Chapter 1 Broke and Hungry in Kong Wan
Sun Day, 20th of 12th Month, ZY113 – Eve of the Winter Solstice
On the eve of the winter solstice, folk all over Wu-Yu gathered for a fated celebration. It was the Victory, the great festival of the Imperial cult called Thauma-Virun, as well as the Mithrala, the festival of the Tathatan religion which denies Imperial authority. Amidst the rivalry of the two enemy religions, Imperial citizens made humble offerings of incense to the Emperor’s health, as required by law. Some questioned the efficacy of this act when the Emperor had neither been seen nor heard from in three days.
In the snowy citadel of Kong Wan, which guards the main pass through the Tianshu Mountains, tensions were brewing. A Tathatan demonstration was planned, to be led by none other than Sri Mahani, one of the two most respected Tathatan leaders. Sri Mahani preached a way of peace, while his rival, Sri Gunda, advocated protest by any means necessary. Sri Mahani’s demonstration in Kong Wan was to be small, no more than two hundred souls, but the Tathatans, with their characteristic braided beards, started showing up in droves. Upwards of a thousand Tathatan Dwarves converged on the mountain citadel, making the Thauma-Virun priests as well as the local Governor quite nervous.
Into this powder keg of a city strode two Goblinoid brothers driving a herd of yaks on their way to Po Keng. Outside the temple of Thauma-Viru, the drover brothers Lau Tse-dong and Lau Mo-tse met a traveling Orc priest named Bayar N’Oko. The brothers longed to make their patriotic offering in the temple, but couldn’t bring their yaks inside, so the priest Bayar offered to have a word with the head priest on their behalf. Unfortunately, the head priest was too busy to hear of it, but Bayar nevertheless aided the drover brothers in negotiating their way into a stables. They struck a deal for one night’s quartering of the animals in exchange for promising to magically aid the stable master’s brother in conceiving a child the following day.
With the yaks safely stabled, they turned attention their growling bellies. It so happened that fortune frowned on all three of them that day. Not only had it been a over a day since their last meal, but also they had not a single copper meng between them, and had to put their heads together to figure out how to drum up some quick cash. Lau Tse-dong and Bayar hired themselves out as professional readers, deciphering letters and notes for the illiterate. Meanwhile, Lau Mo-tse used an old folk magic spell to rejuvenate some wilted flowers, and managed to sell a few bouquets. With that hard-earned coin, they were able to purchase some poor soup and rice, staving off hunger for another day.
By then it was sundown, and a great crowd had gathered outside the temple of Thauma-Viru. The aged and venerable Sri Mahani mounted a platform, and delivered a speech urging peaceful protest. The speech was eloquent, moving, and powerful, but numerous Dwarven hecklers cried out against him. As the speech concluded, aides whispered something to Sri Mahani and quickly rushed him off the stage. Meanwhile, the Tathatan crowd broke out into chanting a verse from the sacred Law-scriptures, Anshana mata patanhir, “Waters of peace quench thy steel.” Repeating the verse over and over, they held an all-night vigil through the darkest night of the year.
At this point, Bayar joined the ranks of the Thauma-Virun faithful in guarding the temple against over-zealous Tathatans. At the same time, the town crier announced a call from the Governor for emergency peace keepers. The Lau brothers quickly responded. Tse-dong was given a staff and posted on crowd control duty outside the temple. Meanwhile, Mo-tse, who stunned the Governor’s soldiers with a perfect bulls-eye fired from a crossbow, was posted on a rooftop overlooking the crowd. Both were given strict orders not to attack the crowd, only to hold their positions. Cold stung their limbs, but they stuck to their posts as the demonstrators celebrated on through the night.
But at about three in the morning, tragedy struck. Riders bearing news galloped through the city: “The Emperor is dead! The Emperor is dead!” The news incensed the crowd of Tathatan protesters. Some cried out that tyranny was fallen, others that the time was at hand for the return of Dwarven rule. Shouts of “Dwarves, rise up! Rise up!” rang out in the night. The mass of demonstrators pressed violently against Tse-dong and the peacekeepers, and against Bayar and the faithful barring the doorway to the temple. The peaceful demonstration was quickly descending into an angry riot. Sri Mahani, who might have been expected to stop this downward spiral, was nowhere to be found.
Bayar attempted to calm the crowd with a magic-aided speech delivered from a balcony of the temple. Although he managed to bring a small number to their senses, the mob was simply too large. He had to retreat from a hail of thrown rocks and torches. Soon, the temple itself was set ablaze.
Chaos was overwhelming the city. From his rooftop perch, Mo-tse trained his crossbow on the crowd. In a twisted attempt to fulfill his patriotic duty, the Goblinoid drover disobeyed orders and began firing into the crowd. Whatever calming effect Bayar had made, it was surely reversed by the hail of bolts raining down on the panicked protesters.
Meanwhile, Mo-tse’s brother, Tse-dong, also gave up on his orders. He abandoned his post to pilfer the purses of those fallen from mob violence.
With the temple on fire, the faithful were rushing out the back door. Bayar followed a young Goblinoid girl initiate whom he had met briefly earlier. She was frantic to find a certain Dwarf innkeeper named Mumuna, who ran the nearby Sky Door. She thought perhaps this Dwarf might know where Sri Mahani was. Clearly she had some previous relationship with this Mumuna that gave her the idea. When she found him no where in the inn, she thought perhaps he had gone to a certain butcher shop, where he had spent a strangely large amount of time before. She and Bayar made quick for the butcher shop near the whirlpool.
