Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Sacbe 6 (The Cetay)

Having found more food than they could carry, the travelers remained at the cliff house and over the next few weeks, consumed the maize recovered from the ruined city. Because of their high vantage point, they felt safe from marauders and did not leave the cliffs except to gather firewood and water. They cooked and ate maize cakes and rested in the coolness. One day, they were approached by a lone traveler, a pluma weaver by the name of Hueyi. He had little to say about himself except that he, too, came from a village threatened by drought and storm and famine. The travelers decided to trust him and to ask him to join their band. Although their reserve of maize was still more than they could carry, the stream was starting to fill with ashy sediment. It was time to move on.

They descended from the cliff house and returned to the sacbe that led to Nexal. The road rose to a high flat plain and they walked two whole days with little protection from the harsh sun. One day, they were attacked by two huge birds. Taller than a man, the birds did not fly, but ran across the hard-packed ground completely silent until the moment of attack when their screams tore the air. One leapt into the air and slashed at Zolin with its huge talons. The other charged through the middle of the party, swinging its axe-like beak from side-to-side, putting the porters and Divemoye to flight. Hueyi proved his worth. As the charging bird turned to make another charge, Hueyi shot an arrow into its back. Seeing the effectiveness of this tactic, Atl and Omachaka did the same. More arrows diverted the bird from its charge, and it chased after the porters. Zolin meanwhile, took a defensive position, ducking under his shield and swinging his weapon to keep the monstrous bird at bay. As the arrow-ridden bird caught up to the porters, Paal rushed to their defense and killed the bird with his maca. The other bird, seeing the death of its fellow, turned with a squawk and ran away.

Atl tended to the wounds of his compatriots while the others butchered and cooked the bird. There was meat for everyone and plenty left over. As they were finishing the meal, a group of people approached, waving their arms from a distance. Zolin waved them closer. There was some debate among the travelers regarding whether they should share the leftover bird meat with the strangers. But when the strangers revealed that they came from a nearby village, blessed with a deep cetay of cool, clean water, it became obvious that a mutually beneficial bargain was close at hand.

During the long walk to the nearby village, the villagers offered that the travelers should feel free to drink as much water as they could. There was something they should know first.

Something lived in the cetay. And it demanded sacrifices from those who wanted water. Sometimes jewelry or trinkets were enough. But it also liked meat. The villagers described a creature that sounded something like the crocodiles that lived in the saltwater marshes near Otoch. But it had hands like a man. And its breath caused the water to turn into snakes.

Desperate with thirst, the travelers decided that they would kill the monsters and then enjoy water without fear. Zolin still possessed the Shield of Friendship. Atl volunteered that he would suffer for Zolin if Zolin would go into the cetay to fight the monster. The travelers, even the porters agreed to do the same, as did four of the villagers. Atl prayed to the new and still barely-known god revealed to him by the old man at the pyramid and devised a special protection for Zolin should he be attacked by the water snakes. Hueyi prepared his bow, Omachaka his knives, and Divemoye his axe. 

 They went to the pool and surrounded it. Zolin slipped into the water with a small splash. As the water cleared, a dark shadow emerged at the bottom of the deep, clear pool. 

