|"While here we wait, O hunter of the shadows! We who cry out in need for thy strength, O Lord of Slowest Terror!"|| The run begins in the late Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the northern Arcade
Against the North!
At Tahiti, the party relaxes from their political outing, under the light of a full moon. Things seem to have gone well in the last country turn, so the only thing needed is to keep up the good work! The House of Ornamental Purity has been formed, and will be having a party soon to celebrate.
More locally, rumor has it that there is still a dire hamster somewhere around the estate, though it is not immediately obvious. Lijuan puts out hamster treats on the back lawn, and the butler surrounds the treats with various traps. (Lijuan writes a note to Zhuai that they might be getting a hamster.)
- "That's what House Foon is about, holding the party problems in one place." -Lijuan
Lijuan draws a sketch and Takanata draws a pair of dice that could be prophesied to have a particular number.
The group heads to the Secret Benevolent Headquarters, where the Prince says that he expected them this morning. Are they ready for a mission? Let's do it! Not only does he seem healthier than before, but he seems rather more decisive and enthusiastic as well.
Takanata uses his "cheat at minigames" shtick to roll three dice and pick two, and thereby rolls a 5. The Prince directs them that they must return to the Gate of Shen, and protect it from the North.
Wei Han asks if anyone wants to train. Master Zhou is unsurprised when there are no immediate takers, but Wei Han pesters Kasumi, Takanata, and Lijuan into training, and tells them that they will be able to parry something later.
On the way north, the group stops by the Dragon Army camp north of the Port of Propitious Voyage, and asks after the war. The Northerners have been pushed back some, but that means that the stealth rolls are extra hard in the territory they still hold. Kasumi takes point sneaking northwards, and learns that with True Stealth she can probably hide from the stealth mechanic itself - though she also suspects that if she fails her True Stealth roll and fails to try to hide from the mechanic, that will be a lot more perilous. Since she is taking point, though, she doesn't try to do so, since that would leave the rest of the group without a scout.
Sneaking towards the Gate of Shen is successful, but she begins to suspect that something is following her. She can't see what it is, though. Merit agrees - something is following them. No one else notices anything. Hmm. Merit and Kasumi are the two people who have Northern shticks.
Lijuan tries to cover their tracks, brushing away where they have traveled, and finds one small spot of the trail where it is hard to do so. It's like, for this one hex, she has to roll for nines instead of sevens, and since she only rolled for sevens, it doesn't succeed. Merit and Kasumi think they've lost the mysterious followers, though.
Once they reach the gate in the middle of the town, there is a soldier with a spear. When he asks who goes there, Li Merit and Wei Han give their names. The soldier has heard of Merit, but since he is a town councillor, the guy expects him to be inside the town, and is rather suspicious at being told that he just happens to be showing up now. Anyway, no one gets in without a signed pass from a town councillor. Merit starts writing out passes, but the guy is having none of that.
Master Zhou, however, has a proxy from Merit that was signed some time ago. Well, that counts, so Master Zhou and his entourage can go in.
- "What?" -Merit, offended
They pass through the gate into the other dimension, and finally see the town of the Gate of Shen around them. One of the local urchins is happy to see Lijuan, and runs off to spread the word that she is here.
Wei Han goes to the Dragon Army building, and tells them that since they have been sent to defend the town, a Northern attack is no doubt imminent. The Dragon Army folks inside the town are a liaison, not a battalion, but they admit that they haven't heard from the patrols recently. He gets to see their map of the area, and notes a suspicious smudge. (When he mentions this later, Lijuan mentions that there's a suspicious crack in her art. Perhaps they are related!)
Merit goes to the town hall, where Captain Shan is happy to see Merit. He thought Merit died in the war, though! Merit warns him about the imminent attack from the North, so they go to see the Protector (aka Lord Nikoze) as well. Merit admits that the actual nature of the threat is unknown - the Army should prepare for an attack, but a smaller group (such as the party) should go out to investigate more and find the danger. As far as the Gate of Shen folks know, there are two nearby forces of the Dragon Army to the East and West of the town, and one nearby force of Northerners to the North. The town council says it will warn the army.
The councillors mention that some of the refugees who have entered the Gate of Shen recently indicated that they were chased on their way in. Wei Han goes to interview them, and thinks that the ones who claimed to have been chased are all ones who have corruption points.
- "I told them, we could have burnt it out, but they said 'nooo you can't injure all the refugees.'" -Lord Nikoze
- "See?" -Master Zhou, waving his arms around as if to say 'I told you Ezokin was a bad guy!'
Anyway, the gate is no longer set to explode Northerners, it is set to require people to have passes. Speaking of which, how did they get in? Everyone points at Merit. Merit is concerned about the security of the passes - what if you steal someone else's? Oh, that results in exploding. Lord Nikoze is also surprised to see Merit - rumor has it he was dead.
- "I have, in fact, never been dead." -Merit
- "Really?" -Lijuan, incredulously
At this, everyone eyes Merit a little more suspiciously.
Lord Nikoze says he will need to talk to his consultant about the conversion between tael and northern corruption. (Everyone assumes he means Ezokin, and wonders just how his shticks work.)
So why does everyone think Merit is dead? Apparently an urchin came in delivering messages, and said that there was a rumor of Merit having been killed. The kid isn't around now, though - he was one of the army runners.
The group heads back out to investigate the weird following effect. They leave Merit's Horn of Warning behind so the town can warn them if some strange horrible thing happens, and head to the spot that Lijuan noticed as having been hard to cover their trail.
