Travelling with the Butterfly Prince: Conclusion
|"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Spider in the month of the Magpie in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place between the Tanzhe Plain and the Butterfly Kingdom.
Luckily for the party, the Prince has been diverted from his interest in seeing the area of the Wall where the ritual took place (in part because of Hana vanishing), and has traveled ahead to visit the Temple of the Eternal Dream. Everyone else sets off to catch up with him (and the other party members who are still at the monastery).
The local gossip is to stick to the river bank while travelling, to avoid the fighting in the Tanzhe. As they do so, heading up the river road, there is a rustling in the forest, and, when Merit investigates, a mud-covered kid emerges, and calls out for help.
- "Help us!"
- "Why couldn't he have said Boo or anything else, other than 'help us'?" -Merit
Lijuan jumps in and says that of course they will help, but the kid insists on a test first.
- "You have to answer this question first: 'What is the difference between a spider?'" -kid
- "An orange, because a vest has no sleeves!" -Lijuan
- "Wait, I thought the answer was a pumpkin, because a raft has no sails. Er, oops."
- "All right, I was wrong. Your secret organization does not have the worst contact phrases ever" -Merit to Min Feng
- "No, this is my secret organization." -Lijuan
Lijuan heads off after the boy, followed, grumblingly, by everyone else. After half an hour or so, the party reaches the edge of a clearing, and the boy points out what he needs help with - there are several dozen kids, tied in a line and being marched along by eight soldiers. Lijuan identifies the kids as part of a Savanna clan, and Xiao Fa thinks the soldiers are from the Forest of Chin; Merit thinks they're from House Zhen in particular.
The boy says that the kids are from a village in the Tanzhe, a little ways away from here. His dad is a warrior, and is off battling bad guys! People ask about the others in the village - anyone in the clan who could fight went to the battle, but then these soldiers came and took the kids captive and tied up everyone who was left. The fighters in the group think that the plan should be "Get them!" (and Lijuan in particular thinks that any opportunity to go after House Zhen is a good one), but everyone else is unsure of their ability to take on eight soldiers. Perhaps they can try the fast-talk method instead? This is definitely a dishonorable tactic - can they convince the soldiers that it will cause enough trouble that they should abandon the plan? Merit is not psyched about helping the Savanna, but he also thinks that he should be against the war on general principles, so he is convinced to go and talk to the soldiers.
Everyone else seems happy with the idea of "hide in the forest while sending Merit out to talk", but Merit thinks this is a bit unfair. Xiao Fa volunteers to come along, and Xian is persuaded to join in as well. Master Zhou agrees to come as well, and Shuyan says she'll practice one of her Mesmerizing Dances if things go bad.
The Talking Group heads in. The soldiers tell them to halt and identify themselves, and on hearing that they're from the Butterfly Kingdom, note that this shouldn't concern them.
- "I'm in charge of propaganda for a circus, and I'm telling you that this doesn't seem like a good move. These prisoners look like they're five or ten years before they're ready to fight." -Merit
Merit works on the tack that he hates the Savanna, so it would really make him unhappy to have to tell people about these goings-on. Of course, the soldiers think that this is easily solved - just don't mention anything. Ah, but did Merit forget to mention? They are travelling with a patrol of the Dragon Army. Which saw the captive children and... immediately headed off to the local Dragon command to notify them about House Zhen's mission. Merit is smooth enough to fool the captain of the group (who seems to be somewhat easily confused), so he finds this plausible. The captain asks if Merit has any pull with these Dragon Army soldiers - can they offer any inducements? Merit grudgingly complains that this guy is the only honest sergeant Merit's ever known.
- "Well, a sergeant isn't too bad."
- "You haven't met this sergeant. It's bad." -Xian
Two of the soldiers get sent to run ahead to the rally point to ask the Zhen commander for orders. Now, there are only six soldiers, so team "Get Em" suggests that again, but talking seems to be working okay. Master Zhou decides to skip the subtlety, and suggests that perhaps they should just release their prisoners. The captain protests - the kids are from the home village of the clan that will be holding the center in the next offensive. Xian steps in - what if the Savanna tried something like this? The captain finds this unlikely - they wouldn't ever think of something like this! Xian agrees - because they're irrationally wedded to their concept of honor. Which means, if their kids get dishonorably used as hostages... then what? Merit offers to take the kids back and smooth it all over.
