Winter Has Come
|"Winter either bites with its teeth or lashes with its tail."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Phoenix in the first Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Bear in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the northern Honeth Arcade and by the Wall.
Leaving the Hidden City
The party receives a message at the Green Table Inn - His Exalted Excellency Ishii Makato is ready to depart, and wishes to know if they have any remaining business left to conduct. He would prefer to depart sooner rather than later, and that will make it convenient to provide suitable escort. The group sends word back that they will be ready to leave in the morning.
Takanata and Grasshopper are both having trouble with their prophetic art - Grasshopper's is fiddly, with missing bits that make it hard to draw. Takanata is having trouble as well - it's almost too primal, too elemental, to capture. As the two of them grumble at their respective paper, a letter arrives for Takanata, sealed with the yellow wax imprint of the Silken Wings Circus.
I am sure you will be interested to hear of the doings of the circus and the court during your journeys. Your nephew is often in the Harbor of Shining Reflections, and has done us the great honor of observing some few rehearsals. The young Prince's sea horses are a great marvel to watch in their formations - I find myself wondering if they could be worked into an act, but the tank would likely be prohibitive. Speaking of other animals that would be prohibitive - even prohibited - in a circus act, a few days ago a young woman of the Harbor, was badly clawed by a young panda bear cub, which was then killed by the city guard. No one is sure where the cub came from - I assume you have no inkling?
Your most humble servant
- "He asks us if it is our fault. I assume it is not?" -Takanata
- "It is our fault! If you had let me keep the cub, this wouldn't have happened!" -Grasshopper
Grasshopper is crushed at the thought of the death of the panda bear cub, and wants to go back to the Butterfly Kingdom to find out more, but Wei Han thinks it is prudent to stick close to the North Wall to assist with any incoming barbarians.
Speaking of incoming barbarians, Takanata points out that the omens indicate there are sufficient forces arrayed against Mola Ram that he is going to be killed at midwinter. Takanata is somewhat distressed by this, but is not really willing to go to extraordinary effort to assist Mola Ram in his ritual. (The party has so far warned the Alchemist, Commander Sun, Da-Xie, the Firelord, the Song of the Phoenix, the Bandits of the Double Caldera, and the Imperial Spy Service. And they stopped his plan for a lava boat. ).
Finally, Takanata and Wei Han stop by the Imperial Library. Takanata is high-status enough to convince the Archivist to let him look up some of the genealogies, and he finds some entries for House Siew from back during the Bear Emperors. They were a Savanna clan; there's a note for an eldest daughter being transferred to the Imperial line, and a request to transfer her back, rejected. After that, many of the Siew family die - some are labeled outlaws and criminals, and others are just killed. The clan is exterminated, though the numbers are a little iffy between "all exterminated" and "almost all exterminated." Takanata takes copious notes.
Anto takes Kuan-Xi out for dinner. Grasshopper and Takanata grumble, still having trouble with their prophecies.
The next morning, Kasumi drags Grasshopper outside the Hidden City, on the theory that the minimum-successes effect is stopping him from being able to draw. That doesn't seem to be the problem, though.
Messengers rush into the inn, warning people that the Beautiful Regent is coming. Trumpets sound outside, and several contingents of guardsmen accompany his palanquin. Takanata notes that the guard uniforms have the Butterfly icon, but the corners have four guards with serpent icons (today is the Day of the Serpent). Leaving the city, there is a lot of shouting between the Regent's guards and the gate guards in some sort of ceremony of departure, but the party finally exits the Hidden City.
Wei Han starts to have a bad feeling, like a deep all-body migraine. Clearly something is up with the Wall.
The group is still a bit concerned - they haven't figured out why Ishii Makato was banished, if he was banished, or if they should be fixing something before he returns to the Isle of Beauty. The Prince was hinting something about the reasons, but it's confusing. Anto checks out what sort of bindings he has - he's bound to his family in a way that's somewhat stretched-out now, and he's bound himself into the Illumineaucracy mechanic, and there's a darker more insidious binding that's probably not important. The family binding and the dark binding could probably be unbound by treachery, though the dark binding is also strengthened by treachery.
