We will probably run into quite a few plots as we go. This is an attempt to give them one place to live, so we can try to keep track of most of them, and to have a place to keep track of speculations and random guesses about What Things Mean.
There are two or three major forces at work. All seem to include gaining control of the tao of the Empire in some way. Is there something special about the tao of the Empire that makes it a juicy target?
- The Great Spirit of the Spider, the Cycle, and the Dragon Empire
650 years ago the cycle was broken by the Dragon to replace the Whale with the Phoenix. This created a weakness, which the Spider exploited (156 years ago) to replace the Dragon. Since then the names of the countries in the Dragon Empire have been changed from Cycle animal names to other names. Presumably the Spider is working on a campaign to detach the Dragon Empire from the Dragon, and possibly from the other cycle spirits as well. If this Great Cycle completes with the Spider still in the Cycle, Spider will get to stay. Crossing the north wall somehow breaks/blocks whatever influence overwrites the country names in your mind.
What we know as the Great Spirit of the Spider is actually the darkness demon Aku, a skinwalker wearing a spider (spirit's?) skin. He is served by eight mortal minions (seven as of the end of Night of Gates IV) who call themselves the Marked. These people have been doing things like moving armies around and redirecting the flow of the Empire's chi.
If you go tell someone about the Spider's plan, though, you will not be believed unless the person you're talking to has gone over the wall (and therefore had their chi separated from the Empire). You can get to talking about a cabal of people taking control of the Empire, but you cannot include the Spider in it.
On the Spider's Plan, from Xiao Fa's memory of the World Above
The Spider is not simply replacing the Dragon in the Cycle. He has been moving to take far more power over the Empire than even the Dragon himself possessed. If completed, the Spider will indeed be the Cycle, and the twelve cycle spirits will properly be called Servants of the Spider.
- While a compelling reason to battle Spider, remember that none of the spirits will be able to believe us unless we've made Aku slip up, below.
The Spider has room to add a 12th spirit at the last minute, or can continue to serve both roles (one of the 12 and overlord) as he does now.
The Spider is mostly limited in the use of his true nature. The focus of almost all of his Demonic power is to keep most of the remaining cycle spirits from realizing this final danger. His spiritual power, stolen from the true Spider Spirit, is almost all he has available to enact these plans. Should he be forced for some reason to exceed the limits of the spiritual power of the spider and tap his demonic power as well, the veil hiding these truths from the other Great Spirits will fall away and many of them will likely join the battle.
- Interesting and notable that "many of them will likely" join the battle. He may have some willing allies already.
This deception and expenditure of demonic power is what causes the asymmetries between what the Spider's minions have to do, and what those who oppose him have to do to reverse it.
- This feels very like a vital lynchpin. If we can get Aku to exceed Spider's power and use his demonic power, the spirits will be able to see what he is up to and may join, it may become easier to thwart his minions, and with more allies, more possible to completely overthrow him, which is necessary to Free the Dragon.
- Well, Dragon is free, and we didn't need to overthrow Spider. Is there a difference between "free" and "Free"?
- Dragon is free; the assumption that we'd need to get the other Cycle Spirits to move against Spider to accomplish that was wrong. However, getting the other spirits to move against Spider would still be useful in removing him from the Cycle/thwarting his goal of creating the Spider Empire.
His plan is almost complete. All twelve kingdoms have been renamed. The Walls have been modified. All that he knows remains for him to do is crown a Spider Emperor. This must occur before this Cycle of the Spider ends, or he will fail in his greater plan, but will still remain one of the Great Cycle Spirits. He can do this either politically (likely His plan) or militarily (likely His backup plan).
There is one further thing he must do, but he is not yet aware of it. He is likely to gain access to such knowledge soon however.
- This one is afraid that this will come from Li Kao. Aku's minions now have Li Kao and a direct spiritual link in his prayer beads.
Even if you do manage to thwart this greater plan, you must replace Him in the cycle as well, if you wish to restore the Dragon. That part of his plan (just replacing the Dragon as one of 12 equals) has been complete for quite some time, and he just needs to wait out the Cycle. To reverse it, you'd need to do the Altering the Cycle ritual before this Cycle ends. This will take effect immediately when performed, and should it last a Great Cycle, will then become "permanent".
- The Altering the Cycle ritual is the last information the Dragon had for this one, but it is not clear how difficult that will be to remember, or how long it will take to do so.
