Off the Map
|"If you destroy a bridge, be sure you can swim."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Crane in the Month of the Tiger in the Seventh Year of the Bear since the beginning of the Stewardship.|
The run takes place principally in the Roof of the World.
With All Alacrity
Various party members are at Tahiti, when the senior butler enters to say that there is a visitor at the door. As he continues, the junior butler flies through the air into the room, and a woman outside shouts "I said now!" Xiao Fa instructs the butler to show her in, and the senior butler is also flung into the room as Ting Ting enters.
- "Please, it is entirely unnecessary to come to someone's house and throw their butlers around." -Xiao Fa
Ting Ting demands to know whose house it is, then, and Master Deng seems to be the only member of the House of Exuberant Interference around, so he claims it. She says she will make reparations to him for the butler-flinging.
Ting Ting looks at Master Zhou and Xiao Fa, and splits the difference, bowing between them, and explains: The Master has told Ting Ting to inform Xiao Fa and Master Zhou, with all possible alacrity, that it is Time. He awaits them in the Mountains of Heaven. He has gathered the criminals, and received the promises of the Steward, and it is time for Xiao Fa to persuade the Lake.
Xiao Fa explains what Ting Ting is talking about: Li Kao provided Xiao Fa with a Roof of the World Renaming Ritual, but Xiao Fa was having a hard time figuring out how to convince the Steward, and Kar Fai was having trouble understanding the Steppes, so they traded countries to deal with. At first, Xiao Fa had thought that leaving the Peace of the Lake in place would be best, but he's been considering trying to improve it, or replace it with a country-wide Justice of the Lake. It should be easier to convince the Spirit of Mirror Lake to help with their ritual if they can give the lake a new role to play afterwards, rather than just breaking her Peace. Such as, pools of lake water around that could be used to reflect the "truth" of a situation, rather than banishing someone for violence with the current "non-aggression trap".
Kuan-Xi sets the little carriage to head to the Roof of the World. Towards the end of the journey, there is a THUMP as if the carriage hit a rock, which is very unusual, but the group decides to not stop and investigate.
The carriage reaches the gates of the Reflected City, where the guards greet them. The party flails a little bit to explain why they are there, but for the most part the guards just want to make sure they're familiar with the rules. Wei Han makes sure the rules haven't changed (they haven't), so they head into the city. Master Zhou suggests that talking to Kar Fai is a good first step, so Ting Ting directs them to the inn where her master is staying.
Shuyan and Wei Han look at the carriage. Shuyan is unable to find anything hidden, like a stowaway or sabotage, but Horse is protecting the carriage from having its contents discovered, so that may be why. Wei Han spots a nick in a wheel, as if it did, in fact, run over a big rock. Kuan-Xi does some magical analysis on the carriage, and determines that it has suffered a small amount of damage, as if on the way to the Roof of the World, the carriage hit something that wasn't there while the carriage also wasn't there.
At the inn, Kuan-Xi takes the best room for herself, her lady-in-waiting, and Min Feng, and learns that Kar Fai has taken the other suite. Everyone else gets a normal room. The "VIP area" where the two suites are is guarded by a twelve-year-old. It turns out that even a kid is proof against being pushed around when doing so will get you banished, so the rest of the party has to stall out briefly while getting in to see Kuan-Xi, until the kid can confirm that they are invited.
At Kar Fai's suite, a red-robed monk invites them in and offers them tea; Kar Fai is in the middle of morning training. There are about ten minutes of "oof"ing from the next room, and then Kar Fai enters and greets Xiao Fa. Are they ready for their part in the ritual? Is the Lake propitiated? Xiao Fa wants to know if Kar Fai has a... victim... selected for that role. Kar Fai says that there is a murderer who was banished, who Lord Hawk will fight.
- "It is not ideal, but it is what Lord Hawk would agree to." -Kar Fai
- "Is the murderer Master Zhou?!"
- "...No, it is not."
Master Zhou is concerned - will Lord Hawk actually win the fight? Kar Fai believes he will. Lord Hawk has been sent for, and should be here soon. Can the ritual be done at sunset tomorrow? Xiao Fa says that picking the time should wait until he and the others return from talking to the Spirit of the Lake.
