The King in Yellow
|"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Magpie in the Month of the Tiger in the three hundred and forty-fifth Year of the Bear since the forging of the First Blades of Deliverance.|
The run takes place principally in the town of Littlefield in the Savanna of Tears.
The Circus is on the outskirts of the City of Light, having finished its first performance (though Xian is still in Tahiti, as she thinks the Illuminated Precincts are not a real place). Kasumi and Master Deng recall that the Butterfly King paid twelve tael in reparations for the deaths of the guards in The City, Hidden, so they send twelve tael and an apology. (Party loot pays for a third of it). Merit sends the Sash of True Honor off to be investigated.
Rubberlegs brings a message for Merit from Tahiti:
Merit sends Rubberlegs off to do all the tasks that Merit has found that need doing, and assures him that none of them are secretly tests. As he contemplates the message, he can think of six different towns in the Empire named Littlefield. The nearest is in the northwest corner of the Precincts; another is in the south central Savanna. Two are in the Jade Taiga. Hmm. Well, Littlefield might have a plot in it, but without more to go on, it is hard to know which direction to head in.
Merit checks in with Melina. Other than the lack of their headliner Xian, the circus is doing well. Melina is trying to arrange a command performance for the Council of Sages, but they are proving difficult to schedule. Merit suggests putting Scholar Turtle on the VIP list, and wonders if Trouble Scheduling the Sages is a plot. That sounds more approachable than the mysterious Littlefield. (He checks if anyone is in town regarding the Littlefield plot? Apparently only Rubberlegs.)
Yanyu and Wei Han head to see if Yanyu can get an appointment to see Councillor Sima. The Sage's office seems very busy, and at first, it appears that Yanyu isn't on the list to be allowed in. Then, it appears that the version of the list is outdated, and Yanyu is on the annotated list. Councillor Sima is glad to see Yanyu, and says he would be happy to attend the circus - just put it on his schedule and he'll be there.
Shen-Ji checks with Yue to see if she knows of anything weird goings on with the Sages. She says that she has heard that they're hiring new assistants - she has been trying to think if there is anyone appropriate in the family to work for them, but no one really springs to mind. A lot of people have either quit, or stopped coming to work, or something - like Willow, but not just Willow. So... maybe this isn't the best time for someone in the family to be hired by the Council of Sages after all. Shen-Ji suggests that Yue throw a party on the Sakong estates and invite a bunch of Sages. Yue notes that he should get some of his other high-status friends to weigh in as attending the party, in order to get many Sages to agree to come. Shen-Ji also checks whether Lu Chu has talked to Yue yet. No? Well, she still has a few more days. Yue immediately becomes suspicious, but Shen-Ji explains that he has told Lu Chu that she can't keep secrets from Yue, and if Lu Chu doesn't tell Yue, he will. Yue decides that is acceptable, and will turn her suspicion on Lu Chu instead of Shen-Ji.
Merit, suspecting a Bureaucracy plot, recruits a clerk in Councilor Doma's office.
Meanwhile, Xian, still in Tahiti, has noticed that the butler has been sending several couriers to Merit, and is starting to wonder if the party is having a run without her. The butler notes that the cloaked figure has paid another visit to Tahiti, said "Savanna", then clutched his chest and staggered away. The butler sends yet another courier to Merit letting him know.
Merit instructs Melina to schedule the expected command performance for the last night in the Precincts, and suggests that Mondo figure out what is going on with the bureaucracy plot. Melina notes that Xian still hasn't showed up, and seems to be putting on her confounding act one country to the north, which may be going a little too far as far as confounding goes. The courier from Tahiti shows up to give Merit the message, and is given a return message that Xian should meet them in Littlefield in the Savanna.
The party (including Xian) heads to the Savanna, and meets outside the town of Littlefield. It looks fairly quiet from here, though not deserted. As everyone enters, they notice that they have a tau stat, currently zero. Hm.
Merit sends out some agents to investigate who is in town regarding the tau plot. When they return, they seem kind of bedraggled, and tell him that they can answer, but his tau will go up to five if they do. After considering this for a little while, he decides information is better than mysterious caution, and gets the answer:
The main square of the town has four inns. Yanyu (guarded by Wei Han) go to the Best Inn. The only people in the common room are the bartender, some servants (sitting at a table), and the manager. Everyone looks at each other dully, and finally the manager heads over to ask if he can be of service, and gestures towards a table. A few of the servants stand up and come over to take Yanyu's order. She tries to chat with them to see if things are normally this quiet, and they agree that it is a little slow. She pours on the charm, and they note that it's been slow for the past couple of weeks. The hardier people have stayed, but the people who can't handle having a tau stat have left town. They suppose it will get better eventually. You just have to be careful and not break any rules. Yanyu asks what all the rules are, but the servants admit they don't know all the rules. The rules are just something you learn when you're growing up.
