The Hills Are Alive

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"It matters not how fast light may travel, darkness shall always be there awaiting its arrival." The run begins on the Day of the Late Magpie in the Month of the Magpie in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed

The run takes place starting in Tahiti and wandering a lot

Previous Run



Lijuan sketches some prophetic art, and people pore over the details.


The large and either benevolent or ominous eyes watching are of particular interest, and Xiao Fa senses a general watchful ambiance in the chi - Master Zhou thinks they are neither Spider nor Dragon. People in the art seem to have paired off, but it's not clear why.

The butler announces a visitor - it is Sima, the Dark One. He bows to everyone, though most deeply to Xiao Fa. He offers a thousand pardons, but he was hoping that Xiao Fa had come to some conclusions as to whether to hire him as Justicar of the Tanzhe. Xiao Fa declares that he would love to. Sima is most pleased - is there a symbol of the office? Not at this time. Is there an official oath? Also not at this time - Merit suggests that he go away and write an oath, and then come back and take it. Sima bows, and departs.

Lord Yu

A messenger arrives (drawn from a hat), from Lord Yu, who would like his Minister of Ramifications (Min Feng) to sort out the resolution of the dispute between Master Zhou and Shen Ji about the horse farm. Shen Ji explains. Basically, the party wants to have horses available when they water gate into Bear Mountain, and Shen-Ji has arranged for land to put a horse farm, partway up the mountain, but Master Zhou does not like the effect that the farm would have on the chi of the mountain, and has not given his permission to Lord Yu. The disagreement has languished for some time because it is not anyone's high priority, and Lord Yu would like it dealt with.

Some further discussion commences - would it be possible to have a horse farm that doesn't actually sell or rent horses to anyone except the party? Is such a thing sensible? Is the mountain path a good place for a horse farm? The Master of the White Pagoda thinks that walking up the mountain is part of the aesthetic, but the party prefers efficiency to aesthetics.

"It's hard to have a commercial enterprise that says 'no horses for rent, ha hah!'" -{{{2}}}

Master Zhou thinks about it for a while, and decides that as far as altering the chi of Bear Mountain directly, it would be more of an issue if Horse took Magpie's place so that horses and commerce multiplied. Otherwise it is less of a big deal. Horse seems to be aiming for Tiger's place, but it is hard to be sure, since the party has steadfastly avoided signing on to Plan Horse wholesale.

Min Feng decides that the ramifications decree that the horse farm not be built, so she writes a letter to Lord Yu to send back. She finds that she has to make both an etiquette roll and a law roll, and that these appear on the a scoreboard.

Mystery Column A Mystery Column B
+4 +5

Hmm. Without Cai Wen, it's not clear why there's a scoreboard, or what it means.

Sima returns, having composed an Oath.

In days of peace, in nights of war,
Obey the law forever more.
Misconduct must be answered for -
Swear I to serve your rule and lore.

That's interesting, if a sort of unusual style. Xiao Fa thinks that symbolically, it's not Dragon or Spider or Empire or anything like that - it's a different genre. But then, so is Sima.

"You should have him kneel before your throne of skulls." -Master Zhou

Merit thinks that to make the symbolism more Imperial, it needs an oath, and an item of office, like a chain or a seal. Lijuan sketches up a quick seal, which Xiao Fa edits. Shen-Ji starts to work sculpting it, with some artistic kibitzing by Master Zhou.

"I say to you now, that if there is a throne of skulls on that seal, you personally must provide me with one." -Xiao Fa

Lin Fortune

Another messenger arrives, with a message from the Tanzhe for the governor. There has been a bit of a situation, and since all of the soldiers involved were decorated personally by Xiao Fa's hand, the militia would like him to step in. Apparently, Lin Fortune and his squad have captured a small hill on the border with the Forest, near Three Seasons. Merit thinks about whether there are any hills with tactical significance, and really can't remember anything about hills there at all, so it can't be very important.