A lot of people fuss around in the area, making perception checks and chi rolls and various forms of oogly-boogling. After some investigation, it appears that the reason she should have rolled for nines in that hex is that it wasn't actually a hex, it was a square. Master Zhou also notes that it is getting squarier and squarier the more Merit walks across it. The square is basically on the border between the normal hexes outside the Gate of Shen, and the super Imperial hexes surrounding the Gate of Shen.
Wei Han follows the chi around, looking for more squares. In fact, there seem to be a number of them, every so often, at the border between the hexes and the hexes. Merit contemplates the particular locations of the squares, and thinks that overall, it is a tactical effect, but the individual squares themselves are not tactically significant. That is, it is some sort of mechanic turning things into squares for a tactical reason, but the individual squares are not being tactically chosen.
Investigation concluded (sort of), they head back through the gate, and let the Town Council know what they have found. In the meantime, the Town Council has coordinated with the Dragon Army, and plans are afoot where the two Dragon Army battalions will attack the Northerners, using the Gate of Shen as the retreating area for the wounded.
Wait, that's no good. That means a lot of wounded people with corruption damage are going to be passing over the border and turning hexes into squares. The party tells the Town Council that this plan is too dangerous, but the battle orders have already been sent. There isn't anywhere else safe near here that the wounded can be sent. More messages are sent, telling the army to triage its wounded in tents, well outside the town, and they promise that they'll make it safe for them to come in within a few hours.
The group has been contemplating what sort of Northern magic includes "making people think you're following them" and "turning hexes into squares". The second is clearly battle magic, and blood magic might be able to follow people, but the "not actually following but making you think they are" is weirder. Lord Nikoze notes that his consultant thinks that the problem might be a northern horror. And, while it is possible that the square could be fixed, that would probably require the original town-hiding consultant, which might be expensive.
Merit contemplates - what if they follow Wei Han following the chi, to the source of the squares? Combat. Well, that sounds promising. Merit wonders if he has any Clear Melting Sect buddies who happen to live in the Gate of Shen. He has a buddy who has a son who was a monk for a little while and washed out. A first-level monk sounds a little underpowered to bring, so Merit decides not to ask.
They follow the chi to a battlemap, and just before they reach it, a cackling voice from behind rings out:
- "Flee now, mortals, and I will ensure that your chase is long, for you enter the domain of He Who Walks Behind."
There are six terrible monster-y things, all different, and shifting oddly between themselves. Fighting some of them seems possible, but others are immune to swords or other damage, and that may be more difficult to deal with. (There are six colored blocks, each with a different counter. Sometimes the counters switch places. In general the blocks do not move on their own, but appear somewhere behind anyone else who moves.)
Takanata looks at it with Eyes of the I Ching, and tells people that it's all one big Northern Horror. The green block is a Life nexus, so it hasn't been hurt by swords or arrows because they aren't alive. Punching the Life nexus does work, though!
A lot of experimental combat determines
- Life can only be hit by living things (i.e. fists)
- Death can only be hit by dead things (happily, arrows are dead)
- Blood can only be hit by those who are bleeding (damage is capped by the amount of damage the person has taken)
- Battle can only be harmed by weapons
- Necromancy can only be harmed by the undead
- Beastmastery can only be harmed by animals.
Death and Battle are taken out pretty quickly; Master Zhou and Merit and Wei Han's reinforcements pummel Life. Wei Han eventually lets himself take enough damage to take out Blood, though he is hit with a terrible bleeding wound in the process.
Necromancy proves the most challenging (everyone can imagine Shen-Ji saying "if you had only let me learn necromancy..."), but one of the counters in play looks like a ghost, so Master Zhou starts kicking whichever foe is currently the ghost, through the Necromancy foe.
Lijuan summons Kawaii, though things look like they are about to go off the rails when Beastmastery gets her to change sides, and only some fancy drift shenanigans keeps Kawaii from mauling the party. Once all the bad guys are gone, Master Zhou fixes Kawaii with his Clue-by-four.
Finally, Takanata auspiciously summons Hana, who is able to finish off Necromancy.
Merit patches Wei Han enough that he is no longer bleeding at thirty-six points a round unless he actually does anything to reopen the wound.
The battle between the Dragon Army and the Northerners has gone reasonably well; Merit and Takanata help in the healing tents, and start moving the wounded back to the Gate of Shen. Sadly, while the Northern Horror has been banished, so no new squares are created, the squares already in place are still there. Ezokin thinks that Kira or Renyu might be able to fix it, and that it is important to fix the squares in the Other Empire before the Gate of Shen returns and the land returns to where it came from.
Hana has some knowledge of how things are going in the north. The clans are not fighting amongst themselves, in part because the Beastmaster of Men tells them not to, and in part because fighting the Empire is a better source of glory. She has heard rumors of a secret underground opposing the Beastmaster of Men, led by someone close to him, but this seems implausible, since everyone close to him falls under his beastmastery.
It has gotten late enough that asking the Prince for another mission is a bad idea, so it is decreed to be Time To Hunt The Dire Hamster, and the group returns to Tahiti.
Lijuan tracks the hamster back to where it is hiding in a large bush, but is unable to lure it out with just a peanut. However, it does enter the cage trap when it is baited with a pork bun, but then it simply walks through the tiny space between the bars, and exits the cage.
Master Zhou leaps on the hamster - it seems able to ignore his initial strikes as they only hit fluff, but after a nerve strike, he and Merit (who is trying to shave off the fluff) double-team it and it finally succumbs. It proves to be very tiny, inside a huge coat of fluff - smaller, in fact, than the pork bun it inhaled.Merit gathers up the Dire Fur and pockets it before Wei Han can stop him, though there is quite a bit of glaring afterwards.