Sunday, August 21, 2016

Raiding the Dragon People's Lair

After passing through a deserted guard post, Al-Fitar, leading the way, opened the door into a

large dark room. Suddenly, a light was cast onto Al-Fitar’s face. Instinctively, he raised his

sword, deflecting several arrows. And then the dragon people charged to attack.

Bangqiu raised the hood on his invisibility cloak and moved around the edge of the room.

Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, and Kafka held a defensive line so that Mustapha could cast spells and Perin

could shoot arrows. Their enemies comprised about twenty dragon people—typically reckless

in their fearsome and little danger to seasoned veterans. But they were commanded by four

humans, including a spellcaster, plus a Lizard Lord like the one who had attacked Beatriss’s

fortress. After evading the minions, Bangqiu blasted their commanders with a cloud of scalding

steam. The spellcaster and one of the warriors fell, but the others raced to attack Bangqiu.

Kafka charged to intercept them.

The dragon people, sustaining heavy casualties and dismayed by the surprise attack on their

leaders, faltered in their attack. Tetsukichi and Al-Fitar pressed their advantage. Perin made a

springing leap over the dragon people to attack their commanders.

His surprise attack came in the nick of time. The two human warriors and the Lizard Lord

fighting Bangqiu and Kafka wielded magic weapons. In particular the Lizard Lord’s sword cut

through Kafka’s armor and seemed to freeze Kafka’s blood when it pierced his skin. Bangqiu

fought to protect his friend, but his sword having little opportunity to cast spells. But Perin’s

ambush gave him that time—magical glowing arrows burst from his hand. One of the

commanders was sent reeling and when he recovered, ran from the room. A blast of colored

light from Mustapha blinded the dragon people, giving Tetsukichi and Al-Fitar an opportunity to

join the fight against their commanders. The Dragon Lord was slain and the last of the human

commanders was put to flight. Bangqiu wanted to give chase, but his companions

objected—too many had suffered wounds too grievous. Kafka claimed the Lizard Lord’s sword

and the party returned to the upper level and the relative safety of the dragon’s lair.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A black dragon and its secret lair

In the ensuing weeks, Beatriss and her friends heard news that the attack on Happy Valley was likely part of a larger campaign of terror emanating from an emerging swampland in the region west of Menkan, and that was becoming a catastrophe for the Sansar clan whose grazing grounds bordered the swamp. When the Lizardmen attacked, they didn’t steal horses or goats—they carried off the people. Sansar Anca sent an emissary, Perin, to request the help of his adopted son and daughter.

Tetsukichi, Beatriss, and Bangqiu, together with their henchman, ventured to the southwest corner of the empire to aid the Sansar clan. Perin, who had been spying on their enemies for several months, had located the base for the dragon people, the lizard men, and their allies—a temple built eons ago by Sakatha, the lizardman king.

They passed through a swamp that became increasingly thick and mucky as they neared their goal. One night, the party camped on a narrow hammock, Beatriss was keeping watch. Weary from scanning her immediate surroundings, thick with small life forms—frogs, snakes, overgrown insects— that overwhelmed her heat vision, that Beatriss rocked back and looked up into the clear sky. She rubbed her eyes—sometimes heat vision plays tricks—and confirmed that that there really was something in the sky, circling—maybe an owl?

Beatriss woke up the others. The flying creature began descending rapidly, narrowing its path to center on the party. It was much too large to be an owl, it could only be a dragon. Mustapha summoned a cloud of fog to obscure their position. The thick mists also obscured their view of the dragon, but they heard it land a few hundred yards away. They separated into two groups, both making a dash away from their campsite. Beatriss, with her infravision saw a stream of swamp creatures fleeing. Bangqiu, under the cover of his invisibility cloak, stood in the path and prepared his most powerful spell. His friends moved to either side.

Besides the noise of fleeing animals, the sounds of tree trunks cracking told them the dragon was rapidly drawing near. Bangqiu saw its shadow and then moments later its enormous head and darkly glowing eyes. He blasted the beast in the face with a cloud of stream—and the dragon immediately answered with a thick spray of acid. Bangqiu, reeling with the burning pain threw himself into the mud as his companions closed around the dragon. Beatriss slashed it grievously with her sword. It flapped its wings and began to rise from the ground. Al-Fitar and Tetsukichi had their bows ready—arrows tore through one of the dragon’s wings before it could raise above the treetops. Plummeting back to the ground, it turned its claws out and landed on Naron, pinning him to the ground. With his one free arm, Naron found his dagger and plunged it into the dragon’s neck. Steaming black gore poured from the wound and the dragon collapsed. Ju-Mei tended the wounds of Bangqiu and Naron and settled them into a deep, restful sleep. The rest of the party kept a nervous, exhausted watch, too shaken by what they had experienced to sleep.