Wei Han talks to the bartender - what sort of danger should he expect, guarding Yanyu? The bartender thinks that it shouldn't be too hard. Nobody left is interested in breaking the law. Rich people don't think that rules apply to them and they learn soon enough and leave town. He whispers: if someone snaps, it's not really polite to point it out, and then winces, as if he has gained a tau.
Shen-Ji wanders around, trying to sense the magic of the area. He decides that there is some sort of giant field, pulling all the energy down to the far end of town, and gains four tau in the process. Everyone but Yanyu and Wei Han head that way, to find the Littlefield Theater. Well, that might have been expected, given that the list of who is in town includes the only two named playwrights in the logs.
The door has a "Closed rehearsals. Do not enter" sign, but Xian knocks politely until someone finally comes to the other side of the door without opening it, and says that opening night tickets will be on sale early this evening. Xian introduces herself, and says that the Monkey King would know her. The voice offers to bring a message. Xian would really like to see the Monkey King in person. The voice says that it has been told to not disturb him, and to not let members of the public in. Ah, but Xian is not a member of the public - Xian is the patron of this show.
- "You're paying for this?" -Voice
- "Yes!" -Xian
The conversation goes around in circles, as Xian tries to persuade the voice to open the door on the theory that Xian is the boss of the performance (if not the theater) and the voice is both unconvinced and suspicious of the fact that Xian is carefully hedging everything she says (though unsurprised by that, as apparently everyone in Littlefield hedges at this point). However, Xian is nothing if not persuasive, and finally convinces the voice to open the multiple locks on the door and let her in. She brings Merit in, and Merit gets two tau for being potentially unauthorized, much to his dismay.
There are people on stage rehearsing - someone dressed in flowing yellow silk, possibly as the Butterfly King, is waving his arms around, and he is surrounded by dancers swaying back and forth. The Monkey King is nowhere to be seen, though, so Xian and Merit avoid interrupting the rehearsal and head upstairs to the director's office. There is a "Do not disturb" sign on the door, so it costs a tau to even knock. Xian shouts through the door who she is, and that she wanted to ask if there is anything that she can do to help. The Monkey King, sounding somewhat tired and querulous, says that sounds good, and an envelope slides out under the door. Xian opens the envelope - it has eight tickets for the opening night performance.
- "Ah, the tickets probably have the title. What is the title of the play?" -Cael
- "The King in Yellow." -Mike
- "Oh, fuck." -Cael
- "Time to short the Empire." -Derrick
The second part of the tau mechanic kicks in at this point, as everyone's energy drops by one. Anyone whose energy is less than their tau (no one yet) has to make a resolve roll.
Xian notes that the envelope doesn't contain what she was expecting - the Monkey King protests that they don't have the first night's profits yet. Xian was hoping for more of an... artistic conversation. The Monkey King suggests that she go watch the rehearsal - it will explain everything.
- "Why aren't you out there at the rehearsal?" -Xian
- "I don't go out there any more. I'm just going to stay in here." -Monkey King
- "Why?" -Xian
- "I gave everyone director's notes. It's good." -Monkey King
This is very strange. Xian shouts through the door that this doesn't sound at all like the Monkey King she knows, letting something get between himself and his art. Han Hsu feebly protests that he would never do that. Xian says she doesn't think he is well. He says he is well, as long as he is in his office. Xian notes that she doesn't think the Han Hsu of old would ever forgo the chance to have a conversation about his art. He sighs - she is right - and unlocks all the locks on his office door. He staggers out of his office, then clutches his chest... and straightens up, pushing by Xian, to rush down to the rehearsal, where he begins to issue directions like mad. He seems even more energized than the original Monkey King, and possibly a bit crazier - he backhands an actor who is in the slightly wrong position.
