Three Days of the Spider
|"It is wise to strike the serpent's head with your enemy's hand."|| The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place mostly in the Isle of Beauty.
A Stormy Voyage
Ringmaster Te lets Merit know that he'd like to have the circus leave in the morning, so people should finish up their last errands in the City of Light.
As people finish the last of their shopping, Wei Han starts to think that he's being watched - and catches a glimpse of someone wearing a green ribbon. He asks Merit to look into it, but Merit think that real spies don't wear green ribbons. Xiao Fa checks out Wei Han's chi, and determines that it is striving against itself, which could lead to trouble or side effects, especially if it gets worse. Grasshopper paints a picture of a boat tipping over in a storm, with a whale nearby, and people begin to fret about the sea voyage to the Isle of Beauty..
- "We should take the cursed boat. It's always more exciting." -Anto
Takanata writes three poems, which he thinks are for dawn, noon, and sunset, and Hiro does a dramatic reading.
- "That sounds a lot like the Dance of the Cucumber." -Mike
Merit asserts that these are all useless, but Takanata finds the last one at least rather ominous. Meanwhile, Anto notes that Merit's horse keeps trying to nibble his sleeve, so maybe Horse wants to talk to them again.
- "Have we made any deals with Horse since the Thousand Li Horse?" -Anto
- "Yeah. Yes. Um, yeah." -Everyone else
Most recently, Cai Wen negotiated for an emergency trip to the Forest of Chin if Lucky Chang shows up, and in return is arranging for a gambling tournament at the big horse race to be held in the spring. Cai Wen does note that Horse was wondering if anyone is doing anything about the horserace. No, not yet. Shen-Ji is helping to set up an impressive cavalry unit at the North Wall, and Xiao Fa has promised to arrange that their first battle is extra-dramatically victorious.
Merit notes that maybe the party should not be helping Horse quite so much without getting paid better than what they're getting. Hiro thinks that it would be good to have a party decision as to whether or not Horse should be put in the Cycle, rather than half the party helping Horse for nummies independently. Xiao Fa notes that he used Voice of the Dragon, and that Dragon is in favor of it, assuming that it can be parlayed into assistance for getting Dragon back in (which it probably can) and assuming that particular other spirits of Dragon's preference are not punted by Horse.
Discussion of Horse continues, though there is no clear resolution reached. There is even some speculation about having Horse replace Spider and freeing Dragon but not putting him back in the Cycle as an alternative. At any rate, they should probably find out what Horse wants, so the group troops to the stable to talk to Merit's horse's boss.
- "Guys! How are you guys doing? Things are going really well, I'm really liking our cooperation. As it turns out, this coming time is going to be sort of high pressure, so this "once per run" communication is a little cumbersome. So I'm holding a fire sale - you can freely speak to me for the entire Month of the Spider. I've got a little project, it'll take about a month, and you can work on it as much or as little as you want. For everything you do, you'll get points, and you can cash them in later for valuable horsey prizes!" -Horse
Takanata wants more information about what the project is, but Horse says if he tells the group, they can't tell anyone about it until the Day of the Early Spider. Min Feng tries to get a deal where Horse just tells her and she can't tell, but Horse is pretty sure that the party has special mojo that lets them get around that sort of restriction, and the group isn't sure that it's all that useful if only Min Feng knows in advance.
- "If it's important for us to know, and we don't know, we still can't talk about it." -Hiro
The group agrees to not say anything, and asks what the project is.
- "It'll be the Elite Butterfly Cavalry Unit of Seahorses. It'll be great!" -Horse
- "That's probably not what Whale will say."
- "Let's let that be our little surprise."
Min Feng asks if he has preferences about which Cycle Spirit he replaces. He says he'd be more than happy to replace any Cycle Spirit and doesn't need to rule any out yet. He explains that "points" can be scored for anything that makes the Seahorse Cavalry better, such as:
- Once they show up, gather them into the harbor, at a point per five seahorses gathered
- A point for every five aquatic saddles
- A point for five trained riders, with a bonus point if they're good swimmers.
- Formal royal approval - ten points
- Full Royal endorsement - fifteen points
That sort of thing. He's flexible about adding points for other benefits, like getting a water sorceror attached to the group, or making sure the saddles are properly beautiful. There do need to be at least fifty seahorse cavalry, though. Takanata notes that fifty is the minimum to be listed on the country’s Order of Battle.
The group discusses whether to help Horse, or not. There's still not a strong consensus, but Merit emphasizes to not accidentally help Horse.
Merit is particularly concerned about the storm and the ship trouble - maybe there's something going to happen where seahorses rescue drowning sailors, but nobody is going to be able to rescue the elephants. He talks to Ringmaster Te, and convinces him to have the party go early (in case they're drawing fire from the storm somehow), and the circus to travel later. Master Zhou and Xian (who is never fond of cursed boats) stay behind with the circus, and everyone else packs.
