Travelling with the Butterfly Prince: Part I
|"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."|| The run begins on the day of the Early Fox in the first Year of the Spider since the crowning of the Viridian Queen.|
The run takes place heading towards the Butterfly Kingdom from Nine Terraces.
People start wrapping up any business they had in Nine Terraces. Min Feng asks around at those who were at the Whispered Ball, to hear if anyone else noticed the spider tattoo on Machan Li when he ran out - the answer is yes, and she also hears that if anyone finds out anything about the location of a man with such a tattoo, representatives of the Butterfly Court will pay handsomely for that information.
One of the Prince's guards comes by to where people are having tea - he has a somewhat... irregular... request. His Highness has had a disagreement with a few of the others - perhaps they could ride with this group instead of with the lords? Everyone agrees. Min Feng asks if His Highness wants to be in disguise - the guard thinks that is an interesting idea, and offers to have Min Feng (followed by Wei Han) come up to do so. Min Feng disguises Ti Jun as Hiro, and notes that the prince seems more interested in Min Feng and how the disguise is done, rather than the disguise itself. (Through the rest of the run, Ti Jun is disguised as Hiro but continually introduced as the Butterfly Prince, which may make Hiro's life interesting later.)
Then, it is time to set off back to the Butterfly Kingdom. The Prince notes that he has some ideas for places to stop along the way as everyone heads back, though he's also amenable to other people picking destinations as well. The first destination that everyone clamors for is "North, out of the Strand," so that's the direction the party heads to start with. (The mechanic involves placing arrows on the map, with the restriction that the arrow tip must be closer to the Butterfly Kingdom than the base.)
Daigo, Master Bandit of the Pass
As the group crosses the border between the Strand and the Jade Taiga, they are intercepted by a carriage heading the other direction. The carriage driver stands up and waves his hands, warning them - don't go that way, he was attacked by bandits! The merchant refused to pay "tribute", because he had a group of guards and wasn't scared, but then rocks fell and pinned down his guards, and he was only just able to get away.
There is some discussion of just going a different way around that particular bandit-infested ravine, but if there are guards who were pinned under rocks, perhaps it's worth helping. People look to the Prince to see if he objects - he's looking at Wei Han as if to wonder why he isn't already helping.
- "Well, it's not as dumb as getting on a cursed ship on purpose." -Xian
Once the group proceeds to outside the ravine, it seems reasonably quiet, though the road through the shallow ravine does look like a good place for an ambush. Kasumi and Min Feng sneak up on opposite sides of the ravine, and note several places where there are log traps set. On Min Feng's side, there's a guy on a platform overlooking the ravine. Kasumi disarms some of the traps on her side, and then both scouts sneak back to the party (though Min Feng accidentally sets off a log trap on the way). The guy in the overlook shouts: "Who's there? Who comes to defy Daigo?" and Min Feng pokes Monko to make him chitter while she sneaks away.
Wei Han starts planning a Bandit Hunting tactical strike - Kasumi and Min Feng are to sneak to the other side of the ravine, in a good place to intercept Daigo if he tries to escape, while Wei Han and Anto "sneak" up ineptly and the carriage moves forward. Ti Jun listens to all this with interest; Min Feng thinks he's picking up Tactics.
The plan is enacted. Daigo shouts at the carriage to stop to pay tribute to Daigo, Master Bandit of the Pass. Hana shrieks and babbles distractingly, scolding everyone else in the carriage about how they came a stupid way through bandit-infested territory. Daigo is pleased by the panic, but reminds them to pay him - for he cannot be defeated! Then, he sees Wei Han "sneaking", and shouts at him as well.
- "You there, I see you approach - challenge me if you will, but you will be defeated." -Daigo
- "Okay." -Wei Han, charging
Kasumi leaps up at him and grabs his nose, while Min Feng shoots him. He's shocked by the appearance of ninjas! Kasumi stabs him some for good measure. Wei Han charges along the ravine, and is confused to find himself sliding down the shallow hill again. Daigo sneers at Wei Han, who cannot defeat him! Anto catches up, and tries to hit him as well - despite Kuan-Xi being around, he's not rolling for 5s, and he finds himself accidentally stabbing Kasumi instead.
- "Don't stab our ninja - we only have... one and a half." -Merit
Hana continues her distraction patter, and Merit joins in.
- "Wait, who are those guys?" -Hana
- "It hardly matters, for Daigo will defeat you all... argh, the damn ninja!"