Spirit of Mirror Lake
Kuan-Xi asks Anto to show up to help communicate with the spirit, and then Xiao Fa explains. They are "but poor circus performers who also happen to be Dragon partisans", who hope to tie the countries of the Empire more closely to Dragon, and they have a Plan, in which they hope to change the nature of the Peace. More accurately, they wish to break the Peace, after which they will work to create a ritual that is stronger and covers more of the country and is more discerning than the current no-violence prohibition. However, they wished to gain the permission and assistance of the Lake before embarking on this plan.
The Spirit of the Lake notes that if they were to try to break the Peace without her assistance, they would not find it pleasant for long. What do they offer her? Well, in addition to the part where they will build a better ritual for her, they offer her a barrel of ultra pure water. The Spirit notes that the water is excellent, but is not enough on its own for her to break the Peace, though it is a start. She wishes them to tell her about the new "stronger" Peace and how they will build it.
Xiao Fa explains some more. Instead of being centered solely on the Reflected City, the Justice of the Lake would be focused on fonts of the lake's water to exist around the country, in which the truth of the violence is clear rather than simply the act of the violence. It would be a more complex effect, to allow more refined law-keeping and deal better with unfortunate edge cases. The Spirit wishes to know if the guilty would still be banished? Well, the guilty would face justice, whatever justice was, which might be banishment. So... how do they plan to accomplish this? Xiao Fa hedges a bit. They do have experienced ritual creation experts, but they don't have the ritual in hand.
- "Ah, these are your desires rather than your plans."
Encouraging though it might be, she cannot place great value on intentions alone. Will one of their number pledge their life to this, to make it happen without fail, unto death? Everyone find that a bit alarming, until they realize that that's kind of how human goals work in general - either you make your goal happen or you die. Well, you die either way, whether you accomplish your goal or not. Wei Han notes that he doesn't die, but he doesn't want to be put in charge of doing the ritual.
Xiao Fa says that he would pledge his troth to doing this thing. The Spirit is dubious - that he would do it or he would try? That he would do it. She is still concerned that he might die first - he does have a lot of enemies, and he could well die today. Perhaps if he were to pass the obligations to his heirs...
- "You don't have heirs yet." -Min Feng
Wei Han also offers to go back and get Xiao Fa from the afterlife if he dies first. Oh, well, if Wei Han is willing to make sure it gets done even unto the end of time, that could be a bargain.
Xiao Fa starts to get cold feet - pledging that he will do it no matter what is one thing, but signing up for eternal consequences if he fails is a little more alarming. How hard a ritual would this be, anyway? Well, country-wide is pretty big, and to affect people it's a Grand Ritual, so it would take months of experimentation. It might be possible to make it smaller, once per font, though it's still people-affecting.
Wei Han suggests that the new king, Lord Hawk, be bound to carry out the ritual instead. Though he isn't here to agree to it, which makes the negotiation more challenging. On that note, a voice full of malice and evil from behind them makes a suggestion.
- "I would bind myself and my descendants to the doing of this thing." -Lord Du
The dark stranger states that the ritual as written would work perfectly well with him becoming king rather than Lord Hawk. He would pledge himself and his descendants to the Lake to create this new ritual, and the renaming could be done by this afternoon.
Min Feng senses motive on him - he is clearly desirous of Vast and Terrible Evil Power. Everyone tries to shake off what seems to be a similar effect to the one that people have noticed on Lord Hawk when he is in the Roof of the World, but it's difficult when Lord Du is so utterly and obviously evil.
- "Your comrade (muah ha ha) raises a good point. Forget it is I who proposed it and evaluate it on its own merits (muah ha ha). And you, Xiao Fa, would be well on your way to having the support of the King! I would certainly owe you one." -Lord Du
Xiao Fa ponders the symbology of his ritual, and concludes that using Lord Du rather than Lord Hawk is not intrinsically more Spidery and less Dragony, but it will depend on how things are done.
Xiao Fa lets the Spirit of the Lake know that they will need more time to sort out the details; is there a way to contact her again without Anto? She proposes that she accept the barrel of ultrapure water, in exchange for anyone in the group being able to summon and contact her when they wish by stepping into Mirror Lake. They agree, though they point out that Lord Du is not covered by this bargain. He will have to discuss matters with her separately, and they wander off while he does so. Min Feng listens after him, as Lord Du notes that they do not actually need the party in order to do the ritual. Does the Spirit of the Lake have leverage over the Steward? She says that is not her job - Lord Du will have to arrange for that if it is necessary.
The party members are shocked by Lord Du's perfidy! Plus, he was listening to their conversation before... well, okay, never mind that one.
Anto's guess as to the Lake Spirit's tao is that she is a little bigger now - around 30.
