|"Never two without three."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Phoenix in the Month of the Magpie in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place primarily in the Strand and the South
In which Everyone Gets up to Speed
In the Gubernatorial Tent in the Tanzhe, Cai Wen explains what has been going on in the previous runs: there are three parallel plots lines, in the North and the South and the Strand, and each run has one sort of subset of these plots (three things, or "find the map" or a fight). In the past runs, the North has been somewhat neglected, so finding where to find the map may be difficult.
Takanata notes that he has the same art as in the first of the three runs.
Shen-Ji (not present) has finished decrypting the three board members names, from the Upward Line Association and forward that info to Zhu Cai Wen:
- Hao Hento
- Cheon Soo Mi
- Lai Shanlee
Just in case, Xiao Fa checks to see if there are any plots hovering in the tent city? There are several things pending which been pending for a long time - like the construction team that wants to build a mansion for the governor, and people who want positions, but not many new things on the agenda. But butler says there's a party invitation for several people, though he had assumed they were too busy to attend. The invitations are for Takanata, Xian, and Cai Wen. The invitations say they are for "two days hence" but the date is six days ago. Ahah, that is twelve days after the party met Krishna two runs ago, in which he said he would be returning in twelve days to see what favor they wanted. Cai Wen think the invitation is still valid, though. Well, maybe they can ask him for a clue about the fight they missed in the North.
The group heads to Jabon to see if this party is still going on! The city looks a little more run down than usual, and people are sort of loitering around aimlessly.
- "What is your business?"
- "We heard there was a party."
- "Damnit. Perhaps you've been misinformed..."
Takanata hopes that their arrival will bring the party to an end, if the guards can tell him where it is, and Cai Wen offers that he might be able to turn their current problems into... well, other problems, at least. Well, that's better than nothing, the guards think, and direct them towards the party. Takanata puts his tin hat on, as they seem to definitely be climbing a party gradient as they go. The center of the party gradient turns out to be the Ivory Table, everyone's favorite high-end tea house.
Everyone has to save versus partying, and Yanyu gets distracted and wanders off to have a good time. Kuan-Xi and Shuyan go to find her, which allows Shuyan to get distracted and wander off to have a good time. Before things get too much more out of control, though, Kuan-Xi leads them in a dance line back towards the others.
Krishna is glad to see them, as indeed, twelve days have passed, and it is time for the reckoning! (Krishna's sense of time may be a little fuzzy due to high alcohol content). Takanata explains that their friends have followed the map and acquired the item that Hiro sent them for. Signs indicate that there will be a fight - can he find out when and where and what? They show him the Amulet of Opposing Kali that was acquired in three pieces.
Krishna declares that they do not need Krishna of the Pipes - it is time for Krishna of the Blades. He draws a pair of swords, and all of the party guests scream and starts to flee. The party mood seems over. (People look around for Old Hop, but he doesn't seem to be there. Odd that he missed such a good party.)
Krishna seems to still be drunk, but no longer has any shticks to deal with it. However, he is quite enthusiastic, declaring that they will liberate her prisoner, cast her down, etc. Takanata says the group will return in three days while Krishna sobers up, on the theory that they can deal with the plot in the Strand during that time.
In which Matters are Investigated and Invigilated
Everyone hops in Kuan-Xi's little carriage to head to Nine Terraces, and the College of the Invigilators. But just in case the plot needs to catch up to them, they keep to a normal pace. A guy in black rides past, then turns and rides past again, and again. His horse keeps turning, but he doesn't seem to be able to home in on the carriage itself. Oh, right, the inside of the carriage is unscryable. Once everyone gets out, the guy in black proves to be another of the Alchemists' Guild's delivery minions, with an upgraded hoop for Xian.
