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 Post subject: Chapter 2: Runaway Bride
PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2006 2:24 am 
Adroit Pirate
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Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2004 12:00 pm
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Location: 612 Wharf Avenue
Prelude

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 Emperor’s Road. For years they were a serious thorn in the Emperor’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 Fist’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 rescuer’s troubled past. Unfortunately for Peen, Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist isn’t the type to “stay out of trouble,” which means that Peen is constantly subjected to one life-threatening danger after another simply by remaining within shovel’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 man’s courage, Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist has given him the nickname “Fearless.” 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, he’s spent so long roaming Shen Zhou that there’s hardly a city, town, hamlet, or thorp in which he doesn’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 (they’re genuine works of art, and he’s no piker). While puzzling over some lantern riddles, however, a boy approaches him with a lantern bearing not a riddle, but a message.


Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist:

Meet me on the hill south of the city. You may be in danger.




It’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 “signature” thing they had going on. Accompanying him is a peasant with a shovel strapped to his back.

“Eight Fortunes of the Boundless Desert!” says Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist, glad to see his old friend in this foreign land.

“Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist!” says Eight Fortunes of the Boundless Desert, presumably feeling the same way. “So 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.”

“I appreciate it, my friend,” 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.

“So,” Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist continues, once they’ve gotten settled, “how’s Shen Zhou been treating you lately?”

“Oh, can’t complain, can’t complain,” 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.



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Mike Olson
‎"In this economy, it's not easy to feed a growing family. So we eat Haunkkah gelt for dinner and look at a picture of broccoli." --Paul F. Tompkins
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PostPosted: Sun May 28, 2006 11:18 pm 
Adroit Pirate
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Location: 612 Wharf Avenue
Chapter 2: Runaway Bride

The next morning....

Wang Hsi-Ping is awakened by a panicked servant, who humbly delivers a message that his presence is requested at the prisoners’ holding cell. He’s dismayed at the sight that greets him upon his arrival: the two prisoners are clearly dead, their bodies pale and bloated, their tongues lolling sickeningly. After a moment of reflection (and silent profanity), he sends for Doctor Chiang and Scholar Xi-Tong, who arrive quickly, along with Dutiful Fei who is at least as distressed by this turn of events as Hsi-Ping. After a thorough examination, the doctor determines that they’ve been poisoned, mostly likely by a liquid administered orally, although he can’t determine exactly what poison was used.

Hsi-Ping begins his investigation by questioning the guards and servants. The corpses went undiscovered until the guards opened the door to serve the prisoners their morning meal of soup and rice-- the same thing they’d had for dinner the night before. Their dinner had been prepared by Chef Nine Devils Chen, delivered by a servant, and served by the guards, all of whom are found to be trustworthy. The room itself has no other exits, and the lone window’s elaborately carved wooden shutters are closed and latched from the inside. He ponders the implications of these facts.

Meanwhile, Settling Stone finds Princess Song Blossom to be strangely distant during her lessons. When first he questions her, she is evasive, but eventually she confides in him that she has been plagued by strange, disconcerting dreams, though she is reluctant to say more. Shortly thereafter, she asks permission to postpone her daily education until later in the afternoon, and retreats to her private pavilion tent with a protective handmaiden.

Some days pass and little changes. Hsi-Ping and Xi-Tong are stumped in their investigations and Settling Stone continues to be troubled by Song Blossom’s behavior. The only person whose situation is altered is Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist, who accepts an offer to lodge with the Heaven Sword clan in their encampment. The formerly festive mood of the Lunar New Year celebration is somewhat dampened.

Then, one day, everything goes to the Hell of Upside-Down Scissors.

