Enemy of the State
|"It is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them."|| The run begins on the Day of the Dog in the Month of the Dog in the eleventh Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly on the Isle of Beauty.
Tea with the Great Ladies
While many of the group are off investigating a ramp in the northwest, Anto receives a summon from the Songstress. He heads to the Shrouded Isle to speak with her, and she requests that he open a gate to the World Above for Chochiro to come through, and to give her the Butterfly Talisman, which the Songstress gives him. Anto, curious, wants to know why Chochiro is in the World Above, and why she needs the Butterfly Talisman. The Songstress says that he should be getting a briefing when he gets there - where "there" is to the Mountain of Fire. Anto is a little concerned about opening a gate wide enough to let a person through, but the Songstress assures him that at that location, the gate will go to the heart of Phoenix's realm, and She will not let anything malign through.
Anto heads up the mountain, and opens a gate, but instead of coming through, Chochiro says that he should come in. He hops through, to find himself in a lovely receiving room, set up for tea, with both the Great Phoenix Spirit and the Great Butterfly Spirit seated at a table with Chochiro (who leaps to her feet to greet Anto, and then pours tea).
Phoenix does all the talking, while Butterfly occasionally uses expressive gestures; Anto deduces that as part of not speaking, she is specifically preventing any eavesdropping.
Phoenix explains that Chochiro will be finishing the task of moving the islands back, and through the method she uses, will be changing the name of the Isle of Beauty. Until now, the only one of Anto's foes who cared about the location of the islands was the Cartogramancer, and the party is sufficient to the task of preventing him from having his way. However, all the Marked care about the name of the island, and it will soon be evident that the change is underway. Spirit business is the domain of the Alchemist, and when he is surprised into haste and anger, he will tend towards overkill, which the party is not sufficient to defeat.
Thus, he needs must be distracted, and badly so, before he turns his attention to thwarting the name change. Phoenix suggests that Chochiro head out to begin her task before they continue the conversation, and Anto opens a gate for her (in the wall behind Butterfly, rather than where he entered from behind Phoenix), and she exits with thanks, and the Butterfly Talisman, to the Garden of Harmonious Contemplation.
Once Chochiro is gone, Phoenix's suggestion on how to distract the Alchemist is that the party steal the Spider Talisman from Ti Jun and throw it into the Mountain of Fire. That will seriously distract the Alchemist from any matters on the Isle of Beauty, and will turn his attention towards Phoenix. As well, it will enable the renaming-the-island to proceed, since the name cannot change while the heir to the throne wears Spider's Talisman.
Butterfly looks at Phoenix, and Phoenix adds some final thoughts:
- The King cannot know
- The Queen cannot officially know
- The Prince will not take the loss of the Talisman lightly, as it has been allowing him to maintain some amount of equality with the other Marked. He will not forgive it being taken from him, until he has had the opportunity to take some form of vengeance.
Anto notes that since he and the party will be assisting Phoenix and Butterfly, what can they offer in recompense? Phoenix says that she can offer three boons in her direct sphere of influence (fire, rebirth, sorcery, etc.), though if she is noticed to be taking direct action to aid her people, Spider is likely to reciprocate and directly aid his. Anto bows in thanks, and takes his leave - Butterfly gestures to the wall to open a gate in, and he appears in the water-gate pool at Tahiti.
Meanwhile, Takanata has not been having a good day, artistically. His painting keeps burning down, falling over, and sinking into the swamp - usually an indication that the prophetic art features the Prince, though this seems worse than usual.
The guards notify Merit that the Wu Xing has arrived, but he doesn't seem to know where he is. Merit gathers up the rest of the party, and Anto says he has important secret information to tell them about. Everyone heads to Kuan-Xi's little carriage to talk.
Anto briefs them as best he can remember about the briefing the Phoenix has given - and has a message for Takanata as well, that his prophetic art has been recharged by Butterfly, but he should be careful where he points it or the same thing may happen again.
Anto's briefing is a little garbled as to whether the Alchemist needs to be additionally distracted during this plan. Shen-Ji reminds everyone of the tale of Speedy the Snail and the Black Lobster (tricked into fighting each other by the Alchemist so that the Alchemist could get bits of the Lobster's shell for nefarious but unknown purposes), and that Speedy is the patron spirit of the House of Exuberant Interference. So he might be able to help distract the Alchemist. Talking to him can take a while, though, because while he is speedy for a snail, he is still pretty slow.
