|"Praise the sea, but keep to the land."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Fox in the month of the Dog in the eleventh year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Hon'eth Arcade and in and near the Isle of Beauty.
When last we left our heroes, they were in the Port of Propitious Voyage, having escorted a military chariot most of the way to the North Wall. Cai Wen has some news, however, that suggest that going the rest of the way north may not be the thing to do.
- "So, there was a meet with people we thought were House Sung, but I guess they must not be, because it was a trap. Grasshopper is kidnapped, Takanata jumped into a mud pit after her and vanished, and Zhi-Hao is off telling the people who aren't here about what happened. Oh, and Takanata has the Butterfly Talisman." -Cai Wen
He clarifies a bit - all four of them went to a meeting that had been requested via the "Friends of Bruno" challenge, but then a note came that said that the fighters made the person who wanted to meet them nervous, so everyone but Grasshopper backed off. A half hour later, Ho indicated that there was trouble; Grasshopper was gone, and the back room of the winehouse was empty. Then Takanata, for inscrutable reasons, brewed up some tea, dumped it into the mud, and vanished into it. Cai Wen had given Takanata an ebony bracelet for a ritual of "painting where the guy with this bracelet is", but he just got dark wavy lines when he tried.
The group heads to the mud patch behind the Golden Plum winehouse. Shen-Ji looks at the dried mud puddle, and thinks it was a temporary water gate, probably designed to be only temporary. The water seems to have been fresh, so it probably doesn't go to somewhere on the other side of the ocean, and it would probably lose successes crossing one of the large rivers or going an extremely long distance, but it was done by someone with a lot of power, so the potential range is pretty high. It definitely wouldn't be able to cross the Wall, though. The magical signature looks intentionally smudged, but Shen-Ji doesn't think it was Great Wave Tseng.
Meanwhile, Takanata, who has attempted to retreat out of the trap back through the mostly-shut water gate, has gotten kind of stuck, until he is plucked out of the drying water by the spirit of the Jasmine River - she thinks he was somewhere to the north of her, probably in the Forest of Chin. She notes that there are signs of the Great Butterfly Spirit all over him, as if she has been messing with him or working through him particularly strongly. Takanata thinks that there is no great hurry to return to the party, so he hangs about in the river visiting for a while, before flowing downstream to the City of Light to exit the river. Once he is ashore, he finds himself particularly inspired, and draws a painting, focusing on the "signs of the Butterfly Spirit".
Back in the Port of Propitious Voyage, the party considers whether the ritual Cai Wen tried just couldn't push through some sort of protection, and whether doing it with double successes will help. They try to come up with a way to do it, but in the meantime, Cai Wen tries the ritual again the normal way, and paints Takanata "swimming with the fishes".
- "He's got a ring of water breathing, so he's probably okay." -Master Zhou
Anto's cooking expertise identifies some of the fish as freshwater, not seawater, so... he's probably in a river somewhere. Maybe he tried to follow Grasshopper but fell short and ended up in a river?
Master Zhou notes that the Cup of Five Virtues has a blessing of finding the people you seek, so perhaps he can be found there. The group troops to the tea house, to relax and have tea and chill out, and sure enough, Takanata has arrived auspiciously and is waiting for them.
Takanata explains that the water gate exited into a room with some guards in it - the details were hard to see, because he was covered in mud which was in his eyes. The guards were going to attack him in the surprise round, so he used his escape smoke to escape, but the smoke and the closing water portal did not interact very well, until his lady did him the kindness of pulling him loose. Grasshopper is probably being held in the Forest of Chin somewhere, and there was something Butterfly-ish that happened, but Takanata doesn't know what it was.
The building from Takanata’s painting looks like it's in the Hidden City somewhere, but it isn't identifiable as a particular building. The banners would only be appropriate to fly on the Day of the Crane. Master Zhou notes that the pair (the one on the right looks like Lijuan) are in formal wedding dress.
- "The monkey cart! I bet that will help!" -Anto
Anto draws a blue item card:
No one recalls ever seeing any other blue item cards other than the Talismans. This is very exciting. Anto's adventure lore tells him that the bracers might have belonged to the Tortoise, and are perhaps not wise for mortals to wear. Shen-Ji confirms that the bracers are on the power level of the Talismans.
