Who Watches Over You
|"I'm your only friend
I'm not your only friend
But I'm a little glowing friend
But really I'm not actually your friend
But I am..."
| The run begins on the Day of the Early Bear in the Month of the Serpent in the first Year of the Bear since the abandoning of the White Pagoda.|
The run takes place in White Pagoda, and many other places.
Some Loose Ends
Our heroes are relaxing in Tahiti, when Lijuan reminds Xiao Fa that he had been going to fix Zhuai, whose soul is still not quite in his body. Xiao Fa's ritual had required a representative of the Dragon's Throne - Cai Wen has set up a meeting in Gate Town with Ando to see if he is willing to do this, but distraction set in. So, Cai Wen and Xiao Fa head off to meet with Ando, at a ramen shop in Gate Town.
Cai Wen agrees to owe Ando a favor, and Ando agrees to come to Tahiti to stand in the ritual and light a candle. The ritual is successful! Zhuai starts to sit up, and then falls back, coughing, in an explosion of smoke. A figure rises out of the smoke.
- "Behold! For I bring the.. cough cough cough. Argh, Behold! Wait, I did that part. Hi, Master Zhou."
- "Hello, Po."
Xiao Fa shoos Po away from Zhuai's bedside, so Lijuan can leap on him (Zhuai, not Po) and weep dramatically. Xiao Fa suggests bone broth and light exercise and rest, and no pork buns until he's feeling better.
Meanwhile, Po delivers his message. Yanzi has received Master Zhou's messages, and the White Pagoda is in the midst of preparations. The Green Pagoda has been emptied out, and the Red Pagoda is arguing but will probably come around. All will be in readiness. Master Zhou is a bit nonplussed by this, as he has not sent any messages to Yanzi - but it seems to be related to the mission to rescue Tsai Su-Yin, so perhaps it's still a good idea. On the other hand, it is probably a TRAP.
Master Zhou declares it time to train, and everyone (including Po, but not including Zhuai) joins in. Po's potential is interesting - not all his training is coming from the White Pagoda, and the style is not something Master Zhou has seen before. It actually has more in common with Kawaii's technique than anything else Zhou has seen - Po has some similar drift abilities. Also, Po's potential is particularly moldable.
Shen-Ji offers to identify another of the potions from the Conclave of Minor Houses. Lijuan, under Master Zhou's tutelage, is a master of sleight of hand, and Shen-Ji determines that the clear potion gives access to the World of Dreams Below.
Cai Wen reads the Signs of Toro, just in case, while Lijuan sketches some art.
Xiao Fa examines her art with interest - does it have to do with the Imperial Succession? He thinks it used to - it has to do with the Tsai Su-Yin plot, and she used to be a kingmaker or something, but now that's changed, and whatever it changed to he can't tell.
Also in the "return of Su-Yin" plot, Cai Wen goes to talk to Madame Hai-Ling about matchmaking. She is not overly enthusiastic about being hired to directly thwart Yanyu's matchmaking, though she allows as if there were someone else, such as Cai Wen, who was interested in the services of a matchmaker to set him up with Su-Yin, that would be a different thing. Cai Wen tries to convince her to play matchmaker to a person to be named later, but she does not think that this is how it is done. Su-Yin's family can consult a matchmaker, or someone who is interested in marrying into Su-Yin's family (such as, for example again, Cai Wen) can consult a matchmaker. But an unrelated third party does not really have standing to negotiate, or even really discuss, such a match.
The White Pagoda
Everyone else has headed through the water gate to Bear Mountain. Things seem to be strangely quiet - most of the monks who are normally coming and going are nowhere to be seen. To Xiao Fa's eye, the normal balance between Red and Green and White is drastically altered - both Red and Green are pulled in very tightly, and White is predominant.
