|"I admit I went over to the dark side, but just to pick up a few things, a-and now I'm back. -Willow"|| The run begins on Day of the Early Butterfly in the Month of the Phoenix in the First Year of the Bear since crowning of the Viridian Queen|
The run takes place in and about the Southern portions of the Empire
A Mysterious Meeting
The run begins with a note from the Tahiti butler. He informs Shuyan that she asked him to remind her that she had a lunch appointment at tea time the following day in the Strand. This seems fairly mysterious, as she doesn’t actually recall any such thing. Everyone immediately assumes Li the Wanderer is behind the nefarious message, and immediately set off to get Shuyan to her lunch appointment. They head to the Green Coils Tea House in Nine Terraces. The hostess there recognizes Shuyan and offers to escort her upstairs to her appointment immediately. The rest of the party takes a table downstairs and starts eating lunch.
After about an hour, Shuyan heads downstairs, notices the party eating at a large table and joins them. They ask her how lunch went. She doesn’t recall. What lunch? Oh dear, Li the Wanderer has struck again. People consider storming the upper floor of the tea house, but dismiss the idea as impolite. Shuyan checks to make sure the Talisman she's carrying is still there. It's safe in her pocket, but now accompanied by a note written in her own hand. The note says:
1) Dai Chen
Town with Two Names
3) Don’t forget to charge the stone.
What stone might the note be talking about? Well, Takanata points out that he had a dream last night. During his dream, he was walking along a river bank and at one point reached down to pick up a green stone. When he awoke, the stone was still in his hand, so he started carving at it, but left it unfinished as it wasn’t ready to be fully carved yet. Additionally, he noticed on the ride down to Nine Terraces in the Little Carriage of Kuan Xi that Kuan Xi’s remarkable driving roll was a missed opportunity to… do something.
Well, that’s all pretty mysterious. People make some Gather Information rolls, always a perilous choice in the Strand, and find out that there is indeed a town named Two Names. In fact, they eventually recall that the party has had adventures there in the past. It’s a sleepy little town on the border with the Plains of Honor, of no particular note, other than the fact that plots occasionally turn up there.
So, the plan seems to be to head off to Two Names… But first, Takanata wants to consult with Meng Ao while they are still in the Nine Terraces environs. So the party troops over to Meng Ao’s house and ask him about Dai Chen. Ah! "Dai Chen, the Chi Stealer! A most interesting topic of conversation.” At this point, Xiao Fa, who was perhaps starting to nod off, perks right up and gives the master his undivided attention.
Meng Ao tells the tale of Dai Chen the Chi Stealer, a nefarious woman from long ago. She was apparently a Chi Master who learned secrets of Chi that mortals were not well equipped to know. This turned her dark, and she realized that chi which can be given can also be taken, and slowly she started to gather up the knowledge and powers of others, increasing her own skills and chi, while leaving her victims near-soulless husks. As her reign of terror increased, she became so powerful that none could stand against her. She began to delight in her power and turned her dark arts to more and more heinous ends. Were it not for the fact that she was betrayed by her beloved husband, she might never have been conquered. But betrayed she was, and cast into the Coils of the Serpent, there to sleep imprisoned for all time. If she ever got out, that would be a great disaster, and Meng Ao suspects that she would need to be recaptured with the utmost alacrity, before she was able to use her skills to regain her terrible powers at the expense of all she met. But, of course, she won’t ever get out, as Serpent takes her duties quite seriously. The party is a bit dubious that they would have heard about this at all if she hadn’t gotten out, and so resolves to go catch her again.
So, the plan seems to be to head off to Two Names… But first, Takanata wants to consult with Madame Tsen, the interpreter of dreams and tea leaf reader who frequents the Jasmine Dragon tea house in Nine Terraces. The party heads to the Jasmine Dragon and there indeed is Madame Tsen. Takanata lays out the dream he has had and shows her the stone he has carved. She confirms that indeed his dream was most important, and the stone will be crucial in the events to come. As it is from the dreams, it is not truly what it is, and thus is likely to be of no permanent danger, though if it were real, even immortals would not be well equipped to know its secrets. Thus protected by its dream nature, Takanata, being an immortal, may of course use it with impunity, as may those mortals he chooses to entrust it to.