The next morning, Bangqiu awakened early, feeling much refreshed. Despite the shock of being blasted with acidic dragon spittle, and the gruesome look of the burns all over his body, he felt strong and hale, eager to press on. Naron on the other hand, had twisted his ankle. A day of rest for him seemed more advantageous than a day of extremely slow and painful travel, especially if they should find the temple so well-fortified as to force a retreat. Beatriss and Ju-Mei stayed with him while the others—Perin, their guide, plus Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, and Mustapha, Bangqiu and Kafka would scout ahead. Before setting out, Kafka, remembering his master speak of such things, collected some of the dragon’s blood. Bangqiu, assisting him, discovered that the dragon carried a smooth disk of obsidian in its mouth. All considered this a fortuitous omen.

Indeed, after an hour of travel with Perin, the group spotted the temple, rising above the surrounding morass on a high mound of packed earth. They heard noises inside—loud and reptilian—and decided to press forward. The party charged up the steps with Banqiu, camouflaged by his magic cloak, leading the way. About a dozen half-human, half-dragon monsters were camped in a large, columned hall. When they brandished their weapons, Bangqiu released a cloud of steam. Then the young magician fell back while Tetsukichi and Al-Fitar charged forward to fight the few survivors.

Once the battle was over, the party explored. The back wall proved to be a curtain of shells. The party pushed through it and found themselves in another large room, dominated by three round pools of scummy water. Two of the walls were decorated with frescoes of humans and lizard folk engaged in battle. The back wall had been sculpted in bas-relief to depict a leering demon. As they took in these fearsome sights, the pools began bubbling.

Wanting the support of Beatriss and her associates, the expedition party retreated to the swamp. When the full party was re-united, they discussed their next plan of action. They decided that rather than camp another night in the swamp they should move to the temple. Once there, Mustapha and Ju-may became strangely animated; rather than simply casting spells when directed, they participated actively in the discussion as Beatriss, Tetsukichi, and Bangqiu discussed what to do next. Bangqiu suggested that the black gem from the dragon’s mouth might be a type of key and that they should insert it in the carved mouth of the demon’s mouth. Sure enough, a previously secret (and very large) door swung open, revealing what must have been the dragon’s lair—and its hoard. Besides the piles of coins (mainly silver), and jewelry, the party noted several weapons of fine workmanship and likely magical powers. Ju-May, looking behind him, noted that the bubbling water was forming into snake like creatures.

Bangiqu, calling on his elemental power over water, flung the water creature out of its pool. It splashed onto the floor as plain water. Bangqiu and Ju-May measured the depth of the pool with long sticks and finding it shallow enough to allow wading, entered. Continuing to prod the bottom, they found a number of heavy, but movable objects. These proved to be bars of silver stamped with the imperial seal. Lacking the magical energy to deal with the other water snakes, Bangqiu urged his companions to join him in seeking refuge in the dragon’s cave. After confirming that the door could be opened from the inside, the entire party pushed inside. They searched it carefully, found there were no other exits and decided to rest for the night and then decide how to proceed.

While his companions slept, Ju May meditated. After several hours, his meditation was disturbed by the sound of voice in the chamber outside the dragon’s lair. Ju May roused the others and they all listened breathlessly to the boisterous conversation of a dozen or more creatures, with loud reptilian voices. The party prepared to fight and Bangqiu, translated what the creatures were saying. They returning from a successful raid on the human lands, they had enjoyed several nights in the swamp, but now they were looking forward to relaxing by the river below. The party heard the sound of a stone door being opened, and of the gregarious creatures passing out of the room one-by- one. The party surmised that there was a hidden entrance, probably a trapdoor in the floor right outside their hiding place. The party heard the sounds of the bubbling pools and heard the reptilian creatures joking with each other and taunting the weird snakes that formed from the water of the pools. One of the last of the creatures idly stuck its green scaled finger into the dragon lair “keyhole” while idly wondering how to get at the treasure inside. Beatriss discouraged Bangqiu from cutting off the finger. The finger was retracted, the voice grew faint, there was the sound of stone grinding against stone, and then the only sound was the thrashing of the weird pools.

After waiting a few minutes, Bangqiu opened the door and blasted the two pools he hadn’t blasted the night before. Again, the water weirds were flung from each pool on a sizeable wave only to splash apart on the floor. More silver bars were retrieved. Meanwhile, Tetsukichi located the trap door.