 It was smaller than Zolin had expected, but somehow more terrifying, resembling a dog as much as crocodile, and with long, grasping, and clawed hands. As it reached out to grab Zolin, the warrior pulled up his legs and dove with his knife. His strong blow barely pierced the monsters hide, but this seemed enough to provoke a furious counter attack. Its claw tore into the figures on Zolin’s shield and the poweful jaws gripped the rim. The villagers standing next to cetay bled profusely and fell to their knees. Omechoka and Divemoye leapt into the pool, stabbing and hacking the monster’s back. Zolin urged Hueyi to shoot the monster, declaring that he’d rather die by his friend’s misfired arrow than be eaten. As the water began to turn red with the monster’s blood, it turned quickly and lashed at Zolin with its tail. Bleeding welts appeared on the faces and chests of Atl and Hueyi. The monster dove, leaving behind the rumored water snakes—these were literally snakes formed from the water. When Hueyi lashed at one with his knife, the blade passed through its body and he was sucked into the pool. The other water snakes attacked Zolin but were repelled by the divine protection requested by Atl. Atl called for more protection and dispelled the water snake that was wrapped around Hueyi. As Hueyi climbed out of the water, Paal and the four villagers dived in. They grabbed the monster by the tail as Zolin grabbed one of its forearms. Suddenly the monster turned and slashed at Zolin who cast his shield aside, knowing his friends were already severely wounded. As the monster stretched its jaws, Zolin thrust his knife into its throat, stabbing it as the jaws closed in on his arm. The monster thrashed and thrashed and then the water was still. Zolin’s shield floated up to the surface, followed by the heroic slayers of the Ahuitzotl.

They travelers cooked and ate the monster. They retrieved the gold, turquoise, and jade from the bottom of the pool. And they drank lots of water.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Tales From Dar E Lan 3: The Blue Lady Society (Over the Waves Interlude 3)

One day, Bayan and Hyamsam were sharing a tavern meal when they overheard an intriguing conversation at another table. Rather than a conversation, one man, whose name they later learned was Dilawar was holding forth on the powers and mysteries of “her,” allowing himself to be interrupted only by offers of more food and drink. When Hyamsam and Bayan approached the table, Dilawar was immediately welcoming and pronounced that both of them looked like they were “ready.” He introduced them to his half-dozen dining companions, including Lena, a soft-spoken, alert-eyed young woman, and Weeno, an older woman wearing a ragged sari and an abundance of gold bracelets. Dilawar invited Bayan and Hyamsam to a party that night—“at our special house by the lakeside.”

The party took place outside the city, at a pavilion next to a beautiful lake surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs. There was a ruined mansion on top of the cliffs. Despite the setting, Bayan and Hyamsam found the party strange. Other guests asked not subtle questions about the “Blue Lady, who just wants everyone to be happy and enjoy themselves and each other.” Hyamsam tried to explore the mansion on the cliffs—he was dissuaded by the revelers.

The next day, Bayan and Hyamsam were contacted by Jaral, Lena’s elderly father. He was worried about his daughter. Rumors about Hyamsam’s bad behavior at the lakeside party had made him hopeful that he had found someone who could give him useful information about the strange group that had ensnared his daughter’s attention.

Bayan and Hyamsam had little in the way of information, but they agreed to go to investigate at the lakeside. Accompanied by Bo Jing and two of Kafka’s sohei (Minh and Mai-Thi) they ventured forth.

The mansion itself was only a shell, but among its ruins, the explores found a staircase leading into a cave complex. They explored natural limestone tunnels and finished rooms filled with damp, moldering furniture. Murals of undersea life decorated the walls—and beautiful, smiling Blue Lady featured prominently. The explorers also had the strange feeling they were being watched. Hyamsam clearly saw a figure peering down from a ledge. When he climbed up to see what it was, he found only a pool of water. They found that the tunnels connected to the lakeside pavilion where they’d attended the party. They also found Dilawar, Lena, and Weeno, and some other members of the Blue Lady Society.

The Blue Lady devotees were hiding in a locked door that Hyamsam had to break down with magic. Dilawar showed only mild outrage and Weeno began weeping with relief. Bayan asked for an explanation.

Dilawar struggled to assume his usual tone of self-assured authority and mumbled something about “Close-minded people who intrude upon the gathering of those who are steeped in the mysteries.”

As Bayan pushed her inquiry, Weeno began shrieking, and pointed at Bo Jing’s waterskin. It quivered, lurched, and exploded as a spiny fish-headed monster burst forth. Bo Jing’s blade flashed like lightning and cut it in two. Weeno collapsed at Bo Jing’s feet and clung to his knees, wailing.

