|"Everyone knew that all islands were worlds unto themselves, that to come to an island was to come to another world."|| 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 principally in the Northern Seas
The Widening Gyre
In Tahiti, the party discusses how they can roll a 1 on their next mission. All signs indicate that doing so is important, both for saving Phoenix from the rain/ifrit/Whale problems, and for helping Horse and Wolf.
When they arrive at the No Longer Obscure Headquarters, the Prince informs them that they have just missed Lady Jin, who is off on an errand. Min Feng asks His Highness for a mission to go to the Shrouded Isle, Cai Wen makes the roll 2d8 where the smaller is subtracted from the larger, and Min Feng rolls a 2 and a 1. Success!
The room shakes; the Prince floats into the air; his eyes go blue-and-blue, and he says "Free the World-Gyre" before collapsing. Well, that's not expected. He doesn't seem to be physically hurt, and Deng and Master Zhou don't spot any hidden enemies in the room, so people make him comfortable, tell the guards, and retreat to the map room.
Surprisingly, there is a kid tied to a chair in the map room. He's asleep, and a note has been pinned to him, with "For her Highness" written on the outside.
- "Don't untie people until you know why they were tied up!" -Sei-Lin
Cai Wen recognizes the kid as Pho, Horse's guy.
Kuan-Xi opens the note, which says "You'll need this one on your journey! -Li" Everyone grumbles.
Master Zhou thinks the "World Gyre" seems very Whale-y, and Kuan-Xi notes that there isn't anything in the Northern Seas called a World Gyre. Master Deng vaguely recalls the term as a peril you have to avoid in any world - sort of the opposite of the Gate of Five Elements. The Gate of Five Elements lets you go anywhere, but the World Gyre makes you go nowhere. Kuan-Xi's book on the Mysteries of the Deep mentions that there is a giant whirlpool of doom in every Ocean, which serves as the escape hatch for the pressure between the worlds. Cai Wen tries to find anything in the map-room's notes about disappearing ships - there does seem to be some discussion that ships which are reassigned to the Sea Lord and go off never return. Master Zhou warns everyone: if you move between worlds, make sure to step cleanly.
So... what might be a good way of getting to wherever in the ocean this World Gyre whirlpool thing is? Should they get Min Feng assigned to find the Sea Lord? Or take the Yamato?
Lijuan draws some art:
Hmm, that's interesting. Cai Wen concentrates on the colored figures. The central one is presumably Kuan-Xi. Are the other colorful ones PCs? Is the one with the phoenix shooting lightning Min Feng? All of that seems true, to his omen interpretation. How about the boats? Are they all the party's? It seems not - in fact, some of them don't look at all familiar as far as boat design, to Cai Wen. What about the whirlpool? Is it related to the rain with eyes? "Only narratively", whatever that means.
Also, as far as art goes, remember that Takanata drew something about rolling a 1, earlier:
Hmm. Wait, there's still a little kid tied up. Maybe if they wake him up and ask him questions, he knows something. Unfortunately, he doesn't remember when he was kidnapped - he was having... soup? With someone? Well, Li the Wanderer isn't always easy to remember.
However, Pho does know that there are a bunch of missions going on. He doesn't know about all of them, and some of them are hush hush and super secret. And while he can normally speak to Horse, he's not around right now. He said he was going on a quick adventure and would be right back, as of earlier this week. Hmm. Well, that matches the art.
Down to the Sea in Ships
The party proceeds to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, and heads to the docks. Min Feng looks around for people who might have been on the requisitioned ships but didn't actually go aboard, for whatever reason. She finds someone, a rather surly sailor who demands to know why Min Feng wants to know. After some money changes hands, he admits that he bailed on the mission and deserted when he heard what it was going to be. The plan was to sail East from the Shrouded Isle, then head northwards into a north wind until they reached where they were going. That sounded like madness to him, so he skipped. Min Feng asks what his ship was named, in case they run into it later. It was the Scimitar.
