Distracting the Spider
|"Failing to plan is planning to fail."|| The run begins on Day of the Early Tortoise in the Month of the Phoenix in the Tenth Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Illuminated Precincts and the World Above.
A letter, delivered to Cai Wen, with a box of items
My dear -
I am so ashamed, and so sorry! My weak nature overcame me, and I was beset with jealousy. I thought I could arrange things so you would never notice, and that I could return the items, no harm done, before you discovered their absence, but things went so, so, wrong. My plan was ill-conceived, and I was beset by enemies at every turn, and so it was that your great treasure was lost. I thought that I could tap their power to subtly turn your eyes from other women, that you might see only me - for you have entirely bewitched me with your wiles - and I still think that it might have been done, had everything gone according to plan.
I thought that between the Talisman of the Magpie, my own patron and the patron of those who would have that which has been denied them, and the Talisman of the Serpent, Mistress of binding and holding tight, that it would be simplicity for the experts of the Precincts to design a ritual to bind you to me. But they are less competent than I had hoped, and claimed to be unable to produce such an effect without months of research first. None of them!
So it was we were forced to resort to other options, to making a bargain with a greater Spirit. I thought that there might be some traction gained from bargaining to *not* throw the Magpie Talisman in the Dragon's Hoard - not that I *would* have, but it seemed harmless enough to allow myself to promise that I would not, in exchange for services rendered. So we bargained with one spirit to reach the World Above, and sought to bargain with another - but I was pursued, and ambushed not once, not twice, but three times!
I cannot tell you the details of the fight, or who stole what, because I had already fallen to the treachery of one who I thought a friend and the sword of the young Prince, but when my companion (whose name I shall not give, so that the blame for these deeds is on me alone) woke me, I found that both the Serpent Talisman and the forged Sankara stone were gone, and but the Magpie Talisman remained. I return this now, along with those other items that I borrowed and still retain, as well as my most abject apologies.
I can only hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me someday, for what I did, I did only in devotion to you.
(12 successes on Duping)
A page from Jin's double-encrypted journal
Well, *that* was bracing.
Things seem to have gone more or less according to plan, for all that the plan went off the rails about halfway through. When going off the rails is in fact part of the plan, I suppose nearly anything can be taken as victory.
When Siri approached me about... hold on a minute, what is my motivation here? Why am I on the "bad" team? I understand that Siri is a thief, excuse me, a "merchant", but I work for Lord Takanata! Surely he would not forgive a betrayal of this sort? Am I counting on his never hearing of my involvement?
Well, I suppose Lord Takanata has forgiven me before, so I must trust that he shall do so again should my "actions" come to light. I can work with that.
When Siri approached me after having stolen several of the party's Talismans, and asked me to use my contacts in the Precincts in order to find her a ritualist who could whip up a Grand Ritual on short notice, I found this entirely plausible as something that they might be able to do. I asked around those less reputable alchemists, those who might be willing to do a ritual of the sort she described, and also those who would be willing to overlook the provenance of the two Talismans we would be using (without being inclined to steal them for their own purposes). So... disreputable while not yet entirely without honor. It was a difficult line to draw, but one in which the Cryptomancer was well acquainted, and so I was able to find quite a few people to ask about it.
Despite my familiarity with this environment, I was completely surprised to learn that none of the alchemists I enquired with would be able to create a Grand Ritual in fifteen minutes! After asking at each of them, and confirming that even the presence of two Talismans would not permit such a thing to be done, I concluded (at each alchemist) that we would have to attempt a different method, to bargain with a spirit in the World Above instead.
Luckily for us, these disreputable dealers in magic would of course keep our business completely confidential, and not allow any hint to leak to any spymasters who might coincidentally be in the neighborhood.
