|"Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Tortoise in the eighth Year of the Spider of the Stewardship.|
The run takes place in and around the Reflected City, capital of the Roof of the World.
Through the Veiled Pass
As people begin to pack up their things in preparation for heading south from Embanked Gate, Yanyu drops by. She is curious to know what people think Lord Hawk's intentions are towards Lijuan, given his behavior and his reputation as a Very Bad Person. Shuyan thinks that it might be more relevant what Lijuan's intentions are towards Lord Hawk, and thinks that Lord Hawk seemed innocuous enough when Shuyan first heard about him in Basewatch Hill. Shuyan also doesn't think Lijuan is as naive as people think she is, though Xiao Fa boggles a bit at that theory. Shuyan clarifies - she finds it very unlikely that Lijuan would actually run off with a rogue and leave Yoshi. Xiao Fa notes that there are more ways to get her in trouble other than running off, but Shuyan maintains with confidence that Lijuan wouldn't violate her principles. Anyway, Yanyu thought he was an interesting prospect at first, but now that she hears that he's a scoundrel, she's more concerned. Shuyan thinks that everyone's sudden shift in opinion is odd, and worth investigating as well. Yanyu asks - does anyone know what aspect Lord Hawk is? No one else can tell, but this line of conversation leads to a quick crash course in astrology for Shuyan from Yanyu. Wei Han, showing up, also weighs in: Lord Hawk is definitely a bad guy.
Meanwhile, Ringmaster Te starts spreading the word - make sure to not go through the Veiled Pass without getting a briefing from Li Merit. Unfortunately, it seems that Merit is off on a trading expedition, leading to a brief panic by Ringmaster Te, but he tells everyone that the important point is to just remain calm, stay calm and be themselves - er, strike that, don't be yourselves, but remain calm. There is no fighting permitted in the Reflected City, on pain of banishment. Wei Han runs off to check with the garrison in Embanked Gate - they confirm that soldiers, who don't always follow the local rules, do get banished a lot. Anywhere in the area of the city counts, as far as they know. Min Feng asks around some, and gets some more details - anywhere within line of sight of Mirror Lake, and man-made structures don't block that line. Also, everyone who breaks the peace always gets caught. Shen-Ji, who has yoinked the Butterfly Talisman, gets put in charge of making sure everyone stays calm, while Ringmaster Te tries to figure out where Merit has gone.
The circus heads out from Embanked Gate - the entrance to the pass is just behind the city, and hard to see until you're right on top of it. As the circus heads south through the pass, Xiao Fa is surprised to not see any northgoing traffic - this is taken as a sign of Something Bad going on, and the party shifts into "outriders" mode.
- "Make a Wits roll with Passive Perception and Sense Ambush." -Mike
- "Not to give it away or anything." -Cael
- "Just saying." -Mike
Bandits in green cloaks leap down from the sides of the pass, demanding tribute. Those with particularly low status are somewhat fazed for a moment, and the fighters look around in worry, wondering if the lake is visible from where they are, or if they're free to kill the bandits. There is no sign of a lake, but there is a wooden palisade down the pass, which might possibly be blocking the view of the lake. No one is sure whether they can chop with impunity. Min Feng hides, and the talkers start talking.
- "You are unwise to attack those who defeated the Shadow, and so near the Reflected City. Lay down your weapons and things will go better for you." -Yoshi
Some of the bandits are worried by this, while others, farther away, try to menace Shen-Ji, but he nonchalantly puts up a wall, keeping them from getting at him. Wei Han continues with the intimidation, pointing out that he killed another guy in a green cloak who was probably their boss, just last week.
- "If we continue through the pass without giving you anything or dropping our weapons, you are not going to attack us." -Xian, with 13 successes
The bandits concede that this might have been a misunderstanding, and allow everyone to pass. Yoshi isn't quite happy with leaving them to bother the next group, but it's not clear what can be done at this point. Maybe more intimidation? Min Feng memorizes one of the bandits for later tracking.
- "Pick a different hunting ground. If I see you again, I'll be leaving, and I won't care if I get banished." -Wei Han
- "Clearly you learned nothing from the valley of the ice castle. Learn from this encounter and pick a different line of work." -Yoshi
The group heads down to the palisade as the bandits retreat into the hills. Several other travellers are passing through the palisade before them, and are immediately interrogated by the party - how did they deal with the bandits? By being robbed, they say.
The soldiers on the palisade do agree that there have been a lot of bandits around, especially recently, though maybe not quite as many as last week. However, the important thing they have to warn everyone about is that the Reflected City is sealed - no one is permitted to leave until the seal has been lifted by the Steward.
