|"Good bargains empty the purse."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Serpent in the Month of the Fox in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Arcade, the Forest of Chin, and the World Below.
Lijuan and Shuyan consider their mission. Lijuan has decreed that they should kill the Demon of Animal Cruelty, but it's not totally clear how they can do so. It might be physically impossible, and it definitely seems implausible without someone like the Wu Xing along. Plus, maybe they shouldn't bring their animals.
Well, the first step is to... talk to the guy who has that demon as his Aspect and... see if anything occurs to them. Lijuan considers leaving Kawaii and Ho behind on a street corner, and then recalls the last time she tried that, Kawaii went foraging for pork bun carts. Lijuan and Shuyan arrange to rent a sturdy stall in a stable for eight hours, for Kawaii and Ho to stay in - the stablehands are a little dubious, but with Lijuan standing right there, Kawaii doesn't seem so bad. The horses are a little more dubious, and Shuyan thinks that they won't be able to sleep if Kawaii isn't gone by nighttime. Lijuan assures the stablehands that they'll be back by then, and gives them Kasumi's name to contact just in case they don't. Lijuan stocks the stall with a lot of pork buns to keep Kawaii and Ho company, and tries to brief Kawaii on the staying-in-the-stable part.
When Lijuan explains to Kawaii that they're going to get the guy who hurt Kawaii’s friends at Lijuan's wedding, Kawaii perks up! She should come along! Lijuan talks her down, and as a final compromise, tells Kawaii that if she’s not back in eight hours, Kawaii can leave and eat the guy. (It is not clear which guy Kawaii thinks this means, as the Yip kid didn't actually come to the wedding.) Kawaii turns out to not have a good sense of time, so "eight hours" is explained to her as "after it becomes night and then it is morning again." She agrees. Ho (and the imaginary Boo) stay with Kawaii; Shuyan's snakes hang out in the hotel room that people rented when they talked to Lady Chow, and the panda bunny stays there as well. (How did Lady Chow miss that Lijuan had a panda bunny?) Then, the pair heads back to the Yip household.
At the door, they ask the servant if they can see the young master. They are left on the doorstep as the servant goes to fetch him, and a grumpy young man comes to the door. They ask about his horse - he complains that people have been stealing his horse and leaving nasty messages! Lijuan tries to explain that he’s "possessed by a demon", which he doesn't believe, and starts questioning him about his animal training habits. He decides that she’s auditioning for a job as an animal trainer, and tries to close the door, and then eventually calls for his mother. When Lijuan introduces herself as Foon Lijuan, Madame Yip seems to think it's a scam (does she have a fortune that she needs assistance to get out of the Dragon's Throne?) The mother is about to shut the door, when Lijuan mentions the horse having been stolen, which gets her interest again. Lijuan doesn't quite admit to stealing the horse, but says that she can take the blame for it, and Madame Yip threatens to call the guard. Shuyan jumps in and asks if her son is still beating his horse, and the conversation goes downhill from there. Madame Yip finally decides that the two are eccentric animal-huggers, gives Shuyan a li, and closes the door.
Well, that didn't seem to go very well. They sneak around the stables - the horses are generally in okay shape, but it’s definitely a stable that believes in discipline more than kindness in horse training, and the horses tend to be kind of cowed. Lijuan looks for small animals, and finds a cat who is skittish, like it’s used to things being thrown at it. She tempts it with some food and then grabs it. Even if they can’t rescue the horses, they can sure rescue this one cat! They bring the cat back to the stable with Kawaii, and introduce it to the other animals. Kawaii wonders if the cat is really the bad person Lijuan wants her to eat, but seems reassured to learn that the answer is no, it's a cat. Lijuan isn’t sure what to do, so she’s not entirely against bad-people-eating, which Kawaii finds quite refreshing. But in the end it is decided that it is not yet the time for eating people.
Ho seems to have gone off on some errand, but when he returns, he is very psyched about a trash heap that he’s found in an alley, and leads the whole party (including Kawaii) back to it. They search the alley for clues, and find that nothing seems to pertain to the plot. However, searching through the alley of smelly garbage and muck has left everyone filthy and smelling bad. The next stop is the seacoast, where the rest of the day is spent washing all and sundry.