At the Invigilators' College, Cai Wen introduces himself as a friend of Li Merit, and Casi comes out and introduces herself. Cai Wen explains invigilation to those who haven't met Casi yet:
- "The intention here is to make sure we do not gain any more secrets than we leave." -Cai Wen
- "What a strangely Magpie way to put it - but not inaccurate." -Casi
Time to investigate! Shuyan is kind of appalled at how blithe everyone is being, but invigilation seems to make it all okay, with the understanding that the party will have a lot of its secrets leaked later.
Asking around in tea rooms after the three names doesn't turn anything up as a trio. Cai Wen narrows in on Hao Hento, and learns that he is a sorcerer of some kind - the guy he is speaking to can provide a way to find him, for a finder's fee. Cai Wen tries to bribe him, but that isn't the right wavelength, and realizes that he's looking for interesting knowledge in return. The guy is interested in other sorcerers, so Cai Wen tells him that the Elemental Braid can frequently be found at the Cup of Five Virtues in the Port of Propitious Voyage, and the guy tells him about a tea house where Hao Hento usually spends his mornings.
Shuyan thinks the name Lai Shanlee sounds vaguely familiar, possibly part of the House of Onyx. Cheon is a Plains clan name, so that one is probably not a local. Kuan Xi doesn't know much about Hao Hento as a sorcerer, but thinks he's a theorist.
Shuyan sends out her snake of secrets, causing Casi to visibly boggle for the first time. When the snake returns, it tells Shuyan some stuff about Lai Shanlee - she is a dowager in the House of Onyx, whose husband died recently. Since she has taken over affairs, her family has been prospering.
Takanata goes to visit Meng Ao, and asks about Hao Hento. Meng Ao has heard of him - he's mostly retired, but is known as a specialist in Grand Ritual design - both in the art of creating them and extending them. He has been in the Strand for a year now, but is originally from "out east somewhere".
The group tries to decide what to do next. The Temple of Eternal Flame is nearby to Shrouded Pond, but not completely on top of it. The black circle on the map is presumably the source of the burning water, but Takanata really doesn't want to hare off visiting the source of the burning water, since the names are the "three things" for this plot. Xian thinks Pai the Smith wanted them to find the map last run, though, so following the map to where it goes seems like it should be relevant.
The party takes rooms in Nine Terraces, and does absolutely nothing until morning, when they head to the tea house. Hao Hento has a corner table, with tea and a bun and a lot of paper scattered in front of him. Kuan-Xi and Takanata head over to introduce themselves, and he puts on a pair of natural-philosophy lenses and regards them. Kuan-Xi says she has heard of his work in ritual extension, and he warms up. Is she toeing the line? No, no, she is a sorcerer in her own right, and Takanata is an I Ching master. Takanata says he represents certain interests who would prefer that the burning water not be developed - what would it take to convince him not to develop it? Well, he's doing interesting work, he mostly needs the funds to continue the research. He thinks there is a great future in opt-in compulsory magic. - it would be of great benefit to society to have a way to require that people keep the promises that they make. Takanata thinks that would make people more like spirits, which is not necessarily a good thing. Master Hao hadn't thought of that, and considers that perhaps he should speak to some spirits as part of his research. So... the canal they're building is to trasnport the burning water in the Plains? Yes, exactly. A road would be sufficient, but the canal includes more work for people to do. He doesn't seem very Strand-y - more like Tortoise with a hint of Magpie, though Xian is getting pretty twitchy over the discussion of "opt-in compulsory magic". She doesn't approve of mind control.
- "Somebody just stab him already!" -Xian
They get a check-minus for one of the thirds after talking to him, though it's not clear exactly what was accomplished. The party has an idea what it might take to divert him from the burning water plan, so maybe that's it. Well, on to the palace to see if they can talk to Lai Shanlee. Takanata gets an audience with the Onyx Speaker, and explains that he wants to talk to Lai Shanlee, about the Upward Line Association. The Speaker is willing to arrange that, if Takanata sends him a report of the meeting, and gives him directions to an estate outside of town for a 4pm meeting.
