Traveling with the Butterfly Prince's Servant
|"Some roads are not meant to be travelled alone."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Spider in the Month of the Tiger in the first Year of the Magpie since the crowning of the Viridian Queen.|
The run takes place between the City of Light, Jabon, and Nine Terraces.
Up in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, Xiao Fa confesses to Master Tranh that he may have brought trouble to the House of Quiet Concordance with his adventures in the Hidden City. Master Tranh notes that those who investigate such trouble seem to believe that the monk Xiao Fa of the Silken Wings Circus and Xiao Fa, geomancer and member of the House of Silent Concordance, are clearly different people, and he has done his best to encourage such a belief. However, Xiao Fa should continue to maintain this separation, and should probably avoid doing House business where the circus is performing. Master Tranh does an idea as to how Xiao Fa can re-prove his worth to the House by carrying out a particular task: there is a promising young man who has the Eye, but he may not be suitable as an apprentice. He is assigned to travel with Xiao Fa, and Xiao Fa should see what he can make of the young man. (The boy, named Gi-Su, is told to not repeat anything he learns on his journey, except to Xiao Fa or Master Tranh, so as to not go back and blur that line between the two Xiao Fas).
Back in the City of Light, Yanzi comes to talk to Master Zhou. She has overheard enough to know that there is some plan to send dreams to Long Yue-Mei, but from her unworthy studies, she believes that will not work.
- "Yue-Mei dreams only of Tai Lung, and I fear Tai Lung will beat up any messenger sent in a dream." -Yanzi
She seeks Master Zhou's permission to quest for Yue-Mei herself, and he grants it.
The circus will be ready to move out in a few hours, to Jabon, and as things are getting packed up, a man with a long beard and a green robe arrives, to speak to Takanata or Xiao Fa. The party points at Xiao Fa. The old gentleman says that his master is conducting a survey of the doings that affect our times, and he asks how Xiao Fa's great work at the Roof of the World is progressing. Xiao Fa must admit that little progress has been made on that working. Well, if the master or his servants can offer any assistance, please do not hesitate to ask, as they are attempting to ascertain how all such projects stand, and Xiao Fa's is the one about which they have the least information. Xiao Fa says he didn't catch the master's name. The messenger boggles - does Xiao Fa not know the name of the most revered of sages? Anyhow, he will be staying in the City of Light at least briefly, and he will leave Xiao Fa to discuss with his comrades what the next steps will be.
Xiao Fa calls everyone together in the tea tent to discuss the Roof of the World, and also, the fact that he has a new student. Gi-Su looks at the floor a little sullenly and says he is unworthy of such an introduction.
- "Does that mean you have to start calling you Master This One?" -Xian
- "Perhaps that would be good practice for you." -Xiao Fa
Xiao Fa reminds everyone that he asked Li Kao for a description of how to rename the Roof of the World. Kasumi has forgotten why they want to do this, but the short version is "because it thwarts Spider." The first step is to disrupt the surface of the lake for an hour - Xiao Fa thinks he can probably manage that. Then, convince the Regent to pardon someone who is banished - maybe a party member (since it's easy to get banished), but maybe Lord Hawk is an obvious candidate. And then have the true king justly slay someone banished. Having that not be the banished party member would be good, but there are presumably actual murderers and the like who have been banished. Those two seem fairly persuasion-y, which some of the party is pretty good at. And then get the spirit of the Lake out of the country for a bit, and tie it to the Empire. That last bit may be somewhat tricky, and people don't have a good feel for how to do that. The Tao of the lake spirit is relevant - Master Zhou thinks that a Tao of 15ish might be plausible.
Xian wonders why Xiao Fa wants to start with the Roof of the World rather than any other country?
- "Takanata and I agreed that Roof of the World is good, because he didn't care about it and I did." -Xiao Fa
Cai Wen says he's thinking about how to flip the Taiga, and suggests that everyone pick a favorite country to change the name of, and work on it. Shen-Ji has his plan to de-magic the tael, and Willow is looking into taking out the Hidden City bribery mechanic. None of the party has the ability to generate a mechanic the way Willow and Li Kao can though Verity and her group can probably put together something magical. Heck, there's probably ways to use ninja to flip a country, though it would likely involve a lot of assassination. Gi-Su perks up his ears at the thought of sorcerous rituals - he was going to be a sorcerer once, but he was forced to give up the true power for this chi-o-mancy stuff. Shen-Ji immediately starts planning to lure him back to sorcery.