Cai Wen hears that Kiri is in town, and chats with her over dinner. The Moon's First Daughter (aka the Fog Ship) will be going to the Isle of Beauty soon on a passenger run, and it should be possible to add the party (for a reasonable fee) if they want to go. Merit wonders who is in town who is particularly high status - he gets a bunch of random nobles, Captain Xie, Da-Xie, and Princess Kuan-Xi. Hmm, the "Princess" title is new. Min Feng notes that Tai Lung is in Iron Mountain, and Ezokin is in the Gate of Shen.
An urchin shows up to pick up Cai Wen's belongings, but this immediately earns him the suspicion of the rest of the party, who follow the Hunter's Map back to the inn where Cai Wen is having dinner with Kiri. The boy runs off in the confusion, scared of Wei Han. Apparently when he said he would be going on the fog ship, they jumped the gun. Cai Wen negotiates with Kiri for passage for the group for 1 li each, and Min Feng arranges to have Captain Xie talk to Merit about the coming storm, and a similar price is arranged.
- "Is your objective to get there without encountering the storm, or without being inconvenienced by it?" -Captain Xie
- "The latter." -Merit
- "Then we can do business."
The passengers are instructed to stay in their rooms much of the time while the ship is underway, and to not do weird things or mess with the workings of the ship. Cai Wen asks if they can come out of their room to help defend the ship in case something goes wrong, and Kiri says if the Captain says they can come out, they can come out. Takanata frets that the storm will cut off the Isle of Beauty for the whole Month of the Spider, but realizes that if that were true, Grasshopper would probably have drawn three paintings, not one.
The meals on the ship are in a communal mess hall, and the party discovers that Da-Xie is also aboard.
- "Since when did you become the subtle nefarious one?" -Da-Xie to Wei Han
- "Are there Southern problems on the Isle of Beauty?" -Wei Han
- "I wouldn't know. I'm off to tour the newest Northern country." -Da-Xie
This causes some confusion - why is the Isle of Beauty a Northern country? Takanata reminds everyone that the Northerner's first plan was to attack the Isle of Beauty with some sort of terrible corruption, and when that failed, because the North Wall was protecting it, they went to the backup plan of DESTROY EVERYTHING. He waves his arms around a bit for that, in enthusiasm over depicting the destruction of everything.
- "You must get along with him great." -Da-Xie to Takanata
Da-Xie wonders - is the plan that they should be guarding islands now? Should she go up to the Shrouded Isle and make it a Southern country? Merit says she should - the Southerners will be doing something there with the volcano, on Midwinter. Da-Xie is not psyched by the idea of doing anything on midwinter, especially implementing her own sarcastic suggestion. People wonder why the Isle of Beauty is still a Northern country, if it only had the Wall last chapter end. Da-Xie says that walls move very slowly, especially the Northern Wall, which is very plodding.
Shuyan has brought Tofu, who happily swaps around the Talismans, leaving the Whale Talisman in place of the Butterfly, and leaving the Butterfly with Zhi-Hao instead of the Magpie. Whale's talisman allows free action in water, but does not have a stat that it doubles. Finding the Whale talisman, Zhi-Hao and Takanata search for Renyu aboard, and glower at him for stealing their Talisman. As it turns out, he doesn't have the Magpie Talisman, he has the party's Whale's Prayer, which he is impressed by and thinks is respectful. Min Feng finally manages to swap a monkey treat for the Magpie Talisman, getting everything back to their original owners.
Grasshopper notes that he has brought a lot of chum to give to Whale, and asks when would be good to do so. Renyu says that it would be appropriate to make the offering when the ship pauses on the second day of travel - he will let Captain Xie know that Grasshopper should be allowed on deck during that event.
On the second day, the ship stops, and the party (except for Grasshopper) is asked to remain below decks. On deck, Renyu performs a big ritual in Whale’s honor.. Storm clouds begin to gather, and Renyu indicates that now would be an appropriate time to make his offering. Grasshopper throws his chum overboard, calling out "This is for you, Whale! Here, whale whale whale!" Renyu says that "Oh, Mighty Whale Spirit, please accept this offering" is more appropriate, so Grasshopper switches to that.
In the ocean, whales begin to swim around in a great circle, driving the water around until it forms a whirlpool. At the bottom, the whirlpool opens, and deep in the blackness, giant sea horses are driven forwards by fearsome black and white sea beasts. They drive the sea horses out of the whirlpool, and the latter scatter. The smallest of the black and white sea beasts eats too much of Grasshopper's chum, gets a belly-ache, and flops about unhappily. Renyu nods knowingly at it - a baby panda whale. Panda whales are the most fearsome of whales, enforcers of the depths. It seems to want to stay with Grasshopper until it recovers.
