Night of Gates VI.1
|"The rush of power to the head is not as becoming as a new hat."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Dog in the Month of the Tiger in the three hundred and forty-fifth Year of the Bear since the forging of the First Blades of Deliverance.|
The run takes place in the Savanna of Tears and the Forest of Chin
As the circus is starting to pack up in the Illuminated Precincts, Melina checks with Cai Wen. Should the circus head to Jabon to be there for the horse race, when there will be lots of visitors, or postpone until after the race, when there will be fewer crowds but the circus will be the main attraction? Cai Wen says that they need to make sure that they are not in Jabon on the Day of the Tiger. Check. They'll stay in the Precincts for some more rehearsals.
Cai Wen then calls the rest of the party together, and starts tallying up the things he wants to ask Melina. Should the Magpie Talisman get taken to the Arcade, or is that a bad idea? What is at stake during the Night of Gates? What are the Marked and Spider doing for the Night of Gates? Are Tiger and Magpie's plans equivalent and are Wolf and Horse's plans equivalent? (Lijuan also wants to know how the Empire will change if things change, if Melina is answering all the questions ever).
However, when Cai Wen wants Melina to address the series of questions, she has gone to deal with a visitor, and they get Mondo, who tells them that the Night of Gates has already begun. The visitor is the Path of Wisdom, who says that he is here to discharge an obligation; once discharged, he will leave them be.
- "Who is the obligation to?" -Cai Wen
- "Is that a thing you want to know?"
- "...Not enough to interrupt you."
First, he has a story to tell.
- "Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a fanciful land. A land of dream and imagination, called the Savanna of Tears..."
He tells this story for a while, talking about kings and clans and horse races and mighty warriors, until even those who didn't think so before (Shuyan) can imagine that he is describing a real place, though this will last only until the Gates close.
The second part of his obligation, he says, is less pleasant. He bears no ill will towards them, past incidents notwithstanding, and he has no intention to personally interfere. He is simply told to inform them that should they, for any reason, go to the Hon'eth Arcade while the Gates are open, they will die.
With that, he takes his leave.
- "Well, that either clarifies things for you or makes it worse." -Melina
Cai Wen briefs Melina and Mondo on what Yanyu has told him about the coming Night of Gates. Most importantly: do they think that this could end with Wolf and Horse in the Cycle?
- "Are you sure you know what you know? Because one thing you do know is how to put someone like Horse into the Cycle." -Mondo
Cai Wen notes that they might have missed some preparations, but Master Zhou thinks about it and decides that it is unlikely that they could have missed that many, and thinks that there are no Cycle changes happening today.
- "The next question is - will sending the Magpie Talisman to the Arcade with the other team be definitely better, or definitely worse, or just higher energy?" -Cai Wen
- "I have a bunch of information you want now. What are you offering me for it?" -Melina
Xiao Fa checks, and Melina has definitely Yoshi'ed herself with Magpie. She offers to take the Bonsai of Truth, since the party is terrified of it, but they are terrified of letting her have it as well. Shuyan bargains her into giving them some free information to start.
Melina explains: it's a standard high-energy problem. It is in no way automatically catastrophic. The party gets more leverage over Magpie, but Magpie gets more leverage over them; bringing Magpie mojo to the Magpie fight makes things get more Magpie. There are no obvious strategic limitations to bringing it, or not, other than it won't be available in the two countries they are going to.
Wait, two countries? Melina wants to know if the party wants to know about those - that will be three tael. Xiao Fa hands her three tael and puts a slow chi restore on her, cleaning away Magpie's influence. Melina says that they will have to go to the Savanna to figure out what the problem is, but to fix it they will have to go to the Forest of Chin. She also notes that when a spirit manifests in a country for the Night of Gates, they cannot leave it to go to a different country. (The rules apply to demons as well, though they sometimes break them apparently.)
Lijuan finishes drawing her art, and notes that when she spent a karma, the "mysterious guy playing with her hair" winked and told her to talk to her. People speculate that that's probably Zhuai, though Lijuan is pretty sure that she would recognize Zhuai if she drew him. Master Zhou concludes that it's actually Monkey, not Zhuai.