- "But we'll never know what happens if you don't put them on." -Anto, to Master Zhou
Master Zhou, willing to experiment for the greater knowledge, puts on the bracers. He contemplates how to learn more about the details in the painting, and heads out of the tea house, claiming that it is always best to start at the Library. He starts riding south, using the courier horsehoes, and everyone starts to trail after him. Not everyone has a horse with courier horseshoes, though, and Shuyan and Xian have to divert into a shopping trip; they are left behind as Master Zhou seems disinclined to wait.
As the group rides south, a number of Dragon Army ships are sailing northwards. Takanata notes that all the ships he passed on his journey from the Illuminated Precincts were also heading north. Clearly, there is something going on in the north, but Master Zhou does not want to be turned from heading south to the Exalted Library.
- "We're letting Monkey derail our plans, so that is doing something Monkeyish." -Takanata
Takanata and Anto, who are keeping up with Master Zhou, advise that they should not ride at night, lest the horses injure themselves. (Shen-Ji's new metal horse does not need to sleep).
- "The theory is sound, but sometimes one must risk, for knowledge." -Master Zhou
His horse does seem exhausted, though, so he is persuaded to let the horses rest while he keeps walking.
- "You may bring me the horse when it has rested."
Master Zhou himself is also getting a little tired, but such things pale to the pursuit of knowledge, and he instructs Takanata to get him some tea which will let him go without sleep for longer. Takanata sends Anto for the tea, and instructs him to get some sleepy-time tea as well. However, due to not being very good at tea shopping, Anto returns with caffeinated tea and mint tea, the latter of which is not particularly soporific.
- "Our pathetic attempts to roofie Master Zhou come to nothing." -Xian
Part of the group splits off to check into things in the Harbor (or sleep), while Master Zhou and Shen-Ji keep marching south. Cai Wen asks around about the north-going ships, and hears that the Sea Lord has put together a fleet to attack something in the North. Takanata buys some better sleepy-time tea.
The marching-south group runs into a bandit camp, but Shen-Ji is perfectly happy to set them all on fire, so they prove no real obstacle.
The stopped-in-the-Harbor team catches up to the walking team just as they skip around the Port of Auspicious Voyage, and Shuyan and Xian also finally catch up. Xian shows off his new chariot. Takanata does a quick connections reading - whatever the Sea Lord is going after, it's not the Moon's First Daughter.
When everyone finally reaches the City of Light, Master Zhou strides imperiously to the Exalted Library, brushing past the librarians as if they weren't there. As they start calling for the guards, Takanata hurriedly explains that Master Zhou is on a quest for Tortoise and cannot be interrupted; between Takanata's status and a nice bribe, they are willing to escort him to do his research, while remaining on guard for any damage to the books.
However, Master Zhou is stymied, in that there doesn't seem to be an obvious way to research who the guy in the picture of the wedding is.
- "They don't seem to have sorted the books by face." -Mike
Anto looks at what seems to be a compulsion on Master Zhou, but realizes that it's almost the opposite of a binding - he has been freed from all worldly cares, including concern for others, and is free to pursue the path to knowledge, heedless of all else.
Takanata suggests that Master Zhou start by looking into Clan Siew - the marriage overtones in the painting are interesting, because if Takanata remembers correctly, House Siew offered someone in marriage to a Bear Emperor and the marriage was rejected. So maybe this is some sort of long-delayed reaction to that. Master Zhou does find a note that in the time of the Bear Emperors, members of the Imperial Family could only be married on the day of the Emperor (Bear) or the day of their own Aspect. Which in Lijuan's case is Crane, so that might be the Day of the Crane thing. Also, members of the Imperial Family must be married in the Imperial Compound itself - so somewhere in the Jade District.
Takanata slips the librarians a few more li to research "artifacts of the Tortoise", just as the Library really wants to close for the night. Takanata tries to convince Master Zhou that if he gets some sleep, his resolve will stop limiting his research roll, but he is insufficiently persuasive. He makes Master Zhou some sleepy-tea, but it just makes his rolls to stay awake harder, and he hasn't failed one yet. Takanata burns his reputation to convince the Library to let them stay overnight, and a librarian finds a picture of a time when Tortoise incarnated onto the Material World, and was wearing very similar bracers.