It’s clear that it is unfinished, and Madame Tsen confirms that it must be “charged”. Takanata has begun noticing that people who make rolls for more than 12 successes seem to be missed opportunities, and eventually gets the idea to start making sure people attempting difficult things are holding it when they do. It starts charging up, apparently by sucking the successes over 12 from whomever is using it when they exert themselves. Well, they can charge it as they go, but time is of the essence, and they should probably head off to find Dai Chen.
Yet Another Digression
So, the plan seems to be to head off to Two Names… But first, Takanata and Xian want to consult with the Countess of the Pagoda of the Sisters of the Gentle Admonishers of Disquiet, for they are confused as to how one might escape the Serpent’s Coils and therefore how one might be returned there-to, and the Countess is wise in the ways of spirits, being the daughter of one. As usual, the little carriage whisks them off to the Pagoda and the party is given a warm welcome. After a short time, they are escorted to the top of the pagoda to have tea with the Countess. They lay out their difficulties and she looks out the window for a bit, staring into the sun, before returning to them. It seems likely to her that Serpent must have been mightily distracted recently if She's lost charge of one of her prisoners. There might also be some sort of symmetry related to the fact that Serpent and Spider are the ones charged with holding the prisoners of the Cycle, and Spider recently lost one of His. But that is more speculative. As to the distraction, did the party notice anything momentous of late that might have involved Serpent? Well, they did lose the Serpent Talisman to one of the Marked…
Ah, well, that mystery solved, they continue with how to get the prisoner back to Serpent, should they catch her. The Countess is less clear on this part, as if the party is involved at all, presumably whoever involved them would be the one to have arranged that. Well, maybe after catching the Chi Stealer, they’ll just bring her back to the tea house where this all began and see what happens.
That just leaves the stone. The Countess thinks that the stone will enable them to defeat the Chi Stealer in some way, but only if they have more power in their stone than she has obtained from her chi stealing. They’d best keep charging it as they go. (Which they indeed do.) With that consultation out of the way, it seems perhaps it might be time to go looking for Dai Chen, the Chi Stealer.
So, the plan seems to be to head off to Two Names… and indeed it is. Arriving at Two Names, the see a few columns of smoke rising from the town cemetery and head that way. When they arrive, they find numerous townspeople on the ground, in various states of injury, several tomb markers smoking as if they had been burned, (an impressive feat given that they are all made of heavy stone), and Gao, the Immortal Bard, scowling at the party.
- "Now you arrive. Where were you when this was all going on?" -Gao
- "Having tea." -Xian
Gao refuses to relate the story until after the party has patched up all of the commoners, but once the first-aiding is accomplished he tells the tale. Apparently, Dai Chen, the Chi Stealer, came into town and disrupted a local funeral, as she demanded to know what became of her husband Dai Jin and any of his later descendants. After she throws around vast amounts of sorcery, Fire Magic, Earth Magic, etc., the villagers finally found someone who knew the tale of Dai Jin. His family mostly died out, but one of the younger sons of his son moved to Jabon to try and establish himself there as some kind of innkeeper. Gao did the best he could to protect everyone as while he’s not immune to sorcery, he does seem to be immune to Dai Chen’s chi stealing, and he eventually drove her off. As she fled, she dropped a green stone carved into the shape of a sorceress.
Examining it, Shen Ji determines that it is a stone containing sorcery successes. Apparently stolen from a sorceress or several. All of the successes they ever rolled or ever would roll were stolen and concentrated down into the chi within this stone. Whomever holds it can tap those successes to enhance their own sorcery. Indeed, the sorceress the power was stolen from was one of the first to master all of the five elemental magics of Phoenix. She was the lover of the first Wu-Xing and was saddened that his cycle of reincarnations would mean that she and her love would never be united in the World After. Thus, rather than perish, she arranged to sleep within the Coils of the Serpent where she could slumber until the Wu-Xing was finally released, at the End, and be reunited with her love. Kuan-Xi scowls at all of this.
People look at Shen-Ji somewhat agape. How did he determine all of this? Well, he tapped the dark powers of the stone of course, and as the stolen chi flowed through him, he felt sorcerous power the likes of which he typically dreams about which he channeled into his magical analysis shticks. Ah. Well, perhaps someone else should hold onto the stone. It’s immediately passed to one of the non-sorcerers in the party. Well, with nothing left to do here, the party heads off to Jabon to track down the missing branch of the Dai family.