- "What are the odds that two groups of bandits would be fighting over our poor wagon?" -Merit
Xiao Fa starts looking for the guards who were hit by rocks, and spots some people hiding behind rocks along the ravine. Anto wraps Daigo in his chain, and attempts to pull him off the platform - as he does so, a vine that was tied to Daigo's left ankle pulls tight, and a stand of bamboo that was bent and lashed down sproings up again, shooting Daigo into the air. Anto has the option of letting go of his chain, but continues to hold on. The two of them come to earth a little ways away - Daigo on another platform, and Anto onto a bed of spikes that has failed to pop up because Kasumi cut the rope earlier.
Kasumi chases after Daigo and stabs him again; Anto and Daigo continue the platform-bouncing game. Min Feng is tricked into shooting Anto, but Wei Han jumps in the way to intercept.
- "Can we put the guys behind the rocks on the map, since I think everyone's been told about them?" -Eon
- "There are guys behind rocks?" -Kurgan
- [Eon starts putting down markers for guys behind rocks]
- "How many should I put down?" -Eon, while placing the first six
- "You can put as many of them down as you want." -Mike
- "What?! How many of them does one see?" -Eon, backing away from the map
- "Apparently one only sees six."
Daigo calls for reinforcements, and the guys behind the rocks stand up.
- "We think they're in on it. Or maybe unconscious and propped up on sticks." -Merit
Merit continues his shouting distraction, and startles some of the "reinforcements". Daigo flings himself and Anto at the carriage, where the Prince's guards chop at both of them in surprise.
- "You know, I was thinking of picking his pocket for something interesting, but... no. I'm not touching him." -Xiao Fa
Kasumi tries to trigger a platform; she launches herself, but also drops an avalanche on Wei Han and some of the reinforcements. Hana gets tangled in Anto's chain around Daigo. Daigo turns to Merit and says "Hi-yah!" and the horses take off, knocking people off the back of the wagon. Anto manages to carefully hit Daigo without accidentally hitting anyone else; Min Feng shoots at Daigo, but shoots through Merit's pocket and wings one of his unfinished letters written by the Queen.
- "Given the situation, do you think we could get a discount on the tribute?" -Xian
Wei Han brings the horses to a halt again, knocking more people off the front of the carriage.
- "We've only gone one arrow..."
- "This is probably one of the more involved ones." -Rob
- "The one where we fight one guy?" -Cael
Finally, Kasumi takes him down, and Wei Han promptly accepts the surrender of the reinforcements - they were just hired this afternoon, after their merchant abandoned them.
Min Feng searches the Master Bandit, and finds a cunning secret pocket with 20 li in it, which she distributes. Xiao Fa notes that the bandit is dying fast - even first aid and chi healing can only get him briefly conscious. Merit tries to coax him into a Last Statement. He says that he became the master of all the bandits in this pass. While they betrayed him, he defeated them all in the end.
- "But now, you and your cursed ninja have defeated me."
Hana hopes his journey to the next world will be a peaceful one, but he fears it will not be so, as he leaves in disgrace. Merit tries to convince him to brag about his treasures, but he notes that his pocket has been cut open, and says that they have their final treasure from him already. He notes that the tales are true - that someone who has attained true mastery can only be defeated by one of their own or a ninja. Then he dies.
Wei Han takes one of the swords from the reinforcements for a spare, and Merit buries the rest as a supply cache for later. Xiao Fa carves a marker for him:
The fate of the surviving reinforcements is debated - they don't have any loot to plunder, and while they were technically working for the Master Bandit (sufficient to get them hung), they didn't actually succeed in doing anything hostile. They are interrogated and let go, on the theory that this should have convinced them that dabbling in banditry is a bad idea.
As the caravan passes through the next little town, the Prince declares that he'll buy lunch for everyone, to celebrate the victory over the Master Bandit. That is taken to mean Beer All Around as a first step, though a few people do think food is a good idea as well. The innkeeper looks nervous at the idea of getting beer, and everyone looks suspiciously at him. As it turns out, the beer is the utterly worst beer that anyone has ever tasted. Merit complains loudly about it, and demands wine for everyone instead. The old guy at the bar notes to the innkeeper, "Don't let the girl drink the wine", and he hurriedly takes it away again, offering people fruit and other lunch instead.
Merit heads over to the bar to ask the guy there what he's drinking - he notes that he brought his own, and waves a bottle of Golden Palace rice wine. Ah, Kasumi recognizes him now - Old Hop, from their stay in Tranquil Endurance. Old Hop notes that "nothing around here is going to be decent until someone gets rid of the demon mold". Everyone's ears perk up. Demon Mold? What's that? Old Hop says that it makes all the alcohol drinks really bad tasting. Some are dubious - how is that different than normal mold? Well, demon mold seems to be able to affect something already in a bottle. The only thing it doesn't grow in is Golden Palace rice wine. Interesting. Anto wants to know where Golden Palace comes from - Old Hop notes that that is a great mystery.
