The Providence of Coincidence
|"Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."|| It is the Day of the Late Crane in the month of the Crane, the last day of winter, in the thirteenth Year of the Fox since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Butterfly Kingdom.
The Circus of Silken Wings begins its day of dress rehearsals, at which the final headlining acts will be chosen. Those in the know, whether those be court residents or visitors, have heard that this is the best time to see the performers in a more informal setting, so some have exerted their status to officially gain entrance, while others have taken advantage of distraction to sneak in. However, in addition to planning to watch the circus acts, most of the visitors have other goals they hope to accomplish.
- Li Merit knows that the conductor of Silken Wings will be letting the crowds decide which acts are cut and which continue, and wants to make sure that people do see all the shows and generate as much enthusiasm as possible.
- Anto has heard rumors of Takanata's involvement with a strange ritual on the Winter Solstice, and is curious to learn more.
- Takanata, on the other hand, is hoping to find someone who knows something about rituals, who can explain what all his notes on the ritual mean. As part of his traditional morning ritual, he has written a poem.
- Wu Shuyan has discovered that one of her snakes has gone missing, and wants to recover it without incident.
- Yoshi is curious to hear more about the thug who has been breaking people's legs and exactly what was happening with that.
- Zhu Cai-Wen is in charge of picking volunteers, and has found that the best choices are the people with a big difference between their Mind and Social stats, so he's looking for good candidates there.
- Deng Zhi-Hao is still worrying about the opium smugglers, and wonders whether other travellers have better ideas about which of the Twelve Kingdoms are likely to be the source.
- Teng Hanako has noticed that her brother seems more worried than usual since the solstice ritual, and wonders if he feels guilty that he could not be the hero and rescue them. She is contemplating arranging a situation in which Hiro can save someone, in the hopes that that will make him feel better.
- Teng Hiroki has been more worried than usual since the solstice ritual, but it is about his sister. She has little appetite, and is more clumsy than she was, and he worries that she is ill, or cursed. He hopes to find a discreet healer to ask about her.
- Lijuan's dog Ho has badly bitten a snake in the stables, and Lijuan is very concerned that it is one of Wu Shuyan's snakes. She hopes to let Wu Shuyan know of this without actually getting herself (or Ho) in trouble.
- Song Min Feng is curious about Xiao Fa, who seems to be following her, and wonders whether other people know more about him. She also has a letter she has borrowed from Takanata's office regarding herself, that she wants to return without coming to his attention.
- Xian is hoping to get permission to visit the Library of the Butterfly King.
- Xiao Fa hopes to learn where on the Isle of Butterflies there might be plum blossoms, as he collects clippings for the Grand Monastery of Meihua Sannong.
- Yang Shen-Ji is wondering if others have more experience with tael than he does - as a metal sorcerer, he is very curious about them.
- Arata Kasumi has grown frustrated with not being assigned any actual missions, and so has been setting herself personal training missions, such as stalking Li Merit and observing people covertly.
- Tsai Su-yin plans to ask around about where various flowers are, in the hopes of finding an ideal location for a beehive (not too near any yellow flowers, but near similar-colored flowers). Like Xiao Fa, she has to ask the locals what they know of the flora, but unlike Xiao Fa, she has prepared a map.
- Master Zhou is rather puzzled, having just woken up several hours ago, with almost no memory of... anything, really.
Scattered through the various tents are the acts of the circus, each seeking to gain favor with the crowd, and most providing opportunity for the visitors to test their own mettle.
- The Knife Throwing of Silent Han!
- Silent Han is a small man who never speaks. His assistant stands before a target, blind-folded, and moves through various simple martial arts kata while Silent Han throws knives at the target. The knives pass between the limbs and hair of his assistant hitting the target every time. After each performance, Silent Han's assistant asks for volunteers.
- (Volunteers must make will rolls of increasing difficulty not to flinch)
- The Mighty Kar Lo, Strongest Man Alive
- Behold, as the mighty Kar Lo juggles weights, lifts boulders and tosses people with ease! He even breaks wooden boards with his head! Truly the mightiest man alive! Kar Lo challenges all comers to a Tug-of-War!
- (Volunteers may combine their strengths to pull against Kar Lo)
- The Amazing Juggling of Gipeno!
- Gipeno is a master of the dextrous arts. Watch as he tosses knives, melons, and chairs without letting a single one fall. He can balance a dozen plates on a dozen sticks while hopping on one foot... or one hand! He offer lessons to those who wish to learn his art.
- (Gipeno will teach volunteers to juggle bean bags)
- Comedy Min-Su and her Amazing Monkeys of Distraction!