Merit and Xian peer into the Monkey King's office, perplexed. When they enter, their tau drops to zero, and Merit's Orb of Light indicates that it has some sort of tau suppression field. Tau doesn't seem like proper Empire sorcery, as far as Merit can tell, though he's still a little unsure what it is. There is a bed in the corner of the office, and a chamber pot in the other corner, so the Monkey King has apparently been holed up there for a while.
- "I like it in here. I don't want to go out." -Merit
- "That is very disturbing to hear." -Xian
They find a script to the play, cowritten by Namura Hayato and Anonymous. The plot continues to thicken.
Merit reads the play, though he is too creeped out to speed-read it or commit it permanently to memory. (Reading it also gives him a point of tau, though it is currently suppressed). The plot is disturbing, but in broad strokes, it is about a king who suppresses his people, until they die and are reborn into freedom.
Energy drops again, and Wei Han and Yanyu head out of the Best Inn to look for the rest of the party. There is a shriek from the Rough Inn across the square, as if a bar fight is starting, and those not in the theater head that way too.
In the Rough Inn, there are a bunch of people sitting in chairs, looking dully at their food, and about five people happily engaged in a fight. Occasionally one of the people in the fight assaults one of the people doing nothing, and they don't really fight back. Someone leaps over the bar and starts rifling through the cashbox.
Xian asks the Monkey King if she could talk to the authors of the play. He tells her that one of them is downtown, staying in the Shady Inn, but that Xian shouldn't distract him with her foolishness.
Everyone heads to the Shady Inn. The common room has a lot of people sitting dully at tables, except for one guy, who is cheerfully going through their pockets and cutting their purses.
- "Hey, don't you have problems with tau, doing that?"
- "Not any more! It was like I died inside, and was reborn!"
The guy explains - you just have to realize that laws, rules, nothing applies to you any more. He eyes Xian and notes that he can probably take her, so she might as well just give him her purse. Deng notes that the guy can't take him, so not to bother. So... what is he going to do with all his money? He's not sure - go off, buy a castle, oppress some people, something like that.
Shen-Ji notes that he's awash in... he's not entirely sure. Maybe demonic shadow magic? Merit looks with the Orb of Light. Yup - definitely maybe demonic shadow magic. So, how does one fix this sort of thing? Well, having some sort of powerful spirit with Southern light mastery? Or kill the demon / shadow sorcerer behind it?
Deng tries to hit the pickpocket with the Strike of Mercy, to strike him spiritually instead of physically, but discovers that you cannot do spiritual damage to someone who is dead inside. Hmm. There's that phrase "dead inside" again. Creepy.
The guy finishes with his looting, and waves goodbye - he's off to greener pastures. Xian warns him that he probably shouldn't do that.
- "What is 'should'? Should isn't even a thing."
Well, then, maybe he ought to worry that someone else who isn't bound by the rules will kill him, as he is clearly not the greatest warrior. The guy protests - who is Xian to tell him that he isn't the greatest warrior? He draws his daggers, and is promptly disarmed by Deng. He tries his best to punch and kick Deng, but isn't very effective. Deng finally loses his patience, and punches him in the nose.
The bouncer thinks he should probably be doing something about this, but doesn't seem up for it. Wei Han offers to deal with the problem for him, and the bouncer pays him a small amount of money to do so. Deng tries to intimidate the bellicose guy, but he seems to have absolutely no fear (Xian realizes this is a lot like the post-office Monkey King), and Wei Han just grabs him in an armlock.
Everyone heads upstairs to Namura Hayato's room, where the Mysterious Cloaked Figure lets them in. Hey - did he visit the House of Exuberant Interference? He says that he did, then winces and clutches his chest.
Another round of energy loss goes around, and both Merit and Shen-Ji have to make Resolve rolls. They both realize that it would be very easy to give up and die inside, but neither of them is willing to do so. Yet.
- "Okay, Shen-Ji cannot be permitted to become immune to all rules."
Xian notes that the Monkey King's office in the theater has a tau-suppression field - perhaps they could talk there? Hayato says he was in the office a few weeks ago when he delivered the manuscript, but that he's not sure what they can do from the office. Well, it is at least a better place to talk than here. Hayato says that he can't tell them what's going on here, because they told him not to. Everyone heads back to the theater, including Wei Han with his new prisoner.
At this point, more "dead" people are walking around town - breaking windows, randomly looting, getting in fights. Hayato mutters to himself that it's terrible, those who are dead inside are walking around and those who live are doing nothing, but playwrights are prone to being overdramatic and no one thinks much of it. Deng has to knock out one would-be mugger.
