time, the final battle against Shen Dai Han!