Christopher H. (GM): The bus, missing its windows and full of bullet holes, has moved out of the steppes and into the foothills of the mountains that surround the city of Gathering Clouds.
“Surround” might be a misnomer; Gathering Clouds is an enormous Arcology, a great round stepped pyramid with five layers, each open to the sky except where they support the next layer up.
And at the top, surmounting the whole thing like a flag placed by a victorious climber is the headquarters of the Yun Trading Corporation.
Rising more than 10,000 feet, the Yun Clan’s fortress city stands proudly, shoulder to shoulder with the more natural mountains.
The bus itself pulls into one of the many gates in the lowest layer, and after making its way through a warren of tunnels, parks in a bus depot on the other side of the wall.
Lai and Jiali have nobody waiting for them, but there is an absolutely gorgeous woman in black and purple clothing holding a sign that says “Mercury Cloud”; Apparently Wu Bu sent a chauffeur.
Christopher H. (GM): “Mercury Cloud?” she asks, recognizing the son of the Cinnabar Prophet, “I have been sent to bring you to the tournament. Your bus is late.”
It almost sounds like she’s blaming you.
wro c.: “Ah, you must be an acquaintance of Mr. Wu.”
Christopher H. (GM): “Indeed. I am his personal secretary, Red Mist. Mr. Wu has sent a car with me.”
Ten Lai blinks at Mercury Cloud. .oO( I didn’t take him for a high roller. )
Christopher H. (GM): “Are these fine people traveling with you, sir?” She asks, gesturing at Ten Lai and Xue Xiali.
Xue Jiali looks back and forth between Mercury cloud and Red Mist. He didn’t see this coming, either.
wro c. turns to them. “How about it, do either of you need a ride?”
Mercury Cloud: “Somehow after what happened on the bus I figure you two are probably here for the Tournament as well.”
Ten Lai blows warm air onto her hands, which have mostly stopped shaking after the bus ride. She raises her head, surprised. “Ah… I still haven’t arranged for a place to stay. I’m not sure where I would want a ride to.”
Mercury Cloud turns back to Red Mist. “These two ladies, er, this lady and gentleman demonstrated their martial skill against the Mod Brain gang on the journey here.”
Xue Jiali looks around the station. He didn’t expect to be greeted here, but Cloud’s greeting had given him a little bit of hope. "I suppose I could use a ride.
Christopher H. (GM): Red Mist frowns ever so slightly on hearing the name “Mod Brains”.
“They are a nuisance. They have caused no end of difficulty for Mr. Wu.
Mercury Cloud: .oO( She seems to know more, but that’s not a conversation to have in front of the other two.)
Christopher H. (GM): “In any case, I am certain that Mr. Wu will be delighted to accommodate whomever Mercury Cloud wishes to have with him for…” and here she looks from the beautiful woman to the beautiful man dressed as a woman, trying to find the right word.
“Whomever he wishes to have near for companionship.”
Ten Lai shrugs and offers a smile. “Then I would be happy to appreciate the offer.”
Christopher H. (GM): “However, as we are running late, I must insist that we head straight to the tournament. Madame, a complimentary ticket can be arranged, if you should wish to watch.”
Mercury Cloud: "Oh, you aren’t participating, Doctor?’
Xue Jiali bows politely to Red Mist. “I’m very thankful for your kindness.”
Ten Lai points at herself. “Me? No, I came here on… on other business. I would appreciate the opportunity to watch, though!”
Christopher H. (GM): By this time the three of you have been ushered to a long black limousine, where the driver, another woman almost a beautiful as Red Mist, loads your luggage into the trunk, ushers the four of you into the expansive rear compartment, and then begins driving through the bust streets of Gathering Clouds
The lowest level seems to be the poorest; buildings, vehicles and people are poorly maintained and crammed close together.
