The Scheme of Zi Pon
|"If money be not thy servant, it will be thy master."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Monkey in the Month of the Fox in the eleventh Year of the Spider since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place on the way in and around the Port of Auspicious Voyage in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival
The last time anyone heard, Cai Wen was still in jail in the Forest of Chin, and Kasumi went off to retrieve him. Neither of these has been heard from since. There's a bit of fretting about this, but after some discussion Ringmaster Te argues that it's been a long progress already, and he'd really like to get headed back to the Butter… Kingdom of Beauty for some down time. So, tomorrow, the circus heads to its next stop, the Port of Auspicious Voyage. Besides, people probably don't want Cai Wen around in the Port of Auspicious Voyage in any case. That never goes well.
Meanwhile, Min Feng has taken a quick trip up to the Port of Propitious Voyage to check on the Cup of Five Virtues. While there, she meets an interesting man who assures her he has the Magpie's own sight and saw some financial ruin on the horizon down south in the Port of Auspicious Voyage. Being a wise Magpie, he decided to clear out and come all the way up here to the Port of Propitious Voyage to escape the coming troubles. He highly recommends that Min Feng not return down there. There's a little bit of flirting, but not very hard, and Min Feng decides not to run away from the circus with this guy. He accepts that amiably and leaves a big tip at the tea house when he goes. Among his coins is a small highly scratched slug of copper, that isn't quite a zhu, which Min Feng finds interesting. So she tosses a zhu of her own on the table and pockets it before heading back down south to rejoin the Circus.
People make their goodbyes in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival and attend to some final purchases. Takanata has a nice tea with Scholar Turtle and then heads back to have his belongings packed for the journey. En route, he's moved to stop at a papermaker's shop and spends an excessive amount of money on ultra-fine paper and inks. With these in hand, he heads back to the circus and pens his latest prophecy upon the fine materials.
Not really sure what that means, Takanata asks Min Feng (who has just returned) where Ezokin is. She replies that she's certain he's down in the Port of Auspicious Voyage. Oh dear. Well, there's no way around that, so people decide to just see what happens. A few final interactions in the Harbor delay leaving. Takanata and Shuyan go to talk to Sai. She's thrilled to have more guests and talks their ears off. Takanata tries to figure out the deepest connection between Shuyan and Sai. He doesn't really come up with one, but decides that the thing they both have most in common is that they both have something to do, neither of them are aware of what it is, and should they fail to do it, doom will befall countless innocents. People are pretty sure that the thing Sai has to do is go back into the water before her time limit expires. She promises that she will, but just likes being a person so darned much…
- "What is it with everyone wanting to be people?" -Andrea
- "Well, you want to be people…" -Kate
- "I am people!" -Hana
On the way to the departing circus, Shuyan stops to buy some fancy throwing knives. Hiro looks for anti-undead talismans and is offered an Amulet of Undead Shrieking. Any undead who come into its radius is sure to shriek in pain and take some small amount of damage. He decides that isn't quite what he wants, but Min Feng thinks it's great, so she buys it instead. The merchant charges her 12 li, but she's sure she spent 13 li on it somehow. Maybe he swindled her? She makes detective rolls at the guy while Shen-Ji examines her new copper coin. It's not really powerful enough to be called a magic item, but he's sure it was some sort of by product of some ritual working. Shen-Ji also examine Min Feng's new amulet and decides it probably would have attacked Hana anyways, so Hiro probably didn't want it. The poor shopkeeper protests to Min Feng that he did not swindle her, nor did he swindle Mako the Knife, who made the same accusations earlier.
People make some gather information attempts and arrange for Min Feng to visit Mako the Knife in a seedy bar down town. He also tells a tale of being swindled by the magic knife seller, but Ming Feng notices a copper piece in his possession a little less scratched than the one she has. She trades him for it and now has two. Shen-Ji then examines both of them and concludes that they were the results of two different magical rituals, both of which were the result of one larger magical ritual. This is becoming very disturbing. Min Feng doesn't find that part so troublesome, but does complain that whatever they are, they are eating her li. She spends a little more time studying the scratches on the coins/slugs and decides that they are most like poor forgeries of zhu, but without magic the only way to read what they actually say is to find the thing they are forgeries of…
By this time, Ringmaster Te is fed up and ready to leave without them, so everyone rushes back to the circus as it departs for the south. On the ride, Shen-Ji examines the coins and compares it to Li Merit's ancient li. He doesn't think they are particularly related except in as much as they are both very old. (Centuries old.) But that doesn't quite make sense since these two new ones seem to still have some magical traces on them as if the rituals that created them were performed very recently. It's a puzzle.