Upon their arrival, they make numerous Gather Information rolls. These rolls don’t go as well as they’d like as most of the good successes get sucked into the stone they are charging, but eventually, they do manage to uncover a bar/inn in the rough part of town that once was owned by a member of the Dai family, though it is no more. Heading to said inn, they discover it in an awful state with smashed out windows and broken furniture. Yup, they missed the combat again. How much time was spent in tea houses? A man with a booming voice stands upon the bar shadow-boxing and describing the epic battle he just won with a most fearsome warrior. Closer examination reveals the boaster to be Old Hop, the Drunken Immortal. He regales the party with his epic kung fu battle with the woman who came in demanding information on the Dai family. The barkeep is eventually prompted to interrupt and explains that his family bought the failing inn from the Dais a long time ago, and last he heard the final member of the Dai family headed to the Illuminated Precincts to become some sort of scholar having no interest in the tavern business. Hop rejoins the conversation to finish the tale of his legendary battle, and in the end claims to have proven victorious. In her retreat, the foul miscreant dropped this small green stone carved into the shape of a ninja. Guessing its power, the stone is immediately given to Kuan-Xi, who presumably will not be tapping into its dark ninja might.
Chasing the Carnage
Well, seeing where this is heading, they rush off at their best speed to the Illuminated Precincts. Guessing the most recently discovered last Dai descendant was a scholar, they skip all of the gather information rolls and head directly to the great library in an attempt to get lucky and gain some time. Their gamble pays off and they arrive at the Great Library to find guards strewn about on the steps outside, and the sound of combat coming from within. They rush in to find Dai Chen making short work of more guards while simultaneously searching the stacks for signs of a copy of the Compiled Research Notes of Dai Yanjiu. This time, the party interrupts and combat continues. The Chi Stealer is still quite fierce, and it seems clear she has at least three more green stones on her belt. The combat is joined by Pai Zhi-Zao, the Immortal Smith, who was in the library researching ancient smelting techniques. There’s nothing like a combat to really get the dream stone the party is carrying charged, so it is passed back and forth between the party members and starts charging quite quickly. Unfortunately, this effectively means all of the party’s attacks are capped at 12, and progress against the Chi Stealer is very slow.
Seeing that she is massively outnumbered, Dai Chen fingers a stone at her belt and then fixes Xian with her most friendly demeanor and asks Xian what she knows of the Dai family. Xian hasn’t read the Compiled Research Notes of Dai Yanjiu from Li Merit’s library and thus doesn’t have the information she’s seeking. But desperate to aid so wonderful a lady in any way she can, Xian racks her brain desperately looking for some helpful information and then says, “Well, there’s Da-Xie?” The Chi Stealer quickly cross references this as best she can, realizes that Xian is referring to the spirit of the Southern Wall, and is off. As she attempts to make good her escape, she struggles to get past Pai and drops a small green stone in the form of a Geisha. Guessing the power of the stone, it is immediately given to Xian, who spends the rest of the run being tempted to tap into its vast social powers every few minutes.
Well, that’s interesting. In the aftermath of the battle, people confirm that Da-Xie is in fact no relation whatsoever to the relevant Dai family, and in fact the last descendant of Dai Yanjiu headed off to the Hon’eth Arcade to make his fortune. But that’s probably not where Dai Chen is going now. So the party heads south to try and intercept her before she encounters Da-Xie.
Knowing about Da-Xie’s recent tendency to hang out with the Bearers of Swift Response, the party does indeed get there quite quickly. So, they go about setting a trap. First though, every one of these battles has featured an immortal, and the immortal scheduled for the next battle is probably somewhere in the Hon’eth Arcade waiting, so they’d better figure out how to get another one. Takanata is of course immediately insulted and points out that he is indeed one of the Twelve Immortals. Yeah… but he’s also been at (or late for) all of the other battles so maybe they should stick with that pattern and make sure there are two. Kuan Xi decides to summon the Immortal Huntress, as they are laying a trap for prey, and starts considering how to do that. She decides that the way to do it is to hunt a rabbit herself. She finds a rabbit, which regards her curiously. She then draws a bow, and carefully aiming down the arrow shoots at the rabbit who sits still watching her. The arrow hits for one success, and the rabbit, startled and offended, runs away.