- "The important thing is to not send a Savanna clan into a centuries-long blood feud against your house." -Xian
Then, with a bit of a conversational judo throw, Xian shifts things to idea that the party can take the kids to the Forest army's rally point as directed, so that House Zhen won't be blamed for the trouble. Somehow, with a lot of persuasion and fast talk, the captain is talked into this, and the soldiers set off towards the rally point at double speed, with the party "to follow behind".
Lijuan sneaks after the soldiers to spy on the rally point. It looks like there's a bit of chaos, having been caused by the initial two soldiers and their report; now that the other six are showing up, there is even more consternation. It looks like the higher-up commander does not approve of the captain's plan, so a larger force starts heading back in that direction, while the party starts as quickly as possible to the closest Savanna war camp. Lijuan, returning, makes another plea for killing everyone in House Zhen, but Merit is having none of it, and tries to shock her out of her bloodthirst.
- "Even the [House Zhen] kids? We should kill all the kids?" -Merit
- "I can take them." -Lijuan
- "Wait, which sort of "take" is this?" -Xian
Since the mob of kids will be very easy to track, Lijuan and Xian stay behind to fix that. Lijuan describes the tracks and points out various footprints to Xian, and he tweaks the environment to make it look like the tracks turn. (Then, Lijuan sets a little trap at the end of the new tracks). Xian sends Lijuan back to the rest of the party, and remains in hiding to maintain his illusion. He looks over his work, and realizes that it probably doesn't look realistic to make the tracks take an abrupt perfect 90 degree turn like that. He adjusts them again, and then goes back to hide in his tree.
The rest of the group, with kids, reaches the Savanna military camp. Shen-Ji introduces himself as an honorary member of the Swift Tiger warband of Myeong clan, and explains that they rescued the kids from "bandits". Happily, the kids' description of the soldiers is not very distinguishable from bandits, and Merit notes that the idea that the opposing army might do something like this does seem to be a large blind spot in the soldier's thinking. Lijuan returns, and tries to clear up the apparent confusion about the "bandits" but is mostly shushed.
Eventually, the Forest warband does march by in pursuit of the kids' tracks, and follows the false trail, so Xian can rejoin the rest of the group. Battle averted!
The party reaches the Temple of the Eternal Dream without further incident (it appears that travelling without the Prince is a bit faster), and Ti Jun is briefed about the previous encounter. He does not approve of the tactic of kidnapping kids, and thinks the party behaved appropriately. The group asks Master Bao about recent events - he is pleased to report that both sides in the Tanzhe conflict have been persuaded that the Temple is off limits until the war is over.
Since it's fairly late in the evening, the group is offered the hospitality of the monastery for the night.
Merit looks around from the central tower, as does Xiao Fa, making tactics rolls. The fight looks somewhat bogged down; the Forest made a lot of initial headway, due to their surprise, but the Savanna has been holding them off with sheer chutzpah. The Savanna military camp that the kids were delivered to seems central to the Savanna front - if it had fallen, that would have spelled defeat for them. But since a lot of the Savanna troops are being withdrawn across the river (presumably due to the other fronts opening up), it seems that while the quick and easy victory for the Forest has been thwarted, they're probably still on the long and sloggy path to victory.
There is only one stone dreaming bier being unused by the monks that night, so Min Feng leaps on the chance to have dreams, and she dreams about how to find her mother. She travels through the dream, to see a high monastery, with a long trudgy path leading up to it. She walks up the path and bounces off of the boundary of the monastery, a river. Her father walks up the path and bounces off as well. Then a random guy (in that Archetypically Random way of dreams) walks up, and can cross. She finds this dream very perplexing.
Xian chats with Shen - he says he has an improved appreciation for the art of sweeping now. Then Master Zhou takes both of them aside for a whispered conversation, while Lijuan tries to persuade Master Bao to let her write on the walls of the monastery with her new crayon. He is not persuaded.
In the morning, everyone takes their leaves and thanks Master Bao and the monks for their hospitality, and the group chooses a new destination - the City of Light! On the road, Master Zhou chats with Ti Jun about the latter's experiences in the Dreamworld, and Master Zhou's insight that Ti Jun "should" be touched by the Dragon but is instead touched by the Spider. It is a long and distracting conversation, so Master Zhou misses the confusion of the next arrow entirely.