Cai Wen thinks the throne is the High Warlord's throne in the Forest of Chin. Melina turns a stronger prophecy-interpreting gaze on it, and one eye turns white and the other black.
- "The final battle is not the only battle that need be won. If the stakes are not high enough, you could raise them. But perhaps you should see if you can win first. " -Melina
In the end, the group decides to bring the Magpie and Butterfly Talismans, and leave the Monkey Talisman for the other team.
The group heads to the Savanna of Tears, and meets Lac Vinh at the Ivory Table, which has expanded since last time the party was there. Vinh says everything is on track, and there is a pre-race party that he will be heading to. He has an invitation for Cai Wen, with a note:
Kuan-Xi manages to rustle up invitations for everyone else, and they head to the party. Cai Wen gets a grand introduction, and everyone else kind of sneaks in with less fanfare. The room has a bunch of mini-pedestals from which people can declaim about their honor, and a number of important people are wandering around.
A guy with a very dapper hat waves to the group, and Sakushi, who had been chatting with him, wanders over to Cai Wen. Cai Wen wonders what he has missed.
- "Lots of boring speeches. Everyone here has great prowess in battle. So also had their fathers, and, surprisingly enough, their grandfathers as well." -Sakushi
Kuan-Xi critically regards Master Zhou's accessories, which include both a sash and a belt, but a large muscular man, wearing a belt of red and black stripes, thinks that it is always acceptable to wear one's trophies.
- "Have you come to watch, or to choose?"
- "To choose." -Master Zhou
- "Each must make his own choice. Choose wisely."
Lord Sonwu, from a "boasting platform", speaks of the military prowess of the Sonwu clan.
Cai Wen tries to find out from Sakushi what is in play at the party, and she tries to dissuade him.
- "I don't want to hurt your feelings - think of this as constructive criticism. I know your penchant for running into things and getting involved, but this is not your fight. There are some very high level players here." -Sakushi
Cai Wen accepts that some of those here will chop him into fishbait if push comes to shove, and Sakushi suggests that he gets a small handful of honor, enough to get tea, but if he tries to steer the politics, the duels will start coming in. Oh, well, how about Master Zhou, then? He could duel. Sakushi stares at him. Master Zhou might last a round or two, but he shouldn't get his hopes up.
- "It's the Night of Gates. Some of us are getting stuff done, and some of us are enjoying ourselves. Don't mix the two up. You can try to find out what's up, but don't get too involved here." -Sakushi
The guy with the hat wanders by to say hello to Cai Wen, and it proves to be Horse. “But you can call me Ma.” Cai Wen says that he's expecting some sort of fireworks, but Horse seems distracted and a little oblivious. He's excited to be here, though he says he's keeping something of a low profile.
Another clan lord boasts about his martial prowess, and hopes that when his blood is spilled, it will consecrate the land. Lijuan stands on a boasting platform and declares herself Lijuan Foon, last scion of the Bear Emperors, slayer of kraken, tamer of pandas. She met the last Siew, of my ancestral enemies, and made him her husband. She earns nine honor for that, though the last bit does not seem to go over quite as well as the rest. Cai Wen boasts of his having fought battle after battle with the Northern Barbarians "from atop and behind and even over the Wall", and twice participating in the sacking of the castle of Mu the Mad. He seems to be talking more about having been vaguely nearby battles rather than really smiting anyone, but gets twelve honor for general persuasiveness.
Gathering information from the people serving tea and other servants, it sounds as if no one is trying to cash in their boons yet - they're all saving them for later.
Kuan-Xi names herself great-granddaughter of the Azure Blade, Princess of the Shrouded Isles, and battler against the Southern Armada, the North, and the World Below.
Shuyan heads to a platform, contemplating distracting everyone with a snake dance, and Xiao Fa tries to jump in line in front of her. However, the guy in striped red and black belt blocks his way.
- "Where do you think you're going with this?"
- "Want me to Get 'Em for you?" -Lijuan
- "No! I am building up resources to understand what is happening." -Xiao Fa
- "Understanding is acceptable."
Xiao Fa assumes this is Tiger, but Min Feng complains - tigers are orange and black, not red and black. Xiao Fa thinks that's important, but can't figure out what it means.
