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[Final Hour of a Storied Age] Heart of the Fire
Topic: [Final Hour of a Storied Age] Heart of the Fire (Read 1024 times)
[Final Hour of a Storied Age] Heart of the Fire
November 17, 2010, 03:33:18 PM »
For the past few weeks I've been playtesting
Final Hour of a Storied Age
, my GM-less no-prep game of Epic Fantasy with Leo Lalande and Nolan Callender. This AP report is mostly a blow-by-blow account of the fiction in the game. (If you'd like more detail, check out my
where I have the die rolls, etc., interspersed with the same fiction I have below, or listen to the episodes of the
Designer vs. Reality AP podcast
that cover these sessions).
In the practice yard of the royal palace, Zheng Wei prepares for his brother Zheng Long's attack. Wei hadn't wanted to take time during the visit to spar, but his father had insisted. Wei shakes his head to clear it of daydreams of the princess. He knows better than to distract himself when Zheng Long has proven time and again that he will exploit any advantage. From behind, a voice cries out, “Look, it's the princess!” Another joins it, “She's come to watch them spar!” The princess? Watching
? With butterflies in his stomach, Wei swivels his head to catch a glimpse of her, but feels a painful crack as Zheng Long's wooden practice sword connects with his skull. Wei's knees buckle and he tumbles to the ground realizing that the voices belong to Zheng Long's friends, who now point and laugh at Wei. The only consolation is that their words were lies, and that the princess will not witness his humiliation first hand.
“What treachery is this?” roars the boys' father. “You conspire with others to win? We are true warriors, and need only our own wit and our own skill in battle! Even when not bound by the Ring of Fire we have kept to this tradition!”
Zheng Long sneers. “I won, didn't I? I
“Victory means nothing if you do no carry yourself like a true champion!” their father shouts. “Always act like one who wields the Sword of Fire! How many times have I told you this?”
Zheng Long scoffs. “Children's stories? No, I think my tradition is better. Victory is victory.”
The boys' father shakes his head in disappointment. “When the princess takes the throne, do you think she will choose a man with no honor or principles to be her husband?”
will choose?” asks Zheng Long, his mocking tone plain for all to hear. “I will take what I want, and if
, then I will have her.”
Fuming, Zheng Wei steps forward, eager to defend the princess's honor, but his father holds him back.
“Go,” their father says to Zheng Long. “I see now that you wish to learn no more from me.”
Laughing, Zheng Long turns and marches away, his friends scuttling after him.
* * *
Zheng Wei reads reports of another one of his brother's conquests. It seems that no army can stand against him. Zheng Long's talent for war seems destined to destroy the kingdom, to tear down a thousand years of tradition and civilization, making them little better than barbarians. Wei tries to clear the dark thoughts from his mind and picks up a different letter, one addressed to “my champion,” the name the queen always uses for him. Though tinged with the formality that is expected of her, Wei knows the depth of feeling behind it, knowing that they are destined to be together once the time is right for her to choose a husband. “Champion,” he muses to himself, recalling that his father often spoke of the ancient champions who would use the Sword of Fire and the Ring of Fire to fight for the fate of kingdoms in honorable single combat...
Zheng Wei surveys his fortified village, checking to see if everything is in order before he departs on his quest to find the Sword of Fire. He quickly realizes that his village's food stocks have been depleted and that his people are desperately hungry. Knowing that he cannot leave while his people are in need, Zheng Wei travels to the fork in the main road that leads to his village and alters the signs so that merchants that would normally pass by will head toward his village instead. The trick works perfectly, the flood of commerce gives the villagers all the food they need, and Zheng Wei sets out along the road to begin his search for the sword. Unfortunately for him, wherever the merchants go so do the bandits that prey on them: Zheng Wei is surrounded by mounted men, aiming their shortbows at him! Zheng Wei, dressed humbly, allows one of the bandits to approach him, ready to draw his blade at the last moment to teach the bandits that he should not be trifled with. Zheng Wei slashes one of the bandits across the neck, and the spray of blood does more than enough to frighten the rest of the bandits away, leaving Zheng Wei free to continue his journey.