Hunters and Prey
While heading down the road towards the City of Light, the party is overflown by a hawk. With particularly keen perception rolls, Ming Feng and Merit manage to identify the hawk as one that has been seen before. It was one of the pets of "Snow Wolf", one of the bounty hunters who pursued Kuan Xi around the Butterfly island on the first day of the year. The knowledgeable members of the party note that the hawk appears to be hunting.
A few minutes later the hawk then overflies again and those with animal handling note that it seems to be returning to report now rather than still hunting. Indeed, after a few more minutes a rider and a cart start approaching from the rear. The party takes the precaution of hiding all of the Monkeys of the Apocalypse, in case Snow Wolf and Snow Leopard are searching for them, but judging by their approach and the hawk's overflights, people are pretty clear their quarry is up ahead.
When the pair of bounty hunters arrive, Merit strikes up a conversation with Snow Wolf while "attempting" to get the party's carriages and carts out of the way so he can pass. Snow Leopard, on her own horse, rides past without a word and heads off down the trail.
Merit manages to get out of Snow Wolf that the pair are indeed bounty hunters and are trying to capture a deserter from the Forest of Chin's army - specifically a member of House Zhen. It seems he deserted with key strategic information involving the start of the war. He can say no more, but now that Snow Wolf and his sister are on the case, the party can rest assured that the deserter will be returned to his camp shortly.
Snow Wolf demonstrates his way with animals by whistling once (after asking for permission). At his call, all of the party horses immediately clear the path for his carriage, and he proceeds down the road following his sister.
Another hour or so pass, and the party catches up to Snow Wolf and Snow Leopard again. This time, they are coming from the other direction and have a tied up prisoner in their cart. They do appear to have gotten their man. Slipping ahead, Min Feng overhears the prisoner complaining bitterly about how he shouldn't be dragged back. He didn't want anything to do with this war, and just because he heard the wrong things in a secret war council shouldn't change that. It's not like he would tell anyone.
By the time the pair of bounty hunters and their prisoner get to the main party, however, a wolf is sitting on the prisoner and he speaks no more. Merit talks to them for a while again, while the rest of the party decides if they simply must "Get 'em". In the end, they seem to have no good reason to attack, and so the bounty hunters take their quarry back to the Forest of Chin unmolested.
The group continues down the road towards the City of Light. After a while, traffic begins to stall due to a formation of Dragon Army troops passing in the other direction, having been pulled off the blockade of the Shrouded Isle to deal with the Savanna war(s). Since the party has no circus to worry about, they just stay out of the way of the passing foot soldiers, and look for ways to get information out of the officers. Min Feng wanders around eavesdropping, while Merit reports about the mess with the bounty hunters and the hostage-taking to the captain, and Lijuan interjects commentary about the perfidy of House Zhen. Providentially, Min Feng overhears two of the soldiers talking. Apparently, one of them had forgotten to turn in his blockade patrol schedule when he was pulled off the blockade. His sergeant is pretty pissed as these are sensitive documents. Once the formation makes camp for the night, he and the sergeant are going to have to report this to the captain to see if they (the documents) should be destroyed or sent back to the North.
Merit, making conversation, asks the captain where they're coming from, and what's up with the blockade? The captain says it all started with the dock workers' strike and riots in the Port of Propitious Voyage, which was very disruptive of trade. Now, it turns out that the dock workers were manipulated into it by agents of the Shrouded Isle, so the blockade is to teach them a lesson. After some careful consideration, Merit decides that the captain is making a Sense Motive roll on Merit and is pleased that Merit believes his flimsy story.
- "Oh, that means it's subtle. Crap." -Heidi
Merit offers to buy the captain dinner and swap stories, once the army troop has made camp for the night. Min Feng putpockets the Butterfly Amulet onto him to increase his status, and if the captain finds Merit's sudden gravitas surprising, he doesn't say anything about it, and accepts. Merit scrounges up a stash of good alcohol for the evening and also as a gift, and night falls. Merit, Xiao Fa, and Shuyan cook a fancy dinner to bring, and everyone gets to come as "retainers".
