|"If small holes aren't fixed, then big holes will bring hardship."|| The run takes place in the early First Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in Stone Drum
Holes in the Prince
The party has returned to Tahiti, catching their breath from running about at Prince Jiyiin's bidding. Shuyan notes that her snakes continue to fuss about her going to Daizhou, so Xiao Fa takes a look.
- "Maybe I should become a beastmaster and fix it." -Shuyan
When the group sets off towards the Benevolent Secret Headquarters, the snakes are excited at the thought that they might be going to Daizhou, and Shuyan assures them that they are. Snakes aren't really good at country-scale navigation, so they don't know any better, but do notice once they get there that it isn't Daizhou. Shuyan says that'll be the next stop.
Cai Wen talks to the Prince about the Arcade part of the scoreboard, making sure to not ask any questions. The Prince is interested, but seems to be more haggard than in times past. Xiao Fa checks him out surreptitiously, and thinks he's tired and overwrought.
Another question about the scoreboard - how are they going to roll a 1 or a 13 on 2d6? It seems likely that someone will need to cheat somehow. Another question: what happens if they don't do all the missions? Cai Wen thinks that the score will need to be higher at each country turn for the Arcade to not collapse, and the politics will also have to work out, regardless of the missions.
Master Deng asks the Prince what they need to do next, and rolls a 2 on the table - Cai Wen spends a karma with his minigame shticks to cheat it into a 1.
- "Prevent my death."
Well, that's exciting.
Wei Han sets up a defensive perimeter against any assassins in the Prince's study, and Xiao Fa looks more closely at his chi. It looks like channeling three Great Spirits at once is hollowing him out, however much Dog might be trying to ameliorate. He's like a cloth being filled up with water and wrung out, over and over, and it's wearing him out. Xiao Fa suspects the Prince took some sort of... something... in order to help ameliorate the damage, but he isn't sure what. He'll probably survive until the end of the mechanic, but much beyond that is unlikely.
The group takes over the map room to consider. Is it the mechanic that is going to cause his death, or assassins? Cai Wen thinks the former - though if he barely survives the mechanic, that will attract assassins, so it is not a simple answer. Shuyan sends out her snake of secrets to find something, and Cai Wen wonders what the servants might know. The Secret Headquarters has its own majordomo to handle logistics, and the Prince probably has a Secret Maid.
- "Is that what they're calling it these days?" -Wei Han
The snake of secrets returns with an empty vial, which Deng thinks looks vaguely familiar. One of Yanyu's love potions? No, not that, it's smaller than a full potion bottle. Yang tea? No, not that either. Cai Wen finally recognizes it as the vial of Crane's Blood with the gold "12" that was found in the Monkey Cart
Another question to think about - is there anyone else who is likely to be asking him questions and triggering the damage? Cai Wen's minigame sense thinks that it is intended to be a minigame for the House of Exuberant Interference - but Cai Wen is not the only person who can cheat at mechanics.
If they want an expert on alchemicals involving Crane's blood, Cai Wen suggests that they talk with Wu Wangmu. He heads off to the Dragon's Throne, with the vial and with communicating paper to stay in touch. He arrives in the Copper District, and says he has some confidential matters to discuss. She fiddles with some items in her shop, and tells him that he can speak freely; he explains the overview of Prince Jiying's condition, and shows her the vial. She confirms that it definitely held the blood of a Great Spirit.
Cai Wen wonders if it would be possible for the party to take the damage instead of the prince. Well... maybe? If the damage is part of the price that he paid as part of a spirit bargain, then it might be possible to renegotiate it to be paid by someone else. But if it is simply damage from the process, it might be more complicated to reassign the damage elsewhere. She says it would be easier to tell if she sees the damage being inflicted, and offers to come back with Cai Wen to investigate further.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party informs the servants that they will be staying in the Secret Headquarters until further notice. This requires finding some rooms that can be repurposed, and the servants dash about putting things in order. People question the servants - have others been here asking questions? Well, Prince Jiyang is the heir - people do come and see him on occasion. But it is the Secret Headquarters so not that many people come.
- "I will have to find someone else to become better friends with. " - Shuyan
Shuyan charms the talented but young captain of the guard. Captain Luosi tells her that the Lord of Benevolent Oversight was here originally, and one of his factors has been since then, but mostly the prince's visitors are the party.
Zhi-Hao wonders if the solution might be to push time forward to the next country turn - because time is passing oddly, the Prince is having to channel over and over without time to recover. On the other hand, if they push time forward and haven't solved enough of the plots, then that might mean that the Prince survives but the Arcade falls.
Wei Han trains with the guards, on the theory that if assassins attack, he'll be better able to work with him.
The next morning, Cai Wen and Wangmu arrive. Cai Wen warns her not to ask the Prince any questions that might pertain to preventing his death - that might trigger the next mission. Wangmu notes that it is odd that the mechanic is both killing him and trying to get him not killed, but Cai Wen notes that he had to cheat to get it to do that.