Riding down the path, people start discussing general plots and plans. Hiro wants to know why the party is helping Horse? Shen-Ji explains that it's to get Horse's favor, and concedes that they needn't help Horse in particular, but since they are messing with the Cycle anyways, they might as well get some favors out of it. This starts a loud discussion between Hiro and Shen-Ji in which they don't particularly pay attention to where they are riding, Hiro's horse stumbles, and he spills to the ground. He recovers most of his stuff, but two of his li seem to have rolled off into the grass and can't be found. However, he does find one of Min Feng's copper slugs in his pouch. Except that Min Feng has both of hers. Hmm… now there are three.
As they approach the city, Min Feng checks for Ezokin again. He's about three miles away in the nicer part of town…
- "Have you ever used those shticks against anyone other than Ezokin?" -Takanata
- "I have Tai Lung studied, but he doesn't seem to be as much fun." -Min Feng
Hiro reminds Takanata that he's carrying Ezokin's Cane of Free Action and should be careful with that. Takanata assures him that it is his now, and isn't worried about it.
- "I'm just saying, watch out for the provenance of stolen stuff when you fight the people you stole it from." -Hiro
In the city, Min Feng finds Ezokin a little harder to track, as not only does he have a mostly clear signal coming from the better part of town, but there's a malaise of his presence pretty much everywhere around here. Well, there's no point in putting the confrontation off, so while the circus starts setting up, the sneakier members of the party head to the nicer part of town in disguise to search out Ezokin. They get to the right general area, so Hiro and Min Feng head into a nearby high-end tea shop to check out any rumors. Even though he is disguised, Hiro is immediately recognized by Dutiful Hsung, who is overjoyed to see him, and insists that Hiro go first in the tea line. His cover mostly blown, Hiro buys some tea and chats with Hsung while Min Feng keeps poking around. She doesn't pick up any rumors, but does notice several scratched up copper pieces in various tip piles throughout the tea house.
Meanwhile Dutiful Hsung is buying a number of fine teas to restock the House of the Lotus. Sadly, he doesn't seem to have enough money. He was sure he had enough when he started, but doesn't now, so puts some teas back and spends the rest. Before he can spend it all though, Hiro notices a much nicer (less scratched) copper slug among his money. He snatches it up for examination. It appears to be a "Copper Zhu of Zi XXX". There are still a few scratches so the full name can not be read, but it's a start.
Meanwhile, back at the circus, Hsu Verity shows up to talk to Shen-Ji. She's been tracking these cursed coins around the city and… oh dear, Shen-Ji is cursed too. Shen-Ji admits that several of them are cursed, but they've given all of their cursed coins to Min Feng. Except for the one he finds in his pocket at this point. Oh dear. Well, she doesn't want it, but if he can come across a pristine original, she thinks she can devise a way to stop the curse from spreading further. Shen-Ji doesn't have an original, but will keep his eyes open.
People regroup at the circus. First, they warn everyone that it's very important that the circus does not interact economically with anyone here in town until the party has sorted this cursed money thing out. Oh, and they should shun Min Feng. Don't even go near her. People wonder about Li Merit. Well, he's not here, so he's presumably running his financial empire from some other city this week, but everyone promises to remind him no to make any purchases in or around the Port of Auspicious Voyage this puttering. Min Feng reports that she managed to narrow Ezokin's location to the Arms of the Magpie Inn. The best inn in town.
- "Ezokin isn't the problem. Our real problem is that Li Merit will kill us all if we let him engage in cursed commerce while he's not here."
People make history rolls and consult some local sources to see what they can come up with about some "coins of Zi". Sadly, Zi is a shunned name here in the Arcade, mostly because of the Great Warlord Zi Kar who invaded the Arcade from the Forest of Chin some centuries ago. He almost conquered the country until his vizier betrayed him and the two died at each others' hands.
Once more, people give all of their cursed money to Min Feng, who finds her li dwindling. Others attempt to give all of their money to Takanata after getting rid of the cursed money, but he ends up with some cursed money anyways. By this time, people figure out that if you give a cursed coin away, you find a more scratched cursed coin somewhere on your person or in your coin pouch moments later. This continues until the coin is so scratched as to be unrecognizable. Then it stops. So, people give several iterations of cursed money to Min Feng, until she's walking around with quite a purse full of it. Finally, only she seems to have any cursed money, but Shen-Ji thinks the rest of them are still cursed.
