The Eighth Name
|"Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Fox, in the Month of the Crane, in the in the two hundred and fifty-ninth Year of the Spider since the opening of the Exalted Library.|
The run takes place mostly in and around the City of Light in the Illuminated Precincts.
A Package Astray
In the City of Spires, Li Merit's spy contact shows up, to pick up his most recent item for the shop (the stackable-healing staff), and to pass along a report for Merit to deliver to the Butterfly Kingdom. He notes that hopefully Merit is already having fun with the shipment he got? Merit says no, he hasn't gotten any shipments yet. They're supposed to be delivered to his hand - what happened? The guy says Merit sent him a note saying to leave it at a particular address. Merit fumes at this incompetence, and points out several times that the return from this shipment should be delivered to him personally AND NOT LEFT ON A DOORSTEP, but gets the address.
- "What? Someone else has the crayon?!?" -Lijuan
- "Don't worry, it's the plot." -Merit
Once Merit (trailed by Lijuan, worried about the crayons) reaches the address, he recognizes Prefect Xing's house. Madame Xing invites the pair in and serves them tea; Merit takes the opportunity to try to teach Lijuan something about tea ceremonies.
- "Make a teaching roll." -Mike
- "I don't have teaching skill..." -Merit
- "I do! Want me to teach you?" -Lijuan
Prefect Xing enters. He's pleased that Merit could stop by, and wants to thank him for his assistance. It sounds like everything... went as hoped, whatever that may have been. He says that Merit should feel free to stop by any time he is looking for some tips. Merit also notes that there was another reason he called upon Prefect Xing - a package seems to have been misdelivered to him. Ah, notes Prefect Xing - thus begins the first lesson. When intercepting shipments, sometimes they can be traced, so be careful about it. Merit collects his box, and makes his exit.
Takanata suggests that the party head down the Jasmine to the City of Light, as that's the fastest way to get back to the Butterfly Kingdom. Yoshi, assisted with Merit's advice and the Magpie Talisman, hires a riverboat, and the group sets forth. Takanata is inspired by some of the countryside on the way down the river, and writes an oddly edited poem.
Merit doesn't like the mention of flowers - he always ends up in trouble for flower art when Autumn Rose is involved. His Interpret Omens twinges a little - it probably is Autumn Rose, in fact. The editing suggests to people that something big and important is changing in the world, and they should hurry - the group convinces the riverboat captain to let them attach the Icon of Aquatic Motion to the boat, and it goes downriver a bit faster.
Arrival in the City of Light
The riverboat docks at the City of Light's river docks, and Lijuan briefs everyone on the local urchins. Merit and Yoshi wander the streets, asking after Autumn Rose, and Lijuan asks the local urchins, making it clear that Autumn Rose is a good guy and not to be badly pestered. (The urchins here are good at spreading gossip, and "Autumn Rose is a good guy" is quickly the word on the street.) Yoshi and Merit pick up that she's staying at the best inn in town, and spends every other day at the Exalted Library. Hmm. So, does she go in every other day and do the exact same research, seems to be the question. Kasumi and Lijuan head to that inn to stake it out.
Kuan-Xi heads off on an errand, but she is a bit evasive about it, so Anto follows her stealthily. She heads to that same inn, where she bats her eyes charmingly at the guy behind the desk, until he is convinced to show her the registration book. She is upset by one of the names, but shakes her head and goes back to the less-expensive inn where the party is staying.
Meanwhile, Merit and Yoshi head to the Exalted Library and the reading rooms there, to ask after Autumn Rose. It becomes clear that the library employees do know something interesting, but respect the privacy of their customers. In other words, Merit and Yoshi don't have enough status to learn anything from them. They come in again with Takanata, who does some research about the king who gave the Council of Sages veto power; he looks status-ful while Yoshi and Merit point at him, but his roll is poor and doesn't beat Autumn Rose's status. Merit thinks this is a shtick built into the library, so there is some thought that they could meet some librarians outside the library.
Merit wonders whether Takanata wrote any notes about the pre-correction version of the poem as he was writing it, on the theory that he might have forgotten it again afterwards, and goes through his notes. While he doesn't find any notes on the poem, he does find another piece of paper, the one that the Cryptomancer's minions were using to find the name of the Jasmine River spirit. The green circles and arrows are rather similar.