The sky clears again, and the rest of the party is permitted back on deck again. Grasshopper proudly shows off his panda whale, and it jumps enthusiastically at Shuyan, snapping its teeth. Renyu is asked how big they get, and indicates that they get very large.
- "Where are you going to keep it?" -Anto
- "In the ocean!" - Grasshopper
Meanwhile, below decks, Da-Xie goes to talk to Wei Han. She wonders what he thinks about this whole tearing holes in reality thing and letting giant creatures through. Granted nothing crossed her wall, so it’s probably not her job, but that sort of thing unsettles her. Wei Han agrees, there’s far too much tearing holes in reality going on, but what are you going to do?
Later, Takanata has tea with Captain Xie. He is pleased to find Takanata's retainers... reasonable. Da-Xie and Li Merit chat about how Mola Ram gets from one side of the Southern Wall to the other using a shadow, without actually crossing the Wall itself. She is quite annoyed by Mola Ram's ability to cheat.
- "People crossing your wall again, are they?" -Wei Han
- "People don't cross my wall! I don't know what kind of leaky wall you have." -Da-Xie
Takanata asks Da-Xie for stories about his brother, which she happily tells. The Bearers of Swift Response are some of her favorites. The party tells her about Spiral and Swiftgreen and the rock. She admits she doesn't care so much about spirit stuff right now - if Anto opens a gate to the World Above and they have that conversation there, she might care more. And she also doesn't care as much about ancestor spirits deciding to go south as she does about people (or spirits or demons) coming back across in the other direction.
Merit talks to Renyu, but the conversation doesn't get very far; Renyu asks about Xiao Fa, but Merit professes to know very little about what he might want. It seems Renyu has designs on Grasshopper as a new Whale apprentice. Min Feng memorizes both Da-Xie and Renyu. Cai Wen asks Kiri if she thinks he might ask the captain questions about the secrets of country names. She thinks that the Captain does not easily give away his secrets, and he is not a Serpent, to trade secrets for secrets just for the having of them. Well, is there anything he does like? He has a fondness for that little village that some of Cai Wen's friends visited - maybe it would be possible to do something for them?
Back to the Isle of Beauty
The Moon's First Daughter arrives in the Harbor of Shining Reflections. As the party disembarks, there are various messages for people who are not there - Master Zhou, Yoshi, and Ringmaster Te.
Her Majesty Ti Wren checks with Takanata - Master Zhou will be arriving, will he not? His art exhibition is scheduled for the Day of the Spinning Spider, and she has been arranging for additional entertainment leading up to it. Perhaps Takanata can arrange for torch jugglers of some sort? Shen-Ji is also contacted, to do a flashy metal display. Most of the rest of the party boggles at the idea of Master Zhou giving an art exhibition.
Zhi-Hao talks to his father. Things have been quiet here recently, though smuggling is on the rise. Both Takanata and Zhi-Hao separately try to call on His Highness Ti Jun, but find that he is not available. They leave messages for him.
M asks Merit if he told anyone about the secret port that the Northern ship was docked at. Well, he admits that he told Takanata and Xiao Fa. M says that they probably aren't the leaks. Oh, and he also told a gang of street thugs. Hmm. Well, as it turns out, there's a bit of a political issue for control of it now. Merit says that they need to stop using that one anyway, since the Northerners know about it. Well, it's not like you can just build a new hard-to-see harbor. Merit badgers M some more, and M allows as they'll probably sell it to the Prince, then.
Kasumi and Min Feng, wandering through the Garden of Harmonious Contemplation, overhear the Prince talking to himself as he walks back and forth in the hedges.
Ti Jun thinks that Takanata would be very disappointed, though Master Deng would probably understand. Regardless, he is pretty sure that “their” backup plan was "His Majesty dies under suspicious circumstances, and the Prince takes the throne, since no one can prove he did it" and he was not going to let that happen on his watch. Spider paid for the sea horses, and is planning to make it a major change, since Butterfly is the major threat. And his mother is doing some sort of crazy Butterfly ritual with Master Long and Master Zhou, which he doesn't understand.
Kasumi and Min Feng report in that the Prince is very devious having briefed them without ever actually talking to them. Takanata notes that all of this increases his belief that Ti Jun is now one of the Marked. About half the party does a double take at this. What? The Prince? Takanata thinks that he's the newest Marked, and this has to do with why the Butterfly Kingdom changed its name.
Picking up local gossip, there are whispers that Her Majesty has broken off her infamous, though unproved, liaison with Master Long and taken up with Master Zhou, but even the people repeating these whispers find that somewhat implausible.
Wei Han talks to the Butterfly Captain about his armor. He is told that the Beautiful Armor is probably more appropriate for events at court, or in the Court of Distinction, rather than the new armor he has purchased. Cai Wen talks to Kiri - is the Fog Ship leaving soon? No, they're sticking around for a while so Cai Wen can definitely take Kiri out to dinner again.