Cai Wen drops in to visit Commander Sun - Commander Sun assumes that means there's some giant emergency about to happen, but Cai Wen just wants to know what's going on with the navy. Commander Sun doesn't know the details - he thinks Cai Wen must have beat the news from the north - but the rumors have been flying, anything from "Someone saw a leviathan" to "The Isle of Beauty is under siege." Most of the blockade has been moved north, at least temporarily, leaving just one token ship picketing the Shrouded Isle.
The group considers whether sending Shen-Ji by himself to set the ship on fire and sink it is a good idea, and whether that would count as getting Kuan-Xi credit for ending the blockade. On the other hand, having Kuan-Xi publically destroy a Dragon Army ship is kind of like getting the Shrouded Isle to accidentally declare war on the Empire, which may not be the right solution.
Master Zhou finds some more information about House Siew, including the location of its ancient strongholds in the Savanna and the Forest of Chin. After the house went underground, it started to specialize in things like ninjas and spymasters and subtle sorcerors - all the various sorts of puppet masters.
Since the library isn't throwing them out, Takanata gives Master Zhou some strong black tea instead; this interacts excitingly with the sleepy-tea, and the resolve rolls to stay awake change to 3d6 difficulty each time. Just as Master Zhou finally crashes, Takanata helps him come up with a particularly interesting sentence, more of a crazy prophecy than anything else: "Nothing can prevent the Bear from attending the wedding of His daughter."
Anto takes the bracers off Master Zhou and carries him to an inn to sleep.
Meanwhile, Shuyan, a little bored, has checked in with the Si Fan to see if they have anything interesting for her. They brief her that their nemesis, Ando, has been behind a decrease in the blockade, which means that they are in favor of the blockade - with so many of the ships going north, they're trying to arrange for a Citizens' Blockade to reinforce the picket ship. If Shuyan could... convince... a particularly well-respected fishing captain to support the Citizens' Blockade, that would go a long way.
Hmm. Maybe if the party arranges to have the Dragon Army blockade replaced by the Citizens' Blockade, and then Kuan-Xi takes down the Citizens' Blockade, then that would get her credit without starting an actual rebellion.
Shuyan goes to find the fisherman, and convinces him that girls really like heroic blockading guys - and that it will help get him a leadership role amongst the other fishermen. Takanata finds Ando, who says that he's been trying to pare down the blockade in favor of more useful missions (since the party told him it just needed to be symbolic), but if it actually gets destroyed when it's really small, he'll be blamed for it all, which would not make him happy.
The group gets together to confer and figure out what to do.
- "Maybe this is our opportunity to turn a Yin bear into a non-hibernating bear." -Takanata, talking about his recent Cycle Scry
- "Li the Wanderer is Li Kao's brother? What the fuck?" -Xian
Boats in the North
Cai Wen arranges for the group to get to travel with a courier ship that Commander Sun is sending north (and then manages to claim the captain's cabin for his own). Master Zhou, having slept the day through, finally wakes up.
- "Where am I? On a boat? Is it a cursed boat?" -Master Zhou
- "Almost certainly. They all are." -Xian
Master Zhou notes that the bracers, in addition to providing the single-minded focus Anto has discussed, confer invulnerability on the wearer. So... a potentially useful item, but with significant side effects.
- "I feed the whales in Lijuan's memory." -Anto
The captain and the ship's officers appear to be concerned about something - when Cai Wen tries to find out what the problem is, they say it's "just a little navigation issue" but this turns out to mean that there isn't land off to the west the way there should be. Anto thinks that they're neither in the World Above (or Below) nor the regular world. So maybe they're using the Ocean Between Worlds that the Moon's First Daughter uses, as a blessing from Whale?
- "We're less likely to be attacked by anything other than Whale, here." -Anto
- "That is a totally random assertion." -Cai Wen
Xian assures the captain that they will return to familiar waters soon, and, in fact, the Isle of Beauty is soon seen up ahead, much sooner than expected.
- "I'm telling you, the island moved again!"
- "No it didn't! No one believes you that it moved the first time!"
Anto asks if Xian can disguise him, as he's a wanted villain on the Isle of Beauty, and he has to find some city guards to chase him.