The party clamors to know when the seal will be lifted (he doesn't know) and what the situation is that has caused the seal (he isn't permitted to tell them). Yoshi explains that they're with the Silken Wings Circus, which may not want to be trapped in the city forever. The soldier thinks that a circus performance will lift spirits, but is still unable to guarantee that people who enter will be able to leave until the seal is lifted. Yoshi says some of his friends in the circus will be annoyed by that; the soldier suggests that anyone who will be annoyed refrain from entering.
Then ensues much discussion about whether or not to go into the city to try and resolve the situation in the half hour before the circus arrives, or going back to the circus, or giving Ringmaster Te one of Min Feng's communication papers - the soldiers clarify that there is to be no passing back of packages or notes, though people can shout over the wall. Going back to meet Ringmaster Te to give him a paper so that they can tell him via the paper about the seal is a little too silly, so they end up just going back to talk to the Ringmaster. (Min Feng notes that the bandits are hiding on the other side of the hills, and points at the one she has memorized. He gets mocked by his companions, though he doesn't see how anyone can see him, since he's hiding behind a rock.)
Ringmaster Te thinks that being stuck in the city for a while is better than being stuck in the Veiled Pass - a captive audience is just the thing! However, he doesn't want to be stuck forever, so he suggests that the party deal with resolving the issue, whatever it is. Yoshi suggests that they might talk to the Steward to get dispensation to leave before they go in, but that seems hard to manage, since the Steward is inside. Xiao Fa starts to get hassled as people pass the checkpoint, but Wei Han claims him as his responsibility.
- "Is he your prisoner?"
- "Well... don't let him out of your sight."
The Reflected City
Once past the checkpoint, the pass goes over a slight hill, and then the lake and the city by its side are visible. The more bloodthirsty party members realize that they could have killed the bandits with impunity, and are saddened by their failure to do so. The city soldiers remind everyone that there is No Fighting in the city, upon pain of banishment.
Wei Han (with Xiao Fa in tow) goes to visit the local Dragon Army garrison. They don't really know the details about why the city has been sealed - the Steward has some bug on him about something, and doesn't want anyone to leave. It's not really their plot, since they don't have any immediate need to leave. The city's been sealed for four days now. Wei Han wonders whether anyone's been banished in the past four days, and if so, what happened to them - they haven't heard of anyone being banished. It doesn't happen that often.
Min Feng asks around the market, and gets a little more information - someone broke into the palace and stole one of the Steward's treasures, or so rumor has it. The marketplace also doesn't know any details of anyone being banished, but they're pretty sure that closing the city wouldn't prevent it.
Yoshi pokes around the market as well - he spots a kid looking at him, pointing at Yoshi and an applecart. Yoshi heads over. The kid grabs an apple, and starts to run, complaining loudly about having been spotted. Yoshi chases after him, shouting over his shoulder to have someone pay for the apple. He catches up to the kid, who is one of the Secret Swords. He's glad to see Yoshi, and wants to know what they should be doing - they were on their way home from being summoned by the Shadow, but now they're stuck in the city. The Secret Swords weren't important enough for Johnny to be summoned to the meeting that everyone got massacred at, but they were important enough to be summoned originally by the Shadow. Yoshi says that he'll go talk to the Steward to sort things out. The kid is impressed - the Steward's on the take too? No, Yoshi says, he'll just make the Steward see things his way. He tells the kid to stay out of trouble, which the kid agrees to with a broad wink.
Everyone else heads to the Steward's Citadel - there's a bit of an angry mob there, pacing politely around keeping out of each others' way, chanting about how they want to be able to leave. Shen-Ji floats up on his disk to about neck height, forcing people out of his way and gesturing the party to fall in behind him, to make a grand entrance up to the citadel gate.
- "Make a Status roll with... entrancing?" -Mike
Shen-Ji tells the guys at the gate that he wishes to make an appointment to see the Steward. The gate-guards are sad to say that the Steward is closeted with his advisors right now, but they should be able to arrange for an appointment the evening for the following day. Master Yang leaves his name, and retires with his "retinue".
Then, everyone regroups, and looks for an inn. The price for four rooms is pretty steep, so they head back to the circus to discuss what to do next. Xiao Fa says he'll look into the chi of the area, and heads down towards the lake, followed by a mystified Wei Han; he wades in a little ways, and then starts circling around the lakeshore, until he reaches an area where the current is stronger, and there's an outflow down what will become the Jasmine River. Xiao Fa starts swimming down the river, with Wei Han on the bank, until a line of boats becomes visible. At that point, Wei Han shouts enough to wake Xiao Fa from his reverie, and he swims ashore. One boat heads upriver to warn them that no exit downriver is permitted, and the previously-pegged-as-nefarious Xiao Fa trying to escape the city will likely go on his record as well.