Xiao Fa looks at the chi of Old Hop's rice wine - there isn't anything particularly crazy about it, but he does see that there's a lot of chi running back and forth between the wine and Old Hop - and also some over on Kasumi. Kasumi admits she has a bottle of the wine too.
Back to questions about the demon mold. Old Hop says it moves into a bottle of spirits, makes them junky, and then moves on. Well, that sounds pretty supernatural. Why is it demon mold, and not some sort of spirit? Old Hop points out that he did say demon mold. There is some discussion as to whether or not it ought to be called a mold demon instead of demon mold. Why is it mold, anyway? Have they tasted the beer? It tastes like mold. Well, okay.
Old Hop also notes that usually a demon mold like this will move on fairly quickly - perhaps there is something attracting it to here in particular, or keeping it around here. Hmm. Is there anyone who seems particularly pleased by all the alcohol going bad? Apparently some of the old women think it's funny, but nobody seems to be treating it as the answer to their plans.
Some people troop off to talk to the old women of the town. They seem to be innocent. Li Merit goes off to corner the market on alcohol futures. These people are desperate for money, and the party is about to fix the problem, so he can buy up a bunch of alcohol futures cheap and wait for the prices to rise. The townspeople are not so happy about this, especially as taxes have gone up here, and in all the other duchies, recently. Apparently the Fire Dukes and the Water Dukes aren't feuding as much as usual, and agree on raising taxes.
The party plans their Ambush of the Demon Mold. Xian may be able to see it, even though it's normally invisible. Old Hop asks who has the best kung fu - Merit points at Anto. Old Hop pours rice wine on Anto's hands, telling him to "Strike a blow for alcohol."
Anto checks his reference book about spirits and demons - it sounds like catching it is the hard part. Other than the taste of spirits that it's visited, it's pretty undetectable. But if you can see it, it should be a pushover. The party searches around for the spirit bottle from the Night of Gates - maybe they can trap it in the bottle! - but it is nowhere to be found, as Shen-Ji has it.
Anto asks Old Hop if the rice wine on his hands will help if he tries to grab the mold with his chain instead. Old Hop regards him with deep disdain, and asks if anyone else has kung fu? Xiao Fa does, so Old Hop pours rice wine on his hands as well. That night, the group pours some not-yet-tainted wine (from the Prince's wagon) into a punch bowl, and pretend to be having a party. Nothing happens for a long time, but finally Xian notes that the mold demon has appeared.
- "Punch buggy bowl!" -Xian
Xiao Fa and Anto both punch the wine, and the demon is dispersed back to the World Below. The group worries - will there be more? Do demon molds travel in packs? Old Hop says he only expects there to have been one of them. Then, he asks which of Xiao Fa and Anto struck the truest blow. They both hit for five successes, so there is some waffling, until Xiao Fa says that it was probably Anto who struck more strongly.
- "Ah, you have taken this test before." -Old Hop
He gives Xiao Fa a bottle of Golden Palace rice wine, and notes that "if you need me, you will know what to do." Then he leaves.
- "No! Wait! He gave me a bottle of wine and told me that, and I still don't know what to do if I need him!" -Kasumi
The next day, the group reaches Harmonious Endeavor without incident.
Li Merit looks for a contact of his; the contact returns the Shackles of Silence, along with a key (hooray!) and a Bracelet of Quietness. Again, there are rumors of taxes going up - the Dukes met with the King on New Year's Day, and then everyone raised taxes after that. Other than that, things have been quiet here.
Xiao Fa suddenly recalls that there are old stories which refer to Old Hop as the Drunken Immortal. Oooh. Too bad he didn't remember that yesterday. He also searches around for good herbs for his herb satchel, but the Taiga isn't as good for that as the Strand.
It's the Prince's turn to pick a destination - he's heard that the Ice Pagoda is interesting, and would like to check that out. There is some complaining - the whole point of leaving the Strand as quickly as possible was to not travel in the Strand! There are various offers to tell the Prince everything that the party knows about the Ice Pagoda, but he doesn't think that's quite the same, and he's not willing to give up visiting anywhere interesting there just because of survival checks. He assigns one of his guards to look after Merit (who is the grumpiest about Strand travel) to keep him from hugging any saparilla trees.
