Touched by the Dragon
|"To attract good fortune, spend a new coin on an old friend, share an old pleasure with a new friend, and lift up the heart of a true friend by writing his name on the wings of a dragon."|| The run begins on the first day of summer, the Day of the Early Butterfly in the Month of the Butterfly in the first Year of the Spider since the White Pagoda was abandoned.|
The run takes place in the Pass of Five Elements and the World Above (and Below).
Master Zhou gathers the entire party together to brief them on the plan. They'll go through the Gate of Five Elements and Anto will bring everyone through physically. They'll enter the Citadel of the Spider, make contact with the imprisoned Dragon, and receive further instructions. He advises everyone to bring only what they need, and can carry in their hands. (No, it is not necessary to carry everything in your hands at all times, you can use your pockets, but don't bring a cart.)
There are a number of briefings - Takanata gives some advice, Master Koji (who doesn't think the group is sufficiently prepared) gives some advice, and Merit reminds everyone of the advice he has spent the past several weeks drumming into people's heads (he started early).
Anto also notes what he's learned about the Gate and the World Above:
Anto also mentions that he has a gift from the Phoenix for use against the Spider, and Takanata has some final lists that people (especially Anto) should remember, or try to accomplish:
Master Zhou recommends everyone spend the morning in meditation, have a hearty lunch, and then set off towards the Gate of Five Elements.
The next few days are spent in travel - crossing the elemental mine field along the pre-drawn paths, crossing the rickety bridge with no one there, passing through the maze of twisty little chasms, going through a pass where no one waits, and another pass where no one has set up an ambush, and a half-finished wall which can be clambered over.
At the final trial, most of the group, including Takanata, Master Zhou, and Merit, return to the circus, satisfied that they have accomplished their task. Those few remaining (Anto, Xiao Fa, Shen-Ji, Wei Han, Cai Wen, Shuyan, and Zhi-Hao) press on, and reach the Gate itself.
Gate of the Five Elements
Unfortunately, Takanata's briefing and Koji's briefing have been forgotten; only some hints from Merit's briefing are left, in the form of twelve memory packets (four general advice, and eight warnings about specific threats in the Spider's citadel), of which eight can be opened.
They open three of the four general advice packets immediately:
- Leaving: Getting in will be difficult. Getting out may be even more difficult. If you can make a bargain with a spirit (or even a demon) to provide some sort of an exit, that may be invaluable.
- Traps: There is probably one more trap than you expect. I know, don't get all "the test cannot be today, or I would expect it!" on me. But there's probably an obvious trap somewhere, and a less obvious trap nearby.
- Temptations: The bargains offered will be kept, though likely in a more malicious way than you would want.
The pass the group has been travelling through narrows, as the two mountains come together, to a very narrow entrance flanked by two stone pillars. As the group heads in, the mountains close above their heads, making the pass into a tunnel, which leads to a heavy metal portcullis. However, it lifts easily when all of Wei Han, Anto, Zhi-Hao, and Xiao Fa lift.
- "Does anyone have detect traps?" -Zhi-Hao
- "I think it's usually easy to detect them, from the screaming." -Cai Wen
Beyond the portcullis is a thick wooden door - Wei Han hears a whooshing sound beyond it, which Cai Wen thinks is fast-rushing water. When Wei Han pushes hard on the door, it moves a little bit, but when Anto and Zhi-Hao help, it swings open easily. Beyond the door is a fast-moving narrow river; Shen-Ji crosses it on his flying disk, and Anto can wade across easily, walking with his hand on Zhi-Hao's shoulder.
- "Do we have to worry about leaving Shen-Ji and Master Deng on the same side?" -Anto
- "Yes, because Shen-Ji will eat Master Deng..." -Mike
Crossing the river with Anto seems safe; crossing a bed of embers beyond is also fairly safe as long as Anto is leading the group.
Once the embers are passed, Anto's blue-arrow tattoos, that only show up in the World Above, begin to glow. The group proceeds into the tunnels beyond, where they meet the real elemental challenges.
The first is a wide pond, with shark fins swimming back and forth in it. Again, Shen-Ji's floating disk is invaluable, and one of the things he has brought with him is a collapsible one-person hopboat. People get in the hopboat and Shen-Ji tows it back and forth across the pond; it takes some careful balance to not tip the little boat, and those who start tipping attract the attention of the sharks as the boat begins to fill with water. However, no one fails badly enough to not make it to shore before falling out of the boat.
The two tunnel choices beyond are a hard tunnel and a soft one - Wei Han declares for Hard, because fortresses are made of hard things. As the tunnel continues on, the hard floor starts to get jagged, and then seriously pointy, until they reach a cavern that is filled with a field of blades, what Shen-Ji describes as a "metallic firestorm". Anto's first experiment with stepping into the field results in him stepping on a pin - while he's rolling for 5's, he does take some damage as he falls. When he tosses his kusarigama chain to Wei Han to pull him out, it has a life of its own and attacks Wei Han.
Shen-Ji firestorms the field of blades, which softens their edges quite a bit; Wei Han gets Xiao Fa and Cai Wen across behind his storm shield, though the shield (unusually) takes quite a bit of damage in the process. Zhi-Hao can parry his way across, and Shuyan acrobatically leaps and twirls, impressing the gentlemen.
The next choice of tunnels is "alive" versus "dead" - Anto confidently choses "alive". The tunnel grows thick with green vines and leaves, trees and stumps, until it ends in a blank stone wall.
Wei Han puts his hands against it, centering himself for a few moments, and then pushes. The wall falls before him, and he stumbles through, just as another wall falls down behind him, blocking him from the others. He pushes his way back, but doesn't do quite as well, and the new wall falls on him as he goes through, crushing him a bit. In groups, the party manages to push their way past the wall, though there is some more crushing damage, which Shuyan ameliorates with her snakes.
The next choice of tunnels is "up" versus "down" - this is not difficult, and everyone chooses Up immediately. The tunnel leads to an area which is very very hot, though there is no open flame. Zhi-Hao protests - where is the fire? He was promised fire!
Shen-Ji asks Pao (his phoenix) if she can help; she fans her wings, sitting on his shoulder, and then bursts into flame. So does Shen-Ji! He runs through the room with no damage, and then Pao falls to ash on his shoulder, reforming again in a moment.
Anto douses himself in water, meditates on his Flow Like Water dodge shtick, and then runs across really fast. That seems to work, for the most part, though Pao seems disappointed that Anto didn’t quite burst into flames. Xiao Fa sits down and meditates, warning everyone to prepare themselves (most use up their water getting themselves wet). After some time, he says "Go" and everyone runs across, safely.
Beyond the very hot room are two doors - one has a large iron knocker, and the other has a bell on a string.
- "But our goal is to go through without knocking or ringing the bell." -Anto
After some discussion, Zhi-Hao cuts the string on the bell, and they go though that door. (The bell rings anyway).
The pathway beyond the broken bell leads to the last challenge, which is a rickety wooden bridge across a deep chasm. Shen-Ji tries to cross on his floating disk, but the bridge begins to fall to pieces underneath him, and then he falls after that. Wei Han manages to grab him before he plummets to his death. Shuyan puts water on her bare feet (because water strengthens wood) and walks across, but the places where she stops at the end of her move begin to crumble away. Others run across, but make holes at the very end of the bridge. Anto uses Grasping Vines to strengthen the final bridge section, and everyone does finally cross without dying.
Spirits and Demons
Once across the bridge, there are no further choices. Far off in the distance (except that there is no direct line of sight) is the Web of the Spider; between the Gate and the Web is much ground to be crossed. The Web of the Spider is close to the World Below, so the path leading to it crosses back and forth between the Worlds Above and Below, through a chutes and ladders board filled with encounters.
The first encounter is in a space of the World Below - it is night here, with a small tent and a fire outside. A woman sits by the fire, and as the party approaches, a familiar voice says "Ah, I thought you would come this way." Some recognize the voice as belonging to Reiko.
- "Where is he?" -Reiko
- "He didn't come along this time." -Anto
- "Strange, I expected him."
She stands up and throws off her cloak - underneath the "real" cloak is a cloak of nightmare and darkness. Xiao Fa is the only one to blow his resolve roll, and flees into the tent. Zhi-Hao tries to grab him, unclear on how he could have not gotten any successes (there are some perception differences), but doesn't manage to prevent him from fleeing into the tent. The Shadow fixes its attention on Zhi-Hao.
- "You see, they are weak. They need to be led."
- "I was trying."
- "I could make your efforts more effective. I could help you. How much easier would it be to eliminate your enemies if you were the one they saw as their king? If their movements and their plans and schemes were reported directly to you, imagine what you could accomplish."
- "I'd be accomplishing their goals. Oh joy."
- "I could sweeten the deal, and return her."
- "Not interested."
The Shadow fades away again, and it's back to Reiko. Wei Han fetches Xiao Fa back out of the tent.
- "What did it say to you?" -Reiko
- "It tried to tempt me with control of the underworld." -Zhi-Hao
- "Yeah, it does that a lot. It's kind of single-minded."
Reiko asks what they're doing here - Wei Han says they don't have to answer her. Anto wants to know the answer to the same question about Reiko. She says that this is where it lives, sometimes - it draws strength from here. But while it's doing that, it's paying less attention to her.
- "Do you have any messages you'd like us to deliver?" -Wei Han
- "Tell him not to give up the fight against our enemies. Do you have any messages?" -Reiko
- "Don't give up the fight against it. That's what Yoshi would say." -Anto
- "He and it are very similar. Very single-minded." -Reiko
Anto asks about how the Shadow leaves this realm, as Merit's advice is to broker a way out. Reiko nods - yes, it could probably provide them with a way out. Zhi-Hao frowns - if they accept its offer? Reiko admits that of course if they accept its offer, Zhi-Hao will be able to use its power, but just a single passage would be cheaper. The party decides it doesn't want to haggle with her, now - if they need help escaping, maybe they can come back.
Anto asks if there's anything they can do to help her? She admits that it's difficult to concentrate on holding enemies at bay when she also has to hold the Shadow at bay from herself. So she could use some assistance in dealing with one of the bandit clans in the Taiga, which raids the New Rivers area. (Cai Wen, worried, wonders whether this is Bao's group of bandits, but it's in a different place).
- "It's nothing Deng and I can't handle, I just can't do it as easily by myself."
She says if they agree to help her with that - and deal with Yoshi's objections - she'll make sure it deals fairly with them later if they need to leave.
Anto wonders whether reforming the bandits, Yoshi-style, is okay? Reiko asks scornfully whether Anto thinks that works? Anto says it does... well, sometimes, at least. Reiko says she might have said it works once in a while. But if Anto prefers, he can send in Yoshi first, and everyone that doesn't reform, she and Master Deng will chop?
- "It would be better if we deal with it ourselves - we'll tell Yoshi, and then take care of it one way or another." -Anto
- "Agreed. And if you have to come back and arrange an exit, I'll make sure it gives you a fair deal." -Reiko
- "Wait... did I just make a bargain?"
(Somewhere, in another world, the Butterfly Talisman thumps on Takanata's chest.)
The group manages to get to the top of the board, and gets the spirit key, and then starts down again. The next encounter is in the World Above - a lovely green pasture with horses all around, grazing. There's a man, about seven feet tall, dressed in riding leathers with an axe over his shoulder. He greets the group.
- "What are you doing here?"
- "Passing through." -Wei Han
- "On your way to...?"
- "I'm not permitted to say."
- "It's not like it's not obvious."
- "If it's obvious, we shouldn't need to tell you." -Anto
- "Well, then. You're fully capable of handling all the challenges that you'll meet?"
- "Let's talk!" -Shen-Ji
His opening position is that if they agree to do what they can to give him what he wants, he'll rain horse-like power down upon them. Shen-Ji notes that the one aspect they don't have represented in the group any longer is Tiger, and he has some pull in the Savanna... the Horse Spirit likes the Savanna too, so that sounds good to him.
(Wei Han and Zhi Hao whisper furiously to each other about not changing the calendar, which is the thing the Prince originally tasked Wei Han with.)
- "Swear yourself to my service and I shall make sure you outdistance all your enemies and other great things that are of use to you." -Horse
- "And you'll support the Dragon?" -Shen-Ji
- "I can agree to that." -Horse
Zhi-Hao starts whispering furiously to Shen-Ji. The Horse asks archly if they have concerns, but Zhi-Hao isn't ready to explain yet. The Horse notes that he hears they have transportation issues - they were discussing that right next door (the Shadow space is adjacent). He can certainly ride them all right out of wherever they need to leave. And... there aren't a lot of mortals who have the audacity to mess with the Cycle. There's really only two teams doing it, though he could go with the other side...
- "You don't want to deal with the other side." -Zhi-Hao
- "Fine, let's all be not on the other side together!" -Horse
Cai Wen notes that "allegiance" is such a strong word. The Horse concedes - how about "best efforts" then? Cai Wen thinks those are much the same. Well, how about a smaller deal? The Horse suggests that if they call when they're in the Spider's Citadel, he'll get them out, and in exchange, they'll deliver to him the Talisman of the Tiger. Nope, that's still too high a price.
Shen-Ji notes that he'd be interested in arranging ways to talk to the Horse in the future. The Horse asks what he can get for that. Shen-Ji protests - just talking isn't a favor, is it? The Horse notes that if the party isn't interested in assisting him, he isn't interested in an arrangement where he supplies them information in exchange for nothing. Something has to be on the table.
Shen-Ji offers a big yearly horse race to be arranged in the Savanna. The Horse clarifies - they have to make their best good faith efforts to get good horses to race, good riders, and a big purse. And, how about, on the Day of the Tiger. (Cai Wen thinks that various Grand Contests out there tend to have purses ranging between 50 li and 50 tael). Cai Wen also notes that he doesn't want to obligate all his descendants forever into arranging this; the Horse points out that he's obliged to make a best good faith effort to make sure that it continues, but that doesn't have to be his own children doing it. But, if they're worried about it, they only have to guarantee it until the end of the Cycle. “Things will all change then anyways...” In exchange, the Horse will provide them with an easy way to contact him, once a run. As for future information when they're talking to him - some information is freer than others.
The party argues amongst themselves. It seems like an expensive bargain for what they actually get (which is mostly the ability to make more bargains in the future), but it does make them a quasi-ally, and opens up some good opportunities for future emergency bargains. Zhi-Hao asks what the method of contact would be; the Horse says that they can go up to the horse that hangs out with Li Merit and say "I need to speak with the Master". Also, if they aren't able to come to some sort of arrangement, that horse is likely to leave.
It's a deal.
Well, what about transportation out of the Spider Citadel? Do they still need that? Wei Han complains that the Horse's initial bargaining position was too high. The Horse protests - that's the whole point of an initial bargaining position, so that the other side can suggest something lower. Do they have a lower price they're willing to pay? Zhi-Hao offers him half of a magic radish. The Horse thinks they're getting the hang of it - that's a little unreasonably low. Though it does look tasty. How about... half a magic radish, but all the other horses will feel left out, so they throw in 10 li a run to buy Extra Nummy Horse Feed for the circus horses? After some more haggling, the price is dropped to a one-shot purchase of a lot of extra nummy horse feed, for 1 tael. Plus half a magic radish. In exchange, the first time anyone says the word "horse", everyone gets extracted back to the circus. Zhi-Hao amends that to saying "horse horse horse horse horse", and it is a deal. Off they go. (Back at the circus, the Butterfly Talisman thumps twice more.)
Fox In Socks Redux
Next, the path they are following leads to a little door with a bell in the World Above. There doesn't seem to be a way around it. When the bell is rung, there is some shouting from inside: "Visitors! Everyone put your socks on!" Ahah, it is the House of Peony's Grace, the kitsune flower house.
Everyone is shown in and made welcome, though the mistress of the house wrinkles her nose - they have clearly been tromping around a field of manure. She claps her hands and sends everyone off to the bath, with female accompaniment. (Cai Wen loses his potion of sparkliness as he's being disrobed and put in a bath). The young women ask to hear what everyone has been up to since the last time they met. The party protests that this would take way too long, and while the kitsune assure them there is all the time in the world, this doesn't seem likely. They do at least have time to become clean, the mistress assures them. Zhi-Hao asks after their sister - she's doing quite well now that she's married. Speaking of which, she notes that Zhi-Hao is single. He says that he's not interested in being married just yet, so she says he will have to meet all the choices, and bustles him off to a room with several of the young women.
Wei Han, being less interested in young women, is permitted to put his clothes and armor back on, and gets to stand by the door to remain on guard. Shen-Ji wonders if they like statues and is taken to a room to be sculpted in the nude. One of the girls whispers to Anto - could he take her with him when he goes? He doesn't think that would be a good idea. She's sure it would be - she would have all her foxy mojo that way. He especially doesn't think it would be a good idea. She checks - Anto is single, right? He says no, he's working. The girls think that that is not an acceptable answer, and submerge him in more pampering.
Xiao Fa sits down to meditate, only to discover himself the focus of attention for several girls.
- "What are you doing? Are you ignoring me? Sniff! He's just ignoring me! I'm going to go away crushed now... ahah! I made you laugh!"
- "After that trick, I don't think I could say anything else to make you laugh... so I'll just tickle you!"
It quickly becomes a game, with five young women. Xiao Fa is sure tickling is cheating.
While Shuyan is bathing, the mistress of the house asks after her friends. Does she really need all of them? Six seems like so many for one person. Yes, Shuyan wants to keep all of them. Really, all six. She needs all of them - she's very flexible. The mistress is amused. Couldn't they have just one - maybe the little one? No, Shuyan needs them all. Even the grumpy one? He doesn't seem like much fun. No, she needs them all. The mistress offers to trade a pair of socks for one, but Shuyan is unmoved. She is also unwilling to give up any of her snakes. The mistress asks... how about if they ask her friends if they want to stay? Shuyan is willing to let it be up to them.
- "I have resolved to not leave this space in front of the door." -Wei Han
- "Done!" -Mike
- "Wait, I meant, not until we leave!" -Wei Han
Xiao Fa is the only one of Shuyan's friends with sufficient resolve to just declare that it is time to leave. Anto is enjoying himself enough to stay longer, but willing to leave; everyone else wants to be the last one to be collected. However, Shuyan is willing to badger pretty strongly, and manages to collect everyone.
Just as they are opening the door to leave, Sakushi appears in the door, coming in.
- "You're not leaving without saying hello, are you?"
- "Absolutely not!" -Cai Wen
She's interested to know what brings them here; Cai Wen is sure that She can guess, but She wants him to admit it. He eventually admits that they're visiting next door. She says that for a few more minutes, it is Her day, and while She is supposed to be watching the border, She's also sure that "just visiting" should be fine.
She asks Cai Wen if all is going well, and if he needs any help, but he and the rest of the party are too terrified to ask for anything, so she wishes them luck, and off they go.
The next area appears to be a lovely orchard, with apple trees and soft green grass, also in the World Above. However, as they start walking through it, there are sudden cries of pain: "Ow! Ow! Get off of me!" Each blade of grass is complaining about being stepped on. Everyone stops, apologetically. The grass says that if they're very careful, they could lie down and be comfortable, but that they have to stop tromping around. People explain that they need to pass through; the grass says that's fine, as long as they don't walk on the grass. Perhaps they could leap from tree to tree? The trees complain - they don't want that. There is much squabbling - maybe people should eat the goodberries - the little red ones with the golden spots? After getting the grass and trees to stop arguing with each other, people ask if they could just pass through? Of course they can - if they could just pick a few berries, and blades of grass, to plant when they get out again?
No! They don't want to make any deals! They just want to pass through?
- "Who doesn't like spirit grass?"
- "What's spirit grass?"
- "We are!"
Anto thinks that spirit grass infestations are fairly rare - they tend to keep out other grasses, and end up looking like perfectly kept lawns.
- "Spirit meadows are really nice - you rest in a spirit meadow, get healed up, get awesomely refreshed, and come out a hundred years later." -Mike
- "Wait, what was that last bit?"
Zhi-Hao decides it's time to stop talking to the grass, and runs through. The grass screams, and castigates Zhi-Hao for killing some of them, and notes that that was Incredibly Rude. However, since none of the complaining has much ill effect, the rest of the party starts running through. The grass calls in some debts from the trees, and the trees start throwing apples. Anto catches a couple of the apples, and Cai Wen notices that a third has been tossed into his pack. Zhi-Hao plucks it out and tosses it away. The apples claim to be magic apples, though, when argued with, they admit to only being spirit apples. Anto pockets the two he has left.
The party enters a strange smokey region in the World Below. Master Zhou's warnings about only taking what you need come into play here, as everyone has to list all the items they have brought, and anything that they have forgotten is lost. Xiao Fa chokes and forgets a lot of his stuff, including Ti Jun's letter; Cai Wen also forgets some of his stuff, including Ti Lao's letter, but burns his "cheat in a minigame" shtick to keep it. Wei Han loses his ring of sword-returning, and Shen-Ji loses some metalworking tools.
Next the group reaches the shores of a river, in the World Above, which greets the group.
- "Which river are you?"
- "Isn't it obvious? And where are Takanata and Min Feng? Didn't they come with you?"
- "They, um, got distracted."
Anto offers to take messages; she says to tell Takanata that she is disappointed that he became distracted. She hopes Min Feng is well, but that is not a message. And since Anto was kind enough to offer, he can have passage to the other side. The others agree to a different bargain not mentioned here, for passage. Anto fills his canteen with spirit water, wondering what that will do in the Material World.
There is another pass through the Forgetting, in which Anto nearly loses his spirit water, but other than that there are no things forgotten, and then the party reaches the Web of the Spider.
Into the Web
The Citadel of the Spider is not really a citadel so much as a giant spiderweb. In the web are mirrors, and whispering places of temptation, and malicious spirits/demons. Each of the party who is not Xiao Fa can go forward and backwards along the spokes of the web; at the green circle, they can also go sideways. The monsters, however, can go sideways across the web as well as back and forth. Xiao Fa cannot see the web at all, until someone else has gone along it, and then he can go forwards, though he automatically also goes sideways as he goes. So everyone else has to clear out the web of dangers, and make a path for Xiao Fa to go into the center. Xiao Fa will eventually realize that he needs to do this as many times as possible; the web resets after each trip into the center.
When someone encounters a mirror, they have to choose a (previously-unchosen) party member to fight. In the first trip through the web, the good guys go first; in the second trip, the mirrors are pre-chosen based on the first round choices, and the bad guys go first.
When someone encounters a place of whispers, they are offered a temptation; they get more tempting each time. Some of those include:
- Say yes, and you will understand what the Wu Xing can really do.
- Say yes, and you will be able to sense traps in bargains with spirits.
- Cai Wen
- Say yes, and you will get the "monk with no name" as a permanent moll/babe.
- Say yes, and Min Feng's mother will no longer be angry at Takanata.
- Say yes, and we will give you a x4 sword
- Say yes, and we will give you a shtick in x4 damage with any sword.
- Say yes, and you can add a second element to your concept.
- Say yes, and your concept will become Master of the Five Elements
- Say yes, and your concept will become Master of Magic: North, South, and In Between
- Say yes, and you will have eternal youth.
- Say yes, and you will have the ability to speak with your mother while wearing the ring of death.
- Wei Han
- Say yes, and you will remember all that you have forgotten.
- Say yes, and you will understand all of your destiny shticks.
- Xiao Fa
- Say yes, and we will give you ultimate knowledge.
- Say yes, and we will give you ultimate understanding.
- Say yes, and we will give you ultimate power.
Everyone, including Shen-Ji, resists all their temptations.
Merit's briefing gives them some memory packets about the monsters, though they can't open all of them. The monsters, which get more dangerous in the second round, include:
- A scorpion with a face where the stinger should be. Attacking it physically causes one claw to drop off but be replaced by two; battling it with insults causes it to lose claws.
- No-Face Ko (who they have met before; it tells Shen-Ji that he will be killed by his own party, but he is unimpressed.
- A herd of green lemming-like creatures. They overrun you with their tiny sharp claws, but if you tell them stories for long enough, they'll fall asleep.
- A thin woman with ten white wings. She specializes in things you don't want to do - you can fight her with a Resolve check, or promise that you will do something meaningful that you don't want to do.
- The Beast with Maw and Mane - it eats anything, including people, but likes magic items best.
- The Black Tortoise of Winter and Despair. It is well armored, and damage taken is in resolve rather than health.
- A vampire tree - it can absorb weapons when they stick in its bark, and entangle people in its long fronds.
- An invisible back-stabbing thing.
- The Laughing Man - all about ripostes, and can be fought both physically or with wits.
On his first trip in, Xiao Fa concentrates for a while, and notes: "This one believes that this is easy because Spider is not here. The thing we should be doing is making it possible for this one to get to the center. More times is better, each time is harder."
On the way in, Anto stops by a man-sized shape bound in spiderweb - Merit's advice on prisoners is "You'll probably only be able to see prisoners that you care about, not *all* the prisoners. Make sure to get anyone you care about out before you try to leave.". The prisoner proves to be Kibo (not Li Kao, much to people's disappointment) - Kibo is very grateful to be rescued, and manages to get out of the web and flee off into the distance, once the Unbinder cuts his bonds.
Anto reaches the center first, and realizes that the Dragon is bound with super-sticky webs - don't touch them! Then he starts over from the outside of the web. When Xiao Fa reaches the center, the Dragon presents him with seven choices:
- Xiao Fa Enlightened
- Xiao Fa Exalted
- Xiao Fa Inspired
- Xiao Fa Perfected
- Xiao Fa Reforged
- Xiao Fa Restored
- Xiao Fa Sacrificed
- Xiao Fa Untouched
Cai Wen, more observant, shouts wildly "There are eight envelopes! It's a trap!"
Xiao Fa also gets a choices of three other envelopes:
- On the Spider's Plan
- On Freeing the Dragon
- On Altering the Cycle
On his first trip through, Xiao Fa selects "Xiao Fa Untouched" and "On Freeing the Dragon".
His destiny shticks are:
- Touched by the Dragon: Your aspect is Dragon.
- Voice of the Dragon: Once Per Run, you may get a hint on how/whether some action/plan will further the dragon's goals.
- First of the Silver Dragons: All members of the Silver Dragons will recognize you as someone to be protected.
- The Glow: You may touch someone who should have had the Dragon aspect and give it to them. You may touch someone who has the Spider aspect, to engage their aspect in spiritual combat, showing them the glory of the Dragon and the person they would be with a different aspect. (Depending on the outcome of the combat, they may be inspired to become more like that person. Or not.)
"Xiao Fa Untouched" is kind of disappointing, and the other two Hint Envelopes seem more useful, so Xiao Fa clamors to go through a second time. This time is much harder, due to the increased monster difficulty and the inability to pick Cai Wen in a mirror, so the group doesn't want to risk a third time. Anto does remember to check his pants legs for grass seed, and throws it away; he throws his two spirit apples at the vampire tree, defeating it.
The second time through, Xiao Fa chooses "Xiao Fa Perfected" and "On the Spider's Plan".
The "On the Spider's Plan" briefing is locked in Xiao Fa's memory, and will likely be learnable with meditation; As the party did not go through a third time, "On Altering the Cycle" may eventually be learnable through Xiao Fa's new connection to the Dragon, but will be much harder.
After the second time, the party punts ("Horse horse horse horse horse!"), and, with the sound of a dozen thundering horses, returns suddenly to the circus. Upon discovering that the party treasury doesn't actually have a tael in it, Shuyan spends a tael from her personal stash on extra-high-quality horse feed. The circus horses eat quite well for a week or so.
- Xiao Fa goes to meet the Monk in White for morning exercises.
- Xiao Fa, Yoshi, and Cai Wen go back to the Reflected City to the temple of the Meihua Sannong.
- Master Deng, Xiao Fa, Xian, Anto, Wei Han, Kasumi, Shen-Ji, Lijuan, Master Zhou, and Ho depart for the Temple of Invisible Wind in the Roof of the World. They bring with them a carefully calculated amount of supplies.
- Lijuan organizes an experiment for the Call of the Ocean ritual.