Min Feng overhears Horse intending to go and boast, but ends up distracted by the women around him. Master Zhou, watching everything carefully, notes that the striped red and black belt on Tiger is the same red as Sakushi's dress. He pulls out the Orb of Light and looks at the man, and gets about as Yoshi'ed as it is possible to get, looking at Master Tiger on the Night of Gates. Full of ambition and honor, Master Zhou strides to a boasting platform, pursued by Xiao Fa. Tiger steps into Xiao Fa's way.
- "I'm intrigued. Let's see how this plays out. Also, I don't think you have enough honor for a public display of chi." -Tiger
Xiao Fa heads for a boasting platform anyways but is too late to stop Master Zhou.
Sakushi shakes her head - this is what she was warning Cai Wen about. This is not his fight.
Master Zhou takes a platform.
- "I am Master Zhou, master of the White Pagoda. Coming from nothing, I built myself up to be one of the greatest kung fu masters of the Empire and walker of the worlds. I traveled to the World Above to return energy that was stolen from Tiger himself by the Spider. I made myself a personal enemy of Spider, who came down to the Material World to try to defeat me but I remain unbowed. I have traveled into the territory corrupted by the North to rescue the princess of the Steppes and return her safely to her homeland."
Shuyan convinces Horse to wander away from the women distracting, him, and encourages him to head to a boasting platform to say something amazing to her. Sadly, when he gets there, he continues to be very distracted.
- "You can call me Ma. You may not have heard much of me late, but soon you will hear of my doings and, um, really great stuff."
Min Feng fails to study Horse, getting distracted herself. Okay, this is a little disturbing.
Xiao Fa does some boasting of his own, though "lifting your family out of a bloodline of thievery and gangs" does not play as well as some of the other boasts. He has to ask Tiger for the boon of getting out of the way, before un-whammying Master Zhou, but not before Master Zhou reaches Tiger himself.
- "In your group, you are the one I would least wish to oppose. Join your fist with mine, and I will promise an extirpation of your dishonor." -Tiger
- "Honor is not my goal; defeating Spider is." -Master Zhou
- "He and I cannot directly oppose each other, but I tell you that Spider is not in this conflict." -Tiger
Master Zhou agrees to a lesser bargain - Tiger will explain what is going on, and Master Zhou will keep it confidential for an hour.
- "You could do this another way." -Master Zhou
- "Perhaps. But when you are attacked, you counterattack. " -Tiger
- "It's like I haven't been speaking for the last two hours." -Sakushi, to Cai Wen
- "Join me!" -Tiger
- "I must be elsewhere." -Master Zhou
- "Fool!" -Tiger
Thus things proceed to a kung fu duel, as is right and proper to resolve matters of honor.
The duel takes three rounds; the first is a tie, the second is a tie, and Master Zhou is laid out in the third. Even participating in such a bout is sufficient small honor that Master Zhou ends at zero, rather than below.
- "That was your heavy hitter, and the GM didn't even pull out the dice. This is not your fight." -Sakushi
Party-goers start to head for Lord Sonwu, asking for a moment of his time. Lord Namgung is first - he explains that his own honor is small, and his ancestors failed in defense of the Savanna. All he can offer is his own honor (twelve), to be offered towards the opportunity to win back the land they lost. Cai Wen begins to realize what is going on.
- "They're starting to ask the King about cancelling the horse race to invade the Tanzhe Plain."
Lord Jegal is next, offering fourteen honor. The party starts trying to charge the King, though Tiger stands in the way of Lijuan, and has not escalated to further duels yet.
Cai Wen throws his twelve honor into "throwing away the horse race would be a tragedy!" and Sakushi fixes him with a helpless glare. Kuan-Xi dithers about approaching Lord Sonwu, and finally decides to not provoke Tiger.
Horse looks up, somewhat puzzled. What's going on?
Xiao Fa starts chasing Horse, and Tiger heads after him, leaving Lijuan free. Min Feng tries to stand between Tiger and Xiao Fa, asking if Tiger is feeling well, and gets bowled out of the way. Xiao Fa gets to Horse in the moment of interference, and Lijuan gets to Lord Sonwu, imploring him to think of the children.