Ten Lai looks outside the window, curious about the makeup of the city. .oO( I bet the poor people down there have little access to medical care. I could set up shop, if I needed to. )
Christopher H. (GM): But eventually the car makes it through the stop-and-go traffic to the great pillar that supports the arcology, and after taking a long, winding spiral tunnel, the bus emerges on Level 2.
Ten Lai turns to look at Xue Jiali and Mercury Cloud. “Why do you wish to fight in the tournament?”
Mercury Cloud ponders thoughtfully, something made more impressive by naturally exhaling smoke rings.
Mercury Cloud: “I hadn’t really considered. My father asked me to and I took it from there.”
Xue Jiali: Well, to be honest, it was suggested to me by my master. It seemed like the next reasonable step to take, after finishing my training.
Ten Lai seems impressed. “Is that so? You are a good son to follow your father’s wishes like that.”
Ten Lai: “Ah. A warrior’s training is never done.” :)
Mercury Cloud: “And what of you, Doctor? What is your business in this remarkable city?”
Xue Jiali nods. “I suppose so. But my master thought it was time for me to experience battle in the real world.”
Ten Lai: “My business? It hardly merits the word. I am travelling, and this seemed like an interesting city to stay in for a while.”
Ten Lai nods at Xue Jiali. “That, too, is training.”
Christopher H. (GM): Level 2 is much nicer than Level 1 already; in particular, a ring of verdant parks surrounds the central pillar. After continuing through traffic, the limo arrives at a stadium. The Tournament seems fairly popular; large crowds of people are milling about or waiting in long lines for tickets, but of course the limo is able to go around back, bringing the competitors in through a loading dock.
Red Mist ushers you quickly and professionally through a series of check ins, and a rather panicked stadium official of some sort hurries all four of you down a long hallway, which emerges into the arena proper.
“Just wait here!” She says, “I can’t believe how late you are! We’re going to be starting in less than ten minutes!”
Gathered here, waiting to go out, are the other competitors.
Ten Lai lets herself be ushered in, looking at the place curiously.
Christopher H. (GM): One is a rather dirty looking young man, his bald-shaven head a sign that he is a monk of the Little Forest Sect.
The next is a young woman, an owl perched on her arm. Her skirt and sleeves are cut short to allow freedom of movement, and with her wide yellow eyes, thin prominent nose and speckled burnette hair, she looks like she might be the owl’s sister.
Third, a man in a bulky white hazmat suit. There are all kinds of strange gadgets hanging off the backpack of the suit, and he seems to be breathing from an airtank.
Ten Lai looks at the assembled crowd. “…”
Ten Lai: “Ah, excuse me. I don’t suppose you know where the audience seating is?” ^^;
Christopher H. (GM): Last, but certainly not least adorable, is a young girl of no more than 12, dressed in the robes and winged hat of a scholar. Her sleeves are too long and fall over her hands, and her adult-sized hat has a tendency to slip down over her eyes.
Mercury Cloud is, for the record, a dark man in his late 20’s; in colorful traditional clothing suited to a fortune teller or the more esoteric type of doctor, but threadbare from age and use.
Christopher H. (GM): The monk in the ratty clothes looks Ten Lai over, slowly chewing on a stalk of wheat. “I think these are the best seats in the house, ma’am!” As he speaks you can hear from his high voice that he’s even younger than he looks; still just a teenager.
The little girl looks the three of you over.
“You’re all skilled in Kung Fu, but you aren’t all here for the tournament?”
Xue Jiali looks over the gathered warriors. The monk is nothing unusual – he’s dirty, but monks have a sort of special dispensation to be disheveled, if it suits their path to enlightenment. The woman is a little odd, but not too far out for a member of the wulin. The young girl is more of a surprise, but he’s heard of such prodigies before. It’s the hazmat suit that really makes him pause. Maybe he’s not going to be the strangest-dressed competitor after all.
Ten Lai: “They may be, but I’m sure I’m not entitled to one. The staff seems to have mix—ah, it is true I practice kung-fu, but I did not sign up.”
