With the help of Blood Ruby Crucible, the party kenned the location of the Blood Ruby itself, first noting that it seemed to be moving through an area of light forest. Further scrying showed that it was being carried by a strange beast with scaly red arms. They deduced that this was Deng-Sheng, and went to find him at the mill pond. Mustapha held Deng-Sheng magically transfixed and Bangqiu removed the pouch from around the boy's next-- sure enough it contained the Blood Ruby and Bangqiu claimed it as his own. Mastopha released Deng-Sheng and, over the next hour, Deng-Sheng recovered from the magic of the Blood Ruby.
And all was happy in the Happy Valley, at least for a time. Bangqiu did not turn into a dragon creature, but he did begin having some strange dreams. He convinced the others that they should travel to Khanbaliq in order to make a report on the progress of the castle-- and also so that he might research the powers of the Blood Ruby.
In the course of their journey they met another group of adventures, led by a woman warrior who called herself Red Nar. Red Nar made it clear that she knew the party had recovered the Blood Ruby and offered to trade for it, also threatening the party with the wrath of Xuexing if they insisted on holding what clearly did not belong to them. Bayan did not take well to this kind of talk and told Red Nar to go away. The two groups parted ways with a few choice words.
The party spent several weeks in Khanbaliq. Bayan gave a report to Beatriss, who was sequestered in the Women's Palace. Tetsukichi visited his family in the Imperial City. Bangqiu sought out and found a wu jen who could teach him more magic.
One fine day, the party encountered a woman who introduced herself as Bāhén. She acknowledges that she was a compatriot of Red Nar-- but she hoped she might talk with them over some tea or a meal. Everywhere they wished was fine with her. Bayan, after some discussion and led the way to a noisy noodle shop. "This is good," Bahen said. "So no one can hear us."
The conversation was awkward and pointed. Bahen wanted to know why the party had refused to deal with Red Nar and was pleased when, after minimal equivocation they answered that while they had some fear of evil dragons such as Xuexing, they saw little value in trying to appease him. They would rather have him hate them for being a threat than be loved for being weak. Bahen explained that she had been sent by Red Nar to find them and steal the ruby. She would report that she had failed and then Red Nar would plan an ambush. Where would they like to be ambushed?
"Why are you telling us this? Why should we trust you?"
Bahen told the sad and predictable story of her village being destroyed and enslaved by mercenaries-- Red Nar and her band. And she countered that it was not a matter of trust. In choosing an ambush spot, they gave away nothing. And they might gain the benefit the element of surprise-- or at least take it away from their enemies.
At last they named a bridge only a few miles from Khanbaliq. Red Nar and her band would attack once the party crossed the bridge.
The party devoted little time to planning for the potential ambush. They hired 5 guards and carefully arranged their formation in crossing the bridge. Bangiqu, using the Blood Ruby, scanned the area for any red dragons that they might press into service, but found none.
The ambushers acted as expected-- two men charged out from the thick foliage on the far side of the bridge, but were rebuffed by Bayan and Tetsukichi. Arrows shot by archers hidden on the hillside opposite the bridge missed their targets. The party responded forcefully-- with the warriors charging forward or shooting their own missiles. And Mustapha summoned a black dragon from the clouds to attack the hidden archers, finding the one who favored red and blasting her with acid.
Red Nar's band held their ground against the dragon as it descended on their leader-- and discovered that it was only an illusion, evaporating into black mist when blasted by a bolt of magical energy. Tetsukichi & company took advantage of the temporary distraction. The warriors and guardsmen overwhelmed Red Nar's warriors. The enchantress who had dispelled the illusionary dragon gave away her position and was hit by magic missiles from Bangqiu. And Bahen showed where her loyalties lay, shooting arrows at Red Nar.
After firing a last attach at the party, Red Nar's enchantress transformed into a bird and took to the sky. Mustapha pointed his wand at Red Nar and fireball engulfed her in flames. Bahen caught in the fringes of its blast was knocked to the ground and did not get up. The guardsmen overwhelmed one of Red's warriors. As Bayan charged her horse at the other, an unseen assassin, sprung out and dragged Bayan to the ground. Bangqiu and Al-Fitar rushed to her defense. Bayan pulled herself up and killed the assassin herself.
Soon only one of Red Nar's band-- a strong warrior who seemed energized with unnatural speed. He landed three blows for every one that could be dealt by a normal man. And when he realized that he would fall under sheer numbers and took to flight, his speed easily outstripped that of a horse. A second fireball from Mustapho's wand did little more than singe his clothes. But then two glowing green missiles streaked down from the hillside-- and Bahen's hand-- and the bandit stumbled and skidded across the ground, dead.
The company congratulated each other and thanked Bahen for her help. Badly wounded, she accepted their offers of succor and healing ointments, and even joined them in their relieved retreat to the safety of Khanbaliq. She politely declined their invitation to join their company, promising that she valued their friendship and hoped that another time would come when they could assist each other.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Tetsukishi, Bayan, and the others stood guard for three days while Han and his associates skinned, butchered and processed the dragon. In the evenings, Han directed his servants to prepare dinner for "our noble and honorable protectors" while he told the newcomers about life in the Happy Valley and the surrounding region. The Happy Valley was a pleasant place because the Barrier Mountains both captured the rainclouds blowing in from the east and blocked the cold dry winds from the north and west. And the land was well-irrigated, its many rivers and streams carrying the excess water into the marshes to the south.
