Return of the King
|"Kings are the slaves of history"|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Phoenix in the Month of the Monkey in the Seventh Year of the Bear since the Stewardship.|
The run takes place principally in the Roof of the World
Late in the night, both Lijuan and Takanata find that they are inspired to produce some interesting art.
Also that night, Xian dreams of the Roof of the World; the Steward (Gang Dinai) and his two sons (Gang Boluo, the elder, and Gang Fala, the younger) are discussing how to solve the problems of the country, in respectful disagreement; after much discussion, they go their separate ways. The Steward stays in the palace, where Xiao Fa comes and whispers in his ear, and they go to the banks of the Lake and begin a ritual. The younger son travels far and wide, up mountains and deep into valleys, seeking something, until a nameless figure whispers in his ear, and they go to the banks of the Lake and begin a ritual. The elder son goes out into the people to try to help them, but in all he turns his hand to, he fails. Then Autumn Rose comes and whispers in his ear, and they go deep into the mountain to begin a ritual. Then Autumn Rose leaves, and the elder son casts about, picking up the components of the ritual but not sure what to do with them (two components are "Homeland" and "Creation"), until he hears approaching footsteps. The dream cuts away at that point, back to a view of the country, where Xian is left with the conviction that while each of the Gang family is pursuing a different ritual, they all do so out of a deep desire to do what is best for the country and its people. Then, as Xian wakes, she sees a brief image of a little chibi Chochiro, saying "Remember, if it comes up, you count as Fox!"
That morning, everyone meets for breakfast in Tahiti. Xian is mysteriously close-mouthed about her dream, though she tries to interrogate Li Merit about the current state of the Roof of the World.
- "In the interests of dribbling out information a little at a time, what do Autumn Rose, Ming I, and Xiao Fa have in common?" -Xian
Two of them might have been Spider-aspected in the past? All three have changed their Aspect, or been aspectless? Is this a puzzle?
Kuan-Xi and Shen-Ji attempt to determine the magical nature of the ritual icons in Takanata's art, but his art is Butterfly magic/prophecy, not sorcery, even if it does have pictures of the elements. They do determine that Takanata had to go deeper than normal, because the source of his symbology is farther away than it usually is. That may have to do with Chochiro still having the Butterfly Talisman, or it may be something else. The sorcerers think that the two lakeside icons are nearly identical; the top one is a different ritual, probably more purely sorcery than the lakeside rituals. Whatever is going on in the sky is spirit-based, not sorcerous. Yanyu notes that the four locations in Takanata's picture are the four locations of note in the country right now.
Could this have to do with the "four contenders" that Chochiro mentioned? Who is the fourth contender, anyway? Those with a good sense of political gossip think that it is widely known/rumored that the Steward, Lord Du, Lord Hawk, and one of the kung fu masters of Bear Mountain are all trying to rule the country.
Lijuan's art might touch on that, with all the crowns. (Crown experts think that they are generic crowns, not specific to different countries or anything).
So... the party probably needs to go to three or four places, but it isn't clear yet exactly where any of them are. People will probably have to go to the capital and attempt to determine where everyone is from there. Kasumi trades Speedy a vial of time sand, which she has kept from Book One, in exchange for a permanent deal to temporarily shrink horses enough to go through the Tahiti water gate to Bear Mountain. Despite not being very clear on who needs to go where, quite some time is spent in discussion of the question, until the butler formally introduces Anto of Bear Mountain, the Unbinder and the Wu Xing. Since he's a house member, that's kind of unusual.
- "Lord Takanata, I am sent at the desire of the Golden Prince to provide assistance in conveying you to the World Above, where you will be one of the witnesses and advocates on his behalf to the conclave called by the Imperial Alchemist. Um, Kuan-Xi can come too. " -Anto
Anto takes Takanata and Kuan-Xi (with some magic paper from Merit) to a portion of the World Above set aside for meetings of Great Spirits; in addition to the Twelve, Dragon, Horse, Wolf, and Whale are there, as well as Li the Wanderer and the Alchemist. Li the Wanderer explains that as this matter affects the relation of Man and Great Spirit, the Golden Prince exercised his prerogative to be represented; since there was no one who could truly be said to be neutral, he chose to send both Li and Takanata, to more or less average to neutrality. The question which has been raised by the Alchemist is whether it is reasonable for the Talisman of the Butterfly to leave its power unspecified (and thus able to be nearly anything, as needed), or whether Butterfly should be required to have a specified power like all the other spirits. This seems not entirely unreasonable, so the Spirits have gathered to discuss it. Those who have Talismans but are not in the Cycle get half a vote.
