|"None of you believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Spider in the Month of the Spider in the tenth Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in Tahiti and elsewhere
Unusually for this chapter, the party is relaxing at Tahiti rather than at the Tanzhe military headquarters. The butler seems to be dashing around quite a lot in a hurry, looking unhappy, though. Shuyan corners him to try to figure out what the problem is, and he admits that the mail is late, but he's sure it is nothing to worry about. Shuyan suggests that the party Investigate The Missing Mail, but nobody is really sure where to look. The butler seems to be expecting plots to show up in the mail.
Over on a different plot thread, Lijuan suspects that she is pregnant, and writes Zhuai a letter letting him know. She gives it to the butler to send, if the mail courier ever arrives.
Then, Team Mail (Cai Wen, Lijuan, Yanyu, and Shuyan) heads towards the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, where the courier would be expected to come from. They stop at the first town to see if the courier has been seen today. Cai Wen asks around, and notes that Zhuai would be a lot of help in gathering information, but even without Zhuai's help, is able to determine that the courier came through and went into the local inn to get lunch. Cai Wen, who normally does not contemplate Zhuai quite so frequently, finds that a bit puzzling.
In the back corner of the inn, the courier proves to be asleep - actually quite drunk - and carefully stashed behind a vase of flowers. The innkeeper says that he and an older guy in a cloak were eating lunch together a few hours ago.
- "Does that description sound like a recurring NPC?"
- "That sounds like a recurring NPC who is in disguise."
Cai Wen goes through the courier’s mail pouch - there are letters for Lijuan, Kuan-Xi, Shanxi, and Xiao Fa.
The courier is unceremoniously slung onto his horse to head back to Tahiti with Shuyan and Cai Wen, while Yanyu and Lijuan take the courier's mail pouch and start heading for the Forest of Chin to talk to Zhuai.
Back at Tahiti, a visitor (Old Hop in a hooded cloak) informs Kuan-Xi that the Golden Prince will be arriving shortly, and that he stalled the mail to keep the party from being distracted. Shuyan and Cai Wen get back to Tahiti with the unconscious courier, and Cai Wen explains that he sent the mail to the Forest of Chin for Zhuai to look into. Xian is baffled by why this makes any sense at all.
Lijuan, on the road, has been sketching some prophetic art.
The wolf-like shapes in the bottom left are probably wolves. Or, at least, almost all wolves. The one in the top right of the group isn't, though.
- "It might be a very large budgie."
The communication paper Yanyu and Lijuan are carrying tells them they should come back to meet the Golden Prince, so they turn around before delivering the mail to Zhuai.
Once everyone is back at Tahiti, the missing mail is read. The letter for Lijuan is from Zhuai - apparently Hsu Fin's uncle has been writing some nasty letters, and while Fin isn't at their estate any longer, he doesn't seem to have been returned to his family either, so it's a bit puzzling. Anyway, the Hsus are threatening to call in the Obsidian Warlord, so if Lijuan could let Zhuai know what's going on there, he'd appreciate it.
Cai Wen's message is from Mystique, asking him to make sure that Lijuan and Kuan-Xi are around, and available for a little bit of travel. She'll be arriving shortly and will explain then.
Another letter for Lijuan is from House Sung, the part that drops all the "Lijuan for Empress" key phrases. Apparently things are underway, and if Lijuan has some additional resources (about two tael) to defray certain magical costs, that would be helpful, but if she doesn't, not to worry, because destiny will find a way. Lijuan is pretty sure that she wants to know what the two tael is for before spending it, and checks in with Xiao Fa about whether the "Lijuan for Empress" faction can be usefully turned towards Xiao Fa for Emperor.
Kuan-Xi has no time for her letter, nor does Xiao Fa. Shanxi reads his, looks alarmed, and tucks it into his sleeve.
Mystique checks in with Cai Wen - they're working on putting together the Talisman of the Wolf, but she'll push it off until the next day so as to not disrupt Cai Wen's meeting with the Golden Prince.