Master Zhou asks one of the White Pagoda students for the recent correspondence. He is given the "stack of angry letters", mostly from Kar Fai, and some polite letters from some of Kar Fai's underlings. There are also letters written by Yanzi attempting to smooth the waters and persuade Kar Fai to allow the chi of the Mountain to be altered temporarily. There don't seem to be any messages purporting to be from Master Zhou, though.
Master Zhou and Xiao Fa go into the senchi chamber, where Yanzi is meditating and keeping a number of open portals in balance. She stabilizes the portals, and leaps to her feet to brief Master Zhou on the preparations that have been made.
She has negotiated with the Red and Green Pagodas to furl their chi, to let the White Pagoda fully express its chi, and opened the gates so that Master Zhou's companions can recruit the people they need as their guardians.
Master Zhou questions where her instructions came from. Why, from the dreams that Master Zhou sent her.
- "I don't have dreamsending." -Master Zhou
- "Oh. But I... oh dear." -Yanzi
So... what guardians are these? The instructions said that each companion needs an anchor to return to from the dreamwalking, and a guardian to protect the anchor (and the dreaming bodies). The anchors do not have to be epic, but they do need to be very emblematic - the obvious item that each person would pick. The guardians should also be clearly and simply mapped to the travelers - your husband or your sister or your archrival. Not your best friend from third grade (too complicated), or one of your four boon companions (insufficiently unique). Yanzi doesn't know how to tune the senchi chamber specifically to the Dreams of the World Below, but Master Zhou says he has that part covered.
The instructions sound like they were sent by someone who knows what they're doing, but they could also be (and probably are) a TRAP.
Cai Wen heads back to Tahiti from his meeting with Madame Hai-Ling, and Yanzi demonstrates the portal travel she has been tuning. She's standing on the road as Cai Wen rides up, and suggests that he get down from the horse and give her a hug. When he starts to do so, he finds himself on Bear Mountain hugging Master Zhou.
- "My day is not improved as much as I was hoping." -Cai Wen
- "Worst bait and switch ever." -Xiao Fa
The tuned senchi chamber can be used to go to known places inside the Empire; going somewhere difficult, or to a person rather than a place, will require a travel karma; there are three for use in the mechanic.
A first draft of guardians and anchors is drawn up.
|Takanata||I Ching?||Great nephew?|
|Song Min Feng||Duplicating Paper||Brother|
|Shen-Ji||Mu the Mad's Notebook||Jia jia|
|Zhu Cai Wen||Pai gow tiles?||"Scoreboard moll"|
|Yanyu||Little black book?||Son of the Moon|
|Wei Han||Shield||Dragon army guys?|
|Master Zhou||Big stick||Yanzi|
Xiao Fa vetoes Zhuai - he is still on bed rest. Well, maybe Yoshi, then? "Takanata's great-nephew" is also a little non-unique (GM note: Yoshi also qualifies here!) - maybe the Jasmine would be better? Or the Golden Prince?
Well, perhaps the best thing to do is to start contacting people and see who is willing to help, and revisit the iffy ones and the ones that can't make it afterwards.
Shuyan and Lijuan go to the Shadow Castle (now Yoshi and Reiko's base). A new member of the Secret Swords greets them, and on hearing Lijuan's name, is willing to escort them in. She checks if they count as "militia" now, and he's a little evasive. Reiko comes by first to remind Lijuan that she and Yoshi are very busy. Lijuan protests.
- "It's only for a few days! Because I broke my husband!" -Lijuan
- "We just want to talk to Yoshi..." -Shuyan
- "If you trick Yoshi into marrying you, I will kill you." -Reiko
Once Yoshi hears the explanation, though, he is happy to help. It takes him a few hours to put things in order, but then he returns to Bear Mountain with them.
Shanxi is easily willing to be Xiao Fa's guardian, though he thinks Xiao Fa needs a better anchor than a little sprig of flowers.