Renyu looks for Xiao Fa to try and negotiate for Grasshopper’s service. Xiao Fa responds that they will consider Renyu’s offer and discuss it with him after such consideration.
Merit contemplates where to investigate Cycle Spirit Politics and who is working with who - the best place to start is probably to make bargains with well-informed spirits or demons. Min Feng goes to talk to Sister Helena - she finds out that the main effect of the blockade is keeping Phoenix constrained to the Shrouded Isle, so it would be hard to arrange a deal between Horse and Phoenix. Also, of all the other Cycle Spirits, Dog would be the last one to lose his loyalty to the Dragon. Shuyan hangs out in the Court of Distinction in her best court clothes, and the Queen recruits her to try to find a water effect for the parade before Master Zhou's art exhibition.
The group reconvenes in the tea tent, and briefs each other on what they've found out from their various contacts. Shuyan wonders whether Master Zhou, or the Queen, is in fact performing a ritual - the Queen is definitely bringing in all the elements. Merit protests that making up a magic ritual on the fly is Southern, not Butterfly. Grasshopper suggests using Bubbles (the baby panda whale) in a tank as the water part of the parade. Takanata thinks this has to do with his second poem, which indicates some sort of large distraction. Is Spider being distracted, or is the party? Is this intended to draw fire? That's probably different than a distraction. What is the distraction for? Should the party help the distraction, or do something during the distraction? Nobody is very sure. And asking the Queen is probably not going to be helpful - she never actually knows what her plans are for, and doesn't want to know.
The group discusses sending Kasumi to spy on the Prince to see if he is tattooed, but that is deemed to be a bad idea.
Takanata thinks about the third poem some more - does it have to do with destroying the name of the Dragon Empire? No. It probably has to do with status and reputation in some fashion, but he's still not sure what. The group goes back to talking about the seahorse cavalry - maybe it would be good if they were beautiful and useless, to make them more Butterfly.
Grasshopper goes down to the docks to visit Bubbles. Bubbles tosses Grasshopper a seal that he has been playing with - Grasshopper is appalled at the poor seal's injuries, and refuses to throw it back. Bubbles looks affronted. Takanata vetoes the idea of using Bubbles and Grasshopper in the parade, as Grasshopper is supposed to be not linked to pandas.
Day of the Early Spider
The Day of the Early Spider in the Second Month of the Spider in the First Year of the Spider in the Late Cycle of the Spider in the Great Cycle of the Spider dawns.
Gossip swiftly runs about that Ti Jun has found a miraculous creature in the sea, a wondrous thing, and is requesting an immediate conference with his father to discuss its import. Takanata and Master Deng are summoned to provide their thoughts as well. Merit is summoned by M to listen from a balcony and Kasumi knows where the good places to hide are at this point. The Prince gives an impassioned description of these miraculous creatures, and requests the full resources of the court be put behind Project Seahorse to see that they be turned to the good of the Kingdom. The Treasurer is not keen on the whole "the full resources of the court" idea, but the Prince agrees that he will support the project from his own funds. The Archivist is suspicious - he has never heard of seahorses, and does not trust things which have no historical references. Takanata notes that they are definitely miraculous, and that he would be inclined to say that any change to the Court be addressed with care. He recommends acting with prudence, and without falling into the error of overcommitment. Master Deng wonders if there are any good military applications of seahorses, and wonders where the creature was found. Ti Jun says it swam into the harbor, and seemed willing to bond quickly with him - he thinks he could probably ride it barebacked, if necessary. It seems a great thing, and there are surely more out there. Deng notes that no one else has a naval cavalry force, and the Prince agrees - perhaps if he can build a seahorse force, they can be tested in some way to prove their worth. The King grants his permission to proceed, but not his unqualified approval, so Master Deng and Takanata both get two "horse points" each.
The ship with the circus on it arrives in the harbor, and Ringmaster Te and Master Zhou get their messages. Merit briefs Master Zhou on the Queen's addition to his exhibition.
A proclamation goes up all over the Harbor of Shining Reflections, that the Prince is calling upon all loyal (sea-competent) citizens to catch seahorses for him, and any who succeed in catching a seahorse will be rewarded with silver. Rumor also has it that there's a madman in the harbor district ranting about how they are called riding whales, not seahorses.
- "We now see how Whale was talked into this." -Shuyan
- "I'm not impressed with Whale's business acumen." -Hiro
- "I'm more impressed with Horse's." -Merit
Ringmaster Te says that he was trying to arrange for the Court of Distinction to throw his yearly party at which he hobnobs with all the nobles and arranges for continuing patronage and prestige of the circus. But it's particularly busy at present, so he's arranged for a New Year's Eve party instead, on the Day of the Late Spider, to politic and talk things up. Ah ha! Maybe that's what the third poem is about.