Would it work to force the Prince to wear the Great Talisman of the Bunny (a one-shot magic item from the Easter Egg Hunt)? Then he'll be wearing two Talismans and will pass out, and they can mug him? Does it count as a Great Talisman in that way? Shen-Ji and Kuan-Xi think that it has enough energy to be a great talisman, once, before the universe smacks it down. It seems like it's a Talisman that was created by someone who understood magic items and had seen other Talismans, but didn't understand how the Great Spirits were part of the cosmology. So, yes, if the Prince could be tricked into using the Bunny Talisman while he is carrying the Spider Talisman, that could work, but holding it without blowing its charge probably won't count.
- "I think this plan is hard enough that we shouldn't add 'defeat the Alchemist' to our to-do list as well."
Anto opens a communication-sized channel to Speedy, and the group starts trying to explain.
- "We think the Alchemist is up to no good."
- "A friend of ours, named Chochiro, is going to..."
- "...to swap the Islands back, and the Alchemist is going to try to destroy her."
- "We're going to steal the Spider Talisman and throw it into Phoenix's volcano."
- "We think the Alchemist will need to be distracted."
- "Can you help thwart the Alchemist?"
- "Some way to get the Talisman off the Prince?" -Shen-Ji
- "Some level of distraction?" -Merit
- "We don't know the lay of the land, but... some level of slowing down the alchemist? Or something that helps us accomplish our task quickly? Is there anything that you would want in exchange?" -Merit
- "Wu Xing's..."
- "Is telling you when we dump the talisman in the volcano sufficient warning?" -Shen-Ji
- "I ..."
This is briefly confusing to the group - they have asked for help, and Speedy has said he will do something to help, but now he hasn't asked for something in return from them. It takes them a little while to reframe it in a way that makes sense as a bargain: Speedy has asked for warning, and the Wu Xing's permission, and in exchange, he will tell them what he finds in the Alchemist's sanctum. He hasn't said that the only thing he will do is tell them what he finds.
- "But the Alchemist might be in his lair being distracted, rather than going elsewhere. We don't want Speedy to be chomped."
- "No ..."
- "do ..."
The group heads off to the Isle of Beauty via Kuan-Xi's carriage, arriving in the evening. An initial quick investigation with Merit's spies in the Beautiful Spy Service indicates that both the King and the Prince are in conference about the battles of the Day of the Dog, and will last the rest of the day. However, the Prince's schedule tomorrow will be less constrained, if more varied. (Merit also briefs the Beautiful Spy Service on the battle in the West that the party was at). He hears that tomorrow after lunch, His Highness is officially touring Q Branch, which is strange and unusual and they are kind of freaking out about it. (Not in his secret persona as "J").
Min Feng's contacts in the Dragon Navy tell her that at 10am, the Prince will will be conducting a seahorse cavalry inspection, at 11am he and the King will get a tactical briefing on the current state of the Island's forces in the North, and at 4pm, they will get an official Dragon Army briefing about the northern battle today.
Kuan-Xi gathers gossip around the court, and hears that at 6pm, the Prince, the King, and the Queen all have audiences with petitioners, separately. And 9am is is when the royal family breakfasts together. Noon, the Prince has lunch with his subordinates, though who that includes is not clear to the gossip.
Anto communes with the spirits down by the harbor, and learns that the small butterfly spirits are agitated, in an oddly coordinated way, but he doesn't learn anything about the Prince's schedule.
Xiao Fa checks in with the local healers, and learns that at 7am, the Prince goes to dawn exercise and meditation with the Yellow Silk School. Shen-Ji checks in with his sorcerer mentor - Master Bai doesn't know anything about the Prince's schedule, but notes that he senses a disturbance in the chi, and recommends that Shen-Ji keep his head down.
Merit checks who important is in town, generally, not including the royal family, and gets:
- Captain of the Guard
- Autumn Rose
- Shai Zhan, Blademistress
- Golden Flame
- Sea Lord Milora (just arriving)
Merit spends a while obsessing over why "J" is listed - he doesn't think spymasters should be showing up on "who's in town?", and they also shouldn't be seeing J, who is really part of the royal family.
Shai Zhan is a blademistress from the Steppes, who has taken over Ti Jun's sword instruction since it became clear that Master Deng wasn't coming back full time. That lesson is in the morning, at 8. (Shai Zhan is described as "unmarried, lovely, and somewhat cantankerous").
Min Feng eavesdrops on some of the royal guards, and hears that Ti Jun spends an hour in the afternoon, gathering information around the marketplace in disguise, with some guards also in disguise.