While he doesn't think a briefing is the same as being there, the Prince is still interested in the briefing about what has been learned already. Wei Han notes that Takanata looked at the I Ching of the people frozen inside - of the two dozen people trapped inside, one was remarkably strong and very Yang-ish, many were less strong but similar, and the rest were unhappy. There was also some sort of power near the strong person, and tied to them somehow. (Hana theorizes that since the Moon is supposedly responsible for the ice, and the Son of the Moon was wooing the Daughter of the Sun, perhaps the Daughter of the Sun (who ought to be Yang-ish) is in there along with some retainers and some sort of Sun-ish/Yang-ish artifact that is powering the whole thing. And some hapless mortals.) Ti Jun also hears about Wei Han being able to walk into the ice in Ancient Stones, and hears the story of Wei Han being linked to the North Wall. He also gets one of the spare ice chips, which he finds intriguing. Xiao Fa passes a flask of sea water along to one of the prince's men. Merit talks about the experiments that his contacts have done - being frozen in ice doesn't preserve you magically forever, but you can survive for a long time without dying, just getting colder and weaker. If someone is already dying, freezing them will not stop them from doing so, but it will slow things down somewhat, perhaps for a few more hours. He also notes that he has two casks of sea water, for emergencies.
Rattle, Rattle, Rattle
As the group heads south through the Strand again, there's a terrible shriek heard from the woods nearby. Most of the group runs that way, and finds a man with an axe, waving it madly around. He babbles that they won't go, he can't make them leave, they won't leave him alone, and chops wildly at nearby branches. Xian is the only one who can see the rattle-headed forest spirits sitting on the branches, mostly where the axe-marks are. Hana tries to calm him down and find out the details of what's plaguing him - he says that he found one of the little creatures weeks ago, and brought it home - but now they're all stalking him, and they won't leave! He can't sleep, and every time he stops moving they start closing in on him. Hana brews him some tea with her Travelling Tea Kit, and manages to get him to give his axe to Wei Han.
Xiao Fa examines his chi, and notes that there's an odd little bobble of chi that seems to be stuck to him somehow. Maybe that's what's attracting them? Xian realizes, after concentrating for longer, that the rattling is REALLY LOUD AND ANNOYING when they're close. Xian also tries to have the man point out which spirit is the one he saw originally, but they look enough alike that he really can't tell. Merit toys with the idea that the guy is just crazy, since he can't see anything, but Xian is pretty convincing. It does seem like the main things the guy is suffering from are sleep deprivation and being thought crazy by everyone else. Merit gives him a (non-moldy) beer.
Well... if this problem is that the chi of the original spirit is bound to the guy, maybe it can be unbound? Everyone looks at Anto the Unbinder. Does his Book of the Unseen have any suggestions? It does mention that there are spirits like this that inhabit the wild places, and that it can be dangerous to feed them your Yin, because then they will never leave.
- "Oh, so they're like Yin tribbles."
Maybe it would be possible to unbind him with a lot of Yang? Anto thinks he can channel other people's Yang into the process, so a lot of people start throwing theirs in. After fifteen successes of Yang, the little chi-bobble is convinced to detach from the hapless guy, and the rattle-head spirits start to wander away again. The guy sobs in relief. Xiao Fa plies him with soothing tea, and Merit thinks he will probably recover from his trauma. The group also makes sure to convince the other villagers that there were actually spirits tormenting him, and it wasn't just his imagination. Then, the group continues on.
Worst Quest Ever
The next encounter of interest is a woman on a horse, travelling the other direction. Xian recognizes her as Chochiro, last seen as an eco-terrorist thwarting a phoenix poacher. He greets her, and asks if she's still on the same quest. Yup - she's trying to do a favor for the Great Butterfly Spirit now. She searched the whole Butterfly Kingdom for something to do, until she cornered an old master and he told her that she couldn't simply search the island; she had to travel aimlessly to find what she sought. She didn't know what to make of that, and wanted to know which direction "aimless" would be, but he suggested to start by heading towards Iron Mountain. So she's looking for a sign!
Well, now she has one! Xian introduces the rest of the party, including His Highness Ti Jun, Prince of the Butterfly Kingdom. She falls to her knees in front of him, and asks what service she can perform for him? Ti Jun gets a look that suggests that if nobody else suggests something soon, he will. Nobody else suggests something, so he declares that she will accompany them to the fabled Ice Pagoda of the Strand, and then she will know what to do!
As the group continues towards the Ice Pagoda, Wei Han realizes that nobody has yet told the Prince about the renaming-the-countries plot, so the party briefly excuses itself from Chochiro and does so. Xian is quite persuasive about the plot being true, and the prince finds it... well, he actually finds it a sort of stupid evil conspiracy - to rename a bunch of countries? What's the point in that? Oh, right - the renaming is part of the plan to replace the Dragon in the cycle with the Spider.
- "Wait, they did break the calendar, then?" -Ti Jun
- "No, this is breaking the Cycle - a totally different plot!" -Xian
After Ti Jun is up to speed, he declares that Chochiro should stay in the Strand and figure out how they changed the name of that country. Then, report in and tell him, so that they can figure out how to prevent the same thing from happening to the Butterfly Kingdom. People start giving her pointers:
- There's a statue in the Court of the Viridian Queen that has a plaque that mentions "the Serpentine." She should look at that.
