|"Step one: We find the worst play ever written..."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Serpent in the Month of the Tiger in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place on the way to and in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Some of the circus performers check in with Ringmaster Zhu - there were no headliners chosen for the circus this year. Is that a change from Ringmaster Te's policy? Normally these would be determined before the circus left, but instead, the Ringmaster was chosen before the circus left, so there wasn't a separate headliner contest. Cai Wen says he'll figure something out. He also receives a letter from Yanyu letting him know that the Night of Gates is coming soon, and expected to be longer than usual this time. He tells the circus hands to put on extra security, and to ask Li Merit about headliners.
Meanwhile, Shiny starts collecting interesting stuff, from party loot and elsewhere. People bribe him with new items to not take the things they care about, and then he climbs into the monkey cart. Min Feng, who is trying to get him to give some of the things back, finds herself in the monkey cart, as Shiny starts to drive it away. Xiao Fa, spotting the cart vanishing into nowhere, quickly leaps aboard.
One of the circus runners comes to find Merit, with a somewhat confusing message from the Ringmaster - they need to go on high alert because of the Festival of Gates coming, and put all the headliners in secure rooms. Merit, baffled, goes to find Cai Wen, and learns about the extra-long many-Nights of Gates, and that headliners need to be chosen.
Cai Wen decides that the time to have a competition will be at the command performance in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. He and Merit arrange for invitations to be sent to various VIPs and friends - each person will have a little block of fancy tickets, which will be transferable. Then, Merit starts a whispering campaign about how this is a one-time-only opportunity normally only on the Isle of Beauty, to make the tickets extra-valuable commodities.
The circus finishes packing up and heading south, when some of Merit's guards come to let him know one of the carts is missing. On some interrogation, it becomes clear that it's the monkey cart, but nobody saw it leave. Merit directs the guards to keep an extra close eye on everything else. Asking around, Shen-Ji notes that Shiny stole the white banner, and Takanata tries to find out who saw the cart last. Shuyan thinks Min Feng was at the cart, but both Min Feng and Xiao Fa seem to be missing.
One of Merit's contacts reports in with another bonsai - Shen-Ji thinks that, like the Bonsai of Truth, this is something that you cultivate and groom over time, but with a particular person in mind. Exactly what it does is not very clear.
Takanata starts to ride off on his horse to auspiciously arrive with Xiao Fa and Min Feng, but then pauses to contemplate - will he be happier if he brings the Butterfly Talisman, or if he doesn't? The latter. Er, okay. He unpacks most of his possessions, and then rides off to auspiciously arrive.
After a couple of hours, Takanata's horse comes back riderless.
- "Time to cut our losses and move on. We tried." -Shen-Ji
- "They will be deeply missed. This is a sad, sad, day." -Xian
A little while later, Merit's communication scroll summarizes what is written with the brush he has loaned to Takanata:
- Takanata arrived
- Having loads of fun
- Send more loot
- "That's not happening." -Merit
Merit finds an old buddy who can do tracking, and some extra thugs to guard the party loot, but before the tracker can determine that the horse tracks go somewhere he can't easily follow, a circus monkey escapes from the cages and starts running about the circus, leading people to Takanata's wagon, where he is asleep. The monkey gives Takanata a thumbs-up and then leaves, and Merit wakes Takanata up.
Takanata gives everyone else a quick briefing: Min Feng and Xiao Fa are stranded somewhere between the World Above and here, on an island with a sleeping dragon, and they have to do "funny things" with the items they have. He did funny things with the three items he brought, and got sent back. The group debates whether they should send funnier stuff or not.
- "They're on an island with a sleeping dragon, and you sent them a horn. How hard is that?" -Mystic Mondo
The dragon is apparently "dreaming about being on a throne and oppressing Monkey," so this may not be a real Dragon so much as Monkey's idea of what Dragon is like. Anyway, Takanata dreamwalked into the dragon's dream and read the whale prayer at it and scolded it about oppressing its friends, and then used his escape smoke, and Monkey seemed to like that so he got to leave.