Beatriss, who seemed to have contracted some type of fever during her trip through the swamp, wanted to rest in the dragon’s cave. Naron and Jumay insisted that they would stay with her.

But the others went down the ladder . . .

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Beatriss settles into her new fortress

Beatriss left her son with the Emperor and with her other children, moved into her newly-completed fortress in the Happy Valley.  Friends new and old gathered around her, pledging to help protect her idyllic dominion.  These included Naron and Ju-Mei, Bangqiu and Kafka.  Bahen—their unexpected ally in defeating Red Nar’s band—arrived with a company of 20 riders and began organizing the people of Happy Valley, selecting and arming a garrison of 100 foot soldiers.  The Emperor sent a bodyguard of 20 monks.  Tetsukichi settled in with his family and henchman.  Prince Slash and Sir Crowler were welcomed as guests and soon proved themselves valuable companions.

One day Prince Slash was leading a company of foot soldiers in a patrol on far side of the western ridge.  Spotting smoke above the treetops, they went closer and found a large company of dragon people, led by a huge reptilian-headed monster.  Prince Slash raced back to the fortress to raise the alarm and the dragon people followed in close pursuit.

The people of Happy Valley took refuge inside the fortress but the dragon people followed close behind and the gates could not be closed.  Beatriss, Tetsukichi, Naron, and Bahen drove them back and pursued them into the field in front of the fortress.  The Lizard Lord and his toughest soldiers met them in battle, knocking Beatriss from her horse and scattering her bodyguard.  Naron’s soldiers threw down their spears and ran for the forest.  Tetsukichi and Bahen were also defeated.  The giant lizardman charged into the fortress, his minions coming after him. 

Inside the fortress, the defenders had organized.  Bangqiu used his magic to break the dragon people’s charge.  Al-Fitar led a countercharge.  Many people of the dragon people retreated and suddenly the Lizard Lord and his company were greatly outnumbered.  Kafka and Bayan surrounded them and slowly exhausted them.  The Happy Valley soldiers rallied and finally killed the Lizard Lord; the dragon people were routed.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

After Garan Fest: Garan’s Tomb

Amidst the revelry at the conclusion of Garan Fest-- in between questions to Vlad from well-wishers and hangers-on about how it felt to be the new champion and what it was going to do next—Vlad gathered his companions around him to discuss: what are we going to do next?

Among various competing priorities (Circe and Mark had heard about a wizard who was looking for students, Sir Henry feared that something was amiss in the land of Whitkey, the druids had called Chrono to seek his help in finding that special-prophecy boy Valu) the scent of low-hanging gold pieces beckoned.  Garan’s tomb looked like it could be broken into and according to the tanner’s book, Garan had been buried with his treasure.

So as the party continued, the adventurers pushed aside their ale mugs to cleared their minds (or perhaps drowned any rational fears with a last drought of liquid courage) and set off into the night. 

They hiked back to the tomb under torchlight, singing and arguing to distract each other from the weird shadows in the canyon.  Mark the Magicuser read the magic runes above the tomb: “Mother Night Welcomes Garan Lord of Battle and Conquest.”  Again, not exactly “Good words, honorable deeds.”

Vlad expressed some misgivings about the mantle draped round his shoulders, and his new association with this ancient warrior of ambiguous character.  It felt good to feel like a conqueror, but it also felt a little strange.  Chrono, sensitive to Vlad’s ambivalence tried to assist Vlad in removing the mantle—and for his trouble received an unequivocal punch in the face.  Ok, that settled it.

Sir Henry, meanwhile discovered that the door to the tomb—to no one’s great surprise, open with only a slight push.  There was a spiral staircase carved in the rock, spiraling down (and deosil—“clockwise, for those familiar with newfangled timekeeping devices”.)

At the bottom of the stairs they passed through rooms painted with murals celebrating Garan’s many bloody conquests.  He wore the same mantle now worn by Vlad except for one detail.  While the mantle worn by Vlad bore the embroidered insignia of the “Golden Helm of Garan,” the mantle worn by Garan in the murals showed a black skull on a white shield.

The party passed into a circular room dominated by a stone statue of Garan in the center of the room and with six stone knights standing in alcoves spaced around the wall.  As the party entered the room, the eyes of Garan’s statue glowed red and statues came to life.  Vlad felt emboldened and in another way uncomfortable, it was something about his mantle or the insignia on his mantle, he picked at the gold thread.