The Prince's Concerns
There are trumpets outside, and Old Hop announces the Golden Prince with all due fanfare; the Prince enters, with the Huntress one step behind. He says that it is his wish to discuss as frankly as possible the subject that brings him here, so he advises that any who are not deeply in their confidence be temporarily excluded. Cai Wen says that Mystique is in his confidence, so she remains.
The Golden Prince has been asked to look into the danger to the Empire from the Eastern Lands, and so he wishes to know about the Aspected Servant of Coyote. Cai Wen quibbles with this definition - Fox isn't his boss, so it seems unwarranted to say that Xian is the servant of Coyote. Nevertheless, the Prince says, Cai Wen advances the nature of Fox in all that he does, so it is also not inaccurate.
The party agrees that they are concerned about Xian and Coyote, but don't really know how to proceed. Cai Wen agrees that anything that attacks a Great Spirit is a threat; Lijuan thinks Coyote is a lot like Monkey, and Xian notes that Coyote was trying to cut a deal with Monkey at the Night of Gates to let Coyote in. Monkey seemed to think it would be funny to let Coyote in and then defeat him in the end, but also seemed to think that Xian needed to agree to it, and Xian thought it was a terrible plan.
The butler passes by the room and gestures eloquently as if to say "Don't worry about the combat noises, we're dealing." Sure enough, there are the sounds of steel on steel from outside. The Huntress raises an eyebrow to Lijuan, and the latter gestures in silent hunter language that she'll go investigate.
Guards seem to be running towards the water gates - they think there's been some sort of minor invasion by House Suzuki. Lijuan runs back to get Yanyu, and the two women head in the direction that the guards are running. After some interrogation, they learn that Hsu Fin jumped through one of the water gates, and the house guards chased him, leading to the House Suzuki guards panicking, so they jumped though in the other direction and there was an altercation, but everyone is standing down again.
Back in the conversation with the Prince, Xian admits that she had not been worrying about the Coyote issue very much, but if the Prince is here it must be more serious. The Prince says that he has received several petitions on the topic, including one from Kuan-Xi and her companions, and while the Eastern Lands are not his first priority, his allies have expressed a need. Xiao Fa thinks that they have been keeping an eye on Coyote - to keep the enemy close at hand, as it were - but Coyote may have gotten wise to that and is looking for other levers to pull.
The Prince says that he is taking their discussion to mean that now is not the time to go on a Coyote hunt, but if they prefer, he could remove Coyote's influence from Xian. They are not sure that is wise - Coyote should be only able to have one Aspected person. On the other hand, Unexpected Orchid was also... maybe Coyote aspected? Maybe something else? The Prince says that the usual rules are weaker, but it should not be easy for Coyote to gain a second convert. In any event, he can sever Xian, but only if they wish it.
Xian doesn't want to be aspect-less and amnesiac, but the Prince can make no guarantees of no loss other than aspect. Lijuan gestures to Mystique (and, presumably, the Huntress) in silent hunter language about the ritual for tonight, but Mystique does not seem to think that the timing is impacted.
The Prince and the Huntress will sojourn for a while in Tahiti while the party discusses. Xian polls everyone else. Yanyu is in favor of getting rid of Coyote, but the others are willing to let Xian continue as she is. So, people take advantage of the break to read their mail.
Kuan-Xi's message is from Shen Mei, asking for help with the ritual to create the Talisman of the Wolf. To touch all the countries within the day, they are planning to use Shen Mei's water gates, but to make them work best, she begs the assistance of a barrel of pure water from Kuan-Xi which they can use to link Shen Mei’s network to Kuan-Xi’s briefly. They will also seek Lijuan's assistance.
Xiao Fa's mail is from Master Tranh, asking if he has been able to find out anything about where Gi-Su might have gone.
The party confers with Mystique, and she can start the ritual at the full moon.
The Golden Prince returns, and Xian declines being severed, but wants to know if the Prince understands what Coyote gains from Xian being aspected as Coyote. Cai Wen speculates that when Xian is there, Coyote has a seat at the table, whatever the table is. The Prince agrees that this is true, and while one can take precautions, they are tedious and might well be skipped. At the Night of Gates, of course, precautions are basically irrelevant, but during more normal times, Xian could sequester herself in Kuan-Xi's carriage, for example, to prevent Coyote from having any influence. (This would not protect her from Horse, obviously). Other similar precautions could be taken, but Xian begins to see what "tedious and likely to be skipped" means.