Bayan accused Dilawar of using magic against them, but Dilwar promised to have no control. “What a horrible manifestation of bigotry.”

After some negotiation (Weeno promised 500 gold coins and to stop crying), the explorers agreed to escort all of the Blue Lady society members back to the city. On the walk back, Dilawar and Lena spoke in whispered tones and gave dirty looks to anyone who tried to join their conversation. Weeno broke her promise and cried whenever Bo Jing, tried to pull his arm free of her grasp. The fourth member of the Blue Lady group, a sullen young man in blue clothes, stayed aloof from everyone and slunk away as they reached civilization.

Lena agreed, with a display of exasperation to let Bo Jing and Hyamsam bring her back to her father’s house. When they arrived, the servants were at first happy to see Lena, but then unhappy to see that Jaral wasn’t with her.

“He went to that place at the lake so he could look for you—we tried to stop him but he wouldn’t listen!”

Bayan insisted that they should rest briefly, but return to the lake that night. Bo Jing and Hyamsam agreed. Lena was anxious to go with them and the party agreed that the benefit of her knowledge outweighed the risk that she might betray them to other members of the society.

Although the gates of Dar E Lan were closed, Lena knew a secret way out of the city, and the quickest path back to the lake. Relying on Bayan’s maps, they swept through the tunnels they’d explored earlier, with Lena calling out for her father. A man’s voice answered them, but he turned out to be another member of the Blue Lady Society. Terrified, he ran from them, and stumbled down a slope to knock himself unconscious. They decided to carry him outside where he would be least likely to hurt them or himself. Lena knew him only slightly, since the entire Blue Lady Society met rarely and only at night so that they could overthrow their inhibitions without fear of being interrupted by nosy closed-minded people.

Interesting. But there was a nosy close-minded person who needed their help and Lena was eager to continue looking for her father. When the group reached the ceremonial room, Lena was dismayed to see that someone had defaced the murals of the Blue Lady, replacing the smiling beautiful nude woman with a fearsome fish-headed monster. Bayan and Hyamsam noted that the painting of the fish-head monster actually looked far older than that of her benign counterpart and that the “defacement” could better be described as a restoration.

As the rescuers continued their search, it became clear that Lena had seen little of the caverns firsthand. Bayan’s careful mapping helped them locate a narrow passage, steeply downward sloping. A trickle of water ran down the middle of it and as the trickle reached a large pool at a low point in the passage, the party prepared to meet one of the strange monsters that had burst from Bo Jing’s waterskin. Sure enough, it leaped out of the shallow pool, claws pointed at Mai-Thi. Bo Jing leapt in front of her, drawing his blade. The tentacles surrounding the monster’s mouth lashed Bo Jing’s eyes, but he fought through the pain and cut it down.

The party pressed onwards until they found a locked door. With a shout, Bo Jing charged at it and threw his body into it. It gave way enough for Hyamsam to pry it open with his staff. Lena’s father rushed out swinging his cane and screaming, “The water is evil!” Lena calmed him down, and they had a tearful reunion, artfully mixing plaintive apologies and half-veiled recriminations. “I’m sorry that I never felt worthy to be your daughter!” “I’m sorry that I never earned your trust!” They were interrupted by Hyamsam who pointed out that a ruder interruption, in the form of three of the fish-headed monster, was on its way.

Hyamsam stood by Lena and her father while the warriors, including Minh and Mai-Thi fought and killed the monsters.

During the long walk home, Lena told her father everything she knew about the Blue Lady Society and in so doing, came to the realization was Dilawar was a manipulative, perverted, and cowardly piece-of-shit.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tales from Dar E Lan: The Lost Silver Mine (Over the Waves Interlude 2)

The slayers of the earthquake beetle shared news of their success, and were summoned by officials in Dar Elan to provide proof. Bo Jing had collected the mandibles and other samples, which were received with great interest. A sage offered payment for the samples, most of which Bo Jing was willing to part with. He kept one of the mandibles, and asked a grateful weaponsmith to fashion it into a weapon.