Xian, still wondering why the Roof of the World in particular, thinks maybe the Butterfly Kingdom or Bear Mountain would be easier to switch, since the party knows a lot more about how they flipped in the first place. And shouldn't Butterfly's country be a higher priority? Xiao Fa thinks that they might be higher priority for Spider, too, so they might get a faster counter-reaction. Xian thinks changing *any* country's name will probably get a reaction - the Marked won't just say "Oh, that's one of the less interesting countries." At the moment, the Marked have started to fight between themselves over the question of who the Spider Emperor is, but if a country changes, they may pull together again, and focus in on the party. Cai Wen does think that flipping a country will start more moves in the party-versus-Marked game. Xian agrees, and thinks that the thing to do is to line up a bunch of different things and then do them together, rather than setting off the red alert with just one country, if it's going to pull the Marked into direct opposition. Cai Wen agrees that that makes sense, though due to finite quantities of player attention, it probably isn't possible to stall on everything and then do it all in a quick burst at the end.
Anto, who is mostly Sir Not Appearing In This Run, pokes his head into the tea tent to comment some on the question of what the Spirit of the Lake might care about.
- The Lake and the Jasmine River have a strong relationship, as the Lake is the source of the Jasmine. (It doesn't quite map to parent:child for humans, but it's sort of reminiscent of that.)
- It is possible that there would be a relation with the Harbor of Shining Reflections, just because of similarity. Or other lakes.
- It would also care about anything that made the lake more (or less) lake-y - for example, if there was some sort of big volcano one country over that was putting ash in the air and turning the lake muddy, it would definitely care about that.
- Finally, it's possible that the lake has a "guy" (the one person that the spirit can directly aid / interact with), or descendants, or something like that that it would care about.
Anto thinks Takanata should obviously try to get the Jasmine to give him some inside information on the Lake. Also, he has some spirit water from the Jasmine, and demon water from a lake in the World Below whose name he doesn't recall. Those might be useful for this plot.
Li Kao's servant checks in again, as the circus is about ready to leave. He notes that they should not overestimate the fearsomeness of their enemies - of the eight Marked, there are at least two and maybe a third they could eliminate even now if they brought the battle to their enemy.
- "And there was one who went one on one against Bear!"
- "Well, true, but he won't be doing anything else this chapter."
Of course, there's always the possibility of blaming the country-flip on Ezokin - or Tai Lung! That latter might surprise everyone, as Tai Lung is not generally considered one of the smarter Marked.
The circus heads off along the road to Jabon. Gi-Su tries to get Shen-Ji to tell him about sorcery, but Xiao Fa takes him off to have a Talk, and tells Shen-Ji to not break his student.
Coming the other direction, there's a troop of the Dragon Army heading east. The circus follows standard protocols, pulling to the side to perform, and inviting the commander to tea. The gossip is that the Bearers of Swift Response have been moving around a lot, due to trouble along the southern wall, and that this troop has been assigned to the command of Sea Lord Milora. They're not overjoyed about that - you never want to get reassigned to someone who is in disgrace. They've been pulled off the border between the Savanna and the Taiga, where they had been making sure that everyone stayed on their own side.
The circus reaches Jabon without further incident, and Cai Wen directs the circus to start setting up, while he goes to investigate what the Bearers of Swift Response are up to. He hears that they have been looking into Southerners sneaking across the wall, and are trying to put a stop to that, but the people in Jabon don't know more details.
A young man shows up to see Cai Wen, wearing well worn travelling gear and somewhat raggedy clothes. He introduces himself as Li, servant of Ti Jun, and he does look quite a lot like Ti Jun. (It is well known, everyone recalls, that there is a peasant-born servant who looks just like the Prince). He says that Ti Jun obviously cannot leave the island, but has provided Li with missives to take to Nine Terraces, and he was hoping that the party could provide an escort. If it would not inconvenience them greatly, he was hoping to leave in the morning. Cai Wen demurs - the circus has some performances scheduled - but the Prince's servant says he is not exalted enough to travel with the whole circus, and just a few people will do.
