Monday, 26 September 2016

All Things Under Heaven, Session #7

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.
  • Ling, a Paladin. One of the Bie turtlefolk, from the Tribe of the Tortoise. She fought against and alongside Mei-Xiu and Shi on distant battlefields, and now wanders the Wastes to increase her wealth.
  • 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. 
    • Major Quest: Find the surviving lizardfolk and deliver their master's message to their leader.
The Session

Day Five (cont.): Mei-Xiu charges over to defend Ming-Hua as the group set Death in their sights and focus their attacks on the shrouded creature. The shroud tears and people begin to see what lies beneath - for Mei-Xiu, the bloody shrunken face of the Warlord Zang; for Sun, the severed head of a lower-class friend executed for rebellion against her parents; for Ming-Hua, the broken corpse of her dead child - and Ming-Hua flees the emotional trauma into unconsciousness. 

Death's touch overcomes Mei-Xiu, causing her to pass out beneath Xiang's sphere of flame and perish from its deadly heat. Death moves on to Shi, grasping his face and trapping him in an illusion of being conscious of his own dead body's decay. 

Xiang wakes Ming-Hua from her stupor, and in a frenzy of rage and sorrow over the reminder of her dead child and the fall of Mei-Xiu the wizard sends a raging torrent of flames to incinerate the shrouded figure of Death and the skeletons around it. 

With its shroud gone, Death's bones collapse into a heap on the floor and then into dust along with the skeletons. For a moment the group simply stand, shell-shocked and speechless, and then Xiang reaches out with their magic and tears the mural on the wall into ruined shards with a scream of rage. The destruction reveals a dark recess in the wall with a scroll inside, written in an unknown language.

The group take the scroll, along with the bronze gong and stone flask they noticed before, and build a stretcher to bear Mei-Xiu out of the Tomb of the Nameless Hero. They set up camp in the lee of the Tomb's tunnel entrance as they did on their first visit and settle, exhausted and weary with grief, into sleep.

Day Six: As the sun rises the group spot a figure on the horizon, approaching across the plains. She turns out to be a Bie named Ling, an old rival of Mei-Xiu's come to stop her from wasting her life trying to revive her master. The news of Mei-Xiu's death is broken to Ling and she decides to join the group on their journey back to help bear the body home for burial. 

The group press themselves hard through the day, setting a punishing pace as they move through the lush rolling wetlands before settling in for the night in a spot cradled and concealed by gentle hills. They set a watch, and Ling raises the alarm during the night as a group of five rat-demons launch an attack from the hilltops above.

The fight is short and brutal, Ling proving her worth by holding off a pair of the creatures as Sun picks them off from behind and Ming-Hua blasts away with sheets of flame. Xiang and Shi provide support from a distance and the group swiftly wipe out the creatures, cleansing the Aoxian Plains of the rat-demon menace for good.

Day Seven: The group continue to run themselves ragged with a punishing pace, passing from the lush wetlands into the flatter land of wispier grass beyond. By the time they stop, the hills around Iron Springs are in sight and the group decide to settle down for the night, passing a quiet evening. 

Day Eight: Still the group press onwards, arriving at the Shetou River around midday. Shi, Sun, and Xiang cross easily, while Ming-Hua is slowed by the need to protect her various valuable scrolls and Ling is weighed down by Mei-Xiu's body. Halfway through the crossing Xiang notices floodwaters upstream, a wave bearing down on the group with jagged rocks riding the swell and the whole picture resembling the maw of some great serpent. 

The rest of the group race for shore but Xiang freezes, stuck in their tracks as they recognise the smell of draconic chi coming from the incoming water and connect it with their old master. The rest of the group throw them a rope and pull them onto dry land just before the wave crashes down and quickly subsides. 

After recovering their breath, the group resume their journey and come into Iron Springs just as darkness slowly falls and the town's lights are kindled.

In Town: The group immediately seek out the temple, and with the help of Priest Yan (an elderly Bie) say their farewells to Mei-Xiu. Her body is laid out before the temple's statue to Kwan-Yin and prayers and chants sung over it before it is bodily consigned to the Celestial River, dissolving into pure white light as incense rises up to Heaven. 

Returning to Broken Spear's teahouse, the group retire for the night and mourn in private for Mei-Xiu before falling into heavy and cathartic sleep. 

The following morning they visit the broker and receive some extra gold from their vases' sale in the Capital and sell the antique bronze gong. They also visit the apothecary and have the contents of the stone flask identified: a powerful sleeping draught. The group also invest in the town, providing money for the improvement of the temple and the expansion of its library and purchasing a small house for their own use. 

Ling speaks with the town guard, repairing the damage done by Xiang and Mei-Xiu and hearing rumours of a wolf-headed Celestial with power over the storm out on the Aoxian Plains. Sun and Ming-Hua busy themselves in the library, but find its current paucity inadequate to their needs, while Shi attempts to follow up on rumours about god-boars on the border of the Niron Fens and Gulao Forest but fails.  Xiang investigates the local rumour mill, discovering a number of locations where the native lizardfolk of Tianxia may still endure. 

Nights draws in and the group return to their new home. They drink a last toast to Mei-Xiu as the town goes dark and drifts into slumber, until the only light is the candles in the temple that illuminate a plume of incense still rising up to the heavens for Mei-Xiu. 


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