Another couple of bullet points appear on the scroll:
- We challenge you who calls yourself a dragon, wake and prove your worth or be called naught but a lowly worm! Whatcha got, sleepy-brain?
- These guys are great.
Hmm. Monkey may be able to add commentary to the scroll here.
Eventually, Xiao Fa and Min Feng return, before any more exciting plans have to be enacted to rescue them. Min Feng complains that last run, people took the white banner out of the monkey cart but then never did anything with it. There is popular acclaim to blame Shen-Ji for this. Takanata, on the other hand, is overjoyed that the monkey cart has not returned, because that thing was nothing but trouble.
Min Feng says that they got a briefing that there's a whole Week of Gates coming, because the boundaries around MonkeyLand are very squishy.
- "Who gave you your briefing?" -Xian
- "Some guy we killed. " -Min Feng
Min Feng clarifies - they didn't kill the guy right then, but it was Tai Fong, the apprentice of the Alchemist who killed Amikiri and took his skin. He was patrolling the boundaries of "monkey-land", when they ran into him, under a tree of monkeys. One of the monkeys pointed at the white banner and made faces. Eventually, they figured out that they had to use everything in the cart in a humorous fashion, while they tried to escape.
- "Then Takanata showed up and changed around all the things we had, and left again."
Eventually, they managed to amuse Monkey enough to let them leave. But He kept all of the stuff.
With the day saved, or at least endured, everyone heads off to the Harbor.
A New Performance of an Old Play
The circus arrives at the harbor, and Merit swings into action planning the command performance. He gets his Amazing Pork Bun Chef on site to make pork buns, and passes out the fancy invitations.
People head out into the city to pick up the news. All the local astrologers are panicking due to the extra-long Festival of Gates, which has apparently already started. Not only will it be extra-long, but the boundaries will be weaker than usual, so the weirdness will be extra-potent. Everyone who is anyone who is having a party in the near future is combining it with a Festival of Gates party. And some people have taken up the new fad, started by Merit, of having people pay to come to one's party. There is even a whole new skill being created called "scalping". Tickets to the circus performance are being widely scalped, but the highest priced tickets are for the upcoming performance of As the Wheel Turns.
- "Who's putting that on?"
- "You get three guesses, and they're all Ezokin."
The name of the play rings a few bells with some of the party - hey, wasn't that the play from The Price of Good Fortune? Everyone who saw it is sure it was the worst play ever, though Merit and Min Feng, who were outside the building when the ritual thwackback happened, think it was okay. Still - why would anyone pay a really high price for a ticket to that?
Clearly this is part of Ezokin's plan, and the play is a ritual to boot. But who is going to soak the cost this time? Takanata worries that it will be him, as Ezokin's main rival in the art-of-the-Arcade plot, though it's hard to get someone to soak the damage without being part of the ritual at all.
Cai Wen asks around about the production - there are twelve actors (like before), but the author is the one thing nobody is talking about. Apparently saying the name of the author is bad luck anywhere near a theater. The male lead is Subatai Nu, and the female lead is the incomparable Xi. The director is Ito Akanuri, and the producer is that paragon of the art scene, Zi Kone. The performance will be at the Royal Playhouse, which is also where the rehearsals are taking place.
Takanata writes a poem:
Hmm. It is not immediately evident what that indicates, other than a general sense that "it's not all about you".
The party drops by to visit Hsu Verity. She has received the invitations to the circus performance, and assures Takanata that she will not do anything vulgar like sell the tickets. Takanata says that's fine, but the thing he's concerned about is the performance of As the Wheel Turns. Verity is surprised that they've even heard of the performance - the director is second-rate, and is trying to salvage his reputation by putting on the worst play in the world, but it's not like it's going to do anything, as he's not a sorcerer. Er... did she not know that Zi Kone is the producer? Cai Wen shows her one of the posters for the production, but she doesn't see the point.
Min Feng tries to tell her that if she leaves before the end of the play, it's much better. She's willing to believe that it's the ending that's particularly bad, but still doesn't quite see the point - will the audience all leave before the end? Maybe they will - it's a pretty bad play. She knows she had to make a bunch of script compromises in order to make the play be a ritual.
