Maps of Escalating Doom
|"Before maps, the world was limitless. It was maps that gave it shape and made it seem like territory, like something that could be possessed."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Butterfly in the month of the Tiger in the two hundred and fifty-ninth Year of the Bear since the opening of the Exalted Library.|
The run takes place in the Illuminated Precincts
Missing Items and Appearing People
Sei-Lin briefs everyone in Tahiti about the exciting Mystery of the Missing Loot - a bunch of stuff that was buried near Tahiti has vanished. Sei-Lin isn't clear on the details, but Wei Han notes it was the items that the Alchemist had memorized. Lijuan heads to the hole in the ground to do some tracking, and notes that there are no cart or carriage tracks, so someone would have had to have been able to carry it all off. However, as it is a spot in the woods in which the party has been digging the same hole over and over for months, it would not be very hard to find.
Sei-Lin heads to the Port of Propitious Voyage to look for a friendly fence. It doesn't sound like anyone has dumped a big pile of magic items matching the missing stuff, onto the local underground. The fence might be able to find "a big stick with shadow powers" but Sei-Lin says he's looking for one that has already been stolen.
- "Oh, so you're working the other side, now?"
Shen-Ji gets a letter from Lu Chu, suggesting that she bring the whole Sakong family to the circus, if Shen-Ji can get them tickets. They have stuff to talk about! Shen-Ji gets some tickets from Rubberlegs, who is unsure whether the whole "party gets free circus tickets" theory is really a thing, or is Shen-Ji just testing him. Shen-Ji pays for the tickets, but doesn't see any pressing need to respond to the letter. It's probably not a plot, it's just an in-law.
While Master Zhou is out looking at the hole in the ground, the Tahiti butler lets Yanyu (as an actual House of Exuberant Interference house member) know that there is a visitor for Master Zhou. The visitor introduces herself as Fu Xi, and is a monk dressed in white robes with a pink belt, and a pink ribbon in her hair. Yanyu offers her tea, and tries to take her conversational measure. Intriguingly, while Yanyu is pretty clear that the monk is less charismatic and less skillful at conversation, she is still able to match Yanyu success for success.
- "Have you trained with Master Zhou before?" -Yanyu
- "No, it is said to be a great honor." -Fu Xi
- "So I have been told." -Yanyu
Yanyu hits the monk with Good Listener, and ends up talking to her about the Son of the Moon. Huh. Well, that should be entertaining to see how Master Zhou fares. Yanyu sends a servant to fetch Master Zhou. When he returns, the monk bows.
- "It is an honor to meet you. I was hoping that we might train." -Fu Xi
- "I suggest that you not beat her up too much." -Yanyu
- "Pshhh." -Master Zhou
Master Zhou asks after her previous training, but the monk demurs - it is no one that Master Zhou would know. What is her goal in pursuing kung fu? She looks surprised - is the pursuit not enough?
Master Zhou calls a training session: Sei-Lin, Wei Han, Lijuan, and Min Feng all train, along with Fu Xi. Yanyu fetches tea and sits on a balcony, watching.
- "Perhaps the master would wish to watch while I work with the younger students?" -Fu Xi
- "I will lead the exercise!" -Zhou
- "Do you hit your students? Are you grumpy a lot?" -Lijuan
- "Grumpy? No." -Fu Xi
Everyone who has trained with Master Zhou before thinks that this is the best lesson he has ever given - he actually explains and demonstrates and carefully corrects form, rather than frowning and telling people to do it again. Everyone gets a free level of kung fu for the rest of the run.
- "What is she doing? This is so wrong!" -Zhou
After an hour training with her, he is pretty sure that she is trained in kung fu, with a Fox aspect. Her level... it's probably six? Something like that, about the same as Master Zhou. However, her style is one that is completely new to him. Yanyu, watching, notes that she's not only Fox aspect, she's Fox-supernatural. Fox spirit, or maybe half-fox-spirit. After the training, Master Zhou realizes that she is the kung fu instructor that he asked Fox for. Of course, that was really Coyote...
- "Thank you for your journey to come and train with me." -Master Zhou
- "It was an honor to have been requested. " -Fu Xi
- "Perhaps we could speak later, at greater length?" -Master Zhou
Yanyu boggles. When did Fu Xi make the seduction roll? She was watching the whole time! But Master Zhou definitely appears more...friendly... than she's ever seen him before.
