|"It is more disgraceful to suspect our friends than to be deceived by them."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Tortoise
in the eleventh Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place hither and yon
Mildly Mysterious Goings On
Now that Yanyu is married, she brings Yin-Xiang up to speed about the party plots, like thwarting the Marked. Well, he knew about that one, but she swears him to secrecy. They're trying to put Dragon in the Cycle, and oust Spider, who isn't actually a spirit, he's actually a demon. Yin-Xiang thinks that part is a little more unusual, as well as not being allowed - Dog should just eat Spider, if he's a demon. Well, Great Spirits don't seem to be able to know that. He's also a little surprised to hear that Yanyu is Team Dragon - he had thought she was Team Phoenix. Well, Phoenix is on Dragon's side in this. In any event, he sees nothing unusual with being in favor of one spirit over another. Yanyu continues - back during that Bidding War, it sounded like he might be interested in being Emperor. She thinks he would be a much better Warlord - let some other poor shmoe handle the paperwork that being Emperor requires. Well, he will give that some thought.
At midnight, Takanata is awoken by the thumping of the Butterfly Talisman a handful of times. Hmm. In the morning, he heads to Tahiti to figure out what had happened, but no one can recall making any deals with spirits at midnight. Yanyu notes that midnight is a good time for changes, but Crane -> Tiger doesn't seem very interestingly significant. Maybe Xiao Fa, who is off in the Roof of the World, is making a deal with the Spirit of the Lake?
Of course, it might not be a spirit bargain - the Talisman tends to spread effects over the party, not 'seal' the bargain. That has included bargains, but it has also included curses.
Takanata draws an interesting swirly painting, but it isn't clear what it is. An urchin arrives with a note:
The urchin looks wrong, somehow, but no one can quite figure out how. He has no aspect (not surprising), and the only weapon he has is a sharpened spoon. The urchin is sent to the kitchen for a meal, and everyone turns back to Takanata's art. He notes that his daily prophetic art charge has not been used up, which is unusual. Is this someone else's prophecy? Is it some sort of puzzle that has to be cut up and moved around? He tries again, but the picture is no clearer.
While pondering the painting, Kuan-Xi notes that her status is much lower than it usually is. When she remarks on this, Yin-Xiang is surprised - it's not a bad status. But it's supposed to be higher! She's a princess! Yin-Xiang is also surprised to hear that - is this like the plan to make him Warlord and make Xiao Fa Emperor, that they're going to make Kuan-Xi a princess? No, she's a princess now, albeit a somewhat secret one. Well, if she's incognito, maybe that would explain it.
Kuan-Xi looks around with detect magic, and notes that there is a new Butterfly-ish effect on the party (but not Yin-Xiang) making party members think she is a princess. That's... somewhat disconcertingly backwards. She notes that her "Noble" shtick has become "Common", and her "In Tael" has changed to "In Zhu". Her best guess is that Autumn Rose is attacking her name somehow.
However, enough time has been spent on mysterious things with no obvious leads, so the group heads to the Forest of Chin, to meet Iala Mane. A little ways after crossing the border, an ambush is sprung, spooking everyone's horses (except Shuyan's, which is specially trained for calmness, due to snakes). Cai Wen formally declares his intent to interfere with the situation, baffling everyone.
- "You and everyone in the carriage are our prisoners! Come with us and you will survive through to ransom!"
With Deng and Wei Han both there, the carnage is terrible.
- "It is Deng Handslayer! We are betrayed!"
Deng chops one of them with social damage, Wei Han grabs another, and a third is surrounded by terrifying snakes, but the rest start to flee. Cai Wen says to let them go, as who has time to find a magistrate? The defeated guy admits that they were from the Circle of Spite, and were hired to capture the carriage in order to prevent them from going wherever they were going - he doesn't know the details.
Well, that seems to indicate that time is pressing. The group continues on, leaving the defeated bandit by the side of the road.
Takanata draws a third picture, as Cai Wen watches through the Orb of Light. That lets him see the incoming omen get swatted away by something, leaving only the carrier wave to be painted. Hmm.
The party reaches the edge of the forest, but there is no sign of Iala Mane. People search for him, and Deng is the first to find him, wounded and unconscious. A poison antidote and some first aid put him to rights again.
Iala Mane is happy to see the party, and says that his patroness has been betrayed, and is being held in one of the northern fortresses of Kali. With his stone of Ratri, and the party's stone of Kali, they can find and free her. He's not sure how the "city bandits" located him, but he was set upon by enough of them that he fell to the poison after driving them off.
However, the group does not have the Sankara stone with them - Takanata had it while he was away, but he has passed it back to Xiao Fa, who is (as previously mentioned) off in the Roof of the World.
The Talismans are dropped back at Tahiti, so as to not bring them across the Wall, and then Kuan-Xi's little carriage (Cai Wen cozies up to Kuan-Xi so they can fit seven, including Iala Mane and Yin-Xiang) heads to the Roof of the World, where they find Xiao Fa discussing matters with the border guard.
