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.

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