Zheng Wei travels far from his village to gain entrance to a lonely monastery attended by the mystical fire monks, fabled home of the Sword of Fire. The head of the monastery, Lee Tai, greets him at the entrance. Lee Tai, luxuriously ornamented in gold and jewels, explains that none may enter the temple unless they present him with an appropriate (and expensive) gift. Zheng Wei, having none of his wealth with him, must rely on guile and influence. He suggests that eventually he will marry the queen and become the king, and will be able to offer far more gifts in the future if the need for a gift is waived now. Lee Tai relents and allows him entrance, but the old man's long experience has taught him that specific promises are more important than generalized gratitude. As they discuss the matter over a meal, Zheng Wei is happy make any promises Lee Tai wants, knowing that none of them are binding unless he actually partakes of the meal – something that he believes he can easily fake. With the meal complete (Zheng Wei's portion slowly digesting in the belly of a contented dog under the table), Lee Tai leads Wei to the chamber where the sword waits on a ceremonial stand. “Over the years, many men have believed they could take the sword for themselves, but it is known that the sword itself must have a say in the matter,” Tai philosophizes as he waves his hands and the sword begins to glow red hot. Wei, believing that his true love will give him strength to endure any hardship, grasps the hilt. Wei can only maintain his grip for a fraction of a second as his hand is burned. Lee Tai chuckles at him. “It is not so easy as you young people seem to think. Perhaps some day you will abandon your foolish romanticism and see the world as it truly is.” Abandoning the direct approach, Wei fetches a bucket of water and dumps it on the sword. In a cloud of steam, the sword is quenched and cools enough for Wei to hold. “A clever bit of philosophy,” Tai concedes, “but if you think I will allow you take something that has been ours for generations beyond number then you are sadly mistaken.” The old man's hands burst into flame and he charges at Zheng Wei. Zheng Wei dodges out of the way, positioning himself so that the sword will impale the old man as he charges. Lee Tai is run through the by the Sword of Fire, but the old fire monk disappears in a burst of flame.
As Zheng Wei marvels at the disappearing old man, a set of huge brass doors clang shut, locking him into the sword chamber. Being a tricky fellow himself, Zheng Wei knows that there will be a hidden catch to unlock the doors from inside, and begins looking for it. Wei finds the catch and unlocks the doors. Outside the sword chamber, Wei is surprised to see that the floor has disappeared, replaced by a seemingly bottomless pit with a system of stepping-stone-like pillars. Standing atop a pillar at the center is a warrior-monk, clearly ready to face Wei. Wei charges forward, confident that his tricky and unpredictable style will have an advantage fighting on top of the pillars. The warrior-monk moves nimbly, seeming to be everywhere at once. Zheng Wei chases after the monk, but the effort and fatigue of hopping from pillar to pillar tire Wei, making it difficult to even lift his sword. The monk stands on his pillar, scornful of Wei's skills. Wei tries to circle around to get behind the monk. The monk is too nimble, and Wei can't get any advantage. Desperate, Wei tries his last trick, leaping onto the same pillar as the monk, hoping there won't be enough room for both of them. The monk easily dodges out of the way of the attack. The warrior-monk grabs the Sword of Fire away from Wei, hurls it back into the sword chamber, and picks Wei up and bodily shoves him out of the temple.
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Final Hour of a Storied Age
Re: [Final Hour of a Storied Age] Heart of the Fire
Reply #1 on:
November 17, 2010, 03:39:02 PM »
Zheng Wei lands on his back after being expelled from the temple. He sees a cloud of red mist condense into the form of Lee Tai. “Your soul must be guided by the right emotions to deserve the sword. To win the sword you must be guided by love,” the old man philosophizes. “Love is my guiding passion!” Wei cries. “I am not the one you must convince,” says Lee Tai. “You must convince the guardian of the sword.” He points back toward the temple, where the doors reopen and warrior-monk stands atop his pillar. On the other side of the pillars, across from the sword chamber, Wei sees an image of his beloved queen engulfed in flames. Wei tries to rush to his true love's aid, but he is physically spent. He calls out to the warrior-monk in the spirit of friendship, “Save her! Her life means more to me than the sword! I'll give up my claim if you release her from the flames!” The warrior-monk hears the depth of Wei's feelings and banishes the illusion of the queen. Lee Tai steps up to Wei. “Why did you renounce your claim to the sword?” Zheng Wei, hoping to win the old man's sympathies and friendship says, “Isn't it obvious that her life is more important to me?” “It is not enough to know that she is more important to you,” Lee Tai responds. “You must know
she is important to you.” He disappears in a cloud of red mist.
Zheng Long marches his army toward the capital of the Ice Kingdom, planning to lay siege to it. Lin Bai, clanleader of the ice clan, stares frostily down at the army approaching her city. Freezing winds buffet Zheng Long and his army. Driven by ambition, Zheng Long pushes onward despite the painful cold. His eyes tear for a moment and begin to crystallize on his face, but he closes his eyes and melts the ice away, opening his eyes with a renewed intensity and determination to take the city. The warriors of the Ice Clan man the walls of the city, ready to unleash a deadly rain of arrows at Lin Bai's command. Zheng Long orders his army to form a wall of shields to protect themselves. The rain of arrows falls on the troops, finding the tiny gaps in their wall of shields, and the army is forced to fall back. “Do not be foolish,” Lin Bai calls down. “Leave here before my warriors kill even more of your men.” Needing this city to satisfy his ambition, Zheng Long tells his herald to make an offer to negotiate her surrender. Lin Bai scoffs at Zheng Long's request, knowing what kind of man he is.