Current opinion is somewhat skewed against Butterfly; Takanata and Li the Wanderer both get initial oratory attempts to try to influence the Spirits. Takanata contends that in both art and poetry, the importance is in what is left unsaid, while Li the Wanderer notes that history and story both depend on what happens being understood and remembered.
Kuan-Xi needles the Wanderer that he goes on so about remembering stories, when he makes people forget them, but Li says that most would remember him "the other way" for longer.
Takanata spends three karma getting the positions to be even just before the first vote is called. Rather than keep voting every time things shift towards one side or the other, the Spirits agree to let themselves be influenced by the doings on the map below. Each drift, Anto can bring someone from a battlemap to the World Above, and send someone down again, for each side. Anyone who is in the World Above can attempt to persuade their patron spirit, and plot-worthy actions below that match a particular spirit's nature can help persuade them as well.
Those of the party not in the World Above head to Bear Mountain, and from there to the Roof of the World. (Zhuai, left with the little carriage, follows along at a slightly slower pace). At the border between the two countries, perhaps two-thirds of the Northwest Battalion of the Dragon Army is camped. Merit makes sure Master Zhou is well-disguised, as is Wei Han. The border guards ask if anyone wants to apply for a kung fu license, but no one professes to know any kung fu.
- "It seemed like a big waste of time." -Merit
- "...inner peace." -Master Zhou
Is anyone in the party a member of a subversive organization, such as the Warriors of the Mountain? Everyone claims to not be, and clamors for a briefing on who they are. Apparently the Warriors of the Mountain are patriots of the Roof of the World, who think that the corruptive influences of Bear Mountain need to be removed.
- "Are any of you Lord Hawk, Lord Du, or one of the 'great masters of the pagodas of Bear Mountain?'"
- "Not me." -Merit
- "Me neither." -Xiao Fa
The social mavens wander around the border encampment, gathering information, and determine:
- The Dragon Army on the Wall is pretty sparse right now. The orders regarding Lord Hawk, Lord Du, and the Bear Mountain masters, is to bring them into protective custody.
- The Warriors of the Mountain are defenders against Bear Mountain, and are willing to suffer banishment for the cause.
- Each of the Steward's family is assigned a Sentinel, and rumor has it that the banished sentinel Bo has also been seen in the capital.
- The Nefarious Kar Fai is converting dark acolytes to evil kung fu, and these dark acolytes have been seen wandering the city and snatching people up.
- The Spirit of the Lake has been seen in public recently. There have been sightings near the central fountain of the Reflected City and on the banks of the Lake, and she has also been seen in multiple places at the same time.
- Lord Hawk and Du are here hiding in the city; urchins in the know can get food from them by threatening to reveal their location.
Lijuan asks if the party has an Official Position on who should become king.
Merit asks who is in town regarding Takanata's prophetic art.
- Two Sentinels
- The Steward and his son Fala
- The Meihua Sannong
- Warriors of the Mountain
- Kar Fai
- Ting Ting
- The Nameless One
- Lord Du
- Lord Hawk
- Lord Du's Sacrifice
- "Lijuan, for the record, anyone who has a 'sacrifice' in town is not on our list to become king." -Xiao Fa
- Lord Hawk's Sacrifice
- "...er. Wait, this is my ritual. Damn, I knew that." -Xiao Fa
- Lord Hawk's Guys
- Lord Du's Guys
- The Dragon Army
- The Roof of the World Milita
- Spirit of the Lake
- Li the Wanderer (Wait, really?)
- The Wu Xing
- The Imperial Alchemist
- The Obsidian Warlord
- All the Cycle Spirits plus the other big four
The guy who had to peek into the World Above to get those last ones is going home now for a long vacation.
Min Feng notes that Tai Lung is at the Gate of Five Elements.
Xiao Fa briefs everyone on the Roof of the World Renaming Ritual. Come to think of it, the step where the fog covers the Lake happened again this morning, as if someone else is doing this same ritual.
Lijuan finds out from the local urchins where Kar Fai is (in an "secret warehouse"), though she has to promise to not tell Kar Fai that they told him, lest his dark acolyte tear their honor into little pieces.
The group heads there, where they are met by an ominously cowled figure wreathed in smoke.
- "WHO DARES APPROACH THE LAIR OF THE MASTER?"
- "Ting Ting, we have no time for this. We need to see Kar Fai." -Xiao Fa
- "OH YES, YOU SHALL SEE HIM. MUAH HAH HAH." -Ting Ting
Inside the Warehouse are Kar Fai, his dark acolyte Lord Hawk, and their two prisoners (the Steward and the would-be sacrifice). The last two aren't tied up or anything, but they are obviously held here by the sheer maleficence of the others.