By law, tradition, and rule, Coyote may only have one aspected person. (Or none - but at most one). However, there are exceptions. The Prince doesn't think anyone else in the Cycle could be convinced that the exceptions apply to Coyote - except maybe Monkey. When Coyote got in before, that was during another Night of Gates, and it also required collusion with Whale in order to get past the Warden of the Northern Seas. So if Coyote's influence was severed, it would not be so trivial for him to get similar influence again. But what about Unexpected Orchid? That suggests that someone has provided another exception, indicating that there is more support in the Cycle than just Monkey. Well... what if the Prince goes on a Coyote Hunt without de-aspecting Xian first? He doesn't actually know what happens to an aspected person when their patron spirit dies. He will consult with Li Kao. Lijuan notes that when Wolf tore the Best demon to pieces, that was pretty hard on Bobby Li. Xian doesn't really want to go that path, but does offer to be leveraged in any future Coyote Hunts. The Prince will remember that.
Finally, the Prince asks Xian to excuse them for a moment. Once she has left, he unsheathes the Azure Blade and cuts it through the air, severing any currently active persuasions, as well as basically cutting everyone off from the use of or being affected by Charisma dice for the half hour.
- "Did Xian talk you into asking to not sever her?" -The Golden Prince
- "No, but we mostly let her do what she wants." -Lijuan
Everyone else agrees that no, Xian didn't use any extra mojo to persuade them to agree. The Golden Prince nods, and he and the Huntress and Old Hop take their leave.
Three Part Harmony
Shanxi brings out his mail message - it's a double-sealed summons to the Dragon's Throne, to appear before the Bureau of Records, under the authority of the Lord Mayor.
Mystique checks with Lijuan - can she help with the Wolf ritual? They would like to take advantage of her pursue-the-prey shtick to hunt throughout the Twelve Kingdoms, via the water gate networks.
Shuyan mentions that she has had some dreams about becoming Queen and crushing her enemies underfoot. That's alarming. Are these prophetic dreams, or sent dreams, or something else? Shuyan is not pleased - she doesn't even want to be Ringmaster!
Yanyu looks around for Hsu Fin, but as far as anyone knows, he's still on the other side of the Suzuki water gate. Okay, that's probably something that can be resolved quickly, so Yanyu and Kuan-Xi head through the gate. The Suzuki guards apologize - there are standard portal protocols that were not adhered to, and they reacted precipitously but maybe understandably, to the armed guards charging through. Only one of the Suzuki guards seems to have seen a kid, though - no one else had believed him.
Shuyan, Lijuan, and Cai Wen head with Mystique to be involved in the Wolf ritual - Lijuan will be doing the prey-chasing, and Shuyan and Cai Wen will try to keep up on their horses. The ritual progresses until they bring the Wolf Talisman over to Lijuan, but before she can accept it, a white stag crosses the ritual circle, hooking the chain of the talisman over one antler, and then it runs and leaps through the Tahiti water gate. Lijuan follows, and Shuyan and Cai Wen follow her.
Xian, Shanxi, and Xiao Fa head to the Dragon's Throne in Kuan-Xi's carriage. Xian reads Shanxi's I Ching.
- "That last line is kind of throwaway. It's like the GMs couldn't think of anything interesting." -Xian
At Gate Town, the guards are no longer giving everyone the third degree about why they're entering, so it's easy enough to get in. They head to Fen-Xi's house, on the theory that whatever is going on, it will need a bureaucrat. When Fen-Xi returns home, they show him Shanxi's summons, and he starts to discuss it until his wife coughs discreetly. Ah, his rates have gone up since he has been promoted to Bureaucrat Fifth Class. Xiao Fa pays him.
So... it looks like Shanxi is being summoned in order to verify his identity, as the elder brother of the newest Candidate for the Imperial Throne. Oh, maybe that last line was relevant after all. This is all a bit above Fen-Xi's pay grade, but he'll do what he can.
