Moon Day, 21st of 12th Month, ZY113 – Day of the Winter Solstice
Dawn broke over the horizon as the city smoldered. The riot of the eve of the winter solstice left Kong Wan in ruins. Kneeling in circles were the Tathatan Dwarves, mourning the fallen leader Sri Mahani as the Governor’s troops marched to and fro rounding up the last of the rioters. Teams of water-bailers attempted to save the last of the Thauma-Virun temple. Ashes and the scent of smoke were in the air.
The Captain of the Guard and his troops rounded up the Lau Brothers, Bayar, Mumuna, and the girl from the temple. They were all implicated in both the abduction and rescue of Sri Mahani, and until the truth could be sorted out, they had to be detained.
“Perhaps this is the safest place at the moment anyway,” said Mumuna as the cell door clanked shut. “To save Mahani, we killed two Dwarves: Dharva and Sala. Sala had no kin, but Dharva had brothers and a sister. They are sure to seek revenge.”
After a few hours in prison, during which they met a smuggler likewise locked up, the party was brought before Pong-chi, the Governor of Kong Wan. A long, wispy mustache hung from the Governor’s narrow face, and the cuffs of his aquamarine robes swayed as he pointed and barked orders at his aides. Finally, he faced the party members.
“So these are the ones you told me about?” he asked.
The Captain of the Guard nodded, and proceeded to make his charges. The Governor stroked his wispy mustache. He was in a delicate situation. On the one hand, the party had been instrumental in saving Mahani and stopping the riots. On the other hand, they had disobeyed orders, fired into the crowd, and taken advantage of the wounded and fallen. He could not just let them go without appearing weak.
“So I am left with only two choices,” said the Governor. “I could either punish you, or…”
A smile broke across his face.
“Or make you heroes. Hmm… Yes, it’s perfect. The people are broken, dispirited, demoralized. What they need now is hope. They need role models.”
He pointed to Bayar.
“An Imperial Orc priest of Thauma-Virun? No, that won’t do. It would appear too top-down.”
Then he pointed to Mumuna.
“A formerly-Tathatan Dwarf? That won’t work either. We mustn’t appear partisan on either side.”
Finally, he pointed to the Lau brothers.
“But you two… humble Goblinoid drovers – brothers no less! – well, it’s just perfect. Two drovers come to do their patriotic duty on the solstice… and when they see a city in need, they spring into action! It’s like a storybook. Yes, this will work.”
With that, the Governor dismissed the party members. They were to be pardoned for their crimes, but must submit to being idolized as heroes in an Imperial feast. Everyone in Kong Wan would be granted a bowl of rice and beans, and the Lau brothers were to have the first bite.
A great crowd gathered for the ceremony. The Governor gave a rousing speech, declaring the Lau brothers heroes.
“They did not say I am too low to serve the city! They did not say I have lost too much!” cried the Governor. “For it was these brave souls who with their coarse, weathered hands defeated last night’s conspirators!”
Then the Governor revealed the first in the efforts to rebuild the city – a wooden obelisk painted with the brother’s images and a phoenix rising toward the heavens.
Next, the Thauma-Virun priest Bayar and the formerly-Tathatan Mumuna jointly presented the Lau brothers with the first bowl of rice and beans. The brothers ate, and the crowd cheered again.
Finally, the Governor doled out gifts. He presented the head priest of the Thauma-Virun temple with a bronze-plated brick, which was to be the first stone in a rebuilt temple. To Sri Mahani’s successor, Sri Katiri, he gave a ceremonial bronze axe as a funeral offering. Finally, to each of the Lau brothers he presented a bronzed vulture feather. The feather functioned like a key to the city – for the remainder of the day they would receive a “hero’s welcome” anywhere they went.
As the ceremony concluded, the Governor whispered to the party members, “War is surely coming now.” He invited them to join his army if so inclined.
The people pressed toward the platform, eager to touch the hands of the heroes. As they filed past laying their hands on his, Mo-tse noticed something strange appear in his hand – a braid of hair. He looked up just in time to see disappear into the crowd a cloaked Dwarf with one braid missing from his beard. Later, Mumuna explained that this was a message: they had been marked for revenge. The cloaked Dwarf had surely been a relative of the slain Dharva.
While still contemplating this ill omen, Mo-tse saw a noble’s litter approach the platform. The curtain of the litter parted and two giggling girls with powdered faces and elaborate hairstyles eyed the Lau brothers. “May we expect to see you at the Empire tonight?” they asked.
Without a clue what “the Empire” was, Tse-dong replied, “Of course!”