Master Deng goes to talk to the Regent; the latter asks a lot of questions about how things are going at court. He's definitely distressed to hear about the tension. Also, Zhi-Hao points out that there are probably northern barbarians about to invade, as they have had Spiritual Indications to that effect, so it would be good to be prepared for that. The Regent suggests that if there are barbarians about to invade, someone should tell the Dragon Army about it. Zhi-Hao allows as that's not a bad idea, but he also thinks that they should go investigate, and that maybe the Regent should come help. Regent Ishii does agree that their first duty is to the Empire, so Zhi-Hao should take what people he thinks he needs and lead an expedition north to both inform the army and find out more. Anto gets a slight twinge in his unbinder-senses at that thought.
Kasumi is still worried about Grasshopper's prophecy, and pesters him into showing Takanata his confusing picture. Inspired, Takanata writes a poem based on it:
|A weary rider and a slowing hors||bon the inkstone, sheen of slick water|
|The weight to carry not a bundle but a questio||ight's reflection across day's paper-white face|
|Words trusted to no scrib||ach character a footprint, laying tracks|
|A quest requires a pilgri||ind to paper to mind again|
|To bring the answer awa||ellow wax sealing all|
He and Hiro pore over the poem - or poems, and fill in the missing word in the middle: enemy. Takanata shows his not-very-finished poem to Grasshopper, who draws a sketch of a winter battle.
When the party reaches the Arcade Imperial Highway, Master Deng's scouting party heads northwards, while the Regent's larger group heads southwards; depending on how things go, they say they will catch up to the Regent as soon as possible.
The party reaches Daizhou, where Commander Yao (candidate 2B, that the party threw their weight behind) seems to have established his command center. The Dragon soldiers are pleased to see Wei Han, and hurry him (with Master Deng and Takanata) in to see Commander Yao. People crane their necks to see his big map of the border.
Commander Yao seems to be waiting for scouts to report in, and quickly demands to know what Wei Han is doing here, and what he wants. (Unlike most North Wall soldiers, Commander Yao doesn't seem to accord Wei Han as much automatic respect.)
- "Something is wrong." -Wei Han
- "Care to be more specific, soldier?" -Commander Yao
- "I wish I could. I thought after checking in with you, I'd go to the wall and look around."
- "Right, because no one here has thought of that. Dismissed."
Master Deng leaps in - what is the latest news on the barbarians and the situation at hand? Commander Yao says he doesn't have enough news, the scouts aren't coming back fast enough. And he needs to figure out which of the reported attacks are the feints and which is the real attack, to get his people in place. Zhi-Hao asks if they can help, and the commander, still a little confused as to these people in his tent are, asks who they are. Zhi-Hao claims to have been sent under the auspices of the Beautiful Regent, which is more or less true, so Commander Yao tells him that if they want to be useful and helpful, they should go and find out what happened to the scouts in the Gate of Shen hex.
Meanwhile, Shen-Ji encounters his sister, Yang Tsi-Ya who's been looking for him in the camp.
- "I need to arrange a meeting with your benefactor." -Tsi-Ya
- "Which one?" -Shen-Ji
- "... Which ones do you have?"
- "Well, it depends. Is there a topic that this meeting is about?"
- "My benefactors do have a topic in mind. They would prefer to arrange a secure meeting, at which they could speak. But the topic is not my job."
Shen-Ji professes to be totally unable to set up any sort of meeting without knowing more about what the topic was about. He wouldn't know whether to bring the decision makers or... the other people. Tsi-Ya heads off again to see what more she can find out.
Leaving Commander Yao's tent, Takanata is very perturbed. Why was there a blue unit for seahorse cavalry on the map? The prince shouldn't be up north! The prince is supposed to be on the Isle of Beauty until the twelfth day of winter, according to the NPC run. He sits down to try and figure it out.
- "The question you should be asking is not, why is the Butterfly cavalry on the map, the question you should be asking is why the Isle of Beauty is on the map." -Mike
- "What? Well, okay, that makes more sense." -Charles
- "That would explain how they got pandas!" -Grasshopper
- "No it wouldn't! They're both islands!" -Hiro
Master Deng goes to ask some of the soldiers nearby - which way to the Isle of Beauty? The soldiers admit that's kind of funny, actually - this morning, people were arguing about that. You wouldn't think that's the kind of thing you'd forget, but who actually pays that much attention to islands?