- "I wash my hands. You have to wash your hands before a fancy dinner." -Lijuan
- "And you have to use water, not spit." -Xian
- "You understand!" -Lijuan
Min Feng, who is pretending to be a servant, slips away once inside the camp. Merit poses as a wealthy merchant, and in fact, the first part of the conversation is spent with the captain chatting about merchanting sufficient to see if Merit seems likely to be lying - luckily, Merit has enough skill and smarts to pass as his cover. Merit asks which of the houses in the Hon'eth Arcade were the ones particularly duped by the Shrouded Isle - the answer is the House of Judicious Increase and the House of Beneficent Travel, though it's not clear whether this is the captain's bias or the official cover bias for who to blame it on.
When asked why the army is pulling out if it's so important, the captain replies that there was an official request issued by the government of the Savanna requesting aid in securing their own borders against unlawful aggression. The party is pleased to hear that their chicanery at the Savanna conclave has paid off.
Meanwhile, Min Feng practices her stealth and disguise, sneaking around the camp as a servant. She eventually finds the sergeant and his underling, waiting for the fancy dinner to end so they can go grovel to the captain and dispose of the schedule documents. She lures the sergeant away with a fake message, and gets the private to keep his hands busy eating. While he's enjoying his impromptu meal, Min Feng picks his pocket, duplicates the blockade patrol schedules, and replaces them where she got them. She then slips off back to the party with no one the wiser.
Lijuan shmoozes with the Dragon Army's servants and tells them about House Zhen kidnapping children. They, at least, are properly horrified.
After some pestering by Master Zhou, Xiao Fa goes off in search of a Bear and a Dog to talk to about their Aspects, as part of his homework for Master Zhou. He finds the medic's tent, and offers to help. At first the medic is mildly insulted, as the Dragon Army does not depend upon the kindness of strangers for their medical procedures, but then he recognizes Xiao Fa as one of those wandering do-gooder monks, and suggests that he go through some of the herbal supplies to see if they've gotten stale. Xiao Fa talks about Aspects, and finds out that the medic himself is touched by the Great Dog Spirit, and the one soldier in the infirmary (whose foot was stepped on by a horse) is a Bear. After some chatting, Xiao Fa uses his healing chi on the guy's wounded foot.
After dinner, people return to the party's carriages and Min Feng examines the documents she's acquired. It turns out that with these schedules it would be pretty trivial to run the blockade and get back and forth to the Shrouded Isle. Everyone retires for the evening to continue their journey in the morning.
Hopes and Dreams
That night, Lijuan has an odd dream: there is a bunch of kids, and most of the kids are laughing at one particular girl. Kibo licks the girl's brain, and seems to think it's yummy, but the girl is still sad. In the morning, Lijuan reports about this dream to Master Zhou, who glowers disapprovingly, as he does with all things Kibo, and notes that it is not the job of demons to make people happy, no matter what Yoshi might tell her. He interprets the dream-symbols, and concludes that the little girl is probably a real little girl, and she's probably particularly strong in some aspect of... something. Unfortunately, there's not too much to go on in terms of finding the girl.
However, when the party stops in the next village to get provisions, Lijuan and Merit notice a keepaway game going on, in which a crowd of children is keeping a comb away from one girl - who Lijuan recognizes as the girl from her dream. Lijuan sends Ho in to grab the comb, which she then offers to the little girl, along with a somewhat squashed roll from her pocket. Lijuan starts asking questions.
- "Do you know what Kibo ate? Kibo is my friend, the dream-eating demon!"
The girl looks pretty spooked at that, so everyone else herds her towards Master Zhou. Xiao Fa examines her chi, and notes that she has a non-zero tao - but he didn't roll well enough to see how high it is. That impresses people. However, there is still some concern that Kibo may have eaten some important parts of her psyche. Questioning her about what she should want but doesn't, fails to turn anything up, so Merit has a long psychological chat with her. He concludes that she is the shyest little girl in a village full of ruffians, and doesn't fit in very well, but while she's unhappy about that, she doesn't seem to be missing anything big. Merit also learns that she lives with her grandmother, as her parents are dead. Lijuan and Shuyan are also orphans, so there is a brief moment of bonding between the three girls, interrupted by Master Zhou.
- "Come with me." -Master Zhou
- "I'm not supposed to wander off with people I don't..."
- "I will teach you kung fu."
The party convinces the girl, whose name is Chen Rue-Mo that she should definitely learn kung fu, and she goes off with Master Zhou to do so. Min Feng suggests taking the girl away - she has a lot of potential, and she's wasted here. Master Zhou notes that while she's not very good at kung fu in particular, she's a little bit good at everything, and thus learns a level of kung fu skill. He also deduces that in her hopes and dreams, when she speaks, whole crowds bow down, but in real life, people don't listen to her.