Bo Jing wanted to send his reward money, including the silver coins collected from the beetle’s lair back to his parents in Khanbaliq. Compared to the price of sending a ship through the Imperial blockade or hiring a caravan for the months-long trip over desert, mountains, and jungle, his treasure was paltry, and Bo Jing did not find a willing courier for a price he could afford. News of his filial loyalty enhanced the story of his courage against the earthquake beetle, reaching the ears of a wealthy merchant who invited Bo Jing and his friends to dine at his house. The merchant, named Daye, was the son of ex-patriates from Zhou Dang, and, it seemed, distantly related to Bo Jing. During more peaceful times, he regularly traded with his relatives in Tian Jing [check]. He suggested a way that Bo Jing could bring much honor to the family.

The family had rights to a silver mine not far from Dar E Lan. The mine had been abandoned after being overrun by monsters. That was a generation ago and those had claimed to be eye-witnesses were dead.

Daye acknowledged that he did not know the true story. He hoped that it was a tall tale spread by the family to discourage claim jumpers. It was possible that the mine had deserted because the silver ore had been exhausted. Or, perhaps the stories about monsters was true! Regardless, if Bo Jing resolved the mystery, he would be doing the family a great service.

Batzorig and Shoji asked to join the adventure. Sang and Han Bee also agreed to assist.

Daye’s servants showed Bo Jing and his friends the way to the mine cutting a path through the jungle in the foothills above Dar E Lan. Once the dark hole of the mine came in view, the servants returned to the city and the explorers were to left to rely on their courage.

There was a clearing in front of the mine, and several heaps of depleted ore. Among these piles, they found bones and the half-eaten carcass of a recently killed animals.

The heroes lit a lantern and ventured into the mine. A wide, well-worked passage led straight into the hillside, sloping steeply downwards and with evenly-spaced side passages. The party quickly explored these side passage, found that they terminated in dead ends and continued their way down. As the passage leveled off, the floor suddenly gave out beneath them. Sang fell into a deep chasm that had been covered by a sheet of canvas strewn with gravel. Shoji called out to him. He was hurt, but alive. The explorers had no rope, and Shoji encouraged Sang to climb out, if he could. Sang picked out a climbing route and began his re-ascent, encouraged by his companions. They never saw him alive again. They heard him fall again and then silence.

Batzorig, a fearless climber offered to climb down into the pit and see if Sang was still alive. About halfway down, he lost his purchase on the slick walls of the chasm and also fell to his death. The survivors decided to leave the mine.

Back in the clearing, Bo Jing, Shoji, and Han Bee silently cooked a small, quiet supper. It was too dark to return to the city, They thought they should retrieve the bodies of their friends, but weren’t sure how. A unexpected guest joined them, a capricious, self-style magician of the jungle who, besides the other powers he boasted of, possessed a large of quantity of rope. He also knew that the mine was hope home to monsters, though he refused to describe them. “In the morning, we will all see them for ourselves.”

The next morning, the reformed band of explorers entered the mine. When they reached the chasm, the magician (who had refused to reveal his name) climbed down into the pit with an easy nimbleness that made him resemble a spider. Within seconds, he called down from the bottom of the pit that the friends were there, and as expected, dead. Bo Jing and Shoji threw down the ends of two ropes. The magician tied them round the bodies.