Kar Fai says that the Spirit of the Lake is willing to cooperate, as Yanyu has sold her family (including the bloodline of the Moon) into the service of the Lake to see that the promised 'judgement of the Lake' ritual is done. That was also what convinced the Steward that they weren't just puttering about aimlessly. Lord Du has made a similar commitment, though.
Hmm. What happens if both rituals go off simultaneously?
Well, you might break the country into two countries with different rulers. Or you might get civil war. So stopping the other ritual is just as important as doing the ritual with Lord Hawk. And, presumably, stopping the mountain ritual as well, though the consequences of doing that at the same time are entirely dependent on what it does.
Cai Wen and Lijuan head off to look for Gang Fala.
Merit swaps paper with Takanata, and gets an unfinished briefing on the World Above mechanics. Once combat starts (and there are drifts), then it should be possible to travel around. But combat hasn't started. Kar Fai offers to start it, but people aren't sure that's helpful. Maybe they should find the ritual under the mountain first? The Warriors of the Mountain might know where that is. Ting Ting says the Warriors she left are recovering at a local bar.
Merit and Min Feng heads to chat up the Warriors, who are sure that by the time the sun sets the country will be saved, but don't know exactly where this is happening. However, the people who were going to do the ritual left yesterday - they're pretty sure it would take at least six hours to get there, even if they don't know exactly which mountain it is.
Merit considers the Spiritually or Sorcerously Significant Mountains in the country. There are a lot of mountains, and if it doesn't require a particularly epic mountain, it could be anywhere. But some of the more interesting ones include:
- Temple of the Invisible Wind
- Peak of Heaven (the tallest mountain)
- The Haunted Mine
- Caverns of Earthen Night
Min Feng overhears a mention that while they don't know the location, they do know that a lot of money was sent to the ritual. Oh. Where is Ezokin? In the Haunted Mine. So Ezokin is presumably the replacement for Autumn Rose.
A new note from Takanata says, rather emphatically, to make sure to not send enemies of the Empire into the World Above, and that people with worldwalking and movement shticks might be able to do more map-swapping, as can Kuan-Xi.
The party splits up. Cai Wen and Lijuan have found the ritual with Ming I, Lord Du, and Fala on the lake shore; Xian, and Min Feng join them. Yanyu, Xiao Fa, Master Zhou, Kar Fai, and the people in Lord Hawk's ritual all head for the lake side to do the Lord Hawk ritual. Merit, Shuyan, Shen-Ji, Kasumi, and Wei Han hop in the carriage that Zhuai has brought, to go to the Haunted Mine.
Combat time begins!
Combat and Talking and Fancy Worldwalking
Some of the happenings from the three locations:
- Cai Wen starts talking to Fala, trying to persuade him not to go against the ritual his father has agreed to.
- Kasumi starts trying to sneak towards the center of the mine, and is interrupted by a gold golem.
- Lord Hawk and his sacrifice start fighting, as do Lord Du and his sacrifice.
- Takanata complains to the Alchemist about the South Wall being quite so leaky to southern entities. The Alchemist gestures at the two party members carrying Sankara stones.
- "There's your problem." -Alchemist
- Li the Wanderer sends the Obsidian Warlord to Lord Hawk's ritual, where he declares that the trial by combat is not authorized.
- " He who strikes the first blow faces me." -Warlord
- "You are out of your station - this is an internal matter witnessed by an ancient line and the Steward of this country." -Xiao Fa
- "You will not pass without getting through me." -Master Zhou, invoking single combat with the Warlord
- Yanyu puts the blessing of the Moon on Lord Hawk's ritual.
- The Steward pardons Ting Ting.
- The Warlord is not quite willing to be banished, so orders the Dragon Army to halt the ritual.
- In the Haunted Mine, Merit starts threatening everyone with necromancy.
- Li the Wanderer decides that the map where Cai Wen is talking Fala out of the ritual needs the most help, and shows up there (much to Cai Wen's pride), and Fala forgets the conversation.
- Yanyu helps persuade Phoenix to support Butterfly.
- The Spirit of the Lake consults with Crane, and gets stuck in the world above by the Alchemist’s binding.
- Yanyu asks Phoenix about her destiny.
- Takanata asks Phoenix for a briefing about the Southern Gods.
- Shen-Ji determines that all the golems walking around the mine with chests are to allow for money-mancy at range.
- Xiao Fa tries to break the Alchemist's binding of the Lake, but doesn't quite manage it.