Before people can head off again, Master Zhou gets a visit from a monk of the Monastery of the Brilliant Dawn. He just wants to let the great master of Iron Mountain know that if he wishes to find Master Jinghua, he should not look at the monastery. The master will be down with his students in some of the caves south of the city. Master Zhou asks why this is and is told that there were some financial irregularities with the orders accounts…
- "Someone foreclosed on the Monastery of the Brilliant Dawn! This is intolerable!" -Master Zhou
Master Zhou promises to attend to the master shortly.
That night, Takanata dreams of the source of all of this trouble Ezokin has caused. He sees the Port, as it was long ago, by the looks of the buildings. Within it, a group of 13 sorcerers are deep in ritual. It's clearly a grand ritual as they invoke each of the Great Spirits in turn except Magpie. When Magpie's turn comes, the sorcerer who might have invoked him is bloodily sacrificed upon the ritual fires by the leader. The ashes of his blood are mixed with the molten silver deep within the fire and poured into a mold that is stamped by the sign of the Striking Magpie. The 12 lesser sorcerers return to the west, while the leader takes up the coin in his hand and walks through the streets of the port. Eventually, he comes upon a beggar with a small tin cup. The sorcerer drops the coin into the cup of the beggar, and they both smile. Takanata then finds himself on a battlefield as the forces of the warlord charge through the defenders of the Arcade, the latter being ill-equipped and trained. He wakes in a sweat.
The next morning, Dutiful Hsung briefs Hiro on the tragic financial circumstances Madame Cho and the House of the Lotus have fallen under. As the various members of the house are constantly trading moneys back and forth, they seem to have built up quite a store of cursed moneys themselves. However, with an astonishing memory roll, Dutiful Hsung recalls that one cursed coin in particular, given to the Lady of the house by a monk who really needs to remain nameless by house rules, was pristine and made of silver rather than copper. Master Zhou suspects he knows where such a monk can be found and heads off to the caves to question them, while Min Feng and Hiro go to relieve the House of the Lotus of their cursed money.
This, of course, is when a "lost circus guest" shows up at the circus and asks Shuyan a bunch of questions about Cai Wen. She remarks that Cai Wen is not here, but she's a very good friend of his, so she could give any messages to him as appropriate. The guest promises to see her again and heads off. Shuyan of course follows him and finally tracks him to an alley where he puts on a ninja outfit and ascends a rope to the rooftop. Oh dear.
At the temporary monastery in the caves, Master Zhou speaks to the master and hopes that the monetary difficulties will be resolved. After talking to several of the brothers, he does find the one brother who found a pristine li in the donations box and gave it to someone at the House of the Lotus. The master will be having words with him later, but for the moment, he just wants to trace what it says. The monk tries hard and recalls that it was inscribed the "Silver Li of Zi Pon, the Striking Magpie". Master Jinghua collects the pristine copper piece that was generated when the silver piece was given away and deposits it (and all of its descendants after several givings) with Min Feng. Master Zhou also speaks to the master on the proper way to fight a sorcerer like Ezokin. Master Jinghua is not certain, but given what he's been told, he suggests that perhaps Ezokin will be powerless against anyone who has more money than he does. Master Zhou, a monk himself, is not likely to have more money than a magpie money sorcerer, so files this away for future reference.
At the Flower House, the party finds that the Mistress of the House no longer has the Silver Li of Zi Pon, but does have the pristine Copper Zhu of Zi Pon that was generated by it, and a bunch of smaller coins. Min Feng collects all of these as well. By now, she's got a bag of cursed coins, including 12 of the most cursed "obviously magic" ones.
Back at the circus Hsu Verity confirms that Zi Pon was the name of Zi Kar's sorcerous vizier who did terrible things to the economy of the Arcade right before the invasion. He was known as the Striking Magpie, and also one of the very first sorcerous money-mancers. Seeing the two pristine copper pieces (one from the monks and one from the flower house), she admits she can wing a ritual based on The Knife Returns to have these two lead them to the Pristine Silver Li of Zi Pon. Sadly, that would require her to get cursed by handling them, so she offers to teach the ritual to Shen-Ji instead.