Shen-Ji takes a look at the lake, trying to determine how magical it is. He thinks that it's closer to witchcraft, or natural magic, than sorcery, and that the effect is definitely tied to the reflection. Xiao Fa also notes that the feng shui of the lake is very much an archetypal lake - if you were to build a zen garden and put a lake in it, you might want it to look like this (but smaller).
Back at the circus, there is a monk waiting - he says that he must speak to Brother Xiao Fa immediately.
- "This one is Brother Sochu. I am glad that you could make the journey in time - please let me know if there is anything you need as you prepare for the Master's death."
- "Huh, I missed a plot." -Min Feng
Xiao Fa, a little confused, asks which Master it is that Brother Sochu means? Brother Sochu notes that it is Master Tenzin, abbot of the High Temple of the Meihua Sannong, who has proclaimed that it is his time. Isn't that why Xiao Fa is here?
- "Not originally..." -Xiao Fa
- "You will be expected at the dawn exercises tomorrow, then." -Brother Sochu
Ringmaster Te declares that there will be a rehearsal tomorrow, and an opening performance the following day. Everyone should get a good night's sleep for tonight. Min Feng notes that her memorized bandit is in the Reflected City now, in the entertainment district - she tries to talk one of the party fighters into going and messing with him, but none of them are keen on being banished so quickly.
Some further investigation with streetwise and gather information turns up a bit more information on what has happened: one of the "Shinies" is missing. The Shinies, formally called the Sentinels, are the three captains of the city guard - Cha Dar, Sin Fa, and Bo. Bo has been missing for four days now, and they are turning the city upside down looking for him.
Yoshi heads off to talk to the Secret Swords - he does think he spots one of the boys, but when he heads into the alley, he runs across a tall monk instead.
- "It is not always wise to wander the streets late at night - may I be of assistance?"
- "Ah, but I seek to make the streets safer." -Yoshi
- "That is a worthy goal, but to make the streets safe, you must affect not the streets but the hearts of those who live within."
The monk introduces himself as Brother Sochu of the Meihua Sannong. Yoshi offers his condolences, and his assistance, if it is needed. He also wonders - are the Meihua Sannong responsible for the state of peace here in the Reflected City. Brother Sochu says no, although a monk of their order was present when it began. However, there are those who, with the passing of the Master, wish to take a more direct role in extending the peace beyond the valley. Yoshi notes that this peace is an enforced one - has the order had success changing people's hearts as well? Brother Sochu claims they have had some successes, but the struggle is always an individual one.
- "It is not so easy to change the heart of a nation as a heart of a man." -Brother Sochu
- "Are you familiar with the Gateway of Redemptive Principles?" -Yoshi
As it turns out, Brother Sochu has heard of it, much to the astonishment of the rest of the party, who never really understand what Yoshi is talking about. Brother Sochu says that the sect of the Threefold Plum Blossom concentrates on perfection of the spirit and the chi, but those who follow that path realize that there are many routes which lead to the same end. Yoshi is curious to learn more, but Brother Sochu does have further business to attend to, and suggests that they speak further after the events of the following day.
Min Feng asks around with a description (from her dream) of the monastery her mother is in - it's down the Jasmine River a bit, beyond the line of boats but not very far.
And then, it is time for rest.
In the morning, Xiao Fa, Wei Han, Min Feng, Yoshi, and Zhi Hao head to the Meihua Sannong temple; everyone else decides that exercises are not a compelling reason to arise before dawn, and sleep in. Some of the soldiers on duty in the city glare at Xiao Fa as he passes, but Wei Han makes it clear that things are Under Control and no one tries to arrest him. When the group arrives at the temple, the brother on duty at the door remarks that this is not a city in which such armor and weapons are customarily worn, but neither of the fighters is willing to set their arms aside without a more direct request.
In the outer courtyard, Brother Changling leads the novices and visitors through dawn exercises, while Xiao Fa (followed by Wei Han) head through into the inner courtyard for more advanced exercises. The outer courtyard gets tea and buns afterwards; the inner group gets meditation. Min Feng asks if the monks here are familiar with the monastery downriver - they recognize it as the Order of the Uplifted Tranquility, a contemplative order, for those who do not wish to partake of the world.