Xiao Fa, frowning, diagnoses her chi. Yup, there's a little wall of chi in front of her eyes, between her and the poster. With her permission, he hits the chi effect with a 20-success whammy (and spends 30 li, refunding the caster's expenses), and it breaks.
- "He's putting on the ritual! We have to stop him!" -Hsu Verity
Verity starts thinking about how Ezokin could have changed the ritual to make it more useful to his own purposes (as opposed to what it was designed for). The useful thing to do would be to get a copy of a script with staging notes, to see how it's different now. Perhaps talking to the actors is in order? The only two actors in the performance famous enough to be named in the poster are the incomparable Xi and Subatai Nu. The former is usually in romance productions, as the ingenue; the latter is known for shows with a lot of fighting. Apparently the two declare their love to each other during their swordfight.
The rehearsals are during the day; it's evening now, so the actors won't be there. Min Feng sneaks into the theater to see what she can find. The props box has a set of monk's robes, a bunch of swords, some rings, and a lovely (fake) pink diamond. There is a torn-up copy of the scripts in the trash can. She grabs that and returns to Verity's, where she, Verity, Takanata, and Shen-Ji stay to pore over the ritual possibilities.
Everyone else heads back to the circus and the command performance party, complete with pork buns. The guest list seems to have morphed (due to this new "scalping" trend) into a richer but less statusful crowd (though in the Arcade, they are still pretty similar). Ito Akanuri is there, as are the two lead actors. Oddly, the Incomparable Xi doesn't set off Cai Wen's babe detection instincts until she actually turns her charm directly on him, though after a brief canvass of the room, she starts out paying attention to Xiao Fa, though after she gets no response there for a while, she turns it back on Cai Wen.
Subitai Nu is disappointed in the circus - he had heard that they had a danger chef, combining dramic cuisine with violence. He also seems strangely immune to Xi's charm, and is happy to complain about her, and the production to Merit. He only took this job in the first place because he was in debt, but there's all this stupid dialog about flowers during the swordfight, and Xi is terrible at it - she has dropped her sword thrice. He also doesn't see what the point of duplicating the original production is, when everyone knows it was the worst play ever. The scripts are kept under lock and key at all times - but who would want to read them? He wouldn't even stay in the production, except for the quite significant salary - three times his last production. Merit wonders if he'll be able to retire afterwards - if the play is as bad as he says, his reputation might be ruined! Then, Nu suddenly realizes he has something else to do; he wanders over to the refreshment table, where he gets a drink and sips it, looking puzzled.
A dignified man dressed in black, wearing a (blue item-card) monocle, approaches Merit. He nods politely to Merit, and says that Merit can call him Caifu. He believes that he has something of Merit's - the pewter brush - and that it was lost inappropriately. Merit agrees that it was lost - under strange circumstances (left behind by Min Feng and Xiao Fa in their monkey cart adventure) - and is curious how Caifu came by it. Caifu says that the one who took it was... overstepping. While many of the items lost were of nebulous province, this one was definitely Merit's. (It's one of the trade company items, so the item card is clearly labeled "MERIT").
- "You are involved in my business, and thus it was overstepping for that one to have taken it." -Caifu
- "And where would our society be without property rights?" -Xian
They talk briefly, and Caifu tells Merit that the next step in his path will be revealed soon. Then Caifu wanders off again.
The Incomparable Xi chats with Cai Wen, charm on full blast, when Subatai Nu wanders by and grumbles that if she would put a third of that energy into the performance, it wouldn't be so terrible. Xi retorts that she wouldn't waste her energy on Nu, and the argument begins to escalate. Director Ito rushes over to try to calm them down, but things have gone too far, and both actors quit on the spot. Cai Wen isn't sure what's going on, but he's beginning to be sure that in order to thwart Ezokin, they're going to have to save the play.
At Hsu Verity's house, the magic ritual experts begin to figure out what was going on. Ezokin invoked the Yin and the Yang for his big ritual a month ago, with the art festival. So the play itself isn't his ritual, though it is a ritual. But that may not be relevant to him - it seems that he's just using it as "the worst play ever" and the step is to make everyone think it's great (or maybe behave as if it's great) through the power of tael. So... if it's great through its own greatness, then that step won't work. But Ezokin thinks it's the worst play ever, because he saw the first performance, so he's just as influenced as Takanata and the others.
