Creation of Horse
|"If you would shoot a general, shoot his horse first."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Crane in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the World Above.
Into the World Above
The party (sans Anto) meets up at the Green Table inn in the Brass District, after having been interrogated or possibly evaded interrogation instead. The group has taken all but one of the rooms, which was previously reserved. Everyone is beginning to relax and drink tea in the common room, when the doors burst open, and a spirit-glowing Anto strides in to announce "Very well, it is time for your audience.". Then, there is a great wind, blowing through everyone and catching up their spirits.
Cai Wen, Shen-Ji, Min Feng, and Kuan Xi blow along in the wind, until a voice says "Whoah, hey!" and they find themselves falling to the grass. They are, in fact, in a flowing plain of grass, stretching as far as they can see. There is a cloud of dust out in the distance, growing larger. Min Feng lies down behind some of the longer grasses, hiding as best she can, as a herd of horses runs up to the group at top speed. A large black horse with a white fetlocks stops dead in front of the group; the other horses peel around him and keep going, nearly stepping on Min Feng.
- "Welcome! You made it, good!" -Horse
- "You diverted us? " -Cai Wen
- "Well, you didn't want to get lost in the swirling mists..."
- "Nice place you have!" -Shen-Ji
- "Welcome to the pastures of the unbounded horizon!"
Horse notes that that was "quite the show" that the party put on. Very... assertive, they just stormed in there and did the thing. So he is hoping that this is an indication that they have a new proactive stance, getting out there and stirring it up.
Cai Wen admits they're getting a little feisty. Shen-Ji notes that he's been pushing people to do something, but for once they can't blame him. Cai Wen agrees - the "show" was almost entirely not Shen-Ji's fault.
Horse assumes that they arranged to get themselves cast through the World Above so they could meet with him. Certainly it's not a good time to talk to Bear right now - he's pretty mad. On the other hand, they got him out of his den - Horse is impressed.
- "He's storming around now! How can that be ba... well, at any rate, he's storming around, it's new and different." -Horse
So. Horse is interested in recruiting someone to be his Guy, but none of the party is interested in changing Aspect. Now, he could have someone be his guy until the last minute, and then they could bail. They don't get the final bonuses that way, but they could get some interim benefits. Shen-Ji says that they're mostly just interested in short term contracts, like Horse points.
Well, Horse can work with that. To get down to the negotiation, Horse is willing to give them a pile of Horse points, in exchange for their making a magic item. Horse offers five Horse points each, in exchange for making... a Talisman of the Great Horse Spirit.
Shen-Ji reads the ritual dramatically. There is much consternation. It's hard, at least, the visiting lots of capitals in a short period of time part is hard. Horse points out the existence of little carriages and water/fire gates and things like that. They continue to flop about. It's hard. Horse looks encouraging - he has great confidence in them! Plus, he has a suggestion for where they can "borrow" a pair of white and black horses that won't be noticed for a little while.
Anyway, if they can finish the ritual (which they might not be able to, because it's hard), what happens to the Talisman after that? Well, Horse was really hoping to have it to go his Guy. Any takers? But if not, he'll toss in a horse point each to deliver it to the kid in the Savannah, though he was hoping to give the boy a little more seasoning first.
Kuan-Xi agrees that she could leave her little carriage behind and pick it up later, if that makes the trip easier. She can refresh its journeying power with karma, but she doesn't have a lot of karma herself. Cai Wen recalls that he can replenish someone else's shtick, such as the little carriage, so that will help some. And, it would be possible to use Horse points to move quickly, though most of the group does not have any left. Well, they could get paid in advance, though they will not want to spend all their points of payment in doing the thing they are being paid for.
The deal that is cut is:
- 5 Horse points each, to be paid in advance
- 2 Horse points each, to be paid if they get the ride done in a night and a day
- 1 Horse point each, to deliver the Talisman after three or four runs to Horse's Guy, which can be a party member (through mutual agreement) or Pho.
Shen-Ji considers asking the Alchemist for a favor and getting a fire gate, but Horse points out that the Alchemist is not in much condition to do much of anything, after having been pummeled by Bear. Still, the group knows what they need to do, and has some ideas as to how to start. Time to head back to the Material World and start doing!
Horse tells the other horses (still thundering by) to get the group home. Four of them pause, and the intrepid talisman-makers mount up. The horses take off again, riding down and down and down, and... then they wake up.