Then, a bell begins to ring, and everyone is informed that Master Tenzin wishes to speak to Brother Sochu, Brother Changling, Sister Aiyu, and Brother Xiao Fa. The other three monks appear to be the most senior here; Xiao Fa is by far the exception.
Brother Changling is first to speak to Master Tenzin; after the Master whispers in his ear, he leaves the room, frowning slightly. Brother Sochu is next; he bows deeply and leaves with a beatific smile. Sister Aiyu offers the Master some tea, and after the words to her, leaves with a tear in her eye. Finally, Xiao Fa is alone with Master Tenzin, who tells him "You must ensure that the Great Work continues. Do not be moved from the path." Then he lays back, and discorporates in a floating spray of plum blossoms, drifting through the air in the slight spring breeze through the window. As far as Xiao Fa knows, becoming one with the Chi at the moment of your death is something that happens only rarely in legend, for the greatest of masters, and at the end of a perfected life. Xiao Fa, reaching out for one of the plum blossoms that has come to rest on the master's robe, realizes that there is something in the pocket of his robe. He waffles, and then decides he has to know - it's a pai gow tile, with a flower carved on it. Waffling some more, he finally pockets both it and the plum blossom. Then, he carefully folds the robe and carries it to the temple's treasury, where the quartermaster bows deeply to Xiao Fa and the robe, and takes it inside to a place of honor.
Outside, the people eating buns and drinking tea overhear a disagreement between Brother Changling and Brother Sochu. Brother Changling thinks that the next Great Work of the Order needs to not be secret; Brother Sochu thinks that it is most important that it be worthy.
Back at the circus, Shuyan is awoken by someone clapping politely outside her tent. It's one of the circus hands - there are some "gentlemen" (the sarcasm is heavy) who insist on searching her tent. The soldiers are quite polite, though insistent, but while they find a number of snakes, they don't find anything suspicious, or, apparently, what they're looking for. Shuyan is charming at them, trying to figure out what they're looking for.
- "It's standard, um, new procedure for contraband, ma'am. You don't need to worry about the murder... er, please disregard that!"
Shuyan asks if someone's been banished - the soldiers are sure that someone has, though they don't have details. After the soldiers finish searching her tent, they proceed to those of the others, though everyone else has awoken by then.
Everyone at the temple regroups, and Min Feng tries to get Xiao Fa to tell her what the Secret Great Work of the Order was, but he claims not to know. Perhaps more can be found out from the two monks - Brother Changling went into the dormitory, and Brother Sochu headed towards town. Xiao Fa heads for the dormitory, and comes upon Brother Changling attempting to sway some of the younger monks with a campaign speech. Though these times are sad, the Order must move forward, and it can be a more powerful force for good in the world. They can build upon their history and extend the peace of Mirror Lake, an effect that can be seen and understood, not kept a secret and probably a waste of time. Xiao Fa protests - surely the last Great Work could have been something worthwhile the fruits of which have not been seen? Brother Changling admits that is possible, but finds it unlikely that something with no apparent effects can have been that good.
The group heads back down into town, and Min Feng swings by the entertainment district to see where her bandit is. He's at a noodle house having noodles. Min Feng waves at him. He waves back and winks. She waves a little rock at him. Puzzled but friendly, he offers her a seat at his table. She taunts him that he forgot his rock. Even more puzzled, he asks what rock she's talking about. She points back towards the Veiled Pass. The bandit realizes that she must be one of the people he robbed in the past, and notes that there are obviously no refunds. After Min Feng leaves the noodle house, the bandit goes to meet up with a couple of the other green-cloaked bandits, to warn them that one of the people they robbed is... behaving somewhat ominously. They agree to meet "at the inn with the upstairs" if there is more trouble.
Wei Han heads off to the Dragon Army garrison to see if he can talk them into going after the bandits, though Shuyan wonders if they might come in tactically handy, the way the Bluecloaks did. The garrison soldiers are willing to be talked into trying to capture some bandits; they can ask around to see if anyone is willing to be banished. They assume Wei Han's up for being banished as well; when he admits he's not ready to be, they lose some of their enthusiasm, and tell him to come back when he's willing to take the hit. He tells them when he's ready to leave the city, he'll let them know, presumably on the theory that he'll never need to return to the Roof of the World again.
