Black on Black
|"It is always dark one inch ahead of you."|| The run takes place in the early First Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in Stone Drum
A New Mission
When the group gathers at Tahiti, Takanata returns from a visit to Pai, during which time he has made six coins with wolves and magpies on either face.
However, he is a bit dubious, as one of the wolves looks to him more like a wolf-horse, whatever that is.
Lijuan also draws some prophetic art:
Those who were in the previous run tell of their return to Daizhou and the rescue of Spear Carrier Ri, and people check the scoreboard that Cai Wen has previously published.
|N||What||Score||Second Score||Extra Credit|
|3||Glass and Clay||5 of 5 Empire||0/5 Wolf/Magpie|
|4||Saving Spear Carrier Ri||4 of 5 Empire||4/1/1 Wolf/Magpie/Horse|
|5||Encounter at Farpoint||5 of 5 Empire||4/1 Wolf/Magpie|
|6||Gate of Shen||4 of 5 Empire||1/4 Wolf/Magpie|
|8||Daizhou||3 of 5 Empire||2/2/2 Wolf/Magpie/Monkey||+1 Empire, 1/2 Wolf/Magpie|
Master Zhou calls attention to the 1 and the 13 - those are hard to roll on 2d6. Hmm. Also, people note that Cai Wen thinks that rolling a 7 will advance the country turn, Master Zhou is suspicious that that is just Speculation and not Received Wisdom.
Everyone proceeds to the Secret Benevolent Headquarters, where the Magpie Prince is briefed on the last run; he thinks it is interesting, but doesn't seem to recognize "Spear Carrier Ri" immediately as the heir to Beneficent Travel.
When asked what they should do next (and a 10 is rolled), his eyes go blue-and-blue, and he says Share in the glory against the north. That seems to be a clear reference to Fa Mulan - so they should probably find her and do whatever her plan is. Thinking about that with Interpret Omens, Master Zhou thinks that "find Mulan" is more correct than "do her plan" is.
The last place that everyone saw her was in Stone Drum, but that's not in the Arcade, so that can't be right. The group heads to the Dragon Army camp outside the Port of Propitious Voyage, which seems like a good first guess for where Mulan might be, given that she is in the Dragon Army and the camp is in the Arcade.
Since the last time the camp was visited, it has changed somewhat - it is less of a refugee camp and more of a military encampment. The medical tent is still in exactly the same place, but most of the other tents have shifted.
Lijuan suddenly confesses - the prophetic art she drew was just art! She drew something because people expect her to draw prophetic art, but she just drew a bunch of things! Xiao Fa regards her with interest - he thinks she's telling the truth, but thinks she's also saying it because she's hiding from a difficult truth that she doesn't want to face. He tells her that she can talk to him whenever she is ready.
The group visits the command tent, and Deng asks how it is going since they "took care of the werewolf problem". The commandant notes that there is still a werewolf (or traitor) problem, though the beastmasters who were in the city were dealt with. Leaving aside the question of werewolves, Deng wonders if Fa Mulan is here. No - and everyone in the Dragon Army knows where she is! She's in Stone Drum for the celebration.
Well, perhaps it will be necessary to leave the Arcade after all. At least it isn't necessary to cross into enemy-held territory with stealth rolls!
As they approach Stone Drum, even from a distance it is clear that the city is under construction - walls are being repaired, buildings rebuilt. The Dragon Army Construction Battalion seems to be deeply involved as well, and Kuan-Xi is startled to note that several of the warehouses that she saved from fire are being rebuilt, even though she already saved them!
Word on the street is that the celebration will be the first thing tomorrow morning, and things are busy. A lot of people are running around installing bouquets of flowers, there are posters of Fa Mulan everywhere, and there are a pair of giant banners ready to be rolled down on the plaza outside the First Servant's palace.
However, the question of where Mulan is now is a little harder to determine. Everyone is sure that she will definitely be at the celebration in the morning, though. When Kuan-Xi digs a little harder, she turns up some hints that Mulan might be being debriefed in a secure location, and then Kuan-Xi leaves word about where she is staying, in case the people she is asking have more news about Mulan. Hmm.
Takanata looks for Ling instead, on the theory that he might be more easy to find. In fact, he is! He and his friends (Chien-Po and Yao) are holding court down at the Two Tankards, and there seems to be a raucous party in progress. Chien-Po is standing in the corner, frowning, while Yao is standing on someone's shoulders demonstrating an archery shot.