A short time later, the Immortal Huntress emerges from the woods carrying a rabbit. She gives Kuan Xi a look that in a single glance lets everyone know that this embarrassment will not be repeated and Kuan Xi is to be reporting for archery training as soon as the current business is concluded. Outlining their plan, the Huntress is quickly brought on board. Laying traps for powerful enemies is right up her alley and an ambush is prepared with Da-Xie as the bait.
Springing the Trap
Eventually, Dai Chen the Chi Stealer arrives to confront Da-Xie, and the trap is sprung. It’s a mighty combat, but while the Chi Stealer still possess two stones, the party has only their single dream stone and are unwilling to use the other stones of dark chi, so the combat goes fairly poorly and the good guys start losing.
Eventually, Xian has had enough of this, and tapping into the Dark Social Powers of the Chi Stone of the Geisha, convinces Dai Chen with some tortured but amazingly compelling logic, that the only way to truly get vengeance on her treacherous husband is to kill herself. Dai Chen, her dark powers turned against her, is entirely convinced, charges up her sword with some terrible killing power, and tosses it up into the air, waiting for it to kill her when it finally descends.
Absolutely unsure if this is a good plan, and highly suspicious of any plan come up with by 1) Xian in general, and 2) Xian hopped up on dark chi powers, Shuyan decides the time for explanations has finally come. She spends Seven Karma and summons the Great Spirit of the Serpent, right here, right now.
Lady Serpent shows up, and time stops for everyone else. Serpent and Shuyan sit in the grass and have a nice conversation. Serpent can’t intervene directly, unfortunately, as she is the one whom Dai Chen has escaped from, but she can provide Shuyan with plenty of advice. First, if Dai Chen kills herself in this manner, she’ll be dead. But definitely not defeated. She’ll mostly likely be a Chi Stealing Ghost and the party will have to fight her at least once more. Can they fight ghosts? Well, a couple of them can, a bit, but the ones really effective against ghosts are all not here. So, first things first, stop the suicide. Then they’ll have to defeat her in combat so she drops another of her stones. At that point, they’ll each have one stone and if the party stone is more charged than Dai Chen’s last stone, she won’t be able to escape. If not, she’ll probably get away and they will have to fight her once more after their stone is more charged. Well, people have been dutifully throwing successes away all day long, so Shuyan thinks the stone is likely to be quite charged. Serpent mostly agrees, but thinks it will depend in the end on which of her two stones Dai Chen drops. They chat some more, and go over various contingency plans, but in the end, it seems pretty straightforward. And of course, once they do capture Dai Chen, bring her to the Green Coils tea house and turn her over there. Serpent will take care of the rest.
The briefing finished, Serpent leaves and combat resumes. First, Takanata exerts his powers of fate and decrees that Dai Chen shall NOT be standing under the Sword of Death when it falls. Other people flirt with that hex a time or two, but all proceeds as he has foreseen and no one is injured. Then the party redoubles its efforts and the Huntress presses the attack. Finally, Dai Chen is defeated and drops a stone to avoid her fate. It turns out she drops a green stone carved in the form of a warrior, and this is apparently the larger of her two remaining for after this, the dream stone which has been returned to Takanata is enough to defeat her. The day is saved!
All of the stones are collected, and especially the geisha stone is taken away from Xian. Shen Ji gloats about how he spent the whole day not being tempted by dark power at all… Speaking of dark power, Xiao Fa argues that it would be pretty easy in her defeated state to get Dai Chen to explain the dark powers mortals were not well equipped to know. And since he himself is a Chi Master, and quite level headed, he’s unlikely to go evil upon learning them, and then the secrets of Chi Stealing would be his! Shen Ji gloats some more and fully endorses this plan. No one else believes Xiao Fa’s reasoning though, and in the end, Dai Chen is gagged and bound and not made to reveal any Dark Secrets.
The party take her and the five dark green stones back to Nine Terraces, where once again, there seems to be an upstairs room in Shuyan's name. Not trusting this to go down without them a second time, the entire party troops up there and enter the room. Various will rolls are made, people file in. The prisoner and stones are given to Serpent, presumably, and the Immortal Wanderer says some stuff and various things happen, and then everyone leaves and returns to Tahiti, satisfied.
- Takanata and Cai Wen visit the Golden Spire