Put all together, that gives a busy schedule:
So... if the Queen can't know officially, what are good ways to get her help without officially telling her what is going on?
Xiao Fa writes up a fictional story, about how a prince of the land carries a terrible cursed item which must be taken from him for his own good. It is not the most artistic of stories, but it is elegantly calligraphed. Takanata suggests, instead, talking to her in generalities about a person with a cursed item, and how that might be dealt with.
Considering the two options, the former seems to work better to give her a deniable briefing, but the latter might work better as far as getting her help. Ti Wren has proved quite adept at doing things that need doing without understanding why.
Takanata arranges for a late night meeting, lighting solstice candles, with Ti Wren, and brings Kuan-Xi and Min Feng to distract the ladies in waiting at the crucial point in the conversation. At first, the conversation touches on Ti Wren having met the Jasmine; Takanata offers to arrange another meeting in a more informal setting if she would like. Ti Wren seems interested but not enthusiastic - it would be difficult to be entirely informal unless she were to leave the Island, which she does not do often. Takanata suggests the World of Dreams, which is something that the Queen had not considered, and she finds that a more interesting suggestion. Next, some discussion of the military victories on the Day of the Dog. Finally... there is an item on the Island that would be good to remove, but confronting its possessor directly will be tricky.
Ti Wren considers, and suggests that in the general case of dealing with such a person, to be forthright. If you find yourself opposed to a friend or ally, act directly, but do not abuse their trust in you to bring your plans to success. (This causes Takanata to remember the 2pm "walk in the garden and soliloquize in order to be overheard" slot on the schedule - but if they mug him then, Ti Jun will be beyond furious).
The party regroups in the carriage to discuss options. The two best possibilities seem to be in the marketplace at 3pm, or in the early morning with the blademistress. Perhaps they can mug Shai Zhan tonight, and have Min Feng impersonate her in the morning. The downside of that plan is that the practice takes place in a castle courtyard, so there is more chance of Official Notice.
In the end, the marketplace is deemed the best option - if things get sufficiently chaotic, then piecing together the story after the fact and blaming the party will be really hard. Everyone gets disguised as well as Merit can manage it, especially Anto, who is still an Enemy of the Isle of Beauty (from some long-ago thwackback).
- "Takanata can invoke his prophetic art and throw all his chaos dice in the air..."
Merit summons his strike team, and instructs them to make the combat hard to describe.
Min Feng heads for the cavalry training, to study the Prince from a distance. Afterwards, she hears him telling Golden Flame to go and find out what Master Deng and his friends are up to - she was apparently noticed. (The Spider Talisman is expected to double wits, so the Prince is pretty darned perceptive). Takanata considers cursing Deng to be somewhere doing something interesting, but that would not be a very just curse, so it probably wouldn't work very well.
Kuan-Xi, Anto, and Merit go shopping and scout the marketplace - they get the map, and discover the "Food Court of Distinction". There are buildings around the edges, and tents and temporary stalls in the center. Merit's tactical guess is that there will be a guard or two on a roof, but most of the guards will be spread out and blending in. Both the guards and the prince will likely be in disguise, though the more observant party members should be able to identify him.
- "How do we find him? First, we use our eyeballs and if that doesn't work, we let Min Feng try to locate him, and explode." -Merit
Nobody tries to interrupt the Prince at Q branch, and Takanata vetoes any eavesdropping on him in the garden, so as to not abuse his trust. And then, it's time for the 3pm marketplace battle. The group parks the Little Carriage a little ways away, under a tarp and guarded by a group of thugs; Merit brings a second group of thugs to attack Butterfly Guards as needed. Everyone gets disguised, sufficient to fool at least the guards, though maybe not the Prince.
Chaos In The Air
Merit, on one roof, spots Golden Flame, on another roof, speaking into her sleeve. Then, Anto notices a binding effect go off, and Min Feng thinks there's some sort of cartogramancy trap - the effect is "can't leave the map".
Merit's first strike team agent declares a dance party, and convinces a bunch of people near him to start dancing. Golden Flame notes into her sleeve that the dance party is a distraction, and that there's enemy overwatch on Merit's building. Merit notes that the people not watching the dance party are more likely to be the guards, and concludes that the Prince is disguised as one of them, in a Heisenbergy state where you can't tell if someone is the Prince until you look at them carefully.