Lijuan asks around the harbor urchins - they have also heard that boats went off to join the rest of the Navy, a few at a time, for the last several weeks. But none of them have come back here.
Back to that thing Master Zhou said about walking cleanly between the worlds - what does that mean? Is that like not having more than you can carry in your hands if you go into the World Above? No, it's not really like that - this is about being in this world, but if you go to another world and leave bits behind, they go into the World Gyre. It still all sounds very confusing.
There is another ship (the Rapier) which is supposed to leave with the tide and go to meet with the Sea Lord's armada. It doesn't have orders beyond that, as the Sea Lord will brief them once they arrive.
Master Zhou wonders if there will be squares. They will be heading north, but crossing to the north in the ocean doesn't cross the Wall, it crosses the Warden of the Northern Seas. After much discussion, people decide to take the Talismans, and head to the Yamato
Cai Wen brings the Danger Squad, and Lijuan brings Kawaii and Ho (but not Zhuai).
When the group reaches the Yamato, Captain Nishin Meiyo is apologetic - she hasn't finished hiring the officers yet. (Cai Wen wonders if they could hire some temporary officers in the meantime, but most of the party doesn't have adjective-having navigators in their back pocket. He wonders whether he could replace Kiri with a new sea-skills moll, but decides that that would have potential consequences. She was stolen by Whale, but hasn't been replaced. Replacing her would be something she might notice.) The Moon's First Daughter also isn't around right now.
Sei Lin does have a friend on the street smuggler named Lu To who is a navigator. He thinks sailing into the north wind is crazy, but is willing to come along, for 30 li.
The Yamato sails through the rain to the Shrouded Isle, and then farther to the east, where there is a strong north wind. Kuan-Xi spends a karma to get a northbound current and the ship heads northwards, into the unknown ocean.
Off in the distance, an island is visible - and also off in the distance, rounding the north edge of the island, is another ship.
As the ship approaches, flying a Dragon Army flag, it hails them. What is their business in these waters? Min Feng replies that they come to find the Sea Lord. Do you have dispatches? No, just personal messages. The other ship (the Falchion) replies that they can take messages, but private ships can't come deeper into these waters. Min Fen argues that the messages are for the Sea Lord's ears only.
Cai Wen shouts over - did the Scimitar make it? Not yet. Though that raises the question of how the Yamato made it. They shouldn't be able to be here without orders. Lijuan shouts that the Prince gave them orders, and Min Feng shouts that she is a captain in the Dragon Navy. Well, that explains how they got through the wind trap. But she and her ship are here without orders?
- "Unofficial orders."
- "From whom?"
- "Who are you to ask that question?"
- "I'm the guy keeping people out on the orders from the Sea Lord."
- "There are concerns that the Sea Lord is in difficulty."
- "Whose concerns? "
The Dragon Navy ship says that they will need to inspect the Yamato, then. Is that code for "board the ship and take it", people wonder. Well, probably, yes. The Yamato declines to be taken, Kuan-Xi starts to pull rank as the Princess of the Northern Seas, but doesn't have time to impress him before a group of Dragon Army soldiers swing over on ropes.
Kuan Xi quickly water-blasts them all overboard, and Sei-Lin suggests that the party crosses to the opposing ship and steal it, but no one is quite convinced that that is the plan yet. Master Zhou, noting Lijuan's art, wonders if the goal is to conquer all the ships on the battlemap and take them over.
As people contemplate the difference between what is possible and what should be done, another ship comes within view. This one is of an unfamiliar design, and appears to have about sixty rowers in addition to its sails. The flag it is flying has a goat head depicted on it, on top of a handprint. The captain of the new ship shouts over to them, but in a language no one understands. After some uncommunicative shouting back-and-forth, the captain directs a prisoner to be brought forth. The prisoner shouts across, acting as a translator.
- "The great one says to surrender! They are from faraway lands, where the lords of the sea rule, and I would appreciate being rescued."
Having learned how it is done, the party swings across on ropes onto the other ship.
Min Feng chops at the translator's chains, and battle is joined.
While the battle is taking place on hexes, the mechanics prove themselves to be... a little strange. When Master Deng tries to attack everyone, he discovers that he can split his dice as much as he likes but he can only attack one person. Kuan-Xi finds that when she waterblasts someone, she has the option of spreading and blasting the people standing next to them. And who acts when is seriously confusing.
Even Death Blossom only lets Deng attack one guy multiple times, which is really not how that works normally. On the other hand, Min Feng finds she only needs one success to pick the lock on the chains.
The eight red guys are class Viking, with potential to be Chief. Their level is 6, their aspect unclear, Reds 1, 2, and 3 are level 8.
Using True Kung Fu, Master Zhou punches the captain off the ship and finds that he gets +3... something... to his next attack. However, now that the captain is off the ship, the leader of the mercenaries (Purple 1) claims the captaincy. Min Feng, who has been unlocking prisoners, shoots Purple 1, and unlocks a prisoner's chains in the same action.
With the latest captain down, who now wishes to claim the captaincy? Cai Wen does! He has to make a status roll, and the Talisman still works. Cai Wen is now the captain of the ship, now named the Sea Fox.
- "It's our ship now. Now the stuff in the basement isn't loot. Darn it." -Sei-Lin
The Imperial prisoner translates, and tells the sailors to surrender. They throw their swords down. The new leader of the purple group comes over, holding out his hand (in a "pay me" sense, not in a shaking hands sense). He seems to want gold, or gems, and the translator agrees that this is sort of odd because clearly paying each of the mercenaries a tael is way too much.
Sei-Lin goes to search for loot in the hold, while the rest of the prisoners are freed. The second prisoner looks kind of like Serafina, but the third doesn't look familiar. When Sei-Lin returns, he has a purse of small gem chips, and the mercenary leader takes seven. Now he works for Cai Wen.
The translator says that he was one of the first of the Dragon Army sent to find the Sea of Shadows. That was months ago, just after the Southern Naval invasion. Wow, that was a while ago. Anyhow, he doesn't like it here, as it is quite chaotic. There are several other Dragon Army ships around, but the Vikings have been avoiding the whirlpool, which is near the center of the islands.
Pho says that the boss (that is, Horse) is off to the southwest from where they are now, so the Yamato heads in that direction. Another ship draws up nearby - this one is flying a black flag with a silver unicorn. (The Sea Fox, not wanting to miss out on the flag action, runs up a flag of the House of Exuberant Interference that Lieutenant Fortune happens to have).
The sailors on the other ship shout over in a new language, but they sound less hostile. Then, they send over an albatross. When it lands on the Yamato, it looks around, and remarks "Wow, this is a weird ship."
So... what does the albatross and the unicorn-ship want? They are looking for the key to the Abyss, so they can escape. Sei Lin says they're looking for the key too, but they don't have it yet. So, what does it look like? The albatross says that given the way these things go, it's probably going to look like a person, someone who can enter the vortex and survive. Hmm. Everyone avoids looking at Kuan-Xi.
However, the albatross continues, so long as the Abyss is bound in this place, no one can escape.
Where does their ship hail from? Distant waters.
- "I want to get on their boat. They have no dice on that boat." -Sei-Lin
As people continue to ask the albatross questions, it thinks for a bit, clearly taking stock of the system it is in.
- "I'm an albatross, and I'm also apparently a spirit. Therefore, I will tell you the answer to a question if you pay me. That's how it works. Ask your question, but beware, for I will only answer one."
The party whispers amongst themselves, and finally the question is asked:
- "How do you free the Abyss"
- "Disrupt the ritual at the heart of the labyrinth in the castle in the middle of the Army of the Dragon."
Then, the albatross takes to the air again and flies back to its ship.
The group takes stock of the prisoners and what languages they speak. The first translator speaks Xiang and Viking. The second speaks Xiang (poorly), and the language of Marvels, and the other speaks Viking and Gallifreyan.