Lijuan passes around her prophetic art. No one is sure who the guy with the glowy lines is, but Yanyu thinks that the person in green might be one of Shen-Ji's in-laws. Shen-Ji is baffled - it looks like a stick figure to him.
The circus will be heading to the Precincts, so people pack up to head in that direction, though Shen-Ji protests that there is no rush, as the ninjas surely won't attack until the party arrives.
Fu Xi suggests that Master Zhou stay here with her and train, while everyone else deals with whatever is going on. It's tempting, but Master Zhou invites her along instead, and grabs the Monkey Talisman, on the theory that they won't be leaving the Empire this time.
- "It's a crutch, but it's a really good crutch." -Zhou
- "To know yourself is wisdom." -Fu Xi
- "Do you disapprove?"
- "It's not my place to disapprove."
On the journey to the Precincts, Zhou and Fu Xi discuss kung fu long into the night. Her description is that kung fu is at the boundary of the yin and the yang - yin alone cannot accomplish anything, while yang alone is too aggressive and destructive. The kung fu master lives at the interface between, in the balance.
The party arrives in the City of Light and joins the circus, which is setting up for a rehearsal tonight and a performance tomorrow. Wei Han gives Sei-Lin a crash course in performance and showmanship, for the rehearsal.
Meanwhile, Yanyu, Shen-Ji, Min Feng, Master Zhou, Fu Xi, and Lijuan head to Olive Partridge Island, where they are welcomed by the Sakongs. Mother Sakong is, unfortunately, ill, but Yue and her elder brother and his wife are there. Lu Chu is not evident. Elder Brother asks after Shen-Ji's travels, and he talks about having helped drive back the Northern invasion. As dinner is being prepared, Shen-Ji shows everyone around the island, including where the Southern temple is buried.
- "Is that your sister in law sneaking away from the hill?"
The entrance to the cave still appears to be blocked by Shen-Ji's walls, but after some searching, Lijuan finds some tracks up the hill, to a hole in a copse of prickly bushes. The group climbs down the hole, and reaches the "deathtrap" area. There is a sign that says "Stop! Don't step on the wrong rock!" in front of three rocks, which doesn't appear to have been there before. Sei-Lin and Min Feng are confident that the rocks are a trap, but which is the correct rock? In the end, everyone jumps across or is punched across by Master Zhou to be caught by Fu Xi.
Another sign reads
Shen-Ji confidently heads in the direction of Danger, on the theory that he would reverse the arrows. He and the sign-painter are on the same page, because they get to the Southern temple. In the temple is Lu Chu, arguing with the air, until she spots the group.
- "This is not my fault, I did not do this. I'll get back to you." -Lu Chu
An argument ensues between Shen-Ji and Lu Chu about whether or not she is supposed to be down here and the breaking of agreements. Lu Chu notes that she didn't dig the hole, someone else did, and that clearly called for investigation. So... was she talking to Kalkin? She says that it's rude to call him that. So... what did she agree to do for Kalkin? She agreed to lure Shen-Ji and the others to the City of Light so that she could talk to them about the hole! She was keeping an eye on Shen-Ji's security, and some Lapses were found, so she was going to report them, which is why she sent that letter to Shen-Ji.
Is there anything else? Well, Sam is concerned about the Southerners in the internment camp. But she hasn't agreed to do anything specifically about that. But the question is what Shen-Ji plans to do with them! She's never kidnapped people from the South, so she has no idea what sort of nefarious uses they might be about to be put to! Everyone is suspicious - why does Kalkin want to know about the Southerners? Who is he working for? Lu Chu protests - Sam doesn't want people to be abused.
But what about the ninjas? Lu Chu relays that Sam says that the ninja dug the hole. She also says that Sam says "Oh no, you didn't bring it with you, did you?" As it turns out, the party has not brought the Sankara stone of Kali with them, because Takanata has it. Oh. Well, that's good. (The GMs frantically revise the plot). The ninja had some sort of map that they were fussing over, and they had to come here for some map-related reason.
- "So apparently it's your mission now, to deal with the ninja before they get any of the whatsits or the other whatsit." -Lu Chu
- "Any of the whatsis?"