- Witness the comedy stylings of Min-Su, lady of monkeys. The wacky hijinks of Min-Su's "comedy team" will enliven any gathering, lift any worry, and relieve any stress. No can watch the show without laughing, but you are welcome to try...
- (Onlookers have a hard time keeping themselves from laughing)
- Iron-shirt Jo-Jo, Monk of the Ascending Path
- Clubs, boards, fists and even knives! Nothing can harm the master of the Iron Shirt. Watch in amazement as his assistants beat on him, throw things at him, and even stab him with sharpened knives! Can nothing hurt him? Could you?
- (Volunteers are offered a knife to attempt to harm Jo-Jo - at best, they can draw a single drop of blood.)
- Mystic Mondo, Riddlemaster of the Deep Mysteries
- "How does a monk fight the dawn?" "Why will a ring never shine?" Match wits the Riddlemaster and prove before all the subtlety of your mind.
- (It takes an impressive Intelligence roll to best Mondo at the game of riddles)
- Fortune Telling with the Enlightened Melina
- The management is sorry to report that Enlightened Melina will not be performing today due to illness.
- Akimoto the Astonishing!!
- The management is sorry to announce that Akimoto the Astonishing will not be performing this evening due to injuries sustained while preparing his death-defying acts.
- General Mechanic - people can make an act-based roll every twenty minutes, and attempting such a roll (whether it succeeds or not) generates a "clap". Success draws the interest of circus workers, who ask for further aid in small missions; succeeding in these small missions generates Alpha for the party.
GM Note: Feel free to add conversations and interactions of interest! We missed most of them!
Lijuan, Xiao Fa, and Shuyan are quickly united in investigating the snake near the stables - it proves to be a highly dangerous brown asp, not Shuyan's missing snake after all, and Shuyan quickly dispatches it with a shovel. Lijuan and Ho are not in trouble after all, and are pleased with themselves for protecting the horses from a Bad Snake. Xiao Fa notes that he has seen a large copper-colored snake in the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation this morning, and when the three proceed there, Lijuan is able to track the snake to a rabbit's burrow, where Shuyan recovers it.
Hana declares to her brother that she wishes to see the strong man defeated, so Hiro puts together a large group of people (minus Master Zhou, who is has not yet even figured out where he is, let alone why people are battling a strong man) to defeat him in the tug of war.
Takanata describes the winter solstice ritual to the sorcerer Shen-Ji, who is appalled at the idea of starting a Grand Ritual with the invocation of the Cycle Animals and proceeding through the elements to the invocation of the Tao. That is completely wrong, and he is also somewhat perturbed at the lack of any missing elements.
Hana recruits Min Feng to her plan; Min Feng promptly recruits Shen-Ji, and prevails upon him to take her up flying on his metal disk. It is a wobbly tippy process, and after a particularly bad tip, Min Feng falls off, to be caught and rescued by Hiro.
Zhi-Hao asks the non-locals about opium, and finds that it is most common in the south, and along the coast.
Li Merit goes to check out Melina, and discovers she has been poisoned! He quickly gathers aid from the healers in diagnosing her. They indicate that her poison is not fatal (she was given ginkano root), but that it will interfere with her powers for a few days. Why would anyone want to interfere with the fortune teller's powers?
Su-Yin constructs a map of the flowers of the Isle of Butterflies based on the recollections of local residents, and decides that in the north, near the lilacs of the Tokai lands and the violets of the forest, is the best spot for a beehive. Xiao Fa is impressed that she has had the foresight to prepare a map, and is similarly able to locate the blossoming plum trees he seeks.
Anto and Xiao Fa both recognize Master Zhou as an Ancient Master from Iron Mountain - particularly renowned as a walker in the realm of the spirits. That doesn't really answer the question of what has happened to him, and why he is here now, however.
Xiao Fa examines Hana, at Hiro's request. Her pulse is slow and irregular, and she does seem a bit chilled and fatigued, but the greater surprise is that in her Chi, her Yang has been wholly suppressed and dominated by her Yin. That is very unusual. Hana speculates that maybe it has to do with the twins' bond to each other -- does Hiroki have a similar Yang-domination? Sadly, Xiao Fa is unable to examine Hiroki's Chi at this time, but promises to do so later.
The festive atmosphere of the circus is disrupted, however, when the sun's light dims and darkens, blotted out by the moon in a transient eclipse. The animals of the circus panic and many break loose of their tethers, trampling people in the confusion. The conductor declares that the show must go on, and his shaky confidence is reinforced when the sun's light quickly returns, but the performers are off their game and are not as impressive as they were before.
With the less effective circus performers, more volunteers are able to succeed against them. The circus workers begin to ask for aid in the small missions (getting a knot tied, annoying an unpleasant circus patron, finding a lost sketchbook), and the party starts to gain alpha.