- "Me no speakie rituals…" -Shen-Ji
Around this time, a trio of ninja show up in Shuyan's tent and attempt to kidnap her in order to trade her for Cai Wen. She is quite sinuous and so escapes their grip enough to scream causing the whole party to descend upon the poor hapless ninja. Ninja get rolled up in snakes, kung fu chopped, stabbed and shot until they retreat in a puff of smoke. "Behold the fate of those who stand by Zhu Cai Wen!" When the smoke clears, the party finds the ninja gone, as well as Hiro.
- "Wait, they took me?" -Andrea
- "Yeah, it seems Shuyan was too sinuous to hold on to." -Mike
- "Wow! I just bought Stickly Prickles of the Hedgehog and I'm anxious to use it." -Andrea
- "Damn." -Mike
The ninja experience a rude surprise when Hiro suddenly bursts out with stickly prickles. This of course causes them to yelp in pain, which once more causes the entire party to descend upon them.
- "What do you do next?"
- "I stand there and say, "Wow, you really are the worst ninja ever."" -Min Feng
The ninja are captured, healed, and then stripped and deposited all tied up at the edge of town with a note that says, "Behold the mercy of Zhu Cai Wen as shown to his unfortunately inept enemies." The party acquires two full sets of low-quality ninja gear.
Resigned, and with Shen-Ji still uncooperative, Hsu Verity finally takes the cursed copper pieces in hand and the ritual begins. At her direction, members of the party negotiate with each other and swindle each other out of various sums, attempting to do financial damage. Then she gives some money back as financial healing, and in the end, Min Feng ends up 35 li in debt to Hsu Verity but with a copper piece that will lead her to the Pristine Silver piece until that debt is repaid.
Finally ready to confront the enemy Ezokin, the party heads to the center of town with Hsu Verity, and Min Feng locates both Ezokin and the Pristine Silver. Ezokin is still in the Arms of the Magpie Inn, and the Pristine Silver is in the Lord Mayor's house. Takanata and others go in to see the mayor, while Min Feng, Hiro, and Shuyan head off to investigate Ezokin.
In the mayors house, everyone is quite pleased to see the esteemed Lord Tokai of the Island of Beauty. The mayor, a major lord in the House of Benevolent Oversight, doesn't have much time, as he's got quite a number of things to attend to, but it is his honor to carve out as much as he can afford to speak with Takanata. Takanata fills him in on the curse spreading throughout the town. The mayor is a little unbelieving, but he has to admit that the economic outlook of late has been dire.
At the Inn, Min Feng determines that Ezokin is staying in room 3B in the upper floors of the inn and hasn't been seen out of his room in days. The others stay outside, so as to not accidentally get spotted. Min Feng sneaks right up to his door and listens. It seems he is eating. With a remarkable stealth roll, but less remarkable vision rolls, Min Feng determines that there is another "invisible" watcher out here in the hall. Hearing a ruffling of feathers, she guesses that Ezokin's familiar is also watching the same door she is, but has not seen her yet.
At this point, another hour of meta time has passed and the entire force of every cursed coin the GM printed for the run goes off in Min Feng's pocket. She's wiped out instantly, but luckily gave most of her money to Takanata earlier. Her debt to Hsu Verity seems to acquire significantly more force, if not value, and several tael worth of overcurse go off looking for a closer victim. Sadly, that victim doesn't seem to be Ezokin. A moment later, the innkeeper comes upstairs, (Min Feng shifts stealthily to avoid him) and pounds on Ezokin's door. Ezokin left the strictest instructions that he's not to be disturbed, and so is annoyed, but the Innkeeper apologizes. It seems he's lost the Inn to the House of Judicious Increase, and is forced to evict Ezokin and everyone else from the Inn pursuant to the change of ownership agreement…
Back at the mayor's house, an advisor takes this moment to interrupt the mayor and Takanata, to tell them that given the collapse of commerce in the nearby high quality inns, the local tax base has degraded, and the city budget is going into serious deficit. Apparently, this sort of news has been arriving regularly since the run began so the mayor is not so surprised. The mayor listens to this latest misfortune and then begs Takanata for assistance. Any thing he can do to lift this curse would be greatly appreciated. Takanata has Hsu Verity lead them to the Pristine Silver in the mayor's mostly empty treasure room, and examines it with the results of the ritual she did earlier for just this occasion. She determines that the curse will be broken and all returned to normal in any of three ways: the total economic collapse of the Hon'eth Arcade, the military conquest of the Hon'eth Arcade (apparently, the schemes of Zi Pon do not affect places outside the kingdom in which they begin), or the moment the Pristine Silver coin is taken up by the one who first traded it. Ezokin!