Cai Wen tries to gather information about Cheon Soo Mi, and learns that she has been cleared of all charges, so no bounties will be paid even if you find her. Interesting. He gets a copy of an old wanted poster, alleging charges of blackmail and intimidation, but everyone is quick to point out that all charges have been dropped.
Then, it's off to the Lai estate, where Lady Shanlee is pleased to meet Takanata - is he looking for a new publisher? He explains that he represents certain interests that would prefer that the burning water not be developed, and hopes to offer a different opportunity for the Upward Line Association to pursue. She finds it surprising that he might have something better than bringing a brand new product to a completely novel market, and she is also not really interested in discussing business with competitors/opposition. Takanata explains that he isn't a competitor per se; he needs to know how big an opportunity it is so he knows what to match as far as offering something else. Well, this new product has virtually unlimited uses - the pricing is not clear yet because the scale of the supply isn't known. (Yanyu thinks that she is a Serpent but with Tigery overtones.)
So... what parties does Takanata represent, then? This sort of business dealing doesn't seem related to poetry. He says he represents the Golden Palace, which is not at all what Lady Shanlee was expecting, but she recovers quickly. She is working to build a certain... legacy, a longevity for her name. Is that the sort of thing they are discussing? If so, there might be a basis for negotiation. Takanata thinks remembrance of her name could be arranged, but that's really not what she was thinking of. If the project succeeds, remembrance of her name will be unassailable.
- "It is remarkable how little is unassailable." -Takanata
She gets a bit of a glint in her eye at that, but it doesn't seem like there is an obvious resolution to be had. However, they can talk about publishing. Takanata's ritual for the Jasmine is something new that he might be interested in publishing, so Lady Shanlee invites him to come back in two weeks, when she can show him some copies of their currently published works. Once they have left, the scoreboard has a check mark in the second sub-box.
In Which Mysteries are Contemplated and then Fallen Into
Having talked to two out of three names, it's still not quite clear what they are supposed to do, and what exactly is going on with this darned canal. Is it some sort of Working, connecting waterways together? Shen-Ji didn't think that the shape was relevant, it just meanders. Kuan-Xi considers the map with her KS: Cartogramancy, and decides that the bumps and wiggles in the shape of the canal are not mystically significant in themselves, but they are there to make it clear that this is a river. Hao Hento implied that the reason it was a canal rather than a road was because of employment, but maybe there's some other significance going on. There's also all that "opt-in compulsion" going on - maybe they should be trying to figure out how to let people opt back out of the ritual. In the morning, she can go to talk to Hao Hento again with "good listener" up to see if he drops any hints.
In the morning, people start deciding how to split up. Kuan Xi and Yanyu will go talk to Hao Hento, and everyone else will look for bounty hunters to ask about Cheon Soo Mi... but wait, where is Takanata?
- "He's dead! Oh, well, he's old." -Xian
He doesn't answer a knock on his door, so Xiao Fa goes in, finding Takanata apparently still asleep. However, most of his chi isn't there at all. What is left is keeping his body going, but there are dark tendrils coming back from... wherever... trying to corrupt his body, and the last bits of his chi are fending them off. Kuan-Xi thinks the black tendrils seem dream-ish, so it seems most likely that he has gone dreamwalking, and not come back. Well, that's no good.
Xian ponders whether she should dreamwalk to try to reach Takanata - that's either the obvious thing or a really bad plan, one of the two. After some contemplation, it seems clear that Takanata has dreamwalked to something that he cannot deal with - and not just something he can't deal with but something that could take him out easily, because the GMs didn't even bother to go run him in the hallway. So unless Xian thinks she can take something that can easily overmaster Takanata, trying to dreamwalk to him would end up with her in the same state.
Takanata taking an extended nap doesn't mean that the party should completely lose sight of the plot, though, so Yanyu, Kuan-Xi, and Cai Wen go to talk to Hao Hento at breakfast, using both Hidden Opportunity and Good Listener. (Xiao Fa stays behind to look after Takanata). Drawn out on the topic of his ritual, Hao Hento continues to maintain that his work is a good thing. Ezokin developed much of the original work, of course, and this is a licensed subritual. Master Hao is required to let you know that Ezokin has no responsibility for any outcome of this particular ritual.