- "I wonder how to get out of this binding..." -Anto
- "Destroy the Cartogramancer's map, I bet." -Takanata
- "Did someone say 'destroy the map'?" -Shen-Ji
Another strike team member starts giving pickpocketing lessons to all of the urchins in the market, right out in the open. Two guards climb up onto Merit's roof to see what he's doing, and he manages to observe that one of them is the Prince. Merit writes a quick magical note to Anto, who uses an ascension grapple to leap onto the roof, and grab Ti Jun with his kusarigama and grasping vines.
Min Feng disguises herself as a guardsman, just as Merit shouts to his thugs to attack the guards. Kuan-Xi, meanwhile, has become distracted by a pottery shop, and a nearby new shop that has a carving of a magpie on top of it.
One of the strike team cuts all the horses loose from their hitching post, and sets off a firework, spooking them into running wild. Shen-Ji manages to leap atop the best horse, embarking on a new career in horse theft.
Ti Jun unmasks himself and shouts for help from Merit, who he recognizes and addresses as Master Li. Anto chops the Prince with his kusarigama, not quite taking him down. Nearby shoppers see their beloved Prince struggling for his life, and start climbing towards the roof as well.
Autumn Rose shows up, and starts naming people on the map - she identifies one of the strike team as "Tinker", and Butterfly Guard 4 and Hired Thugs 1 and 4 also get identified.
Merit notes that the Prince doesn't have many hit points left, and shouts a pontificatory warning about how Evildoers have taken Ti Jun to below a seventh of his hit points, thus warning Anto to only punch him lightly, taking him out.
The guard on the roof gets the Prince free, but he's unconscious. Merit hurries over, and starts looking for the Talisman, as Anto takes on the guard. Takanata tries to figure out the Prince's health and status, and is promptly trampled by horses. Merit manages to loot the Spider Talisman, and shouts in Torghut that he has it (which most people understand, though Xiao Fa has steadfastly avoided learning Barbarianese). Shen-Ji quickly sends a warning to Speedy that they have the package.
Merit's thugs start attacking guards, including Min Feng. Autumn Rose puts up a few more names, though not any party members, and then gets trampled by a horse as her own scrying hits the Catastrophic Awryage effect. Kuan-Xi heads into the Interesting Magpie stall.
Finally, the Cartogramancer arrives, and the map snaps back into the real world - except for the Magpie stall, which vanishes entirely, with Kuan-Xi. Autumn Rose tells her father that the names up now are the only ones he is going to get, as they're defended now. He is not pleased.
Anto leaps off the map, and Xiao Fa with him. Min Feng follows, less acrobatically. The Cartogramancer starts putting up lines on the map to block the exits, but it's too late. And while he knows Takanata is here, he hasn't identified him yet. He does something with his map, which makes Autumn Rose glower, and they decide to just grab one of the hired thugs and question him, as the party is mostly gone.
Everyone but Kuan-Xi meets at the carriage. Where is she? They decide to wait ten minutes for her - it will be difficult to wait longer, as there is likely to be a guard crackdown looking for Anto and Merit.
Meanwhile, Kuan-Xi is welcomed to the Bazaar of the Magpie, which seems full of shiny powerful trinkets.
- "What do you seek?"
- "Something for a sorcerer who seeks knowledge"
- "What are you willing to spend?"
- "Five tael."
The salesman reaches to a high shelf, and brings down a jade scrollcase with a tortoiseshell pattern, resting on little jade feet: the Scroll of Answers. Then, he bows and gestures towards the door. Good day. She leaves, and is back in the marketplace.
By this point, the Prince is awake again, and Autumn Rose and the Cartogramancer are lurking around to see what might be going on. The Cartogramancer spots that one of the party is back on his map, but Kuan-Xi gets away before anyone can get to her, and makes it to the carriage. It is quite obvious to everyone that she stopped to shop in the middle of combat!
The carriage sets off for the Shrouded Isle and the Mountain of Fire - as they are leaving the Isle of Beauty, travelling over the ocean is not as smooth as the trip to the island was - the waves seem to be getting larger, and the earth is shaking a bit. The trip is quick, and about twenty minutes after the talisman was grabbed, Merit is holding it over the volcano... and feels strangely reluctant to drop it in. He is willing to give it to Kuan-Xi, however, who has fewer qualms, and flings the thing into the volcano. There is a moment or two in which it sits on the surface of the lava, and then it submerges, and the volcano starts to erupt.
The group dashes down the mountain to warn nearby villages - they are already ringing the bells, and doing their standard volcano evacuation drill - and then House Suzuki. House Suzuki isn't close enough to the crater to be in much trouble, but the group goes back to help with the village evacuations.