Master Zhou goes to the Winter Academy (Wei Han's tactics school) - a greenhouse is under construction. He meets the various faculty members, and chats with Master Hong. After some discussion, Master Hong, and Sensei Bian Li Ming (the unarmed combat instructor) return to act as Wei Han's guardians. Yanzi notes that having extra people besides the guardian will be a problem, but a group can be the guardian - in this case, the "Winter Academy Faculty" group will work.
Shuyan and Shen-Ji head to the Dragon's Throne, starting at Jia Jia's apartment (the one that used to belong to Ebon Brush). She is perfectly happy to be Shen-Ji's guardian, and thinks nothing of a visit to the World of Dreams Below. Shuyan goes up to the Jade District and is shown to the Palace of Concentrated Beauty to freshen up first, before being shown in to see Precious Jade. Shuyan lets Precious Jade know that Li Merit is the one who taught the ladies from the House of the Lotus the shtick she didn’t want them to learn. That placates Precious Jade a bit, as she had been blaming Shuyan. Shuyan explains about the plan to rescue Tsai Su-Yin - Precious Jade pales a bit at the idea, but checks who else would be coming. The guest list so far is interesting, and she would be honored to attend. She changes into more adventuresome clothes, and the four head back to Bear Mountain.
Yanzi mentions to Master Zhou that Po has a particular... effectiveness... when it comes to dreams. He has a talent for the dramatic that is multiplied when reality is flexible. Hmm. Well, maybe Po should come with them too, but that means that he also needs an anchor and a guardian. Yanzi could be Po's guardian as his senpai, but then Master Zhou would need a different guardian. Po suggests using the Mirror of Yin and Yang to split Yanzi into a Yin Yanzi and a Yang Yanzi, so she could be both people's guardians, but nobody likes that idea.
Shen-Ji and Lijuan head to the Isle of Beauty to recruit the Venerable Deng as a guardian for Master Deng. Deng's father is rather dubious at the idea that he could possibly protect Master Deng from anything, and suggests that if a fighter is needed, Deng Lumang might do better. They also drop by the Tokai estate to see if Tetsuzan is willing to be Takanata's guardian. Tetsuzan is kind of psyched at the idea of being a chi ritual guardian - he has been practicing his chi mastery dutifully since Xiao Fa left. Deng Lumang is also recruitable, and the four return to Bear Mountain.
Xiao Fa and Master Zhou head to the Pagoda of the Gentle Admonishers of Disquiet to ask the Countess to be Xian's guardian. The Countess looks disappointed when they mention Xian, and suggests sending one of her sisters. Xiao Fa tries to find out if everything is all right between she and Xian, and the Countess supposes so. Even active listening only learns that she has been very disappointed in Xian recently, but does not know why. Xiao Fa recommends that the Countess send Chantou, and notes that while they listed the Hoop as Xian's anchor object, she doesn't actually have a hoop any longer. Chantou says she can come up with an awesome hoop if they give her a few hours, so they agree to come and pick her up later.
- "Your task is to stay on the mountain and defend the hoop. Hoop not included."
Xiao Fa checks in with Mondo to point out if there is anything obviously wrong with the current state of the chart. He notes that the Countess was a better choice than Chantou, because "Xian's sister" is underspecified. "Takanata's great-nephew" is also underspecified.
Duke Song is happy to help - the party has rescued him from this and that often enough that he's glad to return the favor. The Tahiti butlers cannot summon Li Merit's strike team, but the head of the House of Continuing Sustenance can, and they can be on hand.
Cai Wen doesn't like the idea of picking just one moll - having Willow, or anyone else, be "Cai Wen's moll" would instantiate a precedence that he doesn't really want to. Having a group of "Cai Wen's molls" would be more balanced, but getting them to work together is often difficult. Normally it would be three or five karma to have a team of molls instead of one, but he thinks one karma would do it in this case. That's odd...