- "Hey! This is always what happens when we're in this city - there are two different people trying to do the same ritual." -Master Deng
The group heads back to the inn, and splits up. Kuan-Xi and Wei Han go straight to the palace to keep Lord Du from making any deals with the Steward. Perhaps they can just grab the Steward and bring him to the inn?
Working their way to an audience with the Steward, (Kuan-Xi and the Butterfly Talisman can get pretty high in the queue), they meet Autumn Rose, who is also there to see the Steward, and make polite conversation. Apparently both Kuan-Xi and Autumn Rose are just in town until their various business is concluded.
Kuan-Xi gets in first, and informs the Steward that it is time to do the ritual. Kar Fai said that the Steward has agreed? Well, he wouldn't say "agreed", but he is willing to do it. Kuan-Xi says that the parties have all been assembled, if the Steward can join them at his earliest convenience. The Steward is willing to head out and meet them at the shores of the Lake, but Kuan-Xi asks if he could come to the inn to see Kar Fai before they head to the Lake.
The Steward is somewhat nonplussed at what appears to be Kar Fai's attempt to summon him to a random inn, but he says that he can meet them at the Lake at sunset, and that if Kar Fai needs to speak to him, Kar Fai can come to the palace. Kuan-Xi sends a message via the duplicating paper, asking them to send Kar Fai, and letting them know that Autumn Rose is there.
Well, is there anything else they need from the Steward right now? Kuan-Xi can't think of anything else to stall him with, so they head back out, and Autumn Rose goes in for her audience.
Meanwhile, everyone else briefs Kar Fai on their meeting with the Lake. Has the deal been made? Well, no, but the Pretender is trying to make a deal with the Steward, so they have to beat him to that. Kar Fai doesn't care very much between Lord Hawk and Lord Du, until Xiao Fa points out that Lord Du is much more spidery. Kar Fai agree that in that case, they should go with Lord Hawk.
Shuyan notes that Lord Hawk still doesn't seem to be there - where is he, exactly? Kar Fai says that he sent a summons to Lord Hawk before summoning the party, so he really should already have arrived. Okay, that could be a problem.
Kuan-Xi and Wei Han return to the inn, and the group decides that going on a complicated hunt for Lord Hawk will take too much time. Instead, Kuan-Xi burns part of her Scroll of Answers on the current location of Lord Hawk. That seems to work. Lord Hawk is stuck in an extradimensional plane whose connection to the world is in the northern Roof of the World.
Min Feng heads back to the palace with Kar Fai to see the Steward, to run a stalling game while everyone else goes to find Lord Hawk. She just needs to explain to him how there are two contenders for the throne, and persuade him...
- "Put out of your mind the idea of making nice with the Steward. You tell him what is right, and you tell him to do it, and you tell him if he is not going to do what is right, he should step down. He is holding this country in trust for the King, and if the King has returned, he needs to give it back." -Kar Fai
Min Feng points out that Lord Du could well also be the returned King, but Kar Fai thinks that raising the topic and then telling the Steward to ignore it will introduce needless complications, and instead they should just stake out the Steward and prevent Lord Du from getting in. This turns out to entail a lot of Kar Fai and the Steward shouting at each other, while Min Feng makes sure that they do not actually come to blows.
Cabin in the Woods
The little carriage heads to the farmhouse where the Scroll of Answers indicates that the connection is. It appears to be shut and boarded up. Both chi and magical senses indicate that it is anything but quiet, however. It is sending out huge chi pulses that ripple away over the land as they watch. There is no nearby danger, though, according to Master Deng.
Kuan-Xi picks the lock on the front door - it seems to be a fairly plain farmhouse, but one of the rooms has the furniture cleared away and a ritual circle on the floor. The larger circle has twelve smaller circles spaced around it, and in one of the circles is the Talisman of the Crane. There is also a note that says "Do not touch until you read the instructions". There is also a glowing ethereal door on one wall.
Kuan-Xi notes that the circle is an active ritual, pointing at the glowing door. A second ritual, the one sending out the chi pulses, is on the other side of the glowing door. Oh, and the glowing door has a dent in it, as if it has been struck by a wheel.
The instructions are found on a nearby table:
Kuan-Xi confirms that adding more talismans will let two people go through each, and removing the Crane Talisman will destroy the door. That suggests there are no more than two people past the door - presumably Lord Hawk and the Cartogramancer - but she can't explicitly tell. An interesting thought - does the Bunny Talisman count? It might, but it is hard to tell without using it, and then it will explode into confetti.