"And that's where the dragon people live."
The dragon people were savage, but cowardly, the remnant of the humans who'd served the snake lords eons ago. There was a tribe of them who'd lived in a village surrounding the ruined pyramid where Narratch had made his lair.
"Wonder what they're doing now that he's gone . . ." Han mused, chewing on a hunk of smoked dragon. "Wonder what treasure Narratch was hiding in that old pyramid. . ."
In response to the party's questions, Han explained that *Narmash* (the black/dead dragon was well known in that area), and that Xuexing the larger, meaner red dragon came from the remote heights of the Barrier Mountains. He hoped that Xuexing was not planning to move into the ruined pyramid.
The party agreed that they should travel to the ruined pyramid themselves, assess themselves and claim Narratch's treasure. Han told them to follow the red river through the swamp and that once they reached the mudflats, they'd be able to see the low, pointed hill of the pyramid from miles away.
Tetsukichi, Bayan, and the others found the pyramid of the dragon. The pyramid itself was still largely intact. While the surrounding buildings lay in near complete ruin, they seemed to serve as a home to the "dragon people" whom Han had described. There was also a dragon-- the red one named Xuexing who had killed Narratch. The party watched from a safe distance, watching the dragon people entering and leaving the pyramid through its apex, with those exiting burdened by treasure that they lay before Xuexing. The dragon sifted through the piles of coins, becoming progressively impatient.
The party moved through the outskirts of the ruins and scouted the opposite side of the pyramid. Wisps of smoke emerging from about halfway up marked a potential entrance. They crawled into an irregularly-shaped chamber, seemingly the result of a cave-in, but with a tunnel connecting it into a well-formed chamber that must have been constructed by expert masons. This chamber was filled with the skeletons of huge reptilian creatures that sprang to life.
Bayan directed Hue-an to retreat the way they had come while she, Tetsukichi, and Al-Fitar held off the skeleton snakes. Finding a bottle-point in the caved-in area, the three warriors isolated and fought the undead snakes one by one, and then climbed back out of the pyramid. Here they found that Hue-an and Mustapha had been discovered and attacked, and nearly overwhelmed by the Dragon People. The sudden arrival of Bayan, Tetsukichi, and Al-Fitar decisively turned the tide of the battle.
And attracted the attention of Xuexing. The red dragon was in fact impressed by the newcomers' valor and courage. He wanted their assistance finding something and would pay them well. The Dragon People had proved their incompetence. To make his point, he killed and ate the Dragon People's witch doctor, spitting out the man's organs-- that's what they were expected to find-- a ruby about the size and color of the man's heart. "I think you will agree that I have the power to pay you well for your assistance?"
The party agreed. At their request and Xuexing's command, the Dragon People took Hue-an back to one of the huts to nurse her back to health, with the understanding that her life was worth ten of their own.
The remaining party members-- Bayan, Tetsukich, Al-Fitar, and Mustapha-- descended into the pyramid through the top, climbing down a deep shaft to a large chamber at ground level.
Exploring the pyramid, they found that it was dedicated to the four elements. They freed a trapped air elemental, and found a pool of remarkably clear, bubbling water. They also found Bangqiu.
Bangqiu explained that the people of Happy Valley had become worried when they didn't return from scouting the remains of the dragon. Bangqiu had joined a search party that encountered Han on his way back from the dragon butchering site. Han had given Bangqiu and the search party directions to the pyramid. Bangqiu had arrived to find the village completely deserted. No dragon, no dragon people. He found Hue-an and had left the other members of the search party. And now he was ready to help look for the Bloody Heart Ruby.
In time, the party found a large, watery natural cavern, accessed through a breach in that part of the pyramid dedicated to fire. Based on their experiences with other parts of the Pyramid, they had expected to encounter a Fire Elemental in that area, but found its binding circle had already been branched. They found the Fire Elemental inside the watery cavern, bound inside a new binding circle. The Elemental negotiated for its release, in exchange for an explanation of what it knew about the Bloody Heart Ruby-- including why both dragons were so interested in having it. As the Elemental had explained to its captor Narratch the Black, the gem allowed its possessor to exert control over red dragons. Finally the Elemental explained that the Blood Ruby crucible-- a small lantern with an ever-burning flame-- would assist them in locating the Blood Ruby itself.
The party explored the rest of the cavern. Al-Fitar lost two fingers to floating green slime. And they found Narratch's reassure, including the Blood Ruby Crucible.
They exited the Pyramid and returned to the Happy Valley. Han was happily selling off dragon parts. The Emperor's engineers had nearly settled on a building site for Beatriss's Keep. But there was a little problem. People had seen a strange dragon man in the forest. And Deng-Sheng the miller's son was missing.