And then the sis stone knights came to life and attacked.  Three of the statues charged at Vlad.  Vlad readied his shield and Sir Henry sprung into action, striking one of the statues with his sword, shattering its arm.  Chrono readied his quarter staff and engaged one of the other statues.  Another statue bore down on Thoric.  Circe retreated, hiding under a shroud of magical darkness.  Mark stayed behind the well-armored warriors and when the moment was right, cast a magic missile at one of the statues attacking Vlad, reducing it to a pile of rubble.

Thanks to his plate mail and the assistance of his companions, Vlad sustained a rain of blows from stone swords, with little injury.  Sir Henry noticed that the insignia of Vlad’s mantle was emitting smoke, seemingly more and more as the statues were destroyed.  When Thoric received a grievous blow from a stone sword, McDowell and Sir Henry crowded in front of the statue and covered his retreat.  Then there was a burst of flame in which Vlad’s face glowed red. The Golden Helm was gone—the black skull of Garan was revealed underneath. Vlad yelled a battle cry and the remaining statue kneeled before him.

Chrono tended to Thoric’s wounds while the rest of the party searched the room.  McDowell found a secret door and another spiral staircase leading down.  As the party regathered, so did the statues—the chunks of stone, quivered and rolled together, reassembling into six stone knights, all kneeling before their master, Vlad.

The party descended the staircase.  The statues did not follow Vlad, but once he was out of sight they rose their feet, drew their swords approached the other members of the party—not in a good way.  The rest of the party crowded down the stairs.   The statues did not pursue.

At the bottom of the stairs, they found Garan’s burial chamber.  There was a sarcophagus—open—and soon a horrific undead thing rose out of it—seemingly Garan himself by the black skull painted on his plate mail.  The wight’s scabbard was empty and it charged at Vlad—“Give it to me!”  Vlad pulled out his sword and landed a blow that would have decapitated a mortal creature—and remembered all of his grandfather’s lessons about how to fight the living dead.

Sir Henry knew, The Sword of Whitkey leapt into his hand and he charged forward to go toe-toe with dead Garan.  Chrono joining him, swinging his shillelagh.  This gave Vlad the opportunity to back away, cast his sword aside and ready a silver bolt in his crossbow.  Mark and Circe threw magic missiles at the evil spirit as it charged after Vlad.  A silvered bolt from Vlad’s crossbow hit it in the face. Howling in anger or pain it pressed forward.  The Sword of Whitkey, glowing in Sir Henry’s capable hands bit through the Garan’s armor.  Vlad stumbled backwards, still holding his crossbow.  As the monster pounced on him, Vlad put another crossbow bolt through Garan’s plate mail, granting he creature a second death.

Thoric and McDowell pried the silver, gold, and jewels out of Garan’s sarcophagus.  Sir Henry devised a way to distribute the treasure and after satisfying themselves that there was no other way out of the burial chamber, the party returned to the surface.  The stone knights kneeled before Vlad and allowed them to pass freely.  Back in Garanton, the party got a few strange looks from straggling revelrs, but no one quite found words to question them.

At dawn, the party left for Hommlet.  As they had heard, there was a wizard there, one Burne, who had learned of certain magical pools in the caverns under a ruined Moathouse outside the village.  He wanted to share the power of the pools with apprentices, but the guards he had stationed at the moathouse said that things were getting weird—purple-back spiders, eerie noise, green slime on the walls and ceiling that dissolved metal-- and they refused to patrol the lower levels.  Burne hoped some ambitious young magicians and their associated might see the advantage of helping him secure access to the pools.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bangqiu and Bayan return to the Happy Valley

When Zhu-Shi finished his work for the Emperor near Pasar, it was time to escort him back to Happy Valley so he could continue his work on Beatriss’s palace. The army that had accompanied the group on their travel from Happy Valley would stay in the area near Pasar, holding the line against the southern emperor. Only a half-dozen soldiers would join Bayan and Bangqiu for the return trip. With rumors of bandits and enemy soldiers on the roads. Bayan and Bangqiu elected to seek an alternate route, the “lost highway” that Beatriss had discovered and that connected Pasar to Zhou Dang.

After a few weeks of travel through hidden valleys connected by miles-long tunnels through the mountains, Bayan and Bangqiu came to an impasse—a cave-in that blocked the way of the underground highway. Smaller, natural tunnels branched off from the main highway. Bayan and Beatriss explored these, hoping to find a way back to the main route. They found many strange things—including a giant frog that breathed paralyzing gas—but they did not find the sought for connection. And they discovered that someone was tracking them. Frightened by this discovery and having lost one of the soldiers in a fall, the party decided to instead seek out a way—any way—into the open air.