Shanxi is still catching up, and wants to know what the problem is. When it is explained, he is briefly astonished that Xiao Fa is trying to make him Emperor ("Best Brother Ever!") until he recalls that being Emperor is a terrible suicidal idea, and he doesn't want to be Emperor.
Meanwhile, on the Shrouded Isle, Yanyu and Kuan-Xi follow signs of Fin to the volcano. At the top, they find Fin and another kid throwing rocks into the volcano. Yanyu scolds him, and then is startled to realize that the other kid is Meilin, her daughter. What is she doing here? Meilin is confused bout why Yanyu is complaining now.
- "You never followed me before." -Meilin
- "You never did anything this foolish or dangerous before. " -Yanyu
- "Nuh-uh. Nobody ever noticed if I goed through a water gate before." -Meilin
Apparently, Meilin has explained to Fin that nobody notices kids going through water gates, but it didn't work as well for him as it usually does for her. Yanyu throws an astrological chart in the volcano as an offering to help calm things down, and Kuan-Xi starts telling Phoenix stories.
The stag hunt continues apace - through the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation, and through the hedge maze into the Strand, where Shuyan thinks her ancestors may be grumpy at her. Then, through the Forest of Chin and past Foon Keep, where an arrow with a message tied to it arcs towards the group. Shuyan catches it, and it's a note from Zhuai: "Weird stuff going down. Talk to you next run." Ah, maybe they were supposed to go see Zhuai after all. Well, no time for it now.
In the Dragon's Throne, Shanxi and the others head to the archives, where he is instructed to fill out a whole lot of forms to identify himself as Lo Shanxi. Fen-Xi leaps in to shepherd him through - it's an interesting combination of bureaucracy and a lot of personal details. At the end, the bureaucrats start stamping things, and Xiao Fa thinks that the step of stamping their wrists is somehow stamping their souls. An alchemist takes a few drops of blood from both Shanxi and Xiao Fa, and does something mysterious but that magically indicates them to be blood relations, and he stamps some forms as well. Xian tries to not actually stamp her wrist, and is deceptive enough to get away with it, and at the end, she swaps a loofah for the final form as it is turned in, pocketing the final document.
The white stag hunt leaps out of the Suzuki water gate, and charges up the hill to the story circle. Kuan-Xi puts up a wall of ice to keep anyone from falling into the volcano, and the stag runs headfirst into it - and disappears. Lijuan follows, and then everyone else does as well.
Out of the wall of ice, the stag leaps out in the Palace of Supreme Harmony, which is where Shanxi and the others have been escorted, in order to offer Shanxi the support of the Bureaucracy(*).
Lijuan shoots the stag with a net arrow and grabs the Talisman. A moonbeam comes through the window, hitting Yanyu and Xiao Fa (who Yanyu has run up next to), and in the distance, a wolf (probably) howls. After that, things dissolve into chaos.
The Jade Guard shows up, and tries to arrest everyone - nobody is supposed to be in the throne room - but the bureaucrats have jade passess. Shuyan has a jade key, and can include nine people as her entourage, which is enough to spring almost everyone. Xian fast disguises herself and blends in with the Jade Guard, and everyone escapes back to Fen-Xi's house, where Shen Mei and Mystique finally catch up with them.
The Talisman of the Wolf names him the Ferocity of the World, but Lijuan doesn't try to memorize the name. The power is "Leader of the Pack" and confers bonuses based on the size of the pack. Mystique says that there was a carefully prepared path, but the stag ran off the rails nearly immediately. Jumping into fountains and out of swamps, and into a wall of ice, was not part of the plan, and shouldn't even have been possible. But it all seems to have worked out in the end, because the wolf howled. Or, at least, something that sounded like a wolf howled. Xian is a little concerned because it all seems to have ended alarmingly near her, and a bit more... chaotically... than things ought to have turned out.
Xiao Fa checks the talisman with his Discernment, and notes that it is the Great Talisman of the Wolf(*). And the Imperial Status Score has been updated to give Xiao Fa some more omens of thrones (0.3 for the investiture and 0.1 for the moonbeam), and Shan-Xi 1(*) for the support of the bureaucracy.