- Oh, but she won't be able to read it. Crossing the wall will help with that.
- Oh, but then people will want to hunt her down and kill her. So she will have to figure out how to cross the wall while preventing any of the magical wards and guardians from noticing her, or letting the Empire itself know that she's crossed.
- Mola Ram knows how to do that, but she probably shouldn't cross that way.
- Also, she should never go to the Hidden City if she crosses the wall, or she will be Lost Forever.
Chochiro is somewhat nonplussed by the spiralling complexity of this favor.
- "Butterfly. Hardest one yet."
Xiao Fa wonders - maybe she could just talk to Da-Xie? Xian thinks that Da-Xie is not capable of agreeing to someone crossing the Wall in this direction - she's even more unreasonable than Wei Han about this, and he doesn't think that telling Chochiro to cross the Wall is a good idea.
Her briefing complete, Chochiro heads off again, on the Worst Quest Ever. The party passes by Ancient Stones; the people there are pleased to see them, but have no new plots. Then, they reach the Ice Pagoda.
The group arrives at the ice pagoda on the Day of the Magpie - the night of the full moon. Wei Han has been wondering whether there will be some sort of significance to that, if the ice is tied to the moon. Also, since Xian's elven rope is a star-metal dagger, and Merit has the two casks of sea water, the group can try all the possible combinations of Being Winter-ish, Sea Water, and Star-Metal.
The clearing around the pagoda has a number of pilgrims, gawkers, experimenters with torches, tourists, and the like - and some folks selling food to the aforementioned people. Merit takes the opportunity to suggest that if people have nothing better to do, they build a scaffolding around the outside of the ice, so maybe it will be easier to get in at the people once the ice problem is solved.
Min Feng and Hana starts asking around the crowd about who was in the pagoda before it froze. It's apparently a sisterhood of female monks - they provided some healing for people in nearby towns, and others of them travelled. One of the visitors thinks that they're part of the Wandering Path, though they didn't wander that much. Oh, and also, now a fierce-looking guy with a bunch of goons shows up every couple of weeks. He tells everyone that they should be ashamed of themselves, and chases them away. He was last here about a week ago. Hmm.
People rack their memories a bit more for anything they can recall about the Sun and the Moon and their children. Anto remembers something about the Moon's first daughter having some influence over the seas. (We theorize that the guy chasing people away -- at the New Moon, when perhaps the ice is most vulnerable! -- is the Son of the Moon, but if so, is he trying to keep the ice from being breached, or keep people from noticing his clandestine visits, or what?)
Once night falls and the moon rises, people attempt to surreptitiously experiment with the ice again. (There's still some attention being paid, though, as Wei Han was just here with a guy (Takanata) who said he was an I Ching Master and going to fix the ice, and Wei Han pulled a lot of torches out of the new ice-blocks, so everyone is curious what the group will do next).
Wei Han doesn't have any more success trying to just push into the ice than he did before. Using sea water and ice-chip-of-doom ice, the sea water melts a bit less than Merit would expect - and on the ice of the pagoda itself, only about half as much. Wei Han dips his hand in the sea water and tries to push at the ice - that seems to be much like a normal person trying to melt normal ice - possible, but really really slow. He gives up before making enough of a dent to know whether or not the sea water would wear off.
Dipping Xian's knife in sea water, both Wei Han and Xian seem to be able to push the knife into the ice much like a normal knife and normal ice - again, not a lot. It doesn't appear that combining two different effects multiplies very well.
That's about all as people can think of to test, so it's time to pick the next destination. Merit quickly chooses the City of Spires, so that the Prince won't be able to pick the Coil after that, as it would involve backtracking. Off they go!
Two Weddings and a Funeral
Unfortunately, Anto is distracted by some very pretty flowers that he thinks Kuan-Xi might like, and after a little while of travelling, people notice that they haven't seen Anto in a while. The group turns back, and finds him lying in what Xiao Fa identifies as a bed of saporaflowers, very powerful soporifics, with a little sprig of saporaflowers in his hand. With some rope and lassoing, they manage to drag Anto clear of the flowers.
- "I hold my breath and pick the flowers out of Anto's hand." -Wei Han
- "Wait! Nooooo!" -Xiao Fa
- "Wei Han falls over." -Mike
Xiao Fa manages to tuck some of the flowers away in an oilcloth bag in his herb satchel, careful not to touch them, and wonders whether it will be possible to extract some of the sapora oil later. The archers in the party are particularly keen on getting some sapora oil. Wei Han can be awoken with a lot of shaking, but Anto will be asleep for the rest of the day.