- "Ooh, can I see that?" -Lijuan
- "No." -Takanata
Some people remember - didn't Hana have a librarian friend? That she went on some double dates with, with Cai Wen? Right, Meng Shou. Hiro could disguise himself as Hana, and go on a date with Meng Shou. Hiro objects - he's not trying to date someone as Hana. He can meet some other librarian who is a girl, thank you very much. And, in fact, he heads off to the library to flirt with one of the librarians. She is very flattered, but trying to work. Excellent, Hiro says - when does she get off of work? Oh, very late. He will be back then, having purchased food for a late-night picnic.
Autumn Rose and Other Stubborn Women
That evening, Takanata calls upon Autumn Rose, bringing "people who think they're grown up" (which turns out to be Yoshi, Xiao Fa, and Merit), trailed by Kasumi. The concierge sends up a note to Autumn Rose's rooms from Takanata, saying that he is in town on his way home, heard she was here, and was hoping to be able to spend some time in a pleasant conversation. The note succeeds, and the group is invited up to one of the meeting rooms in the inn; Kasumi loiters stealthily behind, and notices several burly non-ninjas sitting in the common area.
Autumn Rose greets Takanata - it is a pleasure, if a surprising one, to see him. He apologizes for any inconvenience he may have put her to - it is likely that an inspiration that came to him on the journey is related to her, probably having to do with the conversation they had last time. She puzzles on that for a moment or two - wait, is he missing? No, Cai Wen is not missing. Or is Takanata referring to her father? No, not him either - Takanata suggests that he refers to the acquaintance of her father's. Autumn Rose notes that her father has many acquaintances.
Okay, she's definitely forgotten things. Xiao Fa asks if he might examine her chi. One of her servants shrugs encouragingly to her, and she agrees. Xiao Fa notes that her chi is healing very nicely, and quite quickly. She seems to have some sort of shtick in effect that's putting her chi back in order, but it seems clear that it's been damaged a number of times in one specific place. Xiao Fa bows, in a pose requesting permission to speak, and she nods permission.
- "It does appear to this one that your restoration technique is admirable, but it is being used regularly, for there is something tearing away at a part of your chi." -Xiao Fa
- "Thank you, good priest. Then you recommend that the lady rest, and you will return tomorrow?" -Autumn Rose's servant
Autumn Rose glares icily at her servant for his presumption, and he falls quickly into a grovelling apologetic pose. She notes to Xiao Fa that she does not know quite what he means by her restoration technique, but she will rest, and as she has matters she needs to attend to (she glares at her servant again), she will take her leave. Takanata receives permission to call on her for breakfast, however, so she will see them then.
Hiro heads off on his picnic-date with the librarian, and lets her pump him for information about what he's up to. This of course results in her telling him what Autumn Rose is up to. Every other day, she heads to the library and runs a search looking for books which reference both herself and Lord Takanata. She never finds anything and leaves disappointed, though she returns in a couple of days and tries again. The librarian thinks it's very odd. Hiro makes another date for the next evening, and reports back.
Meanwhile, Kasumi keeps watch on the fancy inn, and sees a very well-dressed gentleman talking to the burly guys for a little while, giving them instructions and some money. After that, they leave (followed by Kasumi) and go to stake out the inn that the party is staying at. Intriguing! Kasumi comes back in and tells everyone about this. Yoshi heads out to watch them watching the inn, and try to figure out what they want. They seem to be waiting for their target to come out, but they don't mean any harm to anyone, especially the target. Merit listens to Kasumi's description of the well-dressed guy, and thinks that it sounds like someone dressed like Shrouded Isle nobility. Hmm. Hiro is currently considered the most likely to be kidnapped, but there isn't any obvious tie to the Shrouded Isle.
Kasumi wonders what Kuan-Xi was doing in that inn, too. Anto is surprised - was Kasumi following her as well? No, it's just the same inn where Autumn Rose is staying. Well, perhaps Kuan-Xi is the target, then. Everyone heads up to her room, where Anto knocks on the door. After some fussing around inside, she opens the door to him, and is a little surprised to discover the whole party in the hallway. Anto asks if everything is okay, and she says that she's taking care of things, it'll be okay. Anto notes that there are hired thugs outside, hired by some nobility in the Shrouded Isle, waiting for someone to come outside. She's suddenly irate - oh, he did not hire thugs to get her, that is not acceptable. She says she'll be right back, but nobody else thinks that's a good idea. Or, if she's going, she should take the Cane of Free Action. Better, though, she should not go.
