Xiao Fa was offered three briefings by the Dragon in Touched by the Dragon. He got one immediately, and one with some meditation later; the third was acquired by Mystic Melina from the future after Xiao Fa finishes Master Zhou's assigned homework.
On Freeing the Dragon
The Dragon can only be freed by the Power of the Spider, or the Spider's death, the total plundering of His realm, or other unambiguous sign that His power over the Dragon is broken. Having now seen the Dragon's bonds, the Unbinder can determine if any particular plan is likely to meet these criteria.
On the Spider's Plan
The Spider is not simply replacing the Dragon in the Cycle. He has been moving to take far more power over the Empire than even the Dragon himself possessed. If completed, the Spider will indeed be the Cycle, and the twelve cycle spirits will properly be called Servants of the Spider.
The Spider has room to add a 12th spirit at the last minute, or can continue to serve both roles (one of the 12 and overlord) as he does now.
The Spider is mostly limited in the use of his true nature. The focus of almost all of his Demonic power is to keep most of the remaining cycle spirits from realizing this final danger. His spiritual power, stolen from the true Spider Spirit is almost all he has available to enact these plans. Should he be forced for some reason to exceed the limits of the spiritual power of the spider and tap his demonic power as well, the veil hiding these truths from the other Great Spirits will fall away and many of them will likely join the battle.
This deception and expenditure of demonic power is what causes the asymmetries between what the Spider's minions have to do, and what those who oppose him have to do to reverse it.
His plan is almost complete. All twelve kingdoms have been renamed. The Walls have been modified. All that remains for him to do is crown a Spider Emperor. This must occur before this Cycle of the Spider ends, or he will fail in his greater plan, but will still remain one of the Great Cycle Spirits. He can do this either politically (likely His plan) or militarily (likely His backup plan).
There is one further thing he must do, but he is not yet aware of it. He is likely to gain access to such knowledge soon however.
Even if you do manage to thwart this greater plan, you must replace Him in the cycle as well, if you wish to restore the Dragon. That part of his plan (just replacing the Dragon as one of 12 equals) has been complete for quite some time, and he just needs to wait out the Cycle. To reverse it, you'd need to do the Altering the Cycle ritual before this Cycle ends. This will take effect immediately when performed, and should it last until the end of the Great Cycle, will then become "permanent".
On Altering the Cycle
Altering the cycle is a very large magical and spiritual working. It's quite difficult to do and takes at least a Cycle of preparation to accomplish. Once accomplished, it becomes a lot easier for one Great Cycle. If this Great Cycle passes without any changes, the cycle becomes "locked in" and the extensive "too difficult for the party" plan is needed to start again. Luckily, we are still in the Spider's probationary Great Cycle, so further changes at this time are relatively easy:
To make such a change, you need several things:
- A properly constructed ritual. The Perfect Sage, Li Kao, is likely capable of devising such a ritual. Also, a ritual for swapping one cycle spirit for another can be obtained from the Song of the Phoenix (though not just now, by agreement), or the Marked Alchemist, who undoubtedly has such a ritual in his stronghold, or the Marked Bureaucrat, who has a copy of the Alchemist's ritual in his files. A team of sorcerors and chi masters with ritual skills working together could also try to devise a new one, but they'd require several sources of cryptic lore. This briefing constitutes one such source.
- The permission of the other 11 current cycle spirits. Other things can be substituted for such permission.
- That spirit's Great Talisman
- A greater boon from the spirit. (Note that Chochiro has been going around collecting lesser boons from the Great Cycle Spirits.)
- The approval of a direct descendent of the spirit.
- A Proto-talisman for the incoming spirit. (Or the original talisman for a former spirit.) This must be forged with great power taken directly from the realms of the spirit in question.
- The benison of each nation in the Empire. Some examples:
- The presence of a royal family member.
- The presence of a Great Treasure, Crown, or other highly symbolic item.
- A law enacted which honors the spirit's realm.
- A popular movement in support of the spirit's animal.
- Other possibilities abound.
- The incoming spirit must gain the specific greater benison of one particular nation of the empire.
- The presence of the King.
- The presence of the official regalia.
- A law enacted which praises the incoming spirit by name.
- A popular movement in support of the incoming spirit.
- Other possibilities are limited.
- Power over the replaced spirit must be demonstrated.
- His talisman.
- His submission.
- His body.
- Some great change must be made in the world sufficient to permanently alter the nature of things.
- Raising an archipelago into a volcanic island
- Some great change must be made in the World Above, or the World Below, sufficient to permanently alter the nature of things.
If these last two steps are done simultaneously, this change in the world will be perceived as the way things have always been.