Now, the party could disrupt the performance, but then Ezokin could probably just try to do something similar again later. Verity thinks it could be possible to counter-bribe everyone to think the play is terrible, but that would mean outspending Ezokin, which could be its own sort of difficult. But if they made the play brilliant, somehow... most of the group thinks that's unlikely, as the play is just so terrible. Min Feng points out, for the hundredth time, that the play is not that bad. Remember, Verity couldn't even read the poster that had Zi Kone's name on it, so there is clearly influence of some sort going on.
Verity concedes that that might be possible. And, the original production was just ritualists - this production has two of the best actors in the Arcade in it - maybe they can breathe new life into the story. Takanata wonders how to make the play an artistic success but a financial disaster for Ezokin - by any chance did he get six different little old ladies to invest in it, so he'll be ruined if the play does well? Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case - Zi Kone is said to be funding the play out of his own resources.
Takanata has altered Shen-Ji's "ritual hint" shtick to get a plot-relevant ritual hint about Ezokin's ritual, so he uses that to find out: The original ritual directs the power of money into art. Ezokin's ritual directs the power of art into money. A good way to thwart Ezokin's overarching ritual would be to make the smaller (play) ritual inside be a real ritual instead of just a play - that points everything back to art and takes the money out. So that's reason to do the play as a ritual. And an extra-clever trick would be to have a big spirit involved, in order to make the appropriate change "always have been", because then plotting to switch it again would be more difficult.
Back at the circus party, Cai Wen chats more with Xi about her play. Well, it's not her play any more, but she thinks it had a beautiful love story in the middle that gets all sat upon by stupid sword fights. If they could just cut out two thirds of the play, it would be good, but the silly grizzled veteran isn't romantic at all. The love triangle is nice, though - there's the clever villain, the hot-tempered woman, and her best friend the loyal monk. The villain convinces the woman that the monk has betrayed her, and she goes to kill him, but during the swordfight they proclaim their love for each other, it's very dramatic. But the dramatic part wasn't the fight choreography!
Ito storms about the party, worrying where he will find new actors. Merit says that the Silken Wings circus has a certain interest in the arts - do tell him what happened? Ito explains that his lead actors have quit, and opening night is in three days. Nobody could learn the script that fast. Merit says that a number of the circus people were at the first performance and might remember quite a bit - why don't they discuss things in the morning?
The performances of the various circus performers concludes, and Cai Wen has to choose the headliners: Kar Lo, Akimoto, and Min Su.
The two groups rejoin for a late-night tea tent session to discuss what they've found out. As far as the ritual of the play goes, whoever invokes the Yin and the Yang at the beginning, if it is a ritual, will soak the damage. If the actor who says the lines doesn't make a magic ritual roll at that point, it's not a ritual. And doing the ritual of money->art might undo the work Ezokin has already done in the Arcade, independently of thwarting his larger-scope ritual. Perhaps Min Feng, with a good disguise and enough karma thrown into her impersonation shticks, could invoke it as Ezokin, so he suffers the thwackback! In general, that sounds better than anything that involves "outspend Ezokin" as a step.
Merit checks to find out who is in town:
- Zi Kone, Nikoze, and Ezokin
- Hsu Verity
- Tai Charity
- the 12 actors and 1 director
- Reluctantly and if absolutely necessary, Butterfly
Huh. People ask Merit about his talk with Caifu, aka Magpie. Merit says that Magpie said that they'll talk again later, after the second clue is revealed, so he doesn't really have to worry about it now. Xian is appalled - if Magpie talked to him, that means he wants something. If a Great Spirit wants something from you, then you should talk to them! Merit is less convinced of that.
In the morning, Min Feng determines that Ni Cheng is close to the Harbor, a little ways out of town. There is still that message for Wolf that the people creating Horse's talisman agreed to deliver. Plus there's the fact that Horse knows that Wolf sent wolves over the wall, and that somehow earns points for Horse.