Kasumi and Min Feng overhear the Prince talking to himself again. He's confident that the deal with the seahorses will go well. He continues to be baffled that he still doesn't understand his mother's "ritual" - even she couldn't just make up a huge magic ritual, could she? Maybe she doesn't understand it, but he should be able to figure out what it does! Oh, and it is kind of goofy that the others still think most of their thwartage is coincidence, or is due to Ringmaster Te. He knows better, but they don't ask him about such high level concerns, him being the new guy. So, anyway, they're going to destroy Ringmaster Te at his party.
- "I'm sure we'll succeed with that." -Ti Jun
After that, it's time to talk to Horse again.
- "Guys! Did you see them?" -Horse
- "Riding whales!" -Grasshopper
- "No! Sea horses!"
Anyhow, Horse figures this is the party's home turf, so they should be all over doing things here, and he'll pay for it. Basically, the Isle of Beauty needs to have:
- 50+ seahorses
- 50+ saddles
- 50+ riders
- 50+ waterproof weapons
and a little bit more. That is, if it has just the above, that's probably not quite enough. But if they were spiffy in some way - trained together, or really good looking, or supported with magic, or something - then that should be enough.
Min Feng tries to bring up some of the party's qualms about the whole idea.
- "You know the Spider is conning you, don't you? He's trying to get the Butterfly kicked out." -Min Feng
- "Why is that conning me? I don't work for the Butterfly." -Horse
The Horse is quite willing to admit that he's not psyched to be a servant of the Spider, but if the Spider can get him into the Cycle, then hail Spider! On the other hand, he really doesn't care who he replaces, so he thinks the most efficient thing to do would be to get large benisons as many places as possible, so he can decide later. The party points out that it'll take quite a lot more to be a major benison here.
- "I think you underestimate what you could do if you were really trying." -Horse
Anyway, Spider is paying for him to be here all month to make arrangements about the seahorses, and the fact that the party is here is... not something that Spider has been made aware of, as far as Horse knows. Wei Han wants to know what Horse has been paid with - Horse explains that basically the power of the Day of the Early Spider has been put towards sending Horse to the Butterfly Kingdom more directly for the entire month.
Min Feng emphasizes that while the Horse may not have preferences, the party does, and if the Spider gets Horse to take down Butterfly, then the party is no longer Horse's friend. Horse doesn't think that's going to be any sort of immediate problem - nobody's going down tomorrow. Min Feng says maybe not tomorrow, but the end of the month. Horse says that that's not happening - nobody's going down at the end of the month, it doesn't work that way, even if Takanata has an ominous poem.
Horse also explains his offer for the post-chapter miniruns: there will be two (one between the first two Days of the Spider, and one in the second half of the month between the second two). He's willing to provide transport to anywhere in the Empire if they work on his project even a little while they're out. If they don't want to help, they can have miniruns in puttering range. (So the actual run is just the three Days of the Spider).
Worrying about what should be done during the distraction, Xiao Fa spends two karma on Voice of the Dragon and realizes that Kar Fai should come back across the wall during the distraction. They're not sure if Xian will be able to send a dream across the Wall, so they get him to send a dream to Shan Tsu instead hoping he can pass the message on. The Dream sent is as follows:
Day of the Spinning Spider
The Day of the Spinning Spider in the Second Month of the Spider in the First Year of the Spider in the Late Cycle of the Spider in the Great Cycle of the Spider dawns.
On the day of the Spinning Spider, Kasumi and Min Feng again overhear the Prince talking to himself in the Garden of Harmonious Contemplation. He still doesn't understand what is up with his mother's ritual, but he's confident that he and the others will be able to stop whatever it is. Of course, that means they won't be dealing with Ringmaster Te's party, but Spider now has someone else in mind for that.
Soon enough, Master Zhou hears that the Prince's office has canceled his art exhibition. Takanata heads to court to deal with this, and discovers that in addition to the cancellation, there are seven permits and licenses required which have not been dealt with. Everyone pitches in to get the paperwork filled out, and with a lot of work (Shen-Ji proves to be the party's previously unknown bureaucracy master) and some help from an old buddy of Merit, it gets done.
Min Feng checks where her studied people are - Renyu is down by the dock, Tai Lung is nearby in the World Above (hmmm...), and Ezokin is still in the Gate of Shen.
The procession to Master Long's dojo begins from the docks. Renyu has created a large sea-waterfall, with several glorious Riding Whales frolicking at the top. Kasumi and Akimoto stiltwalk on bamboo stilts, the strongman juggles several huge rocks, and Cai Wen sets off fireworks. Where invitations are checked, Shen-Ji performs a flashy sword-swallowing trick.
The dojo has a number of pieces of art, as well as a few performance spaces set aside.