Later they learned it was nothing less than the most prestigious inn in all of Kong Wan.
After that, the heroes were released from their obligations, given back their equipment, and sent on their way.
The next thing on the brothers’ minds was their yaks, so they headed to the stables. On their way, they noticed a new sign pointing toward the stables. Parents and children were crowded around the stables, and atop a makeshift platform was the stable master shouting, “Come one, come all to the Heroes’ Stables! One copper meng to pet their yaks. Five and you can ride them!”
When the stable master saw the heroes coming, he looked nervous, unsure what reaction to expect. To his relief, the brothers were not angry, but appeared pleased. Not only did they endorse the stable master’s makeshift petting zoo, but did him one step better. Mo-tse handed out magically rejuvenated flowers. Tse-dong healed the injured, and even went so far as to dole out copper meng. Furthermore, they did all this not in their own name, but in the name of Governor Pong-chi. The crowd adored them and their humility. They pressed so hard upon them that they threatened to topple the brothers from the platform.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city, Bayar was having a private audience with the head priest of the Thauma-Virun temple. Among other things, the priest offered to write a letter of commendation to Bayar’s superior back in the Imperial Lowlands.
Back at the stables, the brothers finally escaped the crowd into the stable master’s house. Inside was his brother and his brother’s wife, who had been having trouble conceiving. The price for stabling the yaks had been to magically aid them in this endeavor. Mo-tse interviewed them and discovered the source of the problem was an inability to perform on the part of the husband, so he set about aiding him with Amorousness, a spell he normally used for yak breeding. In a display of superfluous but elegant ritual, he “blessed” the wife with a rejuvenated flower. Actually, his magic backfired and reduced the flower to charred ash instead of rejuvenating it, but he covered up the mistake by pretending it was intended that way. Then he cast the real magic on the husband, and left the two to their romantic escapades.
As they left, Tse-dong worked out a special deal with the stable master. In exchange for half the petting zoo’s earnings and indefinite stabling of the yaks, the establishment would be permitted to continue using the brothers’ names, but on one condition: a large sign with high-quality renderings of the brothers’ faces must be put up. Clearly, Tse-dong had his eye on building his reputation even further.
After that, it was back to Mumuna’s inn, the Sky Door, for some much-needed sleep. They met Bayar returning there for the same purpose. Mumuna was happy to give them their own private room for free. He also thanked them with a cask of rice wine.
After a few hours of sleep, the three awoke to the sounds of a crowd outside. Peeking out the second-story window, they saw that the people had evidently figured out where they were staying. They were massing outside, hoping to get healed or handed some coin.
Downstairs, the brothers and Bayar found the formerly-struggling inn now brimming with patrons. But among the crowd was a cloaked figure, unsettlingly familiar: the Dwarf with the missing beard braid, a brother of Dharva intent on revenge.
As soon as the Dwarf realized he had been spotted, he began elbowing his way toward the door. But Tse-dong quickly called out to the Dwarf in front of the whole crowd.
“You there, Dwarf!” he called.
Everyone turned to see the Dwarf violating the Governor’s order constraining Tathatan activity to the Market Ward. He now looked very nervous and anxious to leave, but had a swell of inn patrons between him and the door.
Tse-dong continued, “Everyone, know that this Dwarf has come for revenge, but we hereby forgive him!”
The Dwarf looked stunned and incredulous.
“Come here,” said Tse-dong.
With a swell of hostile inn patrons between him and the door, the Dwarf had little choice but to see where the ruse led. He hesitantly followed the brothers and Bayar, and was led into the cellar. There he was found armed only with a grain-threshing flail. The Dwarf, hardly a warrior but only a farmer, knew his death was at hand. But Tse-dong, in a calculated display of mercy, allowed the Dwarf to live. He was instructed to go and tell everyone of this mercy, the mercy of Governor Pong-chi. The gamble appeared to pay off, for the Dwarf agreed to call off the revenge. And in front of the crowd of inn patrons he praised the mercy of Governor Pong-chi. Tse-dong then led the crowd in a cheer for Governor Pong-chi. Tse-dong must have been pleased with himself, for his plan worked out perfectly, all the while ingratiating himself with the Governor.
That evening, it was time to head to the Empire. Perched in the rock face beside the waterfall, the beautiful white inn was frequented only by nobility and those wealthy enough to rub elbows with nobility. But as the brothers and the Bayar were heroes entitled to a “hero’s welcome,” they found themselves rubbing elbows with the upper crust as well.
