A River Befouled
|"Any dead fish can flow down the river but it takes a live one to swim back up stream."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Crane in the month of the Bear in the the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place between the Butterfly Kingdom and the Forest of Chin.
Back to the Butterfly Kingdom
People finish up their business on the Shrouded Isle, and look for the captain that Merit hired to run the blockade last time. He's willing to take them back again (though he makes a perfunctory attempt to charge the group again for passage, which Takanata does not fall for). Chochiro asks if she could have a ride back to - well, anywhere will do, as she's already done a favor for the Phoenix. Lijuan buys some shrimp at the docks, for feeding to the
Great Very Large Whale Spirit along the way - she calls out "Here, whale whale whale" and tosses it into the ocean. When the shrimp sinks and is not seen again, she counts that a success - the Whale Spirit must have eaten it! Meanwhile, Cai Wen spends some time checking out Chochiro, but after a careful consideration, he decides she's probably not a babe.
Takanata writes a poem - but it is only half of a page, with the other half torn away. That doesn't seem good.
He thinks the "redemption" in question is Yoshi-related rather than Xiao Fa-related, in this case.
Chochiro interrogates Takanata about the Coil, in preparation for her explanation to the Prince. Then, Xiao Fa chats with Chochiro about her "affliction" - she protests that the southern money god's curse was removed and he's perfectly safe now. Xiao Fa clarifies - he's talking about her Aspect, or lack thereof. She shrugs and says that she supposes she is not of enough importance to be touched by a Cycle Spirit. Xiao Fa asks about her quest, and how she ended up on it? She describes to him the geas laid on her by her home village's traveling wise woman to do a favor for each of the great spirits of the cycle. Xiao Fa says he is also on a... somewhat non-specific quest. The party shows her their copy of the Cartogramancer's Map for more information about country name changes, but warns her that it's a secret.
Then, after a voyage unmarred by hostile ships, large whale spirits or kraken, the Butterfly Kingdom's shores are spotted! Xiao Fa insists on a bath for Lijuan before returning to court, though the ship is not much for hot water. Xiao Fa is unmoved by Lijuan's squeaks.
(Once ashore, Hiro declares that he is heading to cross the North Wall for Midwinter, and Wei Han, looking unhappy, follows to keep him out of too much trouble.)
Once word spreads that the group has returned, messengers quickly arrive on the docks. One message summons Kasumi to a particular room in the palace, at a particular time. Another message is for Yoshi, letting him know that one of the prisoners wishes to talk to him. Finally, there is a message for Takanata from the Enlightened Melina, saying that she will not be available until this evening.
Yoshi heads off on his errand first - the healer he has been talking to has a favor to ask. The dungeon guards ask Yoshi to keep it quiet that they let the prisoner send a message - that sort of thing isn't supposed to happen, but the prisoner was very persuasive and has been helping some of the guards out with minor injuries. The healer says that he has been... thinking about the things that Yoshi has said, and - well, remember how he said he was trained by the Hidden Hand since he was young? He has a student of his own, who he wants to get out of the tong life now. Can Yoshi get him out of what he realizes now is not going to be a very good life for him? Yoshi says he'll do what he can. The boy, named Gong Halu, would be found at a sick house run by the Hidden Hand, in the Port of Auspicious Voyage. The first floor actually is a sick house; the basement is where the healers are trained, the second floor has enforcers on it, and the third floor and above, the healer doesn't know. He writes Yoshi a signed note to give to Little Gong, which basically says "trust this guy and do what he says."
Takanata reports to the Butterfly Court about the current state of the Shrouded Isle behind the blockade. (He figures Merit will do a better job and fill in the details later, but he's here).
Kasumi sneaks into the assigned room, about half an hour before the assigned time. After a while, several guards come in, and search, but don't find Kasumi. Then, the King comes in, and shoos the guard away. He sits down before the fire, looking through some papers, and remarks quietly to himself that it's hard to know what to do when people don't report back to you... Kasumi waits for him to acknowledge her, because surely he knows she is there, but he doesn't, and finally, she decloaks.
- "You summoned me, Your Highness, er, your Majesty?"
Shattering Kasumi's illusions, Ti Lao appears to be slightly startled by her appearance. Then, he says something that sounds as if he has carefully chosen each word, noting that he appreciates the efforts of Kasumi and her friends on his behalf. However, while it is not his policy to interfere in the world in certain ways, he believes that it would be appropriate if he knew what it was that she was doing, when she acted in his name.