After observing the Prince for a while, Wangmu says that triggering another mission is the best way to get the most information about what is actually damaging him, how it is doing it, and how it can be prevented. Perhaps they can go do another mission while she works on a mechanic to solve this one?
Wei Han tells her that if she sees a way to divert damage, she is welcome to send it to him, and she says she can try, if there's an obvious way.
Xiao Fa wants to know how she avoids Yoshi-ing herself when observing Great Spirits. She says that she can defend herself with her own spiritual power; the party doesn't have any, so they get overwhelmed.
- "That's how spirits don't Yoshi each other when they talk."
Xiao Fa, intrigued, wants to know where she got her spiritual power, and she says that she got it from a friend.
Cai Wen asks the prince for another private audience, and explains as well that Wangmu will need to stay here for a few days and will need to be able to talk to the prince while she is here. He is amenable to that.
Xiao Fa asks for a new mission, and rolls a 9.
- "Fill the holes in the wall"
Wangmu watches with interest as his eyes go blue and blue and he speaks with the voice of all three spirits, and then the group retires to the map room again to discuss.
Wangmu says she doesn't actually understand the mechanic, but she doesn't need to. She thinks she can refocus it, transferring it from one person to another, and whoever she transfers it to it probably won't kill because it's already half done. Unless they pick someone vulnerable, in which case it might. Doing this would be a small spirit bargain.
Another option would be to bolster his spirit somehow. Doing this would let him withstand the damage, but the process of bolstering him would turn him into someone else, more or less. Instead of being a Magpie Prince, he would turn into a Seer Prince, or a Bear Prince, or something like that, depending upon what you use to do the bolstering.
The third option would be to unravel the mechanic entirely. She could do this, but then they would stop getting prophecies. It would also unravel the effect where time is moving around them so they can get more done.
Finally, Wangmu notes that if she transfers the mechanic to someone else, the library of intelligence would probably change as well. The library is just paint - if someone else has the effect, then they would have different paint. For example, if Cai Wen was the source of the mechanic, Merit wouldn't be able to do intelligence analysis in the library, but Min Feng might overhear clues in nearby gambling dens.
As far as the most recent prophecy goes, Wangmu says that she did a little bit of "post-processing" on the omen. It refers to the difficulty they are having where beastmasters and the like are coming in without triggering the defenses of the Northern Wall.
Is it safe to go off and do another mission? Will the mission of preventing the prince from being killed get harder? Will it get opposition? Wangmu says that the mechanic is slowly killing him, so the longer it takes to solve, the more killed he will be. But she doesn't think it will generate opposition. She adds another comment - she thinks the method they choose might want to depend on their goal for the country.
Of course, this leads to a discussion about Wolf versus Magpie as far as the Arcade goes, and the party is not of one mind on that. Cai Wen notes that he is annoyed by Magpie but tries to not make that policy, and is wishy-washy on the Wolf v Magpie question. Xiao Fa, on the other hand, is more pro-Wolf.
There is also the question of who the mechanic should be given to, if it is given to someone else. Giving it to a party member would be problematic, because they wouldn't be able to discuss the mission without triggering a new one. Deng suggests giving it to his cousin Lumang in the House of Gainful Protection, but Cai Wen is not pleased at the idea of giving any sort of nummy to that house, which is apparently scheduled to betray the House of Benevolent Oversight in the third country turn. He thinks that any result in which the House of Gainful Protection becomes the ruling house is bad, because they are way too ruthless, and he does think that should be policy. Master Deng, who tends towards the ruthless himself, is less sure that this is a problem.
Xiao Fa goes back to the idea of bolstering him - given that he may have volunteered for this mechanic, if it changes him, that is sort of something he signed up for. And turning him into a warrior poet might not be bad.
People look through party loot, searching for things that one might use to bolster someone spiritually. Cai Wen has a phoenix scroll, and a butterfly scroll, though he was hoping to use them for his own purposes. Hey, Mystic Mondo has Bear points (as well as some horse points). He's unlikely to just give them away, but Jerry has Wiki Points, and Mondo is one of the only NPCs who is meta enough to take them and be seriously tempted by them. Mondo is summoned, and trades all of his horse and bear points for all of Cai Wen's wiki points. Those, plus a phoenix scroll and a phoenix feather from Min Feng, should be sufficient for Wangmu to put together a bolstering effect. She and Mondo will stay at the Secret Headquarters and work on it, while everyone else goes off to deal with the holes in the wall.
Holes in the Wall
Actually, they don't really know where to go off to yet. Maybe Mondo can help with that!
- "Mondo, what do you know about holes in the wall?"
- "Well, what do you know about holes in the wall?"
He gets them to give some examples of where the beastmasters have been getting in. They tunneled into Stone Drum. And they tunneled into the Winter Academy. Oh, and there was also that set of rings in Daizhou. Cai Wen thinks that they probably don't need to go to Daizhou because they didn't roll an 8. The other examples are tunnels, though. Hmm.
