|"A dozen plans for how to win the battle are not so good as one plan to withdraw from the fight."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Dog in the Month of the Dog in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Hon'eth Arcade and near the North Wall.
Poking At Stuff
Merit lets people know that he has invested in a library, which will help with future research. He does have a lot of things he can research - he toys with the idea of wearing the tortoiseshell bracers, but is persuaded that that would be a bad idea. He starts by researching the bracers themselves, and returns to report that it's an item that a Great Spirit wears when it incarnates - so it's not supposed to be here now. The Talismans, which are probably similar in power, are "supposed" to be here. The bracers probably work better on Tortoises than other people, so it's good that it was Master Zhou who tested it.
- "Someone wants this back. It is Tortoise, and it might be someone else too." -Merit
Shen-Ji has a big pearl (acquired from a mysterious rabbit spirit) - Xian thinks it looks just like the moon, if you look at it just right. Xian also has a censer of purifying smoke from the rabbit spirit, so the idea of rabbits hiding random objects to be found by people doesn't confuse him too much.
- "Want to trade? You're kind of a budding necromancer..." -Xian
Takanata writes a poem, though he isn't sure what to make of it yet.
Anto and Merit look up Amikiri in the "Demons" section of Merit's library, and find out three possibilities:
- Amikiri was originally a demon of net-cutting who branched out into general unbinding
- Amikiri was a demon who "unbound" himself from the World Below and went into the World Above
- Amikiri is a spirit who people sometimes call a demon because they don't understand the true nature of spirits and demons.
Takanata yoinks the Monkey Talisman, and finishes his last experiment for the Call of the Ocean ritual.
- "Soon Xian will be cursed!" -Takanata
- "Wait, what?" -Xian
Speaking of cursed, Xian notices that his hoop seems to have become magical since the last time he looked at the item card.
Cai Wen has been running around in puttering arranging for an audience with the King of the Hon'eth Arcade, spearheaded by Hsu Verity, to move the last needed chariot to the north. Takanata was already planning to go, but others can come if then want to. The party heads to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival to put this plan in action.
Min Feng pokes around in the monkey cart, and pulls out "an unsigned original by Zi Kone". Well, there must be a way to use that to thwart Ezokin somehow. Perhaps the party should sell it for three zhu! And "frame" him for having made the sale! Min Feng says she can only frame people for crimes, and selling your own art isn't really illegal, but she can implicate him in a false scandal.
Xian is put in charge of implementing this plan, as the most convincing of the group. Min Feng disguises him as a "random drunk art merchant" and he takes the painting to a dive bar with him. After outwaiting one hard drinker, he targets a nearby woman as a potential mark. Xian introduces himself as "Kizone, the renowned art merchant", who is temporarily and unexpectedly out of coin to pay for his drink, and must resort to selling this painting. The woman expresses interest in buying it, which Xian encourages, but when he doesn't quote a price, she makes him an offer of twenty li. He declares it a deal, and then tries to drop the painting in a spilled puddle of beer, but his dexterity isn't great and she manages to snatch it up before it is ruined.
Xian buys her a round with some of his new money, and insists on trying to clean the small smudge from the corner with a napkin. He puts his whammy on her, and finally passes her the napkin, convincing her it is the painting, and makes his escape. Unfortunately, now it is a crime, but it's not a crime that Min Feng committed, so it's hard for her to frame Ezokin. However, she did disguise Xian, and when she demands 15 of the 20 ill-gotten li as her "cut", that counts as being behind the theft, so she frames Ezokin for it.
Xian seems willing to try again, since he still has the painting, but there is deemed to be Not Time to keep trying the plan over and over. They are, in fact, late for an audience with the King of the Hon'eth Arcade, so the group heads to the House of Benevolent Oversight at top speed.
The party (including Cai Wen, and Hsu Verity and her friends) manages to work its way up the status gradient at court, until they reach the room where the King is. Various groups are summoned forward one at a time, to speak to the King, and they have a few minutes until their turn. Xian recognizes that the King is the guy in robes he saw in his vision.
Finally, it's the party's turn. Hsu Verity launches into her explanation of the petition, on behalf of the various crafters and guilds of the northern Arcade. Various others throw in their persuasion assistance. The King accedes to the petition, and will move a chariot north. Is there anything else?
Takanata steps forward, and introduces himself. He says he is a student of the I Ching; his studies have led him to believe that this cycle will be significant for the future of the Empire. He would be pleased to be able to study the King's I Ching to know what the future of the Arcade and the King's own future holds.
