Stars and Stones
|"Without the darkness one would never see the stars"|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Spider in the tenth Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in a number of places
The Tanzhe Plain
Takanata takes out his easel to paint one of his usual auspicious works. Unfortunately the Sun is in his eyes, so he moves his easel around, but can’t seem to find an angle where it isn’t… even indoors with the curtains drawn. Folks think at the time that this has something to do with Shen-Ji’s blindness, which was also caused by the sun, so they head to talk to him. When Shen-Ji analyzes this (using his Darkness stat) he realizes that it isn’t sunlight that’s blinding Takanata, but starlight, as Darkness recognizes its enemies.
Takanata, Shen-Ji, Kasumi, Kuan-Xi, and Wei Han receive a note from Xiao Fa, asking us to look out for a way to integrate the guilds into the houses without violence. They’re told to expect a guildmaster to come talk to them while he is out and to please see to his needs.
The butler then announces the first visitor of the day, who is received by Kasumi as the only House of Exuberant Interference member present.
This turns out to be Sima, the Dark One – a man of shockingly dark skin, and definitely not a local. He’s here as he wishes to petition the governor to name him Justicar of the Tanzhe Plains. People aren’t really sure what that is, and his explanation doesn’t help much, since it’s a quite detailed discussion of the mediation of power and justice between various levels of the self-governed polity…or some such. When asked about his references, he will only tell Kasumi privately. She claims his references didn’t really help much, though he swears he is not a Southern Barbarian, but he kept using words like maharajah and other southernish sounding words, so she isn’t absolutely sure. He’s escorted away while they discuss.
The butler introduces the second visitor as a young lady disguised as a man. When she’s led in, most people instantly recognize her as as 2nd sister of the Seven Sisters Building Company, wearing a mustache and a hat. She wants to be referred to as “the man in the hat, or perhaps Mr. Hat for short.” She here to negotiate a contract to build a castle for the new governor. They’ve never actually built a castle before, but are quite confident in their skills and the endeavor would level them up both individually and as a company, so they’re eager for the opportunity. She’s escorted away while they discuss.
Then the butler comes in and announces in a strange voice that a third visitor has arrived. There’s something off about the butler, but they decide he just doesn’t like the new visitor. Everyone realizes why as soon as the visitor is led in. He’s identified as the Guildmaster of the guild of guilds and it seems his most obvious characteristic is that he’s super creepy. He begins to explain that he’s just come from visiting the 13 guilds and wants to negotiate with the governor for appropriate treatment of... The party interrupts him as they are simply not prepared to deal with someone so obviously creepy and probably evil in the governor’s name. Before he can really get to the meat of his proposal, he’s escorted away so they can discuss.
The morning visitors dealt with, or rather postponed, at this point the butler announces lunch, which everyone can eat “if you dare!”. Now HE’s creepy. The mages examine him magically and analyze the creepiness effect. He’s apparently got a weird sticky contagious demonic effect on him, but no direct link to a demon. The examiners have to resist the effect themselves or become creepy, but do so successfully. Further analysis indicates that the creepiness is a side effect (they just appear “dark”), but the actual effect is that they are slowly summoning stars. Aaaagh! Stars have been mentioned twice! It’s a sign of Toro!
Meanwhile, the butler heads to answer the door. When he opens it the tax collector is there and says he has come to deliver the taxes he has collected and doesn’t know who is the current purser to whom he should give the loot. The butler speaks to him and now the tax collector is creepy too. Sigh. He’s escorted away while people discuss.
The butler, tax collector, and guildmaster are placed in a room and told not to leave. The guards are told to watch the room, but not to go in and speak to them.
Kuan-Xi goes out into the tent city to see if the effect has spread and finds several people, including the blacksmith, and tries to isolate them from the general populace to slow the spread of this thing. Gathering information, she also finds that the guildmaster came from the direction of Blood Hill most recently and decides to follow his path backwards. Wei Han, Shen-Ji, and Kuan-Xi go to Blood Hill. Kasumi stays behind in case there are more visitors. Takanata goes to the Plains of Honor, for mysterious reasons of his own.