That night, Lijuan tosses and turns, with bad dreams about being unable to deal with the demon. But then a snuffling thing comes and drags her bad dream away, and she sleeps more easily. Then it returns, and stuffs another dream into her head. She says hello to Kibo, wakes up refreshed, and begins to draw! Hm. It’s not clear what that has to do with the demon of animal cruelty, but Lijuan is pretty clear that the spiderwebbed ruin on the left is Sung Keep.
After some discussion of "what the heck does this have to do with anything?", the party heads off to Sung Keep, with the whole menagerie! It’s still a ruin, but it’s a ruin bustling with activity, and everyone is very respectful and bows to Lijuan. They seem to be cleaning and rebuilding the keep. Her erstwhile bodyguard asks if she needs guarding, and she considers re-borrowing him as a messenger to send to House Sung as needed, but now that they're in the keep, they should be easy to reach via normal messengers.
At sunset, following the instructions in the dream, they close their eyes and walk toward the sunset. This works surprisingly well, and they mostly don’t run into trees for quite a while, but then Shuyan runs into a tree, so Lijuan declares it time to sleep, setting Kawaii to keep watch. The night passes without incidents and without dreams, and when they wake, they are surrounded by a ring of mushrooms.
Lijuan identifies the mushrooms as the kind you're not supposed to eat, and Shuyan agrees, though she thinks they aren't fatally poisonous. But as far as stories go, rings of mushrooms are usually some sort of weird or spirity thing, and it works the other way around - you fall asleep in a ring of mushrooms, or walk into a ring of mushrooms and fall into the World Below, or something like that. Waking up in a ring of mushrooms is not the kind of thing that tends to happen in stories. It occurs to Shuyan that it’s kind of like someone’s trying to jury-rig a story involving a mushroom ring.
Lijuan goes back to the Sung Keep to collect her bodyguard, and then brings him back to the mushroom ring to keep watch while they go back to sleep. Lijuan clarifies with Kawaii that her bodyguard is not food. They plan to eat some mushrooms and then fall asleep and see if good stuff happens. Kawaii is psyched to eat a mushroom as well, if Lijuan is going somewhere dangerous. Lijuan thinks about whether Ho should eat a mushroom, but he eats one anyway. Shuyan feeds mushroom bits to her ferret and her snakes. Lijuan feeds a real mushroom to her imaginary hamster, by means best left undefined. The guard is admonished not to eat any mushrooms. He asks how long he should leave them asleep before panicking. Lijuan suggests dinner, but notes that he should improvise if necessary.
They eat mushrooms, and find their body draining away. When it hits zero, they fall asleep again.
Into the Woods
When they wake up again, they are in a much larger- and spookier-seeming forest. The thing chirping up in the tree might not be a bird, the flowers among the tree roots might be little drops of blood. Creep-y. Their magic items are kind of there (you have a thing if you have a real magic thing; they don’t have much other stuff), and the animals that ate mushrooms are there. Definitely spirit-walking, as far as they can tell.
A dark spooky voice, like boughs rubbing together, speaks
- "You wish to kill a demon?"
- "If you lure the demon here, I shall trap it and sever it from the world. My nature is not death... but I can contain it."
Lijuan figures that making it go away for ten years was the best she could hope to do, so this seems like a good bargain.
- "In return...you and yours are changing many things. I do not wish the nature of the Forest to change."
Lijuan checks if it means leaving Monkey in charge of the country, but it doesn't mean that. It could be something other than the Monkeypuzzle Forest, but it has to be this forest, with this forest's nature. The voice asks Lijuan and Shuyan to swear for themselves, by their bloodlines, and for her companions who are changing things, by the Butterfly that they follow. They briefly protest that they only want to promise for the two of them, but the Forest is not interested in such a lesser bargain. They eventually promise, and feel the bonds of obligation closing in. Somewhere else, the Butterfly Talisman thumps.
The voice tells her to walk in a direction, and opens up a path in the forest. She’ll have to lure it here, with that which it desires - and she must remember the way back. They notice a ring of stumps with small helpless creatures sitting on them - a squirrel, a chipmunk, and a bunny. More careful looking reveals these to be traps (like those D&D mimics that are a stump with a rabbit on them). Probably a good lure for a demon of animal cruelty! Shuyan realizes that she can see Boo; the same way that the bunny is really part of the stump, Boo is really part of Lijuan's spirit.