- "Hmm. The thing I have most practice disguising people as is you." -Xian
Xian puts Anto in a floppy hat and draws a mustache on with grease pencil. Well, that'll probably fool anyone who doesn't know what Anto looks like in the first place.
As the ship docks, those familiar with the Harbor of Shining Reflections note that there are no harbor patrol boats, as would be expected.
Anto goes to look for someone to chase him - with the Monkey Talisman, he is in no danger at all of being caught - while everyone else goes to investigate what's going on.
Master Zhou visits the dojo of Yellow Silk, and learns that Yue Mei has left with Yanzi. Others ask around the harbor, and hear that the big fuss is that Northern beastmasters are controlling a kraken invasion! The Sea Lord is coordinating with the Beautiful Navy and the Seahorse Cavalry.
Takanata visits Autumn Rose, whom he has found out is in residence on the Isle of Beauty for at least a month with her father. He’s apparently leading a delegation from the Hidden City while he wanders around making new maps of the moved island.
Master Zhou pesters Shuyan about doing her homework, so Shuyan talks Kuan-Xi into considering doing a dancing act on a board Anto holds over his head. She isn't a very good dancer, so it remains to be seen whether Ringmaster Te will approve the act.
Shen-Ji goes to visit Master Bai, and asks how things at court are going. Things are calmer now that the Regent has come for a visit - there's also a delegation from the Hidden City, plus the Sea Lord. Shen-Ji asks to see if Master Bai can identify the maker's mark on his tracing of the invisible amulet, and while Master Bai doesn't recognize the mark, he has heard a story. Wang Sichao, apprenticed with a master sorceror somewhere in the Hon'eth Arcade, spent many years studying, and then when the time came to prove himself, he gathered many resources and much assistance to do a great ritual to make his "masterwork project" - which then he claimed was stolen by monkeys. So it is now assumed that he was a con artist the whole time, and he left his master's studio in great shame and no mage will speak to him. The mages of the Arcade are all scandalized.
Hmm. Maybe the group can find him and tell him that... a tengu has his amulet now.
- "We're not fixing it right now, but we should put it on the list of things to fix." -Takanata
Cai Wen looks for Golden Flame - she was injured by a kraken, but now that her broken arm is splinted and she's got some hit points back, she's ready to go back out with the other cavalry. She describes the invasion force - the Northerners have a bunch of boats, and if you get too close, you get attacked by kraken and leviathans and so on. Some careful feints have indicated that there are three different ships which have beastmasters on them. So far, the Empire forces have drawn a line in the ocean, and have been holding the Northerners back, but with a lot of casualties. The Prince is on the Beautiful Navy's flagship.
Golden Flame says that the first plan is to hold the Northerners at the line, but plan two is to fall back to the island, and then crush them against the shore. The party thinks that plan 2 is clearly much more Spidery, which is no good, and maybe there is a way to make it Dragony instead, to score a point for Dragon against the north.
What resources are there on hand? There's the icon of aquatic motion - that can make a small boat go at "amazing speeds". Golden Flame says she hasn't seen anything in the fight move that fast, so it might well outdistance the kraken. Takanata attached the cane of free action to a riverboat once - maybe he can do that again to keep the kraken from grabbing it?
- "We should have a plan for what we do if the boat sinks. I mean, I have a plan, but the rest of you should have a plan." -Takanata
Golden Flame introduces the group to a good shipwright, who arranges to take the icon of aquatic motion and the cane of free action, and mount them on the boat. Cai Wen picks up a blue firework, in the event that he might need to summon the ships of the Dragon Army. Then the group piles into the very fast, very small boat, and heads out to the Beautiful Isle's flagship to talk to the Prince. He and the Prince confer and decide that what they really need is further intelligence about the aquatic beastmasters.
Takanata stays on the Prince's flagship to observe the reconnaissance, while everyone else goes into the little boat to taunt the kraken and see what happens.
- "Why does Takanata always get to sit with the Marked overlords with a fruity drink?"