Ling says that Mulan was supposed to meet them here yesterday, after her debriefing. So they are a little worried, but when they couldn't find her again, they left word that they would be here so that she could meet them. Hmm. Whatever this "leave word" effect is, is definitely in force.
Xiao Fa thinks about how to get a higher view of the city to examine its chi more closely. The First Servant's palace has a good view, so he and Deng go to visit Yue Ping. Xiao Fa can get in to see the princess, but Deng is relegated to waiting, albeit in a nice room with a view. Yue Ping doesn't seem to be as worried about the fact that Mulan has been missing for a day, as Xiao Fa is, and she suggests asking the Obsidian Warlord. Oh, he is in town? Yes, for the celebration. Yue Ping notes that Gipeno is off getting ready as well, but will be there tomorrow morning, with the rest of her family. So... when did she last see Gipeno? Yesterday after brunch. He has been a while. Xiao Fa concludes that he must have been Got as well.
On the way out again, Xiao Fa looks out the window, and notes that it is a very imperial city under construction. All of the little touches that the Dragon Army are adding to it serve to make it more Imperial. When they return, Master Zhou notes that he has a nummy from The Mind Palace that lets him see the political structure from the highest point in the city. Oops, they probably should have brought him too.
Xiao Fa goes out to gather information on where Gipeno might be, wearing Takanata's tinfoil hat. He can choose between rolling for 11s and rolling for 7s, and chooses 7s. After pulling rank on the Dragon Army and telling them where he is staying, he learns that Gipeno is in the east wing of the palace, in Shen Dai Han's custody for debriefing.
Kuan-Xi examines the magical influences of the area, and thinks there is something very subtle, a web of power extending through the whole city.
Takanata declares that the calendar is confusing, and pushes the celebration until the following day. Then, he starts writing a praise song for Xiao Fa.
Everyone else heads to the east wing of the army headquarters, where Xiao Fa convinces the guards that Yue Ping has entrusted him with a message for Gipeno, and it cannot just be sent, it must be part of a conversation. After a quick whammy with Imperial Command, the guards let him in, and they find Gipeno, dressed like a Steppes prince-consort and looking a lot like Lijuan's top left picture. Gipeno, somewhat blandly, notes that it is not ridiculous that he looks like this, as it is appropriate to his station.
Deng whacks him with the Sword of Truth, cutting away whatever social effect is on him. Now, he thinks he looks ridiculous. Xiao Fa tells him that Yue Ping is looking for him, but he says he just saw her at brunch. He is startled to learn that that was yesterday. Xiao Fa tries to examine what happened to him, but any weirdness on his chi has been sliced away, so he's really not sure.
Gipeno says he has been going over and over the story in preparation for the celebration tomorrow, and he knows everything was Mulan's idea... but wait, that wasn't actually true. The party helped a lot with the defense of Stone Drum.
As they are discussing this, a Dragon Army soldier comes in dressed in a very odd uniform - all black on black. Xiao Fa says that Gipeno's betrothed sent him to talk about the clothes to be worn during the celebration - you know how princesses are. The soldier asks Gipeno if he understands the briefing. Actually, Gipeno has some questions now. Deng jumps in to make a fast talk roll and get everyone out before the questions make it clearer that Gipeno is no longer as convinced about the Mulan story as he was.
- "Those people are terrible." -Xiao Fa
Kuan-Xi whammies him into being dressed appropriately - now he's dressed as a juggler - and then they send him on his way to go find Yue Ping.
Hmm. Is it hard to find some of the other people who were there? Are all the NPCs being brainwashed? Lin Fortune? Hirasoto? Hirasoto seems unlikely to be a guest at a big celebration, but Lin Fortune might be. Lijuan tries to look for Lin Fortune, but he not only isn't here, there is no evidence that he has been here in a while - he is off working for Cai Wen now and was last seen providing cover on a trip to Daizhou.
Takanata suggests that Kuan-Xi should try to talk to Gou to see if he has been suborned. Kuan-Xi concedes that she should be able to do this, but she's not sure how. Xiao Fa offers her the use of his golden ocarina, but it seems a shame to use up the use of it. Kuan-Xi says, vaguely and unconvincingly, that she summons Gou. Nothing happens. Xiao Fa coaches her on her titles: "Princess of the Northern Seas, Receiver of Petitions of the Golden Palace."
- "I, Ho Kuan-Xi, receiver of petitions of the golden palace, request the presence of the Immortal Troubador Gou."