Yanyu confirms he's a Tortoise, and Cai Wen thinks the hidden opportunity is that if they managed a corporate takeover of the Upward Line Associates, it is an explicitly Ezokin-proof financial entity, because of the boilerplate of his license.
As for how to have people opt out of the ritual - the terms are certainly alterable. If nothing else, a majority of the Board could change them, as long as respect was given to the workers who have already opted in. Xian mutters darkly about mind control, and Master Hao agrees that true mind control is evil - that's why the compulsion is only towards things that one agrees to beforehand. If you were being compelled to do things that you didn't agree to, that would be, using the old fashioned term, "dark magic".
They press him again on the canal - why exactly is it like a river? He explains again that it could have been a road, but the canal was better for creating jobs and a workforce, which is part of his ritual experiment. Not only does he not seem to not think the river-like-ness is significant, he doesn't even seem to catch that that's what they're trying to figure out.
Kuan-Xi notes that 'burning water' is something of a misnomer - it's not at all like water. Hao Hento agrees - it has no water nature, it's more like pourable earth, or pourable fire. The conversation digresses for a while into arcane technical details of elemental magic. Kuan-Xi wonders if burning water could be purified into real water. Master Hao thinks she could try, but she might blow herself up.
- "That's what assistants are for."
Meanwhile, Xian tries dreamwalking for insight. The insight that she circles around to is that the Shrouded Pond diggers have built a dry river, but she's not clear what significance to place on that.
- "Do we know anything about dry rivers?" -Xian
- "Aieeeee!" -Everyone else
- "Huh?" -Xian
- "Yes, it’s a sign of Toro." -Kuan Xi
So... Takanata probably dreamwalked to Toro, and there's a river dry of water, and burning water is probably a dark lake where no lake should be. Xian also notes that the last omen involves the death to Toro's "guy". You wouldn't run smack into Toro if you dreamwalked about Shrouded Pond, but you might if you tried to dreamwalk to Toro's Guy.
So, Cheon Soo Mi is probably not going to be easily convincible to do another plan, but maybe the other two shareholders can be persuaded to not do a sign of Toro?
- "Okay, mind control is no longer off the table." -Xian
In which All The Hammers Come Out
Time to split up again. Kuan-Xi and Cai Wen will deal with filling the canal with water (so it is not dry) and making sure no one is killed, and Shuyan, Xian, and Yanyu will accost Lai Shanlee and "convince" her to change her mind.
- "I have trained for this for thirteen years, but I don't know which one of you to follow." -Casi
They tell her to follow Shuyan, as that is likely to turn up more interesting secrets.
Cai Wen rides along the river warning everyone with his projective Ringmaster voice to get out of the canal, and then Kuan-Xi burns seven karma to fill it with water. The digging has gotten pretty close to New Rivers, and presumably pretty close to the burning-water "dark pond". When filled, the final bit of land connecting to New Rivers erodes through, so now there's an actual river there.
At Lai Shanlee's estate, Yanyu burns her matchmaker shtick for another appointment. The widow wasn't expecting Takanata to send a matchmaker, but she is nothing if not adaptable, and invites the trio in to discuss. When she learns that the meeting was under false pretenses and they actually want to talk to her about the terms of the Rising Line Association charter, she is a bit cross. Yanyu tries to appeal to her sense of self-preservation: has she ever heard of a demon called Toro? No, she has not. Lady Shanlee starts to think that the group is just throwing random things to see what sticks, until Shuyan burns seven karma to use "boss snake" to impress Lady Shanlee. Shuyan lays down the law. There will be no canals and no burning water. Lady Shanlee acquiesces.
- "The House of Onyx is at your service, my Queen." -Lai Shanlee
Back at the inn, Xiao Fa wonders about going after Takanata, when he has the thought to look through Takanata’s stuff, and he notices an interesting item on top.