- "They will take me to him and I will yell at him until he bleeds!" -Kuan-Xi
- "That's the stupidest plan ever." -Merit
- "Oh, is he family?" -Anto
- "No, he is not, and he's not going to be!" -Kuan-Xi
Hiro's ears perk up - this calls for a "pretend to be married" plan, which is in his Book of the Remarkable Wanderer.
Merit and Anto manage to get "his" name out of Kuan-Xi - Minoru Katsu. She continues to insist that it's an annoying family problem, but not a really big deal. Takanata fills in - they are engaged? Well, some people think that, but they're wrong. Does "some people" include her mother? Yes, her mother is in fact the main culprit. Hmm. Could they convince her mother that Katsu isn't eligible? Kuan-Xi thinks that's unlikely - he'll probably be the next Firelord so he's totally eligible. Yoshi wonders what's so terrible about him, and Kuan-Xi explains that he's completely stifling. He wants to build her a palace, and fill it with riches and servants to wait on her, and have her stay in it. It'd be very boring. Merit wishes that he had such problems.
Various plans jostle for pre-eminence - "fake marriage" and "disguise her so the thugs don't see her" being the main contenders for Mad and Sober. For the moment, Merit disguises her so she's less recognizable, though it's tougher than for most, as her white hair doesn't take dye; on the other side of plan-space, Yoshi starts plotting how to bake a Dangerous Wedding Cake.
Still thinking about the other plot, Xiao Fa notes that the effect on Autumn Rose's chi might inhibit spiritual growth, as it does seem to push things towards a known state. So maybe it's her father's ability, rather than hers?
It's gotten quite late, so people turn in for the night. Kuan-Xi gets moved to Kasumi's room, while Lijuan, Anto, and Yoshi stay in Kuan-Xi's original room. Much later, there's a knock on the door to Kuan-Xi's first room while Lijuan is on watch. The person outside claims to be management - there's been a small disturbance. Lijuan claims to be getting dressed, and then Yoshi opens the door. The guy outside (one of the big thugs) apologizes - he clearly has the wrong room. Yoshi tries to persuade him to come in, while he tries to persuade Yoshi to let him leave. In the end, he heads back downstairs, with Yoshi, Lijuan, and Anto, to find the other three thugs. There is a bit of posturing about who is going to thump who, but Yoshi persuades everyone that there is no need for bloodshed, whereupon the thugs leave.
In the morning, a complicated arrangement for breakfast is made. Anto wants to see Autumn Rose's bonds, in case the current "healy" effect on her is a problem, but he doesn't want to leave Kuan-Xi unguarded either. On the other hand, Katsu might recognize Kuan-Xi through her disguise, so bringing her to Autumn Rose's inn is dangerous. Of course, breakfast at the fancy inn is way too expensive, so nobody actually wants to go there. Two different breakfast places are chosen, nearby that inn, and within shouting distance of each other, and the party splits back into "grown-ups" (plus Anto) and others. Each of those groups gets followed by one of the thugs.
In the morning, happily, Autumn Rose now knows that she's seeking a name for Takanata, and that she believes that it's on a page in a book which also has her name and Takanata's name, due to some notes that she seems to have written herself. However, Takanata notes that she's done this before several times - does she have a plan for avoiding forgetfulness? She thinks maybe if she could identify the right book without reading it, that might be a start.
She tried to determine the name directly, but that doesn't seem to have worked; research in the Illuminated Precincts appears to be her clever backup plan. The party notes that she's done this before, and it does appear to work - except that then she forgets it all again. Takanata notes that the omen which said she was here is written in the style of Chun-Zi, the Cryptomancer - maybe he can assist. Autumn Rose agrees - he would probably have been who she consulted next, had she not found anything at the library.
Merit asks about her way of un-forgetting things. That's not what she would have called it, but yes, she does have some abilities there. Merit notes (having been briefed by Xiao Fa) that what she is doing might inhibit her growth. She looks mildly impressed, but smiles and says that the ability to deal with that is one of the things that separates an adept from a novice. Now Merit is intrigued, but doesn't think there's a good way to ask more questions about it.