Christopher H. (GM): “Hey crimsy!” She says to the man in the hazmat suit. “Nobody told me we could bring an entourage”.
Mercury Cloud turns to the monk and attempts to ‘speak hayseed’ with him, initiating an unspoken regional dialect by spitting on the ground and stamping his foot in a casual fashion, with a farmer’s posture.
Mercury Cloud: (what I’m trying to say is, I’m trying to see if one hick can tell another)
Christopher H. (GM): The monk looks you up and down. “Where you from, cousin?”
Mercury Cloud: “I’ve traveled all over this land, friend, but I hail from the South, originally. What about yourself?”
Ten Lai looks around. “No one knows where I could find a staff member?”
Christopher H. (GM): “Oh, you know, here and there. I’ve been in the monastery for a while, only just finished my training earlier this year. It’s been amazing to get out of that place, it’s stifling! The old men aren’t any fun at all!”
The girl with the owl is glaring daggers at him.
The staff member who ushered you all here seems to have gone off on some errand or other, and nobody seems too interested in helping the good doctor Ten Lai.
Ten Lai tries the door handle. ==;
Christopher H. (GM): There’s a sort of faint whirring sound behind her. Turning around, she sees the man in the bulky hazmat suit standing behind her.
Mercury Cloud: “I hear you, friend. City people say the country life is boring, but they have no conception of the changing of the seasons, the harvest festivals, what it’s like to hear the birds of spring each morning. It must be quite different to be cloistered in a monastery.”
Christopher H. (GM): “Doctor?” asks the man in the hazmat suit.
The monk smiles. “When I was really young, I could run around wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. Those were the good old days. Guess I was too wild for my parents, so they sent me off to the monastery. Not a bad place, but lots of rules, you know?”
Ten Lai turns back to look at the… odd man. “Yes?”
Xue Jiali removes his Jian from its sheath, and starts to polish it. If people are paying money to see this tournament, they deserve to see swords shining beautifully in the sunlight!
Mercury Cloud: “I grew up on trains and riverboats, trust me, I know.” With that he politely lets the conversation end.
Christopher H. (GM): “Ah. I thought so. Mirror told me. She is rarely wrong. You are here to watch the tournament?” says the man to Ten Lai.
Meanwhile, the girl with the Owl bursts in on Mercury Cloud and the Monk’s conversation.
Ten Lai: “I am, yes.” :)
Christopher H. (GM): "Terrible! The way you badmouth the people who raised you! Have you no appreciation for those who raised you?!
And before the conversations can go any further, the announcer breaks in.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we present now for your entertainment, the Emerging Young Heroes!”
And as the announcer lists them one by one, they file out into the middle of the arena.
“Thistle, sponsored by Abbott Starry Sky!” This is the name of the young monk.
“Silence, sponsored by Western Wind!” is the girl with the owl.
Ten Lai waits in the back politely, sighing with relief. Since everyone is being called out by name, she will be safe.
Christopher H. (GM): “Smoke Clouded Mirror and Doctor Crimson, both sponsored by Furnace Duke!” are the little girl and the man in the hazmat suit respectively.
“Mercury Cloud, sponsored by Wu Bu, and last but certainly not least, Xue Jiali, sponsored by our Honored Dowager Empress herself!”
The arena is a large cobblestone square, surrounded by large statues of various gods of battle.
Ten Lai stares at Xue Jiali. By the Empress!?
Christopher H. (GM): “And now that we have introduced our contestants, we will let them introduce themselves!”
Mercury Cloud too is curious about Jiali’s connection to the Dowager.
Xue Jiali gets a slight hint of a blush as his sponsored is announced. He doesn’t usually mention her by name, since it always leads to questions that he doesn’t know the answer to. Still, he walks out into the arena, trying to ignore the attention.
Christopher H. (GM): And indeed, it appears that the first part of the contest is simply a matter of impressing some judges; each contestant will have a chance to show off their unique skills.
The judges sit looking down from a skybox at the north end of the square. And an odd-looking lot they are; One is a handsome but clearly eccentric man, wearing as he does fashions from the far west; in his suit and tie he looks very out of place, but he sells it with an arrogant confidence. Mercury Cloud recognizes him as Wu Bu.
The second judge is encased head to toe in metal armor, which glows red hot and constantly belches smoke from a smokestack emerging from the back.
And the last is recognizable as Western Wind, son of Snow Leopard, and presumptive heir to the Yun Clan.
Ten Lai looks up at the judges and the contestants. This promises to be quite the show. ^^
Christopher H. (GM): The first contestant to step forth and introduce herself is Silence. Speaking not a word (appropriately enough), she points to a hawk in the sky.
Suddenly she leaps up, jumping hundreds of feet towards the bird, and as she reaches him, she uses him as a stepping stone, lightening her body so much that she barely disturbs his flight, and becomes just a speck in the air.
She lands in the judges skybox, holding a feather, which she presents to Western Wind. Apparently her keen eyes picked out a bird flying even higher than the hawk!
The second warrior to introduce himself is Dr. Crimson. Stepping forward, he exclaims to the crowd, “Greetings! I am Doctor Crimson! In this world, there are spirits of sickness” he holds up a pile of cards, emblazoned with images of germs and demons of disease, “And spirits of health.” In his other hand are cards depicting gods of medicine and good fortune.
He throws the cards up randomly into the air, and pulls something out from behind his back. Some kind of telescoping spear, it extends and retracts multiple times into the chaotic flurry of cards. “As a Doctor, it is my job to discern between the two.”
And indeed, he has speared only the spirits of sickness, while the cards depicting the spirits of health have landed at his feet, arranged to spell the symbol for “Good Health”.
Mercury Cloud would make a speech, but he’s not sure how Wu Bu would react to being associated with the movement’s more radical aims so publicly. He’s also not sure he wants Wu Bu associated with the movement.
Mercury Cloud: Instead he steps forward, clasping his hands together and making a slight nod of his head towards the judges. “Mercury Cloud, son of Cinnibar Prophet”, before beginning.
Exhaling a huge burst of mist like a broken steam pipe, there comes a horrible, tortured metal sound from within the fog. And when the artificial cloud parts, he’s absolutely covered in acupuncture needles, the metal medicine. Opening his eyes he locks them on the judges…
… and then, with the momentary flex of someone trained in Iron Body Skill, he sends the needles flying out of his skin and into the surrounding statues. (Rolling for a hyperactivity condition on myself, going for a breath bonus and of course the strength/severity will be determined by my roll).
(29 is the highest I guess? So that’s 39, with my 10 medicine.)
Christopher H. (GM): Wu Bu smiles and gives a polite little golf clap as the audience oohs and aahs at the impressive demonstration.
Xue Jiali takes a deep breath. He’s prepared for this. Elegant demonstrations of martial skill are a big part of Society training. He steps forward, then suddenly launches into a spinning movement across the arena. It’s not a dance, really, but it is elegant. His movements go back and forth, and, as he goes on, he starts to leave afterimages behind. It’s not that he’s moving so fast, but something about his sudden turns and deceptive movements makes it seem like he’s in many places at once, going many different ways.
Xue Jiali: After a few moments of this, he stops, and reaches into a pouch on his side. He pulls out a dozen or so big, heavy coins, each with stringer of silk tied through the hole in the middle, to make them more visible to the audience. He tosses them high up in the air, so that they’d all land within a few meters of him. As they reach their crest and start to descend, he moves in a way that the eye can’t follow. Impossible as it is, it looks almost like he’s split into a dozen of himself, each of them catching one of the coins at the same instant.
As he stops moving, the multiple images of him settling into a single position, it becomes apparent that he didn’t exactly catch the coins in his hand. Rather, he caught them on him arm, on their edges, so that they all now roll down it back into the pouch. The display finished, he gives a bow to the judges, and resumes his position.