Well, that's alarming, but could be useful.
It's no longer morning, so it will be difficult to find Hao Hento, but perhaps they can find Cheon Soo Mi. Xiao Fa and Cai Wen look around for bounty hunters to talk to, and learn that Soo Mi (in addition to being Totally Legit now) is the special assistant to the Mayor of Shrouded Pond. Shrouded Pond is hurriedly putting together a combination "finished the canal celebration" and "repair the canal" work crew, but Cai Wen finds out that the special assistant got sent to the end of the canal near the burning water to see about the next steps. The party runs there at best speed, and spots a young woman directing the repair crews.
Before even introducing anyone, Xiao Fa opens the vial, and a terrible thing out of dream and nightmare leaps out of the vial. Soo Mi screams, and space and time seem to waver for a moment. Does anyone want to make any tao rolls? Xian does! She pulls the Hoop out, and there's a kind of strange warping through the hoop, as the relevant corridor opens, revealing Takanata at the other end, cowering beneath a wall of chi. "RELEASE HER" booms out, and Xian is presented with a spirit bargain:
After some dithering about whether throwing Takanata to the thing in the vial is better than being captive by Toro, Xian accepts.
Now Takanata's dream-self is being menaced by the demon, and Soo Mi vanishes into the hoop. The corridor shuts. Xiao Fa starts to interpose himself between the demon and Takanata, but then there's another swirl in which the demon grows great black pincers, grabs Takanata, and vanishes into the ground. Huh.
Elsewhere, the Alchemist starts to demand to know about Toro, until he realizes that he has Takanata’s dream self instead of Toro's guy inmprisoned. As it turns out, the bargain between Takanata and the Alchemist regarding Toro contraindicates a lot of damage by "accidental" friendly fire, so Takanata is unbounded, none the worse, and his dream-self returns to the inn.
There is some contemplation of setting the lake of burning water on fire, but that seems unnecessary now that the sign of Toro has been broken, so everyone else heads back to the inn as well.
In the morning, Kuan-Xi persuades Hao Hento to talk to her alone in a back room, and he comes away from the meeting convinced about signs of Toro. He and Lai Shanlee are both willing to change the Rising Line Association charter, and it seems unlikely Cheon Soo Mi will return to object. So they are hired to build a single-adjective mansion for Shuyan in Nine Terraces over the course of the next month instead of working on the canal while the party spends more time figuring out if they need to do anything else.
There's a check for all three parts of the Strand plot (which turns out to have been Toro rather than Immortals, but that was just Cai Wen's original guess). But there's two boxes left, and while they have help with the fight in the South, the North is still a vast empty box.
Melina is summoned, in the hopes that she will be able to pull a check for the North out of her hat. Instead, she pulls aside the veils of fate and presents the overall options:
There's only time to go south, or go north. Melina can't do the North plot on her own. If they go south, they'll probably win, and they'll save Gi Su, and that will bring the interaction with the South back into the balance that Butterfly intended - but the North will be extra-hard in the coming winter. If they go north and mess around, and search, then they'll probably manage something, but given the previous runs it won't be a full victory, so both North and South will be equally a bit harder in the future. The group decides to rescue Gi Su, at the cost of the Northern winter campaign being extra painful.
In which the Lack of Master Deng is Apparent
Takanata sends a quick dream-briefing to Pai to let her know the outcome of the burning water plot (and the fact that the burning water is still there, if she wants to deal), and then the group heads back to Jabon, which is now in fighting trim with extra spit and polish. If the Plains of Honor used the Game of Houses mechanic, the city would have an extra .5 points of Mil going on thanks to Krishna’s training.
Yanyu gets her husband to join them for the big fight, and Krishna can arrange to cross the Southern Wall without incident. A travel montage later, they are at the fortress of Kali where Gi Su is supposed to be being held, with a number of other prisoners. Krishna warns them to keep the amulet at the center of the group - those under its protection cannot be harmed by Kali's primary attack. They make it to the prison level without being spotted, but then it's time for the fated fight.