Xiao Fa hits Horse with an unwhammy, which proves oddly temporary, but Shuyan manages to talk Horse into letting her have his fabulous hat during that moment. Shuyan realizes, on wearing it, that is the absolute best hat ever, and gets somewhat distracted.
Horse spends a moment coming to his senses and checking out the various scoreboards, and looks unhappy.
- "This is a disaster. Get your guys and meet me out back." -Horse
Kuan-Xi asks Tiger for a boon: will he teach Master Zhou the secrets of kung fu? Tiger considers, and says that if Master Zhou comes to his Arena, he will teach Master Zhou a lesson.
Cai Wen tells Sakushi he has to bail on the party, but she comes with him. No one else is quite pleased by that, since she seems to be more on Tiger's side, but she doesn't seem to be actively thwarting the party. Kuan-Xi tries to examine Shuyan's hat, magically, and gets very distracted by the idea of shopping for a hat of her own, but Xiao Fa gets Shuyan to come meet everyone by encouraging her to bring the hat along to show off.
In the alley behind the hall, Horse dashes about looking for spies, and then announces ominously that IT WAS A TRAP. Tiger has been arranging for all sorts of combat buffs, where soldiers will be able to shed their wounds onto their horses, and so on. They'll just roll over the Forest of Chin forces. All while he was distracted by that stupid hat!
Cai Wen says that there are some indications that the problem can be solved in the Forest of Chin, though. Horse contemplates that, and then nods. Yes, okay, brilliant.
- "Here's the deal. You’ve got me over a barrel. You fix this, and you tell me the price, and I pay it. You guys go to the Forest of Chin, and just get them to surrender the Tanzhe Plain without a fight. If there's no war, there's no bloodshed, and no need to cancel the horse race." -Horse
The party starts discussing how much to charge, and what Horse can offer, but he thinks that's just taking time. Horse told Magpie he wouldn't do points any more, but if they want points, they can have points. But if they will just go, they can give him an expense report, padded appropriately, afterwards.
- "Done!" -Cai Wen
Sakushi replenishes Cai Wen's "cleans up well" shticks before he goes. Lijuan promises Sakushi that they'll get Xian back for her. She thanks Lijuan - that would be so nice of her! Also, if they can bring her that other guy's head... well, never mind that.
Off they head, in Kuan-Xi's carriage. Once in the Forest of Chin, there are disturbing screeches and tappings outside, but nothing intrudes into the carriage, until it reaches the gates of the High Warlord's keep.
- "Declare yourselves true. Demon, spirit, or doomed?"
- "Doomed! This is Foon Lijuan! Can we come in?"
They are permitted to come in, and Zhuai is glad to see Lijuan - and even gladder that she avoided the ripper demons outside. He explains that the gathering here is not so much a party as a huddling away from the darkness - but there is a bit of politicking going on, and some prophecies.
- "We just need to persuade the Forest of Chin to cede the Tanzhe Plain to the Savannah." -Cai Wen
- "Hmm. What's our budget?" -Zhuai
- "Reimbursable. We have an expense account."
Kuan-Xi points out that this plan is pretty close to [what Lijuan drew] about how to rename the Savanna. Interesting.
- "I'm sure your hat would go a long ways towards raising the spirits of the people trapped here." -Xiao Fa, trying to persuade Shuyan to stop wearing the hat
As the group discusses what they need to do about the invasion, a gravelly voice interrupts them.
- "Is that what you need, or is that merely what you want right now?"
Wait, who is this? It doesn't seem to be any of the Cycle spirits. Could it be the Forest itself? But the Forest is a demon, not a spirit! On the other hand, it's not like demons can't instantiate on the Night of Gates too.
The Forest says that they seem to be acting as if they had no choices.
- "There are other powers you could work for, there are other prices you could ask for. What do you actually want, and does this path lead you to it or away from it?"
- "I think it leads towards it." -Cai Wen
Other questions follow.
- "If something were to happen to Monkey, would that be a problem for you?" -Lijuan
- "That would be a problem for Monkey."
- "But what about you?"
- "You are a dear child. It depends on where Monkey goes, and who arrives. Bring in the Firebird, and we will Have Words."
The Forest demon wanders off again, and the party contemplates their options.