At the Empire, a themed inn with servant girls gathered from all different cultures of Wu-Yu, the brothers and Bayar fell into the good graces of one Lord Gansalahi, the wealthiest noble in Kong Wan. This lord asked for a display of the strength, marksmanship, and eloquence rumored of Tse-dong, Mo-tse, and Bayar, respectively. Tse-dong went first, and arm-wrestled a strapping Vanara tribeswoman. He won one about, lost another, and in an act of humility, intentionally lost the third and final bout. Nevertheless, he was greeted with applause. Next, Bayar was asked for an edifying homily. He plucked up his religious fervor, and proceeded to proselytize a tribal hunter-gatherer girl from the Southern Islands. She fell down on her knees and embraced Viru. Applause ensued again. Finally, it was Mo-tse’s turn. He was given a crossbow, and asked to shoot a flower out of the hand of an Elf maiden. Striking a stark contrast with his humble brother, Mo-tse took one look at the crossbow and turned his nose up in disgust. He demanded a weapon of far better quality. Lord Gansalahi appeared amused, and brought an exquisite piece of craftsmanship. The crossbow was well-balanced, inlaid with iron filigrees, and topped with an iron vulture’s head. Quite satified, Mo-tse took aim. Fortunately for the Elf maiden, his aim was true. The bolt hit the flower, and applause rang out for a third time. Mo-tse soaked up the applause, and very consciously holstered the exquisite crossbow on his back.
During the course of the evening, it was revealed that the deceased Emperor’s will had been read. In contrast to the Dwarven tradition of naming a successor, the Orc tradition of dividing one’s estate among one’s offspring was invoked. The Empire was to be divided into three. The West was to be ruled by Prince Bayanhongor, known for his ruthless severity. The East was given to Princess Atas, famed for his skill at archery from horseback. And the South went to the dashing, charismatic Prince Hovd. No one at the end thought highly of this, and fully expected war by spring. The brothers offered themselves to Lord Gansalahi as soldiers, an offer which was well-received.
The rest of the evening involved clown shows, a display of acrobatics by a Goblinoid girl, drunkenness on the part of Mo-tse, and one further encounter for Tse-dong. The acrobat girl made eyes at him, clearly using her seductive talents. Once she got him into a private room, however, she changed her demeanor.
“I’m being kept here against my will,” she said. “Please, you have to help me! Gansalahi came ten years ago, when I was only nine, after hearing of my talents. My family was deep in debt at that time. He offered to pay our debts, in exchange for taking me as an indentured servant for five years. Now it’s been ten, and he still refuses to let me go home. He keeps something about interest and inflation. I don’t really understand. I’m not clever at math, but it doesn’t seem right at all! I want to go home, but I’m no good at coming up with plans for escape, and Gansalahi’s men keep a close eye on me. Please, if you’re really a hero, help me!”
Tse-dong considered the matter. He and his brother were set to work for Gansalahi, and now she was asking them to turn against him. “We’ll see what we can do,” was all he replied.
By then it was growing quite late, and Mo-tse quite drunk, so Tse-dong collected his brother and his friend Bayar, and all three bade farewell for the evening. Mo-tse, who still had the exquisite crossbow slung on his back, stumbled out of the inn. The doorman raised his eyebrow, but let Mo-tse go with the crossbow for the time being.
Fire Day, 22nd of 12th Month, ZY113
The next day, the group debated how to make their next move. The Lau brothers were keen to join Gansalahi’s army, apparently preferring it over that of the Governor’s. However, they were also eager to collect the payment for driving the yaks on to Po Keng. Meanwhile, Bayar had his own reasons to stick with his new friends. So they all decided to drive the yaks on to Po Keng, then return to Kong Wan for military service.
Tse-dong returned to the Emprie to speak with Gansalahi’s servant, the doorman Pagarasuna. He explained their need to finished their contracted yak drive, and assured him they would return shortly. Pagarasuna consented. Then Tse-dong asked if Lord Gansalahi had any errands they might run for him in the area of Po Keng. In fact, he did: Pagarasuna handed him a sealed letter which was to be delivered to Gansalahi’s relatives, the Alats. Finally, Pagarasuna inquired as to when his lord’s crossbow would be returned. Tse-dong demured to speak for his brother, and promised a response. Later, upon consulting Mo-tse, who was resolutely committed to keeping the crossbow by any means possible, they sent a bold message: Mo-tse would use the crossbow for the duration of the yak drive. If, by the time they returned to Kong Wan, Gansalahi thought he had not earned the right to keep it, he would gladly return it to him. The brothers have yet to hear Gansalahi’s reaction to this message.
Bayar and the brothers Lau now stand ready to embark upon a ten day yak drive to Po Keng. What adventures will the journey bring? Only time will tell.