In Blood Hill: EVERYONE is contaminated, it’s totally creepy, but there’s no obvious source or focus for it. They are now all even more fervently behind Xiao Fa, perhaps creepily so, and are suspicious of all who are not sufficient loyal and want to convert everyone to following the Governor, in the creepiest manner possible.
Backtracking further, they continue on to Fallen Castle, the previous place the guildmaster was. There seems to be no creepiness here, and gathering information reveals that two strangers tried to enter the town early this morning and were slain by arrows from the sky. (The locals shrug: “Sometimes, that happens.”) They were carrying purses full of silver chits which are not actually currency.
In the Southern Plains of Honor: Takanata summons Da Xie. She’s very upset and rushes through an explanation to him. Some folks crossed the Wall last night! The Bearers of Swift Response got all of them except two southern priests and a prisoner. Why they’re carrying Southern prisoners into the Empire is very mysterious. Takanata draws a picture of Sima, the Dark One. Yeah, he crossed with them, probably a priest! Well, Takanata knows where Sima is, so he brings Da Xie back to Tanzhe HQ to investigate.
Everyone regroups at the HQ. Kasumi is now speaking in a deep creepy voice “Excellent. You have returned. One containment room was not sufficient.” Sigh. Although many note that new creepy Kasumi is much more ninja-like. Takanata decides it’s all a southern plot and remembers that he has the new Mola Ram memorized – where is he? Apparently, he’s 30 miles to the northeast, that is, in Blood Hill. People head to one of the waiting rooms to confront Sima.
Sima to Da Xie “You!”
Da Xie to Sima “You! Get him!”
A small fight ensues between Sima and (mostly) Wei Han. Sima is happy to discover that Wei Han is an Enemy of the Empire and therefore a lawful target, so he can use many more combat shticks. They fight for a bit. Takanata accuses Sima of being in league with the high priest of Mara and Kali. The high priests of illusion & destruction? Never! Sima was told he was a minor priest of Night. That’s actually fairly impressive as Sima claims he must have been lied to, but he’s very difficult to lie to. The fight is called as both inconclusive and unnecessary and the party agrees to team up with Sima to go find this priest who can lie so well.
Once more, everyone heads to the very creepy Blood Hill. Asking about strangers they find that the only recent arrivals are the two monks who took a room in a local inn. One was ill and so they have kept to their room. While heading up to the inn, Takanata uses the Eyes of the I Ching and looks through the walls, easily noticing the ritual going on in the basement, with a glowing outline on the floor surrounded by 4 demons, the New Mola Ram, and Iala Mane, who is bound and holding the Sankara Stone of Ratri.
Folks tell the landlord we need to deal with an issue in his basement. He assumes it’s those pesky rats again and offers the party a free meal if they deal with them. The offer is not appealing, as it’s given in the creepy voice. But Kasumi accepts in her own even more creepy voice, so perhaps they have a deal.
Everyone troops down to the basement, to put plan Get-Em into action. The bad guys are standing on the points of the ritual circle hourglass-y shape?
- Demon of dark water
- Demon of imperial protocol
- Iala Mane (bound)
- The New Mola Ram
- Demon of spreading fire or contagion or something
- Demon of false currency
Wei Han charges in, but realizes that it is highly inappropriate to attack the Demon of Protocol, so moves past him to engage the priest. Chop! Iala Mane, at the other side of the ritual shape, screams! Sima is confused to see two enemies of the Empire battling each other. Takanata moves in and draws over some of the ritual symbols with his elemental crayon, reducing the “starriness” of the ritual. Shen Ji binds the demon of false currency with his demon binding powers. Kasumi charges in to chop the demon of dark water! Kuan Xi knows enough etiquette to understand the correct manner in which to attack a protocol demon so water blasts him.