- Mola Ram and the South
Mola Ram is a priest of Kali who is working on a ritual to replace the Cycle or the Cycle Spirits. The Tokai Twins are key items in this ritual. We've thwarted him up to the point where he's had to abandon his earlier plans and expand the scope of his ritual. (See A_River_Befouled#Enlightened_Melina.)
The rituals tend to fall on the solstice or equinox and involve shadows. So far the south wall has been involved in two rituals and the Pearl River was the target of a third.
- The North
The North has lots of undead. They seem to have life/death energies in place of yin/yang energies(?) They were thwarted in an assault on the Butterfly Kingdom. There have been many troubles with undead "bandits" crossing the wall or being created on this side of the wall due to the presence of (some kind of flower). The Dragon Army presence on the east end of the wall is particularly muddled about this undead presence (e.g. refers to the undead as "bandits"), probably due to the influence of a corrupt commander.
Some southrons are plotting to do something terrible to the 12 Kingdoms. They tried to use a terrible ritual (as seen in The Shadow of the Wall). They were thwarted, but claimed that "You may have stopped us here, but we will prevail. By all the gods, they shall yet rule." Who, exactly?
- Confirmed Facts
- The ritual invoked the 5 elements and the 12 animals, without the usual imbalance needed for a ritual.
- Hana and Hiro were used to invoke Yin and Yang, but the fact that the ritualists confused one twin for the other caused the ritual to go awry.
- The ritual was very crudely done, apparently making no attempt at the beauty required for most rituals. People with Magic Ritual skill have since noted that the Southerners seem to have some ability to 'cheat' and be sloppier than an Empire ritualist would be able to do.
- The order of invocation of the ritual was backward from the normal order, with the cycle invoked first rather than last.
- The ritual occurred on the Day of the Dog.
- The second ritual occurred on the Day of the Phoenix. It was planned so that if it succeeded, the southrons would have completed what they set out to do. In the event that they were prevented from completing it (just by the party, or by anything?), the ritual would be extended into a "double or nothing" initiation of a much larger ritual. Now, (I believe) the entire empire is the ritual circle, the first two rituals are the invocations of the yin and the yang, and the southrons must do more rituals to invoke the elements. In addition, the Yang-invoking ritual did something to activate(?) Hiro as Yang in much the same way that Hana was activated (passivated?) as Yin in the first ritual.
- In order to capture Hana for this second ritual, the ritualists did something that summoned/trapped all nearby ghosts, including the local ancestor spirits. (Was Hana actually used in the ritual, other than as bait? Presumably yes, since the ritual leader was linked to her so that damage to him also harmed her?)
- If the second ritual had not been interrupted, Da-Xie thinks it would have taken Hana's Yin to the Wall, leaving her no longer ritually significant, and giving her Yin-ness to the cultists to use.
- Shadows have been used as elements in the two rituals so far; Shen-Ji thinks that this is because they are an important tool in the lead ritualist's kit (e.g. he has a schtick that gives him bonuses to rituals using Shadows), rather than because they're an inherent element of these particular rituals.
- Things We've Been Told/Discovered Via Mystic Means
- Takanata's i Ching readings:
- On Hana and Hiro together, shortly after the first ritual:
"You are both deeply connected, to the Tao and to each other. Hana's connection to the Tao is stronger, as if the ritual awoke her connection, in a way that Hiro's is not awake. As a pair, you are even more connected to the Tao than either of you is individually. Individually, you seem to be growing farther apart as you grow closer together. Yang and Yin, Active and Receptive, Life and Death, Moving and Waiting. Together, you are moving towards something larger than yourselves. When you arrive, you may master yourselves, or be lost in the maelstrom. That which you were chosen for, you are even more so now."
Takanata's interpretation at the time: "That is what the I Ching tells me. My interpretation is that you were chosen specifically, and that the barbarians will desire you even more now. When they come again, you must be prepared. I think that Hana's connection being awakened is likely beneficial, and part of the Power that prevented the ritual from being completed. I do not know how Hiro's connection can likewise be awakened. I have spoken with Yang Shen-Ji and Master Bai about the ritual that was done on you. They are quite concerned that it seems to reverse the standard construction of such a ritual. Master Bai also suggests that it may have been intended merely as a prelude to other things."