When the princess is a no-show for her morning lessons, Settling Stone soon discovers, through the auspices of one of Song Blossom’s handmaidens, that she is missing. Immediately, the Heaven Sword encampment is thrown into a panic. Soon, word reaches the Qichao, and it’s not long before Hsi-Ping, Xi-Tong, and Dutiful Fei turn up to look into this new mystery. Accusations start to fly between Double-Edge Tang of the Heaven Sword clan and Ten Eagles Qichao. Double-Edge suspects that the Qichao clan’s fear of being dominated by Heaven Sword has led them to kidnap Song Blossom in an attempt to get out of the proposed alliance. No princess, no marriage, no alliance. Ten Eagles, however, speculates that Heaven Sword is behind it, and for the same reason: they’re unwilling to end their decades-old economic rivalry with the Qichao. Finally, with the aid of our heroes, the two sides come to an agreement. As a gesture of good faith, Hsi-Ping and his tutor Xi-Tong will recover the princess, but to ensure an absence of what the Fourth-Century Chinese called “funny business,” Settling Stone will accompany them. As will Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist and the peerless Fearless Peen, for some reason. No one is quite sure why, but things are moving too fast to worry about that now.

An inspection of the princess’s quarters uncovers no signs of a struggle. In fact, there are even some clothes missing, suggesting that her departure was completely voluntary. None of the guards who’d been on duty the night before remember seeing anything unusual. She seems to have disappeared without a trace.

However, Settling Stone has a unique gift: he can speak with animals. As only a nocturnal creature would have been able to witness Song Blossom’s departure, he waits until nightfall and manages to locate a rather haughty but helpful nightingale. After some cajoling, the bird reveals that he saw two women leave the encampment the night before heading in the direction of the rising sun. This is followed by a visit to All-Seeing Shang, the Heaven Sword clan’s predictionist. The ancient man casts the yarrow stalks and consults the I-Ching to see what the results portend.

In the meantime, our four heroes (plus one loyal retainer) head east along the forest road in search of more clues. After a couple hours, the party is surprised by a huge, snarling tiger, who leaps out of the woods and pins Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist to the ground. Hsi-Ping and Xi-Tong tense for combat, but Settling Stone tries talking the beast down first. The monk’s persuasive argument that the tiger’s badly outnumbered and unlikely to win in a fight works, and the animal backs off of Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist, albeit reluctantly.

He apologizes for his rash behavior and admits that the events of the previous night have made him particularly irritable. He remembers smelling the two women, but for some reason wasn’t able to see them... or couldn’t manage to look in the right direction... or something. It was very confusing, and being confused makes him angry, and being angry makes him want to eat passing people. The scent, however, followed the road east. With a warning and what seems to be a dirty look, the tiger retreats into the darkness of the forest.

The party continues on and soon comes to a fishing village on the western shore of the Bohai Sea. Stumped, they head back to Winding Silk for guidance from All-Seeing Shang.

As for the present circumstances, the trigram K’an represents peril and the water, while Tui clearly indicates the youngest daughter-- i.e., the princess. For the future, the I-Ching indicates the need for decisive action (Ch’ien), along with the importance of flexibility and the southeast (Sun). Thus, he concludes, “Traveling southeast along the coast of the Bohai Sea will bring you closer to the princess.”

(In game terms, as long as they follow his advice and travel southeast, they’ll get a +5 to all actions.)

After some sleep (more of a power nap, really-- they've been up nearly all night), the party returns to the fishing village to see about acquiring a boat for the trip down the coast. The first hut door they knock on is answered by Old Wei, an elderly fisherman who, they soon learn, is a childless widower who lives alone and is forced to look after himself instead of being cared for by his offspring. How this is learned isn’t clear; it just kinda immediately comes up in conversation. He also mentions that while he hasn’t seen any princesses lately, one of the village’s boats was recently stolen. Old Wei agrees to take our heroes south along the coast in his fishing boat, for which Hsi-Ping offers very generous recompensation.

Shortly thereafter, they’re all on the Bohai Sea, tracing the coastline down until they come to Bird Progress City, home of the Dong clan and the Kingdom of Yang’s chief port city. Old Wei spies the missing fishing boat moored at the city’s docks. This must be the place. He ties his boat up beside the stolen one, and Five Fingers Flaming Monkey Fist, showing some resourceful thinking, throws a fishing net over it, in case these “invisible” women are still on board. As it happens, it looks like they’re not. But still, good thinking.

[Whew! Forgive me if some details are less than accurate. This was what, three months ago?]



_________________
Mike Olson
‎"In this economy, it's not easy to feed a growing family. So we eat Haunkkah gelt for dinner and look at a picture of broccoli." --Paul F. Tompkins
Spirit of the Blank: A blog.
Roll Some Dice: Another blog.
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