Theater Take Two
The door of the theater has a new sign: "Closed rehearsal! Stay out!"
Xian tells everyone, individually, that they each have to come with her. Some for protection from would-be muggers, some to analyze the magic, and so on. In the end, she has to use her Confounding skill to convince herself that this is all plausible, but she succeeds, and in the end everyone gets through the door without gaining any tau.
The Monkey King is shouting at the actors - the Butterfly King is there, still in yellow silks, and at his feet are a bunch of people, writhing. The lights come up and the fallen people stand, somehow ascending, and it's actually rather compelling to watch. Averting their eye, everyone flees upstairs to the office, prisoner still in tow.
Hayato sighs in relief when he gets into the office and his tau vanishes, and explains what he remembers.
He was approached by Han Hsu a month or so ago, and was quite flattered to be asked to collaborate on another play, as his reputation is not what it once was. He worked on the staging and dialog, while the Monkey King worked on plot and "realism". Eventually, Hsu decided that his own writing talents were not up the task, and went off to "seek help". When he returned with a draft of The King in Yellow, Hayato could see that it had been altered into some sort of dark ritual. What happened after that was somewhat hazy - he didn't want to work on it, but he was taken to a terrible beast bound underneath the theater, and someone named Maya Ram. All his illusions fell away in a terrible clarity, and he finished the draft of the play in a frenzy. After that, the illusions of reality returned, and he went to get help, but it was difficult, because it was breaking so many rules.
Eventually, Merit makes an memory roll and realizes that there's something vaguely familiar about parts of this plot. Hey, there's a Toro prophecy: "A town or a keep where the dead walk and the living do not, keeping a terrible beast prisoned within." There are still some "living" people walking around, so there's still a chance to stop things.
What can Hayato remember about the "terrible beast"? He thinks it was in pain, shrieking soundlessly somehow. The people doing the ritual mentioned Maya and Kali, but the beast called out to someone else named Toro, wanting to know why. It looked like a pale, hollow, hopeless man - Merit thinks that sounds a little bit like a demon of despair, though there's something not quite right about that either.
There are some shouts from downstairs - get ready to open the doors to let the audience in. Then there are some more shouts, from people who have "died", but the Monkey King shushes them and they sit down in the seats. Wei Han's prisoner wants to see the play too, so they send him downstairs.
Hayato says he wants to make amends for having written the play, but Merit says he's not expendable, and Xian hits him with a geas to rewrite the play and fix what he has done. He stays behind in the office with pen and ink, while everyone else heads into the basement.
Merit needles Xian about this being all her fault, but she protests that Toro trying to destroy the world is not all on her. Okay, the fact that the end of the world is in the shape of a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (aka the Monkey King) is, Xian admits, her fault, but the existence of Gozer the Gozarian is not.
The Beast in the Basement
The party reaches the basement. Very briefly, a six-pointed star is seen, with writhing and different-looking chains at each corner. The creature in the center calls out "Masters! Help me!" and then there is a flash, and the basement is full of walls. Merit, looking with the Orb, notes that the walls are built out of "law" and not just "wood". Yanyu puts the blessing of the Phoenix on the combat.
Demons are scattered throughout the maze - Deng identities the most dangerous for himself as the Rust demon and the Reflection demon. To Merit, the demon of Wisdom is the most dangerous. Much smiting, both of and by demons, begins.
Upstairs (in drift, and also at sunset), the curtain rises, to desultory cheering.
Deng chops the Rust demon, losing a sword in the process, and encounters the Wisdom demon.
- "Ask me any question you want and I will answer it truly. Do anything else and you will never see me again."
- "Where is the other side of the disappearing bag?" -Deng
- "A barn next to a red farmhouse in the southernmost village in the part of New Rivers currently held by the Savanna of Tears."
Kasumi grabs the nose of the Drowning demon, and gets water in her lungs. Yanyu hits the Random demon with the Wrath of the Phoenix, which pushes her over the edge and she snaps, dying inside. As it turns out, once she doesn't care about rules or law, she can go through the walls. Next drift, the Son of the Moon charges into the theater, though he is pretty high in tau by the time he gets to Yanyu.
Shen-Ji is getting close to snapping due to a high tau, and so is Xian, due to a low energy.