(Meanwhile, at the Steward's palace, Min Feng exchanges notes with the party, trying to figure out what's going on. She introduces Kar Fai to Autumn Rose; the Red Pagoda master earns no credit with her by addressing her as "Daughter of the Marked". However, Autumn Rose agrees to have tea with Min Feng after their business is concluded. Min Feng continues to keep the Steward and Kar Fai from killing each other, though tension continues to rise.)
Out of curiosity, Shuyan puts on the Monkey Talisman and tries to walk through the glowing door. Maybe there's only one person on the other side? Maybe a magical door that doesn't permit entry counts as restraining her? Unfortunately, she walks into 120 points of damage and does not go through.
The group considers their options:
A: Put down three talismans, and send everyone in except for Min Feng. B: Put down one or two talismans; send some people in and leave other people to guard the talismans. C: Try to drive the carriage into the extradimensional space.
Option C is tricky, because nobody has enough area knowledge of the space to drive to it, and driving interdimensionally isn't one of the things the carriage is good at.
As this is all very confusing, Mondo is summoned and questioned. What are the ramifications of Plan A versus Plan B? Mondo tasks them to start with what they know and what they do not know.
- "We need Lord Hawk."
- "Do you?" -Mondo
- "Well, we want Lord Hawk."
They explain the situation, and Mondo notes that the ritual is obviously designed to get the party's Talismans, as Lord Hawk, and whatever ritual is being done on him, makes very nice bait.
- "They're moving the adjective 'true' from Lord Hawk to Lord Du!" -Master Deng
Mondo doubts that taking the Crane Talisman will permanently banish the Cartogramancer - he would be unlikely to risk himself that much - but it might well inconvenience him for some time. However, it will almost certainly lose them Lord Hawk.
- "Damn you, principles!" -Xiao Fa
Mondo nods in appreciation of the Carogramancer's chutzpah.
- "So, should someone stay here?"
- "Ah, I understand now why you summoned me. It’s the 'Let Mondo Guard All The Talismans' plan again." -Mondo
However, if it is really designed as a good trap (and Mondo is confident that it is), then going in is likely to be something that having more people will help with. He has probably not just designed a trap which has him standing in a little room on the other side for Deng to kill in a blow. So it will be useful to put down more talismans and let more people in.
So... it will probably also be useful to have more reinforcing guards. Wei Han summons some Dragon Army soldiers, and Master Zhou spends karma to summon Yue Mei instead of some random Yellow Silk students, and also Broken Sword and Yanzi. The soldiers are directed to take their orders from Mondo, and they deploy defensively around the room. The three White Pagoda students deploy around the ritual circle.
Three talismans are left in the circle (in addition to Crane): Monkey, Magpie, and Serpent. The possibility of losing the Butterfly Talisman is a little too costly, so they keep it.
Broken Sword can't really affect the Cartogramancer's space at the moment, because it's not a battle yet. He says that if he focuses on it, he can make sure that the battlemap is maintained if the Talismans vanish, but Master Zhou tells him to concentrate on protecting the Talismans instead of worrying about that.
Then, everyone heads through the door.
The Cartogramancer is in the center of the map, working on the ritual on Lord Hawk. He seems surprised that the group actually decided to leap in.
The map limits everyone to a move of 1, maximum, except by moving Tao-powered "rafts" which can only travel on the cardinal hexmap directions. Their other foes seem to be embodied map space, able to attack and also add "kappa" to people who they hit.
The party proves to have more tao than the Cartogramancer expected, and is able to partially close with him before he can enact his plan of using his full map powers to get to the exit and out again while the party is stranded in the middle with moves of 1. Once Master Zhou nerve strikes him, his plan is close to unrecoverable.
Deng and Wei Han and Master Zhou and Kuan-Xi inflict piles of damage on the Cartogramancer; he falls once but manages to heal himself in Drift by sacrificing some of his map creatures.
Shuyan goes to Lord Hawk and heals him - he seems to have all his stats drained. Kuan-Xi realizes that the ritual is to separate Lord Hawk from his homeland, and store it in a paper map. (Also, the ritual can affect Xiao Fa when he steps into the inner circle).
After Deng and Master Zhou take the Cartogramancer down again, Master Zhou calls on Kuan-Xi to hit him again, with double dice, while he is down and before he can heal again in drift. She does so, and he dies, much to everyone's surprise.
