Cai held two full bottles of sweet plum wine, their soft amber color covered by the dark bag they were kept in. The vendor had been pleasant enough to deal with, the man had barked his query as to what Cai had wanted and then filled his request with no further small talk, accepting the amount for the alcohol with a tight-lipped, curt nod. An unmemorable transaction was always better than the alternative.
As he worked his way through the wider streets, there were some merrymakers still trying to make their way to the royal palace to listen to the Emperor, while others realized the futility of approach and merely hung back, waiting for the address to finish. Those intent on their approach scrambled at the edges of the crowds that filled smaller alleyways leading towards the Ruby Palace to the brim. The appeal was lost on Cai. There was never anything new pronounced, merely the same address every year, the man made his platitudes to the larger community and expressed the same well wishes.
In his opinion, it wasn’t worth being cramped together in the crowd of Folk like sardines, even if his presence would have been tolerated within their numbers. Hm, now there was a thought – would Zhao-Fu have had enough strength to prepare dinner this evening? Cai considered stopping at one of the food stalls before going home. Fish perhaps?
But as he turned to consider his options, the sounds from the crowd nearby turned from merriment to confusion to outright panic.
He heard the screams first, alarmed and hysterical, before the first waves of Folk and Hofokun alike scrambled away from the palace square in a stampede. The cacophonous sounds kept him from hearing the whistling of arrows that rained down from above, but he quickly became aware of their effect as bodies began dropping around him.
In his shock, Cai stood very still. A tree that the current of people surged around in their attempt to flee. The sounds of battle and moans of pain from those that had fallen, or the screams of anguish from their loved ones suddenly transported him back to the Jade Plains Tribe five years earlier.
He would have stayed like that, or worse, if a slice on his shoulder from an incoming arrow hadn’t shaken him awake from his stupor. Grimacing, he looked around and noticed things had escalated. Arrows were now trailing fire and targeting buildings which burned and smoked, as well as citizens, who had begun to battle each other as well as guards who had already made it this far out.Shouldn’t they be focusing on the Emperor?
Momentarily overwhelmed by his senses, Cai forced himself to breathe deeply, only to choke on the black smoke that had begun to accumulate. This wasn’t Banhet.
This wasn’t the Jade Plains.
He was in Bianwei.
Would he sit by and watch as another massacre happened before his eyes?
The decision was made for him when a small body plummeted into his side. A young Folk held tightly to his arm which bled profusely, tears streaming down his face as another Folk of a similar age approached with a sword that dripped crimson.
“Come now, Lee, you’ve suspected me of something nefarious for weeks. Aren’t you oh so pleased to have been right?” A sinister, lopsided smirk was visible beneath a dark mask.
The younger Folk looked up at Cai with a pitiful expression and the Mokeu sighed, wishing he had his staff. As it were, all he had on him was the two bottles of sweet plum wine. Regretting the decision as soon as the idea occurred to him, Cai took action before changing his mind.
The attacker was so focused on his target that he didn’t register the quick movement as Cai pulled out one of the bottles and threw it with devastating accuracy onto his head where it splintered and washed him in wine. A surprised scream was heard as the older Folk ripped the mask off and rubbed at his eyes. “Run,”
Cai urged, as he too turned to flee. Without a weapon, he was a sitting target ready to be picked. Thank the ancestors he hadn’t been killed off already in his earlier daze. He lost sight of the small Folk who ran quickly despite the wound to his arm. He found himself hoping the boy would make it.
Now wasn’t the time to be focused on others, though. The attacking Folk would be recovering momentarily, and Cai needed to find cover. The streets were too risky with raining arrows, so he ducked into a nearby boarding house that hadn’t yet gone up in flames.
Inside the boarding house was nearly as hectic as outside. Furniture was scattered across the sitting room as people madly made for the upstairs area or cellar, pushing and shoving over one another. With a hiss a flaming arrow streaked through a nearby window and stuck into the floor setting a place rug aflame almost instantly as the silk curtains of the window curled and blackened from the lick of fire.
Several people screamed and began to rush for the front door shoving fiercely by Cai only to be met with a volley from across a nearby rooftop - three Folk and a Honfokun woman falling back across the doorway filled with arrows. Outside more flaming arrows were then released and pelted across the front of the boarding house and the roof.
As people continued to madly push for upstairs and downstairs alike another arrow darted through an open window striking someone in the upper leg and sending him reeling across the floor. He was an older man, adorned in fine garments with a golden medallion dangling from his neck, he cried loudly in pain as people hopped over his fallen form and made for the stairwell in the back of the boarding house. The flames were spreading fast, the burning rug had been the catalyst that spread the fire within as it rained down from the outside.
Seeing the towering Mokeu the elderly man extended one hand outward as he futilely rugged at the arrow in his leg. He made no sound other than pained gasps but his lips formed the word “Please” as he fearfully glanced around at the orange and yellow blazes spreading across the sitting room.
A. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man downstairs.
B. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man upstairs.
C. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man out the back door.
D. pulls the golden medallion from the mans’ neck and then escape.
E. ignores the wounded man and heads downstairs.
F. ignores the wounded man and heads upstairs.
I chose…C. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man out the back door.
The elderly man looked nothing like Zhao-Fu of course, he was a Folk and Cai’s mentor a Mokeu. Even so, the similarity in age and feebleness was uncanny and as Cai watched the man pleading for help he saw his mentor in his mind’s eye. So much so that a lump caught in his throat as a wave of guilt washed over him at not having thought of Zhao-Fu’s well being immediately.I need to get to him.