- A Sentinel takes Cai Wen down, and Li the Wanderer offers to take care of him, taking him to the World Above to the Meadow.
- Wei Han chops Gang Boluo for 175 damage, triggering his 'final stand' death shtick. Boluo declares that only death will stop him from trying to protect his people, and Wei Han taunts him to "bring it".
- Master Zhou shouts to Lord Hawk to use a downward strike in the name of the Tortoise, helping him do more damage and impressing Tortoise.
- Li the Wanderer grabs the Warlord from the map he's on, and sends him after Wei Han, who promptly grabs him, using the Talisman of the Serpent.
- Merit determines that the ritual Ezokin is trying to do is Nameomancy - the gold is just for defenses for him. The combination of essences of Revelation, Creation, Mountain, Ancient Line, Homeland, and Royalty is combining to create a line of the Ancient Founder of the Country. Also, he notes that Boluo is essentially dead but using a shtick to get until the end of the combat to accomplish his goal before falling.
- Kasumi starts pocketing goblets of ritual essences.
- Xian drops second thoughts into Fala's Sentinel's mind.
- Wei Han tries to get the Meihua Sannong in the mine to heal Boluo, but it comes across as a threat and the healers are having none of that.
- The Alchemist pulls the Obsidian Warlord into the World Above, and Wei Han lets go of him rather than go along.
- Merit tries to do first aid on Boluo, but he's way beyond that, and Merit declines to spend the karma necessary to let him use Merit's 'die with style' escape.
- Kuan-Xi drops Min Feng into Ezokin's ritual, and Shen-Ji puts up a wall, sealing Ezokin in with Min Feng and his treasures.
- Boluo tries to chop Wei Han, but can't get through Wei Han on all-out defense, so he dies in despair.
- The Steward, sensing his son's death, wavers madly.
- "Nooo!" -the Steward
- "Get a hold of yourself, man!" -Master Zhou, hitting him
- The Alchemist notes that the outcome seems clear - shall they call it where it stands, or play to the end? Takanata agrees to finish the round and call it done.
- Takanata yoinks the unconscious Cai Wen away from Li and drops him on Xiao Fa.
- Merit tries to recruit one of the Warriors of the Mountain, but with Boluo's death, they have lost their center and aren't really a group any longer.
Lord Hawk's ritual finishes, he is crowned King of the Craneslake Heights, and all current banishments are cancelled. (Though the Peace of the Lake remains.)
Ezokin flees, and the chests of gold dissipate; the party has acquired most of the goblets of Essence (no "Ancient Line" or "Mountain", but Kuan-Xi is the source of the "Royalty" essence)
Chochiro arrives; she has been keeping the Butterfly Talisman shrouded in the land of secrets and preventing the Alchemist's conclave from going off until Chapter End, among other things. She also has found a small dragon, and its hoard, which she distributes to the party.
- Zhi-Hao: Bone Sword
A sword carved of a long bone - immune to rust, and difficult to affect with elemental sorcery
- Kasumi: Magic Beans
A plain leather pouch containing three magic beans.
- Kuan-Xi: Bag of Storms
A large bag of shiny dark fabric, containing three storms.
- Lijuan: Wood-Magnet
A horseshoe magnet which attracts wood rather than metal.
- Merit: Horn of Hornese
A hunting horn - it can be sounded to convey information to anyone within earshot who understands Hornese. Hornese may be learned from the horn.
- Wei Han: Box of False Moustaches
Each moustache may be used as a good disguise for a scene.
- Min Feng: Arrows of Travel
Eight arrows with crystal arrowheads. When shot into or at something and the arrowhead shatters, the archer switches place with the arrow.
- Takanata: Fancy Inks
A set of colored inks suitable to finish the rest of the tarot deck.
- Shuyan: Snake Rope
A rope which can be controlled as if it were a snake.
- Xian: Ocarina of Time
While you are playing the ocarina, people around you trying to do something should have enough time (assuming it is plausible.)
- Xiao Fa: Dragonet
A young dragon
- Shen-Ji: Bottle of Light and Darkness
When empty, the bottle can be uncorked to absorb all of the light, or all of the darkness, in a medium sized room. Once full, it can be uncorked to let the captured light or darkness out again to flood the room.
- Yanyu: Interesting Chest
A large chest with the potential for many drawers and compartments.
- Zhou: Gourd
A gourd of inner peace. Currently full.
- Cai Wen: Perfect Picnic
A picnic basket which will always contain the perfect meal for two.
- The GMs have been referring to this family as Denethor, Boromir, and Faramir for ever...