Wei Han warns Xiao Fa that the Dragon Army in the southeast Tanzhe is on alert waiting for something to happen, so he should be careful if there is an Incident brewing.

Xiao Fa and Lijuan and Wei Han head off towards the hill, wondering if it is going to be a problem that they are not splitting up exactly as called for by the art. When they arrive, they find a small hill, surrounded by Lin Fortune and the Danger Squad, surrounded again by some other Tanzhe militia. Across the Forest border, there are a number of Forest soldiers with bows, eyeing everything suspiciously. Lijuan identifies them as House Zhen, and suggests that Wei Han kill them all.

"Remind me about House Zhen?" -Wei Han
"They're greedy and unethical and bad and want all the things. Get them." -Lijuan

"Captain Lin, report." -Xiao Fa
"We stopped an invasion at the border. We took the hill and are holding it until proper authority can show up. It started just after dawn. My troops saw what was going on, swooped in and secured the hill." -Captain Lin

Xiao Fa looks around, puzzled. The Forest troops don't seem to have invaded, though they look like they are looking for an excuse.

"What was going on?" -Xiao Fa
"The hill invaded, sir. It was coming right at us." -Captain Lin
"The hill. Came out of the Forest."
"Yes, around dawn. Sir. It stopped when we surrounded it."

Xiao Fa checks out the feng shui, and notes with some surprise that the feng shui of the area is not really compatible with hills.

"Good diligence, captain." -Xiao Fa

Xiao Fa heads over to the border where the House Zhen guys are, to see if they are willing to fess up to launching hills.

"My people tell me that this hill has been misplaced." -Xiao Fa
"Are you saying that hill isn't on your side of the border?"
"No, it is on our side."
"If it's on your side, why did your troops capture it?"
"Because it didn't use to be on our side."
"Ahah! Then you already captured it?"

Xiao Fa gets the feeling that they don't really think there's anything strange about the hill, but they sense that this is an Incident, and Incidents are when you make a name for yourself.

Lijuan heads into the forest to see if she can find where the hill might be missing from. The House Zhen troops are briefly enthusiastic to see her invading, but she crossly tells them who she is, and it probably doesn't count as invading for a Forest Lord to enter the Forest.

She rides southwards, away from the Zhen guys along the border, and then meditates, but the Forest does not speak to her. She heads back, and tries to track the hill, but to the limit of her abilities, it appears to be a hill and has not left tracks.

Xiao Fa pokes at the chi some more, rolling for 7s, 9s, and 11s. For 7s, it is a hill. For 9s, it is a Forest-ish hill. For 11s... ah, it is a tengu.

"Tengu, show yourself!" -Wei Han

Xiao Fa gets the feeling that as long as the hill is surrounded by soldiers pointing weapons at it, it is likely to stay a hill. He asks the soldiers to withdraw, and Wei Han suggests that they head along the border to lure the Forest soldiers away too.

"Danger Squad, Go!" -Captain Lin

Xiao Fa asks the hill what its plan is, and it moves about ten feet south.

"If the hill is unwilling to speak to you, then it may be time to go fetch some shovels." -Wei Han

Xiao Fa joins in on threatening the hill, and it gives a little mini-earthquake.

"How about I back my guys off more, and you take a form that can talk? Otherwise we send you back." -Xiao Fa

There is another hill-quake. Hmm. Maybe hills can't actually talk. Xiao Fa tells it to give one quake for yes, two for no.

"Do you want to go back to the Forest? "

Quake. Quake.

"Did the Forest send you?"

Quake. Quake.

"Do you seek asylum? "

There's a long pause, then a big quake.

"Are you able to take another form? "

Quake .... quake? Quake?

"Are you afraid you'll be shot by the people across the border? " -Wei Han

Quake... quake? QUAKE

This is not very helpful, so Xiao Fa writes a note on the communicating paper to Shen-Ji, who rides out of Tahiti and arrives the following afternoon. He can speak to demons, including hill-shaped tengu, and the hill explains that Pir Pir is bossing the other tengu around, so this tengu decided to leave. Shen-Ji suggests that they could give him asylum, or possibly they could convince Pir Pir to be less bossy.