As Bo Jing, Shoji, and Han Bee were beginning to hall up the ropes, they were surprised by a ten-foot tall, two-headed woman who was swinging two spiked clubs as she leapt over the chasm into their midst. One club sent Han Bee sprawling. The other club pounded so hard against the wall that small rocks fell from the ceiling. Shoji attended to Han Bee and Bo Jing drew his sword to fight the monster. Bo Jing’s skill and courage was no match for the monster’s brute strength and blind rage. Although he spilled much blood, he surely would have been battered to a pulp if the unnamed magician had not emerged from the pit to shoot blue and green glowing bolts of energy into the monsters back. When the monster turned to fight the new attacker, the magician hid in the pit. Bo Jing rallied. Climbing onto a fallen boulder, Bo Jing sprang at the monster and cut off one of its heads. Shoji too joined the battle. The monster struck Shoji full in the chest with its club. Shoji tumbled backwards to absorb the blow, and then sprang at the monster’s knees, knocking her off balance so that she tumbled into the pit.

The friends worked together to pull their friends out of the pit and bore their bodies back to Dar E Lan. Daye gravely congratulated them on having confirmed that the old tales were true.

A few days later, the explorers returned to the mine, this time accompanied by Bangqiu. Bangqiu, with his knowledge of powerful magic, transformed himself into an owl and led the way into the mine.  When the party reached the chasm, Bangqiu flew down into it and investigated the body of the dead giantess.  He discovered a jeweled necklace and pulled it off of her. He flew back up to the top and returned to human form to pocket the necklace.

The party proceeded down the mine, Bangqiu still leading the way, now wearing his invisibility cloak. In time, the tunnel opened into a large, smoky cavern. A larger, male, two-headed giant was there and he attacked them immediately.  Bangqiu dashed for a corner and threw a fireball at the giant's chest.  The giant chased him, running into Bo Jing's flashing blade.  Han Bee lit an arrow from the giant's firepit and shot it at his face.  Shoji chanted a blessing, calling on the force of good to help them defeat this evil aberration.

With its clothes on fire, the giant, howled and ran wildly. Bangqiu threw flashing stars of fire at its face, giving Bo Jing an opening to slash across its abdomen. Han Bee dropped her bow and joined the attack. The howling giant dropped one of its clubs and caught her by the hair. With a quick twist, he broke her neck and dropped her body to the ground.  Shoji rushed to her body, but there was clearly nothing to be done. Bang Qiu levitated into the smoky darkness of the the heights of the cavern.  Bo Jing didn't flinch, but attacked with renewed courage, determined to avenge his fallen companion or die trying. Thoguh battered by the giant's club, he stayed on his feet, andcalled on his ki power to release storm and blinding cutting strokes. Shoji's kicks to the giant's back were a valuable distraction and a blast of magic missiles from Bangqiu finally felled the terrible monster.

The survivors lit torches and surveyed the cavern. Bangqiu discovered a thick vein of silver ore. Knowing what to look for, Bo Jing found another. And then another. After satisfying himself that they had reached the bottom of the mine, Bangqiu ordered his friends to stand guard while he studied his magical books. The mine was eerily silent, but for the occasional gust of wind from outside carrying the sound of birdsongs. After several hours of this, Bangqiu himself took upon the form of a bird and flew out of the cavern.

More hours passed. Bo Jing slept and Shoji meditated. Finally, Bangqiu returned. With mining tools. Much to Bo Jing's annoyance, Bang Qiu began to mine the silver from the family mine. Hours of hard work accompanied by insults, recriminations, and threats, generated enough silver ore to pay for the pick an shovel that Bangqiu had bought in Dar E Lan. Fianlly Shoji intervened, advising Bang Qiu and Bo Jing that if thier argument turned violent, he would not offer healing or other assitance to either one of them. At last Bangqiu agreed to leave the mine and go back to Dar E Lan. Bo Jing and Shoji carried the body of Han Bee. Bangqiu carried his tool and the sack of ore.

Daye congratulated Bo Jing on his success and promised that as soon as the shipping lanes were sent, he would send news-- and a generous sample-- to Bo Jing's family in Zhou Dang.

Kafka's congratulations were less ebullient, burdened as they were with his questions, "How did Han Bee die? And why?"

