Three weeks after the beginning of the “revolt,” as the Khorosians are calling it, the heroes found themselves once more summoned to Mayor Cho, in order to counsel him as how best to proceed. The Xoltec had occupied the town of San-zu-tep, sending all non-Xoltecs packing, and with the lack of an Imperial presence in either of the eastern towns, it was clear that Governor Euseos had, for the time being, ceded control of the east. Still, throughout the rest of the colony, martial law had been declared, and every town’s Fengzhi leader had been sent a special “advisor” from Oraxabad.
The night before the meeting, the shaman Mazil had a strange dream. Waking to smoke and fire, she rushed outside to see Khorosian Legionnaires gleefully striking down unarmed civilians, while she herself was watched by a strange figure in a deep hood. When she tried to bring down her magics to fell the troops, she realized with horror that her gods had abandoned her, and when she heard her former master’s voice behind her, she turned to see the hooded figure right behind her, this time bowing and presenting a heavy scepter. In a croaking voice, he said, “The people need a symbol,” and dropped the heavy scepter at her feet.
Inside the council meeting, the heroes met Shikai, Cho’s right-hand man, Shedphis, the leader of the miners, Pu the Merchant, representing the merchants, and Nathys Lao-Ashemi, Shedphis’ second and a doughty blacksmith warrior. Shedphis and Pu expressed grave concerns about resisting the Khorosians. Seeking the character’s counsel, Cho perhaps got more than he bargained for when the ever-honest Mazil told him that his people acted like sheep and her people would never deign to assist sheep in any rebellion, suggesting the Fengzhi must prove themselves worthy of Xoltec assistance. Cho bid them journey south to San-zu-tep to treat with the Xoltec, He promised Darnos a masterwork weapon – to demonstrate to the Xoltec their superior smithing skills – and gave Mazil a handsomely-crafted figurine of a smilodon, carved out of orax, a gift for the Xoltecs.
The group journeyed south, and was challenged by Xoltec guards at the gate of the newly-renamed Quenotzin. Their officer, a smilodon knight named Ollec Nochasson, asked their business and saw them to a place of rest. That evening, the heroes presented themselves to the King-in-the-West, Teochan Metumchecsson.
The King was seated with Queen Atotoztli and Princess Itzel. The sneering Prince Nuatloc answered every utterance by the characters with contempt, but King Teochan reluctantly acknowledged suggestions that the Xoltec could not stand alone, and said he would announce his decision after the ball game, to be played in the morning.
Mazil and Olca recognized an opportunity to gain face and instructed their new friends on the rules of the beloved game. On the morrow, Mazil, Olca, Darnos and Nathys entered the newly-created ball court of Quenotzin and prepared to win glory for their cause.
The game was a rout, the heroes winning 5-1, and Olca’s mighty final blow struck an opponent full in the face and killed him. The crowd showered the heroes – particularly Olca – with flowers, and King Teochan was well pleased. He demanded only weapons, wood, and suzerainty over his town in return for an alliance with the Fengzhi.
In Tangkou, Cho took all the news in stride, and suggested he could supply King Teochan with all his needs…save one. He expressed doubts that the people would rise, as Teochan demanded. His council demurred, and then Cho remembered a legend among his people which might rouse his people: the Iron Duke Wugong had been among the first of the Fengzhi to be brought to Hope’s End, but when his people submitted to the Khorosians, in disgust he left for the lands to the north, never to be heard from again. Still, he suggested that his scepter would be returned when his people were ready to throw off their yoke. Could this scepter serve as a rallying point for their beleaguered people? No one knew, but Shikai suggested the Learned Master might.
Nepthys recognized at once the name – the Learned Master was something of a bogeyman to the people of Tangkou. Depending on whom one asked, the Learned Master was either a 15-foot, blue-skinned giant, a shriveled old man, a savior who would rescue the people of Tangkou in their darkest hour, or a demon who stole dead children away in the night.
Deciding that the Xoltec must see men of strength among the Fengzhi, and fearful of the petulant Prince Nuatloc, the heroes sent Ma Bai Tian north with the Prince and four knights, to show him the might of the Monastery of the Seven Harmonious Winds. Meanwhile, the rest of the heroes journeyed north into the highlands to seek the residence of the Learned Master.
Only three days later they came upon a remarkable sight – a great mansion, a small castle, in truth – clinging to the mountainside. Upon their approach, they were greeted by servants, and brought to a table, to which a hooded figure was brought.
The hooded man suggested that resistance to the Empire was futile, and as the conversation progressed, the more suspicious the heroes became of this hooded figure and his host of servants. As more servants poured in, Davnos attempted to distract their host, and Mazil called upon her strange gods to lay them low…