The girl asks whether, when the other kids take her comb away, if she should use her kung fu on them. There's fifteen of them, so even with a point of kung fu, it's going to be tough. Merit suggests that if there is ever just a small group bothering her, she should stand up to them then, and then they might back off. He teaches her a point of Intimidation. Min Feng tries to teach her the "Overhear" shtick, but since she has no Aspect and no concept, it would be at x3, and everyone thinks that would be rude to use up her EPs like that, so that plan gets scrapped, and Min Feng teaches her Sense Motive instead. Xian suggests that if she just lets them steal the comb, then eventually it will stop being fun for them and they'll stop - and he teaches her a level of Psychology. Lijuan teaches her a level of Turning Wave kung fu, and has her demonstrate for Master Zhou (part of Lijuan's homework).
At this point, the party has burned through about half of her skill points turning her into a junior superspy, and wonders what to do with her. Perhaps she would be more at home at the Temple of Eternal Dream? Min Feng teaches her a level of dreamwalking, though without a shtick in entering the dream world, she won't be able to do much with it.
Everyone goes to talk to Rue-Mo's grandmother, except for Lijuan, who takes the girl outside to play while the grownups discuss her fate.
- "I am Master Zhou of the White Pagoda. Your granddaughter has great potential. I suggest that she should train with monks of the Eternal Dream."
- "Will she find a good husband that way?"
- "All her needs will be taken care of."
- "I don't know, monks are not known for having their needs taken care of...."
Master Zhou attempts to persuade Grandmother Chen that Great Potential is more important than husbands, but he is not very compelling. Min Feng also proves unfortunately unpersuasive, and Xian, who doesn't care so much what happens to the girl but cannot stand to see so many terrible persuasion rolls, starts in. He talks about destiny, and growing to greatness, and moving beyond what she can even imagine. Unlike the others, he is actually quite seriously persuasive.
- "If you think it's best..."
- "I think it is inevitable. Of all the people you have ever met in your entire life, she is the only one with a Destiny. She is fated for greatness."
Xiao Fa reins Xian in before he shades too much into badgering Grandmother Chen, and they send a message to the monastery, which will likely send Shen to pick her up in weeks to come. Another Destiny set in motion, the party heads back on the road, and finally reaches their current destination, the City of Light.
Lijuan checks in with the local urchins, and procures a crawfish sandwich for Ti Jun.
- "You just got the prince to eat a bug sandwich!" -Merit
The prince, not totally sure about bugs, tells Lijuan to make sure that Yoshi has a bug sandwich too. She puts one in her pocket for later to give to him. The choices from here are to take a ship up to the Butterfly Kingdom (a lot of blue arrows), or to take the coast road up (more green arrows) and then hire a ship in the Port of Auspicious Voyage (only one blue arrow). The latter sounds both safer and more interesting, as everyone suspects the blue arrows of being full of kraken.
Shen-Ji introduces Master Zhou to Stoneback Cho. Zhou asks Cho if he knows anything about Huan Ken, a powerful Earth Sorcerer from the City of Light. As it turns out, Master Zhou has it backwards, leading to some confusion - many buildings in the area are said to be designed by the great Huan Ken, an architect from the City of Light. Stoneback Cho points them out to people. It's a very blockish style, which is not immediately obvious as "the same as the Coil", but the buildings aren't underground, either. Stoneback Cho also shows Master Zhou his tomb - the doors on the tomb do look a bit more like the doors on the Coil. Xiao Fa follows the chi of the area downstream, and walks up against the tomb, which is the strongest chi in the little graveyard.
- "You're like a moth, man." -Merit
Master Zhou also takes the opportunity to read a small book about architecture written by Huan Ken, in the Exalted Library. Then, in the morning, the group sets off along the coastal road heading north.
As the party starts north, a rider catches up, and says that he carries a message for Lord Takanata. Since Takanata is indisposed, he is willing to pass it to Takanata's people. But, he notes, it is not a message which is owed to Lord Takanata, so what do they offer him for the information? Merit asks for more of a hint about what it is, and the messenger explains. The message comes from the Cryptomancer himself. He and Takanata have an arrangement, such that if someone comes to learn the name of the Spirit of the Jasmine River, they will be stalled and Takanata will be informed. This, on the other hand, is not part of that arrangement, and so that Takanata is not required to be informed of it without inducement.