Takanata is about to be dismissed somewhat curtly, until he burns his reputation and receives a longer explanation.
- "While we have indeed been seeking counsel, perhaps from the more non-traditional sources, my current situation advises that we do not allow other seers to peer beyond what lies at the heart of our kingdom until we have had our own reading performed. Unfortunately, our most recent attempt to accomplish that was interrupted..." -the King
- "Huh? What? Was that that guy? Was that guy you sent up to the world above?" -Xian, interrupting
- "The most honored monk was our agent in this matter, but he was unable to succeed in his mission, so we are seeking a separate path." -the King
- "Good luck with that!" -Xian
- "We're done here." -Takanata, dragging Xian away
Merit leaps in to grovel and apologize for his insane compatriot, and manages to cover any Merit-directed fallout, but probably not the Xian-directed fallout.
As the group leaves, Takanata does a Connections reading on two of Verity's friends who have her unusual ring - they're both members of the Elemental Braid.
Merit is concerned with the items in the monkey cart - there may have been a bunch of things stolen in the Harbor around the same time which could still be causing trouble. Min Feng asks around town and hears that there's a formerly respected monk of the Wandering Path named Liang Zongxia, who had something of great value stolen. He's partly in disgrace, and partly tasked with recovering it. Rumor ties this to the king somehow, but isn't clear how. She also hears that the House of Enticing Vintage was robbed, but that's presumably Liet's dad's ring.
Merit tries to figure out who is in town related to the monkey cart:
- Nameless Yu
- Cai Wen
- Min Feng.
Hmm. That's somewhat puzzling. Maybe it's just the people specifically related to things that are in the wagon.
Takanata doesn't think the name Nameless Yu is familiar - so he's probably not a famous artist or noble, but that leaves a lot of other options. Could that be the name that Namura Hayato is using now? Hsu Verity doesn't think so, and thinks he's in the Savannah at the moment anyway. Merit doesn't think he's a recurring NPC, and Takanata wonders if it has to do with his poem.
Wei Han notes that people can stay behind and play with the monkey cart, but he has to be getting to a big battle in the north. Ahah, that could be the real plot. Everyone heads north.
Wei Han says that there's a huge battle going on, between multiple northern clans and chariots from the Steppes and the Arcade and the Dragon Army. (For once, the normally imperturbable Wei Han looks kind of stressed and tired). Commander Yao's XO will be heading to the front to get a better handle on the situation. No one is quite sure how they can help with a Really Huge battle like that.
But - two battle masters just snuck across the wall, off to the west. Can they go deal with that, to prevent the battle masters from linking up with the main force? He has to go deal with the battle now, though, so won't be able to assist them.
The party heads off in the direction Wei Han indicated that the battle masters were, and Anto turns on his nose for trouble. When they get close, Anto thinks there's definitely someone who needs help, but ... it seems to be some sort of cloud of hazy mist, with swords occasionally sticking out of it. Master Zhou tries to do some combat analysis, but it's too far away without spending karma. Shen-Ji confirms that the cloud-of-battle effect is definitely Northern "battle magic".
Xian peers through his hoop at the battle, and is surprised when his eyes sharpen and zoom in on it. He can make out a small group of Dragon Army soldiers, fighting three guys in dark cloaks who seem to be all around the fight. Min Feng puts on the amulet of undead shrieking, which provokes the hoop to starts shrieking. Huh... so it's a haunted hoop?
- "Don't diss the hoop." -Xian
But, wait, three guys in cloaks? Wei Han said there were two battle masters. Does this have to do with the masks poem and two faces or three? There is a brief discussion about who is going to the fight and who is staying in Merit's library cart and drinking tea, but in the end, everyone heads towards the mysterious battle cloud, and then leaps in.
Inside the cloud, things are very simplified - it's easy to target anyone else, and position doesn't seem to be relevant. There are three cloaked figures, five Dragon Army soldiers still up, and about twenty fallen soldiers. Shen-Ji's analysis is that "Cloaked Figure A" is the one holding up the battle effect causing this field (and has some other battle effects as well). Anto thinks that "Cloaked Figure B" is the one he needs to help. He tries to pull Cloaked Figure A over, but his chain pull turns into some damage and both he and the other figure fly apart with an "oof". Cloaked Figure C is steadily mowing down the Dragon Army soldiers, but Merit does his best to bandage them. Shen-Ji shoots Figure A.