Lijuan proposes to Kawaii that she kite the demon right back here. Sure, why not? Lijuan wants to leave Ho behind to help her find her way back. Ho’s not psyched by that, but he stays.
The party heads down the path, choosing directions to go based on which way seems more cruel, or more full of animals, and so on. At each choice, they carefully memorize the scenes they are passing through, so as to find their way back (a picture mechanic).
Kiting the Demon
After four branchings of the path, they reach a cave, with some scuffle marks and drag marks in the dirt outside. There are also bones scattered around, though just feet and wings and ears, no skulls. Shuyan thinks it must be pulling pieces off the poor animals.
Lijuan instructs Kawaii to pretend to be hurt and weak, and run away, when the demon appears. Lijuan plans to be out of sight, but Kawaii makes it clear that she can’t find her own way back to the trap, so our heroes will have to stick around to guide her.
Kawaii tries making some hurt animal noises. It’s not really her specialty. She’s better at a terrifying roar. She loses patience and starts snarling at the cave; her acting roll isn’t so good. But then they hear a dragging sound from inside the cave. It’s like a shaved, starved wolf, whose bones were replaced by sharp pointy pieces of metal. It looks very wounded. Kawaii looks at it askance, and tries to keep up the act. It seems the demon is not extremely bright, and it falls for the plan. Nonetheless, it’s still quite dangerous; on the first picture back, it gashes Kawaii, wounding one of Lijuan’s panda shticks (Panda Companion).
It seems that one can use Animal Shticks as bait for the demon. At the next path-branching, Lijuan puts up Charging Boar, which is wounded, as a spirity boar charges out of the underbrush and is mauled. Next is Shuyan’s Lesser Healing Snake; the demon tramples a poor innocent snake. And then it is the turn of Lijuan’s Watchful Hawk, which sweeps down and is wounded--but our heroes have gone astray! (They notice that the demon is looking much better now, having wounded several shticks…)
After they go astray, they meet a small long-legged demon perched in a tree, with its head oddly askew. It tells them they have lost their way, and offers to direct them back to the path, for a price. Lijuan puts up her funnel, but the brownie is not impressed. The brownie does mention that stuff put into the funnel isn’t coming back; it’s lost and will never come back. But it might be interested in Lijuan sending something astray for it. Who is Lijuan’s best friend? Well, she’s not willing to send Ho astray. Shuyan offers a poison-resistance shtick. The brownie is psyched by that. Forever? Well, not so much. Shuyan counters with a week, and the brownie goes for a year. Shuyan agrees. All are surprised, but then Shuyan notes that she also has immune to poison, so is somewhat smug about having traded away a shtick that she doesn’t need anymore.
Lijuan serves up her Deer Path as the next sacrifice. A deer trundles down a path to its doom. But the stumps are within sight! Lijuan serves up Sparrow’s Sight. A little sparrow duly swoops down and its eyes are gouged out. The demon is lured into the clearing. It leaps upon a bunny-rabbit stump. The circle of stumps closes around the demon, and the whole circle sinks into the ground.
Lijuan repeats her promise, and asks if the voice needs anything else. No, it’s satisfied for now.
Whoosh! They wake up. The guard is really nervous. They were hardly breathing. The guard offers Lijuan his arm, which she takes, as she and Shuyan are weak and tottering.
They go back to the Sung Keep, and report success, and then head back to the city to check on the boy. They head to the boy’s front door. A servant answers the door, his eyes going wide. Is this another charity thing? Lijuan assures the servant that she’s taken care of everything. Shuyan sneaks in to observe the boy, while Lijuan stays at the front door with her panda. The boy still seems to be kind of a jerk, and still seems to believe in horse-training-by-smacking-around, but he seems less outright abusive.Lijuan notes that with her Panda Companion shtick wounded, Kawaii is scaring people more. Shuyan heals Kawaii’s physical damage, but she definitely has some spiritual damage too. She resolves to live in the woods with her panda, to keep Kawaii out of trouble.