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.

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