Wednesday, September 4, 2019

What You Missed: Folkstone 2019

After Action Report
Events of 30 August - 1 September 1019
A Weekend Vacation in Teng Hua

Vacation is a foreign concept to me; why would I choose to stop doing my job and instead do... nothing? Maybe “nothing” is a strong word, but honestly I’m always engrossed in the daily activities of managing the Militia that I couldn’t possibly have time for anything else except the occasional feast.

And yet…

The weekend started with an evening feast, with standard fare from Folkstone’s well-equiped kitchen. The feast “hall” was an outdoor pavilion, which was an agreeable arrangement given the cool late-summer evening which surrounded it. The landmark feast has been anchored in my memories past by its incredible dessert pudding, and this year was no exception. An unexpected visitor, a few courtly announcements, and a midnight ritual set my expectation that sun-up would bring with it a fairly typical--yet enjoyable nonetheless--adventure.

I awoke earlier than I had expected to (given the late hour at which I finally achieved sleep), but I embraced the extra time and took a casual camp breakfast with my country-fellows. I was able to equip myself for the day ahead without any of the usual rush one experiences in the post-feast-pre-adventure interval of time. Notable among my gear for the day was a pike in place of my usual five-foot; a chance occurrence at fight practice earlier in the week had inspired me to bring the long weapon questing, and I was very much looking forward to utilizing it.

At the appointed hour, I followed my fellows down the road to the local tavern where we started making our plans for the day. The weather was welcomingly warm and clear, and the Teng Huanese citizens were out and about. I joined other adventurers in learning about a tile-placement board game which is popular in the region, as well as the intricate and specific steps required to perform a cultural tea ceremony (during which I was very nearly robbed of my sidearm, although I was able to reason with the would-be thief without further incident). Later we visited a commodity market and met the leader of the Trader’s Guild. He, like all of the other non-sword-stealing individuals we had encountered, was polite and seemed more than happy to share the culture of his land with us. I struck up a conversation with one of his guards, and in talking to the armsman I learned that the rest of Teng Hua was as peaceful as those of us from the Realms had seen, to the point that my brief run in with a vagabond criminal would be considered remarkable. Indeed, for all of the money that accompanied the trader-master, he employed only three guards in his market, and none of them were armored (not for a lack of interest in the guards’ equipment, because their weapons were well made and showed clear signs of regular use on the training field). Suddenly my unblooded pike felt heavy in my hands, and I found myself thinking back to earlier in the day when Mayumi had read my fortune. I don’t recall exactly what the fates had said, but it could be sufficiently summarized thusly: “Your luck will be middling today, and probably won’t accomplish everything you wanted to, although on the whole your day will still go well.”

We parted from the trader, having established a firm reputation with him on behalf of Chimeron. When we reached the tavern, we heard tell of something called “keiro-rey” in the opposite direction. Sensing a chance to finally cross steel with something, I dutifully followed after the other Chimeronians headed in that direction.

As we drew close to a clearing near a lake, I spotted movement ahead. I was about to bring my weapon bear against the being when it stepped forward, arms outreached, and welcomed us to the grove in the same soft-spoken tones as had become the regional accent of sorts. I note that this was a “being” instead of a “person” because they were in fact an elemental spirit, an embodiment of one of the seven elements in the Teng Hua culture, here to greet us and commune with us in a humanoid form for our comfort and convenience. “She” (I doubt elemental spirits dabble in things as mundane as gender, but for the sake of keeping things concise, I hereafter refer to the individual spirits by their presented form and reserve “they” for the group) introduced herself as Mizu, which we know otherwise as Water, and invited us to speak with her and the other aspects individually so that we could get to know each other better.

As Mizu stepped aside to allow us to pass into the clearing, I sought respite on a nearby bench. I had walked far enough that the various adjustment points on my armor had settled in, and the pressure points below my knees were sending clear signals that the buckles on my borrowed greaves were a couple of points too tight. While such a routine matter would normally not even come close to deserving to be mentioned in a report such as this, I record it here as the moment where my luck turned with the sort of subtle shift that one can only see after the fact, comparable to the moments leading up to the lucky break that allows the underdogs to overpower the heavily favored team during a war maneuver at Queen of Hearts.

I sat on the bench, and Mizu sat nearby. Unknown to me, I seemed to be close enough to be worth talking to, and she engaged me more personally than she had the group, introducing herself again and asking for my name. I responded honestly, noting that I was adjusting my armor; I pitched my tone in such a way to politely suggest that my interests did not extend much beyond that. However,  Mizu did not acknowledge this cue (whether or not this was intentional remains unknown to me). She continued to engage me with questions about myself, and having experienced almost nothing but genuine courtesy from the lands of Teng Hua so far, I felt that it would be unbecoming for me to not return the same.

