Monday, 29 August 2016

All Things Under Heaven, Session #3

Our Setting: Iron Springs is a moderately-sized town at the north-western frontier of civilized Tianxia, looking out over a region that many call only The Wastes. The town is built on the broad banks of the Lièkǒu River, the only lifeline that it has back to the Imperial world of bureaucracy and well-tended order, and is supported by terrace-farms cut into the surrounding hill country. It is home to around a thousand souls, making it the largest inhabited center in the surrounding lands.

From Iron Springs a rich tapestry of terrain stretches out towards the sunset: vast and trackless forests, stinking marshes, windswept plains, rugged hills and towering mountains where the workshops of the old Zhang witch-alchemists may still stand. These Wastes are wild, untamed, dangerous, and haunted by beasts and spirits and yet stranger things.

Iron Springs’ extreme remoteness and the wild and untamed nature of The Wastes have contributed to its reputation as a place of last resort, somewhere that only the greedy, the foolish, or the desperate would try and make a life. Those who chafe at the yoke of Imperial authority find the distance from any real governance appealing, while scholars and seekers after the weird and macabre find it a valuable source of information and research subjects.

The Wastes beyond Iron Springs are the stuff of many a legend, promising all those things that are best in life: wealth beyond measure, endless opportunity, danger to be faced, glory to be won, secrets and wonders to behold and uncover, and a means to transform your life. Tame the Wastes, the buzz in the teahouse goes, and the Emperor has promised that a noble title will be yours along with deeds to whatever you manage to wrest from the trackless wilderness.

Our Cast:
  • Mei-Xiu, a human Monk. Given away as a child to a warlord, one of the Rén catfolk. She was raised as an assassin, and now wanders the Wastes to challenge the strong.
  • Ming-Hua, a Wizard (School of Evocation). One of the Guàn birdfolk, from the Tribe of the Ibis. She tired of reading about the arcane in dusty libraries, and now wanders the Wastes to study the weird.
  • Shi, a Fighter. One of the Rén catfolk from the Tribe of the Leopard. He was a criminal back in the civilised world, and now wanders the Wastes to encounter the strange.
  • Sun Thuy, a Rogue. One of the Rén catfolk from the Tribe of the Fox. She was heir to a noble family back in her homeland, and now wanders the Wastes to protect the weak.
  • Xiang Wang, a Druid (Circle of the Five Elements). One of the Guàn birdfolk, from the Tribe of the Heron. They were a roamer and a vagabond already, and now wander the Wastes to seek the path.

The Session
Day Seven: The group press onward, deeper into the Tomb of the Nameless Hero into another rectangular chamber. A dusty rolled scroll lies in one corner of the room, while a pair of large chests covered in sacks of treasure sit along one wall. This mural depicts another battle, with a small army bearing the sigil from the last mural being surrounded and cut down by a larger army in a valley. In the central foreground stands a gravely-wounded figure from the losing army faces off against four enemy soldiers.

Wary after the last chamber, the group prepare their weapons as Xiang performs the same ritual to see into the spirit world that was aborted last time. The ritual is successful and reveals the chamber to be empty of magic except for the mural, which Mei-Xiu throws a dart at. She aims at the painted soldiers confronting the several figures, assuming them to be the true threat, but realises her mistake as the central figure comes to life.

Suffering emerges from the wall, sculpted with grievous wounds and dripping blood included in its glazing. Shi, Ming-Hua, and Xiang hang back and attack from a distance with arrows and throw balls of flame, while Mei-Xiu and Sun charge into close quarters.

Suffering draws a cat o' nine tails from its side and brutally lashes Mei-Xiu into unconsciousness before grabbing Sun and forcing her to look into its ruined eyes. She psychically experiences every moment of pain the group has inflicted on it before reeling backwards, weeping blood.

Xiang heals Mei-Xiu as the group continues their assault. Now crumbling and moving like a physical wreck, Suffering whips Sun into unconsciousness before forcing Ming-Hua to stare into its eyes and sharing its pain until her mind retreated into unconsciousness.

The resurgent Mei-Xiu charges forward and inflicts the killing blow on Suffering, causing the mural to shatter just as the last did. Shi applies his healer's kit and manages to make Ming-Hua comfortable as they wait for her to recover, while Xiang heals Sun and brings her back to consciousness.

The group pull back to the first chamber and a spirited debate ensues over their options: push ahead now, rest again before pushing onward, or leave and sell what they have gained and returned later. Mei-Xiu and Ming-Hua champion pushing on, and after an hour's rest the group advance into the doorway of the third chamber.

Seeing the empty black mural on the side of the wall and the weight with which time hangs upon the chamber, they conclude that it corresponds to Death and make the call to pull back and leave. They gather up the treasure from the Suffering chamber: a pile of ancient silver coins, a bolt of exquisite black silk, a finely-painted wooden fan, and a painted poetic scroll that indirectly describes an ancient school of swordsmanship.

Xiang uses their elemental attunement to earth to pile earth into the tomb's entrance and seal it. The group travel make use of the afternoon to begin their journey back to town before finding the best camp they can (the lee of a subsided hill where their fire will be less evident) and making camp. The night passes quietly.

Day Eight: The group set off early the next day and set out with speed their main goal, making excellent time and making it nearly halfway back to town during the day's march. Setting up their camp in the late afternoon to take advantage of the light, the group are eating their evening meal when they spot an approaching figure that Ming-Hua identifies as a demon.

Mei-Xiu and Ming-Hua attempt to negotiate, but a poor choice of words (describing the Fallen Celestial using the Heavenly referent, 'failed Celestial') escalates the encounter. The demon, bull-headed and leopard-skinned, flares the campfire and blinds much of the party before wading into combat.

It strikes with terrifying force using only its bare hands and exercises preternatural powers of control over the fire and its embers to scorch and burn members of the group while staying largely unharmed itself.

The group defend themselves but are on the backfoot from the beginning, dragging unconscious allies out of harm's way while attempting to make a retreat. Mei-Xiu is revived (yet again) by Xiang after being dragged to safety by a summoned panther-spirit, while Sun drags Ming-Hua away and pours a potion of healing down her throat.

It settles into their campfire and consumes the heat in a flaring pillar of flames to fuel its strength and the group flees.

They spend an hour putting distance between themselves and the Fallen Celestial before slowing to a stealthy and cautious crawl, trading distance for safety. They go to ground to make camp, spending an uncomfortable night concealed among a stand of high wispy grass.

Day Nine: The group spend the day moving at a crawl, travelling with the utmost care as they extract themselves from the vicinity of the Fallen Celestial. They make less distance than they could have in a few hours pushing at full speed, but have no unwelcome encounters during the day of cautious journeying.

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