Takanata turns on Eyes of the I Ching to try to figure out which cell holds Gi Su. He concludes that there are a handful of Imperial prisoners in among the double handful of Southern prisoners. Shuyan sneaks for the records room to try to get more details, but a particularly observant guard calls an alarm. Xian starts playing the guzheng to prevent any fighting from breaking out. Shuyan throws the book of prisoner records back towards the others, but the observant guard keeps her from getting back.
Takanata warns everyone not to get more than 7 hexes from Xiao Fa (who holds the amulet), and the group creeps forward together.
A seductive voice rings out from the darkness at the back.
- "I know you are there, Krishna. Have you come to dance?"
- " I am here in bound duty, not in opposition to you - but if your minions wish to dance, I would be happy to oblige."
- "Who could bind one such as you?"
Xiao Fa and Cai Wen dispatch Xiaolong and Squeaky (the dragonet and the ferret) to get the book. They manage to get it most of the way back before being knocked down by a guard and rescued by Kuan-Xi.
Xian reads through the book to find Gi-Su, and sends a thought with Gi-Su's location to Krishna. Some faraway screaming begins, suggesting that sacrifices are happening. Takanata tries to trip the guards he thinks are in that area, but it doesn't stop the screaming. Gi Su's cell is all the way around the prison level and just pounding through stone walls doesn’t seem to be an option; Master Zhou is the only one with a structural damage shtick, and he's not there.
Kali tells Xiao Fa he is a brave mortal to break in here, and she will honor him when he has passed. She attacks with her main strike, but her blast wave washes over him and leaves him unmarked. Krishna warns Kali that they would not have come if they were not prepared, and draws his two swords to attack. He and Yin-Xiang are sufficient to keep Kali busy while the others engage with the guards as best they can.
Cai Wen gets some keys from a fallen guard, and starts unlocking cells. Two Dragon Army prisoners are urged to get up and out, and they head to join Xiao Fa’s halberdiers who are holding the wall leading to the guards' barracks, while Takanata and the Wand of Healing keep them from dying. Cai Wen sends Dreamy (the second ferret) to bring the keys to Xiao Fa, and throws a cloud of smoke and fireworks to keep the guards from getting a good line on everyone else.
Xian spends her time confusing the guards, especially the ones who are heading to carry out the sacrifices. One of them ends up being sent to stab himself with a cabbage jar in front of Kali. Finally, Krishna and Yin-Xiang do enough damage to Kali to bring her to one knee, whereupon she slams her hand to the floor, killing half of the guards and replenishing her strength.
After three turns of combat, Gi Su's cell is unlocked. Xian finds a second set of keys and starts freeing prisoners too. However, as Gi Su starts escaping, Kali points her staff at him - he is more than seven hexes from Xiao Fa, and he falls. Noooo!
After a lot more fighting, Kali goes down on the other knee, and the rest of her guards die as she rises, fully restored once more. Xiao Fa gets Gi Su back on his feet - his hit points are back, but he has 75 kappa (a form of Southern corruption). Krishna (now also out of Xiao Fa’s range) is staggered by one of Kali's bolts, and loses a die pool. This means he and Yin-Xiang don't have enough to block all of Kali's attacks, and Yin-Xiang starts taking damage. Time to go!
Takanata has found a cell that's double-locked, and gets it open. Inside he finds the previous high priest of Maya, and tells the man to run for it. He does, as does the party. Most of the prisoners manage to escape, though a few are on the other side of Kali during the mass exodus and their luck is not as good. Kali with no guards, and no more bonus auto-heals decides not to pursue.
Once outside and away, Krishna says that his debt is well and truly paid. And, such a victory must be followed by celebration! He offers a great feast, as well as puttering in the south, but people reluctantly think they should be getting back home.
- The GMs are very impressed by Xian's prescience here.