Lau Tse-dong saw the girl initiate and the Orc priest he’d met earlier rushing through the street, and joined up with them.
Meanwhile, Mo-tse’s crossbow hail of terror was halted by the sudden rooftop appearance of the Captain of the Guard, who promptly disarmed and bound Mo-tse, and led him away at crossbow-point toward the Governor’s fortress. Along the way, they ran into Bayar, Tse-dong, and the girl. Mo-tse urged the captain to listen to his brother, who would vouch for the good intentions behind his enthusiasm with the crossbow. The captain would hear none of it. Just then appeared Mumuna, the Dwarf innkeeper, in woolen blue robes and sporting an un-braided beard. Upon seeing the captain, Mumuma tried to run the other way, but was caught and strong-armed into explaining that he might know where Sri Mahani was—held captive in a cave beneath the city. The captain ordered the Mumuna and the others to wait there, then marched off to assemble his troops for an assault on the cave.
Wasting no time, Mumuna urged Bayar, the Lau brothers, and the girl to follow him into the butcher shop before the captain could return. He would be revealing a deep personal secret to them by doing so, but he had no choice. He led them through a secret passage in the back of the shop, down into a cave. With apparent knowledge of the place, he guided the group around a number of traps, only to be confronted by a massive, growling dog. This was apparently new to Mumuna. The dog immediately leaped toward Mo-tse, who had been foolish (or clever?) enough to have pocketed some yak sausage from the shop. The dog leaped toward the sausage, but the other party members managed to soundly thrash the beast before it could maul the young drover. It went running back the way it came with its tail between its legs.
Next, they heard shouting around the bend, with several voices arguing over payment for ruffian services rendered. The whimper of the retreating dog apparently alerted the unseen figures to the presence of intruders, for suddenly a halberd-brandishing Goblinoid guard was barreling toward Mumuna’s ragtag party. The situation looked grim, for the guard surely had superior military training. But Tse-dong pulled off a startling maneuver which ended up disarming the guard and turning the tide of the battle. The guard ended up wounded and tackled, with a blood-soaked Bayar pinning him down.
After that, the party proceeded to the final battle. The cave opened up into a size-able cavern terminating in the whirlpool. In the cavern was a bound, gagged, and beaten Sri Mahani, with a Tathatan Dwarf brandishing a dagger at his throat. Meanwhile, another Tathatan rushed to throw documents into a fire. Upon seeing Mumuna, the two were astonished. They addressed him as “brother,” but Mumuna did not respond. Then, the party, blood-stained and brandishing weapons, and with a particularly crazy look in Tse-dong’s eye, convinced the two that their end was near. The Dwarves looked at each other and agreed that they must go out in an honorable way, and charged the party with daggers in hand. Throwing knives, crossbow bolts, and a mace-wielding Bayar met their charge. Bayar crushed one’s leg, while the other went down from a hail of missiles.
Sri Mahani was then freed. Mahani revealed that the huge swell of Tathatan demonstrators, far more than two hundred, had been sent by Sri Gunda to heckle Mahani and make Mahani look like a liar in front of the Thauma-Virun priests and the Governor. Then Mumuna revealed the nature of the cavern they were in. Years ago, this was the place where he used to meet Dharva and Sala (the two Tathatans just slain by the party members) to worship Thauma and plan revenge against the Orc regime. But Dharva and Sala went off to study religion in the West, while Mumuna stayed. When he acquired a wife and children, he reconsidered his dangerous associations and gave up the Tathatan religion. That is why he no longer wears braids in his beard, though the Tathatans called him “brother.” He was not happy to see his former friends earlier in the day today, and that is also what made him suspect something terrible was afoot, and gave him the hunch that Sri Mahani was being held in the cave.
When Sri Mahani was told of the Emperor’s death, and the chaos in the city above, he hung his head in sorrow. The aged Dwarf leader called them to carry him out of the cave, that he might speak to the crowd. Bayar, Mumuna, and the girl did so, while the Lau brothers stayed behind to loot the cavern and enjoy tossing the fallen Tathatans into the whirlpool.
Above ground, the Captain of the Guard and his troops were waiting and escorted Mahani back to the temple, where the rioters were concentrated. Sri Mahani gathered his power and summoned from the sky a lightning bolt, which streaked down with a thunderous peal and struck a metal flagpole. That got the rioter’s attention. Then the venerable leader begged the crowd to reconsider their actions and forsake violence. Unfortunately, there were simply not enough Mahani supporters among them, and the mob would not listen. There was only one thing that Mahani could do get the attention of these Dwarves.
Mumuna shook his head as Mahani knelt and called for a blade. Atop the platform where he’d given his speech of optimism and peace just hours earlier, and in front of the smoldering remains of the temple behind him, the venerable Sri Mahani thrust the blade deep into his own gut. With perfect stoic expression, he slumped forward as his life slipped away.
Suddenly the mad crowd hushed. All were staring in astonishment and awe. Whispers flew through the crowd of bodhi-yama, or ritual suicide. It was the most honorable way for a great Dwarf to depart this world, and expressed a fearless commitment to virtue and principle. Even the supporters of Sri Gunda stopped and layed down their makeshift weapons.
“This man was not our father,” they said. “But he was a great Dwarf.” Then they knelt and began a ritual of mourning in his honor.
With the Tathatans pacified, the Governor’s guards were able to recover control of the city. People returned to their homes and inns, and the streets quieted. Burning buildings sputtered and smoldered before being put out by teams of water-pail firefighters. Columns of smoke and ash rose into the sky as the first light of dawn broke over the horizon.