Anto (followed by Wei Han) goes to talk to the Steadfast Heart monastery. There's a young guy that Anto doesn't recognize out on the front steps sweeping. Anto introduces himself as a student here from some months ago, who patrolled with some of the brothers. Could he speak to the abbot? The novice says that the abbot is not available right now, but he can leave a message for him. He's busy with the trouble on the wall.
- "Are they helping with the defense?" -Anto
- "Yes, they're helping with the defense."
- "Working with the army?"
- "No, they're helping with the defense."
Anto says he's hoping to help coordinate between the army's scouting efforts and those of others. The novice says if he receives any news, he can pass it along to Anto. Wei Han tells him if there is any news, to give it to Commander Yao. The novice dubiously says he can try.
Wei Han sends a note to Commander Yao noting that in the past, coordination with the monastery of the Steadfast Heart has been useful. (Given that "in the past" meant "under Lo Ping", this is not really as true recently as it might have been longer ago). Kasumi points out that he won't necessarily listen to a note, since he doesn't seem to be listening very hard to Wei Han in person, but that's all they can do at the moment, especially given that the monks aren't actually there.
Shen-Ji remembers to tell the others about his sister's visit, and that "the people employing her want to talk to the people employing him." Nobody is sure what to make of this, or who the people employing them are presumed to be, and Tsi-Ya certainly wasn't helpful in the details. He goes to look for her again, and finds out that the topic is that "they would like to discuss with your benefactor the current status of their relationship." This doesn't seem any clearer to Shen-Ji, but it doesn't seem like Tsi-Ya actually knows the details. He segues into trying to find out what she's been up to recently. Well, she still works for the House of Gainful Protection, and she's been promoted - now she works for longer-term “special” clients. Shen-Ji, for his part, complains about keys and passes and Hidden City mechanics.
Optimistic, Shen-Ji suggests that they talk to her clients tomorrow after they've run a little errand, but when he realizes the area they need to scout is half a day away, he backpedals. Tsi-Ya says that if it is necessary to arrange the meeting, her clients might be willing to travel with them. Shen-Ji warns her that they'll be going along the Wall.
- "Well, that should be safe enough." -Tsi-Ya
Tsi-Ya introduces her other two companions to the party - Wen Hwa-Min, a severe looking woman of early middle age, and Chan Yun-Fa, a short and stocky armed man. Zhi-Hao looks them over, and thinks Hwa-Min is armed more sneakily than Yun-Fa is, but is not harmless. They seem to be almost overly nondescript in their clothing - no house colors or livery or markings. Hwa-Min says it is an honor to meet with such illustrious travelers. She is but a minor functionary in a minor noble house they've probably not heard of.
- "What brings you to the north?" -Zhi-Hao
- "Well, you do, actually. Our patroness would like to clarify the air between herself and your patroness." -Hwa-Min
- "Do you mean Ti Wren?" -Grasshopper
- "Shush." -Takanata
- "No, we do not mean Ti Wren." -Hwa-Min
Grasshopper bounces up and down, urging more explanations. Hwa-Min sighs, and says that they are here to commence friendly discussions with the Lady Lijuan on behalf of the Lady Sung.
- "We haven't met any Lady Sung..." -Shen-Ji
- "That's because she's secret!" -Grasshopper
- "Yes!" -Hwa-Min
- "We wish to clarify our current dealings, and ensure that all obligations are being met." -Hwa-Min
- "But... we don't have any current dealings, right?" -Hiro
- "No, no - is it time?" -Grasshopper
- "Time for what?" -Hwa-Min
- "To get 'em!" -Grasshopper
Hwa-Min looks a little pained, and checks - who does Grasshopper wish to get? House Zhen, of course. Hwa-Min is a bit reassured again. They would be happy to take any assistance getting House Zhen, at the appropriate time.
- "Is that the extent of our remaining dealings?" -Hwa-Min, a little more optimistically
- "Ye---" -Grasshopper
- "The lady's obligations of protection remain in full force." -Takanata, interrupting forcefully
Chan Yun-Fa goes white, and Hwa-Min looks saddened, and nods. She will convey the status of things to her ladyship.