The next encounter is with a funeral progression, slowly making its way down the road. The cart the body is being carried in is familiar looking, and everyone is briefly appalled by the thought that the cabbage merchant has died - but no, he is driving the funeral cart. Hana and Xian can also see a man, waving his arms and shouting and trying to stop the cart, but no one else is paying him any attention. Wei Han gets a nervous feeling. He is likely a ghost.
Hana waves to the man, and he comes over, suddenly hopeful now that someone can see him. He says it's very important that they stop the funeral and don't burn his body! Hana tries to find out more details about why.
- "Do you see what she's talking to?" -Merit to Xian
Hana finally gets the ghost to explain that the important thing is that they can't burn him before his hell-contract has been fulfilled. Hana is shocked - why does he have a hell-contract? He protests that it was for a good cause, to save his daughter's life. This doesn't seem to be getting any clearer - can he start at the beginning? He backtracks a bit. His daughter got sick, and he made a deal with a demon to heal her, but the hell-contract lasts until she is married. However, she refuses to marry until her older brother is married, and he won't be married until after the funeral, because he won't be able to provide for his new bride until he has inherited. Hana thinks that the ghost is telling the truth, though he's a little confusing to understand.
- "The quick funny way to solve this plot is to put an ice chip on his body - that way he won't burn."
Hmm. Could they just explain everything to the priests? Will the priests insist on banishing the ghost? The ghost thinks the priests aren't as dead-set against ghosts as the exorcist up in Daizhou, but that they are pretty strict about rules. They won't settle his son with his possessions until after he's been put to rest, he's pretty sure.
Kasumi plants a spare Ice Chip of Doom on the body, and the more persuasive members of the party go to talk to the daughter. She finds this idea of the ghost of her father somewhat implausible, but tests Hana about what her favorite candy is, and the ghost knows the answer, so she's persuaded. However, it's still a crazy idea to get married before the funeral - that's only a few hours away!
One of the priests wanders by to escort Hana away from the family - she appreciates Hana trying to comfort the bereaved, but this part of the procession is for the family. Hana looks more imperious, and claims to have had an Urgent Communication from the father's ghost, who is very restless. The priests are dubious - why can Hana see ghosts? Hana waffles for a bit, and Min Feng jumps in - she's touched by the Phoenix. Oh, that makes sense. Still, the priests think having the wedding after the funeral is more proper. The persuasive folks leap in, and Xiao Fa chimes in too, as an expert in ceremonies. The priests are willing to stall the pyre for a little bit while this gets sorted out.
The daughter comes and fetches Hana to talk to her brother - again, she has to prove that she can really see their father, but she can, so it works. The daughter notes that she has had terrible dreams about what would happen if she married before her brother, and that's why she won't. The son is, as expected, somewhat dubious about marrying in such a rush as well. The idea of a Secret Wedding and then a Public Ceremony later is broached, but the priests are having none of that.
In the end, the plan of getting married where their father can see them convinces the two children and also the priests (with enough Charisma dice thrown in), but the son's fiancee is still a little unhappy - she has been planning a nice ceremony, and none of the guests will be here in time! After some nudging, Ti Jun is able to provide some wedding presents ("little trinkets appropriate for gifts for heads of state, bought by someone in tael") that placate the young woman. Merit makes some fast Event Planning rolls, and ropes Xian in to provide "decorations", so that a joint wedding/funeral isn't as terrible as it sounds, and the ceremonies are under way.
- "Man and wife! Say 'Man and wife!'" -Andrea
Kasumi steals the ice chip back from the body before the funeral part can go horribly awry. The ghost smiles, and heads for the World After - does Hana want to go into the light too? She's tempted, but no. Merit confers with the cabbage merchant - he should probably avoid letting his cart be seen as a funeral transport and a cabbage transport, by the same people. Perhaps he should get it blessed? Xian agrees to bless his cabbage cart (and spends a Chi), and then it is time for goodbyes again.
The New Xiao Fa
The party leaves the Strand for a second time, this time into the Savanna, and after a few more hours of travel, are intercepted by a kid running for help. He says there was a big fight, with lots of wounded, and the monk Xiao Fa is dying. The group hurries after the boy, interrogating them as they go, to find out whether "the monk Xiao Fa" looks like the Xiao Fa in the party (no) and what sort of fight it was. He isn't clear on the details, but says that his guys were fighting with guys with funny green hats but chased them off.
The boy leads them to the Big House in the village, which is over-full of wounded locals. Everyone gets to work with first aid and healing. Once the group has proven themselves, they are deemed worthy to speak to Monk Xiao Fa, who is in the upstairs room and wounded unto death with many arrows. The wounded Xiao Fa looks at the party Xiao Fa with some surprise - why have the villagers brought the monk with no name? To heal him, they say. Monk Xiao Fa says that he is far beyond healing now.