Shen-Ji Offers his Assistance
Then, it's off to the Steward's Citadel. The Steward offers polite apologies to Master Yang and his entourage - there are important state considerations which preclude raising the seal as yet. He expects things to be taken care of soon, though. Shen-Ji asks if he might be enlightened as to the source of these difficulties; the Steward is a little loth to brief the party on his troubles, unless they are likely to be of direct assistance. Yoshi leaps in, confidently - this is Master Yang Shen-Ji they are speaking of! Of course he can be of assistance! As it turns out, however, a metal sorcerer is just what the Steward needs - the court sorcerer is a water mage, and a combination of water and metal are needed.
Shen-Ji gets sworn to secrecy, and given an emergency security clearance by the court sorcerer. Each of the three Sentinels has a medallion (a water/metal artifact) which allows them to commit violence within the city - this lets them arrest people when needed. However, both Bo and his amulet have gone missing, and foul play is suspected. Thus, the sorcerer is designing a ritual to take two of the amulets and use them to find the third. Unfortunately, as he hasn't had time to test it much, it's still filled with a lot of backlash. Shen-Ji uses his ritual hints shtick to come up with the idea that if the mages wear the medallions instead of the Sentinels, they'll take less damage, and be far more likely to survive.
While Shen-Ji is talking to the mage, Squi Shi, Min Feng overhears a few guards talking - there was a murder in the palace last night. The murdered man was a sergeant in the guard, in charge of scheduling the patrols keeping the city sealed, and some of his papers were stolen.
Shen-Ji brings the rest of the party in on the planning, and they decide the best thing to do is for Shen-Ji to wear a talisman, and also have Squi Shi give his talisman to Master Deng at the conclusion of the ritual, and they’ll go out and find the third.
- "Yeah, I'll just tell the Steward that the out of town mage and his bodyguard can take the two remaining talismans and go off and solve the problem all by themselves."
Master Deng and Shen-Ji get back in to talk to the Steward. The Steward is not at all enthusiastic about this plan, but Master Deng places the reputation of the Court of Beauty on the line. The Steward accepts the word of this emissary from the Beautiful King, but warns that there will be serious repercussions between their two kingdoms should something go wrong. War is not directly mentioned but heavily implied. Deng assures him it will all be fine.
Meanwhile, Xiao Fa has wandered back to the healing house at the Meihua Sannong temple to talk to Sister Aiyu. She has some sympathy for Brother Changling's opinion - it's hard to feel a lot of enthusiasm for a task that one is not called upon to help with, or even told about. She's sure that it was worthwhile, but she'd rather call upon everyone to assist with a new Great Work that can encompass everyone. Her personal wish would be to open more small healing houses, and train more healers to go on circuit - right now, there are some healing houses, but not that many, and it's hard for people to travel far to deal with a serious injury or illness. Xiao Fa asks her if she knows what the last Great Work was, and she gives him a sharp look, and notes that if he doesn't know, she could hardly be expected to. Xiao Fa considers for a bit, and then says that he probably did know, but doesn't any longer, and Sister Aiyu notes even more sharply that this seems to be taking the penchant for secrecy a little too far. Xiao Fa wonders if Master Tenzin left any writings - Sister Aiyu says there are some in the library, though none of them are labeled "Secret Great Work Plans".
Back at the Citadel, Wei Han realizes that Xiao Fa has gone missing, and Xiao Fa realizes that he has accidentally wandered out of Wei Han's sight; he asks Sister Aiyu to send a runner down to the Citadel to let Wei Han know he needs an escort from the healing house to the library. Poking around in the library, Xiao Fa finds a notebook which has an embossed flower on it somewhat resembling the the flower on the pai-gow tile. He spends the next hour poring over the notebook which is full of esoteric Chi Mastery discussion, and comes to some conclusions: the first section is the starting background techniques and Master Tenzin's starting understanding; the second section is Master Tenzin's notes and thoughts on something he learned from someone or something else; the third section is his synthesis of his own initial understanding and the received wisdom into his final understanding. There are no proper nouns or anything like that, but it seems to be a thesis on Master Tenzin's Great Work Techniques.
On the way back from the temple, Wei Han stops by the garrison again, and asks that some of the soldiers stick somewhat close by, in case he needs them as reinforcements. They're a little grumpy at being asked to be part of a secret mission without being told what the mission is, but agree to be vaguely nearby.
Elsewhere, Min Feng, Shuyan, and Xian, decide there has been enough waiting and go off to solve the plot by the proper application of several monkeys. After a bunch of wandering around and letting loose monkeys looking for hiding people, etc., they find a small out of the way tavern that seems to have a fairly secure back room. They go into the back room, and discover a trap door leading down into a hidden basement. Down another small ramp, they come to a group of the Secret Swords having some sort of contained brawl. Astonished that the Swords can fight without getting banished, they lock them in, and head off to get Yoshi.