- On Hana alone, shortly thereafter:
"The reeds tell me you are Yin. If any Yang remains to you at all, it is buried deeper than I can see. You are 'the dark side of the Tao, both here before me, and in the greater world.' That is important, but I do not believe it can be healthy, or natural. The reeds also state that at least two groups who will seek you out. One will seek to strengthen you. Such strength will allow you to aid others now, and eventually could grant you powers over the Yin that seem impossible to me - you will be able to 'grant access to the place no man may go.' I believe the primary interpretation of that is the Realm of the Dead, although there are other interpretations that might apply. The other group will seek to bind you. I *think*, though I am not certain, that the first efforts to bind you will be to Hiroki, but the implication is that these efforts will be harmful. How that interacts with the growing strength of your natural bonds to Hiroki, I do not know. If the bindings continue, they will turn you into a great force of potential destruction. It is possible for both groups to succeed, in which case all of these results and more may follow."
(Note that this is what Takanata told Hana; I don't know how much he filtered it from what he actually got. :) ) Hana speculates that the ritualists are one of the two groups, and perhaps ghosts/spirits/some group of ghosts are the other, but that second bit doesn't have a huge amount of evidence to back it up.
- On Hiro alone, after the ritual that invoked the Yang:
(Are Hiro and/or Takanata willing to make this info public? I don't have it. :) --Andrea/Hana )
- Willow (Cai Wen's friend who sees everything in terms of games):
'You were meant to be used as tools, a hammer and a crowbar to wedge apart the Yin and the Yang, to push the wheel off kilter. But now *you* can wield the hammer, and *you* can hold the crowbar, instead of only being held by others. It is still insanely dangerous, but you can use tools elsewhere as well. Best when Yang and Yin are in perfect balance, unless you wish more destruction. . . .The other players... there's one who lost, but the seat at the table is open, so someone else could sit down. And there's one who's still playing. He has a lot more pieces, he's only used the small ones so far. It's his turn next. Though Hiro seems to have some sort of bonus to fight him in particular. Did you draw a card or something? There's even more chairs than that, but I don't think everyone knows about the game.'
Presumably the thing Hiro did was the vow he made to kill the ritual leader, back when the twins were originally kidnapped: "When you lay dying at my feet, remember this as the moment you could have averted your fate."
- The prisoners from the second ritual attempt: If the original ritual (or the failed second attempt) had succeeded: "Then the yuga (calendar) will end, the wheel will turn, and civilization will be reborn." The ritualists come from the cult of Kali; this set were a schism who wanted to re-attempt the original ritual with a different set of twins, while the rest of the cult wanted to pursue a plan involving Hiro and Hana. The "arm of Kali," i.e. assassins known as "thuggees," was sent to assassinate the splinter cultists.
- The prisoners from the third ritual attempt: At least some of Kali's cultists have been bound to the goddess in a ritual which 'gives their deaths to her.' The interrogated prisoner described a marking of 'the chakra' and his name was written in the book of her priests. Apparently Kali gets such people's souls after their deaths, and torments them for their failures.
- Presumed Truths
- The ritualists do not necessarily need Hana and Hiro for the intermediate rituals, but probably do need them to be either present or in some ritually interesting location, for the final wrap-up ritual. Using her Magic Ritual knowledge, Hana notes that this would be true for an Empire ritual, but we don't know to what extent the Southrons are able to cheat about this sort of thing.
- The ritual seemed to be aiming to affect the cycle as a whole in some way; this is implied by the lack of any imbalance.
- Hiro seems to have been the twin who was meant to soak the awryage of the original ritual, had it gone as the ritualists intended.
- From Enlightened Melina:
- What was the ritual meant to accomplish?
- Was the shadow of the wall ritually significant (as opposed to merely prophetically significant), and if so, how?
- What are the goals of the ritualists (Yoshi read the leader's motivation as not primarily harming the Empire, so much as willing to harm everyone in order to achieve his goal)?
- Do the ritualists need to do sub-rituals to invoke the 12 aspects/animals as well as the elements? I thought we thought they did. Also, what do they need to do after that?
- If they do need to invoke the animals, there is speculation that this might tie in with the Seven Spirit Monkeys that [[Min-Su and Master Zhou told us about|??]. We speculate that Monko might be one of these Monkeys; Xiao Fa looked at Monko's chi and says that "It is like a drawing of a monkey in moving parallel lines...Very odd, and his chi does not flow so much as...dance..."