Fear made his knees wobble at the thought of returning to their shared home and finding nothing but rubble. He needed to move quickly.
In one sweeping motion, he bent down and wrapped the older man’s arm around his shoulders, easily lifting him up like a babe in his arms. Folk were so light.
Smoke stung his eyes as the fire raged inside the room, spreading fast. He swung his head to the stairs but decided against that route, the fire meant they would just get stuck regardless of which direction he went. Cai coughed and his lungs burned. The four bodies lying at the entrance, blood pooling around them, was enough warning against that exit. Time was running out, the fire was approaching, angry and hot.
There was only one viable option.
Cai secured his hold on the man and made a dash for the back door, hoping no one would be waiting to ambush them there.
As the flames spread so did the smoke making a choking black cloud that hung in the air. The fires raced about the room undeterred, the walls turning an angry red - pillows, rugs, rags, and the strewn furniture acting as kindling for the flame. When Cai reached the back door he would discover it to be blocked from the outside, not budging in the slightest. The smoke was thick now to the point of blinding and it poured into the Mokeu’s lungs. The smell of cinders and all manner of burnt objects was strong enough to make ones’ mind spin and stomach churn. The old man Cai carried coughed and gagged between gasps of pain, futilely pressing both hands against his face to try and block the smoke.
Cai could try and burst through the back door, he had the strength after all, of course there was no telling what was blocking the door or who was waiting on the other side. He could try and circle back but that seemed an even more risky choice as the smoke now veiled the entire ground floor.
A. attempts to break through the back door. (Might)
B. makes a run back in the direction of the front door, avoiding small fires and scattered debris. (Perception)
C. looks for a window along the nearby walls. (Perception)
I chose…C. looks for a window along the nearby walls. (Perception)Check Failed.
[My roll: 14 DM roll: 18]
As he coughed and blinked against the tears welling in his eyes, he regretted the option to attempt an escape through the back. Of course whoever was attacking the city would have made sure the exits were blocked. Based on what he’d seen outside, their goal was to kill as many citizens as possible.
The old man in his arms shook with bouts of coughing which were only interspersed by groans of pain from the arrow still protruding from his thigh. Cai cursed and realized he would have had a better chance at survival if he’d gone up the landing and jumped out of a window.
An idea struck him suddenly. The small corridor at the back of the house might have a window they could jump out of. It would be much safer to do so than from the second floor, after all.
The thick haze of smoke made seeing close to impossible. It hung like a dark rain cloud over Cai’s head and he found himself crouching to avoid the worst of it. The stinging in his eyes he could have lived with and the toxic burning scent of the room’s adornments would have been more tolerable if it wasn’t also mingled with the horribly sickening smell of burning flesh that wafted throughout the room from the four bodies at the entrance. The fire ate at them like a hungry predator and Cai couldn’t stop picturing the image of skin melting off of bone as he tried to think.
He couldn’t put the man down. The fire was rapidly spreading across the wooden floors and the soles of his bare feet were scalded by their heat.
Keeping the elder Folk’s body awkwardly balanced on one arm, Cai reached out with the other and blindly felt along the wall for a window. His eyes remained closed. He couldn’t see anything past the smoke anyway and like this, the stinging was only significantly painful instead of intolerable.
All his fingers found was black soot that he was certain similarly covered his entire body.
He attempted the other wall to no avail. Ancestors curse it!
Time was running out. The man had stopped coughing and Cai knew that wasn’t a good sign.
I chose…A. attempts to break through the back door. (Might)Check Passed.
[My roll: 17 DM roll: 16]
With no other options, his last recourse was to attempt to break through the barred door into whatever was awaiting them on the other side.
Cai coughed, his throat and lungs burning, breath heaving as the oxygen quickly diminished in the room. He needed to get out now.
Wrapping his arms securely around the man once more, he leaned forward, jutting his shoulder out before him, and moved forward until he felt the wooden door before him. He took two steps back and then used all his force to shove his shoulder into the door.
He had never been so grateful to hear the splintering of wood.
Why hadn’t he just tried this from the beginning?
A few more slams into the door and it gave way.
Cai stumbled over what seemed to be a small cart that had been placed against the door as a makeshift blockade. He blinked through the tears in his eyes as he steadied himself, grateful not to have dropped the man in the process, who hung limply in his arms like one of the many sacks he’d spent all day hauling.
No one was waiting for them in the alley behind the boarding house. Cai supposed the masked attackers hadn’t expected someone of his stature or strength to break through their trap, and wished he had the strength or time to tell the others he’d seen in the building that there was a way out.
As it was, he needed to get home and check on Zhao-Fu.
A quick glance to the man in his arms was enough for him to notice shallow breaths, and Cai breathed a sigh of relief. He was still alive.
He considered briefly where he might leave the man, but realized no safe place remained in the city. This stranger was safer in his arms than anywhere else, and Zhao-Fu would be able to offer assistance with the smoke inhalation and arrow wound.
Cai’s shoulder throbbed painfully, the other stung and bled slightly though he didn’t know from what, and his feet blistered painfully from the burning floors inside the building but this didn’t stop him from taking up a steady trot in the direction of his shared home in the outskirts of the city. His lungs burned and felt as though they couldn’t hold nearly as much oxygen as he’d been used to, which slowed his pace, but at least he was moving. At least he was still alive.