Monday, 19 September 2016

All Things Under Heaven, Session #6

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 (Way of the Tiger's Soul). 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. 
    • Major Quest: Find someone with knowledge of how to revive her fallen master.
  • 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. 
    • Major Quest: Become a student of the immortal alchemist Xianbal. 
  • Shi, a Fighter (Champion). 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 (Swashbuckler). 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

In Town: The group head out from Auntie Ma's into Iron Springs, selling the pair of gems retrieved from the rat-demons' lair for a good sum, though slightly under their value. Sun hangs around the teahouses and hears rumours of a dry lakebed out in the Huangdi Fells caked with valuable alchemical reagents, while Ming-Hua investigates further information on Xianbal, the alchemist who lives in the mountains beyond the Niron Fens.

She finds mention of him in historical records going back to the last days of the Nine Kingdoms period, suggesting that he has attained that greatest of alchemical goals: immortality. She also uncovers writings that attribute the discovery of tulpa - solidified thought-constructs capable of physical action and even violence - to him and identify him as the greatest outwardly-focused internal alchemist still living. 

Each new discovery about the alchemist further inspires and fascinates Ming-Hua, who sets her heart on becoming his student. She asks the group for assistance, but Shi wants to pursue rumours of god-boars dwelling on the border of Gulao Forest and the Niron Fens and Mei-Xiu wishes to return to the Tomb of the Nameless Hero. Sun sides with Mei-Xiu and is insistent that first the group must return to the tomb before it stays unsealed too long, and the group are won over by this argument. 

They restock on supplies and visit the town fortuneteller, preparing themselves to return to the demon-haunted Aoxian Plains.

Day One: The group depart from Iron Springs, sticking to the valleys of the hill-country around the town and trying to keep a low profile. A few hours out, however, they encounter a small herd of rhinoceroses and their calves and are forced up onto the hilltops to avoid them. Returning to the valley, they travel on and cross the river that runs between the hills and the Aoxian Plains in late afternoon.

An hour into setting up camp they spot a group on the horizon: travelling hunters and poachers carrying rolled-up pelts and cured haunches of meat who Shi identifies as coming from the western shantytown of Mowangzhi. The travelers are invited to share the camp for the night and trade for a pangolin scale (which the hunters' shaman claims has magical powers) and a number of warm pelts. The two groups set up a shared watch, and the night passes safely.

Day Two: The group farewell the travelling hunters and strike off again north-west, travelling without incident until they spot a group of strangers attempting to sneak through the tall grass of the plains around midday. Emerging from concealment (but leaving Shi hidden at a distance just in case), the group attempt to make peaceful contact.

The strangers turn out to be intensely paranoid and xenophobic, mistaking the beast-folk for demons and Mei-Xiu (the sole human) as a sorcerer and rejecting overtures of diplomacy. The situation threatens to escalate to violence until Sun, backed up with displays of supernatural prowess from Mei-Xiu and Ming-Hua, plays into their misconception and threatens them with demonic wrath unless they flee.

The strangers flee in a panicked hurry as the group press on, making good distance before settling in for a quiet night.

Day Three: The group travel onward, the landscape changing around them from flat plains covered with long wispy grasses to gentler rolling country with lusher reeds and grasses. Coming up on a hill in the early afternoon, they surprise a grazing rhinoceros and are aggressively charged. They strike even as they dart out of the way, weakening the great beast without it harming anyone until Ming-Hua is able to burn through its chest with a blast of flame.

Settling into a safe camp, they pass the night in peace.

Day Four: The group travel stealthily onward, coming into territory they recognise from their previous journey and starting to get their bearings toward the Tomb of the Nameless Hero. The day is quiet and without danger, and the night the same. 

Day Five: Around sundown the group come into sight of their destination, and Xiang and Ming-Hua repeat their respective divinatory rituals to learn that demonic chi from the nadir to the south is being drawn into the Tomb of the Nameless Hero now that the seal has been broken. The group hurry on inside, concerned about what awaits them but unwilling to wait. 

Passing through the empty chambers of Failure and Suffering as Xiang summons a crab-spirit to strengthen their numbers, they find themselves once more lurking in the doorway to the chamber of Death. The group press on inside, finding a room empty save for a tarnished bronze gong in one corner and a stone flask on the floor in another. 

The silence in the room has an almost palpable weight and dust lies inches thick upon the floor, and the mural that hangs upon the wall is a shadowed featureless black. Mei-Xiu approaches the mural with torch in hand, illuminating a buried human figure draped with a brilliantly-white funeral shroud. The figure stirs with a rattling deathly groan that creates a sympathetic vibration in the gong, setting the dust on the floor to trembling and reforming into a quartet of skeletal warriors. 

Mei-Xiu leaps into action against Death, her blows proving ineffective but drawing the creature's retaliation away from the rest of the group. Ming-Hua provides magical support, while Xiang, Shi, Sun, and the crab engage the skeletons, more of which are forming from the dust with each passing moment. 

Sun cuts down a number of the skeletons on one side of the chamber while a pair of them on the other side tear the crab-spirit apart, flesh and spirit alike. Xiang conjures a sphere of flames that rolls into death and sets its grave-shroud to smoldering and scorches a number of the skeletons. 

Death finally lands a blow on the elusive Mei-Xiu, the touch causing her awareness of her body to dull and become distant, before the creature moves over to where Ming-Hua is surrounded by skeletons and comes very close to seizing her throat in its bony hand. At the same moment, indistinct skeletal figures slowly emerge from the painted recesses of the shadowed mural and begin to stumble towards the lighted room...

No comments:

Post a Comment