- Granite Statue
- A statue of a kung fu warrior. The warrior stands in a pose of readiness, or guarding, fists at his side, legs balanced with knees bent, one foot slightly forward, the other turned out-- not aggressive, just prepared. The statue seems to be quite old, with cracks and scars from wind and weather and time. The martial artist also looks beaten at first glance-- there are scars that cut deep on his arms, and face, and his gi is torn in places. There are deep lines of care and age on his face, but there is no sense of weariness.
- On closer inspection, however, when the viewer investigates the scars and tears more closely, it appears that the distressing of the statue is superficial. Underneath the beaten exterior is a pure, smooth, unbroken (unbreakable?) core that has not been damaged at all. It is as if you could peel away the outside layer and have a perfectly smooth, unblemished pillar of a man.
- Nefarious War
- Last year we fought by the head-stream of the So-Kan,
- This year we are fighting on the Tsung-ho road.
- We have washed our armor in the waves of the Chiao-chi lake,
- We have pastured our horses on Tien-shan's snowy slopes.
- The long, long war goes on ten thousand miles from home.
- Our three armies are worn and grown old.
- The barbarian does man-slaughter for plowing;
- On his yellow sand-plains nothing has been seen but blanched skulls and bones.
- Where the Chin emperor built the walls against the Tartars,
- There the defenders of Han are burning beacon fires.
- The beacon fires burn and never go out.
- There is no end to war!
- In the battlefield men grapple each other and die;
- The horses of the vanquished utter lamentable cries to heaven,
- While ravens and kites peck at human entrails,
- Carry them up in their flight, and hang them on the branches of dead trees.
- So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
- And the generals have accomplished nothing.
- Oh, nefarious war! I see why arms
- Were so seldom used by the benign sovereigns.
- Fan Dance
- A large section of floor is covered with a round bamboo mat. Two large white fans hang, open, on a stand.
- A knife, forged from a single piece of metal, curved and double-edged. The handle of the knife is designed as part of the continuous sweep from blade to pommel, and it seems to fit the curves of the hand. The balance of the knife rests in the middle of the hand, so that it feels as if it's an extension of the wielder's arm.
- A traditional-style watercolor of an old master teaching kung fu to a young student, set in a dojo with mountains in the background. The brushstrokes with which the master are drawn are precise while those of the student seem blurrier, unsteadier. They are clearly by the same artist, but it is almost as if the novice was one of the painter's first efforts when learning to paint; after achieving proficiency, the setting was added; then, only after more lengthy, precise study, the kung fu master was painted.
- Sand stage
- A cleared flat space with a thin layer of golden sand
- A white silk gi hangs on a simple mannequin, shot with swaths of fabric of different elemental colors. (Red for Fire, Green for Wood, Blue for Water, Yellow for Metal, Brown for Earth). These swaths reveal themselves during certain maneuvers--an extension of the arm so reveals a flash of red, etc.
- A landscape garden that has different natural features that could be used to tactical advantage while fighting. The observer will notice that the trees have branches that are strong enough and concealing enough that they could be used for an ambush from above; the flower beds grow high to provide a small bonus to stealth; the paths have roots that could cause people to trip if they haven't walked them before; the zen garden in the center is surrounded by gravel that would alert anyone sitting within to approaching footsteps. The plants used are all native to the Butterfly Kingdom.
- Partner Dance
- A sunny spot in the garden, with a large white stone plaza. Two musicians wait here, with ehru and drum.
- A square mosaic made of semi-precious stones. From up close, it is chaos, a mass of indistinguishable colors. As one backs up, however, it becomes a picture of a battle of many Kung Fu fighters. Viewers with levels of Kung Fu or KS: Combat styles will notice that each of the martial artists is using a different style-- some with weapons, some without, some focusing on offense, some on defense, etc.
- Puzzle Box
- On each face is a different image of fighters sparring-- some are unarmed, some fight with a spinning chain whip. The artwork is between six and eight successes, on each face. To open the box requires at least 6 successes on an Int/Puzzles roll.
- (Inside is a painting of the Cartogramancer's Map, in miniature.)
People circulate through the gallery, looking at the art, and after a while, Master Zhou starts his fan dance. It starts in stillness, then moving slowly in small motions, growing to greater and swifter movement, to acrobatics and then gradually slowing and calming back to stillness.
As the dance ends, people notice that there is something wrong with the watercolor - it seems to be a poor forgery of a watercolor - though no one has noticed it change. This causes some consternation - what happened, and where is the original? Grasshopper sets Ho to try to sniff around the forgery, and Ho takes off, to return shortly with another watercolor in his mouth. He barks several times, and runs off again, followed by several others. They do not return, and a few more people go to see where they went. They also do not return.
Meanwhile, Master Zhou and Yue-Mei have started the partner dance. It has the feeling of a tango - almost adversarial at times, flirtatious at others - back and forth across the floor.
As that dance ends, some people notice that the granite statue has changed, but again, no one has noticed anything happening. Rather than looking solid underneath:
- On closer inspection, however, when the viewer investigates the scars and tears more closely, it appears that the distressing of the statue goes all the way to the core. The stone is badly fissured and unstable, and gives the impression that it could shatter at any moment.