- What is the timing of their future rituals? We think (confirmed by Takanata's i Ching reading) that the next one won't be until at least the Day of the Dog, but what about after that?
- Hana and Hiro's father refers to the Forest of Chin as "the heart of the Empire." Yoshi wonders if that's true in a mystical sense (e.g. in the way that we speculate about the mystical significance of the Roads and the Butterfly Kingdom not having Roads or Dragon Army).
- Takanata's poem warning him that the twins were in danger when they were kidnapped for the first ritual included (in a dark, different-than-usual hand) 'The memory of Light moves away from the Shadow.' I could swear someone has recently told us the purpose of the ritual was 'to separate the Shadow from the memory of Light,' but have not found it in either logs or email -- does anyone else remember this? Anyway, this seems different from 'separating Yin from Yang,' because 'shadow' and 'memory of light' are supposed to be two names for the same thing, both Yin-ish. So, what's up with this?
- Could the Southrons' trick for sloppy rituals somehow relate to using the awryage to add power to their ritual? So far, Empire rituals seem to have fiery awryage and Southron rituals seem to have lightning awryage. [ I think you're reading too much into the fire vs lightning thing, especially since lightning isn't technically an element and is more likely just an expression of pure excess energy, while fire is a distinct element that would result from an imbalance designed into or resulting from a failure of a ritual in a specific way. -Shen-Ji.]
- The Southrons don't seem to have spirit animals; do they have yin, yang, and the same elements, or are they crafting this ritual using the symbols of the Empire for some particular reason?
- Confirmed Facts
- Presumed Truths
- Maybe it's opium, maybe it's other stuff. Maybe it's not even really smuggling.
A guy called Lucky Chang is sending ninja to kill Zhu Cai-Wen, as seen in Of Cabbages and Coins. He has enough resources to make a Hunter's Map to track Zhu Cai-Wen down. Good thing Cai-Wen has Shen Wei Han to look after him.
- Confirmed Facts
- Presumed Truths
Agents of the Imperial Chancellery may be keeping an eye on us. They care that we've been on the other side of the Wall.
- Confirmed Facts
- Passing beyond the Wall separates you from the Empire somehow.
- The Chancellery is aware of that.
- Inspector Ando is a chancellery spy, watching for people who cross the Wall.
- There are shapeshifters beyond the wall.
- Inspector Ando wants the Chancellery warned that the circus needs to be dealt with.
- Presumed Truths
- Did we in fact bring something unpleasant with us across the Wall? See Takanata-san's I Ching reading.
- Is it the Bloodspear?
- Is the prohibition against crossing the wall the Spider's idea, designed to keep the Empire's citizens under the influence of his evil power?
Butterfly Kingdom Blockade
- Confirmed Facts
- A Savanna clan bought a large number of ships from the House of Beneficent Travel.
- Presumed Truths
- The Savanna guy Shen Wei talked to implied that the problem with the Butterfly Kingdom (from his perspective, anyway) is that it has no Imperial Highway (also, as Shen Wei knows, it has no Dragon Army outpost). Is the blockade trying to force a Highway, or equivalent? We've lately discovered that the Empire's currency (Tael) has magical significance and creates an effect that can be harnessed. Do the Highway and/or Army also have magical significance as well as political significance? Some sort of literal binding of the Kingdoms together and/or controlling them, perhaps?
- A healthy set of highways is essential to a healthy empire. They must be patrolled and maintained. --Shen Wei Han 12:09, 5 July 2009 (EDT)
- That said, I don't think the absence of a garrison is the reason for blockading the Butterfly Kingdom. It is an excuse for considering it "not part of the Empire." --Shen Wei Han 12:09, 5 July 2009 (EDT)
Feng Shui/Mystic Significance/Structure of the Empire, and Tampering Therewith
- Confirmed Facts
- A cartogramancer bribed a Dragon Army officer to rebuild a section of Imperial Highway; he also tried to forge the old plans to make it look like the section had always been designed that way. The changes would have altered the feng shui of that bit of highway from an emphasis on "safe passage" to an emphasis on "swift passage." Father Chen notes that in the past 25 years or so, highway design and repair has been more micromanaged from above (i.e. the Imperial Chancellory), with plans being handed down to the local designers rather than local designers having a free rein to do what they want within certain basic constraints. (Imperial Highways are ordered by the Empire, but the actual work is administered by the country where the bit of road is located.) There was major road rebuilding around 150 years ago, and Father Chen thinks this means a major rebuild is planned or even in progress now. Feng Shui-wise, he feels "None of the new highway sections built in the last century even come close to matching the grandeur and splendor of the Great Northern Passage," which was built several hundred years ago.