Frustrated by his inability to satisfy the fire monks, Zheng Wei begins climbing a mountain path, hoping that it will bring him some spiritual enlightenment. As Wei struggles up the path, a young man in a robe exuberantly jogs past him with a wave, making Wei question whether he is beginning to get past his prime. As an accomplished warrior, Zheng Wei has frequently encountered people who were more talented than he is, but his dogged persistence and hard work have always seen him through, so he begins to double-time it up the path after Lee Chang. Wei catches up to him and demands, “Who are you? Did that old philosopher send you to get in my way?” “I couldn't possibly be in your way here on the mountain path,” Lee Chang responds, “because this is not the way you should be taking.” Zheng Wei gives the young monk a friendly smile. “For such a young man you are very wise, and seem to know something I do not. Perhaps you can enlighten me,” says Zheng Wei, hoping to trick the answer out of him. “I could tell you,” Lee Chang concedes, “but if I did so the other monks would hold it against you as an answer not honestly arrived at.” The young monk looks at Zheng Wei sympathetically and says, “Is it the way of a courageous warrior to climb a mountain path? Is that all you can think to do?” Zheng Wei answers, “I have been a warrior for many years, but to be an accomplished warrior one must also be at peace with oneself. This mountain is rumored to have spiritual properties and this journey said to be an important one. I am enough of a warrior to recognize the wisdom of my elders and hold to the ancient ways.” Lee Chang feels a kinship with Zheng Wei and says, “The old man has deceived you. You know why you love the queen, and why your priorities are what they are. Follow the truth of your heart.” Zheng Wei begrudgingly nods at the young man's wisdom, returns to the temple, and demands that Lee Tai give him what is rightfully his with such passion that the old philosopher is rendered speechless. The guardian of the sword gladly hands it over before Lee Tai can raise any new objections.
Still at the Fire Temple, Zheng Wei knows that he must somehow pry the secret of the magic ring from the fire monks. Lee Tai challenges Wei again, “You still have not answered my question. You do not even understand what you seek. You must bring back the flame of knowledge that lies at the peak of this mountain.” From Lee Tai's hand a line of flame shoots to the ground and races up the mountain. “Only then will I know that you have the understanding necessary to control this ring you now seek.” Wei warns the old monk that this had better not be another trick, and then, relying on his strength and endurance as an accomplished warrior he begins the trek up the mountain. Zheng Wei climbs to the top of the mountain. There he sees the flame burning atop a stone tablet. The flame spreads out into lines and characters, forming some sort of riddle or puzzle: “What is most needed to accomplish your goal?” Wei begins manipulating the fiery characters, suspecting that the answer is some trick of language. Wei is confused by the words, since there seem to be many conflicting, opposite terms. New words appear beneath the original question: “Write friend and the answer will be yours.” Tired of tedious wordplay, Wei decides the solve the problem the way a warrior would, by striking the tablet with his sword! The tablet splits in half, with the conflicting meanings separated. Wei picks up the half that answers the question the way he wants and the tablet begins to float, guiding him in the direction he must go.
Lee Chang is at the fire temple, and overhears Lee Tai tell some other monks to go to the location of the ring to ambush Zheng Wei if he solves the tablet puzzle. Lee Chang suspects that finding the location of the ring will help him gain control of its magic, so he sets out to follow them, despite the danger of getting caught. Lee Chang is utterly careful about his every movement, trying to avoid every branch and twig. He isn't careful enough, though, and some of the monks hear him. “Oh,
,” they say dismissively, leaving two monks behind to keep an eye on Lee Chang while the rest continue on their mission. Lee Chang, despite never having done it before, attempts to immolate himself to reappear somewhere else, as he has seen the other monks do, so that he can follow from a distance. Unfortunately, he simply reappears in the same place, since the other monks suspected he might try this technique and have used their own powers to prevent it.
Having grown frustrated in the wilderness, Lee Chang makes his way back to the Fire Temple. A thick fog rolls in, making visibility poor. As meticulous as Lee Chang is, he has memorized every step of the journey and should be able to find his way home even with visibility obscured. Lee Chang confidently emerges from the fog at the doors of the temple, just as he remembered them. Lee Tai, smoking a pipe near the doors of the temple, asks, “Why do you wander this mountainside? Do you perhaps seek a way that is already revealed to you?” Lee Chang, always precise, says, “You know very well that nothing has been revealed to me. In fact, many things have been consciously hidden from me, unfairly in my view.” Lee Tai is forced to concede that secrets have been kept from Lee Chang.
Zheng Wei continues following the floating tablet. Wei follows the tablet down the other side of the mountain where it leads him to a deep, ominous cave. Wei's sword of fire springs to life, giving him light in the darkness. Wei follows the cave down to a large cavern. In the cavern, Wei spies a bedraggled man with a beard down to his waist. As soon as the man sees Wei, Wei feels a wave of cold pass over him, causing his breath to condense in the air and a chill to sink down to his bones. Wei is used to dealing with physical hardships and also has the heat of his sword. Wei demands that the man identify himself and allow Wei to pass. “I am Lin Xun and this is my cave! Begone from here!” the man cries. He holds up his hands and a buffeting wind slams into Zheng Wei, with tiny ice crystals striking his face. Warmed by the heat of his sword, the mighty warrior Zheng Wei strides toward the man, but the ice, wind, and cold are too much for him and he is forced to retreat from the cavern.