Maybe the problem is that the Wall doesn't magically extend down? Wei Han says he never noticed before that it didn't. Mondo says - but they did know that it extends down. Technically, it doesn't extend up into the sky, but it prevents Northerners from just hopping over. In fact, they had to do a whole ritual that ended up in letting wolves hop back and forth. So probably the Northerners did something that let them get in via tunnels.
More contemplation is applied. The tunnel to the Winter Academy is protected by the Academy from being a general ingress, and the one to Stone Drum is protected by the military victory against the tunnelers. The rings in Daizhou are only suitable for spirit travel, according to Merit. But the medical tent outside the Port of Propitious Voyage is always in the same place, and beastmasters do seem to keep popping up there. Hmm.
The group leaves Mondo and Wangmu behind in the Secret Headquarters, and heads to the Port of Propitious Voyage. They find Eternal Redoubt at the Cup of Five Virtues and convince him to assist in Defending The Arcade Against the North. Cai Wen grabs Lin Fortune and his squad, and Wei Han grabs a group of army reinforcements, and the large mob proceeds to the Dragon army encampment commander's tent. They tell him they're here to investigate the medical tent, and head in.
Eternal Redoubt looks around, confused. How do you have a tunnel with no entrances?
Master Deng starts chopping everyone who looks like an enemy of the empire, and the commander is appalled. There starts to be screaming outside about ghost vampires, though Min Feng says that this is a distraction. As Deng keeps stabbing people, the commander starts calling for someone to capture Deng, and there's a lot of confusion.
Xiao Fa and Wei Han try to follow the flow of chi, and start being provoked into fighting as well. People begin to vanish, and after a lot more confusion and fighting and vanishing and some careful attention by Eternal Redoubt, it becomes clear that the entrance to the tunnel-with-no-entrance is via a "battle nexus".
In the tunnels, people arrive in three groups depending upon when they participated in the quasi-combat in the tent. The first group to enter the tunnels includes Shuyan, Xiao Fa, and Master Deng. Unfortunately, the tunnels are on Northern squares, and Deng and Shuyan both have talismans.
Wei Han, Cai Wen, Min Feng, and the Danger Squad appear next, at the other end of the map. Min Feng and the Danger Squad fall into a pool of lava in the center of the room, and Min Feng spends some karma to bring the Danger Squad with her as she burns to ash and reappears with Xiao Fa, leaving just Lin Fortune himself with Cai Wen and Wei Han.
Xiao Fa glares at the Danger Squad, which has recently been recruited by the Exuberant Lord Cai Wen as a personal honor guard.
- "He offered us health care with party healing potions!"
- "That I make!" -Xiao Fa
Finally, Eternal Redoubt shows up on his own map tile, and starts putting up defensive walls.
Each map tile has a monster, and some floating necromantic and battle power. Dead end tiles have necromancers or battle mages, in addition to the monster, and the mages can tap the power from the tiles they are connected to in order to do larger effects or heal themselves.
There follows a long and grueling fight in which various groups try to link up their maps, and then follow a line of power to the source. Some events of particular note during the fight:
- When Cai Wen and Wei Han are attacked by a dire hamster, Cai Wen thinks he has heard the screeching sound it makes, somewhere else recently.
- When an entire set of linked tiles has no bad guys on it, an omen card may be drawn. Xiao Fa draws the Monkey card, which he later uses to move a tile to connect his group with Cai Wen's group.
- Wei Han is attacked by a dire owl, which drains his Social stats.
- A dire ferret steals Deng's best sword.
Eventually, everyone makes it to the end of the northern-chi track. Eternal Redoubt tells Wei Han that he needs to jump in, in order to patch the hole. He does so, and everyone appears back in the medical tent, and then flees from the commander's ire, waving their warrant from the House of Benevolent Oversight defensively.
Back at the Secret Headquarters, Wangmu and Mondo have put together a spiritual-buffing procedure, and the Prince is provided with a lot of Bear/Horse/Phoenix energy against spiritual unravelment.
- The vial was determined to have been stolen from the monk Liang Zongxia, who had journeyed through the Gate of Five Elements to bring it back for the Lord of Benevolent Oversight. When he was unable to recover the vial, he headed back to the Gate of Five Elements to quest for another vial, but Master Tranh noted that the second quest was probably doomed. Takanata and others finally tracked the monk down on the doorstep of the Gate, interrogated him, and convinced him to return with them to be given the vial back. After that, it is assumed that he finished his quest and gave the vial to the Lord of Benevolent Oversight as he had promised he would.
- previously Ming I and later Unnamed
- Xiao Fa thinks that time is passing, but the mechanic has caused the party to be somewhat unstuck from time, a bit, so that they are getting more done than they might otherwise.
- much to the disappointment of the snakes
- several patients
- He later remembers that he heard it from outside, at Tahiti