Earlier that day....
The promise of a martial arts tournament has drawn pugilists from across Shen Zhou to Winding Silk. From the country of Xia (by way of everywhere else) comes the former bandit and anti-Imperial rebel Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist with his loyal shovel-toting servant Fearless Peen. Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist once belonged to a secret society-- a secret society so secretive that none dare speak its name, including the player and the GM-- dedicated to fighting the Unrighteous Emperor by raiding Imperial trade caravans along the Emperorâ€™s Road. For years they were a serious thorn in the Emperorâ€™s side, until the combined efforts of the corrupt Qing Cheng clan, the Demon Scholars, and some elite Imperial agents shattered their organization. It was the Demon Scholars, though, who ensured the finality of their defeat by placing a powerful curse on the entire secret society: Whenever they are killed, their bodies absorb yin (if killed at night) or yang (if killed during the day) energy at a greatly-increased rate. If not buried within one hour, Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fistâ€™s corpse will rise from the dead as, for lack of a better term, a brain-eating zombie.
Thus, the breakup of the secret society. Faced with the prospect of suffering a grisly undeath on the field of battle, many surrendered (and were subsequently enslaved by Qing Cheng) and many more simply dropped out of sight, wandering the land in search of a remedy and desperately trying to stay out of trouble.
And also thus, Fearless Peen and his shovel. Saved from murderous thieves by the redoubtable Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist, he pledged a life of servitude to repay the debt, little knowing about his rescuerâ€™s troubled past. Unfortunately for Peen, Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist isnâ€™t the type to â€œstay out of trouble,â€ which means that Peen is constantly subjected to one life-threatening danger after another simply by remaining within shovelâ€™s reach of his master. The poor man trembles constantly; his eyes dart about in terrified anticipation of the next peril lurking around the corner. In order the bolster the manâ€™s courage, Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist has given him the nickname â€œFearless.â€ Alas, Peen is above (or below) such psychology.
So then. No sooner has Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist arrived in Winding Silk City than he looks up an old acquaintance of his. In fact, heâ€™s spent so long roaming Shen Zhou that thereâ€™s hardly a city, town, hamlet, or thorp in which he doesnâ€™t have an old acquaintance of some kind. They do a bit of catching up and Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist rejects the idea of entering an eating contest in favor of visiting the market district.
On the way, a giant man in iron armor bearing a huge iron club pushes roughly past him headed towards the tournament ring; following the huge warrior is a gang of over a dozen thugs, each carrying a hammer in each hand and no more likely to win any congeniality awards than their leader. Unfazed, Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist carries on.
Among the market stalls, he finds some unique wood carvings that can only come from western Shen Zhou. Suspecting that their presence might indicate trouble, he questions the merchant at length about how he acquired them, but learns nothing significant. Nonetheless, he buys them for a couple hundred taels (theyâ€™re genuine works of art, and heâ€™s no piker). While puzzling over some lantern riddles, however, a boy approaches him with a lantern bearing not a riddle, but a message.
Meet me on the hill south of the city. You may be in danger.
Itâ€™s signed with a single ideograph: the symbol of the old extra-secret society. So his suspicions were correct. Trouble.
Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist waits until after nightfall, then heads south to the hill under cover of darkness. Atop it is a skeletal tree hung with festive red lanterns; beside this is a campfire and two figures. As he and Fearless Peen draw closer, he recognizes the larger of the two men as Eight Fortunes of the Boundless Desert, a cunning warrior and a fellow refugee from that especially secret society-- long names were sort of a â€œsignatureâ€ thing they had going on. Accompanying him is a peasant with a shovel strapped to his back.
â€œEight Fortunes of the Boundless Desert!â€ says Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist, glad to see his old friend in this foreign land.
â€œFive Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist!â€ says Eight Fortunes of the Boundless Desert, presumably feeling the same way. â€œSo you received my message. Good. I have reason to believe there are agents of Qing Cheng in Winding Silk. When I heard you had arrived, I thought it prudent to warn you.â€
â€œI appreciate it, my friend,â€ says Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist, bowing in gratitude. The two take a seat by the fire while their two servants have a nervousness competition.
â€œSo,â€ Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist continues, once theyâ€™ve gotten settled, â€œhowâ€™s Shen Zhou been treating you lately?â€
â€œOh, canâ€™t complain, canâ€™t complain,â€ replies Eight Fortunes of the Boundless Desert, immediately before a heavy spiked metal ball slams into the side of his head, killing him instantly.
Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist leaps to his feet, rope dart in hand. Fearless Peen cowers at the base of the tree, while his fellow servant, now masterless, unslings his shovel with a sigh and begins digging.
Emerging from the shadows are two sinister figures wielding impossibly complex weapons characteristic of the West: Ten-Head Falling Star Hammers. The fight is joined in earnest, each side throwing its odd ranged weapons at the other. Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist displays his mastery of Lightfoot by leaping up into the lantern tree for cover and then launching himself from it to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. Outnumbered though not outmatched, the tide of battle nevertheless turns inexorably against Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist. Fearless Peen starts helping the other servant with that hole.
A few hundred yards away in the Heaven Sword encampment, Settling Stone is helping himself to yet another dinner when he hears the distant ring of metal on metal. Grabbing his wolf teeth staff in one hand and his bowl of rice in the other, he sprints off, fearing the worst-- whatever that may be.
The big monk and his belly barely arrive in time to join the fray. Settling Stone is surprised to see his sometime rival Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist locked in combat with two strange men, but immediately lends his support. This is no time for passivity. Soon enough, the conflict is ended. Fearless Peen ceases his digging.