Put on the spot, Kasumi tries to remember exactly what it is she has been doing. Well, there was the mess with the Court of Distinction. And she helped rescue Min Feng from the Hidden Hand, but that was in the Hon'eth Arcade.
- "And... I have no idea why we went to the Shrouded Isle. I'm sure there was a good reason." -Kasumi
- "That sets my mind at ease." -Ti Lao
Kasumi also points out that they're working on the whole "thing about renaming the countries that you told us to do before you forgot," but doesn't really have more details there. Ti Lao continues:
- "We would ask that if you find ways to use your training, you find a way to inform us of the result."
- "All I'm hearing is , and nothing else is going in." -Meg
Then, after the King says some more things that she doesn't really listen to, Kasumi is dismissed, and runs off to find Lijuan to enthuse to.
- "I'm the court ninja for real now! I think!" -Kasumi
Xiao Fa briefs Master Kwan about what Xiao Fa has been up to, especially the Bandits of the Double Caldera. Master Kwan warns Xiao Fa against getting too entangled with spirits, especially spirits with agendas, which these seem to be. Yoshi asks Shien about healers, especially magical-ish ones. She notes that often, Chi masters like Master Kwan and Master Long will do healing, and there are physicians and other doctors, and there are alchemists who create healing potions, but there aren't many great masters of mystical healing only in the Butterfly Kingdom. There are several possibilities in the City of Light, and another in Nine Terraces that she can recommend.
Lijuan, reveling in her new crayon skill, draws a crayon drawing for Grandmother Shien. (Takanata still will not let her have the Elemental Crayon, though.)
That evening, Takanata and the others head to the circus winter camp. A circus hand is standing outside Melina's tent, and tells them that she is waiting for them. Inside, she has set up a large table with a crystal globe in the center. Takanata explains what he wants her to see (the future of the conflict with Mola Ram and his planned ritual with the Pearl River - and where he will be when, and also warns her that there may be some opposition. She says she will be careful, but nevertheless, when she starts to chant about tearing aside the veil of the future, she stops, screams, and then faints. Yoshi catches her.
- "Xiao Fa! Kree!" -Brian
Xiao Fa thinks that she did manage to block much of the feedback, but still got smacked by a part of it. She comes around quickly, though, with Xiao Fa's help. Before the large prophecy, she has a few minor things to tell people about:
- Yoshi - Nine Terraces, not the City of Light.
- Cai Wen - Ayuki
- Xiao Fa - The red vials, not the blue ones.
- Takanata - Check your pocket.
For the rest, she must write it down.
Melina also has locations of where Mola Ram will be - close to the junction with the Jasmine to capture the spirit, and much farther north towards the head of the river, to do the Midwinter ritual. People examine the details. Hmm, there's a bit about "Hana is reborn" - is she off getting reborn right now, with the Phoenix? People aren't sure. It looks like there are two options to pursue right now - one, to prevent the river spirit from being captured at all, or the second, to disrupt the ritual once it is captured. Zhi-Hao notes that, assuming Hiro gets north of the wall, the second option allows for two disruptions (Water and Yang), whereas the first option only creates a Water imbalance. However, Yoshi and Anto are keen on saving river spirits, even at a tactical cost. Plus, it seems likely that there will be other options to make the ritual Yang-imbalanced in the future.
Takanata does check his pocket, and finds the other half of his poetry:
Cai Wen, wondering if Ayuki has come to visit the Butterfly Kingdom, asks around about ninjas. However, the only gossip he can turn up is that His Majesty had some sort of scandalous meeting with a ninja, although it's not a highly regarded rumor. Probably false.
Well, Yoshi wants to go to rescue Little Gong from the Port of Auspicious Voyage, and that's the obvious first step towards the Pearl River, as well. And, that's closer to where Ayuki normally is. Off the group goes!
City of Ninjas
Cai Wen spends the voyage writing up pamphlets:
Lijuan hires some urchins to hand them out.
- "This is so that we need a sick house, isn't it?" -Yoshi
As Takanata finds an inn, Ayuki drops in on Kasumi and thanks her for bringing her dreamy friend (Cai-Wen) back. Kasumi rolls her eyes, but the pair spend some time catching up. Then Ayuki convinces Kasumi to go set her up with Cai-Wen...