- "The Imperial Alchemist is trying to turn the Empire into the Spider Empire. Aside from the obvious, why?" -Next question to the demon
- "Because Phoenix broke the stability of the Empire, and he is trying to restore it for its protection." -Wisdom demon
Deng finally breaks through the final wall of law (earning a lot of tau in the process). The horrible pale creature is there, chained by six chains.
Wei Han hits the Wisdom demon with a Kirk attack:
- "What are you unable to tell me truthfully?" -Wei Han
- "The alchemist's true name."
- "What is the Imperial Alchemist's true name?" -Wei Han
However, when he is banished, his thwackback drops both Wei Han's and the nearby Kasumi's mental stats by a total of fifteen.
Kasumi, Deng, and Shen-Ji start working through the chains, and Deng offers the demon a deal: "We free you and you keep us informed of Toro's activities." The demon agrees. Xian tries to figure out what the demon will actually do if they free it, but the answer does seem to be "flee".
Kasumi snaps, dying inside, freeing her from all constraints and rules. Shen-Ji shatters the last chain, and the Son of the Moon breaks through the final wall to join Yanyu, though he also snaps in the process (not that he ever really believed many rules apply to him). Kasumi stabs the demon a bunch, and Yanyu finishes it off, just barely after the party manages to free it.
Merit tries to figure out how much killing the demon does or does not thwart Toro's plan. Well, now that it has been unbound, it doesn't play a role, but most of its essence has been sucked upstairs into the play - and since it was slain, it's about to explode. Whoops. The explosion does a lot of tau-effect to everyone nearby.
The group charges back upstairs again, to disrupt the play. Merit threatens everyone with the theater sandbags and the Bluff of Hen-Ri. Yanyu improvises a love scene with the Son of the Moon, which quickly gets extra-physical. Wei Han tackles the actor playing the King, and Deng taunts another actor off stage.
Another energy drain ticks by - after the demonic thwackback, very few people have any chance to make their roll. Merit spends a karma and succeeds, and Xian spends three to succeed, but Wei Han and Deng both snap, and Shen-Ji explodes in a ball of fire, which finishes disrupting the play. (At this point, the tau effect dissipates, and Merit and Xian get their energy back.)
Xian and Kasumi have rushed upstairs, where Hayato and Hsu are engaged in a "not for amateurs" master playwright battle over the draft of the play. Kasumi stealths, getting ready to stab the Monkey King to death as soon as the battle is done, and Xian starts picking up the scattered pages of the play that aren't currently in contention. Deng heads upstairs, also ready to chop any playwrights who look annoying.
Back downstairs, Wei Han loots anything that looks creepy and Northern from Shen-Ji's ashes, and Merit picks up the rest of his loot, keeping a careful account, and starts sweeping up his ashes. Yanyu and the Son of the Moon are starting to get pretty into their love scene, and Wei Han sits down in the audience to watch.
Xian offers Deng a page from Hayato's new draft (The Triumph of Law), and he un-snaps. Kasumi is more of a problem, however. Xian can spend a Yin to see her, but Kasumi has no interest in taking any paper from Xian, who is annoying and confusing at the best of times. However, she doesn't spend any dice to dodge when Xian putpockets the page into her sash, and that is sufficient to un-snap her.
The playwright combat finally ends, and Han Hsu has been Defeated. He agrees to never produce a play again without Hayato’s permission and oversight. Hmm. That might actually solve the escalating bring-down-everything problem.
Xian heads downstairs, and gingerly drops a piece of paper onto the distracted Son of the Moon, who comes enough to his senses to realize that they are in public, and covers Yanyu with his cloak. Xian gives the last of her pages to Wei Han and then Yanyu. Yanyu and the Son of the Moon promptly vanish, to avoid having a conversation about how This Will Never Be Spoken Of.
Merit hires Hayato as the official playwright for the House of Exuberant Interference.
The party does their best to gather up all the pages of both The King in Yellow and The Triumph of Law, but some pages of both scripts blew out the window during the epic playwright battle. Merit manages to find several of the missing pages, and has surely not missed any. Xian supervises, making sure no one has any more pages from The King in Yellow than Triumph of Law at any given time, and the evil play is burned.
The Triumph of Law will have to be fully performed in order to make the un-snapping permanent - otherwise, people will have to keep their spare pages with them at all times.
But... what about Shen-Ji? He still seems to be dead. Merit looks with the Orb, and sees an after-image of a phoenix in flames. So... maybe he'll return?
- Master Deng joins the House of Exuberant Interference.