- "Well, he says you can give them your whatsits if you really want. But not the other ones."
The group finally takes their leave of the temple, and Shen-Ji puts up some more walls of iron. Then, it's back to the house.
The ninjas with a map - could that be the House of Escalating Doom, that has the Cartogramancer's map to find the Talismans? Talismans and Sankara stones? Shen-Ji drops off the circus tickets, and says he'll be back again tomorrow, for a nice long family talk. Then, it's back into the City of Spires.
Yanyu stops by the Exalted Library to see if they have any information about the House of Escalating Doom. There isn't a business card or a floor plan or anything like that, but there are some stories that she can find. They're paid high prices to gather a lot of information before they strike - they're not fast, but they're effective. Rumor places their headquarters in the Precincts.
Master Zhou and Fu Xi spend the night together meditating on the nature of kung fu. Or maybe "meditating on the nature of kung fu".
Fu Xi's best advice on how to find out someone's secrets is to ask them. So... perhaps they could bait a trap for the ninja, if they think one of the Talismans is unguarded, and then catch and interrogate them? Yanyu preps a love potion, hands it to Sei-Lin to see if he can sneak it into a ninja's drink, and then heads to a tea house near the ocean. Master Zhou and Fu Xi go for a
romantic walk by the ocean (along with most everyone else) far enough away that they'll need Wei Han's shtick to get there in time. Sei-Lin and Lijuan stealthily follow Yanyu.
Unfortunately, while Sei-Lin is inordinately stealthy, Lijuan is only very stealthy, and finds herself pulled into a back room of the tea house by a ninja disguised as a waiter. Sei-Lin thinks the waiters are kind of clumsy, but Yanyu spots the grab, and sends a message to Min Feng, who starts (slowly) disguising herself as a ninja to blend in later.
Yanyu bursts into the back room after Lijuan (Sei-Lin notices that), and tries to use Child Protection Officer, but it turns out that can't be used on married women. (However, it can be used to protect fourteen-year-old thieves, once Sei-Lin appears.)
So... which of the two of them has the Talisman? One of the ninjas takes out a map, which Sei-Lin promptly decloaks to grab. Lijuan starts struggling out of her ropes, and Sei-Lin finishes the job of cutting her loose, but both ninjas have swords on Yanyu now. Yanyu notes, seductively, that he really doesn't want to hurt her. Well, true, he doesn't, he just wants the Talisman, which he starts searching for. Yanyu uses her feminine wiles to turn it into a very thorough pat-down search, rather distracting the ninja.
Eventually, the rest of the group shows up, but that proves to be too much for the two ninja, who escape smoke away with Yanyu in tow. Of course, Sei-Lin has their Butterfly-Talisman-Tracking map now. The group starts running across town towards where Yanyu is now.
At the ninja headquarters, the ninja who has captured Yanyu tries to persuade her that if she will just turn over the Talisman, she will not be harmed, and might well enjoy her visit. Yanyu hits him with twenty-nine successes of conversation and good listener, and derails him into discussing his life choices.
- "You really, really don't want to be doing this. You should see what happened to the last person who thwarted my boyfriend." -Yanyu
- "You have a boyfriend?"
(Meanwhile, the group running across town has run into the Son of the Moon, who is not pleased at Yanyu having been thrown into danger like this).
The ninja don't want any confrontations with boyfriends, but they do have a contract. They discuss how they have a contract to pick up a southern icon, too. They found the secret temple and managed to re-attune their map from Spider (which is impossible to track, bookcases fall on you when you try to attune the map) to the southern icon, so they should be able to track it down soon. Yanyu points out that their employer (who wants the Talismans) is a very very bad man, and whoever wants the Southern icon is probably equally bad. Well, that's as may be, but it is kind of the lot of the ninja to often be hired by bad men. But this is orders of magnitude worse than the average sort of person who hires a ninja house to steal a Talisman! The name of the House of Night's Promise is dropped - the ninja heard of them, they overextended, and the hammer really came down on them. Yanyu says she's sorry about that, spooking the ninja a little more.
Eventually, the two kidnappers decide that while they aren't making any headway, they really can't just let her go, so they bring her to see the boss. Yanyu stalls as long as she can, until the rest of the party arrives in the nick of time, just as the ninja master is about to get the Butterfly Talisman from her (though with a generous offer of recompense for her time and trouble).