The boats continue westward, and find both a new boat, and an island.
The new ship is bedecked in lots of ribbons and frills in bright colors, and hails them in yet another unknown language. Sei Lin quickly changes into his luxury clothes to fit in. After a bunch of incomprehensible waving back and forth, the other ship brings forward a young girl, and sends her over on a swinging rope. She reaches out her hand to Master Zhou, and when he takes it, he finds himself only able to speak the mysterious other language, while the girl speaks Xiang.
Like the Unicorn ship, the ribbon ship seems to be interested in getting out of here. The party explains to the girl what they've learned about disrupting the ritual at the center of the labyrinth. She is not sure that they will be able to help battle those carrying out the ritual - though she notes that that does not mean that the party should think that they can take her ship. They are not fighters from a martial tradition, but they have their own skills. She can tell them, however, that the castle of the Army of the Dragon is 21 hexes north of where they are now. Everyone takes careful note of that.
She says that her ship is from a place that touches on the Great Vortex, but only tangentially. The Great Vortex has recently changed its behavior - now it is expelling from the many worlds instead of consuming.
(Master Zhou starts writing out sentences in the new language, so he can try to learn the language later.)
- "Beware the Army of the Dragon, for they are fierce, and can attack everyone on your ship in a turn."
- "Oh, we can do that too."
- "Do you have the chosen one?"
- "Who is that?"
- "We're not sure. Another ship was looking for the Chosen One."
Apparently the Unicorn ship is looking for the "key" but the Marvels are looking for the "chosen one". This new ship is called the Connection.
She gets ready to return to her ship, but Master Zhou wants his language back. She said she had hoped to keep it so that she could learn it, but he isn't interested in not being able to communicate until he learns Xiang again. Very well, she will trade skills back. Then, she swings back to her ship.
Next, the Yamato goes to the island, while the Sea Fox scouts the seas farther to the west.
- "Oh, this is probably Monster Island."
- ""This one is not Monster Island." -Mike
The main feature of this island is the central peak, with a one-person wide trail spiraling around it to the top. Sei-Lin just climbs up the sheer side, while Lijuan starts walking up the path.
When Sei-Lin reaches the top, he looks north. He sees:
- Immediately north of the island is a small Dragon Army ship
- Then a small island with a kraken skeleton.
- Then a maelstrom between the worlds
- Then an island with a castle with the Dragon Army flag.
- Then the sea kind of peters out.
When Lijuan reaches the top, she finds Sei-Lin unconscious. Before she does anything else, she looks to the west-north-west in the direction that she thinks Horse is. She sees:
- There's an island with a shipwreck.
- Further and to the north, there is an island on fire.
- Then the sea runs out.
When Master Deng reaches the top, he finds Sei-Lin and Lijuan unconscious. He avoids looking in any direction, but checks to make sure they are okay. They are asleep, and something is preventing them from waking up, as if they have been drugged. Still not looking off the island, he picks them up and manages to carry them both down without falling off the side of the mountain.
The Yamato and the Sea Fox continue on to the shipwreck island - and, in fact, in addition to the wrecked ship, there are Wolf and Horse.
Horse is volubly glad to be rescued; Wolf is a bit more terse but also grateful. Sei-Lin salutes Wolf, who nods to him. People want to know what happened, and Horse is kind of embarrassed. It's a very embarrassing story, so he'll tell it once he's rescued. But it has to be a really good rescue.
Some of the sailors on their ship were drowned, but the two spirits think that the other survivors are probably prisoners on other ships.
So... can Wolf and Horse tell them about the World Gyre? Hmm. They are still spirits, so should do this as a bargain. In return for the rescue, they will each provide an Answer, a Gift, and a Miracle, while in the Sea of Shadows.
The question for Horse: What is Whale's Plan?