"Hi, boss! You need something?" Yoshi is impressed - they figured out how not to get banished for fighting! The Secret Swords preen - they've been talking to some people, learning some things. They found out about the "only fight in deep basements" trick from some red-cloak bandits. Yoshi spars with Johnny, emphasizing the Yielding Water technique to try and knock some spiritual focus into the young man. Johnny says as far as he's heard, nobody is trying to fence whatever it was that was stolen from the palace. And while a lot of people are trying to get out, nobody seems to be successful. One guy said he was a mountain climber and could get people out that way, but it turned out he was actually one of the Steward's men and they all ended up arrested. Johnny also has to explain again about being summoned by the Shadow. He hasn't heard from the Shadow since the valley exploded and the castle got all full of ice. Yoshi points out to Johnny that he defeated the Shadow, and Johnny is duly impressed - that's why the Secret Swords work for Yoshi.
Back at the palace, Deng finds out that the Peace of the Lake dates back to when the line of Kings was broken, ninety years or so ago, so sometimes it's also known as the Steward's Peace. Hmm, so probably "banishment" ties into the curse on Lord Hawk too. Maybe it's Lord Hawk trying to steal the medallion? If the Peace of the Lake has to do with the renaming of the Roof of the World, then the party should want to help break the Peace?
- "Damn it!" -Zhi-Hao, realizing that the plot is more complicated
Xian starts worrying about the potential complications more seriously. Why is everyone so sure that the Sentinels can't actually be bought off? Well, they get paid a lot, and they're vetted for integrity as well as a a lack of convenient relatives to kidnap. What would you use for leverage against them? Xian continues to fret that the thief is Lord Hawk or one of his associates, and shouldn't be thwarted, but no one else is particularly confounded by Xian's qualms.
Squi Shi (fortified with a khav root) and Shen-Ji do the ritual, and soak a lot of damage before gettng a sense of where the third medallion is. Squi Shi takes off his medallion and gives it to Zhi-Hao; that medallion loses its directional pointer, but Shen-Ji's still has it. Off everyone goes along the indicated direction. It takes a while, first along the lake and then over a hill, until they head back down to a copse of trees backing on a curve of the upper Jasmine, just below the lake.
Heading into the forest, the party sees several armed men, and there is a whistle and an alarm given: "Company's coming - and they're shinies!" Another man emerges from the trees, who people recognize from his description as Bo, and he's still wearing his amulet. From behind the copse of trees, an ominous and evil-sounding voice rumbles: "Delay them!". No one has heard anyone so obviously evil since they last spoke to Lord Hawk.
Well, whoever that is, is obviously a bad guy, but Yoshi is concerned with why Bo betrayed the other Sentinels. He uses his why do you do this shtick on him.
- "The man who cannot be swayed by bribes, or blackmailed, can be swayed by duty. He seeks to restore the true line of kings." -Mike
Yoshi confronts him - did he really murder the guard sergeant? Bo frowns, but notes that "regrettably, to restore the throne, some must be sacrificed"; Yoshi thinks he didn't kill the man himself, but didn't prevent it either.
While Yoshi and Xian ponder all this about the true line of kings, Zhi-Hao and Shen-Ji are charging past the guards and the copse of trees. As they're the only ones able to do violence without being banished, they have no time for moral ambiguities. Shen-Ji makes Bo's sword too heavy to carry, but as Deng runs past the guards, they automatically disarm him and his sword spins away, where Bo can grab it. Deng has a second sword, so he draws it as he runs.
Xiao Fa, observing the chi of what just happened, thinks that the reactive disarm shtick is about as close as you can get to doing violence without crossing the line. On the other hand, whoever that is in back of the trees is way past the line, clearly violent and banished to several orders of magnitude.
Once Deng gets past the trees, he sees the Evil Guy fussing with some... well, he's not mechanically apt enough to really figure out what they are, other than kind of large bowl-shaped contraptions. Whoever he is, he's not Lord Hawk, though he is clearly just as evil as Lord Hawk.
- "Apparently there's more than one of them in their secret cabal of badness."
Zhi-Hao demands to know what the Obviously Evil Guy is doing, and he says (ominously) that he will retake what is rightfully his. Then, he pushes the bowl into the river and jumps into it; the bowl submerges until only the very top of his head is visible.
- "Bo - cover my retreat and you will receive your just rewards!" -Obviously Evil Guy
Wei Han leaps into the river after the Evil Guy and his submersible-boat-bowl-thing, and promptly sinks to the bottom in his plate mail. Several bodyguards jump in him afterwards, and do not fare much better. Bo runs in that direction, and everyone drifts downstream.