Takanata considers the omen of the eclipse. An eclipse is always a double-edged omen, combining light and dark as it does. It could presage a something bad happening at the beginning of something large, or a good event happening at the end of something large. Takanata suspects the event will not be good, whatever it is.
A herald arrives, announcing that shortly before the circus finale, the grounds will be sealed, in preparation for the arrival of the royal family. This throws the performers into even more nervousness, and their visitors take advantage of their new shakiness.
Takanata consults the I Ching regarding Master Zhou. As he sorts the yarrow stalks in his hands, most of them fall out and away from the casting area, much to Master Zhou's consternation. The resulting pattern indicates a battle which has been lost, and nine out of ten men in the army are dead.
The time for the finale approaches, and the last "claps" are given to the acts. Zhi-Hao and Takanata encourage the other visitors to not vote for Silent Han or Jo Jo, as they are quite nervous about sharp pointy weapons being encouraged on a day of such ill omens. Additionally, there is a popular movement afoot to support Melina, despite her lack of performance. In the end, the three most popular acts are Melina, Min Su, and Mondo, and the total Alpha is 17.
The Royal Family arrives, accompanied by seven bodyguards. Intimates of the court realize that this is quite unusual - Ti Lao is known for disliking having to be guarded in his own capital, as it sends a terrible message to the people. Li Merit insisted however, and had a friend of his in the court convince the king that it would be OK this once. Master Deng and Master Tokai are invited to the royal box to join the royal family while they watch the finale, while the rest of the visitors settle themselves in the stands. Shuyan, Li Merit, and Cai Wen go to their places for the finale to begin.
Cai Wen takes the stage to welcome guests and the royal family. He asks for volunteers from the audience - Hiro's hand shoots up, but the rest of the crowd regards him somewhat suspiciously. He chooses Hana instead (as the high Social/Mind ratio person), and Su-Yin (as the high Mind/Social ratio person), and instructs them that they are the tree spirit and the traveler, respectively.
- "Last time my sister got picked for something, it all ended really badly." - Hiro
As Cai Wen starts to instruct Hana and Su-Yin, Xian stands up in the bleachers and shouts "Ninja!", pointing at the king, just as the ninja who has just appeared behind Ti Lao stabs him. Yoshi starts running towards the royal box, pausing only briefly to ponder why the ninja is doing this.
A mage appears on the other side of the tent, and summons a number of crouched dark creatures with long ripping claws - and the creatures immediately leap to attack whoever is nearest.
Master Zhou demands a weapon from Zhi-Hao, and the latter, startled, hands him one, before stopping to wonder who he is. Xian runs away from the nearest demonic ripper towards Merit.
- "If you're running towards me for help, you're in a sad way." - Merit.
Lijuan draws her bow and shoots the ninja; Kasumi leaps into the royal box and grabs the ninja's nose, confusing him for several rounds. Zhi-Hao and Zhou both stab the ninja (as well as nearby rippers) several times.
- "This is not part of the act! Run away from the demons, or kill them if you can!" -Merit
Most of the crowd tries to flee, as does the mage, but then Xian pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and brandishes it at the mage, a bluff which Cai Wen happily joins with.
- "If you leave, I'm going to burn this. This is your Hell Contract, and you don't want that." -Xian
- "How did you get my Hell Contract?"
- "Don't mess around, just tear it up!" -Cai Wen
Between the two of them, they confuse and worry the mage quite a bit. He declares himself to be surrendering, but moves his fingers to instruct his rippers to go after Xian, which they do. As Xian falls, three of the rippers grab the "hell contract" and flee for the door to the tent.
- "Way to pull aggro there." -Eon
Min Feng quickly disguises herself as Ti Jun, confusing the rippers in the royal box about which one to attack. The tide of battle begins to turn, as the ninja falls, and the first of the rippers finally falls as well. Min Feng's initial examination of Ti Lao indicates that he hasn't taken enough damage to take him down, so she suspects poison. The guards in the royal box and the rippers there finish their fights; about equal numbers are down on each side.
Merit lights a firework and heads towards the contract, brandishing it menacingly. Ti Jun attacks a ripper, quite impressively, and Shuyan throws a snake at the mage. Lijuan, in the audience, is still being attacked by an unwounded ripper. Between snakes and the fact that he's surrounded, the mage really does surrender, kneeling down and putting his hands on his head.
- "Lijuan is technically a girl. I draw my katana to save her." -Hiro
Min Feng announces that the ninja had a vial of tarry black stuff on him - the king has either been poisoned or magicked somehow.
Shen-Ji searches the mage ("If he resists, he hasn't really surrendered!"), and finds an ominous black crystal. He examines it and determines that when the last of the rippers is either killed or banished it will explode.