- "Wait, what the heck just happened? I wasn't paying attention for a moment." -Shen-Ji
Grasshopper solemnly gives Hwa-Min a pouch with a tael in it.
- "This is for the Lady." -Grasshopper
- "On her instructions, I should refuse, but that is a lot of money. It will help immeasurably." -Hwa-Min
The group heads north to the base of the Wall, arriving late at night to start their scouting. Wei Han, starting to climb up to the top of the wall, suddenly vanishes. After a minute or two, he reappears.
- "Are you guys coming or not? They've crossed over there, but the troops aren't in the right places." -Wei Han
It seems important to let Commander Yao know where the breakthrough has occurred - what's the fastest way to get word? Well, Kuan-Xi has her little carriage. She and Takanata can go back to Daizhou, and then Takanata can providentially reappear for the fight if he's needed. Do Tsi-Ya and her clients want to leave? No, they're staying, at least for the moment. Yun-Fa mutters something about bringers of chaos and destruction.
Takanata and Kuan-Xi head back to Daizhou in the little carriage. Kuan-Xi gets extra-princessed up, and she and Takanata brief Commander Yao, describing it as something that Takanata "became aware of". This doesn't help Commander Yao figure out which one the feint is, but Takanata assures him that the attacks are all real. He's not happy about that, and a bit dubious, but if one particular set has already crossed the wall, he'll send guys that way first.
Meanwhile, everyone else starts looking for people who need help (Anto) or Northern Invaders (Wei Han). Wei Han thinks that he could bring more people very fast along the Wall with karma, but he doesn't have any spare. Kasumi spends double karma for Wei Han to bring the group, so they arrive at the battle site before the barbarians have gotten very far at all. It seems to be a shrine, with several buildings of sleeping monks, and a large ancestor shrine in the center. Emerging from the North Wall, the party is in the midst of zombies and wraiths - there seem to be other groups in other corners of the map.
Life, Death, and Blood
The group gets a surprise action against the startled invaders, and puts it to good use. Anto tangles up the necromancer (the nearest of the northern masters) in tangling vines, and Zhi-Hao chops everything in sight, including the necromancer, who falls pretty quickly. His sword seems more able to hit the wraiths than a normal sword, which is helpful.
Anto thinks that the person or persons who need his help isn't here yet? Or is really well hidden. Someone on the far corner of the map shouts in Torghut, but it's too far to hear, so Kasumi heads that way. The northern master there shouts to Kasumi: "Enemy! Approach me if you dare! Fight me in single combat, and I will keep my forces away."
Takanata, getting the feeling that despite not being a fighter it might be auspicious for him to arrive, shows up in the far corner of the map with Kuan-Xi and her little carriage. He regards the map with the Eyes of the I Ching, and thinks there are three different zones - Battle, Necromancy, and Beast. There are three nexi, at the ends of the lines between the three zones, intersecting at the central shrine. Takanata thinks that the shrine seems to be the Ancestor Shrine of the Empire, and it also has a big glowing golden thing in it, with something of a wounded animal aspect to it. Finally, Takanata realizes that the necromancer will respawn on one of the Necromancy nexi during drift, and that for each of the priests who dies, that will pull the nearby nexi closer in to the shrine.
Well, one of the important things then is to wake the priests up. Shen-Ji hits the gong at the shrine. Anto realizes that the thing that needs his help is the spirit in the shrine, and Grasshopper notices that the shrine has a wounded monkey at it. When he reaches the shrine, Shen-Ji crosses into the Beast zone - he thinks that there's no necromancy there, so the undead probably can't follow.
Wei Han heads into the beast zone as well - hawks go after him, while wolves go after the priests. Kasumi tries to convince the Warmaster that she's fleeing, but isn't much of an actor. There is much chopping of undead and other bad guys, which the log will take as read. The Necromancer respawns, only to be quickly taken down by Wei Han's reinforcements. Lijuan's new followers stick close to Grasshopper, but since Grasshopper is an archer, that only puts them in moderate peril.