- "We'll drown with you, sir!" -Soldiers
Yoshi focuses on the bodyguards - what were they offered? They were just offered money, a tael each.
- "Can I get cut in on that too?" -Shen-Ji
Shen-Ji catches up to the crowd in the river, and starts shooting the Obviously Evil Guy with his magical iron arrows, and Zhi-Hao flings shuriken at his head. Bo tries to grab Zhi-Hao, but the cane of free action flips him into the river instead, and he starts to drown as well. Wei Han manages to grab the bowl as it passes above him, but isn't able to dump the Obviously Evil Guy into the river.
Min Feng jumps in the river a ways upstream, and spends three karma, hoping to convince the spirit of the Jasmine River to throw everyone back onto shore. The river whispers in her ear, but she doesn't have an action to tell anyone what it said.
Shen-Ji shoots the Obviously Evil Guy with another iron arrow, and he falls, clutching his chest. He shakes his fist at Shen-Ji, and cries out to the heavens: "My son! The burden is now yours!" as he expires. Victory!
Xian is really starting to be sure that things have gone Horribly Horribly Wrong, though the various drowning people are pulled out of the river. Then, Min Feng climbs back onto the bank and shouts to Bo that he has been misled - the Obviously Evil Guy was not from the line of true kings, but from the usurper's line - the spirit of the Jasmine has told her this. Between her persuasion and that of the others, Bo is finally convinced that he's been tricked. He hands his talisman to her, crushed and convinced that he is not worthy to carry it.
Everyone leaps in to interrogate Bo about the plan - what sort of evil magical ritual were the bowls for? No, they weren't magical, they were stealth boats, to get past the line of boats on the river when the shift changed. A fifth bodyguard is the one who actually killed the patrol sergeant. How was it that the Obviously Evil Guy convinced Bo? At the time, he used an amulet that let him speak without the effect of the curse - Bo was pretty sure that that massive strength of curse would only be affecting the line of kings. People leap to search the body, but it doesn't have the amulet now, only 400 li for the promised bribes.
Bo explains what he knows of the history: before the Steward, and the Peace of the Lake, the Roof of the World was ruled by a king. The King endorsed the creation of the Peace of the Lake, but shortly after the Peace was created, a usurper attempted to seize the kingdom. The king and the usurper fought and were both banished, and the Steward (and then his descendants) took over to restore order.
Anyway, the Obviously Evil Guy (who called himself Lord Du) convinced Bo that he was of the line of original kings, and that restoring the kingship would be better for the Roof of the World. He said that if he could take one of the Sentinels' medallions out of the country, it should be possible to use it to break the peace. Bo doesn't know the magical details of how he was going to do this, though. However, Bo says, they should return to the Sentinel so he can face justice.
Shen-Ji takes a closer look at the Sentinel medallions, now that the party has all three. They're tied to the lake, which is why they're part water; the metal component encompasses the arms and fighting. The connection is to the reflection of the lake - perhaps if the water of the entire lake were roiled up to an extent that no reflection at all is possible, that might stop the effect, at least until it settled. But the nature of the lake is to be placid and reflective, so roiling it that much would be hard.
Xian wants to know - what if they could tell Bo where the real heir is? Bo thinks if they know, they should restore him, but they should use more honorable means than he did. Xian checks: why did Bo support Lord Du? Bo doesn't think that needs a complicated explanation - the land needs its king. Xian points out they have all three talismans. Does the land need all three talismans?
- "Why does the land need its king?" -Yoshi
- "Because he's right?" -Zhi-Hao
- "The land needs a king for the same reason the Empire needs an Emperor. You cannot have the body without a head." -Bo
Min Feng persuades him that the right thing to do is to serve the real rightful king, but Bo insists that he return to the Steward first, and does not really expect to survive his treason. Not to mention, the true king wouldn't be able to trust him, since he has already betrayed his country once. Yoshi argues that the true king would be able to tell who to trust, and Bo shouldn't pass by the opportunity to do good, hitting him with his hammer of many redemption dice. Maybe the party could bring the amulet of talking-despite-the-curse to the true King? Except that they don't have it.
- "Come during the eclipse and stand before the bishop, except we don't say eclipse and bishop, because that will just confuse him." -Kate
The party returns to the Steward's Citadel, and present him with Bo and the three talismans, and Bo makes his sad confession (including a mention of the 400 li). The other two Sentinels take Bo away, and the Steward says he is pleased with the result of the day, and will be sending a letter of praise to the Isle of Beauty.