{{Q|Give the hill to the Justicar! Then he can ride around on a hill!]}

""No one is above the law!""

Shen-Ji, as the only one who can talk to the hill, gets to deal with the negotiations under what circumstances the tengu is allowed to stay. Wei Han suggests that any agreements it makes have to be ratified by Xiao Fa first, but Shen-Ji notes that's kind of infeasible. Telling it to follow the laws seems more reasonable, though explicitly binding it to follow all the laws (hey, there's that voluntary compulsion again!) is pretty big. Further discussion ends up with it being subject to the laws the same way humans are, and subject to penalties if it gets caught.

Xiao Fa tells Captain Fortune to keep an eye on the hill for the future, and everyone else (including the people left at Tahiti) head to the Tanzhe Imperial Tea Tent as a more central location in case there are more Tanzhe plots. (Xiao Fa's rolls here are added to the scoreboard).

Sima returns, and is presented with the chain of office sculpted by Shen-Ji (with 15 successes) and swears the oath. He kneels, and Xiao Fa declares him Justicar of the Tanzhe.

When Sima stands up, there is a reverberation in the chi, and Xiao Fa senses that the watchful ambiance he has been noticing has turned into an angry watchful ambiance.

"It looks like you managed to get me installed just in time. At least we're winning." -Sima

Sima explains, somewhat minimally, that the scoreboard is because the Light, his ancient foe, is seeking them out now. The first roll (the one made for succeeding in the hat mini-plot) indicates power, but the second roll (more of an evasion / disguise / stealth / etc roll) is for hiding their power from the Light. Having the first score be as high as possible is important, but having the second score be almost as high will let their true abilities be a surprise to the enemy.

"The light attempts to elude me... no, it must elude me or I would destroy it, and it is coming here. If there is one thing it is best at, it is finding those most likely to thwart it." -Sima

The plots have been arriving solo (drawn from the hat), but they will be ramping up. At this point, 1-4 choices may be drawn, and the party draws 3. The first is Sima, who doesn't really count, but two more messengers arrive.

Cliff Diver / Ou Zhang

The butler tells Merit that a visitor is here for him - it is the White Lotus cliff diver who might be suitable as a friend for Kasumi. The diver says that they found a sunken wreck, but it appears to be guarded by terrible magics, beyond their abilities, and it has captured their friend.

Additionally, Ou Zhang is here to see Xiao Fa - there has been a turn for the worse in the construction project on the spire in the Taiga. There are numerous daily accidents and "occasional howling".

" The Light is attempting to take your measure. The timing of your problems is not coincidental. Succeed well." -Sima

Before everyone dashes off, Merit wants to know more about this Light entity. Sima describes it as a "criminal force". So... where is the Light from? Sima says they last did battle in the far western/southern barbarian lands. So, is it a god of the south? No, farther than that. Sima has been following the Light, but in this case he has gone to where he expects the Light to be coming, and he thinks he has arrived first. However, most of his lead time has been eaten up by waiting to be appointed.

Merit wonders if Sima has ever tried not hiding the power arrayed against the Light. No, he has not, as that seems to him to be the best way to lose quickly. The party splits up:

Sunken Ship: Kasumi, Wei Han, Shen-Ji, Li Merit
Spire-Haunted: Min Feng, Xiao Fa, Lijuan, Master Zhou, Sima.

The sunken-ship group heads to the coast where the cliff divers dive, and Merit arranges for a buddy with a fishing boat. They go out "fishing", and Merit stuffs clothes with straw to look like there are people in the boat when they jump overboard. Everyone swims down to a sunken ship, with rings and potions of water breathing. There are a number of closed hatches on the ship, and Shen-Ji and Wei Han think that some have danger and some have loot. (Kasumi thinks that the danger and loot are swapped, compared to the other two).