Min Feng finds herself in a room with an unconscious Xian, Shen-Ji is in a room with Xiao Fa and Anto, and Cai Wen is in a room with Li Merit. Kuan-Xi is pleased, if not surprised, to find herself in her own room. Everyone gets up and meets in the hallway, where there are some Dragon Army soldiers who say they have been asked to keep an eye on things. However, they aren't under any orders to prevent anyone from leaving, so the group heads down to the common room to start making plans.
Cai Wen and Kuan-Xi start by shopping around the city for all the components (except the bits that have to be acquired during the ritual). Kuan-Xi, more of a shopping expert, takes charge, and they get pretty much everything they need. Min Feng heads to the stables in Silver that Horse has mentioned, and she successfully cases the joint. There's one guard at the front entrance and one guard at the back, but not a great deal of security beyond that. Shen-Ji finds a smithy in Bronze that the group can rent for fairly cheap, and then heads to Silver to ask after sorcerers. There's an Earth sorcerer in Silver who can make travel always be downhill, but the more important contact is Shingao, a water sorcerer in Gold. He is happy to help a fellow sorcerer (in that Shen-Ji has a shtick in that), but makes sure that the endeavor is in the cause of honor. Is Shen-Ji willing to place his own honor on the line that all that will be done is honorable? (In particular, any dishonor that comes from these doings will land on Shen-Ji and not Shingao). Shen-Ji agrees.
Shingao offers two possibilities. He can create one single-use gate from any one place to any other Shen-Ji requests, or he can allow Shen-Ji to access the network of gates that already connects his family. At present, that includes the Hidden City, Cedar Haven in the Qin Chao Steppes, Flowering Resolution in the Jade Taiga, and the pagodas of Iron Mountain, where his second son is on a pilgrimage. (Shen-Ji will owe him a minor favor in return).
The group ponders what resources are available for dashing around the Empire at top speed. At a maximum, they could spend 11 Horse points to get everywhere, but for a gain of only 8 Horse points it doesn't seem worth it. Kuan-Xi's carriage can take them between two cities twice, three times if Cai Wen spends karma. The tong watergate between the Isle of Beauty and the Hon'eth Arcade might be usable. There are the Shingao family watergates to reach Stone Drum and Iron Mountain. And Mei-Zhen might be able to help, so Cai Wen goes and looks for her. She says that it would take a really big mirror to let a horse and carriage go through, but that the Reflected City and the Harbor of Shining Reflections could both be managed. Additionally, Shen-Ji hires the "downhill sorcerer" to accompany them, making all the short riding distances only half an hour.
Min Feng heads out to steal the swift white and strong black horses, but notes that if the horse gets extra-powered as part of the ritual, she may become attached to it, so she leaves 40 li in the white horse's stall (more than it would probably sell for), and 3 li in the black horse's stall for a day's rental. She does have to seriously bribe a stablehand for help managing them, which increases the price a bit.
Shen-Ji starts the ritual; the rolls go reasonably well, with some expenditure of fortune, chi, and li. Then, it is time for the Dashing Around the World plan.
Dashing Around the World
The group has an itinerary, which they think will get them everywhere in about half the time needed, using one horse point each, assuming nothing at all goes wrong. All itinerary points are half an hour except the ones marked with a *, which are 1 hour. Dealing with the fountain only takes extra time when they are riding into the city - magical teleports and the like can go straight to and from the fountain within the half-hour.
However, despite it being a fine plan, some things do start to go awry. First off, as they are heading towards the estate of the sorcerer general, an urchin dashes by saying that the Dragon Army is arresting all the sorcerers in the city! However, Min Feng is particularly persuasive, and they are able to pass despite having an obvious sorcerer, at the cost of half an hour's delay. (All delays are approximately half an hour).
Shingao's water gate takes them to Cedar Haven, where Shingao's daughter Mei is. Mei, surprisingly, is meeting with a Northern beastmaster, who has several wolves with him, and Mei says that it would be a favor if they could speak with him. (This will pay back the small favor Shen-Ji owes Shingao). Cai Wen translates: There are powers in the north that would support Wolf's ascension into the great court of the Empire. If Wolf wishes to make alliance with him and his kind, they can contact him through Mei.
Cai Wen tries to find out something more about the Great Khan's consolidation. To his surprise, the beastmaster says that he does not speak for the Great Khan, for he is the exiled second son of the Great Khan. The Great Khan himself is said to be sick and dying, or at least in seclusion, and his first son is in fact the one running things behind the scenes.