Xian and Yoshi try to figure out, from his reaction to the story, what the Steward's reaction to the return of the true king would be. Well, he isn't really cackling with evil on the inside, as far as they can tell. But he's also not falling over himself to return the kingdom. Their best guess is that it would not be sufficient just to have someone of the right bloodline - it's probably necessary, but he would want to know that the person would be a good king, not just a true king.
The party makes a brief argument via Significant Looks and Meaningful Glances regarding the 400 li. Should they try to keep it? Or give it back? Does it really count as "back"? The Steward didn't start with it. On the other hand, the party was acting kind of like official agents of the kingdom with the Sentinels' medallions, so as such that would mean giving the kingdom the results of their mission. Since the Steward has heard about the money and is not making a point of asking for it, that suggests that he isn't going to cause a fuss if they do keep it, though that will probably color his perceptions. The principal contest of wills is between Shen-Ji, who thinks they should keep it all, and Min Feng, who thinks they should give it to the Steward and maybe he'll give it back to them.
Zhi-Hao, trying to tread some awkward middle ground, points out to the Steward that they found this money - what does he think should be done with it? The Steward notes that some should undoubtedly be used to compensate the family of the patrol sergeant who was murdered. (Wei Han notes that traditional army survivor benefits are not nearly so generous as 400 li.) Zhi-Hao finally breaks, and gives the pouch of li to the Steward, asking him to dispose of it as he sees fit. The Steward is pleased to see that honor thrives among the Court of Beauty. He gives half of it back to the party as a reward, and grants them the favor of the court. But, with that, he is afraid he must ask to be excused as he has to attend to the very sorry business of dealing with Bo's final punishment. Bo has broken the incorruptibility of the Sentinels, and this cannot be permitted to stand.
Yoshi and Min Feng leap in at this point - Bo's was an error of judgement, but his character was sound. The Steward, surprisingly, does not seem appropriately angry at the theory that if it had just been the real king, his treason would have been okay, and finds Yoshi and Min Feng somewhat persuasive.
- "Perhaps what you say is true. If you will undertake to remain silent, I will test his character." -the Steward
- "If we will undertake to...?"
The Sentinels bring Bo back, and the Steward makes a speech about how the cornerstone of the law of the Reflected City is the incorruptibility of the three Sentinels. The Steward's hands are tied in this matter, but he offers Bo his blade to end his own life.
Bo prepares to do so, but after he has done violence to himself but before he has died, the Steward calls for his suicide to be halted, and allows him to be banished instead of killed. (At the moment Bo acts, the banishment is clear; he is obviously an outlaw and outcast, though without the added tinge of Obviously Evil that affected Lord Du and Lord Hawk.)
The Circus puts on its "captive audience" performance before the city is unsealed; Bo is the first to leave, in banishment and disgrace. Min Feng gives him half a copper-knot token, telling him she'll give the other half to Lord Hawk the next time the party sees him. Min Feng also notes that her pet bandit is in the line to leave the city; she and Wei Han descend on the two remaining Sentinels, though they are busy, it is very easy to capture this particular bandit, since they know just where he is. The Sentinels owe the party a great debt of gratitude, so they go and capture the very important and nefarious bandit, to hang later. Justice has been done!
The 200 li are split up amongst those present; Wei Han uses a bit of his to buy drinks for the garrison soldiers, who are relieved that they didn't have to be banished after all. Though if he wants to come back at the beginning of winter, they might want to get banished then...
- Wei Han gets a meeting with the Steward.
- Wei Han and Merit go shopping.
- Yoshi and Xiao Fa spend some more time at the High Temple and chat with Brother Sochu.
- Merit goes shopping in the City of Spires.
- A Shopping Expedition (Lijuan, Cai Wen, Kasumi, Anto, Shen-Ji, Yanyu, and Shuyan) explores the Reflected City.
- Min Feng, Takanata, and Cai Wen attempt to visit the Order of Uplifted Tranquility, where Min Feng's mother is supposed to be. There are some issues.
- Kasumi heads to Stone Drum to look for ninja schools, but gets distracted by More Shopping.
- Brother Sochu, Xiao Fa, and Yoshi head north into the Veiled Pass to be mugged by bandits
- Yanyu heads to Basewatch Hill to look for Lord Hawk.
- Takanata (and maybe others) visit the Temple of Invisible Wind, the local Temple of Eternal Dream, and ask around after I Ching masters.
- Yoshi chats with one of the Sentinels about parrying and riposting