Whale's plan is (well, he has numerous plans...) is to eliminate Phoenix while getting no blood on his own hands, so that he might take her place amongst the Cycle Spirits of the Empire. He is using this (Horse gestures northeast towards the center of the map) as distraction and protection for himself - distraction for those helping her and protection for himself. Right now, the Whalesong Ocean is completely inaccessible to anyone other than Whale and his anointed guys. In addition, his plan here entails a little comeuppance for Dragon, and a fight for the party in return for their having snubbed him.
(Are the Abyss and the World Gyre the same thing? Yes, clearly. Also the Great Vortex)
The question for Wolf (from Deng): How do we disrupt the ritual?
Battle your way to the center of the labyrinth at the center of the Shadowed Sea and tear it to pieces. The ritual, the people, the stuff... just shred it all.
Well, that's straightforward, at least.
The gifts and the miracles can be saved for when they are needed, but must be used here in the Sea of Shadows. Horse warns that their gifts and miracles will not be useful against the Technocracy - they're the ones who sank their ship originally.
The Yamato and the Sea Fox head northwest, passing several islands. Another ship is spotted, flying a flag with a C and two lines through it. The translator recognizes it as the flag of the ships of the Steel Bank.
The party decides to not pursue, and keeps going until they reach the center of the map.
Kuan-Xi calls Anto, who is rather shocked.
- "What are you doing here? What is here even doing here?" -Anto
Kuan-Xi explains that they have to free the World Gyre, but he is baffled that anyone would want to capture it. He can probably tell what they're doing with it, if they can get closer. Captain Nishin declares that she can get the ship as close as Anto needs to get, and, in fact, they can skirt fairly close to the edge without being sucked in.
- "Oh, that's clever, for evil people." -Anto
After observing the World Gyre and its anchor, Anto concludes: the Gyre sucks all the world in, a little bit, so it touches everywhere. Therefore, if you can pin it in one place, you can have your navy units go anywhere they need to go. Anywhere they want, including places that don't even have ocean. But while it's pinned to this world, the boats from the other worlds can't return.
Does Anto know what the Lijuan's art means? He agrees with everyone else's guess that Kuan-Xi can probably jump in and get home, or take the ship through. After breaking the ritual, they can probably take the Sea Fox back as well.
So.. are the islands real? Anto thinks they're shadows of other places. So... sort of.
The fortress isn't a recognizable architecture, but it has a Dragon Army flag flying over it.
- "If only we had Huan Ken!" -Master Zhou
The ships anchor offshore of the island, and make some plans. The mercenaries are willing to come, having been hired, but the Dragon Army translator is unhappy about directly fighting the Dragon Army, even on behalf of those who have rescued him. The group sets up some general gesture-based communication with the mercenaries to cover things like "get them" or "defend this person" and the like, and then people set off for the fortress.
As people head into the clearing, they begin to take arrow fire from the archers (green) in the trees. Deng charges them as others head onto the field. After people have made it into the clearing, the ambushers (red) decloak from their hiding places and go for Kuan-Xi first, but she rusts their swords.
Lijuan heads to the southwest, towards the fortress and spots another group forming a shield wall to block the exit, and she waves the mercenaries in that direction. Deng continues to dash around the map, chopping people, and Sei-Lin scouts from stealth, also finding the orange shield wall.
The enemies quickly find that it's too dangerous to attack Deng or Zhou because of their ripostes, and they focus on the less hard targets. Cai Wen stays busy keeping people healed with the Wand of Healing, and the enemies aren't able to make much headway.
When Deng runs by the orange wall, he finds that they have shticks in slowing him down, but he manages to get away by heading for a nearby archer, and then Sei Lin heads in for a backstab.
Next time: Into the Labyrinth! (Wolf will handle castling people with other party members next run).
Eventually, the foes are generally down, as are about half of the mercenaries and Deng and Zhou can carefully knock down the shield wall. The Dragon Army soldiers are all tied up (having been taken down non-lethally). They seem to have been well-prepped to go up against the party, from the shield wall to the ambushers to the fireproof armor.