In the muddy valley in which they emerged, they saw—and avoided more strange creatures, and met a group of gregarious men who peasants’ clothing and gaudy jewelry and were laden with sacks of food. These men invited the party to rest and feast with them. Bangqiu was glad to accept the invitation; Bayan was more wary, and when she learned the feast would take place in the caves, she flatly refused to return. And so the men went on their way and party continued on theirs, soon reaching a small settlement of about two dozen people. These people were much distraught—having just been roobed by the “cave bandits.” One of the victims, a powerful-looking, wild-eyed man wanted to track down the thieves and punish them, but the rest of his clan were afraid. Bayan showed some interest, but hoped she and her friends could first get some rest? The villagers reluctantly agreed.

The next morning, an alarm was raised. The thieves were coming back—and they weren’t alone this time. Bayan and Bangqiu realized that they had been followed from Pasar by a group of Black Flowers and seemingly under the leadership of the blue-robed Priest of the Shining Path who had escaped them during the climactic battle under monastery in Pasar. The Black Flowers gave some money to the cave bandits, who disappeared from the scene. They rode forward slowly, spreading out in a line. The priest and his two assistants rode in another line behind them.

This time, Bayan and Bangqiu didn’t have the help of Gwinch and his Sohei. But they devised a plan. Bangqiu put on his invisibility cloak and dashed out to flank the enemy. Bayan, leading the soldiers and a few volunteers from the village, advanced slowly to meet the men on horseback. The sides exchanged missile fire—arrows, javelins, and from of the priests assistant’s green glowing bolts of magical energy. Two of the soldiers fell. The priest began to chant—but then was cut off by the sudden scalding blast of steam. Bangqiu had appeared next to the priest and his assistants. The steam killed the priest’s horse and his assistants. The Black Flowers reeled to defend their leader. Bayan and the others charged with their swords. In the ensuing melee, all the Black Flowers were killed—but once again the Shining Path priest disappeared.

The party claimed the Black flowers’ horses and salvaged some equipment. After a few days rest, the party was ready to set out again. The locals refused to accompany the party in their journey unless they would first assist them in their feud with the cave bandits. Bayan was unwilling to do this. Instead, they used money and a horse to pay for a few guides to lead them across the swamp to dry land.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Liberation of Pasar

Bayan said that she had a contact in Pasar, a monk named Sid who had befriended her teacher Beatriss during her time in Pasar a few years ago. Bangqiu, of course, had visited Pasar many times during his youth, and was eager to see how things had changed. Their first stop would be the “Village of Pasar,” the oldest part of the town, where the Eldest lived, including one of Bangqiu’s distant relatives.

Sir Crowler and Prince Slash were left to explore Pasar on their own. They found it had an intriguing history, but was now plagued with injustice and meanness. They had surrendered their weapons upon entering the town, and learned this was based on traditions going back to when Pasar was a small fishing village. The village’s peaceful reputation had made it an attractive stopping place for merchants passing through the area. The merchants brought money—and their mercenary guards. After an outbreak of violence involving rival merchant guilds, the Elders of Pasar had allowed one group of guards to carry weapons for the purpose of preserving the peace. These were the Black Flowers—former soldiers, they were identified by their mismatched imperial armor and the large round badges of a black flower they wore on their shoulders. Sir Crowler and Prince Slash saw a group of Black Flowers take bananas from a fruit seller and then knock over his cart when he begged for payment. Crowler and Slash wanted to intervene, but didn’t have their swords. They decided to go to Elders of Pasar and report the problem.

The experiences of Bangqiu and Bayan were similar to those of Crowler and Slash. Bangqiu himself remembered there had always been tension between the “village of Pasar”—the core of the original fishing village—and the market town that had grown up around it. The Elders knew that Pasar’s prosperity depended on treating wealthy travelers with respect, but they mixed their outward deference with concealed resentment—especially when foreign religions and foreign soldiers began to make a home in Pasar.  

When the Elders of Pasar took a firm stand—exiling the leaders of a particularly obnoxious monastery—things got better, but only briefly. The remaining monks—those of the Two-Fold Path, desperate to maintain their foothold in the town, had allowed idle mercenaries to take refuge within the walls of the monastery. Within the monastery, the customs of Pasar were ignored. Strong bullied the weak, and the strongest of the strong, after eliminating their rivals, organized into a unified band, and called themselves the Black Flowers. They made an “arrangement” with the Elders of Pasar to maintain security. The traditional guards, with their bamboo staves, would keep peace within the Village; the Black Flowers, with their swords, chainmail, and crossbows, would run the rest of the town. Bayan remembered that Beatriss, during her stay in Pasar, had known Neetla, the leader of the Black Flowers. He was obsessed, Beatriss, had told her, with finding the jungle hide-out for the exiled leaders of the Two-Fold Path, especially Gwinch, a mysterious foreigner who had nearly mastered the Path and led a squad of zealous warrior-monks whom he’d met over the course of his travels.