Deng promptly loots the body, finding a bunch of maps, as well as a sash of wearing two Talismans at without thwackback. Everyone else notices that the glowing-door exit has vanished.
As the cartogramancy drains out of the area, other mysterious things begin to happen. All of the Kappa people have accrued turns into Nu, and the ritual briefly changes from "stealing homeland" to "stealing name" before it dissipates. However, as interesting as that might be, the question of how to get back is probably the most important.
Back at the palace, Autumn Rose storms into the Steward's audience chamber, points at Min Feng, and leaves again. Min Feng tries to send a message to the rest of the party, but the communicating paper does not seem to be working anymore, and she has not heard from them for several hours. Receiving no reply, she follows Autumn Rose.
- "I had thought we had understood each other. You didn't need to kill my father." -Autumn Rose
- "All I know is they said they were going in hours ago." -Min Feng
- "He is dead."
- "My condolences. I know you weren't on the best of terms."
Min Feng notes that Autumn Rose has a lot of self-control, so her rage and anger is tightly reined.
- "They went in attempting to rescue the Lord Hawk, and thought it was a trap." -Min Feng
- "I don't know the details, but it probably was a trap, and now they're stuck somewhere else, connected to the world only by their names. I am now forced to participate in a game I didn't want to play, but I am not going to lose. Thus, I require resources. I am willing to ransom your friends back to you - who do you want first, and what do you offer?"
If Min Feng needs to contact the others, in order to determine what can be negotiated, Autumn Rose can send a message. Min Feng suggests setting up communications between her and Xiao Fa, so Autumn Rose does so. Min Feng realizes that in addition to the Cartogramancer's assets, Autumn Rose has now also inherited her father's Mark of the Spider, and is not at all pleased by this development.
Back in the pocket dimension, the group is considering their options. If they had Li Merit's horse, they could bargain with Horse to get them out. If Anto hadn't showed up earlier, maybe he could show up now? (That's a bit more of a stretch). However, maybe some karma (or a lot of karma) can help with that. Wei Han can probably spend a pile of karma to travel to the wall to get himself out.
Xiao Fa hears from Min Feng and passes on the message about being ransomed to Autumn Rose. Possibly a thing they can offer is to un-Mark her, though that is tough. Maybe Min Feng can learn Disentangle Fate from Takanata, since she has the seven karma that was necessary to un-Mark Lucky Chang.
Min Feng asks Autumn Rose if she wants the Mark removed - it was removed from Lucky Chang before - but Autumn Rose says of course not, as this is the better path to power. However, she speaks silently to Xiao Fa via his Name, and says that the answer is yes. Ah, clearly Spider is listening to her already, so all the negotiations become more guarded.
More dangerous plans are considered. If karma will get most people out, maybe Master Zhou can stay behind and have someone negotiate with Horse to come and teach him Worldwalking. Maybe just the people who are needed to do the ritual with the Steward should go, and everyone else should wait to be rescued. (Though Lord Hawk is down a lot of stats, so his ability to fight the condemned criminal is a little iffy at this point).
Min Feng offers Autumn Rose four (broken) Cartogramancy maps to get someone out, while indicating with spycraft and sublte innuendo that they will also promise to undo the Mark. She takes the deal, and will get Xiao Fa out for Min Feng.
Kuan-Xi decides to fall on the karma grenade, and burns one to refresh the shtick to call Anto, five to have Anto manage to show up in an extradimensional space, and seven to have him re-open the portal back to the world. Most everyone, including Lord Hawk, appears at the Gate of Five Elements, but Xiao Fa appears in the Steward's citadel. The Cartogramancer's body is left behind, arranged in a dignified fashion, on the theory that the space is in Autumn Rose's control now, and they don't want to lug the body around.
At this point, Kar Fai and the Steward are shouting at each other and really are about to come to blows. Both of them are impatient for the ritual to be done NOW. However, since Lord Hawk is recuperating from having his stats drained, and an agreement with the Spirit of the Lake has not been reached, it will not be happening today.
Autumn Rose takes her leave.
- "It appears the rest of your comrades were more resourceful than even he anticipated, so our negotiations are ended. I will take your maps and treasure them. Now I must go and plan a proper memorial for Su Song, murdered by Suzuki Kuan-Xi."
The party sends a magic-paper note to Mondo telling him to bring the Talismans and the carriage (and the White Pagoda NPCs) to Bear Mountain, where they meet, and then everyone retreats to Tahiti to regroup.==Puttering==