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tales from Dar E Lan: The Earthquake Beetle (Over the Waves Interlude 1)

Bangqiu’s ship arrived in Dar E Lan, and as he went about the business of getting paid and compensating the local monastery for a surprise visit of foreign sohei, his associates found other ways to keep themselves occupied. A trader who had just returned from peddling his wares in the remote villages told the harrowing story of how he’d lost his mule. He was coming down the mountain on his way back to Dar E Lan when he was overcome by fatigue and decided to take a short nap. When he awakened, his mule was nowhere to be found, though its tracks were easy enough to follow. The tracks led into a marshy area at the bottom of the valley and across it to a cave at the base of the cliff. Inside the cave, he found the half-eaten body of his mule. Even more horrifying, the walls of the caves were lined with what looked like over-sized insect eggs. The trader confessed that he had fled in panic and hoped that braver people would solve this mystery.

Bo Jing, Bayan, and Shoji agreed that this was their quest. Two of Kafka’s most promising students (Sang and Han Bee) asked to join them, offering themselves as bodyguards for wise Shoji and spiritual advisors for the courageous Bo Jing. The party and their new henchmen set off the next morning very early, and followed the valley trail up into the hills above the monastery. The first day of travel was peaceful and they spent the night at a half-ruined tower, in the company of a small garrison of monks of the Two-Fold Path.

The next day, the party continued on their way, following directions from the trader and from the monks—who had sheltered the trader hours after he fled from the cave. As their path brought them higher and higher into the mountains and they lost sight of the valley, they realized they had missed a landmark and retraced their steps. It was late afternoon when they re-entered the marshy valley, wandering somewhat aimlessly, looking for signs of – a giant insect?

These signs took the form of tremors in the ground so violent that Sang and Han Bee were knocked off their feet. A flash in the sky of luminescent blue-green caught Shoji’s eye moments before an enormous beetle dropped down on Sang, slashing at him with its machete-like mandibles. As Shoji pulled his bodyguard to safety, Bo Jing shot two arrows into the beetle’s abdomen and then charged with his sword. Bayan drew her own sword and attacked the beetle from the opposite flank. The beetle, though wounded continued its pursuit of Sang, now slashing at his legs. Shoji kicked the beetle in the head, and Sang slashed at it with his own weapon. As the beetle turned, Bo Jing jumped on top of it and drove his blade into a seam in its carapace. Bayan repeatedly slashed its underside until it collapsed and flipped over dead.

After Bo Jing collected a few “samples” (the mandibles, some glowing blue-green beetle “juice”), the party set about finding the cave. After locating the place from which the tremors had originated and Shoji had seen the beetle spring into the air, the party was able to find their way to the “cave”, a noisome hole at the base of chalky cliffs, lined with sticky blue-green goo. As the party made their way into the cave, they were attacked by smaller beetles. These were easily killed and the party soon found themselves in the egg chamber. As the trader had said, the walls were completely covered with oily blue-green membrane sacs, each about the size of a person’s head. The floor was littered with bones and scarps of metal, some silver. After collecting the valuables, the party threw down their torches, and with a flask of lamp oil, started a fire.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Over The Waves Part 2 (Running the Straits)

The good Bīnggōngchǎng sailed out of Tianjing on a fine spring morning under a clear sky and steady winds. Captain Huan showed himself to be a foul storm. When strode the decks with a whip in hand, and his trembling crew heard every order as a mortal threat. The crew’s provisions consisted of scant rice, flavored with rotten fish. They drank water mixed with vinegary wine. Despite his treatment of the crew, he was always deferential to Bangqiu and the other passengers and blamed his crew for any problems caused by the non-sailors. Bayan and Shoji noted the Captain’s conduct as unnecessarily strict but did not intervene, instead opting to stay in their cabins. Bangqiu had provided good rations for his friends, including Kafka’s sohei and despite the small space, the two groups lived side-by-side while barely acknowledging each other.