Master Zhou offers to provide training to anyone who wants it - Xiao Fa and Gi-Su show up, but no one else does, much to Master Zhou's disapproval. Gi-Su doesn't see the point in kung fu, but Xiao Fa explains that everyone should know some. Gi-Su has no fighting training, but does have some knowledge about Awesome Historic Battles of the Past, so he can kind of appreciate kung fu, in theory. Master Zhou has a hard time figuring out his level from the training, and has to run Gi-Su through his paces a couple of times. He seems to be first level, but has a fifth level shtick, which is rather unusual. He has vast unrealized potential - he could probably be the greatest geomancer of his generation, if only he didn't hate geomancy so much.
- "I try to teach him some kung fu, because that can only help." -Master Zhou
- "Oooh, can you teach me quivering palm?" -Gi-Su
- "Sssst!" -Xiao Fa, shushing Gi-Su
- "How about sorcerous chi strike?" -Shen-Ji
- "Ssst!" -Xiao Fa, shushing Shen-Ji
Cai Wen informs everyone about the Prince's servant, and lets them know that they'll be heading out in the morning. Then, at Master Zhou's request, he asks around about the Five Fists of Fury. They were in Jabon recently, and are reputed to be searching the land questing for some sort of kung fu master. There are five of them again, as they are said to have found their missing member somewhere in the Strand.
Master Zhou takes a quick side trip to visit Pho, concerned that his only knowledge of kung fu will have come from Lijuan. The boy is second level now, and Master Zhou thinks that he might be better suited learning Horse-style kung fu, if only there were such a thing. He returns to Jabon and chats with Shen-Ji about horse shticks.
The party sets out, and their first encounter on the road is of their own choice. Shen-Ji is hoping for a rich bad guy who can be looted of many tael, but is outvoted by the rest of the group, interested in meeting some of the Silver Dragons.
Thus it is that as they head through the Savanna, they spot a fire and a tent, and sitting at the fire, they see Shan Tsu. He bows to Master Zhou and Xiao Fa, and wonders what brings them here?
- "The ways of the Butterfly are mysterious." -Kasumi
The party says that they are heading towards Nine Terraces, by way of the City of Spires, though it is admittedly not the shortest path. Iala Mane emerges from the tent, and gapes at Xiao Fa - where did he get that? He is actually shocked enough to speak Senatali. The party is invited to share their fire, and Iala Mane asks that Xiao Fa tell them how he came to acquire the Sankara stone and return it to its true keeper? Cai Wen thought that the Sankara stones weren't real, but if they were real, didn't Kalkin's priest say to not tell anyone? It's a bit confusing.
Xiao Fa explains the getting of the stone, and how Kali's people were looking for it. Kasumi was the only one actually there for the unearthing of the stone, but she recalls that the leader of the bad guys was... a priest of both Kali and Maya? Iala Mane is very confused by that - what business does Maya have with Kali? And how could there be a priest of both? These are troubled times, and this is news he will have to return to the South to deliver, when he returns the Stone. Xiao Fa asks if it will be safe for him to carry, but he says that it is the stone of his Lady, which he seems to think answers the question. Xiao Fa presents it to him, and he takes it with great reverence. He says he is indebted to the group - is there anything he can do for them in return? Cai Wen asks if he could learn some greater subtleties of Senatali, so he agrees to spend the evening teaching the group as much Senatali and KS: Southern Barbarians as they wish to learn.
Iala Mane asks if Shan Tsu wants to come with him to the Temple of Ratri; the latter agrees, suspecting that this is why Kar Fai sent the two of them here.
Speaking of which - Master Zhou wants to know more about Kar Fai and his return to the Empire. Shan Tsu says Kar Fai has seized the Red Pagoda, as they may have heard, and that the Royal Iron Tree is no more. Kar Fai has guaranteed safe passage to any who wish to ascend the mountain who do not have personal business with Tai Lung, so Tai Lung doesn't get to be a general bandit, since Tai Lung doesn't want to fight Kar Fai. People who are on Tai Lung's personal get-him list (like Master Zhou) may still have trouble.
Do the Silver Dragons know what the "Dragon's Burden" does? While Kar Fai carried it in the South, it did not reduce any stats, but it made purchasing shticks very difficult.
Xian pulls Master Zhou aside and reminds him that they have one of the Marked right there with them, and suggests that maybe they should not talk about ultra-secret Dragon business in front of him?
- "He's not Marked right now, it's safe to talk in front of him." -Master Zhou
- "He is still on the bad guy team..." -Xian
- "One cannot live life without risk." -Master Zhou
- "Yes, but one can live life without pointless risk!" -Xian
- "Like cursed boats!" -Laura
Anyhow, Iala Mane thinks if they travel swiftly, they should make the Wall by nightfall. Master Zhou, disappointed that they will not be returning to see Kar Fai first, asks that if they do happen to see him before Master Zhou does, can they tell him Master Zhou wants to talk to him?
- "If you encounter another of the stones, I trust you will guard them as you have guarded this one, and not let it fall into the hands of Kali or Maya." -Iala Mane
The group notes that if they find another one, they may be able to send him a dream about it. Iala Mane notes that the Dreamwalkers of Ratri have this power too.
Then, off they go, and the party heads the rest of the way to the City of Spires.
City of Spires
Yanzi returns. Her quest progresses well, but she needs the aid of Broken Sword, as his skill in Battle would be most useful. Is he available? Cai Wen says he can barely restrain Broken Sword if he wants to go, but he has Cai Wen's blessing. They rush off again.
Cai Wen visits Elder Danyu, and commissions (for five tael) a summary of the significant political events before and after the Burning of the Black Spire, with emphasis on the general way that the Taiga works.
- "Li Merit is 50 or 60 miles away now..." -Cai Wen
Trees From the Enchanted Forest
The group crosses the Jasmine again, back into the Taiga, and continues in a vaguely southwestern direction. As they start to pass through a small forest, both Gi-Su and Xiao Fa think that there is something wrong about the forest. Shen-Ji thinks there is wood sorcery in the trees, somehow.
Then, there's a sound, as if the wind is blowing through the leaves: "Move on...". Of course, that just makes everyone more interested in investigating, and Gi-Su points out a tree which seems to be the center of things. As they try to head towards it, a tree falls in front of them, blocking their path, and the wind seems to whisper again: "This is not for you."
The group backs off again, and Xiao Fa considers using his chi-sneaking powers to get everyone to the central tree. Gi-Su suggests that he combine his efforts with Shen-Ji, since metal is the enemy of wood, and Shen-Ji could loan Xiao Fa more power against the forest. Shen-Ji notes that he could just set the whole place on fire, if that's easier. Nobody else is in favor of that, though Gi-Su is even more impressed with Shen-Ji that he has fire as well.
Xiao Fa puts up his stealthy chi veil, reinforced with Shen-Ji's anti-wood metal sorcery, and the group carefully works their way to the tree Gi-Su has indicated. Xiao Fa suddenly realizes - that's a wood sorcerer, who has distributed himself, plant-like, through the trees around him.
- "So that is the tree we must have an awesome battle with?" -Gi-Su
The trees are...younger than they look? Does that mean he's draining their life force, or growing them, or what? Is it good or bad for a tree to be older or younger? No one is quite sure.
Cai Wen thinks about the hidden opportunities. The greatest opportunity here is probably that there's something that Shen-Ji wants to learn. Shen-Ji steps out, calling on his Professional Courtesy shtick - there's a storm of swirling leaves, but it calms again. Shen-Ji asks if they might bargain for a shtick of the sorcerer's - in exchange, after some discussion, he agrees to provide land on his horse farm for a grove of trees that no one will disturb. (Even Shen-Ji himself won't disturb it more than once a book). Shen-Ji cashes in the party favor with the Myeongs in order to provide security and keep everyone away from the grove of trees to be. (Just so that we can find this again, the wood sorcerer in question is named Nest).
- "Heart and dagger? If it's Myo and Liet, I just kill them." -Xian
Yanzi and Broken Sword ride up, find Kasumi, and bow deeply. Would it be possible for them to borrow the Monkey Talisman? Yanzi promises to keep it safe, though it would be best if Kasumi did not ask what they need it for.
- "Aww. I want to come play in the Coil." -Kasumi
- "Is Yue-Mei in the Coil?!" -Master Zhou
- "No one heard us speak those words." -Yanzi
Kasumi says they normally don't loan the party Talismans to people, though she realizes that they do want to borrow some Talismans from other people, so perhaps that would be a better precedent to set. But she'd rather come with them.
- "That would be highly inappropriate." -Yanzi
- "You came to a Monkey Ninja to ask for appropriate behavior?" -Kasumi
Yanzi bows again, disappointed, and the pair starts to leave. Cai Wen tries to figure out what the score for the NPC plot is, but realizes that he can't see the score for a run that he's not in. Xian thinks that Yanzi and Broken Sword are about as trustworthy a pair as he can imagine, if it comes to loaning party loot, so Kasumi declares herself not actually a magpie, and gives them the Monkey talisman.
Yanzi calls to Broken Sword - they will take but one horse. Yanzi puts the talisman around the neck of the horse, and they ride off again.
- "See if we can go to the Coil. Maybe something good will happen." -Master Zhou
As the group crosses into the Strand, Cai Wen reminds everyone to not look for secrets. Again, they get to choose the plot to encounter, and some discussion ensues.
- "A nice satisfying combat." -Kasumi
- "Against someone rich!" -Shen-Ji
- "Lord and Lady Wing's travelling gambling party?" -Cai Wen
- "Clues about the Ice Pagoda would be nice..." -Xian
- "...that Xian is forced to tell the rest of us about!" -Everyone else
The "clues" idea wins; Xian is particularly concerned about the part where the Son of the Moon knows when the ice is weakest, and will be there, and people will die.
As Gi-Su and Kasumi are extracting themselves from a saparilla tree, a group of traders wanders by.
- "Greetings! Who might you be, if you are willing to say?"
The group claims to be "lost circus performers", so the traders are enthusiastic - do they know the Confounding Xian? They might. Well, could they bring a message to him? They are traders, who were gathering exotic and unusual items such as Ice Chips of Doom, but they were ambushed by the Son of the Moon. The sorceress who rescued them said that the only way to defeat him would be to turn the countryside against him. The sorceress went inexplicably on to explain that each of her friends had a place, and hers was to turn the area around the ice pagoda into "Terrain type: tactical support" or some such popular assistance. The sorceress wants to assure Xian (if they can pass along the message) that it will not be such a hopeless battle. They are heading back to the sorceress, now that the message is in Circus Hands. The party asks if they have any ice chips for sale - alas, no, that and their star metal were taken by the Son of the Moon, after they threw it at his head. The tale of the battle is told, with many dramatic embellishments, but it doesn't seem to tell the party much other than that while the Son of the Moon might be vulnerable to starmetal, flinging it at him is insufficient to defeat him.
Off the traders go again.
Mobbing the Wall
Da-Xie runs up, demanding to know where Shen Wei Han is. The party, alarmed that Da-Xie has actually referred to him by name rather than as "Mr. Grumpy Grumpy Pants", thinks they left him in Jabon.
- "By all the spirits, how useless can one man be?" -Da-Xie
Kasumi hopefully asks - is it an emergency? Indeed it is! Come with her, as the Bearers of Swift Response need help! She leads them quickly to the Southern Wall, which is a bit puzzling as they weren't anywhere near it, but they seem to be there now.
The battle is laid out before them - uncountable mobs of "dark chi sorcerers" are trying to climb over the wall, and the Bearers are fending them off, for the most part, though a few have made it over. The "uncountable mobs", as well as some of the foes who have actually made it over, are likely to be illusionary, but who is real and who is not is somewhat hard to tell. Da-Xie says she is suppressing their invisibility and illusion directly by the Wall, but if they get further away from it, they may be able to vanish. The southerners seem to have shifted from shadow magic to illusion magic, which means many of Da-Xie's current defenses are less effective.
The Bearers seem to be particularly ineffective at fighting the Southerners - Kasumi realizes that they seem to be hitting with the flat of their blades, as if their perception of their own swords has been altered.
Master Zhou ties yellow silk over his eyes to look for enemies, which allows him to start to discern which foes are real and which are illusionary, though when he is close to the wall, it is harder. Kasumi and Shen-Ji put out a substantial amount of damage, and the non-combatants like Cai Wen and Xian and the Prince's servant stay behind Da-Xie's line, where it is easier to perceive which are which, and call out to the others which bad guys are real.
The dark sorcerers are hitting the Bearers with illusions of their own death - the damage is not physically real, but it damages their chi instead. Xiao Fa tries to figure out how to heal one of their chis, and decides that the larger problem he has is the illusion of his sword being wrong, and fixes that instead.
One of the Southerners gets close to the line, but Gi-Su spots him. Xian tries to convince him to turn back, but is insufficiently persuasive, due to a recent curse.
- "You wouldn't live five minutes in the Empire. You will scream in ignominy because you will have FAILED. You think we are formidable here, just wait until you take one step forward, but then you will pray for death." -Xian
Xiao Fa shows off with his kung fu to Gi Su, and takes the guy at the line out (despite his broken arm). Gi Su is a little more impressed. Kung Fu and geomancy? Maybe that's cool after all.