Interlude with a Dream
Master Zhou, Yanzi, Xiao Fa, Cai Wen and Lijuan all go to the Temple of Eternal Dream. Not to ask for a guardian, but to ask about the dreams that Yanzi got. A novice is sweeping on the steps, and goes inside to see if Master Bao is available. Lijuan picks up the broom and starts sweeping. Apparently this earns her some credit, because after some time, the novice returns to let them know that Master Bao will see Lady Foon.
- "Thank you for agreeing to speak with me." -Lijuan
- "It was better than trying to keep you out. What does the circus require of us now?" -Master Bao
Lijuan launches into the explanation: Tsai Su-Yin is trapped in the dream world under the shadow of a demon. The people at the White Pagoda thought they were following Master Zhou's instructions, but he doesn't send dreams. So who did?
- "Maybe it was Lord Tokai?" -Master Bao
- "No, he's not the sort of person who gives orders to other people's people." -Lijuan
Master Bao raises an eyebrow at this, but decides not to quibble. Lijuan continues - what they want to know is whether the dreams came from Su-Yin or Butterfly or Spider or who? Master Bao tells Lijuan to wait outside, and he will see what he can find out.
A few hours later, he comes outside.
Tsai Su-Yin, Master Bao says, is one of the doomed uchideshi. Given how long she has been gone, she seems likely to be forever this: one who has allowed her dreams to consume her. Rescue is possible but extremely difficult. But with the resources of the White Pagoda and the party's own varied skills, it is not impossible.
As for the messages - they originated in the World of Dream, but were modified by one who is beyond the Dream, before arrival. They have passed through two shapers before Yanzi dreamed them.
Can he give more details about the "doomed uchideshi"? Master Bao says that invariably they make their way towards the World Below, because invariably their desires consume them to the point that demons will gather and feed. If you do go to that place, he recommends you understand your own desires, as things one wants are easily implemented and in the ascendant.
- "Where she is, is a place you go when you have decided it is time to get what you want. And you often get it - so if she escapes from that place, great benefit may have come of it. But very few people have limits on their wants, so very few people leave. Which is why we refer to the uchideshi as doomed."
Xiao Fa draws more details out of him - he hesitates to mention this, because they will likely abuse it. There are many and varied opportunities to spend eps and skill points that they have - or that they don't have.
- "Beware of what you want."
- "Yes.... this is how I become immortal." -Lijuan
- "This is precisely how you become doomed." -Master Bao
Cai Wen goes to Madame Song for her advice on why having a group of molls would be fewer karma than he thinks it should be. Is it a TRAP? Madame Song thinks it is not something he need worry about unduly - it is not that he is getting a discount, it is that it is not sufficiently powerful to be worth more karma. The mechanic will not treat them as individual named characters; it will just treat them as a group, so they will not be more effective, the way they would be in a normal run.
She also offers to be his guardian, should he wish it. She does not think that it is likely to be all fighting all the time - the guardians will shape the environment as well.
Xiao Fa and Master Zhou go back to the Pagoda. Chantou has finished making a hoop, and is ready to go. Well, about that... can the Countess come instead of Chantou? The Countess sighs - she supposes it was inevitable. Yes, she is willing. Oh, and the Son of the Moon is currently in the Cup of Five Virtues Teahouse. Sigh.
The Son of the Moon is in fact in the Cup of Five Virtues, and quite happy to be invited to another "combat party". It seems likely that the tension between the Countess and the Son of the Moon will provide enough cover for Precious Jade to do whatever she wants.
That leaves Kasumi as the last person whose guardian doesn't seem obvious - she doesn't really have friends outside the party. There's the Prince, but "Kasumi's previous liege's heir who used to let her eavesdrop on him" is a little more convoluted than something like "Kasumi's mom". Well... there's Hirasoto. Why not try?
Lijuan, Shuyan, and Master Zhou use the White Pagoda to try to travel to the Golden Palace. It requires spending one of the three travel karma, and they don't actually reach the pagoda, but they reach a small garden. A number of paths lead away, splitting and joining back together. They follow the path that looks the most travelled, and meet a very large man.