- "Excuse us if we make the attempt?" -Xiao Fa
- "First, you must tell me what you have learned. What you have learned since you gave up your name." -Monk Xiao Fa
- "That there is no true turning from the past until you actually understand it."
- "Do you understand the past?"
- "The details are becoming clear."
- "What will you do about it? How will you make redress for what you have done?"
- "Sacrifices will need to be made, and this one's feet will have to remain firmly on this path."
- "What path is that?"
- "The path of becoming worthy of forgiveness."
- "Very well, you may make the attempt."
Throwing in all his Yin and spending several karma, Xiao Fa gets eleven successes on his healing. Hmm. Maybe Monk Xiao Fa isn't doomed for death after all, so they get to have some more cryptic conversation.
- "Your power has grown. What will you do with this power? What did you do at Iron Mountain?" -Monk Xiao Fa
- "This one has not yet returned to Iron Mountain." -Xiao Fa
- "Why did you leave?"
- "That, yet, is not clear. Unfortunately, the answers are probably at Iron Mountain."
Monk Xiao Fa is torn between returning to the Roof of the World to report on this, and staying to help these unfortunates in this time of war. As a compromise, he tasks Xiao Fa with lessening the burdens of the war on these people, while he returns to the Roof of the World. He introduces Xiao Fa as "the new Xiao Fa, who will see to your needs while I am gone." Then, off he goes, promising to tell the masters at the Roof that their efforts may yet prove true.
The party warns him about Tai Lung on the passes to Iron Mountain, but Monk Xiao Fa points out that he's going north to the Roof of the World, not west to Iron Mountain. He can probably avoid Tai Lung then.
The group talks to the town elders - what is going on with the fighting? They add a few more details: green-hatted soldiers came out of the swamp and attacked, retreating to the plains to the east, and the local clansmen pursued. The locals have sent runners to other villagers warning them, but this all just happened only a few hours ago. Ti Jun listens to all of this with some satisfaction - he clearly doesn't like the Savanna.
Merit contemplates the purpose of the attack - it doesn't sound like they were attempting to hold the territory, more like trying to pull the defending troops out of position to the east.
- "It could be a combined Jade Taiga / Strand invasion of the Savanna, and nothing could make me happier." -Merit
His Highness agrees, though Wei Han doesn't - more internal fighting weakens the Empire, especially against the growing external threats!
Merit points out that it's not clear the party can do anything about the war - if they can't, then there's no point in worrying about whether they should. There is also much bitter recrimination about where the Dragon Army is.
- "Corrupted to the highest levels!" -Merit
People start to wave goodbye to Xiao Fa, now tasked with remaining behind - except Xiao Fa notes that Monk Xiao Fa didn't live here, he passed through here on his travels, and the New Xiao Fa's task is to lessen the burden of the war in general, not to live in this one particular village.
Merit warns the locals that things will probably get worse before it gets better, if both the Strand and the Taiga are invading. (For future reference, this area is called New Rivers).
- "Be prepared to be conquered about three times in the next month or so."
Snake Oil Salesman
There's no sign of the fighting Strand and Savanna troops for a while, and after another half-day's travel, the group reaches one of the Imperial Highways crossing the Savanna. On top of the highway are a corporal and a private of the Dragon Army, holding off an angry mob standing in the grass below. The soldiers insist that nobody come up onto the highway; the mob is starting to psych itself up to come up and beat up the two soldiers, on the theory that no one will ever know. Except that with the advent of the party and the Prince's guards, it seems less likely that no one will know.
People begin to circulate to try to figure out what's going on. According to the mob, they're chasing a con man who has taken refuge on the highway. They were going to string him up, but these stupid soldiers are protecting him. (And, in fact, there's a third guy hiding behind the two soldiers). According to the corporal, the two soldiers were on a standard patrol along the highway when this guy said there was a mob coming to kill him and take his stuff, and he claimed refuge on the highway.
The details of his crime appear to be that he was selling medicine from the Strand, that didn't make you better, but killed you instead. Well, that sounds pretty damning. Wei Han summons Xiao Fa to examine the medicine. Xiao Fa determines that it's snake oil: one drop works much like strong aspirin, two drops will put you to sleep, and three drops are deadly. The salesman says he bought the medicine in the Strand because the town was suffering from magpie pox, and he was told that it would help, and he thought he could make a good profit. The locals claim that he charged them all the li they had, and then three people died! The problem seems to be that he didn't tell them about the "three drops is poison" part, which is maybe slightly less damning, but still pretty bad.
