Abdul has just been promoted to Dragonlord of House Kurok, by Warlord Rakshan. Taking it all in stride (as usual), Abdul decides he’s gonna be the best darn Dragonlord the Kang have ever seen.
Pat told me that Abdul suddenly felt ‘right’. Coming to Tian was like coming home. He felt like he’d been given the soul of a Kang (he’d certainly played that way) and this was best thing that could have happened to him. K’Dul was a Kang, dammit… through and through. First, he goes back to the imperial forges and orders a suit of blue iron Battle Armor, marked for a Dragonlord. (probably the smallest suit of Kang Armor ever made… and made from blue iron so it’s light enough for Abdul to wear.)
The other party members are nervous (understandably). So, Abdul orders his troops to obey all and any orders given by the other party members. This helps, somewhat, but the guys are just not too comfortable. They’re afraid of Kalesh (Battlelord of Kurok), and they should be. Kalesh is a total bastard and a fierce warrior. He’s also the mastermind behind that deep, dark plot I mentioned several parts ago. Remember that?
Well, so the following events make sense to you, I’ll outline that plot now.
Rakshan led the silent insurrection against the Quan for one main reason: To free the Kang from their slave status. Rakshan had another reason that no one really knew about, however. Rakshan wanted to free all the races from slavery, not just the Kang. Yep, you got it. Vajra, Mandalan, Sunra, and Ispasian. Rakshan felt that if given freedom, the races would be more inclined to assist the Kang in the future (rather than being a constant internal threat like the Mondre Khan and Mystic Warriors). Rakshan was a visionary and a reformer, wearing the guise of an ass-beating Kang warrior.
But, because of counsel from Kol and others (Lantu the Vajra, for example) Rakshan held off on his freedom proclamation. It was decided that once Rakshan had become well established as a powerful warlord, he could begin seeking support on the Kang war-tribunal (Karal). Rakshan also began seeking contacts among the Ispasians, Sunra, Vajra and Mandalans, which was greatly assisted by the fact that Lantu was already behind him.
Now, somehow, Kalesh discovered what Rakshan was up to and was very much against the idea. (to put it mildly). So, he maneuvered his house’s Dragonlord, Ket, into a position that would keep him in close contact with Rakshan — thereby “spying” on the Warlord’s activities. So, when in 622 N.A. Rakshan and Kol began their secret journey into the west, Kalesh knew about it. All the other houses had been told that the Warlord was in Shonan, overseeing the completion of the new Warlord’s Keep. A “double” had even been put in place there to fool the workers at the Keep.
While Rakshan was out of the Empire, Kalesh began drumming up support. He believed that if Rakshan was confronted by at least seven of the powerful clans who were opposed to freeing the slaves, the Warlord would realize what a foolish idea it was. Kalesh did not hate Rakshan. They had grown up together for the most part, and had served in the same unit on the Sauran front. Kalesh beleived that Rakshan was just making a poor choice based on the advice given to him by Kol and others.
So, Kalesh began his campaign. By the time Rakshan returned to the country, Kalesh had solicited support from no less than six of the Imperial Clans. The Clans did not know what Rakshan was planning. Rather, Kalesh had told them that he suspected one of the major Clans was going to propose a freedom initiative on the Karal. These six clans agreed to put a stop to it, even if it meant a clan war. This is very important. The pledge given by these houses to “put a stop to it” was a sacred Kang oath, called a “k’tuk”. It could not be broken under any circumstances. The houses had essentially made a promise in blood.
Everything was pretty much going according to plan, for Kalesh. He had even decided to propose the freedom plan to the Karal, himself. His house was already weakened to the point where it would not survive the next clan war, so he decided he had nothing to lose. And, when Rakshan heard of the overwhelming negative feelings to such an idea, he would change his mind. Kalesh would immediately withdraw the proposal, and all would be set right. The K’Tuk would never be called upon.
Unfortunately, Abdul showed up. Abdul was the wrench in Kalesh’s plan, in more ways than one. First, he disgraced Ket and caused him to be demoted. This removed Kalesh’s pawn in the Karal. THEN, he further insulted the house by defeating Ket’s replacement, Kraaz. Finally, he was put in the position that Kalesh most needed to control for his plan to work.
Kalesh was outraged as no sentient has ever been. A FOREIGNER as the leader of his house! It was far too much for Kalesh to swallow. He could see his plans falling apart around him, and he was convinced that Rakshan was insane. Kalesh completely flipped out. He immediately put into motion an ill-conceived series of events that would ultimately lead to the Civil War.
First, he demanded the k’tuk be honored. The other houses had no choice but to comply. Kalesh then told the conspirator houses of Rakshan’s plans for freedom. In light of his recent decision regarding Abdul, this made Rakshan look less than stable. The houses pledged continued support, though they feared for the worst. If Rakshan was openly opposed, Clan warfare would certainly follow. And if the other houses remained loyal to the Warlord, it looked to be a bloody battle indeed. However, if Rakshan was not opposed, he would destroy an institution that the Kang felt was part of their divine right as Zoriah’s children (the enslavement of ‘inferiors’).
Second, Kalesh called in his trump card. Months before, when Rakshan was out of the country, Kalesh had been seeking mercenary contacts in other lands. He knew his house was too weak to survive a clan war, so he intended to bolster his resources with hired warriors (a rarely used, but accepted practice among Kang). His first contact was a Farad war-broker with contacts throughout Rajanistan. Kalesh declined the Farad’s offer to hire expendible Vird and Shadinn for his cause. Kalesh felt that the Rajans were without honor and could not be trusted (plus, the Rajans had been sometime border enemies of the Kang in the past). But, after the affair with Abdul, Kalesh was desperate and completely nuts. So, he contacted the Farad again, and began formulating a deal with several powerful Rajan war-leaders (in particular those that had access to windships). The Rajans agreed to assist Kalesh. In exchange, thousands of slaves and a certain portion of the Imperial Treasury would be transferred to Rajanistan once Kalesh was warlord.