When Crowler and Slash tried to enter the Village of Pasar, they were politely asked their business and told to go away—that Elders were in a Meeting. Crowler and Slash found a way to sneak in and saw their friends Bangqiu and Bayan. They tried again to gain audience with the Elders, explaining who their contacts were. In describing the evils of the Black Flowers, Crowler and Slash painted a bigger picture—the Emperor of Zhou Dang had sent his best architect to the area to build a fortress near Pasar. “We think he’s going to get the Black Flowers to help him take over the whole town.” This information about a foreign invader—and coming from his own agents—got some attention. One of the elders, Aahaungg, excused himself from the other meeting to talk to Crowler and Slash.

Bangqiu and Bayan were meeting with not only the Elders of Pasar, but also with Gwinch, and five of his sohei. The Elders wanted to end Gwinch’s exile. And they wanted to expel the Black Flowers. They hoped that Bayan and Bangqiu—with their own indirect connections to both Gwinch and Pasar—would like to add their prowess and expertise. One of the many monks who still lived with monastery—now more like slaves to the Black Flowers—had escaped to share some valuable intelligence, about a gathering of the leading Black Flowers and their allies. Besides Neetla, their visible leader, the Black Flowers had several secret leaders within Pasar. The Silk Merchants Guild, the Spice Merchants Guild, The One Law Mosque, and the Temple of the Shining Path—all the powerful foreign factions were rumored to be secretly allied with the Black Flowers. According to the escaped monk, the meeting would take place in two days and in underground hideout. The Elders knew—or thought they knew—about this underground hideout. In the days before they wore their swords and badges openly, the Black Flowers had favored a certain seedy hotel, frightening away other customers. As their numbers grew, the Black Flowers expanded first to the hotel’s cellar and then a complex of tunnels—these could well have reached the cellars of the monastery. It seemed that the Black Flowers had abandoned the old hotel now that they controlled the monastery, but hopefully the secret tunnels would still be there. Sid knew the hotel and about the secret entrance to the tunnels; he would show the others how to find it. Beast—a powerful young man of Pasar volunteered to lead the charge in any battles. And Akinfenwa, a hunter from the jungle and old friend of Bangqiu was eager to join this dangerous adventure. Gwinch agreed. But he suggested there should be a diversion.

Crowler and Slash, having convinced Aahaungg that they were trustworthy, was allowed to hear about the meeting with Gwinch. They, too, saw the value of a powerful diversion and volunteered to provide it. They had some ideas: Animals? Cows? An Elephant! But first Crowler and Slash would find a way into the monastery first and then call for the animals.  

Gwinch, satisfied that a diversion would be provided, suggested that they spend the rest of the day in meditation and then let Sid lead them to the hotel. During those several hours, Saisho-- Gwinch’s assistant, who had been absent from the meeting-- worked a series of incantations to make all 12 members of the expedition invisible. In this condition, the walk to the hotel was awkward, and created some consternation among Pasar’s residents, but did not attract the attention of the Black Flower on patrol. Sid led them into the now-empty hotel, first upstairs and then, through a hole in the wall down a long ladder into the dark. They walked through an archway and soon found themselves in an octagonal room where a strange man or eerily lifelike statue, composed of both flesh and metal announced that he was going to blast them with poison gas. As the golem lumbered toward them, the party spilt into two groups, both walking around the perimeter of the room, and searching for a way out. While the golem punch at the air in the empty archway, Banqgiu found a place where a thin layer of plaster covered a wooden door. Beast put his shoulder to the door and burst through. The rest of the party did not hesitate long in following as the golem turned awkwardly to follow them.  

Crowler and Slash were not invisible, and so Jasmine followed them. They avoided any conflict until they reached the small market in front of the entrance to the Monastery. As a group of young women were passing through carrying water, a pair of Black Flowers emerged and tried to pull them into the monastery. Crowler and Slash intervened. The Black Flowers were amused at first and mocked the would-be, but Crowler and Slash did not only challenge the bullies on the basis of their current behavior, but asked them—and all the people watching—why they were allowed to stay in the town of Pasar. Many in the crowd slunk away, but many stayed, and stared angrily at the Black Flowers. A few stooped to pick up stones or sticks. The Black Flowers cursed out Slash and Crowler as they fell back into the monastery.