Two ninja drop down on either side of Cai Wen, but one says "ta-daa", so nobody gets chopped. Cai Wen exclaims delightedly that it's been months since he saw Ayuki, and she's happy to see him too. Kasumi rolls her eyes - she's sure Ayuki could do better than to be one of Cai Wen's "molls in every port". Ayuki does mention that there's a betting pool among the other ninja in her school now, and Kasumi puts ten zhu on Cai Wen surviving.
Lijuan asks the local urchins what they know about the healing house. They warn her - don't go there! If you go there, you end up owing a favor to the tong and you have to do stuff like stand on street corners when they want you to and whistle when soldiers walk by. Zhi-Hao gets a slightly more precise description - since it's a Hidden Hand house, going there for treatment makes you temporarily a tong member, until your debt is paid. Kasumi sneaks in and looks around - she can't get higher than the enforcer floor with her stealth. The bottom floor does look like a school, but the kids stay there all the time living in a back room. The only thing that comes in and out in large quantities is probably the laundry.
Cai Wen sends Squeaky in to take a look at the top two floors, watching through his eyes with the magic monocle. It looks like the top floors deal with opium - there's a clothesline arrangement to another building across the alley, in order to get it in and out. There's a table with pouches, laid out in a grid - Squeaky takes a pouch, and happily brings it back to Cai Wen. Xiao Fa identifies the contents as uncut pure opium - about a day's worth of trade for the city, before it's cut. He takes a tiny sample for making painkillers with, later.
Well, it seems likely that Squeaky's theft is going to be noticed pretty soon. Could they blame one of the enforcers? Ring the bell on the sick house and try to return the pouch?
- "Neighborhood Watch, I believe this is yours..."
There's the "reusable exploding potion pouch" that came from the water mage - maybe using the whole little brick of opium would turn it into something like a knockout grenade. Well, that's a cool idea. Anto thinks that that's a good tactical plan, but an important step is to know which kid Little Gong is, before going in. Kasumi heads back in to try and find that out, but she's the only one with any throwing skill, so it's not like the plan can start without her.
- "So... when you come back here and throw the opium, that'll be the signal." -Anto
After Kasumi listens for a while, she overhears that Little Gong says that his brother, Big Gong, was murdered by enemies of the Hand, so he got taken in then. Kasumi writes "When the excitement happens, hide in the supply cabinet", on the back of the note from Little Gong's master, and plants it on the kid silently. Then she comes back out and reports, describing Little Gong well enough that everyone can recognize him. Time for the opium-grenade throw! Kasumi tries tying her magical thread to it, so they can get the pouch back later with a nice tug. Sadly, her knot-tying skills aren't so great, so it's not clear how secure it will be.
- "Someone find me an open window?" -Kasumi
- "There's one!" -Brian, pointing
- "Yeah, fine." -Mike
Then, through the window it goes! Xiao Fa counts off the time that he expects the opium to take effect, and then they run at the door to the sick house. One of the guards gets chopped - another manages to sound an alarm, but nobody upstairs seems to be responding to it. The two ninjas and Cai Wen sneak in and then decloak in the supply closet in the basement, and watch. The few enforcers who are still up fight the party, but are whittled down. The healer-students do their best to heal them, as well as run about in panic. Little Gong discovers the ninja and Cai Wen in the supply closet, and is astonished!
- "It is okay, little Gong. Your master has sent us - it is time for you to complete your education elsewhere. " -Cai Wen
Kasumi starts messing up the room to make it harder later to find anything, and Cai Wen starts ransacking the supply closet, picking up red vials (and not blue ones). Then, more ninja (dressed like Hidden Hand enforcers) decloak to attack Cai Wen. He anti-lucks one of them, but barely manages to dodge the initial attack.
Most of the party's fighters make it down the stairs to the basement, fending off the enforcers. Takanata starts peeking in rooms on the first floor - it's a sick house, as expected. There are people lying on cots, and someone shouting out a window for help. Xiao Fa heals Anto for 18 points - the little healers watch in awe.
As the place is full of little kids, Lijuan and Yoshi start throwing persuasion around.
- "Yoshi has come to redeem you! Run for the streets!" -Lijuan
- "Kids, the Hidden Hand is not what you think! They keep you in here so you can't see the truth of what they're doing to this city. Run and decide for yourself!" -Yoshi
Some of the kids are persuaded, and others find it tactically plausible:
- "I see why the master wanted to get me out of here. We're getting sacked." -Little Gong
A ninja gives Kasumi an action to team up with him against Cai Wen, but she uses it to attack him instead. Whoops.