Cai Wen, Xiao Fa, and Min Feng meet the Incomparable Xi for tea. Xi is a little puzzled by why Cai Wen has brought his friends, but is happy enough to meet them. Xiao Fa checks to see if Xi has any weird chi effects on her, that might have caused her to quit the play or otherwise be manipulated, but he doesn't see anything. Cai Wen asks Xi - what if Subatai Nu was out of the play, would she be willing to go back? She points out that he is already out, he quit too, but no. She publicly quit, and if she goes crawling back, it'll be a big blow to her status.
However, if Cai Wen is interested in seeing the show go on, she may be able to help. While she can act, that's not where her best talents lie. Her strengths are in actually believing she's in the romance that she's playing, falling in love with her opposite number, so she can use her skill in Romance rather than the more expensive Acting skill. She can help teach romance, but it won't work on someone who doesn't actually have the appropriate romantic feelings.
- "I bet that's not what Yanyu thought her love potions were going to be used for." -Min Feng
Well, with a bit of alchemical help, this seems an easily surmountable obstacle.
Merit has some books on memorization in his library wagon, so Min Feng heads there to memorize the script while everyone else goes to talk to the director. (Other party members will take turns up until the performance). Director Ito doesn't think it will be possible to convince the lead actors to return - their reputations are invested now. The play is doomed! The party assures him that it might not be - what does he need to replace the actors? People with acting skill, mostly. Some combat skill would be good, or skill appropriate to the characters they are portraying, but it's possible to replace these other skills with acting. However, he will not abide cross-casting! It seems like he's an... okay... director. The other actors are kind of lame, but the headliners would have pulled the production along.
Merit asks him more questions about the performance - it seems he spent so much time trying to keep the romantic leads from killing each other that the "special effects" are behind schedule. Successes in making that up can contribute to the success of the performance, up to 25% of the acting total. The not-great actors will contribute 4-5 successes to the show, and a Great Show will require 100 (successes+tael) total. Merit assures Ito that they can certainly pull this off - but don't tell the producer. Ito worries - he will be meeting Zi Kone later today. Merit suggests that he get very drunk first, so as to not be able to coherently explain anything.
- "Give me the list of roles, give me the list of set modifications, and get drunk. In that order." -Merit
He gives them the character list.
- Crane (f) - narrator
- Bear (f) - grizzled veteran, speaks only in brusque single words. Vaguely comic.
- Magpie (m) - peddler/thief. Constantly acquiring stuff, either via fast talk or pickpocket, and selling it to other characters. There is a bit with rings.
- Butterfly (f) - mysterious dancer
- Spider (m) - love triangle, clever but villainous. Scheming for the throne for himself and Phoenix.
- Phoenix (f) - love triangle with Dog and Spider, volatile.
- Dog (m) - love triangle, best friend of Phoenix, but too devoted to say anything
- Fox (m) charming rake. Catches the eye of all women but Bear.
- Tiger (f) - scream and leap young woman, easily insulted but honorable.
- Serpent (m) - young man, really a young woman disguised as a monk. Hiding from Tiger's wrath.
- Tortoise (m) - elderly king, doddering but wise. (Lear-ish)
- Monkey (m) - the king's jester (also Lear-ish)
Then, the group heads to talk to Subatai Nu. He is also unwilling to go back to the performance, even if Xi is no longer involved. While he's a better actor than Xi, he's more a weapons master and dramatic fighter, so he can also do some tutoring, though the party seems to be going with the Romance plan rather than the fighting spectacular plan.
The final open question in the plan is - how to keep Ezokin from noticing what's going on and pulling the plug, or causing mayhem of some other sort? After some brainstorming, Xian suggests that he "accidentally" drop something that he can convince Ezokin is a map to his Vault, and then gaze-lock him to be unable to rush off to defend it, which will convince he should be running off... Then it's a win-win solution - either he gets stuck, or he gets free of the gaze-lock and runs off to protect his vault, since Xian so clearly doesn't want him to go there. Actually, that's a pretty good plan. Cai Wen thinks about what might go wrong with it, and decides that the main thing that might go wrong is that he might be able to figure out that his vault isn't under attack, if he thinks about it. So, just in case, Shen-Ji will attack his power source at the Gate of Shen and try to drain it, so he will be under attack.