In the tunnels below Pasar, Gwinch and company continued to seek out the secret aerie of the Black Flowers. Traipsing along a long corridor, Gwinch fell into a pit. From behind the party, they heard a hissing noise and Bayan saw a nozzle emerge from the wall. She and Sid struggled to cover it with their cloaks while the rest of the party stepped back. A fiery explosion threw Bayan and Sid several feet down the hall. Happily, although their clothes and hair were badly singed, their bodies received only minor burns. Gwinch, meanwhile surprised the others by saying them that sand had cushioned his fall. It was only a few inches deep and did not seem to hide any additional traps. The rest of the party descended into the pit, crossed it, and climbed out the other side, resolved to watch their feet more closely. Gwinch ordered his monks to collect some sand.

Outside the monastery gates, Prince Slash continued to harangue the Black Flowers for their corrupt ways. The gate opened again and several Black Flowers came out to pull Slash inside. He fought them off, but entered of his own free will. As the Black Flowers struggled to overpower Slash, they ordered a pair of monks to close the gates. The monks wearily complied, but not before Sir Crowler and Jasmine could slip inside as well. With a wink at the monks, Sir Crowler and Jasmine hid themselves and watched what the Black Flowers would do to Prince Slash.  

The heroes in the dungeon pressed onward, facing several dangerous obstacles along the way. The sand proved useful in crossing a giant glue trap. The adventurers were surprised by a pair of fire-breathing dogs. Bangqiu was cornered by one of the dogs and several of his companions were forced to give up their invisibility to assist him in destroying the demonic canines. There was a maze of doors, winding corridors and giant crossbow bolts—at their center a horrible, bull-headed man. Beast killed the monster and claimed its huge, powerful axe. As more and more party members became visible, they found they were less likely to bump into each other and when they next encountered a pit—this one holding not sand but gelatinous semi-intelligent acid, they were well-prepared. They destroyed the gelatinous cube and recovered a sword whose immunity to acid signified some arcane powers. When the party came to a huge lake inhabited by blind cave fish and leeches, they cut off the caps of giant mushrooms and crossed the water in style.

Prince Slash and the Black Flower gatekeepers crossed the muddy courtyard surrounded by ramshackle wooden buildings, and approached the single well-maintained structure, an imposing three-story stone affair. There were more Black Flowers inside, seemingly of higher rank than those who’d maintained the gate—they were reluctant to open the door without a good reason. When Prince Slash began to hurl his insults their way, they mocked the gatekeepers—“You say you have a prisoner, but he doesn’t act like one! Keep your dog outside until he learns how to behave!” Enraged, the gatekeepers drew their swords. Most of the monks and other servants in the vicinity, screamed and fled the scene. The two who remained stood with their ropes covering their faces; they pointed at the Black Flowers and giggled.

Gwinch, Banqgiu, and Bayan, together with their associates and followers, walked down a long corridor lined with torches, and arrived at last in a large, grand room with nine thrones. Five of the thrones were occupied by dangerous-looking men— a green-robed orcerer, a priest of the Shining Path, a monk of the Two-Fold Path (who unlike his brethren above had not missed many meals), a cloaked figure with a dripping dagger, and, first off his throne, Neetla, official captain of the Black Flowers. The party had a plan, but it failed on several points. Sid’s spell failed to affect the spellcasters. As Gwinch, Beast, and several sohei charged, the sorcerer caught them in a spell and their motions were slowed. Saisho, still invisible, threw magic powder on the ground to protect Gwinch and Beast from Neetla’s charge. Spellcasters from either side of the barrier through spells across. Sid and Akinfenwa who had been lingering at the back of the room were killed by a fireball thrown by the green-robed sorcerer. Both the priest of Shining Path and the cloaked figure disappeared. The green-robed sorcerer began throwing magic missiles at Gwinch’s sohei while the Two-Fold Path monk threw daggers. Saisho surprised the villains, appearing behind them and transfixing the green-robed sorcerer. The cloaked figure suddenly reappeared behind Bayan, stabbing her with his dagger. She shook him off and chased him with her sword, catching him just as he became invisible again. Gwinch, Beast, and two sohei circled around the magical barrier to meet Neetla in hand-to-hand combat. Bangqiu moved behind Neetla and hid him with multiple burning shuriken. With their reduced numbers, the slavelords, despite their individual power, were overwhelmed by the party. Saisho’s spells transfixed Neetla. The monk and the cloaked assassin (from the One Law Mosque) were killed. Besides the way they had come in, the only visible exit was a spiral staircase leading up. The party guarded both exits, spread sand on the floor, and waited for the reappearance of the Shining Path priest who had disappeared. He never showed. The strongest members carried the prisoners upstairs. At the top, they found a group of Black Flowers, some of the engrossed in a dice game while others were cheering on some kind of fight that was happening outside.