After a few minutes, there is a knock on the door - it's a kid with a tray. Room service! Kuan-Xi tries to take it, but he coughs meaningfully until she gives him a tip. Under the lid is a note:
With a little while to kill before eleven, people put their heads together to see what they can figure out about the situation. Master Zhou recalls that, historically towards the beginning of this Great Cycle, the Dragon Army used to have an internal security division that wore black on black uniforms, but it was eliminated after widespread corruption and abuse.
Checking on other notable people who were around during the battle for Stone Drum, the party learns that Grandmother Tsien is also off being debriefed.
At eleven, Kuan-Xi meets Gou in the park. He says that he didn't want to talk in the inn, because everything they say there is being listened to. No, he has not been "debriefed", and he doesn't think that everything was Mulan's idea. However, he finds the idea of powerful people squabbling over who gets the credit distasteful, and he thinks that the celebration should be for the local people of Stone Drum who defended their City, rather than any of the high-level famous people trying to take the credit.
Kuan-Xi returns to the inn to herd everyone into her little carriage, where she explains the conversation with Gou and the thing about the inn being listened to.
It is becoming more clear what is going on, but no one is sure how any of this fights against the North. This seems to be a contest with the Obsidian Warlord. After thinking about it some more, Takanata realizes that this is a mission to strengthen the Arcade, not to fight the North. Just, most of the time, the Arcade is fighting the North so the two are more equivalent. If all the credit for Stone Drum (the one city that didn't fall during the invasion) goes to Mulan, then that is laid at the feet of the Dragon Army, which gives them more political power to push the Arcade around during the fighting. If the House of Exuberant Interference gets more credit, that goes to the Arcade instead.
Well, no matter who the credit goes towards, Mulan and the others are still being held for "debriefing" so they need to be rescued.
Lijuan lures Yao out of the Two Tankards by talking about true archery, and then lets him know that they're going to rescue Mulan. Mulan's three companions are definitely in. If the plan is to storm the Dragon Army, it might be good to do it somewhat more clandestinely. Mulan's friends can provide disguises - everyone gets to be cross-dressed, making them remarkably hard to identify.
Takanata takes a look at the East Wing with Eyes of the I Ching. There are definitely people inside, but the building is difficult to see through - maybe because of all the people who are holding flowers. There's something reminiscent about the flowers - sort of like Takanata's flower shtick which prevents anyone from fighting.
The building is 3 stories tall, and it seems likely that any prisoners are on the top floor. Master Zhou contemplates punching through the wall or the roof, but it will be hard to get onto the roof subtly, and any structural punching will also eliminate the element of surprise. Deng thinks about the plan, and realizes that the first thing likely to go off the rails is that the first time a soldier dies, his ghost will summon the Obsidian Warlord.
Lijuan and Yao, who don't have a way to attack people without possibly killing them, are tasked with leaving their bows and arrows behind. Mulan's three companions offer to distract the guards at the front of the building, and lure them away with their feminine wiles. This lets the rest of the group sneak up to the front door. Then, the chopping commences. All of Master Zhou, Deng, and Kuan-Xi have non-fatal attacks, which prevents any fallen soldiers from summoning the Obsidian Warlord .
However, the guys with flowers prove remarkably pesky - when Deng chops one, the guy hands him a flower, and now Deng is holding a flower instead of his sword and can't put it down. Once he's given a second flower, he has no hands-free for a weapon. Kuan-Xi analyzes the flowers and notes that they come in physical disarm and magical disarm flavors - but martial artists seem to thwart them. They seem to be spirit-based somehow. Luckily for the party, the flowers wilt in drift.
The buildings's stairways work somewhat like an airlock. Two people have to be on either side of the stairwell to open the door so the people can go up, or two people have to be on either side of the stairwell on the floor above. So it is possible to go up floors, but only slowly and with coordination.
After a lot of non-fatal chopping, everyone finally reaches the third floor. However, there is a final security wall between the stairwell and the room where the debriefed prisoners are probably located. Master Zhou gives Takanata a shtick, and Takanata gives Mulan an action to push the button to open the wall, as Kuan-Xi summons Anto to help.
In addition to the prisoners, there are five more people with flowers in the final room. Takanata identifies them as having the effects:
- Fill your hand
- Suppress magic
- Eliminate actions
- Eliminate senses
- Stealing... something. Your soul? Your chi?