Zheng Long's army has camped, resting and recovering from their rebuffed attack against the Ice Kingdom capital. Zheng Long notices his disreputable and ambitious lieutenant Chen Lim agitating among the men, suggesting that they should stop following Zheng Long and start following him. Zheng Long's men are very loyal and he is not known for tolerating dissension in the ranks. Chen Lim walks right up to Zheng Long and says, “It's all well and good to
tough, but this army demands victories and it doesn't seem that you can deliver them.” Zheng Long replies, “I think you are discounting the fact of just how loyal my men are to me.” “Your men are indeed loyal,” Chen Lim says, “but how long will that loyalty last when you insist on marching them around the countryside in humiliation? You're not prepared to do what it takes to win.
am.” “My men understand that not all plans become immediately obvious,” Zheng Long answers. “Perhaps I will give you some more time to prove that their loyalty is well placed,” Chen Lim says. “But if victory does not come soon, rest assured that you can be removed.”
Just outside Lin Xun's cavern, Zheng Wei rests for a moment, recovering from the icy onslaught. The snow around Zheng Wei's feet begins to harden into ice to lock him in place, and Lin Xun coldly demands, “Why are you in my cave?” “I need to use the ring of fire, and the tablet led me here” Zheng Wei explains as he tries to use his sword to melt his way free of the binding ice. Zheng Wei frees himself and steps forward. Lin Xun surges at him with his ice magic to hurl a blizzard of snow into Zheng Wei's face. Zheng Wei also charges forward, his flaming sword at the ready. The blizzard blows Zheng Wei out of the cave. The magical blizzard continues to pummel Zheng Wei, trying to push him down the mountain. Zheng Wei douses his sword in the snow so that he won't be so easily seen, and tries to circle around under the cover of the blizzard to get behind his foe. The blizzard is too intense, and Zheng Wei rolls down the mountainside.
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Final Hour of a Storied Age
Re: [Final Hour of a Storied Age] Heart of the Fire
Reply #2 on:
November 17, 2010, 03:44:51 PM »
Zheng Long's army is still camped near the Ice Clan capital. Snow begins to fall from the night sky, but the quiet is pierced by a battle cry as a party of Ice Clan warriors charges into the camp. Zheng Long orders his most loyal troops to leave the camp to make his main force appear weak and while simultaneously outflanking the attackers. Although Zheng Long's flanking troops would be well positioned on normal terrain, the preternatural snow manages to make the ground so treacherous that they end up effectively cut off from the battle. The weather intensifies, with a driving sleet mixing with the snow as the Ice Clan warriors rampage through the center of Zheng Long's camp. Zheng Long's loyal troops, experienced with ice and snow, are merely delayed where other men would have been stopped and manage to come in behind the Ice Clan, completing the pincer maneuver that Zheng Long had planned. A wild melee ensues in the center of Zheng Long's camp, with tents knocked over and untethered horses screaming and running in terror. Lin Bai, satisfied that chaos has been sown in the camp and protective of her men, orders a controlled withdrawal back to the safety of her city walls. Seeing the withdrawal, Zheng Long cleverly orders some of his scouts to try to blend into the mass of men and sneak into the city with them, but the scouts are spotted, and Lin Bai's troops manage to return to their city with Zheng Long's army in disarray.
Zheng Long is in his army camp, attempting to rally his troops after the chaotic raid, hoping to set up a blockade of the city. Chen Lim, never one to waste the opportunity provided by misfortune, is moving among the troops claiming credit for Zheng Long's good ideas while recounting Zheng Long's failures. Scowling with menace, Zheng Long confronts Chen Lim and says, "This is my army and my war. You will not supplant me." Unfortunately, Zheng Long chose the worst time to confront Chen Lim, as he is surrounded by his cronies who close ranks behind him and build his confidence to stand against Zheng Long. Chen Lim brazenly decries Zheng Long right in front of him, openly questioning whether he is worthy of the army's loyalty. "Who is it that led this army at the battle of Zhan Hu?" Zheng Long demands. "It was me. Who led this army at the battle of Kin Gou? It was me. I led this army to many victories in many battles, and that is why they are loyal to
." The men nod along with Zheng Long's words, acknowledging the truth of them and letting the steam out of Chen Lim's efforts to undermine the general. Unwilling to cede the opportunity, Chen Lim boldly claims that
was the one truly responsible for those victories because the plans would have failed without his planning and advice. "Think back, Chen Lim, you weren't even
the army for all of those battles," Zheng Long replies. Humiliated, Chen Lim hangs his head in shame and skulks off.
Zheng Wei begins climbing back up the mountain toward the cave. From the mountain above, an ominous rumbling alerts Wei to the avalanche tumbling toward him. Wei holds his sword in front of him and channels his passion and determination through it to cocoon himself in a bubble of fire. The avalanche tumbles and roars past but Wei is protected inside his flaming shield. Although it can't penetrate the shield, the huge mass of snow manages to cover it, burying Wei. He again focuses his will through the sword, causing a stream of fire to extend from the tip, tunneling through the snow to the surface. Wei climbs through the tunnel and begins making his way back up the mountain. Unfortunately, the avalanche has kicked so much snow into the air that Wei's vision is obscured, making it difficult to know which way to go. Waving his burning blade ahead of him, Wei relies on his warrior's instincts and years of travel in harsh conditions to see him through and makes his way back to the mouth of the cave.