A week passed and, after leaving the Zhounese coastal waters for the open sea, the ship was allowed to drift for a day so that the canons could be tested. Kafka’s sohei had received minmal instruction on how to load and fire the strange devices but through trial-and-error became quite competent. They retrieved coconuts, rocks, and flotsam from a small coral island, and practiced with these items to avoid wasting ammunition, using the island as their target. After hitting it several times successfully, the sohei, switched to iron balls and fired on the island until they had blasted it into two tiny islets. Captain Huan ordered his crew to watch this demonstration and it also proved to the passengers—except for Dai Duo and Pao Tiānkōng who practiced a strange martial art on the foredeck.  The blindfolded Pao, was struck again and again while Dai Duo shouted cheerful encouragement.

A few days later, sailing south-by-southwest, the Bīnggōngchǎng entered the contested waters of the straits of Malaca. They saw no ships the first day, no the second. This was a slight surprise as they had been warned that the navies of both Empires patrolled the waters. A merchant or other neutral ship such as the Bīnggōngchǎng would be treated as an enemy by either side.

Bo Jing kept a careful watch from the top of the tallest magic. Bangqiu, by his magic, was perched on raft of air another 100 feet higher. On the third day, as the Bīnggōngchǎng was entering an especially narrow passage between two long, jungle-covered barrier islands, Bang Qiu spotted another ship behind them and relayed this to Bo Jing who climbed down to report it to the Captain on the rear deck. The distance between the two ships was narrowing quickly and by the time Bo Jing reached Huan all on board could see the other ship. Captain Huan, inspecting it through a telescope, noted that it did not bear the markings of either Empire and did not even resemble a military. No danger. Dai Duo disagreed, “That’s Noh-Moon. The most ruthless pirate in the known seas.”

Bo Jing sided with Dai Duo and ordered Captain Huan to change his course, skirting the barrier islands in favor of the open sea and turning the Bīnggōngchǎng to port to maximize use of the canons.

As the other ship came closer, it became clear that Dai Duo was right. Though know bigger than the Bīnggōngchǎng, it held 3 times as many men, all of them armed. As it drew to within 500 yards, it also turned to port, giving its dozens of archers the opportunity to fire directly on the Bīnggōngchǎng. But the canons fired first. All five of Bīnggōngchǎng’s port canons. Perhaps they fired too soon. Most did of the shot did not reach the enemy ship. The one that did landed on the middle of deck, seemingly causing little damage. Still as the pirates moved toward the rear of the ship, Bangqiu, from his aerial perch blasted the rear decks with a massive ball of magical fire.

The pirate archers were unflappable professionals. They took careful aim at the sohei cannoneers and sent many of them below decks with grievous wounds. Those cannoneers who escaped unscathed fired another round of canon fire—only three rounds this time, but one of the cannon balls cracked a mast. Bo Jing order the Bīnggōngchǎng turned to starboard and to sail southeast.

The pirate ship pursued but in its damaged state could not catch them. As the Bīnggōngchǎng cleared the barrier islands, now several miles to the west, they saw another larger ship lying in wait for them or any other ship that had followed the narrow course. This ship flew the private banner of Noh-Moon. It did not pursue.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Over The Waves Part 1 (Preparations)

Bangqiu had decided to set sail from Tianjing, the closest port to Khanbaliq and the home port of the Zhou Dang Imperial Navy. Besides the on-going war efforts, there were shipbuilders who worked for merchants and other private concerns. Beatriss and Tetsukichi had declined to leave their families to explore unknown seas and continents, but Betriss's protege Bayan was for up for the adventure. She assisted Bangqiu in finding a shipbuilder and a captain. The shipbuilder demanded a high price, but Bangqiu had collected much wealth over his adventures. With the help of a broker, Bangqiu traded Sakatha's crown for a promise to construct the ship over 6 months, built sturdy and fast, along the lines of a war junk, except that, by Imperial decree it would not be permitted to carry cannons.