Wei Han gets the names of the three people who died, and starts questioning people for the details. One set of parents says that their daughter died - on closer questioning, they both say that they gave her a dose of two drops of snake oil. But it was supposed to make her better, not kill her! Wei Han manages to convince them that they killed their daughter instead, which does not endear him to the other villagers.
Xiao Fa notes that this is not the sort of medicine you should be just selling to random townsfolk who don't understand the directions - a proper healer would dole the drops out carefully. Hana wonders what the actual law would call for - to follow the rules, the Dragon Army should take him away back to their camp, and then the town elders would come and petition to have him given to them to pass judgement. However the elders themselves are not here with the mob.
The salesman protests again - he was trying to help (plus make a profit) because people were sick! The herbalist in the Strand sold it to him. People question him about whether he is a healer by trade. Well, technically, he is now, though this was his first healing-trading mission. Before that, he sold cloth. The herbalist told him to use one drop, or at most two, and he told everyone that. But the herbalist didn't say "poison!"
While Wei Han is convincing the parents that they were at fault, Xian is convincing the salesman that he was at fault - though Xian thinks that the really negligent person in this whole affair was the herbalist in the Strand, who is beyond anyone's reach right now. Wei Han sends Anto and Min Feng (and Kuan-Xi) off to get the town elders; they return in a little while with a pair of the elders, and a third who has magpie pox. Now everyone has been exposed to magpie pox.
The party continues to debate medical ethics and what the line on criminal negligence is. Meanwhile, Wei Han settles on an attempt at justice: He's going to divide all the li the salesman has on him into five parts. One part will go to each of the families of the deceased, one part will go to the town elders for proper use, and one part will go to the salesman himself. But the salesman is being taken to the City of Spires for final judgment by the Captain there.
The elders grudgingly agree to abide by Wei Han's judgement, though they tell Wei Han that when the man is delivered to the Dragon Army commander, Wei Han should try to get him a harsh punishment.
No one is delighted at this justice, but no one seems to think it is too unreasonable either, and the group heads north again, finally reaching the City of Spires.
City of Spires
Wei Han briefs the Dragon Army captain at the City about the snake oil salesman; the captain seems very distracted, and is willing to go along with whatever Wei Han thinks justice should be. After some discussion with Xiao Fa, Wei Han conscripts the salesman into the Dragon Army to assist one of the army medics, to be assigned when the group reaches the City of Spires. Wei Han briefs the captain about the burgeoning Savanna/Strand war - this is the first that the captain has heard about it as the party seems to have outraced the news to the city. Merit compares notes with him - the thing that's been keeping him busy is the Jasmine River boat traffic. While he has heard of the tax increases in the Jade Taiga, he appears to be a logistics officer, rather than any sort of intelligence analyst, so he says he just wrote a report saying "taxes went up" and passed it along.
Who does he report to? He says that east of the City of Spires, Commander Sun is in charge; west of the City, Commander Teng is. So he usually picks one or the other to send a report to - he used to send reports to both of them, but then he would occasionally get conflicting orders back, and that was no good.
Merit urges him to requisition boats - whoever rules the Jasmine River will control the supply lines. The captain notes, somewhat unhappily, that currently the Dragon Army only really controls the Jasmine at the sufferance of the Savanna, because they have a crazily large navy for an inland country, due to their aborted blockade of the Butterfly Kingdom.
Still, Commander Teng probably already knows about what the Taiga is up to, so the party suggests that he report to Commander Sun this time.
Having reached civilization again, the Prince notes that they should take a few days to rest here, and then continue on. He's very impressed - they have been making excellent time!
Wei Han suggests that Ti Jun meditate in the Golden Spire while he's here - perhaps he will learn something interesting.
- Cai Wen swings by the Tanzhe Plain to talk to Crazy Feng.
- Xiao Fa heads back to the New Rivers area to visit with people.
- Hana has tea with So Ren, one of Duke Lan's men met at A Marvelous Party
- Cai Wen and Hana go off to get captured by bandits.
- Cai Wen pokes around the ruins of the Black Spire, and then recruits Hana, Shen-Ji, Wei Han, Xiao Fa, Anto, and Lijuan for more looking.
- Anto and Takanata (with help from Wei Han and Shen-Ji) do the Taint Cleansing ritual on Takanata.
- Kasumi, Shen-Ji, Takanata, Xian, Yoshi, and Lijuan all volunteer to come with the Prince and his guys to the Golden Spire.
- Hana and Hiro visit the Golden Spire.
- Takanata and Master Zhou bring Xiao Fa back to see Meng Ao.
- Cai Wen, Takanata, Min Feng, and Hana visit Elder Danyu.
- Takanata talks to the local Dragon Army captain.
- Takanata and Master Zhou visit Sasaki.
- Yoshi, Lijuan, Hiro, Wei Han, and Merit head northwards to follow Reiko's trail.