And so it was that Siri and I found ourselves on the banks of the Jasmine River, negotiating for passage to the World Above. Having previously researched the River's nature and name to a large extent, I was able to finish the process with what I have learned in the seasons since, sufficient to call upon her that we might bargain. We traded the Ivory Crown to her for passage to the World Above, near the Magpie's realm, that Siri might make her greater bargain with Magpie himself, or any other that we might encounter. Siri wore the Armor of the Bear, and a bandolier with both Talismans, that she might withstand nearly anything that we encountered above us.
Alas for us, when we reached the World Above, we found ourselves immediately ambushed by Mystic Mondo and two compatriots of his, a stalwart fighter and a young acrobat. Somehow, they had reached the World Above before us, and we were nearly defeated before we had begun.
We fled from them, but alas again, the realms Above that focus on betrayal and ambush are close to Spider's Web, so we fled from the frying pan into the fire, where Prince Ti Jun and his followers closed the jaws of the trap. They attempted to seize us, but Siri burst free and we began to flee through a previously hidden path. The Prince struck Siri, smiting the bandolier, as we made our way to what turned out to be yet a *third* ambush, as Siri collapsed, having left a scene carrying both Talismans at once.
In the ensuing four way fight - our "way" being only minimally effective, since it was the now-unconscious Siri and myself - it seemed clear that Mondo and his man were outclassed by the Prince's group, which was outclassed by the new group. I did my best to make the false Sankara Stone appear to be an equal prize to the two Talismans, and I suppose I must have succeeded, because my team quickly went from one functional member to zero, and when I was healed, the false Sankara stone was gone, as was the Serpent Talisman.
A report on How I Rescued The Magpie Talisman, by Sei Lin
So, Mondo said that Lord Takanata's art said that me and Siri were supposed to pretend to have stolen the Talismans and run them around as a distraction so that Spider would not be home for something or another. Except that maybe they would actually get stolen, and that was okay except we should try to avoid that if we could, but not avoid it very hard. But pretending to steal something so that it would be actually stolen later seemed a lot like stealing something for real, and I pinky swore to not steal any of the Talismans although I totally could because the security isn't all that good most of the time.
So I wasn't on Siri's team, I was on Mondo's team, and then Siri and I could use our Secret Thief Powers to communicate with each other without anyone knowing about it, which was good to set up the ambushes. Which we did. We had an ambush and then the Prince of the Butterfly Meadows had an ambush, which was part of the plan, and then some *other* guy had an ambush, and he wasn't in the plan, so there were a lot of bad guys running around, oh, and I forgot to mention that this was all in the World Above where we went so that the bad guys would have to have Spider help them go there. But I guess two different sets of bad guys had Spider help them.
Once all the bad guys were jumping on Siri, and the Prince broke her Talisman thingy, then she went down pretty fast, and Jin wasn't really any help and I'm not sure why he was there at all. Master Hong, who is kind of like a short version of Wei Han, was pretty useful, but the other guy was a pretty serious fighter or ninja or something, and he nearly killed Mondo while I was rescuing one of the Talismans back from Siri, and that was the Magpie Talisman, which is probably better than the Serpent Talisman anyway, but the Prince stopped the other guy from killing Mondo and then they both (the Prince and the other guy) each got one of the loots that Siri and Jin had. But not the Magpie Talisman.
A Confidential Codicil
When in the course of events those who Fate has entrusted with the guardianship of many Great Talismans decide that said guardianship must pass to another, they (and, it must be said, Fate, for who can argue that Fate does not pay particularly close attention to the doings of the Circus of the Silken Wings?) find that the one most suited (or perhaps most ironic or most amusing) to temporarily hold the reins of guardianship is myself.
Thus it was that the Tale of Mystic Mondo and the Three Talismans and the Nine Ninja of Doom can be expanded with a chapter of Two More Talismans and One More Ninja of Doom. Unlike the first installments of this tale, I was presented with an opportunity not simply to flee (expeditious as the last of the Basic Strategies is), but to design and enact both overt stratagem and deeper method. I knew at once that the basic ploy of "wander about with the Talismans and hope to be spiritually mugged" would be to no avail - the bearers of the Talismans wander about with them at all times, and such trouble as finds them rarely has mugging for Talismans as its source.