The alarm is sounded and heavy doors clang shut, making the ninja pagoda a bit more difficult to traverse, but between Shen-Ji's wood destruction and metal melting, Sei-Lin's lockpicking, and Wei Han's thumping, they are not entirely thwarted. Battle rages, but the ninja are getting close to success in getting the Talisman from Yanyu, so she vanishes in a puff of ninja smoke. Sei-Lin finds the best loot in the house, and grabs it.
The ninjas grow increasingly more scary (It’s like they are escalating!), and the one who studied Wei Han finally gets a stab in, bypassing all his defenses. However, the party are generally pretty scary as well, and some Dragon Army reinforcements have shown up, so the ninja master finally offers a compromise:
- "She has fled and taken the icon with her. Leave now and no more of your people need die!"
They take the option to flee. Fu Xi manages to communicate the "surrender" to everyone, and allows them to be escorted out of the house by the disguised Min Feng.
- "You come after us at your own peril."
Elsewhere, the Son of the Moon brings the two kidnapper ninja to Yanyu, unconscious, and hands her a knife - the honor is hers. She decides that she doesn't really want to stab them herself, and persuades them to redeem their honor by killing themselves. They decide that that's easier than trying to fight the Son of the Moon, and do so.
Sei-Lin shows off his loot, which includes the Master Map, which requires some amount of magical talent to use, and also an Impression Device, which will create a copy with just one Talisman. On the master map, the Spider has been crossed out with a dagger.
Shen-Ji makes a map to the Tiger Talisman for Sei-Lin.
- "Off you go!"
The location of everything on the master map:
- Fox: City of Spires
- Butterfly: Circus
- Tortoise: Dragon's Throne
- Tiger: Dragon's Throne
- Magpie: Circus
- Crane: Dragon's Throne
- Bear: Bear Mountain
- Dog: Circus (Wait, what?)
- Monkey: Circus
- Serpent: Dragon's Throne
- Phoenix: Shrouded Isle
- Sankara Stone: City of Spires (Wait, what?)
Well, the Cartrogramancer apparently has more than was expected. Also, did someone steal the Sankara stone, or is Takanata travelling? Maybe someone should send Takanata a letter.
However, it's time for the circus performance now. Lu Chu tries to get Yanyu to stick with her against Shen-Ji, but she's unwilling to switch sides that way. Afterwards, Lu Chu notes that Sam thinks that the guys from the South hired the ninja, and the ninja managed to change the map, not the Cartogramancer.
- "Have you told your mother about your new occupation?" -Shen-Ji
- "Are you insane? Have you told her about your plans?" -Lu Chu
She thinks that it would be most convenient for everyone involved if she keeps working with Sam, but Shen-Ji gives her a deadline - tell her sister Yue within the week, or he will. Master Zhou drags her off to train, and notes that her aspect is Kalkin, which makes everyone unhappy. However, he also thinks: it's not that Yanyu married Shen-Ji into this crazy family, it's that Yanyu married this family into Shen-Ji, and Lu Chu is kind of the Doom Sink, which lets her protect the rest of the family from the random plots that happen by being married to a PC.
Lu Chu says she doesn't have any marching orders from Sam other than to worry about the Southerners in the internment camp, and to avoid Xiao Fa, because he can see things.
Sei-Lin manages to find Gou, watching the circus, and chats with him.
- "I'm Sei-Lin, the Cat"
- "Well, I'm Gou, the Dog"
Master Zhou assigns Lu Chu homework:
- "The path you have chosen is a difficult one. To be a line of communication between the Empire and the South, you must learn the ways that the Empire communicates. You must go and find a master bureaucrat to study with and learn five levels of bureaucracy. You must study with a chi master and learn five levels of chi mastery. And you must go and find smugglers who operate in the North and speak with them."
- "When you have completed your homework, come and tell me what you have learned."
- "What do I get if I do all this stuff for you?"
- "You're not doing it for me, you're doing it for you..."
And with that, she has to be satisfied.
- Kuan-Xi builds another half-water-gate
- Shen-Ji and Eternal Redoubt visit a bunch of spirits
- Shen-Ji gets one of the Southern Exiles to come work at his horse farm for a month
- Xiao Fa meditates in the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation