Trap of Five Rings
|"You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain."|| The run begins on Day of the Phoenix in the Month of the Phoenix in the ??|
The run takes place principally in the Shrouded Isle
Wei Han asks for some help brainstorming about enemies he can help as part of Changing the Wall, part two, and a good handful of suggestions are acquired. However, Master Deng has something more important to deal with, and that is the Problem of Master Zhou.
- "You are not right with the world. I find this unfortunate, but I have to show that to you. What do you have to say for yourself?" -Master Deng
- "I say: you are the one who must have your worldview changed, Master Deng." -Master Zhou
- "To the practice grounds!" -Merit, making shooing motions
- "I am not convinced this is practice."" -Deng
- "Outside!" -Merit
Masters Deng and Zhou proceed to the Combat Garden, and the junior butler lets Merit know that there is a visitor. Merit will deal with the visitor when the combat is done.
Speed is rolled, and Deng attempts to kill Master Zhou, but Master Zhou is a mighty parrier (and has the Talisman of the Monkey) and declines to be hit. Yanyu attempts to talk Deng out of it:
- "Yes, Master Zhou is arrogant and overbearing, but violence is not the answer!" -Yanyu
Since Yanyu is clearly annoyed at Master Zhou, this just reinforces Deng's inclination to kill him. However (with some coaching by Xiao Fa), Yanyu segues into expressing her annoyance with Master Deng for his violent tendencies, and that is a bit more disturbing for him. He'll have to worry about that after he finishes killing Master Zhou.
The combat continues, until in ten, Master Zhou tells Wei Han to knock Master Deng out. Wei Han tries to do so, using up Deng's dodge pool, and then Zhou hits Deng with his clue-by-four shtick. Between that and Yanyu's scolding, it is enough to knock the Kali-Butterfly effect off of Master Deng, and he is no longer required to kill anyone who Yanyu is irritated by. Xiao Fa confirms everything is okay now, apologizes to Master Zhou for throwing him under the bus, and hurries away. Butler brings both fighters hot towels, and Merit goes to find his visitor. The dossier on Miyamoto Musashi that has been requested is mostly complete, except for recent events as the gentleman sent to investigate his current doings never returned. Would Merit like them to inquire further? Merit tells his guys that he’ll handle it himself.
Well, the plot still doesn't seem to have turned up, so Merit checks in with the cook, who is in consultation with the butler. Is anything up? The butler fixes the cook with a glare and warns her not to continue.
- "Are there any more fires that need putting out?" -Merit
- "Well, how do you feel about spies slipping messages onto the estate for people who aren't you?" -the Cook
- "Mixed. May I see it?" -Merit
- "Well, I think you can see it, if you asked me. But some think that you might have concerns that extend beyond your own interests." -Cook
- "I do. But why does that mean I don't want information?"
- "I don't know! I always want information!"
After some more back and forth, Merit asks for the information - it is a copy of a note that was clandestinely arranged to be delivered to Yanyu.
Merit tells Cook to copy any similar messages in the future and pass them to him.
Meanwhile, Yanyu has received the original note, and, assuming it is probably a trap, heads to talk to Merit about it. She has learned that her destiny is to reshape the Song of the Phoenix - as Phoenix puts it, to burn it down and rebuild it from the ashes - so that it is less about getting more Phoenix-aspected people to be born and viewed as cool. But anything that starts with burning down the current Song kind of makes Yanyu a threat to the Songstress, and she might be upset about that.
Lijuan draws some prophetic art - people think it looks pretty cheerful, with all those ninjas on fire.
It becomes clear that Master Deng has still forgotten the Shrouded Isle, which could be a problem. Well, it'll probably just be a quick trip there to see what the Songstress wants and if it's a trap, before coming back to deal with whatever the actual plot is, so people tell Deng to wait in Tahiti (with some communication paper) and they'll be back soon.
Shrouded Isle, First Pass
The group (without Deng) heads through the water gate to the Suzuki estate. Things seem to be fairly calm there - no crises or tizzies. They start heading to Songhouse.
Back at Tahiti, the butler lets Deng know that there is a visitor, looking for Takanata, Xiao Fa, Li Merit, or some other such dignitary. The visitor is dressed in white monk robes, with a yellow hat and belt, and a black ribbon hanging from his belt. The very broad pointy hat shades his face so it cannot be seen, and while the butler asked his name, he did not receive a satisfactory answer.
Well, obviously it is Li the Wanderer, then.
A long and convoluted conversation ensues; Deng is unwilling to tell the visitor any more information about where the others are without a full precis on who the visitor is and why he wants to know. Certainly without more of a briefing, he thinks they will be unwilling to help him travel there. But the visitor claims that he would prefer to not complicate matters at this time. If he reveals himself, then things would become more difficult.
- "Without more assurances, I cannot guarantee that they would be interested."
- "I seek no guarantees in this life - indeed, there are none who can give them to me."
Deng sends a note via the paper:
The party heads back to the Suzuki estate, and water gates back through to Tahiti. Unfortunately, the visitor is not significantly more forthcoming. He understands that they are about to embark upon an investigation, and he has been retained, no, asked, by a dear friend of his, to aid a friend of theirs. His friend's friend has... a bit of a temper.
- "So... shall we all proceed to the Island of Mists?"
- "What abilities do you bring?" - Wei Han
- "What abilities do you require?"
- "I would like the ability to remember what happened after it happened!" -Lijuan
- "I could do that, but it would hurt."
- "Like pumice?" -Lijuan
- "No, like a migraine."
Yanyu doesn't think the voice sounds like Li the Wanderer. Master Zhou thinks about recurring NPCs, and concludes that the hat he is wearing has never recurred. It is a very good hat. He ties a blindfold of yellow silk over his eyes and looks at the visitor, and for an instant is blinded by what seems to be a man made of brightly glowing light. Then the light vanishes, and the visitor apologizes - he won't let it happen again.
Well, obviously it is the Sun, then, so the group agrees to let him join in on the trip back to the Shrouded Isle. And Master Deng is owed a minor boon from the Sun, so maybe he can fix the problem with not knowing about the place. Merit explains Master Deng's problem, and the visitor says that he should be able to assist, but that would result in Master Deng owing him a boon, and he really hates that. Merit notes helpfully that he already owes Master Deng a boon. The visitor is quite sure that he does not owe Master Deng a boon.
Hmm. Maybe he is not the Sun after all.
However, the visitor is willing to arrange that any boons owed to him be transferred to one of Shen-Ji's family, which he thinks should be acceptable to them. Fixing it for the duration of the run would be a small boon; fixing it permanently would be a fairly large one. People are confused as to how Shen-Ji was brought into this, but do not question it.
The visitor says that he has been given to understand that the trail he is on doesn't lead outside of the Shrouded Isle, but he hasn't been there yet, so he cannot say for sure.
Master Zhou thinks about the robes the visitor is wearing - they seem to say very plainly "I am in disguise", except for the black ribbon, which is ceremonial, and he thinks signifies being temporarily in service to darkness. Merit clarifies that it's probably in service to Ratri, the goddess of Night.
The group proceeds through the water gate to House Suzuki again, and the visitor meditates briefly. Then he straightens up, cracks his knuckles, and says that they won't be leaving the Shrouded Isle. He deals with Deng's missing country problem, in exchange for a large favor for Shen-Ji's sister-in-law.
The party finally manages to leave the Suzuki estate, and heads for Songhome. Yanyu and Wei Han go to the Songstress's, on the theory that Wei Han can protect Yanyu if the Songstress tries to kill her. However, rather than try to kill Yanyu, the Songstress hands Yanyu the Phoenix talisman, saying that she has been informed that Yanyu will be doing something important and will need it. Since Yanyu is already carrying a Sankara stone, she backs away, and lets Wei Han take it. The Songstress instructs Wei Han to make sure that it does not leave the Isle.
- "Do you need help with your mission?" -Songstress
- "Who informed you? That is, I'm doing several things but I don't know which one you refer to." -Yanyu
- "...The one from Her?" -Songstress
That clears things up, Yanyu supposes, but no, she doesn't need help. The Songstress asks her to hurry, please. She is agitated.
Yanyu returns to the party, and people swap Talismans around. Yanyu memorizes the name of the Phoenix for later reference.
Lijuan asks the local orphans what is up, and they tell her that the kids of all sorts of high and mighty grand-poobah-type people are lurking around lately (kind of like Lijuan) so they don’t really want to get too involved with high muckity-mucks.
Yanyu attempts to contact the Spirit of the Phoenix, and promptly bursts into flames. The gentleman in a hat takes several steps back and bows, tipping his hat in her direction.
- "FIND HIM. The master of blade and war, the successor of the Dragon, he who should have been mine, is Lost. FIND HIM." -Phoenix
Well, that seems to be a plot, but the people involved are still a little unclear.
- "Who is it we're fighting?" -Merit to the gentleman in a hat
- "People who should have brought hats, but didn't."
- "We have been dealing with visitors who are cheerfully skirting past the walls and trying to end the world."
- "Cheerfully is probably an overstatement, but they do keep sending new high priests."
- "Well, I didn't notice any priests here." -Guy in a hat
Merit tries to think of who the "master of blade and war" might be. Whoever he is sounds like someone famous enough that Merit ought to have heard of him... maybe like Miyamoto Musashi. Oh. Maybe the fact that no one’s been returning from his house was a plot after all!
So... who is in town on the "the master of blade and war is missing" plot? (Merit suggests that the gentleman with the hat tip his hat in Merit's direction while this is investigated.)
Some answers return:
- The party
- The Songstress
- Miyamoto Musashi (the heavy emphasis suggests that someone is putting the word out that they have him)
- Helba, demigoddess of thieves (Merit loses 9 tael)
- The White Tiger, demigoddess of blades (he loses 80 hit points)
- A random urchin
- The House of Dissonance
- Spirit Builder
- The Man with the Yellow Hat
- ?: ? of ?s
And one of Merit's investigators didn't return.
Lijuan checks in again with some urchins, and hears that there's a young lady around who can change her appearance quickly. Cai Wen thinks that could be Mei-Zhen (or Min Feng) so he looks around for her. Mei-Zhen isn't in town, as far as he can tell, but he does get the feeling that there are a number of extremely dangerous eligible young ladies, and a potential opportunity or two.
Master Zhou reads the Signs of Toro. The one about a Great Spirit rampage sounds a little possible.
Merit wonders what the Man with the Yellow Hat knows about demigods. Well, they're produced... in the usual way, and they're a lot like people in how they vary. Helba isn't bad, for a thief, and White Tiger is much like Deng. Demigods don't tend to be priests of their parents - they tend more towards extra-powerful adventurers.
- "How much time are we likely to have?" -Merit
- "If it's a trap for you, you have as much time as you need." -Man in the Yellow Hat
Since Spirit Builder is on the list of people in town, and Wei Han wants to talk to him anyway, the group decides to pay a call on him. Maybe he knows something about the plot. Cai Wen, wearing the Butterfly Talisman, has enough status to get the group into the Shrouded Citadel for an appointment with Spirit Builder. There are diagrams of a bridge on the walls of the office - it looks kind of like the Bridge of Moonlight, but not the same.
So... does Spirit Builder know about any interesting happenings in the city recently? He looks blank and says that's not really his department. The party explains that they think Miyamoto Musashi has been kidnapped. Spirit Builder is aghast, and also sad - he will never get to use the secret box in his house now.
What sort of secret box? Is it a safe room? Could Master Miyamoto even now be hidden in it? No, no, he could not. It is not a safe room. It more like a safe - but Spirit Builder really shouldn't be talking about that.
The party presses - what sort of a safe? How does it work? Can they open it? Can Spirit Builder open it? Spirit Builder must admit that since they know about it, the method of opening it is not as secret - you must stand in the center of the dining room and perform the perfect kata of the three way sword. Or, Spirit Builder himself can open it, but only for maintenance.
The party suggests that Spirit Builder is now in danger from potential powerful Southern adversaries, and that he go to Tahiti for safekeeping. He thinks he is a bit too busy to go off to the Arcade just now, and is lured by Wei Han into talking about his current project, to redesign the Bridge of Moonlight. Right now, it is a combination of several bridges in one - one for people, one for chi, one for beasts of burden, and so on. They all occupy the same space, but are yet distinct. The bridge he wishes to build would join these paths together, and also move the inherent interconnectedness of the country back and forth. As such, it could be anywhere along the river, not just where it is.
While Spirit Builder is distracted talking about the bridge, Merit starts surreptitiously going through Spirit Builder's office. The most recently used filing cabinet has a "Musashi file" but it is empty save for a paper with a single sigil. The Man with the Yellow Hat leans over (despite having been across the room but a moment ago) and whispers "Helba".
Merit brings Spirit Builder's attention to the fact that the plans have been stolen; while Spirit Builder finds that alarming, he still doesn't think that a random thief will be able to open it. Only a true bladesmaster can, or he can, for maintenance only.
As the group can think of no further digressions, they finally go to Miyamoto Musashi's estate. The ornate gate to the grounds (Cai Wen has been here once before, at the Party of Five Rings) is unlocked, and appears to have been picked. The front door is ever so slightly ajar, and in the vestibule, there are several dead ninja.
Wei Han shouts for Musashi, and off in the distance, there is a faint "ting", like the dropping of a glass. The group runs in that direction, and enters the dining room, where there are quite a few more dead ninja. One of the curtained windows, leading onto the back balcony, flutters slightly. On the balcony, a woman gives a strange salute, and then leaps backwards off of the balcony. She lands on the far wall and then is over it. Lijuan leaps after her, and her hunting shticks let her keep up in the chase. Wei Han jumps after as well, but lands in the back garden and runs to the back wall. As he climbs over with a rope, Lijuan vanishes in the distance.
Merit and Cai Wen examine the signs and tracks in the dining room. They decide the master was eventually overwhelmed by numbers, then used his shtick in "die with style", likely escaping, but defeated. Possibly a second team got him after he had escapes the first.
The ninjas have been dead for a few days (as have the servants of the household) - judging by the clumps that they are in, they had some sort of coordination shticks. Merit looks around with the Orb, and notes that some of the stones inlaid into the floor are enchanted, and their pattern spells out a set of sword kata instructions. Deng's weaponsense allows him to read them - it is a set of instructions for a three-fold sword kata. He tries several times, but is not quite good enough to perform it perfectly, until Master Zhou gives him additional instruction.
- "I watch with the orb of light, because Xiao Fa's cautions mean nothing to me." -Merit
The safe holds a sheaf of papers labeled "Five Rings" and a leather bound volume labeled "For my daughter". The dossier Merit got does not mention a daughter, which makes it extra-interesting. Everyone wants to read the Five Rings, and most everyone also wants to read the diary, but the latter seems to have some sort of fire enchantment on it. Merit declares that if they rescue Miyamoto, they can ask to read the Five Rings, but not until then. He takes the sheaf of papers, but leaves the probably trapped journal behind.
Meanwhile, Lijuan finishes following her quarry, to a meeting in the nearby woods. The thief (presumably Helba) is meeting with a swordswoman in white and a nondescript sort of person.
- "You were followed! Kill her!"
- "No, do not kill her, this is the wrong country for that. Catch her, and we can use her as a backup plan." -A voice from the shadows
The enemy is not well equipped for non-lethal takedowns, and in the ensuing confusion, Lijuan uses another superleap to get out of immediate range, and manages to escape back to the house. She warns everyone that the demigodesses are likely on their way, or possibly already here - if Helba is watching, they might not realize.
Merit quickly shuts the safe, and Spirit Builder is sent back to his office, in case there is about to be a fight. Everyone else goes back along Lijuan's path to the clearing, but there are no longer three demigods hanging about. There are, however, very unambiguous tracks of someone unconscious having been dragged off in that direction.
Merit looks around some more with the Orb of Light, and notes that the big unambiguous tracks are an illusion, on top of much more subtle tracks going in the same direction. Most of the tracks appear to be human, but one set looks like a ripper demon but larger.
Rather than follow the "Walk this way" tracks, the group goes a little way off the tracks and goes in the same direction, using Wei Han's "nose for trouble" to try to find anyone nearby who might need help. Either way, it leads up the volcanic mountain, and to a cave into the mountainside.
A little ways into the cave, there is a wall of magical fire. (Merit thinks it is illusionary fire, but it will hurt just as much as real fire). Wei Han, wearing the Phoenix Talisman, can pass through without harm (he estimates it as about a hundred points of damage). Sneaking forwards a little, he can see a larger cavern inside, with an old man tied to a chair, surrounded by four women, and surrounded at greater distance by... a bunch of bundles of fur and sticks?
He sneaks back again and reports.
- "There are are four demigods over there..." -Wei Han
- "Three." -Man with the Yellow Hat
Hmm. Does that mean Helba is out in the tunnel watching already? Merit asks if the Man in the Yellow Hat can take down the wall of fire? He can, but it would require taking his hat off.
So... bringing the Phoenix Talisman into the fight is probably the trap - something about the threat to Musashi and Phoenix being present (on Midsummer) may lead to a rampage. And the enemy presumably thinks that the party won't leave Musashi there - which is true.
Cai Wen volunteers to stay outside the wall of fire with the Phoenix Talisman, and Lijuan delegates Kawaii and Ho to guard him.
People begin to head through the wall, taking damage as they do, and Cai Wen starts setting up the perfect picnic for two outside the wall. Sam (the GMs slip and name the Man in the Yellow Hat) raises an eyebrow under his hat, but Cai Wen figures one of the four demigoddesses is already hiding in the tunnel waiting for everyone else to leave.
Yanyu places the blessing of the Dragon on the combat.
Merit, incited by the Five Rings writings he is carrying, and in direct contravention of Xiao Fa's "don't try and Yoshi yourself" instructions, looks through the Orb of Light at the demigods. He takes a bunch of Southern corruption, and notes that all the people in the center are rearranged from how everyone else sees them. Also, one of the women is actually a big demon. (That's why there aren't four demigods). The old man tied to a chair has a lot of chi flowing into him from somewhere back by the wall of fire.
Combat ensues - White Tiger is terrifying, and nearly takes down Merit until he borrows a parry pool from Musashi and fakes using it with a lot of the Dragon blessing. Then Master Zhou gets in a nerve strike and sidelines White Tiger for a while, though she also has a spectral blade protecting her. The illusionist rolls poorly on her speed, so it is easier to keep track of who is who.
Helba nearly steals Wei Han's storm shield. Ninja begin to appear; they are fended off without too much pain, but Master Zhou kicks one through the firewall, and now the ninja know Cai Wen and the Phoenix Talisman are outside the wall.
Wei Han makes his best guess as to which of the illusionary figures is Musashi, and pulls him out of the scrum in the middle. He breaks Musashi's bonds, and gives him a sword; the master swordsman engages White Tiger. Deng keeps smiting the larger ripper demon, banishing the smaller ones (the bundles of fur/sticks) before they do too much damage.
Yanyu starts to call down Wrath of the Phoenix, but another chunk of the Dragon chi quells that before it draws Phoenix's attention.
The tide of battle turns; as Helba gets close to going down, Sam gives her a hat, and then there are two indistinguishable people in white robes and hats. Deng takes down Mara (the illusionist demigod), and Sam asks if Deng claims her life blood as his due. Deng says no. Zhou takes down White Tiger, and Sam asks if Zhou claims her life blood as his due. Zhou yields his claim to Musashi, who says that honor is satisfied, and he claims Victory instead (removing the stain of his earlier defeat).
The two people in hats put the two other fallen demigods in baskets, and prepare to take them home. Cai Wen gets the ninjas' card (the House of Dissonance), and the remaining ninja fade back into the night.
- "I hope that we can continue to work together when our lands are in peril." -Merit
- "If you want to work with just a guy with a hat, sure." -Sam
- "I believe the God of the North can get messages to us if necessary." -Merit
- "One would hope so - what else is he good for?"
Sam says the wall of fire won't be a problem once the "mushy part" starts, so he and Helba will take the other two now, if there are no objections.
Ho starts barking in that "time to go" way, and people start running back through the firewall. Musashi runs through, but doesn't come out the other side until some time later.
Once he emerges, he bows to Merit - he thought it would be beyond his days before there was another Grand Master.
- "Many trials await us, and there are many things you must know." -Merit
- "I am not as spry as I once was, but I am of course at your service." -Musashi
Musashi does want to go back to his house - the greedy demigod had certain things she wanted to steal, and he must check on them. Ah, well, about that - Merit has already stolen one of them as a precaution, but the one that is trapped, he left behind. Musashi says that Merit is welcome to peruse the writings, but there are some cautions that he should bear in mind first.
The Phoenix Talisman is returned to the Songstress, who looks a little suspicious.
- "I heard the voice of the Mountain, but its words were unclear." -Songstress
- "I'm a little fuzzy on the details too, but I think we were victorious. So... all's well that ends well!" -Yanyu