Iala Mane explains: his own stone will let him find Ratri, and the stone of Kali will let them cloak themselves in Kali's aura to sneak into the fortress without alerting her. Wei Han wants to know what Iala Mane's plan is once he gets in. Unfortunately, he does not have a precise plan, having not been able to sneak in and scout already, so he thinks some improvisation will be necessary. So why are the stones necessary?
- "One stone lets us in; one stone lets us track Ratri." -Takanata
- "Spend a Yin - that's not true." -Mike
Everyone clamors to have Iala Mane explain the plan more clearly, but he doesn't have a plan beyond what he said, and he doesn't know why the GM says it's not true.
Takanata suggests looking at Iala Mane with the Orb of Light, but he's carrying a Sankara stone, and Cai Wen is blinded. Iala Mane is apologetic - if they cross south of the Wall, then they could use the stone of Ratri to heal him overnight. Well, perhaps they should head there, and go somewhere safe (like, not the Fortress of Kali) first, and storm the temple in the morning.
The little carriage drives for a temple of Ratri, but it isn't designed to cross the Wall without incident, so there is a THUMP and, from outside, Da-Xie demands to know WHAT IS GOING ON. They explain that they are on an important mission to south of the Wall, which she is really not pleased to hear, but she is also not keen on Kali destroying everything, which is what the party claims will happen if they don't go to stop it. (There may be some tactical exaggeration going on). In particular, Da-Xie is not fond of Kali, who just barged through a few weeks ago. Anyhow, she will (grudgingly) keep them from being Southernly Abominated, speaking of which, WHAT SORT SOUTHERN ABOMINATION IS IALA MANE? Well, he does serve Ratri and have a Sankara stone of Ratri on him...
At this point, Takanata starts passing around a Connections reading he has been working on.
Takanata asks Da-Xie if she can do him the kindness of letting him look south for just a minute, to try to figure out where someone is. He tries to locate "the new Mola Ram", who he has studied. There is a lot of interference, until Da-Xie swats it away, and then it is clear that he is standing right next to them.
- "That was a really nice try." -Takanata
The fake Iala Mane makes the mistake of making one last attempt to grab the Sankara stone of Kali, which the blind Cai Wen has, but is promptly grabbed and pummeled.
So... Iala Mane is the one captured in the Temple of Kali? It seems likely that they would need to have him in order to fake him quite so well.
- "I am, however, reluctant to use the Stone of Kali to get into the Temple of Kali, when that was Kali's plan..." -Takanata
The group asks Yin-Xiang if his mother has any sway in the South. He says they don't talk about things outside the Empire much, and does not leap to promise that the Moon will sweep down to rescue Iala Mane.
On the other hand, they do have the high priest of Kali. So maybe a trade can be arranged?
Before things go any further, Cai Wen asks if Da-Xie can help with Cai Wen's blindness. She borrows a snake from Shuyan, and encourages it to bite him a couple of times - that provides him temporary snake-sight, all infrared and spooky. Oh, in other news, has Da-Xie talked to Dragon yet? She looks cranky, and says that the military will never go for it. Similarly, can they get Horse to stop pestering her about how wolves get to jump back and forth across the North Wall so horses should get to jump back and forth over the South Wall.
The soldiers on the Wall say that there are occasionally people who come to the base of the Wall claiming to want to trade, but they are not permitted up. Da-Xie tells the soldiers they can take a break, and the group starts shouting to the traders.
- "We have this guy, he's Kali's high priest! We want to trade him for Ratri's high priest!"
The traders don't have Ratri's high priest in stock, and this is kind of above their pay grade, so they say they'll see what they can do, and head off, saying they will be back at sunset.
At sunset, the traders return with the high priest of Kubera, who stays way back from the foot of the Wall. Cai Wen, accompanied by Da-Xie to Empire-ize them, go down to talk to the priest. The priest of Kubera can arrange a trade, but they will have to agree to neither attempt to harm nor attempt to capture anyone in the bargain. Cai Wen agrees, and the priest begins a blessing to bind everyone to their word, but Da-Xie is having none of that, and blocks the effect.
Cai Wen wonders if he might be able to get more than just a straight trade - the priest of Kubera says that might be possible, but it will depend on how Ratri feels about her champion and how Kali feels about her high priest. If Kubera does not push for a straight trade, it might go either way. The priest is willing to be the proxy in negotiations, or arrange for a face to face trade. Cai Wen asks for the latter; the priest says he will return in two days time.
Two Days Stalling
The group withdraws away from the Wall, and some sleeping draughts are purchased to keep the prisoner from waking. A couple of days is doable, but longer will be difficult. Takanata finally succeed in his prophetic art, with Da-Xie's assistance, but at this point it is not much of a surprise.
In the meantime, the group considers Kuan-Xi's plot again. Yanyu confirms that Kuan-Xi is officially still in the triad, so it seems to be just House Suzuki which she is no longer in. Kuan-Xi and Yanyu and Yin-Xiang head through the Tahiti water gate to the Shrouded Isle, while the rest stay back at Tahiti to guard the prisoner and the Sankara stone. The House Suzuki guards don't seem to find Kuan-Xi any more familiar than the others.