- See notes in Butterfly Kingdom Blockade about highways and the Dragon Army, and the Tael.
- Presumed Truths
- The cartogramancer seemed well aware of the feng shui issue--he wasn't accidentally changing the feng shui of the road while pursuing some other goal, changing the feng shui seemed to be part of the point.
- Messing with a particular little bit of Imperial Highway seems likely to be part of some larger scheme. Possibly there's a long-term large-scale scheme for messing with the Feng Shui of the Highway in general? But by whom, and for what purpose? Has the Imperial administration lately changed its goals/purpose? Has it been infiltrated?
- Presumably the Imperial administration's goals/purpose used to include (and maybe still do) keeping the Empire bound together -- mystically, as well as politically?
- What is the (mystical, not political) significance of the Butterfly Kingdom having no Highways and no Army? (Does the Shrouded Isle have Army? Presumably it has no Highway...?)
- Confirmed Facts
- The same cabbage-farming peasant was involved in two different cart collisions hundreds of li apart, one on midwinter's day a little west of the Port of Auspicious Voyage, and one about two months later somewhere in between the Port of Propitious Voyage and the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. Xian, Wei Han, and Cai-Wen were all present for both incidents.
- As of Cabbage Soup, the House of Continuing Sustenance, in the Hon'eth Arcade, has an Influence stat of "Cabbage".
- Presumed Truths
- Wei Han, uniquely, has an Aspect of Winter rather than of a single animal of the Cycle.
- There could be something significant about the presence of
Cold MiserShen "Winter" Wei Han on midwinter solstice. The cabbage farmer is particularly adept at growing high quality cabbages in the middle of winter.
- What happens when you use a stat of "Cabbage" in the Arcade Great House Mechanic?
For those poems that Takanata can explain, they should go in their appropriate plot section, but if we are unclear I thought we should have a place for them on the page that has all the different things they might be referring to.
- Ghost Hunters
- Sand stretches in all directions
- Footsteps lead south in dashed lines
- An arrow pointing into the past
- A trail to be followed
- Note: this poem was written on both sides of its parchment.
Ti Jun was last seen in the City of Light, and has not returned in the four months since. The Prince's future seems to be mystically obscured. Ti Lao got trapped in the web in the Tanzhe Plain when looking for Ti Jun. Machan Li thinks he was thwarted by the war going on in the Plain at the time. The plan that was thwarted was a "trade" of some sort.
Speculating: Machan Li has kidnapped the Prince somewhere in the vicinity of the Tanzhe Plain, and intended to trade Ti Jun to the Butterfly Kingdom for something that would have let him rename it, but the war in the Plain thwarted him. Or, Machan Li intended to kidnap the Prince in the Tanzhe Plain, but the war thwarted him.
Are we to conclude that the war was actually instigated by a good guy with more clue than we have? The Dragon Army was deliberately moved from the area, but perhaps that was to allow a different war (Savanna vs. Butterfly) or just to implement the blockade up north.
Shrouded Isle Blockade / Firelord Succession
The Shrouded Isle is currently blockaded by the Dragon Army. The nobility on the island is resigned to the blockade continuing until there is a new Firelord.
Minoru Katsu was betrothed to Kuan-Xi, but she has indicated that she does not intend to honor that betrothal. This has caused conflict among the noble houses, though some are treating it as "only a rumor."
A series of mysterious deaths has further exacerbated the general state of tension. Foul play is suspected.
Things are particularly difficult for the peasantry because the Dragon Army forces stationed on the islands are not being supplied by the mainland. They have had to "double tax" the peasants to support themselves.
(Are we sure Kuan Xi is one of the good guys? Lijuan knows she's a good guy, but who listens to Lijuan?)
Advice from Madame Song, via Cai Wen, on how to get Kuan-Xi off the hook: Find another politically advantageous match for Minoru Katsu. From the Arcade, the House of Benevolent Oversight or the House of Beneficent Travel might work.