Several other parties became notified and interested as to the coming turmoil in the Empire. The Imrians discovered the plot when the Farad “accidently” spilled the information. The Imrians became very worried, as it looked like the largest slave-using nation on the continent could potentially become a ‘free-zone’ if Rakshan succeeded. They added their resources to Kalesh’s cause as well. No one knows how certain Mangar discovered the details of the situation, but their attempt at kidnapping the Warlord before he returned to Tian met with no success.
Also, Kalesh, in a frenzy of recklessness, instructed the conspirator houses to withdraw their units from the Sauran front at his command. They opposed this plan, vehemently, but were forced by their blood-pact to comply.
So, the stage was set. MANY forces waited on the brink of what could be a massive power-shift in the east.
And the party went out for dinner.
“Mmmmm. This boiled mudray is pretty good. I like this strange wine-sauce, too.”
“That’s mudray? I’ve never seen it cooked like that. My rainbow kra is a delight, let me tell you.”
“Well, it certainly looks good. Pass the brandy, will you?”
“Here you are. Anyone feel like dessert?”
“What’s that, Abdul?”
“I don’t know. A servant just handed it to me. It looks like a note.”
“Well, what’s it say? … Abdul? … Hello?”
“Uh. Not good.”
“Huh? Not good? What do ya mean?”
“Kalesh has challenged Rakshan to a duel for Warlord.”
[sounds of party rapidly packing their gear]
So, Kalesh has made THE challenge. The party knows that if Kalesh wins (and they expect him to), he can instantly order their slow, painful deaths (and he will, too). They intend to get out of the city, and get out FAST.
“Huh? Abdul, Are you nuts? Well, obviously. But, you can’t stay!”
“I’m staying. I’m Dragonlord of my house. I can’t just run away. It would be dishonorable.”
“Kalesh WILL have you killed, you know.”
“He can try.”
“Jeez. You are crazy.”
“I want you guys to leave tonight and don’t look back. I’ll use whatever clout I have to get you a ship. But I have to stay.”
“I’m with you, Abdul.”
“Thanks, Crush, but you have to go too. I can’t be responsible for both of us. And besides, someone has to keep Lucas out of trouble. Flyn will make a good leader. You’ll see.”
Well, yet again, Pat manages to impress all of us with his courage and dedication to his character. We all looked at Pat like it was Abdul’s funeral or something. Patrick felt the same way. He told me later that at that moment, he mentally said goodbye to Abdul and decided to just play Lucas for the remainder of the campaign. Abdul would die for something he really believed in, and that was good enough for Pat. We sure were going to miss the little guy, though.
So, the other PCs need to get out of Tian. Abdul discovers that he can’t arrange anything as Dragonlord without arousing a lot of attention. So, Flyn goes into action (his first decision as party leader). He scouts around Tian (sneakily… Jaka are great at this) looking for that Mandalan Gardener that he saw at the tournament. Chris starts calling the guy “Master Wu” so the name sticks. After a few diplomatic conversations with some manadalan slaves, Flyn is admitted into Master Wu’s garden.
Wu Tsen is sitting at the far end of the garden, carefully pruning a minature tree. In the tradition of the chinese masters, Wu ignores the Jaka for several minutes. Flyn sits pateiently.
Finally, Wu looks up and speaks, “I enjoy contemplating this little tree in the afternoon. It’s small size does not diminish the power it has to block the light of the suns, and to provide shade for the smallest avians.” Wu is refering to Abdul. He obviously feels positively toward the little Arimite.
Flyn speaks, “Master, my companions and I seek passage out of the city, and soon. We fear for our lives.”
Wu Tsen looks at a towering tsela tree nearby, “That old tsela is truly mighty, but despite my best efforts, it seems to be dying. I believe it has a sickness within, that it cannot resist.”
Wu is referring to the conspiracy, of which the PCs know nothing.
Flyn: “Master, this is urgent. If there is any assistance you could provide us…”
Wu looks annoyed by Flyn’s bluntness. (I actually roll here and Flyn’s terrible Charisma finally catches up to him. The master turns back to the little tree).
“I’m afraid my garden requires my full attention, friend Jaka.”
And here’s where Chris saves the day. It looks like Wu isn’t going to help the group (mostly because he would have to risk the lives of several Mystic Warriors to arrange for passage). Chris doesn’t panic though, and without missing a beat, he says:
“Life too is a garden; you must choose what to prune, and when.”
We look at Chris for several long moments, stunned into silence. Chris rarely performs in character like this. The most you normally get out of Chris is, “Die!” or some such. But for some reason, during this scene, he actually acted out his part. Starting with the “Master,” quotes above and ending with this pearl of Zen wisdom. How could I resist? Wu looks impressed by the Jaka’s words and says, “Perhaps you are right. I will look into the matter.”
So, after some more sneaking around, etc., the party has a boat out of town. It leaves at dusk. All set. They will be taken by a small boat out of the straits of Tian, where they will meet a merchant vessel bound for Thaecia. No worries. Then, the players surprise me again!
They come to me and say, “John, we really want to watch this duel. When will we have the chance to see something like this again?” I’m amazed. And flattered, kinda. They enjoy my descriptions enough to risk their character’s lives to watch a duel that they have no real part in. I mean, it will basically just be me telling them what happens. But, they’ve just got to see it. Go figure. And, if Kalesh wins, they’re gonna be in the same room! They’re gonna have to run for their lives to make it to the boat! They don’t care. They want to watch the duel.
Okay, I agree. They can go in with house Kurok, and sit with Abdul.