The battle eventually ends, with the Southerners driven back and only one Bearer fallen. With their newly-learned KS: Southern Barbarians, the party tells Da-Xie as much as they can about illusions, which are a combination of Light and Dark, but are not Shadow. They are easiest to penetrate at dawn and dusk.
Da-Xie and the Bearers, grateful for the assistance, offers the group the boon of summoning some of the Bearers of Swift Response once, in a country bordering her Wall.
As the group rides by Harmonious Endeavor, the more sharp-sighted spot a cloud of dust off in the distance. Those with swift horses ride after the dust, trying to get a better glimpse of what is going on, and then return to report.
- "Whatever is going on with the NPCs, it's getting worse. Broken Sword and Chochiro just went by on panda horses."
Shen-Ji thinks you shouldn't be able to have a panda horse until Horse is in the cycle, but if there was one, it would be very fast and fierce.
Cai Wen cheats a bit to draw three arrows, and chooses another NPC arrow, with crossed swords.
- "So...Ti Wren and the Viridian Queen are punching each other..." -Xian
- "That seems like a good idea." -Mike
- "Wait, what?"
Hmm. Maybe this is some sort of battle magic effect. Everyone seems somewhat belligerent.
Gi-Su pesters Xiao Fa about learning how to hit things; when Xiao Fa insists that they start with meditation, even Xiao Fa has a hard time with it, as he keeps wanting to get to the fight.
- "You have to be able to hit me before you can fight Master Zhou" -Xiao Fa
- "Your rage will make you powerful!" -Shen-Ji
They wander around absolutely refusing to fight each other until Cai Wen remembers he has a bandit girlfriend in the area. They go to the nearest bandit camp and an immediate brawl breaks out. Once combat is Instantiated, Yanzi moves from her battlemap (wherever that is) to the local one, and gives Kasumi back the Monkey Talisman. But as soon as the transfer is complete, Yanzi finds it is no longer possible for her to be free of her own battle and gets yoinked back to it (wherever it is).
With Yanzi gone, the urge to fight vanishes, and the combat breaks up. Cai Wen’s bandit chief girlfriend demands explanations, and drags Cai Wen away for an extended “debriefing”.
Thieves in the Night
The next evening, everyone is tired from a hard day of travelling, so they camp for the night around a fire. That seems to be okay, until the Prince's servant suddenly shouts: "Intruders! To arms!"
A quick combat ensues - a voice in Xiao Fa's head calls the ones he is fighting traitors and betrayers, and Master Zhou thinks they are in some sense named mooks. He identifies himself as Master Zhou of the White Pagoda and tells them to stand and fight (figuring that perhaps they are the Five Fists of Fury, as there are five of them), but they actually seem to think that that means they should flee.
Xian gets one in a staring contest; Kasumi grabs another, and Master Zhou corrals a third, but two escape. (Luckily, the one who got Xian's loot is one of the captured ones).
Cai Wen identifies the intruders as Keepers of the Hoard, or more like hirelings or scouts of an individual Keeper. The leader is searched and turns out to have a Spyglass of True Loot Seeing, which Kasumi, curious, points at the Prince's servant. Before she can look through it, she fumbles it a bit and it slips out of her hand and falls to shatter on a rock on the ground.
- "Nooooo! Our lives are forfeit now!" -Thieves
Cai Wen, wondering about hidden opportunities, thinks that if the party lets them go, that could be turned into Merchant Siri owing him one, and being able to call on her as a spare moll in the future (she has mostly been avoiding the party). The group decides that the Hoard is Xiao Fa's plot, so the thieves are submitted to his judgement. He tries to figure out whether they could be turned; Dragon thinks that whether or not the individual members are redeemable is based on their identities. The Keepers do recruit great thieves, so they're not the most obvious candidates to just join the side of good. But if they got the three Flames of the Dragon, then they could appoint a new chief keeper, who might change the rules. Finally, he might be able to free them from the curse if he hit them with the Glow and beat them in psychic combat, but free from the curse isn't the same as redeemed.
- "So, what's the deal with you guys - are you auditioning, or what?" -Cai Wen
- "If we answer, will you let us go?"