Master Zhou wonders if there is a way to make the encounter particularly Dragon-ish, or if it being Spider-ish will be a problem, but he concludes that, most likely, it is not going to be significant enough. Taking down Mola Ram was the keystone of a Southern plan; this is likely to be one of many many fights with the North. While it's conceivable that a single battle could happen in a way that makes a clear mark of a Dragon or a Spider, it would have to be planned that way, not just done as a last-minute embellishment, so the party stops worrying about this one.
Takanata puts up Eyes of the I Ching, while the flagship and the little reconnaissance boat heads towards one of the beastmaster boats. A kraken tentacle erupts from the water, and looms over the little boat. Anto and Shen-Ji combine to take it down, and two more burst from the water, menacing the flagship.
Master Zhou leaps back onto the flagship to strike at the tentacles, and defeats one, but the third grabs the flagship, smashing a crewman. Another tentacle falls on Anto, doing quite a lot of area effect damage.
Takanata finishes his observation - there are three beast-masters with twelve dice each, who are linked together with a life effect (probably linked by life mages before they left the North). The life effect lets each of the beastmasters use all the dice, and controlling a kraken takes close to the full thirty-six dice. Takanata signals that it's time to pull back, but there are kraken tentacles grabbing the ship. The party manages to take them both out before new tentacles can appear, and the flagship escapes.
So, taking out just one of the beastmasters should disrupt their joined power enough to keep them from causing trouble with kraken. Sending Empire ships (the Dragon Army navy, the Seahorse Cavalry, and the Beautiful Navy) after each of the three beastmaster ships to distract them, while the party goes after one of the beastmasters, may be the way to go. There is some argument as to whether or not it's better to send all the ships after one Northern ship, and be faced with all the krakens, or split the attack up, but in the end both the Prince and the Sea Lord like the splitting-the-forces plan. The Sea Lord tries to get the party to be associated with the Dragon Army attack, but the Prince wants them with the seahorse cavalry. Since Golden Flame is driving the little boat, the Prince wins that one.
The little boat engages with the Northern ship, sending people up the boarding ramp. The obvious beastmage quickly falls, but he proves to be a decoy. Unfortunately for the non-obvious beastmage, he happens to be near enough to Shen-Ji that the sorceror can figure out who he is, and the group quickly goes after him.
There is much jumping on and off of the Northern ship, as Master Zhou kicks the real beastmaster back into the little boat. However, putting the beastmaster in the little boat leaves him in range of Shuyan's distracting snake, which promptly distracts everyone in the boat except for Xian and Takanata.
- "Why did they leave me? I haven't betrayed them yet! They have to wait!" -Shen-Ji
Cai Wen has furnished some costumes from his laundry bag for himself and Xian, and runs aboard. Xian hands a hoop to the beastmaster and gestures as if he should put it over his head, gesturing. Though he doesn't speak Torghut and doesn't have expressive gestures, he spends some karma to be convincing anyway, and turns off his fortune dice limit.
- "Through the expenditure of four karma and many many dice, you have... convinced him to put a hoop on." -Mike
- "Okay, I got him to put the hoop on. It's up to someone else to do something with it." -Xian
Takanata swaps the beastmaster's Life and Death stats. That doesn't totally drop the life bond, but it decreases it some. His highest shtick is a temporary one in kraken control. Then, using Shohag's I Ching reeds, Takanata manages to temporarily change the kraken control shtick into a whale control shtick.
The kraken tentacle tries to smash the boat, but the cane of free action sacrifices itself for the party. Anto wraps up the beastmaster in grasping vines, and sets his clothes on fire.
Cai Wen runs around below decks, claiming that the Master told him to throw his important things overboard to keep them from being captured. Squeaky finds a scroll on "life magic for dummies", and there are some letters from the clan chief saying that the beastmaster must redeem their honor by laying siege to the northern island; otherwise they will fall to the might of the Great Khan.
Shen-Ji, one of the few party members still on board, gets piled on by quite a few crew members, but manages to keep standing. After sufficient pummeling, the beastmaster finally falls, still clutching his hoop.
Cai Wen convinces the crew to throw him overboard, and Golden Flame swoops in to catch him before he hits the water, at which point the little boat makes its escape.
In the aftermath of the battle, the Prince has been injured, but the Sea Lord's forces were relatively unscathed. The shipwright extracts the icon of aquatic motion, and there is a moment of silence for the loss of the cane of free action.