Wei Han drags the priest off the ritual shape in the hope that it will prevent further damage to Iala Mane. Sima comes to help attack the priest. The demons summon minions: imperial protocol officers, dark water elementals, and currency thieves. (The spreading fire demon has not yet been attacked, so summons no one at this time.) They start attacking too, although the currency thieves are tied up when they arrive (their demon is still bound) and have to spend time freeing themselves. The water elementals make people who they attack start to drown: luckily most party members have rings of water breathing. The protocol officers have a Xian-like ability to convince people that what they’re doing is inappropriate. Da Xie wavers and considers going back to the Southern Wall, but is strengthened by Takanata’s exhortation that this ritual hole in the Empire is the edge of the Empire too and must be defended until it’s gone. Wei Han uses his Boots of Holding Fast to avoid returning to the North Wall. Kapow burns through the ropes holding Iala Mane, and Shen Ji assists him to move away from the ritual area. Kasumi attacks a bunch of things, including the illusion attacking Takanata which the new Mola Ram summoned to get Takanata killed. Her strike would have taken him too, but Wei Han’s managed to intervene. Wei Han also intervenes to save Sima from an attack, which confuses Sima further. Kuan Xi uses karma and her Purify Water power to purify the dark water demon. Removing the Southern contamination and perhaps Toro’s influence makes him no longer interested in doing this ritual. He leaves.
Da Xie goes to the southern edge of the ritual shape and tells Wei Han to stop messing around and to go stand on the other side so they can close this thing. Shen Ji also reduces the “star” part of the ritual with his own arcane powers. Takanata swaps the New Mola Ram’s Light and Dark stats, further screwing things up and preventing another star from coming through. Kasumi attacks the demon of spreading fire, and Kuan Xi knocks it back with another attack, so it explodes harmlessly in the corner. Wei Han gets attacked by a currency thief and finds some of his money has been replaced by counterfeit currency, but at least he still has his Boots of Standing Fust.
The two walls stand on opposite sides of the ritual and prepare to close it. Four stars appear inside and are about to leave the ritual space. Takanata points out that they are illusions and we already stopped all the real stars. At this final revelation, the New Mola Ram decides to cut his losses and runs for the exit. Kuan Xi blocks him with an ice wall. Shen Ji protects himself and the very badly off Iala Mane from demon minions with a wall of iron. Sima and Kasumi move to attack the New Mola Ram and Kuan Xi blasts him with non-lethal damage. He ends up frozen, but alive and a prisoner. Takanata threatens the remaining demons with his Bearer of Auguries powers: If they don’t give up this fight now, he’ll make it so this Sign has failed… forever! Looking at each other, they wonder if he can actually do this, but decide that the whole plan is a disaster anyways, so decide to retreat. Takanata wonders if he could actually do it too, but is happy that at least the ploy worked. Victory! When the last demon leaves and the ritual shape is fully removed, the creepy contagion goes away too. Hooray!
Wei Han talks to Sima about the source of his enemy of the empire issues, having defended him, etc. and also agrees to recommend him to Governor Lo for his desired position.
Takanata uses his schtick to figure out some things after the fact…
- Mola Ram was Kali’s High Priest.
- When he was killed, this guy (the new Mola Ram) took over as Kali’s High Priest.
- Kali’s next High Priest will also be an enemy of the Empire.
- If we kill this guy, Kali will get a new High Priest pretty quickly.
- If we keep this guy captive, Kali can’t get a new High Priest easily.
Da Xie can keep this guy captive and helpless successfully.
Hmm. Turning him over to Da Xie seems like it won’t work, and no one else wants to get into the jailor business. Sima suggests they give him to the Governor for disposition, but no one thinks that will work either. Takanata decides to bargain with the Great Serpent Spirit to keep him captive, and asks the price. She wants to know if Takanata wants him kept against all comers --- i.e. If Kali comes for him and She is expected to prevent Her from taking him, the price will be much higher. So, folks end up bargaining for Her to keep him secure for a time, to make Kali pay dearly to get him back eventually (remembering that he’s part of plotting to destroy the Empire), and to let us know when he is released, in exchange for the remaining Perilous Blackmail Letters (high-quality secrets that Serpent seems quite interested in having). Takanata agrees, only without Ti Lao’s letter. Serpent accedes and the deal is struck for the other seven. Takanata then burns Ti Lao’s blackmail letter, putting an end to perilous blackmail.The day is saved! Although there’s a long line of people back at HQ waiting for the party to get back to them on numerous issues. It’s decided to let Xiao Fa deal with them. Shen-Ji takes Iala Mane back to Tahiti for healing. Everyone else heads off for a fine meal.