Cai Wen checks the scoreboard, expecting that Autumn Rose is partway through a long and complex (and multi-point) vengeance, but instead he discovers something fairly simple: each of Kuan-Xi and Autumn Rose has taken away the other's family once.
Kuan-Xi ponders talking to the Golden Prince about the matter. She realizes that one of her Destiny shticks lets her arrange a meeting with any Immortal, but she doesn't know how to go about it. So they head to the headquarters of the Song of the Phoenix, and ask to speak to the Songstress. She is concerned to see two out of three of the triad - has something happened to Min Feng? No, something has happened to Kuan-Xi - her name has been changed so that she is no longer a Suzuki. Also, Yanyu reminds the Songstress that she was supposed to give them the Talisman ages ago, when Dragon was freed. The Songstress thinks that 'no longer spiritually compelled to smite you if you steal it' isn't quite the same as 'promised to give it to you' but is willing to let Yanyu look at it long enough to memorize the name of the Phoenix. Yanyu notes that it could also fix Cai Wen's blindness, but Cai Wen is back in Tahiti.
From the Songstress's point of view, Kuan-Xi has been searching for her name and her family for years - she has clearly not been protected from whatever change has been made.
Armed with the name of the Phoenix, Yanyu purchases some fireworks and heads up into the mountains to try to summon/contact that Great Spirit, accompanied by Kuan-Xi and Yin-Xiang. When she throws the fireworks into the volcano, and attempts to summon the Phoenix, a small phoenix flies out of the volcano. Yanyu asks it for a pointer - could Kuan-Xi be reborn as her true self? Also, Yanyu wishes for clarity about a recent message from Phoenix about those who wish to enter the cycle.
The phoenix pecks at Yanyu's foot, tips its head, and then leaps into the volcano. Yanyu starts to leap in after it, but is caught by Yin-Xiang, who thinks that committing fiery suicide a week after the wedding does not speak well for the marriage. He persuades her to not immolate herself, and to speak to his mother the following night.
Not much happens before the following night; Yin-Xiang heads up to the roof to address the full moon.
- "I thought we were doing okay, but then my wife tried to jump into a volcano. Can you talk some sense into her?" -Yin-Xiang
The moonbeam gives a long-suffering sigh, and tells the Moon's son that if he wants this to work, they will have to learn to trust each other.
- " If she wants to jump into volcanoes, you should let her jump into volcanoes."
- " Mom, that makes no sense!"
- "Can you ask her if she knows a safer way to contact Phoenix?" -Yanyu
- "I can hear you, you don't have to ask him to ask me. Contacting the Great Powers is not supposed to be safe and reassuring."
Yanyu wants to know if the Moon was watching when the truth of the world was changed. She was. Does she have advice on undoing it? The Moon thinks that winning, or defeating one's enemies, or achieving what you want, is not about going back to the time before you were losing. If Kuan-Xi wants to change her name to add her to a noble house, then she should do it. To forcibly put her in House Suzuki, either find someone with that power and have them do it, or acquire the power yourself.
In other plots, they are trying to rescue someone who is the champion of the Goddess of the Night. Does the Moon have any dealings with Ratri? The moonbeam gives a little snort. The Moon and Ratri have come to an understanding. If they wish to rescue her champion, the Moon will not object.
- "You two should be a good match. My son understands that when you want something you should take it. You understand that when you go to take something you should apply some subtlety. Between the two of you, you should be able to arrange things."
Yanyu agrees that perhaps she should learn to be immune from fire before jumping into volcanoes, and they head back down from the roof.
Everyone meets back at Tahiti on the third day. The Talismans are left behind, and everyone heads back to the South Wall.
The high priest of Kubera has negotiated an even exchange; since the negotiations began, no further harm has come to Iala Mane. Cai Wen goes down from the wall with the party's prisoner, and a group of Kali followers decloak with Iala Mane, and the prisoners are exchanged. Since the high priest is unconscious, he does not call for any last-minute betrayal, and they take him away.
Iala Mane identifies the stone of Ratri that the imposter was carrying as a subtle forgery with no actual power. The Sankara stones can be put down in the South, so he did not have it on him when he was captured, close to a month ago. Iala Mane says that he should probably go and speak with Kar Fai - everyone warns him about the trouble in the Roof of the World and the outlawing of kung fu. If Kar Fai is behind the outlawing of kung fu, perhaps he has also been replaced by an imposter? No, it's more complicated than that. He expresses his gratitude for the rescue, and says that he will do his best to repay the favor, and then takes his leave.
The party contemplates anyone they know who knows anything about nameomancy - other than Autumn Rose, the Cryptomancer and Jin are the main other people who do things with names, though they tend to be more about divination than changes. They call upon Jin, who has settled in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival at this point - he is able to determine that Kuan-Xi's full name is Ho Kuan-Xi. Kuan-Xi is rather put out that Autumn Rose named her after the dog, but Jin is eventually able to determine that the name comes from Ho Tan Mih, not Ho the dog.