At the mouth of the cave, Wei spies Lin Xun who says, "This cave is my home, why do you seek to take it from me?" "It is not your home that I seek to take from you," Wei answers. "The philosopher Lee Tai used his fire to guide me here in order to prove to him that I am the one who deserves to use the magic ring. If you mean to stand in my way, I would advise against it. It is for love of the queen and the good of the country that I do what I do. You must let me pass." Lin Xun sees the logic in what Wei says and allows him to enter the cave. "Love is a wonderful thing," Lin Xun concedes. "It has been many years since I've even known friendship, let alone love." Wei sees the depths of Lin Xun's loneliness and desire for conversation, but also feels the pull to press onward with his quest. "Oh, that's so sad," Wei lies. "I am sure that once I achieve power I will be able to return you to the good graces of your people." Lin Xun sees right through the deception. "Oh, that's how it is. You think you can just dismiss me and that I'm not important?" Lin Xun grows angry again. "The power of fire isn't the only power in this land. If you wish to learn of magic in my home you must contend with my magic first!" The air begins to chill. "I'm not afraid of you," Wei says as he brandishes the Sword of Fire, daring Lin Xun to come at him again.
Far from backing down, Lin Xun proclaims, "Do you think I feel fire? The Ring of Ice is everywhere and my power is attuned to it so I have no fear of heat or flame. You should stop this foolishness and act the proper guest." Wei grits his teeth and responds, "Your power may be everywhere, but this sword is a symbol of my love for the queen and her love for me, and if you have any love left for this country you'll back down and allow me to accomplish what must be accomplished. If not I will smite you if necessary." The Sword of Fire once again responds to the intensity of Wei's love and erupts into a font of flame that causes Lin Xun to flinch backward. Lin Xun realizes the seriousness of the threat he faces, so he springs forward and grabs Wei by the shoulders. The air whirls with ice and snow, and the two of them seem to waver back and forth between the real world and a vast, featureless plain of ice as Lin Xun tries to cast out Zheng Wei into the Ring of Ice and Snow. Drawing on his focus and experience, Wei fixes an image of the queen in his mind, hoping to anchor himself in the real world. Wei holds firm, and Lin Xun is exhausted from the effort. Regardless, the intense expression of icy magic has caused the entire cave to ice over, and Wei is disoriented by shining reflections of his sword in countless ice crystals. We shoves his Sword of Fire into the ground, pouring all of his passion into it, pitting the two magics against each other. Waves of heat radiate from the sword, melting the ice. Lin Xun relents and agrees to help Wei find the stone tablet deep in the cave. The two of them use their respective powers of heat and cold to crack it open. Inside, Wei finds a ring which will give him access to the realm of fire.
At the Fire Temple, Lee Chang is approached by Lee Tai, who says, "If you wish to find this knowledge that you seek, which I admit we have been concealing from you, you can find it. But you must do the work yourself to attain it – the wisdom of the ancients lies within our library, and it is at your disposal... for a price." "Lee Tai," Lee Chang responds, "the time has come for you to stop making others run in circles for your own amusement. You know what the information is, so just tell me now without any more of your games." "Wisdom only comes with hard work," Lee Tai responds. "To gain wisdom along with the knowledge you seek you must acquire it with your own sweat. The price has just gone up." "If the answer is in here," Lee Chang says pointing to the library, "then surely it is the most valuable thing our order possesses, and will thus be the first thing you try to save when I do
!" He unleashes a torrent of magical fire upon the racks of carefully stacked scrolls. "Lee Chang," the old philosopher scolds, "do you truly think we are foolish enough to store the only copies here? We have others, in
places." Lee Tai pits his own magic against the young upstart's. Lee Chang responds in kind, and the two are locked in a war of wills. To the surprise of the old philosopher, Lee Chang's magic proves more powerful. "If these are not the only copies, why do you fear their destruction? No, I think this is another one of your tricks, and these truly are the only copies." Lee Tai scowls. "Although we have copies elsewhere, it is much wiser to protect what we have rather than rebuild the library later. The cost would be great, and we should not bear it if we do not need to, even though we can. You are
." Lee Tai unleashes a flash of fire at Lee Chang's eyes. Lee Chang shouts back, "You speak of costs when it would be far cheaper to simply tell me what I need to know! But if you insist on doing it this way, we can!" He hurls a ball of fire at the old monk. Lee Tai's flare blinds Lee Chang who stumbles to his knees. Lee Tai grabs him by the hair and says, "Your youthful exuberance is admirable, but your insolence will be your undoing." He waves his hand and the flames in the library are extinguished.
In his army camp, Zheng Long is overseeing a blockade of the Ice Clan capital when he gets word that his disreputable quartermaster Chen Lim is operating a black market, selling vital supplies to the Ice Clan around the blockade. Hoping to turn Chen Lim's treachery into an advantage, Zheng Long cleverly orders his spies to infiltrate the black market and use it as cover to make their way into the city he hopes to conquer. The spies make no progress. In fact, Chen Lim hauls one of them by the scruff of the neck up to Zheng Long. "General, this man was caught trying to pilfer supplies to sell to the enemy," Chen Lim says smarmily. "What are you going to do about it?" "Of course he did this," Zheng Long announces. "He is one of my loyal spies, and does so at my orders." Zheng Long chuckles. "Once again you underestimate the loyalty of my men, and the subtlety of my strategies. Go ahead and continue your black market. I will merely use it to my advantage." Chen Lim does indeed continue it, and Zheng Long is surprised a few days later to hear his men grumbling about the quality of the rations. It seems that Chen Lim has taken the highest quality supplies and sold them to the Ice Clan, leaving only nearly-rancid meat and mealy grain for Zheng Long's troops. Zheng Long dispatches his scouts to raid any passing merchants for their supplies, but the scouts fail to find any merchants to raid. The grumbling among the troops increases as they realize the black market that Zheng Long gave his blessing to is causing their deprivation and strengthening the enemy at the same time.
Zheng Long confronts Chen Lim, grabbing him around the neck, and roars, "Don't play games with me!" Zheng Long's intimidating presence finally cows his recalcitrant lieutenant. Even with the pilfering stopped, the damage is already done: the troops are desperately hungry. Zheng Long tightens his grip around Chen Lim's neck and says simply, "Fix this." With his attentions properly focused, Chen Lim shows why he was made quartermaster in the first place and manages to scrounge enough to satisfy the men.
At the Fire Temple, Lee Chang realizes that Lee Tai's magical attack has been rendered him blind. Remembering every detail of the rules of the order, Lee Chang recalls that the monks are required to help those in need. He spreads word that, being blind, he requires assistance in his research. A veritable army of monks-in-training move in and out of the library, reading scrolls to Lee Chang. Unfortunately, many of the scrolls are in a language that none of the younger monks speak. Lee Chang meticulously notes down each word so that he can ask the older monks what they mean, but his blindness affects his writing, and the other monks don't feel that their obligation to help extends to that. Lee Chang begins sorting the scrolls based on language, reasoning that if Lee Tai expected him to find the answer then it must be on one of the scrolls in a language that
known. Chang manages to sort the scrolls, narrowing his search to only those that are readable. His eyesight begins to return, just in time to see Lee Tai approach. "You are persistent, I will give you that," the old man says. "That scroll there is the one you seek. But can you read it fast enough?" He points his finger and a corner of the page bursts into flame. Applying all of his focus and energy, Lee Chang begins reading the scroll as fast as he can, but it isn't fast enough – the dry, ancient paper turns to ashes before his eyes as the flames race across it, obliterating anything he might have learned. "Look within yourself for the answer," Lee Tai lectures. "It's really not that difficult to find."
With his attempts at infiltration by subterfuge continually thwarted, Zheng Long assembles a group of his most skilled scouts and spies and orders them to make their way into the city by stealth. Unfortunately, the task is complicated by a lack of intelligence about what they'll find inside the city because they've not yet been able to get past the walls. Nevertheless, Zheng Long orders his men to go through with the plan and the scouts make their way in. Once they've gotten past the walls they are able to gather valuable intelligence about the defenders that will let Zheng Long crack the city wide open. But, on their way out, they realize that the guards that patrol the walls have shifted to a new routine, complicating their escape. They quietly move up behind the patrols that are giving them trouble and slit their throats. The scouts make it out and back to Zheng Long's camp where they deliver their report. Zheng Long orders his assault on the city, employing the intelligence his men gathered to devastating effect, crushing the Ice Clan defenses. He has Lin Bai forced to her knees in surrender, and then dispatches her to a dungeon, where she won't be heard from again.
With the Ice Clan subjugated, Zheng Long takes his army to the docks and boards them onto ships to sail toward the fire temple. The seas are rough, as the ships are bucked and tossed on angry waves. Zheng Long cares nothing for the hardships, only for his goal of bringing the fire wielders under his control, and orders the ships to stay the course. The ships sail across the sea and as far upriver as they are able, and the army disembarks in the foothills around the mountain of the fire temple. The paths that lead up the mountain are notoriously narrow and treacherous, making it difficult to move an army through. Despite the danger, Zheng Long's army follows him upward toward the temple that he yearns to conquer. They arrive at the temple and begin preparations for the attack.
After placing the physical ring on his finger, Zheng Wei finds himself within the ring of fire, an otherworldly realm of heat and flame. In the flames, Wei sees a shadowy vision of Zheng Long's army approaching the fire temple, a distraction from his desire to master this place. Wei has forced himself to wait many times, and knows that rushing to face his brother now would be a mistake. Zheng Wei turns away from his brother and begins to move deeper into the alien reality he finds himself in. The constantly shifting terrain is disorienting, and Zheng Wei finds himself physically ill from the prolonged exposure. As an accomplished warrior, Zheng Wei has endured sickness during battle before, and journeys deeper into the realm of fire. Fiery orbs float through the space around him as he gets farther and farther from the real world. In this fiery dreamscape, Wei realizes that he has no solid reference points to find his way back, but he has been in the thick of battle before and knows that sometimes you have to risk the future to gain the moment. He pushes deeper. Zheng Wei goes so far into the fire realm that there is no longer any semblance of the real world.
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Final Hour of a Storied Age
Re: [Final Hour of a Storied Age] Heart of the Fire
Reply #3 on:
November 17, 2010, 03:48:14 PM »
Lee Chang steps outside the mighty doors of the fire temple and sees Zheng Long's approaching army. He notices that Zheng Long has strategically dispatched troops to surround the temple, which will trap all of the monks inside. Despite his misgivings about the behavior of some of the elders, Lee Chang is loyal to the order and wishes to defend it, so he unleashes his fire magic on the enemy troops. Chang's flames roast the squads that were trying to get behind the temple, but the main force marches inexorably forward. Identifying the danger that Lee Chang poses to his troops, Zheng Long orders a squad of his shock troops to assault the young fire monk directly. Lee Chang, knowing that if he falls the rest of the order will be endangered, wills the ground to burst into flame beneath their feet. Lee Chang is too slow, and the troops surround him before his spell can take effect. The troops take Lee Chang prisoner. As a man of strong principles, Lee Chang recognizes that the men who have taken him have none, and is unwilling to trust them to treat prisoners fairly. He crouches down, pulling all of the fire magic he can muster into himself and unleashes it in a huge explosion. The blast knocks the troops back and Lee Chang withdraws to the gates of the temple while his attackers deal with their burns.
Eager to claim his prize, Zheng Long orders his archers to fire, sending a rain of arrows down on Lee Chang and the other defenders at the gate. Lee Chang holds his hands before him, channeling his will to form a wall of fire between the arrows and their targets. The arrows pass through the fire and several plunge into Lee Chang's body, knocking him to his knees. He feels a painful burning from the wounds, and realizes that the wily Zheng Long has had his men employ poison arrows. Offended to the very core by such dishonorable tactics, Lee Chang turns his fire magic inward as he tries to burn the poison from his own blood. It works, and Lee Chang calls out to his fellows, "Fear not their poison! We can burn it from ourselves as a prelude to burning them from the countryside!" Growing impatient, Zheng Long orders a full squadron of his elite troops to converge on Lee Chang. Not wanting anyone else to risk themselves while he's still capable of fighting, Lee Chang rushes forward, fire bursting from his hands to meet the soldiers. They are driven back by the flames, and the other monks are filled with a new respect for Lee Chang who they had previously dismissed as an irritating child but who is now clearly a powerful force defending the order.
Recovering from his exertion, Lee Chang goes back inside the temple. A throng of monks usher Lee Chang into a chamber deep within the temple where he sees Lee Tai lying on a stone slab, having been grievously injured in the attack. Despite their differences, Lee Chang doesn't wish the old monk to die, so begins to study every inch of him to see if he can figure out what is wrong. Lee Chang realizes that the same poison he faced earlier is at work again, and employs the same cure. Healed, Lee Tai sees the admiration that the other monks hold for Lee Chang. "I can give you what you seek," he says. "But the ring has conditions of its own." He holds out his hand and a fiery image of a ring appears above it. Lee Chang reaches out his hand to grasp the flaming ring, and is thrown into the realm of fire, where tongues of flame lash at him. Lee Chang extends his will, trying to force the fire realm to obey his commands, knowing that someone like him must control this magic to save the order. The fiery maelstrom subsides and begins responding to Lee Chang's will, accepting his mastery.
Deep within the realm of fire, Zheng Wei feels like he's being watched. He turns and sees a young man in monk's robes that wasn't there a moment before. Lee Chang says, "What are you searching for here in this realm? Are you here for an important purpose?" "This is not like the mountain. I know where my destiny lies. It is not just for
important purpose, it is my only purpose. If I do not defeat my brother all is lost." He focuses his will through his ring and his sword to push the monk away. He trudges on through the world of fire and flame, questing ever deeper. Lee Chang's disembodies voice speaks to him again. "I understand your passion. Zheng Long is my foe as well, but before you can face him you must understand this place." "Am I not master of this place?" Zheng Wei shouts as he channels his will to make the flaming landscape obey his commands. Zheng Wei again shoos Lee Chang away from him and begins walking deeper into the realm of fire. Zheng Wei is again challenged by Lee Chang's voice. "I don't seek to question your skill or your power, I question your focus. You lash out indiscriminately when you should direct your energies to your true foe. Instead of competing with me to see who is more powerful, you must think clearly, like I do." Zheng Wei looks down at his ring and his sword and realizes that to have true mastery he must be able to quiet them as well as inflame them. The raging inferno around him eases as Zheng Wei quiets his burning desire to travel deeper into the realm. With Lee Chang at his side he returns to the edge of the real world and looks out at the fire temple, under siege by Zheng Long.