Merit, Xiao Fa and Takanata all write themselves notes, and team Grownup heads to the library; Anto heads to the other breakfast, since it doesn't seem like Autumn Rose needs to be unbound from her chi-fixing shtick. Lijuan is jealous that Anto gets to have two breakfasts - next time, she wants to be on that part of the plan. One of the burly thugs has been keeping an eye on their restaurant, but hasn't come in. The second group heads to the library as well, since that seems to be where all the interesting is going on.
At the library, Hiro's librarian friend is waiting for Autumn Rose, who wants to see all the books with Takanata's name, and with her name.
- "Same order as last time." -Merit
- "Of course."
- "But faster."
- "We have gotten it from five hours down to three."
Anto thinks they should just leave all the books out for easier access later, not re-shelve them again afterward; Takanata and the librarian share a moment of being appalled at the idea. Hiro talks to the librarian about what books will get brought - a lot of Takanata's poetry, some birth records from the Hidden City etc. But nothing that has both names in it has ever been found. Every other day, she asks for the same search, but doesn't find what she's looking for, and goes away disappointed. Or, at least, that's what the librarian remembers.
Xiao Fa has a scribe take notes of the list of books brought (library patrons aren't allowed their own ink in the library), and Merit takes limited notes with knots tied in pieces of string.
After having been hurried along by Merit, the library clerks get through the books Autumn Rose wants in slightly under three hours. Some of them she skims through, some of them she just looks at a particular page, but she doesn't find anything with both of their names on the same page, and gives up in disappointment.
- "How unfortunate. I suppose tomorrow I will have to try speaking with the Cryptomancer." -Autumn Rose
- "Oh. How embarassing." -Merit
Everyone else stares at Merit in confusion, and he explains - it was never the library, she does go away disappointed every time, it's always visiting the Cryptomancer that makes her forget. Maybe he's actually the Eighth Marked! Or maybe he just answers her question. He's probably charging her tons of money every visit! If he hasn't forgotten he's taking advantage of her, that's reprehensible. Anyhow, Autumn Rose heads off to make an appointment to meet the Cryptomancer on the morrow.
Xiao Fa tries to follow the chi of the place, but is quickly intercepted by the librarians, as he heads towards the stacks. The chi here seems to emanate out into the kingdom - the building is set up in concentric rings, with better access and more powerful chi in the inner rings, but it acts as a fountain, not a funnel.
Merit chats with Autumn Rose's servants - she doesn't get stricken at the library, then? No, it's the other day that she forgets things. Is she spending a lot of money trapped in this loop, Merit wonders? Well, the library isn't cheap. But what about the other day? The servants don't know the details of where she goes then, but she's not spending a lot of money there. Ah - the other thing he deals in is information, and she's probably a good source for that. The servants say that this is the fourth time she's gone to the library. Oh, good - Merit was worried it was the fortieth or so.
- "That makes sense - by the rule of threes, it happens three times one way, and then the next time it happens differently." -Takanata
- "You're just making that up! There's no such thing as the Rule of Threes!" -Merit
Merit asks the servants - do they know when the prince from the Shrouded Isle showed up? About a day or two after they did. He's been hanging around recruiting mercenaries, while apparently waiting for something. He's picked up two groups of mercenaries. Merit describes the group of four large guys - yup, that's the recent one. He also recruited some more nondescript people. They describe some people, and Merit recognizes one of the descriptions - a stablehand at the inn the group is staying at.
Anto suggests that the party skip all the intervening steps and just go beat up Katsu. That's what'll happen in the end, right? Merit puts his foot down - no making an enemy of the guy who has a good shot at being the next Firelord! Takanata also doesn't really think that wanting to marry Kuan-Xi is in itself a thumping offense. Merit agrees - that's part of the deal of getting all your money handed to you when you're born; sometimes your family gets a bigger say in who you marry than you do. Kasumi agrees - no thumping Katsu, unless he has a Great Talisman. Merit thinks Kasumi is Not Helping, and there is some argument as to whether or not the party subscribes to the "All loot is ours, we just haven't picked it up yet" school of thought. For the most part, they apparently do not.