- "Get us out of here! Master Deng and his ninja have come for us!" -Little Gong
Xiao Fa notes that the shtick the little-kid healers are using is somewhat dangerous, leaving them tired afterwards. A ninja fails to chop Cai Wen, but brings the rest of the colored vials crashing down, so there's no more looting the supply cabinet for him. Ayuki finishes taking out most of the other ninja, and the last standing ninja flees. Takanata loots the sick-house's office, finding seven successes of paperwork.
Then, there's the sound of a larger number of reinforcements showing up, and the party decides it's time to retreat, as they have the kid they came for. Lijuan does her best to hook up with street kids some of the junior healers they've talked into fleeing, so if they want to stay hidden, they can.
As the party gets ready to head out, Cai Wen passes out more pamphlets:
Yoshi talks to Gong - no, it's not another Hidden Hand base he's being taken to. But Xiao Fa is a very good healer and might deign to teach him something. They'll bring him to the City of Spires, and then arrange to have him sent to the healer in Nine Terraces.
To the Pearl River
The group (including Ayuki, who is interested by the idea of a field trip to thwart a ritual) heads south to the City of Light - while there, Takanata sends a note to Commander Sun with the ritual locations, and then the group convinces Stoneback Cho to come along, as he has a grudge against Mola Ram for paying him in fake tael. Anto notes that the spirit of the Pearl River was said to have been a favorite with the Dragon Emperors, but it's not clear if that helps any. Then, they head upriver to the City of Spires, which also goes without incident.
Can Stoneback Cho give any instructions on how to destroy the cage? Well, he didn't build it with a self-destruct function or anything. It has a bunch of pillars; each pillar will take about twenty-five successes to destroy, and destroying half the pillars will break the cage permanently. Wow, that's a serious cage.
The group wrests the "motorboat engine" away from the sleeping Li Merit, and borrows a small boat in the City of Spires to install it on. Cai Wen and the two ninja sneak up the bank towards the ritual site, while the boat heads in at high speed. This area of the river seems to be very unpleasant-smelling, full of stinky brownish gunk and floating bits. Well, that's no good, whatever it is. Anto tries to talk to the Pearl River, telling it "People are doing bad things, but we're on it. Don't go there." He realizes that he would want the river spirit's name to really be sure she could hear him.
On the river bank, Mola Ram stands at the top of a large boulder. Guys are taking carts of manure to the water's edge, and dumping them in the water. Other people are standing on top of the cage, near the door, which is halfway open. A goon in the water is calling out to the water spirit by name, asking for help with the nasty stuff in the river. Anto tries to remember the whole name of the spirit while he's hearing it, but it's long and he doesn't catch all of it.
The boat heads in to the bank, just where the cage door opens. Takanata turns on Eyes of the I Ching, and notes that Mola Ram has a connection to the carts, and also to the stone hill he's on. The water is somehow powering the earth (the hill) and the wood (the carts). And, the spirit of the river is just coming up the river now onto the map, very angry.
- "Yoshinosuke, if you could close the door, the spirit might not be able to get in the cage." -Takanata
Anto tries to jump to the top of the hill at Mola Ram, but the hill is very hard to climb (it takes a full move to go up a hex), and he ends up at the bottom instead. Cai Wen manages to memorize the spirit's name. Takanata suggests that Stoneback Cho create a wall of earth by the manure carts to prevent them from getting to the river.
- "I try to push the cage closed with the boat." -Yoshi
- "Make an Int roll with Sailing." -Mike
- "I have.. Aquatics, and KS: Piracy."
Yoshi does manage to push the cage door closed, but then one of the manure carts flies through the air and lands on the boat, sinking it. (Another cart goes for Kasumi, but she leaps out of the way.)
Takanata realizes that from the river spirit's point of view, the cage is not there. There's just the unpleasant manure showing up, which is a problem she'd want to deal with.
One of Mola Ram's guys gets the gate to the cage opened a little ways. Mola Ram hits Kasumi with a cart that she doesn't dodge. Lijuan pushes the chains meant to lock the door closed, into the river, and Anto grabs the cage door with his kusarigama, hoping to keep it closed. Stoneback Cho puts up a pillar from the bottom of the river, so the door can't open by more than one hex.