I do not recall much of what was said, but only because I was quickly caught in Mizu’s social grace. Just like the rippling water of the adjacent lake, she cast an unexpectedly deep reflection of myself which caught me completely off my guard. Despite my armor, she was able to open my mind and soul with a flowing ease. My sense of time was washed away as her clear and pure intentions caused me to draw up observations about myself as if they came from some newly-discovered wellspring which had been hidden underground for centuries. After an unmarked eternity, she offered me a task so that I may become more attuned to the aspects which Mizu represents: leadership, balance, consideration of the whole. She further encouraged me to talk with the other spirits and seek attunement with them as well.

My subsequent conversations with the other elemental spirits were equally personal, and each of them gave me a task that would help me become more attuned to their aspects. The other adventurers in the grove with me received similar tasks after conversing each spirit. While I will not divulge the specifics of my personal conversations and trials, here is a short list of some of the attributes each elemental aspect embodies:

Mizu/Water: Leadership, Balance, Consideration of the Whole
Kin/Metal: Skill, Labor
Sora/Void*: Spirit, Creativity, Transition between states
Kaze/Air: Knowledge, Observation, Study
Hi/Fire: Endurance, Empowerment
Ki/Wood: Planning, Talent, Growth
Chi/Earth: Nurturing

*It is very important to note that Void here is NOT the Void which might be more readily associated with the Risen Kingdom. The embodiment of Void was unlike any Void Spinner I have ever encountered. However, a small part of me is hesitant to go so far as to declare them completely separate entities. Further investigation is required.

To my surprise, I was comfortable talking to all but one of the spirits. Even more surprising to me is that the one spirit with whom I did not immediately connect was Hi. Typically, Fire is the symbol of the soldier, representing both the burning drive of battle and the smoking destruction left in its wake. As I was born into the aspect of the Soldier in a similar arrangement of attributes (see my records in the Library of Ivory for more information), I assumed that Hi and I would connect most closely. Instead, the spirit seemed largely disinterested in my (admittedly rather passive) approaches. The peaceful surroundings had softened my edge and left me less guared than usual, which apparently wasn’t good enough for Hi. I walked away from that one unsure of how to get the attention of the spirit, and decided to approach the other Chimeronians which had grouped in a small circle to exchange notes on the goings-on. I knew that I was capable of the intensity and confidence which Fire demanded, and asked my gathered Friends for a pep talk that would bring me up to that point. Rel, who had backlashed into his Beast self during the previously-mentioned midnight ritual, spoke up first. And when I say “spoke”, I mean he slapped me across the face. Fortunately, that’s all it took.

After we had all taken our turns talking to the various spirits, we again made roads back to the tavern. Along the way, I stopped at a field to witness battles between Yousei, which were little elemental beings (not nearly as closely tied to the elements as the spirits I had just talked to were, but elemental nonetheless) which several adventurers had been befriending all season. I myself entered the one Yousei I had attracted (ironically a Fire creature named Faiaraddo), and watching it fight alongside the other Yousei was so enjoyable that I felt like I was in the arena myself. Over the course of several bouts, my Yousei’s performance attracted two other Yousei to me. Following my side-track at the Yousei field, I met up with my country-fellows once more as they were heading to a place where they would meet some storytellers. The storytellers were also sorcerers, and were very interested in exchanging tellings of traditional stories. One such story the Teng Huanese told was a tale of an ancient warlord-emperor whose own audacity caused him to be toppled by a single peasant who was spared when a village was destroyed. As the story goes, the survivor sought powerful magics which would curse the warlord forever. But of course the curse-spell in turn had a seemingly small oversight, which allowed the warlord (or one of the advisors--that part of the story was unclear to me) to live on as a ghost who would rebuild a ghost army in the name of revenge. To the ears of a seasoned adventurer, that sounded like the perfect setup for an adventure. The knowing looks the storytellers gave us as they told the story only added to the evidence.

Camp dinner happened after that. Not much to say, except that it was very good. I relished the opportunity to doff my armor for a few hours and change into a new tunic, but all too soon, it was time to gear up again. The sun had set, and it was time to see if there was any truth to the ghost stories of Teng Hua.

We once again returned to the tavern, but not as easily as we had while the sun was up. Shadows lurking just off the path picked off adventurers careless enough to be off their guard in the middle of the night. As we attempted to account for everyone and sought to rescue those who we thought might have been ambushed, we spotted a pair of eerie purple lights in the distance. Although they did not appear to move, they were very difficult to pick out through the trees surrounding tht tavern.