The idea of planning a fake wedding between Anto and Kuan-Xi is everyone's favorite plan. Kuan-Xi says it won't fool her mother, but Katsu will probably leave for home, and get yelled at by her mother for being an idiot before he decides to do anything else. Yoshi throws together a 3-success wedding cake with Anto's kusarigama hidden inside.
- "What is the minimum wedding you would accept?" -Merit
- "For the record, when you can't get a date, think back and this is why." -Hiro
- "It's not that I can't get a date. It's that I don't have time for dates!" -Merit
Merit turns up a local buddy who's good at event planning, and an old supply cache full of wedding decorations. Takanata takes charge of the flower arrangements. Others start tidying up Anto so that he's more presentable.
- "Can I add 'Knot Tying'?" -Merit
Merit checks to see what distinguishes a fake marriage from a real one - the paperwork, mostly. However, Anto wants to make sure that he isn't saying any vows that he isn't happy keeping, real wedding or no. Takanata combines some poetry and bureaucracy to come up with vows that sound good and are somewhat promisey but not very strong - vowing to support each other in their endeavors, but not necessarily forsaking all others until death. That sort of thing, but more poetic. Merit gets some actual marriage paperwork, but promises to not actually file it later.
- "Then - I find a date! He tasks me! I get four successes scrounging up a date!" -Merit
- "Scrounging? Ew." -Hiro
- "Argh!" -Merit
Meanwhile, however, Anto has taken Kuan-Xi aside to make sure she's okay with the plan. He's feeling kind of awkward and embarrassed about fake-marrying his not-really-girlfriend, and doesn't want to push her into it either. She admits she finds it kind of embarrassing too, and wonders if maybe it could be other people disguised as them instead. However, when Anto suggests this to the party, nobody thinks anyone has enough disguise to pull that off - Hiro disguising himself as Hana is a special case. Kasumi suggests that they get married for real instead, but Takanata insists that's a bad idea.
- "I could just kidnap her right now." -Anto
Merit is sulky. He spent a karma plus two shticks planning this, so Anto should get with the plan! A compromise is reached - probably the bad guys will attack anyway, so things will devolve to "Get 'Em". But if they don't, Kasumi will pretend to kidnap Kuan-Xi, so they don't have to go through with it. She hides overhead in the rafters. Once she's "kidnapped" she can take her little carriage to the Hon'eth Arcade and take a boat to the Butterfly Kingdom, or something like that.
- "This is why it's bad luck to have the fake groom see the fake bride before the fake wedding."
The "wedding" begins, and two of the four mercenaries run off to report this development. The hall is impressively filled, due to Merit's recruitment.
- "Who are these people?" -Anto
- "That side is the friends of the bride. That side is friends of the groom. Those people in front there are your relatives; hers are out of town." -Merit
Contrary to expectation, Katsu does not make it to the wedding before the "speak now or forever hold your peace" step, so Kasumi yoinks Kuan-Xi up into the rafters. Anto dramatically gasps and shouts to unhand his bride. The guests find this all very exciting.
Kasumi flees with Kuan-Xi over the rooftops, wondering where to go. She hadn't expected to get to this point, so she hadn't really planned any further. Back at the hall, a fancy carriage pulls up, and Minoru Katsu gets out - the remaining mercenary brief him, and he gets even more upset. Everyone searches around for Kasumi, some pretending, others for real; Lijuan starts using a "chasing" shtick to follow Kuan-Xi.
Kasumi and Kuan-Xi decide the plan is to get Kuan-Xi in her little carriage, and on her way. This goes quite well, as the carriage is already prepped for travel, but just as the carriage is about to leave with Kuan-Xi inside, Kasumi recognizes the driver as the "hired mercenary" stablehand, and starts a fight. There is some leaping up and down from the carriage, and Kasumi ends up in the driver's seat, and drives the carriage... to the fancy inn where Katsu is staying, on the theory that nobody will expect that. The two guys clinging to the side of the carriage fail their Resolve checks and fall off, too stunned to move; Kasumi is down some resolve but still functional. Luckily, it was a short trip. Lijuan chases after, and also takes a lot of resolve damage.