- "If you don't answer, we won't let you go" -Kasumi
- "If you answer and take a message back to your boss, we'll let you go." -Xiao Fa
So, they're working for a Keeper - there's a particular ceremony to associate them with a Keeper because only the Keepers can take loot out of the Hoard. Each Keeper can now have teams - most have just one. They work for Keeper Wing, and they were just wandering around the Strand looking for people with good magic items. How would they find Keeper Wing? Well, with their lives being forfeit, they can never see him again, but he's based in the City of Spires, and they have a dead drop to contact him. No, they don't leave loot in the dead drop - they set up a meeting. Loot is always passed hand to hand; it is never left behind.
Xiao Fa tells them to sin against the Hoard no more, and they can go. They start cautiously edging away from the party, keeping an eye on the ninja, and Cai Wen suggests that they find Merchant Siri. They agree that some other Keeper might give them sanctuary in order to embarrass Keeper Wing - they were thinking of Trivance, but Merchant Siri is an interesting idea. Oh, do they know other Keepers? They know mostly the list the party has, but they have the name "Keeper Orchid" as well.
Then, they vanish into the night.
The next morning, the group is passing Two Names, the little town where the White Snake Spirit and the Witch with White Hair fought. Then, the Butterfly Talisman thumps. Wait... what does that mean? It doesn't normally do that on its own! Did the NPCs just make an agreement?
The town itself is empty, which is a bit ominous. What about the cave? Xian makes suspicious eyes at the Prince's servant, and he and Gi-Su agree to wait in the village. The Prince's servant says he'll teach Gi-Su some useful skills. The party troops down to the cave, and find it surrounded by rather unfriendly-looking snakes.
Xian puts his Magic Hoop on his head to talk to the snakes. They say the people were sent away, for safety from those who hunt the secret. Is the Chosen of the Dragon here? Xiao Fa gets sent in.
The White Snake Spirit is deep in the cave, surrounded by particularly deadly-looking snakes. She gestures at the egg, which Xiao Fa recognizes as a dragon egg which will never hatch because there is no dragon spirit in it. Ahah! He lays his hands upon it, and sends the Glow into it, and after some pyrotechnics, the egg hatches. The White Snake Spirit's hand darts out like a viper, and catches the dragonling, and tucks it into a cage. Xiao Fa looks sadly at it.
- "I will protect it until it is time to release it. It cannot survive on its own, because a dragon's natural state is in captivity."
- "Under what circumstances would you let me keep the cage?" -Xiao Fa
- "Under the circumstances which you can guarantee its absolute safety. When your task is fulfilled, new rules will apply. It is the last, unless you make it the first."
Kasumi sneaks back to the empty village - the Prince's servant appears to be teaching Gi-Su a board game.
Xiao Fa bows (as do several of the snakes) and he takes his leave, without the caged dragonlet.
The group finally reaches Nine Terraces; waiting at the city gates are Yanzi, Broken Sword, and Yue-Mei. Broken Sword has a huge black-bladed naginata taller than he is, and a black eye, but looks very smug. Yanzi has cut her hair very very short. Yue-Mei looks perfectly normal. Yue-Mei bows to Master Zhou, and says she has completed her mission. Yanzi notes that so has she. Cai Wen tries to find out where Broken Sword got the naginata, but he says that unfortunately, he has made a most serious vow to never speak of it. The other two nod as well.
Yue-Mei briefs Master Zhou on her homework. She thinks that kung fu is better for fairness, but Battle is better for victory. But she is unsure about fairness. Is using the Monkey Talisman fair? The fairest fight is one between equals, but what does honor demand when fighting a less powerful foe? She will have to meditate on these questions, but she also wishes to hear Master Zhou's thoughts. He will have to meditate on them too.
Zhou says the thing she needs to know is that if she sticks with the party, she will be there for Tai Lung's defeat, but she will not be integral to it. If she goes off alone, then - if properly prepared - she may defeat him, but she may fall. But in that case, if she defeats him, she will do it herself. So she must decide what is most important to her. Master Zhou tells her this, though Xian disapproves - he thinks Master Zhou should have said that she would lose if she went to fight him by herself, to avoid her getting killed. Master Zhou doesn't think that the goal is to convince her to not fight Tai Lung, or even to make her safer.
The Prince's servant thanks the party for getting him to Nine Terraces and heads towards the palace to deliver his messages.
- Shen-Ji goes to visit Pho.
- Shuyan, Takanata, and Yanyu go to visit Shuyan's grandparents in the Jade Taiga.
- Takanata, Min Feng, Cai Wen, plus Jin & Hsen Kei visit the Reflected City.
- Takanata and Anto head to the Teng estates and encounter a fire in a village.