- "You are far from home."
- "I am Foon Lijuan. I beg an audience with the Implacable Blade."
- "Ha ha ha. Might one ask why?"
- "On behalf of a friend of mine, Kasumi. We're in a bit of a hurry - it's not easy to get here."
- "It is not supposed to be. May I ask what you plan to ask of him?"
Lijuan explains quickly about the whole guardian thing - outside of the party, Kasumi's strongest connection in the world is to Hirasoto. The large man seems to find that terribly sad. Lijuan also says that the gathering might be interesting - they have both the Countess and the Son of the Moon. They might fight!
The large man has heard of the Dreams Below, but does not advise going there. When pressed for advice, he thinks that one should not go if one is not happy.
However, the idea that Hirasoto is Kasumi's only friend is both unsettling and intriguing enough that the large guy decides to let them pass. He points the way down one of the paths, past a tree of particularly tasty looking peaches (which they dutifully avoid) and to a golden palace which seems to have appeared around the corner of a path when no one was looking.
As the group is knocking on the door, a little girl waves at Lijuan from an upstairs window, and then pulls the shutters closed. The door to the palace swings open, and there is a small sitting room with three seats beyond. The trio goes in, and a voice from behind them asks why they seek him.
Lijuan explains about Su-Yin and the rescue mission and the guardians and how Hirasoto is the person that Kasumi has the closest connection to.
- "You have explained why you want me to go. You have not explained why I want to go."
- "Um.. for Kasumi's sake, or because it is interesting and it is probably boring being an immortal?" -Lijuan
- "... What might you offer me to carry out this boon for you?"
- "What, like the Orb of True Seeing?" -Lijuan
There is a startled moment of silence.
- "Yes. That would be acceptable."
- "Well, we could discuss lending it to you for a period of time..." -Master Zhou, unhappily
- "Are you attempting to negotiate down? I found her offer compelling. Yours... not so much."
Shuyan thinks that as an offer has been made and accepted; attempting to haggle now is a serious breach of etiquette, and the Golden Palace seems like a place where mortals should perhaps use their best etiquette. They could leap into the conversation and say that Lijuan isn't authorized to offer the Orb, but that would definitely end the conversation and any chance of getting Hirasoto's aid. So the only remaining things to say are "Thank you" and letting Hirasoto know where and when he should be.
He says that he will be there; he does not require being transported there. Shortly thereafter, Hirasoto appears at Bear Mountain and Xiao Fa (rather happily, as he is tired of fixing people Yoshi-ing themselves with it) hands over the orb.
Po reminds the group that Kasumi was not the last person without a guardian, but announces that he will attempt to cultivate a Nemesis. Ting Ting certainly likes beating him up.
A little rearrangement later, Yanzi will be Po's guardian, and the White Pagoda students will be Master Zhou's guardians.
It takes a karma to find Anto, but he is happy to guard Kuan-Xi, and can arrange for a barrel of pure water to serve as her anchor.
The only remaining question is: whose eyes are those in Lijuan's art?
Master Zhou contemplates it all with Interpret Omens, but doesn't have much of a guess to go on. He thinks that the rescue mission is a trap, the way everything else in the chapter has been - but it's the sort of trap that you have to walk into or it will be worse. The original dream, explaining how to get into the trap, was probably sent by the source of most of the other traps, and the edits were probably made by the source of some of the other unlooked-for help.
|Takanata||I Ching reeds||Tetsuzan|
|Song Min Feng||Disguise Kit||Baron Song|
|Shen-Ji||Mu the Mad's Notebook||Jia Jia|
|Li Merit||Ledger of Merit Trading Company||Strike Team|
|Zhu Cai Wen||Squeaky||Madame Song|
|Yanyu||Astrological Chart||Son of the Moon|
|Wei Han||Shield||Winter Academy Faculty|