- "There are two obvious plans. One is to talk to the High Warlord. The other is talk to the seers and see if there's a different obvious plan." -Zhuai
Wait, there are seers? Yup, there are two different seers - rumor has it that one offers only true prophecies and one offers false prophecies. One of them winks at Lijuan. But wait, doesn't this sort of thing have a logical solution?
- " If I were to ask your companion which of you always tells the truth, what would she say?" -Kuan-Xi, to the seer on the left
- "She would say, 'What is truth?', because she's always messing with people." -left seer
Hmm. That didn't actually clear anything up very much.
Zhuai demonstrates, asking the left seer a question.
- "How do we get the Forest of Chin to give up the Tanzhe Plain without bloodshed?" -Zhuai
- "The king is the land, and the land is the king. Whether you beat him, bribe him, or blackmail him, convince the Warlord Ze and it is done." -left seer
- "See? That's either the right plan or the wrong plan." -Zhuai
Xiao Fa asks the same question to the other seer.
- "How do we get the Forest of Chin to give up the Tanzhe Plain without bloodshed?" -Xiao Fa
- "The king who loses face before his people is lost. If you wish him to give up what is theirs, you must persuade them. At least five of the great houses must petition him. " -right seer
Just to be sure, Lijuan asks the right seer the same question, and receives the same answer. The group uses the sealed scroll from Ti Lao to check the answers.
Or, to be clear, yes, "get the great houses to petition" is correct. They hope.
People investigate who’s available. The houses who have representatives present in the Citadel are Ze, Siew, Xing, and Mong. House Zhen is the one currently given guardianship of the Tanzhe, so everyone is jealous of them because they have lands to stay on during the Night of Gates that don't have forest on them. Meanwhile Master Zhou pursues another plot...
- "Where is Tsai Su-Yin?" -Master Zhou, to the seer on the right
- "She is spending the night in the world of dreams, gaining strength and power the longer she stays, waiting for the dawn before she returns." -right seer
Kuan-Xi thinks that doesn't seem to be very helpful, and both seers turn to glare at her.
- "I could ask them about my hat." -Shuyan
Oh, right, the hat. Xiao Fa briefly unwhammies her, and tries to grab the hat, but he misses. Min Feng tries as well, but Shuyan is pretty darn dextrous. After some more plotting, Master Zhou slaps her while Xiao Fa unwhammies her again, and then Master Zhou takes the hat... and is nearly tempted to put it on. After some dithering, they put it into the bag of temporary holding, and eventually it is vanished.
Lijuan visits the the room that House Xing is holed up in, in front of the fireplace. They are not pleased - their astrologers were caught off guard, and they are stuck here. Lijuan says she is looking for a master at arms - could they recommend one? Also, she and Kuan-Xi would like to talk to them about the upcoming invasion from the Savanna. This indicates to them that the High Warlord is a fool, to allow this to happen, but they could be persuaded that if defeat is inevitable due to the alliance of spirits against them, salvaging some gain might be preferable.
Next, Kuan-Xi and Cai Wen head in Kuan-Xi's carriage to visit House Teng. They are surprised to discover that Takanata is there, but asleep after his travels. Should Lord Teng wake him? No, no, no, no, that would not be advisable. Lord Tokai has been known to be a little... touchy... when visited unexpectedly.
Cai Wen briefs Lord Teng on the upcoming invasion. Could Lord Teng petition the High Warlord to return the Tanzhe Plain to the Savanna without war? Lord Teng winces. They do their best to be completely neutral, and in the absence of both their heirs, this is even more important. Were they to support this measure, they would gain allies and adversaries. However, if information alone is useful, Lord Teng can provide that. He gives them a rundown on the other houses. House Sung would support what Lady Foon asked them to. House Tsai is struggling in a great battle with Mong, so either might support something if they thought it would hurt their foe. The High Warlord listens to what a majority of his wives tell him to if they can be persuaded. It is essential that House Zhen not object, even if they do not agree. House Xing will do anything you want if you get a new warlord - he balances the Forest by encouraging them to war against each other rather than unifying them against their outside enemies, and House Xing strongly prefers the latter.