As Captain, Bangqiu hired Huan, a seasoned sailor, who did not balk at the strange voyage Bangqiu proposed, but merely quoted his price, while asserting that he was the best captain and navigator alive. Again, Bangqiu parted with a large share of his treasure hoard, turning over to Huan enough money to pay for the first half of what he estimated to be a year-long voyage.

While the ship was being constructed, Bangqiu traveled to Pasar to say farewell to his parents. While there, he became acquainted with Bo Jing, Batzorig, and Pasar, and paid for them to travel with an Imperial Caravan to Khanbaliq so that they could join him in Tianjing for the voyage.

As the ship was nearing completion, Bangqiu was introduced to an intriguing pair of monks seeeking passage to Dar E Lan, a distant city, reached only through dangerous waters contested by the rival Zhou empires.  Dai Duo, was an itinerant holy man, advanced in years, who neverthless showed a confidence in rough and seeedy sailor's taven that suggest great power, probably of an supernatural source.  Pao Tiānkōng was his young companion, a farmer's son who bragged of his own experience as a sailor (on a lake) when Bangqiu quoted a high price for passage.

Dai Duo, agreed to the price but said they couldn't pay it until they reached Dar E Lan. Bangqiu was willing to accept this arrangement, especially because Dai Duo offered to help Bangqiu equip his ship with canons. Bangqiu would have to provide the money but Dai Duo knew how to evade the Imperial embargo. And again, Bangqiu would get the money back once he brought Dai Duo and Pao to Dar E Lan.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Hidden Serpent (Seven Zhounese Brothers Epilogue)

After resting in the statue room a while longer, the party continued to explore the underground labyrinth and in time found themselves in the open air, on the backside of the hill.  Thinking that they might find Bunko waiting for them, Bangqiu lurked behind the rest of the party waiting for the right moment to reveal himself. Sure enough, Bunko did appear, and Bangqiu revealed himself by transfixing Bunko in place before he could even begin asking people to be his good friend.

Bunko could not have been surprised to find yet another group of friends turn on him. Despite some sadistic brainstorming, they did not kill him or harm him, but merely strip-looted him. Bangqiu claimed a plan gold ring and put it on his own finger. Everyone agreed that it really suited him. It was almost uncanny the way it made everything about him seem more interesting, charming, and handsome. Bo Jing got a big bag of gold. Batzorig, the barbarian, destroyed a potion.

The rescuers did return to the hideout once more and found two of the "Zhounese Brothers" who had been held captive for some time, and were surprisingly improved by the experience-- or at least more lucid. The party found them locked in a jail cell, laughing bitterly at the many times they'd been ill-used by their "good friend." On the way back to town, they shared the story of how they'd met Bunko-- and each other! They were neither Zhounese nor brothers.

Clearly, it was about time to leave Pasar. Although Bunko had seemingly been deprived of his power, he might use anything he had left to exact his revenge. Bangqiu was eager to see if his ship was ready and the Imperial caravan was ready to head north.

NOTE: The "Black Flowers hideout" is QUAZKYTON, the B1-inspired of stronghold Zeglin and Rogar from the Hidden Serpent by Faster Monkey. Bruce Lynch writes a decent summary  though I think he's a little stingy with his praise. It hits the right balance between plot and sandbox. It provides a steady backbeat for a creative DM to improvise over.  For instance, although written for a standard fantasy setting, I had no problem running it in my Oriental Adventures campaign, using my own town as a home base.  The Bunko/Seven Zhounese Brothers plot-line was also my own, and it fit nicely with the rightfully classic hooks of "rescue prisoners/find a treasure" supplied by the module as written.   The relatively small size is much appreciated.  The upper level "makes sense" as a bad guy hideout and the lower levels brings some funhouse elements without taking it too far.  But enough, it's available free so see for yourself . .