Then, the horse and carriage are off again, to Stone Drum and back again, and then via Mei's father's watergate to the Three Pagodas, where they emerge into a cemetery. A monk, presumably Shingao's son, bows and nods to them.
The Red Pagoda has large red banners rejoicing at the return of Kar Fai. The White Pagoda seems to be surrounded by people with black robes, puzzling the group, and the Green Pagoda has a number of monks rushing in and out. Cai Wen investigates the Green Pagoda, which turns out to be the least interesting of the three - monks will be returning to the Red Pagoda, and staffing the White Pagoda, so Green is stocking up on provisions to deal with the increased population. Min Feng asks Quan Lo who is coming to occupy the two pagodas, and Quan Lo replies that the Red will be reclaimed by the disciples of the Dragon. The White is being held in trust for the true student of Master Zhou, but while the student may retake the pagoda, it is Master Zhou who must defeat his false student. Cai Wen notes that Yanzi is presumably the true student of Master Zhou.
Then, it's off to the Reflected City. Cai Wen drives Kuan-Xi's little carriage, and is kind of dizzy at that point. There is a parade going around the far side of the lake, but the group decides they do not have time to look into it. Then, Mei-Zhen takes them to the Harbor of Shining Reflections. There is a great junk in the harbor, with the King's arms and the coat of arms of the Beautiful Regent - it looks like the Regent is leaving.
Min Feng wanders around for about half of an hour, and overhears that Her Majesty has had an inspired dream, and relayed this to His Majesty and the Regent. As a result of this dream, the Regent is returning, to propose to the Regency Council that they rename the Hidden City to the Dragon's Throne, since it is no longer hidden. Rumor also says that the Prince is ill and in seclusion. The group doesn't have enough status to get in to see him, but they send him a letter.
As they are leaving, they receive a message back that basically says "Hi, don't trouble yourself with my difficulties, as I know you have many things to do. I hear Xiao Fa is the new Ringmaster Te, so you're probably very busy."
The group proceeds through the smuggler's watergate, removing their magic crayon markings and leaving the gate open. There's just one guard there, since it's mostly unusable now, and Shen-Ji takes him out quickly. Off to the Harbor! Ezokin waves, trying to catch their attention about something, but they blow him off and swift-travel to Irori and Caldera.
Kuan-Xi's mother wants to talk to her, but Kuan-Xi derails the whole political conversation into scolding her mother for not telling her about the Prince of the Immortals being one of her family's forebears. Her mother is rather surprised, and asks what they talked about, which rather derails Kuan-Xi, and the group dashes (conversation unfinished) off to the City of Light (which is uneventful) and Nine Terraces via little carriage.
Cai Wen worries that he will be pretty much helpless if he drives again, so the group spends some time finding a driver in Nine Terraces, and then they head to the City of Spires. There is an invitation from the Revered Sage Li Kao waiting for them there. When the group calls upon him, he says he is preparing to delve into the Worlds Above and Below, looking for the politics of the Cycle - he wonders if they would prefer a status report on who is how far, or a status report on what the politics of the various spirits are with each other, regardless of Cycle, or a status report on the Spider's plan? The group picks the third choice. Li Kao suggest that they tell Xiao Fa that he will be unavailable for some time while he researches this.
There is also an invitation from the Black Duke for the group, when they emerge from Li Kao's tower.
- "Who's the Black Duke?" -Min Feng
- "That's your brother." -Eon
Song Yuanjun has a townhouse in the capital now. He says he is grateful - Min Feng has been very helpful, and he can't give her an official favor, or his mother would step on it, but he does feel personally indebted, in case she needs anything. Cai Wen asks after the fortunes of Zhao Feiyan and her husband. He says they were helped by the formation of the Horse Alliance between the various cavalry forces, so their fortunes are increasing, and Zhao Feiyan has taken on some young ladies in waiting.
- "Right now the other dukes are trying to get my favor, but in a while I'll have to go back to the estate to let them plot against me."
Then, it's off to Jabon, where they discover that the nearly-last stop on the whirlwind tour is the one most fraught with delays. Lac Vinh leaps on Cai Wen with a number of logistics and other questions, which delay things for about two hours, but once those are answered, they reach the Warlord's Throne with no extra problems.
The total trip has taken seventeen and a half hours, well under a night and a day.
The group heads back to the Hidden City, where Shen-Ji, Cai Wen, and Kuan-Xi unwrap the Talisman and soak the damage. Cai Wen is damaged in his movement, Shen-Ji in his travel, and Kuan-Xi in her zeal. But, now they have a talisman!