Takanata runs to the line of Death (between War and Necromancy), a few hexes before the nexus. He figures if the nexus advances too much, he'll put up Wall of Fate and try to stop it, and he shouts instructions to everyone - each priest that dies puts the shrine in more danger! Either kill all the minions, or kill all the masters at the same time!
- "You think that if Hana were to stand on the line of death, something either very good or very bad will happen." -Mike
- "I figured that much out." -Charles
The Beastmaster buffs the hawks to give them all an extra damage multiplier - they start being able to get through Wei Han's armor a bit. Shen-Ji heavifies the Warmaster's weapon, but he summons a quarterstaff and charges it with power instead. Shen-Ji observes, fascinated, as he's pummeled with this new sort of magic. Anto tries to take on a few too many fighters, and puts up a wall to shield himself from some of them.
Wei Han kicks in the door to one of the priest's dormitories, and warns them that things are trying to break in and kill them, but if they go out, more things will try to kill them. They're not quite sure what to do with that.
The Necromancer respawns by Takanata, ominously.
Zhi-Hao runs in and hits the Warmaster. This heals him, because single combat has been violated, and he gets to attack both Zhi-Hao and Shen-Ji. He also copies Zhi-Hao's riposte shtick.
Takanata puts up Wall of Fate (and spends a karma) to keep the nexus from advancing through him. The Necromancer, irked, summons some wraiths over to get him. Since the wraiths are essentially the Necromancer's effect, when they attack Takanata, he memorizes the Necromancer's I Ching, and swaps his Death and Blood substats. Some Battle warriors take Anto down; Kuan-Xi averages their hit points, and their location, and pulls him over. Priests in the battle zone are dying pretty badly, and some of the fighters are menacing the shrine, held off by some of the sturdier priests.
Takanata (at 1 hit point) flees outside of the necromancy zone, into the War zone and lays his hand on the pattern to have Horse show up "right now". Li Merit's horse shows up, and Horse calls a temporary time halt to negotiate with Takanata, who wants to know how many horse points it would take to get all the priests into the necromancy zone? Evacuation was priced at one horse point per dozen and one horse point for a lame structure, so that's just two. The party spends the horse points, and Horse runs around and moves the priests.
- "3, 2, 1, resume." -Horse
Kasumi takes down the Beastmaster and Grasshopper takes down the Necromancer, so it's just the Warmaster left. With everyone else piling on the Warmaster, he falls too, after an epic battle of recursive parry-repostes with Master Deng. 140 points of damage are passed back and forth between them, to land on the Warmaster when he runs out of shticks before Deng runs out of the karma he was using to refresh his own shticks.
The zones collapse, with the Blood nexus only a few hexes from the shrine. The wraiths disappear and the zombies fall to dead bodies. The animals flee, and the warriors lose their weapons and armor and attitude, leaving a dozen hapless Northern peasants who can quickly be killed.
- "Hey, Monkey, I think you owe me one for this. I totally showed up and saved the day!" -Horse
Takanata thanks Horse for showing up, and apologizes for being intemperate in his summoning. Grasshopper rescues the little monkey from the shrine, which appears to be the Seventh Enlightened Monkey - he thinks the monkey is spiritually wounded somehow.
The party asks the monks what the shrine is - it's a memorial to those who have fallen on the Wall. Takanata says it's more like the Ancestor Shrine of the whole Empire, but the priests don't seem to think it's quite as important as all that.
The reinforcement troop heads back to report to Commander Yao, followed by the party. The Beautiful Regent appears to now be in Daizhou, arguing with his soldiers.
- "I may have been away from my home for twenty years, but I do think I still remember where it was!"
So ends the first turn of the Northern Invasion.
- Cai Wen goes to visit the Cup of Five Virtues.
- Shen-Ji visits the Cup of Five Virtues, just in time to see a brawl start with Cai Wen.
- Takanata talks to Regent Ishii.
- Grasshopper goes to investigate the panda attack on the Isle of Beauty. Takanata makes secret plans for his safety. When Grasshopper finds out Jin was involved, Takanata arrives auspiciously to help with the investigation, and also speaks to His Majesty.
- Anto, Xiao Fa, and Kuan-Xi go patrolling with the monks of the Steadfast Heart.
- Wei Han patrols as much of the Wall as he can get to, which is pretty much all of it.