- "If you gain four but cannot gain a fifth, we can enter on your side, but if Hana and Hiro do not return shortly thereafter, that will signal the end of our house." -Lord Teng
Does Lord Teng think that promising the Forest Horse's protection against invasion will help? Lord Teng notes that Horse is not actually in charge of the Savanna (not that "in charge of" is the right word when it comes to countries), so that would kind of put the party on the hook as Horse's enforcers there.
At this point, there are forty-two minutes left in the Night of Gates, so there is a quick division of houses and people to deal with them.
- Master Zhou: House Tsai
- Zhuai: House Tsui ("What’s my budget?” “Just get it done.")
- Lijuan: House Sung
- (assumed: House Foon)
- House Ze: Kuan-Xi, Min Feng, Shuyan
- House Zhen: Cai Wen
A carriage montage ensues.
House Sung is appalled and impressed that Lijuan just came walking up to the house on the Night of Gates. Lijuan briefs them on the invasion. They are not against the idea of withdrawing everyone's forces and letting the Savanna wipe the floor with House Zhen, but Lijuan tries to talk them away from that.
- "My guys tell me that we really really need to do this." -Lijuan
- "Are you sure your guys are really your guys?" -Lady Sung
- "No, not at all." -Lijuan
- "Ah, there's the problem. You need better guys." -Lady Sung
- "Probably." -Lijuan
Lady Sung will of course support Lijuan's lead on the matter, but she will also help make sure Lijuan is extricated from these "guys" of hers, and gets more loyal guys, because this is insupportable.
- "We need a code phrase for when the new guys show up - no, code phrases have betrayed us in the past. We'll just deal with it." -Lady Sung
Master Zhou starts, not with the Savanna briefing, but with his new investigation into Su-Yin. He says that he will travel to the World of Dreams to speak with her, and they say that he must tell her that they have desperate need of her.
Also, there's this Savanna thing. House Tsai says that if Master Zhou will vow to bring Su-Yin back, they will support his plan. Master Zhou says he can go and ask her about coming back.
- "If she does not want to return, it is because she is ill-informed or misled. Bring her back and she may tell us that she wishes to leave again."
Eventually, Master Zhou agrees to bring her back, whether she agrees or not.
Kuan-Xi, Min Feng, and Shuyan find An Ming distributing blankets. They brief her on the invasion. She does not approve of ceding the land without defending it, but is willing to agree to support this, in exchange for the party turning over their blackmail letter on the High Warlord. They do so, and she tears it up and throws it in the fire.
Tsi-Shen, First Wife, is next. Unlike An Ming, she is not carrying blankets, but directing servants around to carry them. She is already owed a private circus performance, so it is probably best to not offer her any more things to be collected later. She also thinks it would be a bitter pill to swallow losing the land without a fight, but the fact that Tiger is acting semi-directly against them does make fighting back costly. They promise a boon from the House of Benevolent Oversight that Kuan-Xi has, and also her promise to make sure Cai Wen arranges the private circus performance soon.
House Zhen is please to see Cai Wen.
- "You deliver yourself unto us!"
- "Let us discuss your impending doom first!" -Cai Wen
Cai Wen proves a natural in the threatening bombastic banter category, and broaches the topic of having them surrender in the upcoming invasion. However, he is unwilling to offer them Lady Foon or Lady Sung as a price, which are their initial demands.
- "Four in-run house rolls from the House of Exuberant Interference, and you can leave here alive!"
Cai Wen contemplates the hidden opportunities. Well, if they are using him to implement their plans, he'll find out what those plans are. So they probably won't be plans against House Foon.
- "Three rolls, and if I don't leave with my life, it's not like you would get any of them, and it would be the end of this house."
With a great clanging of bells, the Night of Gates is over.
It comes as a great surprise to the Savanna forces when the Tanzhe Plain is surrendered to them with a treaty, the day before the invasion. The seer on the left notes to Lijuan that she had really better ask for a good favor with that leftover karma. Perhaps she had ought to use the words "Please give me a good favor, sir"? Lijuan does, puzzled, and finds the name of the country has always been the Plains of Honor.
The next day, in Jabon, there is a great celebration over the victory, with many exciting horse races. Zhuai notes that he gave the deed to the House of Shadows to House Tsui to get their vote. They seemed quite excited.
As Horse heads off again, he notes that they will have until a run after the Night of Gates to present the bill.==Puttering==