The shadowy attacks tapered off quickly, the unseen attackers vanishing like wild animals before a natural disaster. Suddenly, a shout came from down the road, and the anticipated ghost army materialized. Wary of engaging a new opponent without at least the barest semblance of cause, we stood aside as they marched past us into the woods. Seeking to find that same threadbare excuse for combat, we quickly followed down the forest path after them. It didn’t take long for us to get what we want. The ghost army stopped in front of the source of the purple light--what seemed to be some kind of dark fortress, turned to face us, and charged. The ensuing battle was the most intense combat I have seen in several years, and the day of carrying my pike unused paid off with interest. Normally I would go into more detail about the specific maneuvers and stages of the battle, but my arm is still very sore from that night of fighting and it is getting more painful the longer I write this report. Here is my abviated summary:

Stab stab stab. Stab. Stab stab stab stab. Stab stab. River. Ranger found a bridge. Stab stab stab. Tidal wave. Stab stab stab. Tidal wave. Stab stab stab. Tidal cyclone. Duels against the ghost general in the eye of the cyclone. Torolf and I beating the shit out of ghost general in the eye of the cyclone. Campfire. Smores. Sleep.

Rusing myself the next morning was markedly more difficult than it had been the previous day. I was unsurprised, considering everything that had transpired in the night. With a shorter camp breakfast made up of leftovers from the previous day’s meals, I and the other Chimeronians met up with our fellow adventurers in a field covered with morning dew. We were met by representatives from a family associated with the Air element, and they explained that after watching us throughout the previous day and hearing of our exploits in the night, they felt that we might be able to help them with an important task: reconstructing a temple to the seven elements. But in order to fully prove our worthiness for such an undertaking, we would need to complete challenges set forth by them and other families who had pledged their names to each of the elements.

The Trial of Air was about observation. Members of the family demonstrated a game in which a pair of chopsticks were passed around a circle of players, and as each player passed the chopsticks, they had to say whether or not the chopsticks were crossed. We had to deduce the rules of the game by watching, but we could not communicate with each other, nor could we ask very many questions. If we were able to successfully pass the chopsticks once around while we all sat in a circle, we passed the challenge. The Baron of Banecroft was very good at passing hints to the rest of us by breaking the rules of the game in very visible and creative ways. It still took us a while to succeed at this Trial

The Trial of Water required us to complete a metaphorical trade between two metaphorical farmers. The two farmers were separated by a river, and on their respective banks they had three trade goods. However, certain trade goods could not be left on the same bank together at the same time, and we could only move two goods at a time. Top, a new adventurer in the Realms, was instrumental in organizing the success of this Trial.

The Trial of Fire was an endurance test. We had to fight members of this family for a total of twenty minutes. During each fight, they would go around and (try to) mark those of us on our side who had fallen. Anyone who was marked would fight against us until they were cut down in battle. It was very hot out, and we did lose several people to the other side at times, but our strength never faltered. At the end of the countdown, we were still standing, and were thus successful.

For the Trial of Earth, we were all instructed to pair up with a person whom we did not know very well. We were given a few minutes to talk and learn about each other before embarking on an undisclosed task. Once the meet-and-greet period expired, the task was revealed: make lunch for your partner without further consulting them. I performed exceptionally well during this Trial, praise be to the Lady Vesta. Overall, the group succeeded as well.

The Trial of Void and the Trial of Wood occurred concurrently, so we had to split the party. The Trial of Void was about creativity while the Trial of Wood was about planning and strategy. For some reason I chose the Trial of Void. The ground in the area of the Trial was littered with colored pieces of felt cut into different shapes. We were told to create things based on a series of prompts, and implicitly we were supposed to use the provided materials. Rel covered Syruss’s back with shapes to make him look like a turtle shell. I pretended to be a chicken. It was weird. From what I saw of the Trial of Wood, there was a grid inlaid on the field and rectangular pieces of materials spread out across it which took up multiple squares. It seemed like the Trial involved moving the colored pieces in a particular way. We succeeded in both of these Trials.

The final Trial was the Trial of Metal. This trial focused on Labor. We had to fight entities which entered the field, and upon defeating them, they would drop a paper bag containing colored “ore”. But these bags could only be broken open with special daggers in a limited area of the field. Once the bags were broken, the ore then had to be sorted and placed in their respective pools in the middle of the field. Oh, and the entities that we were fighting all had five, ten, or fifteen points of armor. We did finally complete this trial.

After each Trial, we were awarded a banner for that element. These banners will be the foundation of the new temple in Teng Hua and we should display them together whenever we visit the island in order to bring honor and power to the elements. In addition to that, it seems that it would be beneficial to hang the banners whenever we gather in other places, even if we can’t get all of the banners together; this will likely empower the elements and their spirits even more. There was some trading of who has which banners, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the current list:

Air (Yellow): Laika
Water (Blue): Dani Danger
Fire (Red): Tao
Earth (Green): Top
Wood (Brown): Amyse
Void (Black): Orion
Metal (Gray): Avendar

Conclusions:

We all indulged in the rich culture of Teng Hua. Both the mundane and mystical beings that reside on the island seem welcoming towards us. This is almost certainly not the last time we will see the spooky ghost army, though, as these things have a tendency to keep coming back. There might be some other dark forces at play, which Mizu and the other elemental spirits have alluded to.

And I learned the meaning of vacation.

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In Service to the Realms,
Captain Orion Mars, Chimeron Militia
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