Takanata thinks it is still the statue Master Zhou made - the artist's marks are unmistakeable, and the look of the stone (other than the fissures) is the same. Shen-Ji says that there was a sorcerous earth effect, but that happened several days ago. It's quite puzzling. But half the party seems to have gone off looking for the others and not returned, at this point.
Meanwhile out in the hall, the missing half of the party has encountered the goons Lucky Chang hired to replace the watercolor with a forgery. A fight commences, and the party is detained, until enough of them show up (including the late arriving Master Deng) to put down the interlopers. Unfortunately, the commotion has drawn the attention of the recently arrive company of the Dragon Army who starts arresting everyone in sight. People protest that the Army isn’t supposed to be here on the Isle of Beauty, but they are told that since Shen Wi Han was appointed to be garrisoned here, and then resigned from the Army, there is technically an empty billet here to be filled. So, the Obsidian Warlord appointed a captain to fill it, and he naturally brought along all of his men.
At this point, a small group of spies shows up and start befuddling the captain, by being disguised as SeaLord Melora and ordering them them to board their ship immediately. One coporral has actually seen the SeaLord, but he’s taken down quietly before he can inform the captain that he’s being duped. There’s some paperwork thrown around, and a few forged orders, and before you know it, the Dragon Army guys are heading down to the harbor to catch a ship off the island.
Grasshopper, finally freed, dashes into the dojo, out of breath, reporting that the Dragon Army has arrested everyone who was missing, but somehow Merit has gotten them back. Merit smiles knowingly, but does not explain.
Back at the exhibit, Xian is tasked with putting an illusion on the statue so that it looks like the previous undamaged version. It isn't a real fix, but it will do. Takanata starts wearing his tinfoil hat, and goes and wanders in the garden several times.
This proves helpful when it becomes clear that Master Zhou has forgotten about the garden entirely, and perhaps never made it? In any event, it is not there now. Those who remember it especially Takanata, describe it quite accurately, though, and he is able to recreate it quickly.
The stage is set for the performance on the sand stage - it is set with a meditation shrine, a rack of weapons for sparring, a go table, a calligraphy desk, a tea cart, and a training circle. Master Zhou and Cai Wen take their places.
Comedy and Tragedy
Master Zhou meditates in a dojo. His Frown count is zero out of 10. Cai Wen enters, accompanied by his pet ferret Squeaky, and tries to get the Master’s attention. Master Zhou does not react. Before long, Cai Wen becomes bored and begins to look around. Quickly he is drawn to the weapons rack. Gleaming weapons of every description stand there!
Cai Wen quietly walks over to the rack. He turns to look at Master Zhou--still no reaction! Cai Wen picks up a club. He tries out several action poses with it, and appears to be pleased with himself. Sadly, when he tries Crane Stance, he loses his balance, and flails, sending the club clattering across the floor. Master Zhou frowns, muttering “Inner peace...inner peace...”
Cai Wen is still for a moment, waiting for the Master’s wrath. When it does not come, he is inevitably drawn to the weapons rack again. There’s a full-size quarterstaff there! Cai Wen takes it off the rack, and looks back at the Master, who is still meditating. Cai Wen begins to go through quarterstaff exercises, speaking the moves under his breath--Ho! Ha! Dodge! Thrust! Parry! Spin! Oh no! Squeaky leaps up onto the quarterstaff, which spins out of control and strikes a giant gong, ringing it loudly. Master Zhou tenses up, and frowns again, muttering “inner peace...inner....inner peace....”
Cai Wen freezes, expecting to be disciplined, but nothing happens. The temptation of the Kusarigama is too much! Cai Wen takes it off the weapon rack, and begins some practice spinning. It’s like he’s far, far less than one-tenth as good as the great Anto himself! But he’s spinning it all over the place, with a flourish, until Master Zhou emerges from his meditation, frowns again, and walks up behind him. He taps Cai Wen on the shoulder. Mayhem! The Kusarigama goes flying into the weapons rack! Weapons clash and clatter everywhere! And then Tai Lung appears and starts attacking Master Zhou and Master Long!
Tai Lung declares that this is Not For Amateurs, and fights Zhou, Long, and Anto; he is nerve struck, and wrapped up in silk, and then the silk is wrapped up in Anto’s Kusarigama, which is all very confusing. Then a little spider drops down on a strand of web, landing on Master Long’s shoulder. He bites the master, who falls. Meanwhile, Cai Wen, with offstage help from Min Feng, seems to be doing some kind of ritual. After some sparring with Zhou and Anto, Tai Lung snarls, “I would kill you, but I have my orders”. He lashes out at Cai Wen and Min Feng. Wei Han takes the hit for Cai Wen, and Min Feng takes a hit, but thankfully, she has studied the ways of Tai Lung and is not so impressed. (Also, it is probably not his best shot, or his second-best shot...) Another spider drops from the ceiling, and Tai Lung is whisked away to the World Above. We find that Master Long has been slain by poison. Further comedy seems to be too much to bear.