Shen-Ji and Kasumi get ready to open hatches, while Merit retreats to a safe distance at the top of the ship's mast. Shen-Ji makes his resolve roll by enough that he doesn't see any loot in his compartment, while Kasumi sees the shinobi of the ultimate ninja warrior, about to be ruined by the water pouring in. Staying on target, she shuts the hatch. (From a safe distance, Merit sees some Imperial 50-tael paper certificates destroyed by water because he's too far away to get to them.)

The next two are empty (Shen-Ji's) and have a set of scrolls with tips for defeating Toro, being destroyed by the water that pours in through the hatch (Kasumi's). Kasumi closes the hatch again.

Another hatch has a ladder going down, but it so obviously has nothing interesting down there that everyone has to make resolve rolls to descend. Oddly, there is air beneath the hatch, and several people are chained to rowing benches, including the missing cliff diver.

Wei Han starts breaking oars, and Shen-Ji notes that the magical effect is centered in the room beyond the oar room - "the macguffin of infinite power is on the left, the switch is on the right".

By swapping who has the rings of water breathing, all the prisoners can swim to the surface, while Merit goes into the room at the heart of the trouble. He resists choosing the "magical NOC list of undercover agents", and disables the magic.

Meanwhile, in the City of Spires, Xiao Fa's spire looks rather spooky as night begins to fall. Lijuan declares that everyone else can go in, while she and Ho and Kawaii guard the door. Master Zhou thumps her with a clue by four (Kawaii growls, tempted to try to eat him), but Lijuan grumpily agrees to go in and help with the ghost.

Min Feng's amulet does a lot of shrieking as the ghost shows up, and pallets of bricks try to fall on people, but in the end, the ghost is thumped and laid to rest.

Before the two parties gather back in the Tanzhe, several deliveries from the Alchemists' Guild arrive - a tea chest for Merit, and a glowing red potion for Lijuan. Lijuan promptly drinks the potion (much to Master Zhou's consternation), and Xiao Fa suspects this was Imperially significant.

"Is it time for the throne of skulls?" -Master Zhou
"<nods subtly>" -Xiao Fa

Time for more plots! Wei Han draws two tokens from the hat.

Zhuai / Yoshi

A message arrives from House Foon, that Lord Zhuai needs to return at once, as there are some domestic issues that have been postponed which he should deal with. Zhuai doesn't seem to be around here, though, and when Lijuan tries to use her husband shtick, she realizes that he is missing.

Another messenger arrives, but wants to talk to someone outside, behind a bush. Kasumi goes to the secret bush meeting, and finds that it is Johnny Tong. He says that Yoshi needs his sword - he's stuck in a meeting with a bandit prince in the southeast of the Craneslake Heights who wants to set himself up as the new Shadow or something - but both times Johnny tried to deliver the sword, he got beaten up.

Master Zhou thinks this is a test for Lijuan: Yoshi or Zhuai. She doesn't think it's a hard choice - of course Zhuai.

Wei Han, Kasumi, Shen-Ji, and Master Zhou go to the fight in the Craneslake.
Lijuan, Merit, Min Feng, and Xiao Fa go to the Forest.

At Foon Keep, Lijuan finds that some paperwork has been piling up. When she starts going through it, she finds one in the middle that says "Hah, I just slipped this in, in case you don't read them before you sign them. I agree to give 100 tael to Ezokin." She doesn't sign that one, but signs the rest. The others seem to be standard keep-maintenance stuff, suggesting that Zhuai has been gone for a while.

The servants are questioned, and apparently Zhuai was heading off to aid in the rehabilitation of a disgraced artist. Huh, which artist? Namura Hayato? But he works for the House of Exuberant Interference, and he doesn't want to be rehabilitated. Well, there's also Zi Kone. Min Feng notes that Ezokin is currently north of the Harbor of Fortune Arrival. Talking to the stable urchins indicates that Zhuai is in fact off to help Zi Kone rebuild the value of his collection.