Anto unbinds the prisoners (Mulan, Gipeno, and Grandmother Tsien), but a lot of people get whammied with flowers. Anto's... soul? is stolen, Takanata's Eyes of the I Ching are suppressed, Xiao Fa's chi block is suppressed, and Deng is blind - and during drift, instead of wilting, the flowers soak into the holder and vanish, leaving their effect in place. However, with the prisoners free, it is possible to make a quick escape before any more trouble ensues, and as everyone was in disguise excepted Anto, it may be hard to explicitly pin the attack attempt on the party.
Angry Flower and Angry Warlord
Xiao Fa determines that the flower-based problems are due to small spirit-based parasites attached to people's chi. Takanata can communicate with the main flower spirit, and Anto broadens the channel so that everyone can join the conversation.
The flower spirit, as it turns out, is rather cranky.
- "Oh, ice and wind, what do you want?"
- " I would like to discuss returning the parts of you which are inconveniencing me." -Takanata
The flower is willing to negotiate, and in the conversation that follows, lets slip that it has been slumbering for over a hundred years. It wants to make no long-term bargains, but spiritually interesting loot, or spiritual favors, are fair game.
- A barrel of ultra-pure water is traded for fixing Anto.
- Deng trades a Fate Egg for his fix
- A minor favor from the bunny spirit for Xiao Fa
- Honeyvine seeds for Takanata
The flower says it doesn't want to be contacted again, and Takanata notes that that would be easier if it could share the reason that it is awake now. After some fencing, the flower confirms their speculation that the Special Ops Dragon Army soldiers are the cause.
Their business with the flower done, the party has back to the park, to lurk in the rain. They don't want to go back to the inn, but now the celebration isn't for another day. They check everyone out. Grandmother Tsien has been convinced that Mulan was the savior of the city, but Gipeno hasn't been re-convinced, and Mulan hadn't quite cracked yet. Deng chops away Grandmother Tsien's "debriefing", and then everyone heads out to camp outside Stone Drum. Lijuan outdoorsmans it up and sets up a nice camp near a fishing stream.
A lone wolf shows up, and nods in approval at the group.
Mulan wants to just skip the party, but Kuan-Xi says (now channeling for Gou) that it needs to be a party honoring everyone who fought. Everyone discusses how to re-point the aim of the party. Should they summon the annoying bard? Takanata starts working on re-polishing his Xiao Fa song into an Anthem of the Common Folk.
Takanata auspiciously summons Commander Nori's wife, and tells her about strengthening the Imperial-ness of the city. She thinks it is very unbalanced to have this sort of super-Imperial nature in just one country, especially if it isn't the Dragon's Throne. Xiao Fa thinks longingly about putting it all in all the countries, but that doesn't seem feasible to accomplish in the last fifteen minutes of the run. They will need to get the First Servant some chi architects. Perhaps Huan Ken can help, if his morale has recovered.
Lijuan sneaks back into the city to find out who exactly the party is currently supposed to honor. Word on the street includes Mulan, Xiao Fa, and the Obsidian Warlord. But the urchins think that the banners will make it clear.
Right! The banners! They are rolled up on top of some scaffolding outside the palace, so they can fall down behind the stage.
New banners are painted - one for the Common Man, and one for Xiao Fa. Rubberlegs is summoned, and given the banners to sneak in place of the original. (The common man is replacing Mulan, and Xiao Fa is replacing the Obsidian Warlord.) Rubberlegs will lurk near the stage in order to pull the rope to lower the banners at the appropriate time.
Then, the speakers get re-prepped.
Mulan should credit the common people who saved themselves, Gipeno should say that Li Merit is the one who sent him to save the First Servant, and Grandmother Tsien should say she was saved by Yao, Chien Po, and Ling. Hmm. This may be a little confusing, since Xiao Fa is on the banners but now nobody's speech mentions him. Okay, Gipeno can say Xiao Fa and Li Merit sent him.
Then, it is time for the celebration!The First Servant makes a brief speech of welcome, and then the Obsidian Warlord introduces the special guests. Mulan makes her speech, which gives credit to the common people instead of herself. The Obsidian Warlord, who is not an idiot, says that they will hear from everyone else later, and orders the banners dropped. That doesn't help his cause, though it is a little confusing because nobody has mentioned Xiao Fa yet. But there are fireworks, and celebratory food and drink, so the celebration is nevertheless well received by everyone but the Obsidian Warlord.