Christopher H. (GM): Next, Smoke Clouded Mirror steps forth. “For my next trick, I will require a volunteer from the audience. You there!” She points at Ten Lai. “Come out here. Doctor, are you set up?”
And indeed, Doctor Crimson seems to have set up a Go board.
“Fancy a game? The rest of you! Do whatever you want to disrupt the game. Even if you attack me I guarantee I will still win!”
Ten Lai steps forth with an amused smile. “I would be happy to, though I am not much good.”
Christopher H. (GM): “You can even go first,” she says, smiling at Ten Lai.
The two players open the game, and it is clear that both are quite skilled.
Ten Lai places her first piece in the lower-left quadrant, from her perspective. Her hands move gracefully, and her long sleeves trail elegantly after her hand—she’s happy to put on a show as co-performer for Smoke Clouded Mirror.
Ten Lai: rolling 7d10s
Ten Lai plays Go with the precision of a surgeon and the grace of a dancer—both trades in which she has extensive practice! Although the board is too small for the audience to see, her every movement speaks of her skill! The soft ‘thunk’ of a piece on the board is thunderous in its silence! For this game, nothing but the board seems to exist! [ Perform 38, plus Clarity in Openness for a total of 48. ]
Ten Lai: [ Oh! 53 counting 5 points in Perform. ]
Xue Jiali waits for the game to progress a little. Once the situation is complex enough that it doesn’t seem possible for one person to keep it all in their head, he makes his move. He draws his sword in a swift motion and lashes out. It’s not aimed at Smoke Clouded mirror, though – rather, he tries to simply sweep all of the stones off of the board.
Xue Jiali: rolling 7d10s
Mercury Cloud stomps with tremendous force, sending the stones into the air and thus setting them up for Jiali.
Xue Jiali: [That’s a 36, plus 10 strike, plus 5 for Flicking Tail Lashings (might as well, I don’t think I’ll need the chi), is 51. Using Subtle Force, of course, so as to not scratch the board.]
Mercury Cloud: rolling 7d10s
(32+10 from destiny cloud for the strike)
(oh, and like chaotech’s doing i guess i could use an internal…oh wait, i’m already at least in flavor using iron power, so I can’t supplement my strike with the strike boosting iron skill move)
(nevermind, I’ll leave it as is)
Christopher H. (GM): Pieces fly everywhere as Xue and Mercury Cloud attempt to disrupt the game. Smoke Clouded Mirror looks surprised as the pieces fly everywhere. She gets a look of intense concentration on her face, and her eyes turn a dark black. She manages to rearrange the pieces in the order that they were, but it is clear that Ten Lai has the advantage.
Ten Lai catches two of the flying pieces and places one of them down on the board with a circular, mesmerizing movement. Her other hand places the second piece with a touch less grace—both of them ended up where they were before, right? It’s not like she had an opportunity to switch around the place of a critical piece to make Smoke Clouded Mirror’s territory fall apart, right? Of course not! And even if she had, who would notice when blinded by the beauty of her movements and smile?
Ten Lai: [ Yeah, 45 + 10 + 5 = 60 for the final roll. ^^ ]
Christopher H. (GM): The audience oohs and aahs at Smoke Clouded Mirror’s impressive dexterity and poise, the way she moves, catching flying pieces with one hand even as she makes moves with the others.
Most of them, not trained in Go, don’t actually notice a tiny detail… Smoke Clouded Mirror has just barely lost the game.
She glares at Ten Lai furiously.
Ten Lai bows at Smoke Clouded Mirror gracefully, as though conceding her own loss. ^^
Christopher H. (GM): Smoke Clouded Mirror shows no anger, but she does tightly clutch the board. When she moves her hands to return the stones to their bowls, you can see her nails have left deep gouges in the board.
Ten Lai returns to her audience seating. .oO( Did I over-do it? )