Meanwhile, Caifu returns to talk to Merit, but Merit doesn’t ask him any questions, and Caifu claims to be fairly busy, so he just give Merit a deed to some property in the Mountains of Heaven and leaves.
At the same time, Min Feng and Takanata head out of the city to find Ni Cheng. It's not that hard to find her, since Min Feng can locate her, and they quickly move up the wolf gradient.
Takanata asks Ni Cheng to inform Wolf that the second son of the Great Khan in the north, who is not in favor, has asked that they relay to Wolf that if he intends to try to join the "rulers of our clans", that there is support from the North that might be available. Ni Cheng frowns - why? Takanata says he's not sure - maybe because Wolf is similar to the northerners in nature?
Takanata also says that they will be doing a ritual soon, and he wonders if it would be possible for Wolf to make the appropriate change in the World Above at the same time. Ni Cheng says that such a thing can be done, in exchange for Takanata agreeing to see that a wolf (to be provided by Ni Cheng) is accepted as a guardian by a royal family. Takanata agrees.
As part of their ongoing agreement, Ni Cheng tells Takanata that there have been more agents crossing the Southern wall of late than in recent history. They seem to be coming across and not doing anything immediately - just losing themselves among the crowd.
Takanata says that he has learned information that he believes is valuable to Wolf - what is he offered for it? Ni Cheng offers him a one-shot summoning of a wolf pack (in appropriate terrain) in return, so Takanata explains about "Horse knows Wolf sent wolves over the wall". He asks Ni Cheng if she thinks it was a fair exchange, and she says she believes so - though that Takanata thought it was fair also was significant, so that even if one turned out to be more fair than the other, the good faith of the exchange makes it fair.
Takanata and Min Feng take their leave of Ni Cheng, and head back to the Harbor. Takanata finally recalls where he's heard the name Tai Charity before - she was a silversmith in the Festival for the Arts that he arranged to try to combat Zi Kone’s tawdrization of the arts. It's not immediately evident how a silversmith will be helpful, but he looks her up anyway. She asks about the play, which she has certainly heard is the worst play ever - is this a stroke of genius or madness on Zi Kone's part? That's a good question.
Takanata considers - will they more successfully complete the play the way they want, if Shen-Ji stays local to react to what Ezokin does, or if he goes with a strike team of Merit's to the Gate of Shen? As far as he can tell, they seem to be about equally likely.
- "So my part of the plan is going to work perfectly! It's all about me!" -Xian
Merit finds an old buddy who is a musician, and the two of them polish the music up. The party decides on the casting.
- Crane (f) - Kuan-Xi
- Bear (f) - NPC actor
- Magpie (m) - Merit
- Butterfly (f) - Shuyan
- Spider (m) - NPC actor
- Phoenix (f) - Min Feng
- Dog (m) - Xiao Fa
- Fox (m) - Cai Wen
- Tiger (f) - Yanzi
- Serpent (m) - NPC actor
- Tortoise (m) - Takanata
- Monkey (m) - NPC actor
Verity reminds the group that the important thing in making it a magic ritual is that the person doing the invocation has to spend a Yin and a Yang; the rest of it can come from the audience, that's how the ritual was designed. Merit says that Magpie says that Ezokin's bigger ritual is already "taken care of" - there is some consternation as to whether that will clash with Wolf taking care of the smaller ritual, but they think probably not.
Shen-Ji heads towards the Gate of Shen on his zippy metal horse and the Horse Talisman, with the plan of meeting Merit's secret strike team there and causing trouble at the Gate when Merit sends him a "go" signal on the magic bullet list. The team will deal with sneakiness and exfiltration as needed.
Merit briefs Director Ito - there's a secret plan to put on the play with nearly an entirely new cast, and no rehearsal.
- "...Well, how could it be worse?"
Min Feng and Xiao Fa go off with a pair of Yanyu's love potions, but Xiao Fa confesses that he doesn't need to drink his. Awww. Min Feng drinks hers, just in case.