And, now, Kuan-Xi needs a new driver. Since Kuan-Xi is supposed to be kidnapped, and Kasumi is the ninja who kidnapped her, that leaves Lijuan to go into the inn to ask to hire a driver. She asks for a driver to drive to the Butterfly Kingdom, though, so the concierge thinks he's just being made fun of. Lijuan settles for a driver to take them to the docks, but she doesn't have any money. She goes back out to get some from Kuan-Xi, and returns with a slightly more sensible request, that of a driver to take someone to the Hon'eth Arcade in exchange for silver. The concierge procures one, and off the carriage goes. Whew.
The wedding party eats their cake, and Anto pretends to be distraught. Katsu and his group fail to find Kuan-Xi, and stomp off back to their inn.
The next day, Autumn Rose brings everyone along to her meeting with the Cryptomancer - they meet at an out of the way noodle shop..
- "How can I assist you?" -Chun-Zi
- "The question is, how did you assist her two days ago?" -Kasumi
- "I see you've made progress."
Yoshi thinks Chun-Zi's a little disappointed that she remembers. Autumn Rose notes that Chun-Zi's statement suggests that she has already paid more than the required amount for the information that they desire, and she and the Cryptomancer glare at each other. He says that he is willing to provide her with the same information again, then - he certainly doesn't want to know it himself. Autumn Rose thinks he can do better than that.
He thinks that there may be a way out of her current predicament - it is a bit more complex, but if they are willing, he could see his way towards drawing up an appropriate mechanic. As for payment... Autumn Rose states that she has already paid. Chun-Zi notes that everyone else has not. They glare at each other a bit more, and Chun-Zi asks the others if they are indeed interested in his suggestion.
Takanata thinks that they have in fact already paid for the information they want, but to others, and he finds it difficult to be put in a position to pay for it again. Chun-Zi doesn't really care whether he's paid anyone else, as that's not relevant to his bargain here. Takanata wonders what price the Cryptomancer is looking for.
- "Information. You are a hearty little band. Perhaps I can come up with some appropriate task that you will not find too troublesome."
Takanata thinks that's more of a reasonable deal, so Chun-Zi brings out a map. Out in the woods, some few hours away from the City of Light - he wishes them to go to that location, and report back on the woman that they find there. Any information that they can obtain about her will be useful. Takanata wonders if she is likely to attack them on arrival. Chun-Zi believes that she will only be there for a short time, on business of her own, and he hopes that if they do not interrupt her, she will not attack them.
Hunter and Prey
The group heads out into the woods, towards the indicated location on the map. Kasumi sneaks in advance as a forward scout, loosing the hiding monkey, but Takanata walks obviously forwards; everyone else quickly joins him in the Obvious Group. There's a glade, with several bodies being wrapped in silk by a huge spider. Merit thinks it's some sort of spirit possession going on. Through the monocle, the hiding monkey is slowly sneaking towards the clearing, but it's not clear what it's following.
Lijuan starts shooting the spider from a safe distance. Anto tries to stab it in the face with the spirit bottle, but this only damages it rather than making it vanish. He and the spider play grabbing games, while Kasumi investigates the webbed people - she thinks they're asleep rather than dead, and they're dressed like peasants. Another few arrows shoot from the woods, as combat continues, and then a tall woman in leather armor, carrying a bow as tall as she is, steps from the woods.
- "Who dares attempt to deprive Ming Lieren of her rightful prey?"
- "Our apologies, Lady. We did not mean to interrupt your hunt. We saw a spider wreaking havoc on the locals, and thought it wise to interfere." -Takanata
- "Very well, let us take the beast together."
Xiao Fa notes that her chi is a lot like that of Old Hop in a non-entropic way.
Yoshi and Anto keep the spider busy and not killing anyone, while Lijuan and the hunter fill it with arrows and Kasumi chops it. Lijuan does her best to show off with all her bow shticks, and ends up getting the kill shot on the spider, which promptly explodes into gunk. Kasumi leaps out of the way, and Yoshi leaps in front of Anto's share, covering him with double the amount of gunk.
Ming Lieren reaches down and pulls a mandible from the exploded spider - there's not much left beyond that - and presents it to Lijuan
- "Unless I am suddenly no judge of these things, the trophy belongs to this young one."