Prince Slash was one of those involved in the fight outside. As the Black Flowers closed in on him with their swords, Sir Crowler and Jasmine threw up the monks’ robes under which they’d been hiding. Prince Slash drew his own sword, but it was obvious he would be no match for three powerful warriors, even with Crowler’s help. But then the Black Flowers inside the house raised the alarm—“Intruders! Neetla is captured! We’re under attack!”

Inside the stone building, the Black Flowers seemed more intent on killing Neetla than freeing him from Gwinch and Beast. Saisho blasted them with steam breath.

 Outside, Prince Slash and Sir Crowler called on the burdened monks to throw off the chains of oppression and open the gates. Someone answered the call and the elephant and other animals stampeded inside. The remaining Black Flowers jumped out of windows to escape the monastery. The people of Pasar poured in from all sides. There was rejoicing. After a brief trial, the captured criminals were thrown into the wild animal pits. There was more rejoicing. Gwinch and Saisho found correspondence and maps pertaining to the other Slavelords’ strongholds—a stockade in the mountains near Quitokai and another, the dilapidated Monastery of the Two-Fold Path—this one in Khanbaliq. (In fact, Gwinch had visited both these locations and had several past dealings with the monks in Khanbaliq.) In the days that followed, Gwinch put things back in order and the rest of the exiled monks of the Two-Fold Path in Pasar were welcomed back into their home.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

From Happy Valley to Pasar

Sheng Zhu-Shi, the chief engineer responsible for building Beatriss’s fortress had supervised the laying of the foundations when a message arrived from the Emperor. Zhu-Shi was needed elsewhere. Kubla Khan was planning fortifications in the south, on the borders of his empire, near the independent city of Pasar. Two of his agents—foreigners named Sir Crowler and Prince Slash— had come to escort Zhu-Shi to his new assignment. Beatriss’s castle would have to wait.

Bayan and Bangqiu realized they could not hope to argue against the emperor’s edict. They offered to join Sir Crolwer and Slash in guarding Zhu-Shi on his way to Pasar—hoping that when Zhu-Shi finished his work in the South, they could rush him back to the Happy Valley. Bangqiu’s home village was near Pasar so he was especially eager to join the mission.

They traveled with a large caravan, including a contingent of imperial soldiers, and were joined by other travelers as they moved south. One of these travelers, a pretty young woman named Jasmine, (travelling with her stern and suspicious older brother), showed a strong interest in Slash. She often interrupted Slash as he pored over maps to ask “Whatcha doing?” Although Zhinan, an imperial guide was in charge of plotting their route, Slash was beginning to fear that they had lost their way.

Sir Crowler had also attracted an admirer—a Siamese cat that belonged to, Zhinan the guide. He had a strange intuition that the cat was other than what she appeared. One evening, he and Prince Slash went together to confront Zhinan in his tent. The cat followed them, and playfully swatted Sir Crowler’s legs as the knight angrily accused the guide of leading them astray and demanded to know who the cat “really was.” As the conversation became more heated, the cat slipped away and Zhinan finally did confirm Crowler’s suspicion—the cat was a witch in disguise.

Crowler and Slash ran to Bayan and Bangqiu’s tent— arriving in time to see the cat slipping inside. When they entered the tent, they saw the cat taking the form of a woman, standing over the sleeping Bangqiu. Crowler and Slash yelled to wake up their companions, but only Bayan was roused. Bangqiu stayed in a deep slumber. The enchantress began to wave her hands—Bayan leaped on top of her to prevent her from casting a spell, but was too late. The woman became invisible. Sir Crowler noticed the edge of the tent lifting up. Unswayed by any sentiment, Crowler drew his sword and slashed at the invisible form. They caught and killed the woman. In the day light, Bayan and Bangqiu saw her face and recognized her—she was the enchantress in the service of Red Nar. Zhinan confessed that he had been tricked by the witch and was dismissed from his position as guide.

The rest of the journey was long and hazardous—the caravan was confronted by bandits and the warrior of a rival Khan. But Crowler, Slash, Bayan, and Bangqiu successfully brought Zhu-Shi to the place designated by the Emperor. While waiting for the engineer to finish his work, the adventurers decided that they would rest in Pasar.