Hmm. Well, this seems likely to be something relevant, so Merit discusses with the others what might be worth giving away as information. Information about the Coil? About the changed names of the countries? The Coil is a pretty big secret, though country name-changing is probably more dangerous should the party be known as the source of this information. After some discussion, they give the messenger the knowledge that many of the countries have changed their names within the past hundred and fifty years, but that the fact that they have done so has been sorcerously cloaked.
The messenger finds this completely implausible, but is pretty sure that Merit himself believes it, so he passes on the message:
As the group starts on the road again, another rider catches up to them. This one seems to have travelled much further.
The new rider introduces himself - he is a servant of Li Kao, the Permanent Reverence of the Third Spire.
- "Li Kao said to his servants that you, your band, your group - dare I say your "circus"? - would know what had befallen him. The Permanent Reverence has not left the Third Spire for over two hundred winters, but he is gone now. Before he disappeared, he said that you would be among the few in the Empire who could know what has befallen him."
- "Hmm. That's likely true." -Merit
- "Then, what has befallen him?!"
- "I think we're in the "could know" category still." -Merit
The messenger explains that Li Kao's servants still keep up the pretense that he is there, so no one knows he is missing. Merit wonders - how did Li Kao refer to the party? As "the people who put the elephant on the spire."
There is some discussion of when he vanished - was it New Years' Day? Ah, this seems to suggest the party does know something! Though, actually it was the Day of the Grasping Spider, in the middle of the month. (Note: we said New Years in the run - Grasping Spider is the correct day.)
So... did the Spider steal him? Or, suggests Xian, did he go into hiding to avoid something happening to him?
- "Do we trust him?" -Merit
- "He's just a random guy who rode up on a horse, why not?" -Xian
Master Zhou tells the servant that it seems likely that Li Kao was captured by the Great Spirit of the Spider, since he has knowledge the Spider doesn't want him to have. Has Li Kao ever left the Empire, Master Zhou wonders? To the servant's knowledge, Li Kao has never left the Third Spire. But the servant is not two hundred winters old and does not know for sure what Li Kao did before then. Merit cautions the servant not to casually tell people about this.
So... who is Li Kao, anyway? What does he specialize in? He is a sage, a wizard, a mystic. Hmm. That doesn't sound like a specialty, exactly, people note. The servant clarifies - he is not Elder Danyu, known for knowing any and all facts, no matter how esoteric - what he is known for is putting facts together into theories and constructing understanding from them.
Lijuan gives the servant a crayon drawing of a dragon.
- "Thank you, little girl."
- "Now I have forgotten what I was going to ask." -Xian, staring at Lijuan
- "She's going for the confounding title!" -Xiao Fa
Does the servant have anything of Li Kao's that they might use for... well, it's not clear what, but in case they need something with a connection to him? The servant has a set of meditation beads that belonged to Li Kao, which he gives to them.
Somewhat saddened to have lost a potential ally they didn't know they had, the group turns northwards again.
At the last village before the Port of Auspicious Voyage, the group stops for food again, and people wander a bit through the village. Xian is buying some apples from a terribly ancient and wizened old woman, when he spends a Yin and realizes that she is actually one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen - she only looks like an old crone. Unsure what to make of this, he makes small talk with her, asking about the apples, where they were farmed, if she sells anything else... she does sell cabbages some time, but it's apple season now.
He overpays generously for several boxes of apples, and then, somewhat awkwardly, notes that he is surprised to find someone as beautiful as the woman, working as an apple vendor.
- "You mock me, sir!"
He asks her to tell him truthfully how old she is. She lies a few times, and then admits that she is twenty-five. Xian is intrigued.
- "You understand that I cannot go without an explanation."
- "Only a man who does not know my secret can solve my problem."
- "If you tell me, then I will find someone who does not know, to get them to do it."
In her reckless youth, she says, she had the temerity to compare her beauty to that of the Great Fox Spirit. The Fox Spirit chanced to overhear, and, telling her that there was more to being a Fox than beauty, she cursed the woman to live as a crone until she could "catch the attention of a man" in this form. Alas, Xian says, he doesn't count because he already knew her true form. But, he assures her, he will do what seems right in arranging for someone else's attention to be caught, and he trusts that it will work out.