The rest of the script, for reference:
In the fight with Tai Lung, Master Deng has killed the small spider, releasing terrible venom, which splashes on Hiro as he tries to drag Master Long to safety. When Xiao Fa tries to save Master Long, he realizes that he needs to turn his attention to Hiro, who can still be saved, though it is a close thing.
Both Yue-Mei and the Queen are crushed by Master Long's death. Merit tries to comfort Yue-Mei, who is torn between being vengeful and being distraught. The Queen arranges to have Master Long laid out in state in the Court, where Yue-Mei stands vigil until she collapses from lack of sleep. The Queen goes into seclusion, and is not seen again for the rest of the month.
Day of the Late Spider
The Day of the Late Spider in the Second Month of the Spider in the First Year of the Spider in the Late Cycle of the Spider in the Great Cycle of the Spider dawns.
Da-Xie rails at Wei Han for trapping her here while a powerful kung fu master crossed the wall on the Day of the Spinning Spider. Well, that's something that went right, at least. Wei Han notes acerbically that it was her fault for coming to a Northern country anyway.
The Prince walks in the garden again, but is a bit more rattled than on previous wanderings - he keeps looking at the hedge where Min Feng and Kasumi are hidden, and dwells sadly on Master Long's death, which he seems honestly upset by. He does eventually get around to talking rather sarcastically about the other Marked, who seem to think that they keep being thwarted by coincidence (that's probably a Butterfly effect, or maybe the Spider assumes it's a Butterfly effect), or maybe are being thwarted by Ringmaster Te. Ti Jun knows better, but still nobody asks him (which he also seems to be a little annoyed by). Anyway, Spider is going after Ringmaster Te at his party - there will be ghosts of past Marked showing up, first to destroy his reputation and then to kill him. And they will be hard to thwart, because one can't attack them in front of the other nobles without losing quite a bit of reputation.
The party makes plans to attend the Ringmaster's party - Cai Wen acquires a society date, who is able to brief him a bit more on the mechanics as things go on, leading to Cai Wen dashing around to try to tell everyone else.
In brief, Ringmaster Te is progressing around the party very quickly, talking to NPC nobles. The Marked Ghosts are attempting to bad-talk Ringmaster Te - when enough NPCs are flipped to dislike him, they will be able to cash them in to start destroying his status. After his status is low, they will be able to kill him and his name and life will have had little meaning. The party can talk to the NPCs to change their minds again (with different topics of discussion in different rooms), and can attack the ghosts when no one is looking. Unfortunately, the ghosts inflict painful thwackback when they are taken down.
The Mistweaver is the first Marked to fall, as she has made the mistake of starting the party on a balcony with no one looking, and gets stabbed a bit before she makes it to public view. However, when Kasumi finally finishes her off, there is someone looking, so in addition to going blind from the thwackback, she loses two status.
The Thief steals an anti-ghost amulet of Xiao Fa's, but that's nothing compared to what happens when Master Deng finishes him off and loses the Great Talisman of the Magpie to the thief’s thwackback. Xiao Fa tries to hold open the passage to the World Above/Beyond/Whatever to try to get the Talisman back. Anto finishes off Machan Li, and suddenly a messenger runs into the party to brief Li Merit - there's an all-spies bulletin indicating that Anto is an enemy of the crown. Merit disguises Anto, which will ameliorate the problem for the moment.
Takanata manages to chat up the Vizier sufficiently to convince him to leave the party without inflicting thwackback. The Assassin stabs Xiao Fa, who falls and continues to take poison damage; his attempt to hold open the passage to the Talisman fails at this point.
Wei Han takes down Huan Ken, and the North Wall suffers his architectural thwackback. Master Zhou takes Honeytongue's thwackback, and his reputation shtick goes negative (the Yellow Silk school has not forgiven him for the death of Master Long).
Taking out the ghosts does stop the threat though, and the party eventually finishes with no new disasters. Anto manages to get a level 2 spider scroll from where Xiao Fa thinks the Thief went, and Shen-Ji and Xian finally manage to retrieve Xiao Fa's amulet, well-stashed in the hallway.
The group returns to the circus, Ringmaster Te has been protected, and the Month fo the Spider is over, but quite a bit of long term damage has been suffered.
- Kasumi is blind
- Kasumi is down 2 status
- Magpie Talisman is MIA
- Anto is an enemy of the Crown
- Master Zhou's reputation is ruined
- Master Long Shen is dead
Puttering can happen within puttering range of the Isle of Beauty, or in the same country as a minirun you are in.
- Merit and Kasumi chat with Horse.