As the audience gathers before the show, Takanata is approached by a woman of indeterminate age in a flowing yellow gown. She warns him not to look - this will be one of the largest gatherings in Cycles. Takanata notes to himself that pretty much every time he encounters Butterfly, she warns him not to look.
- "It is lovely to finally meet you." -Takanata
- "Do a good job... make us proud."
- "If things go poorly, what direction should I push with the ritual?" -Takanata, who has a shtick to tilt a ritual one way or another.
- "North? North isn't an element! That terrifies me, and I really hope I don't have to do that." -Takanata
Xian goes to hide in the private box that Zi Kone has reserved, and is insufficiently perceptive to notice anything hidden in it. Zi Kone arrives, and gives a little speech to the audience, welcoming them to the play.
- "Welcome, all, to this most expensive production. I hope that you enjoy the show - I don't doubt you will, because you paid so much for it! The greatest of the great have come here to see it, to see and be seen. And, I shall see you all at the after-party. Your money at work." -Zi Kone
That last bit seems to have been the official bit of the incant for his larger ritual.
Merit scribbles with his pewter brush - time to go, time to go, here we go, it's time to go! In the Gate of Shen, Shen-Ji gets the bullet point: "Go".
Zi Kone takes his place in his box, and above the door, his very-well-hidden invisible magpie familiar says "cheep cheep". Zi Kone raises his eyebrows - they have a visitor? - and looks directly at Xian. Xian yelps, and accidentally drops his (this-is-that) map, which Zi Kone glares at in alarm. Ezokin demands to know where Xian got that, and with a "shing", his talons come out.
- "There's nothing you can do. You can't leave without ruining your ritual, and our team is on site already." -Xian
The play begins, and Xiao Fa and Min Feng invoke the Yin and the Yang. Min Feng, disguised as Ezokin and with several shticks in getting Ezokin in trouble instead of her, spends three karma to put him on the hook for the invocation. Happily, Xian is very distracting for Ezokin.
- "Who are you? I will need to tell your survivors." -Ezokin
- "It does not matter, for I will be the last face you ever see." -Xian, turning on gaze-lock
Up north, Shen-Ji starts to tap into the gate's stored metal/money power, and on stage, the scenes start to flow by.
When the scene between Spider and Dog comes, Spider (who appears to be played by yet another of the Great Spirits taking advantage of the Festival of Gates, and seems to be wearing an interesting belt) is extremely convincing in telling Dog that "she will never love you". Xiao Fa's spirit is crushed - after all, Min Feng is only interested now because she drank a love potion - and he has to struggle to carry on. Oddly, despite being very convincing in the role, Spider goes on the success tally with a zero.
Up in the box, Ezokin's magpie tries to flap between Xian and Ezokin to disrupt the gaze-lock, but its extra invisibility is proving a detriment, and it fails to break their eye contact.
- "Do you want to spend a Yin?"
- "Um... no."
When the random actor playing the jester gets his big scene, a guy in the audience wearing a very large hat stands up, clapping wildly and shouting "Bravo!". The audience around him shushes him.
When the Dramatic Swordfight comes between Dog and Phoenix, Xiao Fa's spirit is still crushed, and it is the best he can do to not go negative on acting. (It's quite an effort to get up to zero). However, even with zeroes from Xiao Fa and Spider, the party manages to get their required 100 successes and the play is saved!
Then, the ritual finishes. Ezokin screams, and manages to look away from Xian. He reaches into his pouch, and pulls out... a little figurine, carved like a magpie. He regards it in horror - what the hell is that? - and then leaps off the balcony, changing into a magpie and flying away. Up in the Gate of Shen, Shen-Ji spends five karma to add the new type of magic to his concept, and becomes a metal/art sorcerer, much to his surprise, as he was expecting money - and the Gate of Shen seems to have shifted to have galleries and museums on one side, and an artist's colony on the other. And quite a lot of Shen-Ji's money has turned into a really nice piece of art.
On stage, the actors (including Aku) take their bows, and the curtain falls.
- Takanata gets extra drunk at the afterparty.
- Takanata gets people to go visit the Tengs again.