At the fire temple, Zheng Long continues his assault. As he surges forward with his men he realizes that not as many of his troops accompany him as he expected, some of them having been bribed to hold back. The mighty doors of the fire temple open, and a huge fireball hurtles straight toward the center of Zheng Long's front line. The general glowers at the stragglers, reminding them how much they should fear his displeasure, and orders them to take the temple at all costs. Reminded where their true loyalties lie, all of Zheng Long's troops join the fight as they charge forward in the face of the fire and force their way into the temple to begin ransacking. However, their weapons and armor begin to burn red hot. Lee Tai calls out to anyone who can hear him, "I'll give any man who brings me the head of the general his own weight in gold!" Zheng Long raises himself to his full height and makes an announcement of his own. "The man who brings me Lee Tai's limp corpse shall become my second in command!" Spurred on by Zheng Long, the men ignore the distractions and swarm Lee Tai, tackling him to the ground, but the old fire monk disappears in a puff of red mist. In the air above, tendrils of flame coalesce into a huge burning image of Lee Tai with eyes that shine like rubies, and it begins stomping on Zheng Long's men, immolating them. Zheng Long scowls and shouts at his men to ignore it and focus their attention on the other monks who still resist. As the troops move among the fire monks to capture them, the image of Lee Tai is unable to bring its full force to bear. As the last of the monks is taken the image winks out of existence in a puff of smoke.
Inside the temple, Zheng Long supervises his men as they secure the captured fire monks. Zheng Wei, half in the real world and half in the realm of fire, appears as a translucent spirit of fire and begins forcing his way past the doors of the temple. Seeing that the spirit of his brother isn't completely real, Zheng Long focuses his attention on his goal of subjugating the monks. Wei's burning blade parts the doors, and he strides into the temple, giving new hope to the fire monks. He charges forward with his sword blazing to rescue the prisoners. Zheng Long steps forward and calls out, "You don't intimidate me. I will win this war!" Zheng Wei's sword passes through any obstacle, whether men or stone walls, as easily as through the air. He holds his sword in the air and cries out to the fire priests, calling them to join him in battle. Zheng Long, fearing that his prize is at risk, draws his sword and rushes forward to attack the fiery image of his brother directly. He can't get there in time, and the troops that had been keeping the fire monks prisoner are thrown into disarray.
Zheng Wei turns his attention to his brother Zheng Long. "Let's settle this, brother!" the general calls out. Zheng Wei lunges forward to meet him in battle. Zheng Wei outfights his brother, forcing him backward until he is pushed up against a wall. With the renewed fervor of desperation, Zheng Long strikes at Zheng Wei, trying to take advantage of weaknesses in Wei's fighting style that he remembers from their sparring as children. Wei strikes furiously, hoping that he has learned enough over the years to best his brother. Despite all he has learned, Zheng Wei still has quirks in his fighting style that Zheng Long is able to exploit, knocking Zheng Wei onto his back. The general holds the point of his sword to Zheng Wei's neck and says, "I could end this now, and I think I should." Zheng Wei begins summoning the magic of the ring, hoping to move the battle to more advantageous terrain. Zheng Long's sword pushes forward but strikes the floor of the temple instead of his brother's flesh as Zheng Wei vanishes into the realm of fire, unable to pull his brother with him.
In the realm of fire, right on the verge of the real world, Zheng Wei sees his brother with a fearsomely triumphant look on his face. "Well, brother, where have you gone? I am waiting for you!" Zheng Long goads. Zheng Wei tries to maneuver behind his brother so that he can pull him into the realm of fire with him. He succeeds, and the fearsome general scowls to find himself in the otherworldly realm of heat and flame. Zheng Long surveys the space around him, calculating how he can best take advantage. Zheng Wei uses his power to manipulate the realm, trying to keep his brother off-balance. In a sea of fire, Zheng Long is unable to get his bearings and Zheng Wei begins to move in, hoping to finish the battle. Back in the fire temple, Zheng Long's troops panic at the disappearance of their leader and begin executing fire monks, demanding Zheng Long's return. As the fire monks are slain, their connection to the magic of fire causes chaos in the fire realm, ripping tears into the very fabric of its existence. Zheng Long, seeing an opportunity, tries to push Zheng Wei into one of the rifts. Zheng Wei focuses his will to exert his mastery over the realm, trying to move the chasm and turn Zheng Long's own plan against him. It works, and Zheng Long is sent hurtling down an endless chasm of flame.
Zheng Wei marries his beloved queen and unites the kingdom in peace, but the destruction wrought by Zheng Long against the Ice Clan cannot be easily undone nor their bitterness easily unwound, and reconstruction is a difficult task during Zheng Wei's reign. His quest complete, Zheng Wei gives the Ring of Fire to Lee Chang, who guides the fire monks to end their reclusive ways and travel about the countryside as champions for justice.
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Final Hour of a Storied Age
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