Takanata contemplates a Crossroads - can they better keep the spirit from advancing, by keeping her name from being called, or by keeping the manure from dumping into the river? The latter. Cai Wen takes a moment to write down the name of the spirit so he doesn't forget it, and Mola Ram drops another cartload of manure on Zhi-Hao. Ho goes down defending Yoshi from cultists. Zhi-Hao gets to the top of the hill, and starts chopping Mola Ram.
As the sun begins to move past noon, one hex to the east of the hill grows a deep, dark shadow.
Cai Wen puts his hand in the river, and tries to convince the river spirit that she must not enter the trap - allow them to defend her! He hears a voice in his head: "Put them in the water."
- "New Plan - kill everyone now, we'll get more bait (manure carts) later!" -Mola Ram
Mola Ram, who has been having very poor luck flinging manure carts at Zhi-Hao, finally does 45 damage (through resistance) to Zhi-Hao with his last cart. Then, he tries to grab Zhi-Hao's heart, but misses due to a lucky dodge. The party is looking pretty shaky, though. Xiao Fa spends three karma to heal all of Zhi-Hao, Yoshi, and Anto at the same time, but moments after that, Takanata falls. Mola Ram, meanwhile, is healed some every time one of his guys falls, and is healed a bunch by any of his guys who kills himself.
- "Take fifteen hit points." -Mike, to Anto
- "Easy come, easy go." -Anto
- "No! Not easy come!" -Xiao Fa
Bad guys start getting pushed in the water, at which point they sink without a trace, but the ones not near the edge are still doing a lot of damage.
- "Goodbye, Yoshi!" -Lijuan
- "No, I'm okay - everyone near me went in the water!" -Yoshi
- "No, that's not what I meant." -Lijuan, making her death check
- "Whose fault is this? I think we get to blame Wei Han!" -Lijuan
Cai Wen lights a fountain firework, which clears away some of Mola Ram's shadow. Anto and Kasumi fall to Mola Ram's cultists, as does Stoneback Cho.
In any reasonable time, the sun going moving towards setting would make the shadow of the rock grow. Instead, the shadow gets darker, except for the two hexes next to the firework. Cai Wen, encouraged, lights another firework. Mola Ram looks annoyed by this.
Though it's still touch and go whether Mola Ram's group or the party will finish falling down first, Mola Ram decides that his escape route is in danger of closing. He shouts to his guys to fight until death, or Kali will devour their souls, and then leaps into the last remaining shadow.
Xiao Fa goes down, but Cai Wen treats him with one of the red potions. Then, Xiao Fa wakes up Kasumi, who first aids Lijuan. The last of the cultists takes Kasumi down, just as, at the end of the third turn, Commander Sun and the Dragon Army arrive.
The Army captures the last cultist standing, first-aids all the party, and confiscates all the stuff as evidence (including the Icon of Aquatic Motion, much to everyone's dismay. They will have to file forms to get that returned.) The soldiers look ready to haul away the cage (to give it to the Imperial Alchemist for study), but Takanata manages, with Yoshi's help, to convince them that the cage must be destroyed instead. As the pillars are smashed, Takanata notes that the spirit's name has been written on the cage - maybe that has something to do with why she couldn't see it.
- Cai Wen goes to visit the House of the Hidden Orchid.
- Anto, Xiao Fa, Cai Wen, Yoshi, and Yanyu go to talk to the Pearl River spirit. Shortly thereafter, Anto, in avatar mode, storms into the Dragon Army camp and drains all the water out of the Southron prisoner.
- Yoshi heads north to Tranquil Endurance to check on the Secret Swords.
- Yoshi visits the dojo of Masters Hwa / Fu / Kangjon to check up on Broken Sword.
- Yoshi visits the clinic of Yaozhi Radiance, a healing master in Nine Terraces. He brings Little Gong.
- Yoshi and Lijuan visit Tara Shien again.
- Wei Han and Hiro head south to the Port of Propitious Voyage.
- Cai Wen visits Crazy Feng in the northern Tanzhe, and gets a mission: he, Li Merit, and Min Feng arrange to make a bunch of the Savanna soldiers very sick.
- Cai Wen and Master Zhou visit Master Tanuma of the Second Way.
- Master Zhou visits Elder Danyu.
- Master Zhou and Cai Wen visit the spire of Li Kao.
- Cai Wen, Merit, and Takanata talk to Commander Sun to get the outboard motor back.