- "If you could follow us until we start puttering... I might be able to handle it with these fools, but I'm going to send Cai Wen." -Xian, thinking out loud
She says that she will promise to meet him later with more apples, if he will promise to buy them. Xian heads back to the group, lost in thought.
- "Ah, Xiao Fa!" -Xian
- "You hear a bus in the distance..." -Mike
Xian suggests that Xiao Fa take a look at the chi of the apple vendor. Lijuan is immediately suspicious - did she magic him into buying all those apples? Xiao Fa heads off, looks at her, and confirms that she is suffering under an extremely powerful curse. (Meanwhile, Merit is discovering that nearly the entire budget for the day's provisions has been spent on very overpriced apples.)
Xiao Fa and Xian chat about the apple seller. Xian notes, persuasively, that my goodness, it is a powerful curse she is cursed with. But she is not complaining, or sulking, or bemoaning her fate - she's just selling apples, keeping on with her life. Isn't that remarkable? How would most people react to being punished by a curse of such magnitude? And how does she react instead? What nobility of spirit?
- "This one understands what you are trying to say. She remains positive in the face of adversity."
Convinced that Xian thinks Xiao Fa can learn much from the woman's fortitude, Xiao Fa goes back and invites her to speak more with him over dinner. Then, Xian intercepts him again for more persuasion. He talks about the difference between the appearances in the world and the true reality underneath, and the value of inner worth instead of outer. Then, after Xiao Fa believes that the woman is most admirable, and is heading towards dinner, Xian hits him with a "Sway Emotion" shtick which subtly shifts one emotion into a related one - such as admiration into love.
- "You have that?" -Mike
- "Wait, are you brainwashing party members? Don't do that!" -Tom
The next morning, Xiao Fa returns to the group on the arm of the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen, though he's starting to figure out that Xian has "mojoed" him.
- "Was the nature of the curse that the person breaking it couldn't know?"
- "Then this one is pleased to have been of service."
Since Cai Wen is not around to be attacked by ninja, the stop in the Port of Auspicious Voyage to hire a ship is without incident. As the ship crosses the Strait of Silent Winds to the Butterfly Kingdom, a sharp-eyed lookout notices a floating clay pot, which bumps up against the side of the ship. When pulled aboard, the pot looks very old for something that has been floating around in the ocean.
Unsealing the pot, a small plaque made of iron is found, with writing carved into it:
From the make of the pot, and the condition of the iron, it seems to be many hundreds of years old. Merit vaguely recollects the village of Three Piers, a fishing village in the Hon'eth Arcade which is no longer around - it was something of a cautionary tale about how you shouldn't rely just on fish, because then when the fish drought comes, your village does not survive.
Merit thinks that Great Cycle spirits have changed before, though no one else thinks that's part of the conventional wisdom. Was the Dragon really in the Cycle before, or did the Spider replace the Whale? Master Zhou is certain that the Dragon was in the Cycle before, and explains that Ti Jun should be touched by the Dragon, but "those who should become Dragons, become Spiders instead, or they do not become."
Recalling the history of the Empire, the last of the Dragon Emperors was about six hundred and fifty years ago. That was about the time of the Great Cycle of the Phoenix. And, remember that in Shen-Ji's vision from the Golden Spire, the Phoenix regretted something. Maybe the Phoenix reboots the cycle every so often? Are Phoenix and Spider working together?
Xian speculates: the Phoenix rebooted things to take the Whale's place, and that broke the Cycle enough that the Spider could take the Dragon's place later. People note that Cael has mad speculation powers, so perhaps this is true.
Then, finally, the ship puts in at the dock on the Isle of Butterflies, and Ti Jun is finally home!
- Cai Wen goes shopping in the City of Light.
- Cai Wen, Wei Han, and Merit go on a road trip up the Arcade coast.
- Cai Wen and Min Feng poke around the Port of Auspicious Voyage area.
- Yoshi, Takanata, Lijuan, Hiro, and Master Zhou go to visit Tara Shien.
- Shen-Ji, Zhi-Hao, Wei Han, Min Feng, and Anto go to investigate the other side of the water gate from Boot to the Head. They leave one of the communication scrolls behind for Takanata, in case they don't come back. Then they don't come back.
- Master Zhou wanders around talking to the old Masters of the Butterfly Kingdom.