The resources that we had been given to work with were in truth, somewhat haphazard. As is written in the Book of Seventeen Truths, "hard won, hard relinquished" and, aside from those Talismans which were designated as bait, many of the resources were those items that they had previously been unable to find a use for. I shall take it as a great compliment that they thought I would be more successful in the short time allotted, but in truth, all things have three uses: that for which they are well suited, that for which they are poorly suited, and that to which they can be converted by virtue of trade.
First, we required a pretext by which the Talismans were removed from their rightful owners, such that they would be more legitimate targets for theft - for to steal from a thief is considered no theft at all. I chose Siri as the "culprit", with a rationale that would not fool any who knew her in truth, but it would be plausible enough for one who heard it. Then, Siri and Jin made sufficient enquiries amongst the alchemists of the City of Light that their "stolen" trinkets would easily come to the ears of the Prince, who was at that time visiting with the Circus. Their enquiries came to naught, as expected, and indeed, required, so they concluded that they would have to visit the World Above to make a spirit bargain instead - thus leading the trail into the realms of spirit, where Spider would have to be called upon to follow.
Using the same constraints and conditions on transport to the World Above that Siri and Jin would use, I and my companions bargained with the Spirit of the Jasmine, offering her the Bonsai of Truth, an artifact of great power, but requiring even greater patience and consideration to properly employ, to spiritwalk us to her realm. Thus we reached the same location where Siri and Jin would later arrive, and we prepared to "ambush" them. Master Hong also prepared the field such that there would be hidden escape routes, that either Siri and Jin could use, or ourselves. By preparing such an ambush and escape, we shaped the nature of the space to be more closely aligned with Spider, allowing those Spider-allied of our pursuers to find and follow, which, according to my design, they did.
The actors in place, their lines begin. Siri and Jin enter to commence the performance; we enter from the opposite wing to demand that they turn over their stolen treasures. They flee by the first of Master Hong's hidden ways, and we pursue. The Prince and his troupe, following the lines I have written, step onto the stage to block Siri's flight, and the Prince strikes. The pair flees again, Siri's Talismanic power unravelling, and the final actor's troupe, following no script of mine, steps in.
While the Prince concerns himself with capturing his prize from the fallen Siri, the other is more directly our enemy, and dispatches Jin first before turning his attention, and his blade, to my trio. Master Hong is able to withstand him for a time, but the Other's men engage him so he is too pressed to guard any but himself. Sei-Lin is skilled enough to evade the enemy, but is not a guard. And so the Other's blade seeks my own life - to be forestalled by the Prince, who interposes both his own blade and his body between us.
The combat has reached a point of impasse, forces balanced without one able to score victory when the Prince and the Other disagree, so both fall back to their original goal, and plunder the fallen Jin and Siri. They are not given time to carefully search, so both must grab and run - the false Sankara stone and the Serpent Talisman are both gone, although in truth, it seems likely we shall see one, if not both, again, though perhaps not at a time or circumstance of our choosing, or our desire.
Report on the Battle Above
We encountered two hostile forces in the World Above; I did my best to ascertain their training and competence.
Prince Ti Jun is highly competent for his age, and I estimate him as fourth level. He is not a straight fighter, but he has a combat specialty which interacts well with a tactical focus. His team is accustomed to working with him and they support each other well.
The unnamed foe is at least sixth level, and is principally a fighter; many of his other shticks leverage his high combat stats in non-combat ways. I was not able to perform a complete analysis, as he has some ability to cloak his details from observation. His team is not accustomed to working with him, and appeared to be unaware of his exact capabilities.
Neither team was accustomed to operating in the World Above; Prince Ti Jun's team was more able to take the unusual setting in stride.