The group troops off to where Ezokin is, which proves to be a brightly colored circus tent - Folks recognize the Silken Wings big top, and also some of the circus hands parking the horses. Also, Mondo, who says that he is here to keep an eye on things like making sure the circus gets the tent back. Inside the tent is an art auction - Zi Kone sits, dejected, watching as his paintings are auctioned off for pittances.

Lijuan manages to make her way to Zhuai, who is in a tent-within-a-tent behind the big top - it appears to be full of paintings and fireworks, which Zhuai is setting up to catch on fire. He explains that it when the tent catches fire and Zi Kon "dies" trying to save his paintings, the remaining paintings will shoot up in value. This whole plan is part of a bargain he has made with Ezokin to get Lijuan's debt to Ezokin forgiven.

Min Feng and Merit sneak in to help with the fireworks, and help set them to just set the small tent on fire, not the large one. Then, they light the fuse and flee, after which Zi Kon runs into the tent to save them and burns to death.

" !!! [sad face]" -Alexander
"Don't worry, he's just pretending. Well, if he's actually dying, that's great, but he's probably not." -Andrew

The circus's tent is safe, but Zhuai does not get to go home until it is fully packed up and on its way home with Mondo.

Meanwhile, the other team has headed to Bear Mountain, bringing some spare horses that won't be able to return through the water gate, and then riding for the bandit keep in the Craneslake. They find a small blocky fortress, which seems to have been recently colored black. It doesn't seem to have magical defenses, but does have a single source of magic inside.

Kasumi sneaks in, and notes a lot of bandit guards and a lot of locked doors, and overhears them talking about Yoshi being annoying and refusing to say anything - he barely even drinks the tea they bring him! After some more skulking around, she finds the room in which Yoshi is being kept - he appears to be meditating, in a small circle on the floor. The guards bring in tea, leave it on the table, and then go back out, locking the door behind them.

Kasumi can keep from being seen, but opening locked doors unseen is a bit trickier, so she goes back out to report to everyone else. Master Zhou thinks the simplest thing might be for him to punch through the back wall into Yoshi's room; Shen-Ji and Wei Han offer to start a fight with the bandits near the front as a distraction,

The bandit mooks are pretty tough, and coordinate well, and there are two bandit leaders - Master Badger and Master Alligator. Distraction combat ensues (and only some poor speed rolls by Master Badger prevent Shen-Ji from going down).

"I'm sorry, Yoshi! I should have gone there!" -Lijuan
"Everyone who wants to live should leave." -Wei Han

In the back of the keep Master Zhou, punches through the wall, and Kasumi runs in. When she crosses the boundary of the circle Yoshi is in, her own swords vanish (and appear in front of Merit, elsewhere), but Yoshi's sword is still with her. She gives it to Yoshi, who sighs.

"I suppose we had better leave before whoever else you brought kills them all." -Yoshi


Both teams head back to Tahiti, where the scoreboard is tallied, The GMs have failed to record the exact scoreboard, but, as is unsurprising for the party, power/effectiveness is high, but subtlety is low, something like 54 in Column A and 4 in Column B.

Sima thinks that because Column B was positive, at least, the Light's plans will not be completely tailor-made to attack the party's weak points, but there will probably be some specific targeting.

Master Zhou trains with Sima, and determines that he is particularly adept with the sword, and is specialized in "Law enforcement". His aspect isn't really an aspect, but is a combination of Law and Darkness, and he is only very recently (when appointed Justicar) close to his maximum potential, which is a combination of level 3 and level 7.

His exact powers are obscured - for example, he would likely only have Cleave if his enemy has allies in nearby hexes. That's deliberately shrouded in darkness and is a particular specialization of NPCs Can Cheat - there is a sense in which Master Zhou has shone a light on that little bit of his abilities, and now the Cleave / not Cleave dichotomy is nailed down and less flexible.

Further questioning about where Sima comes from yields the answer of "from the western desert beyond the strait" but no one is so well traveled as to know where that is.