Kasumi asks after the people wrapped by the spider, or covered in gunk. Ming Lieren says that cutting the prisoners free should do, but Yoshi will need healing. Xiao Fa clarifies - what kind of healing? Spiritual, she expects.
- "Yoshi ate another spider. Twice." -Lijuan
Cutting the prisoners free leaves them in a more normal sleep - they should be fine in the morning. Merit eyes everything suspiciously - it seems likely that someone involved was using some sort of enchantment, as you don't normally have possessed spiders running around, or exploding so damagingly afterwards. Ming Lieren says that it was a spider possessed by a spirit from the World Above; she came upon its scent several days ago and tracked it to this place. How did they come upon the beast, she wonders.
- "We had been asked to investigate strange happenings in the area" -Takanata
- "The disappearance of these peasants?"
- "The one who hired us was... not so clear."
- "You are a mercenary band, then?"
- "We perform services in exchange for information."
Takanata suggests that they meet her somewhere else, some ways away. She considers that it would be ungracious to deny a simple request from a comrade in the hunt, so they agree to meet in an hour, elsewhere, and she heads off. This way, Takanata says, they don't have to tell the Cryptomancer what they find out at the *new* meeting place, only what they've found out already.
Merit keeps looking at the mandible - it's not right, he thinks. It's all clean and preserved, not still covered with bits of dead spider. Well, sure, Takanata says - it's a Trophy of the Hunt.
Xiao Fa looks at Yoshi's chi - he seems tainted again. Merit tries to guess from the description whether it's spirit or demon that tainted him, and his best guess is spirit, but they're reasonably similar.
- "Oh, if it's spirit, it's not so bad, I can just use my charm to make all the other spiders obey me." -Yoshi
The group heads off to their Second Meeting with Ming Lieren; Lijuan writes up a note to put under her pillow that night, in the hopes that Kibo will read it.
Kasumi asks if Ming Lieren takes students, indicating Lijuan. She asks what Lijuan's goal is - that would be to protect the children, and make up for the trouble she caused. Merit notes that she should probably stick to "protect the children" in future, but points out to Ming Lieren that the discipline of archery might be of assistance to her. She asks where Lijuan hails from - from the Forest of Chin, but her teacher is Hikaru, the Tokai huntmaster, in the Butterfly Kingdom.
- "Ask your master of me, and tell him that when you are ready, I will teach you something. He may contact me when it is time. He will know of me." -Ming Lieren
Merit wonders: if, in their travels, they should come across prey that is up to no good, but beyond them, can they contact her? She nods, and takes an arrow out of her quiver - unadorned, but with golden feathers - and hands it to Merit. "When you wish to contact me, you will know what to do." Then, she heads off again.
Kasumi says that's just like Old Hop too - he gave her the Golden Palace Rice Wine, and said if she needed to contact him, she would know what to do, but she totally doesn't.
- "That's how mysterious masters work." -Merit
- "She could still be listening." -Kasumi
- "That could also be how mysterious masters work." -Merit
The party returns to the Cryptomancer, and Takanata carefully describes the initial encounter with Ming Lieren. Xiao Fa points out that her chi was non-entropic, which the Cryptomancer finds particularly interesting. Merit notes his impressions of her - proud, initially annoyed that they were there. Chun-Zi asks a bunch of questions to Xiao Fa - Merit thinks that he's using a brute force sort of approach, not detective-y insight.
Then, he presents them with a page of un-filled in words. He says this is the page they seek, and they can hone in on the correct solution slowly - but he advises that they do not finish it. Merit notes that last time they met, he gave some information to Chun-Zi's assistant, and that this is probably related. Chun-Zi says he has walked down that path before, but does not have time to do so again. However, if they do come up with some way of retaining the information, that would be of interest to him.
Autumn Rose fills in some names on the page - hers, Takanata's, and that of the Firelord. Merit is dubious - is "Firelord" actually a name? Yes, in fact - he has to give up his family name when he becomes Firelord, so she's convinced it's a name. That, plus the fact that she was able to fill it in, convince everyone. Autumn Rose thanks the party, and heads back to her inn. They should keep in touch with each other on the progress of their mechanic.
Then it's almost time to finally catch ship back to the Butterfly Kingdom.
- Xiao Fa and Yoshi go and visit a scholar-physician in the City of Light.