Su-Yin joins Min Feng in examining the king, and is also quite sure he has been poisoned. Meanwhile, the fighters finish off the last of the rippers, just as more royal guards show up and escort the royal family away (carrying the fallen king, and also taking the ninja and mage away in chains). Takanata, as well as the two healers (Xiao Fa and Su-Yin) are asked to accompany them; Yoshi explains to those who are still in the tent that the ninja and the mage were working for a foreign liege. Li Merit performs first aid on several of the wounded.
Master Long wraps Ti Lao up in yellow silk, which heals his hit points, but not the effects of the poison. The poison is identified as the Terrible Oil of Wasting Death, a painful and nearly incurable poison; only one of the Great Cures can counteract it, such as the Tincture of Pure Respite. Ti Wren asks Takanata to contact everyone he thought was of assistance together in the morning, as she would like to speak to them.
That night, Min Feng overhears a conversation between the queen and the prince. Apparently, a merchant from the Strand named Chou Sen-Gou has fortuitously arrived with a vial of the Tincture of Pure Respite. The prince thinks buying it and saving his father is an obvious choice, but the queen refuses. She does not trust the arrival of this timely vial and is sure there are hidden strings attached.
Lijuan prowls around the tent, looking for signs of where the ninja came in - it appears he came through the roof, though a slit cut in the silk of the tent. She also finds a black thread on one of the poles indicating where he climbed up earlier, and brings this all to Merit's attention. He says he'll let the guards know.
Zhi-Hao talks to the prince later that evening and helps him deal with his rage at his mother's decision. He doesn't get all of the details, but the prince is calmed down a bit and thanks Zhi-Hao for his advice.
Hiro corners Cai Wen about what he was planning to do with the act that he dragged Hana into, and chews him out about not protecting her from the rippers. Hana protests that Cai Wen probably shouldn't be held responsible for the appearance of demons during the show, but Hiro still thinks that once Hana was on stage, she was Cai's responsibility.
Shuyan demonstrates the powers of biting people with snakes, which heals quite a bit of Lijuan's damage (much to Ho's consternation), and Xiao Fa and Su-Yin gather the wounded together to watch over them for the night. The next morning, it is the first day of spring, though it is without the normal sense of celebration that this brings.
The party gathers together in a sitting room in the palace as they wait for Ti Wren to meet them. Takanata briefs the others on Ti Lao's condition. Then, Enlightened Melina, Min Su, and Mystic Mondo briefly come by to thank the group for their support. Now that they have been chosen as the headlining acts of the Silken Wings circus, they offer their assistance if it is needed. Melina can peel back the veil of the future; Mondo can solve a riddle, puzzle, or intellectual trap, and Min Su can provide a really good distraction with monkeys. Each of these will be for 17 successes, and only usable once.
Then, Ti Wren greets the group. She thanks them for their assistance during the combat, and remarks on how when so many fled from the scene, each of those here ran towards the trouble, to offer aid and protection. Now she asks for their aid again - to travel to the Strand, to find Master Hsi, a renowned alchemist, and to offer him the Sphere of Harmony (one of the Seven Treasures of the Court of Distinction) to beg his assistance in preparing a Tincture of Pure Respite or any other aid he can grant. She also asks Li Merit to allow the group to travel with the circus as camouflage - for she suspects that her normal agents are currently watched, but this random group is not. As she trusts in the providence of coincidence, she places her faith in the hands of this rather random assortment of people who have already proven their willingness to provide aid. Everyone bows, and promises to do what they can.
Servants deliver a crate with the Sphere of Harmony, and also a pouch with fifty silver li (enough to be useful, but not enough to be remarkable).
- Takanata and Shen-Ji talk to Master Bai about the winter solstice ritual.
- Xiao Fa checks in with Master Kwan, and takes a quick trip to the plum grove to the south, to get a flowering branch.
- Xiao Fa and Master Zhou visit Master Kwan.
- Xiao Fa, Hana, and Hiro visit Master Kwan.
- Master Zhou instructs one of the circus workers to make sure that there is Always Tea in one of the travelling tents (so there is an excuse for where to look for other players on zephyr (-c dragon-empire))
- Anto and Master Zhou visit Master Koji then Master Long Shen.
- Lijuan, noting all the Master-visiting, says goodbye to Hikaru, as well as the hunting dogs and horses of House Tokai.
- Zhi-Hao attempts to get more details from Ti Jun.
- Xiao Fa heals Min Feng some more (now that the healing rules are clarified)
- Li Merit organizes the Circus to be ready to move quickly, stocks up on extra traveling supplies, and puts together materials to disguise the circus wagons as a funeral procession, in a pinch.