Cursing the Curser
People rush to the inn with the coin, where they brief Min Feng using her magic paper. She comes out and collects the coin from them, as Ezokin packs to leave. As he comes walking out of the inn, with stuff in both hands, Min Feng runs up to him and offers him a "refund" for the time he had to be evicted for. Ezokin refuses any payment though (perhaps knowing this is not a city in which one should be transferring money). Min Feng begs him to take it, as her masters in the inn will beat her if she fails in her mission. Apparently moved by her amazing roll, Ezokin compromises. He's not taking the money, but he suggest that Min Feng keep it in exchange for working for him as a bag carrier. He's got a lot of stuff to move… Min Feng (in disguise all this time) agrees, he hands her one of his bags, and off they go.
The rest of the party follows. Sadly, the entire party just isn't good enough at stealth and shadowing to follow Min Feng and Ezokin, so they are spotted. Ezokin shouts, yells at Min Feng to catch up, and the chase is on! Sadly for Ezokin, Master Zhou is wearing the Talisman of the Magpie. He's generally been hanging back to this point, since he doesn't want the Talsiman anywhere near cursed coins, but come a chase, he runs right past everyone and cuts Ezokin off. Ezokin tells Min Feng that since she accepted his wages, she works for him, and asks her to make her best attack on Master Zhou. Fortunately, people find out why Min Feng had been losing money half as fast as everyone else through the early stages of the curse. She takes half damage from Ezokin and that seems to include mind control and curses. She resists his half powered command and throws Ezokin's bag at Master Zhou.
By this point the rest of the party has caught up and combat commences in earnest. Hiro is sad to find that since he divested himself of money, he can't hurt Ezokin. Shen-Ji with Targeting spends prodigious amounts of li buying his successes against Ezokin. Master Zhou, using his yellow silk blind fighting, leaps into the air and Kung Fu chops Ezokin's familiar to death with a single blow. Ezokin swears that Master Zhou will suffer the same fate as Master Deng, but before he can deliver Shuyan grabs him and passes him off to her strength snake. Ezokin looks for his Cane of Free Action to leap in and defend him, but Takanata didn't come to the combat, so it's not here. Moments later, Takanata finally arrives (quite auspicious timing) and looks around with Eyes of the I Ching. He sees the massive curse on the coin, and its yin/yang opposite on the giant bag of loot Ezokin is still carrying. He also gets the weird impression that the coin isn't really there. More like it's borrowed from somewhere else…
Ezokin tries to break out of his grab using his sword tael, but Shen-Ji disarms him of it, although it's difficult since it's not really a weapon. It's really a tael. Ezokin finally changes tactics and offers Shen-Ji a deal. "What do you want? Name a number!" Shen-Ji names 50 tael as his number. He immediately receives 50.99 li, (apparently he's limited by his hit points and his money shticks, so he doesn't get 5000 li), and is fully mind controlled by Ezokin who orders him to get his master out of here to safety. Annoyed he only got paid 50 li, Shen-Ji complies by trying to pick Ezokin up and escape with him. Hiro responds by filling Shen-Ji with arrows. Min Feng tries to shoot Ezokin, but sadly, since she's currently at a negative net wealth, rather than zero, some of her debt goes away and Ezokin is healed by her damage.
Min Feng then runs up and tries to "help" her master by picking his sword tael up off the ground and giving it to him. Sneakily, she makes a sleight of hand roll during the pass and substitutes it for the cursed li. Ezokin is shocked to receive that, and Takanata notices all of the curses go away on everyone and the coins.
At this point Master Zhou and others change strategies themselves, and start stealing all of Ezokin's actions. Seeing that he's doomed to lose, Ezokin slams the coin into his bag of loot, causing both to vanish in a push (?) of chi. He swears vengeance on Master Zhou once more, and escapes his grab and Shen-Ji by turning into a flock of magpies.
The day is saved!
People decide that all of their massive financial losses both from the curse and the combat were in the line of duty and take their money back from the party funds. They report to the mayor that this mess is over, though people will have to start getting a lot of their loot back the old fashioned way. At least they can start making profits again…
- Master Zhou visits Lumang in the Port of Propitious Voyage
- Shen-Ji talks to the Horse.
- Anto, Hana, and Min Feng head for the Forest of Chin to visit Brown Feet.
- Wei Han and Kasumi go on an adventure partly across the North Wall.
- Takanata goes dreamwalking for a subject to paint...
- Shen-Ji buys a fast cavalry horse, and presents it to the Minister of Levies in the Qin Chao Steppes.