Master Zhou ties a scarf of yellow silk over his eyes, but he can see no enemies when he does that. Shuyan's snake-heat-vision still sees everyone, though - and also indicates that all the fallen soldiers are still alive. Shen-Ji shouts for everyone to stop fighting, but as he is not especially persuasive, that mostly just stops the party from attacking. One of the soldiers shouts that the commander sent them to stop the battle masters; Merit, inspired by this, quickly disguises himself as a Dragon Army officer, and yells at them to stick to dodging only.
Master Zhou notes that Cloaked Figure A has dodged using "Yield like Silk", a Yellow Silk School technique.
- "I am Master Zhou of the White Pagoda and I say this fight is ended! These are not battle masters, these are Imperials under a sorcerous effect!"
A and B bow low to Master Zhou, but C, unimpressed, takes out one of the remaining Dragon Army soldiers, before the battle cloud clears.
When the cloud and the flying fists disperse, everyone is standing in a field. Two Dragon Army soldiers remain standing; twenty-three are down. Merit gets people to start triaging, but it quickly becomes clear that they've all just been knocked out, and are essentially unharmed. The three cloaked figures put their hoods down, revealing Yanzi, Long Yue-Mei, and Broken Sword.
Yanzi reports that the three of them crossed the wall as Master Zhou assigned them to learn about the northerner's methods of fighting. Yue-Mei and Broken Sword were both taught the ways of Battle from a northern Battle Master, when they agreed to each use their talents to kill one of the secret masters of the Empire. (Yue-Mei intends to kill Tai Lung, and Broken Sword intends to kill Lucky Chang).
Takanata grumbles that they have abandoned the Empire, and when they die, their souls will not go to the Bureaucracy. Yanzi reports on her homework in more detail to Master Zhou, and gets further instructions, while everyone else notes that it is traditional, when a kung fu master says "Go and learn how they fight" he tends to mean "Learn some of their shticks" so Master Zhou can hardly complain if they took that interpretation here.
Both of the battle masters have Northern stats now, and about ten first level Battle Mastery shticks. However, a number of Yue-Mei's Yellow Silk shticks are now broken, as she can't spend Yin or Yang on them, since she doesn't have any. Takanata says he is willing to try to tweak Yue-Mei's shticks if she she can stay with the party for a while. Since she doesn't know where Tai Lung is (and Min Feng isn't telling), she'll do that.
The group starts heading back to the battle, warning the newcomers not to use any Northern powers. Though Wei Han still might notice them. As if summoned, Wei Han shows up to ask if they dealt with the battle masters.
- "They will not be opposing you in this battle any more." -Merit
As he starts to brief them about the state of the main battle, he suddenly interrupts himself to say that the XO has been grabbed, and that has to be dealt with immediately!
Again, the group runs pell-mell in the direction Wei Han indicates, but as they reach the area where he thinks the trouble is, things become somewhat confusing. Broken Sword says that they "fractured the battlemap" to combine multiple possible battlefields into the same map - so while there are five colors worth of bad guys and squad-with-the-XO, only one of them is "real".
As the group enters into the fight, the mechanic slowly clarifies. Each person is on a randomly determined map, but can only figure out which one they are on by trying to interact with someone and seeing if it works. Once it either succeeds or fails, it's clear what color map you're on, and you can only interact with people on the same map as you. The bad guys are trying to make it back to the line of Northern-held territory, while the good guys are trying to rescue the XO and get her back to the Empire-held territory. Encountering the squad-with-the-XO sends you onto a special sub-map with more enemies.
Broken Sword shows off some new tricks - he can send someone into a particular color if they touch him, and he can clear out a whole map in drift, though he doesn't think doing that is a good idea while a party member is on a sub-map of that color.
It's a hard fight, as people have a hard time providing cover for each other when they're on separate colors, and Anto, Min Feng, Shen-Ji, and Merit all fall by the time the battle is done and the XO is finally rescued. She is unconscious and suffering from what Takanata thinks is some sort of chi effect - pretty much any chi healing would work to get her up, but Xiao Fa isn't around to help. Merit loots an old supply cache to find something; after that, she heads to the battle command tent with some tactics rolls, assisted by Merit, and the battle and the tide of the Northern war finally begins to turn.
- Anto and Kuan-Xi go dancing. For educational purposes only.
- Cai Wen drops by the Hidden City for some visits.
- Cai Wen and Broken Sword take a quick trip to the Warlord's Throne in the Forest of Chin.
- Merit and Min Feng visit the Gate of Shen.
- Takanata finishes the Call of the Ocean ritual! Hooray!
- Kasumi goes to eavesdrop on Ti Jun talking to himself.