|"Tn un yse noduvo sapuppeo ehn esao tntllhwe peto oaod aflig au sh occt, hcra osbtsoh oteh eleg ss ie lhai et hnhbeifmto neg elot. Ehpt, llg ab ai srgy dom wnnuokn gdiye hnentsoa md iatg eeet uih efgeaeliwn ndle trmnr."|| The run begins in the late Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place principally in the Butterfly Meadows
Lounging around at Tahiti, the party briefly considers going to ask the Prince for a mission, but Takanata declares that he has other plans: there’s a music festival on the Butterfly meadows, and he’s going.
While they bicker about whether they can just ignore the Winter mechanic or not, they take stock of political and military problems that have been accumulating as Winter has progressed. Cai Wen ticks them off:
- The House of Judicious Increase is upset with Xiao Fa, and the party, for thwarting them in contravention of the non-thwarting clause of the treaty in which they agreed to support Xiao Fa for Emperor.
- The Illuminated Precincts is probably going to invade the Tanzhe Plain.
- The Forest of Chin is probably going to invade the Tanzhe Plain.
- The Dragon Army will probably requisition the House of Exuberant Interference’s military stat, in the third turn of Winter, which will make it hard to defend against any of that.
Takanata mentions that Yoshi’s father has a mercenary company; maybe they would be available to solve one of the problems? In the Forest of Chin, he also notes that the party solved the murder of the High Warlord’s son; did they ever get a favor for that? Apparently not -- the Warlord was not in the mood for granting favors, but we could probably use it for persuasion.
Cai Wen asks Xiao Fa what he wants to do about the House of Judicious Increase. They generally agree that promising to help them instigate another Treaty of Houses after the war is probably the level of promise that will be needed, and they’re willing to do that. Cai Wen draws the line at actually destroying the House of Benevolent Oversight. Regarding spirit alliances, Xiao Fa and Takanata both want either both Wolf and Horse to succeed in joining the Cycle, or neither. If the country is renamed (probably something that could include a Treaty of Houses as a big component), Takanata thinks that we should angle for a name that would be consistent with either Magpie or Wolf.
Xiao Fa is also concerned about the House of Quiet Concordance, with its small Military stat, getting beaten up in the war, so he sets up a meeting with the King to propose that Quiet Concordance be allowed to roll on some other stat. The party talks over ways in which this could work. Cai Wen thinks that the rationale should either be for a roll that assists the war mechanic in some other way, or that it should explicitly be a non-war-mechanic effect. Xiao Fa and Takanata conclude that they want to have Quiet Concordance do a roll to try to fix the squares around Gate of Shen. Xiao Fa takes this plan to the King’s daily war council with Judicious Increase and Gainful Protection, and persuades the King, though the King notes sternly that this can’t be precedent for houses with small Military stats to avoid the war effort. The King also wants to know if Xiao Fa has talked with his son (the Prince, at Moderately Obscure HQ) lately. Xiao Fa says he has, several times this week.
The party runs out of excuses to not think about Takanata’s party and the Winter mechanic, so they talk for a while and eventually Takanata does a Crossroads reading -- will we be more successful at what we’re supposed to do today if we talk to the Prince, or go straight to the Meadows? The answer is clearly to talk with the Prince. They go to Moderately Obscure HQ, where they meet with the Prince; the Prince would like to travel to the Butterfly Meadows for a negotiation, and he thinks that they can avoid breaking the Winter mechanic if the party accompanies him and checks in a couple of times per day. The dilemma is finally resolved!
En route, Cai Wen takes the opportunity to ask the Prince about the state of various Great Houses that the party didn’t already know about. Most of the Prince’s updates are things that they already knew, but there are some nuggets that were not so clear. All Houses are operating at -2 Resources due to the invasion, except for Ornamental Purity, which was instantiated after Winter began. Judicious Increase has a long-term +1 RES for profiteering in the Tanzhe. Cai Wen figures out, though the Prince isn’t saying, that Benevolent Oversight has a Chi point held down in the Winter Mechanic. Cai Wen also asks for the Prince’s opinion on what it means for Exuberant Interference’s military to be requisitioned. He thinks that means that the House will make a military roll at the Dragon Army’s direction; so the House can’t make any other rolls, but it doesn’t make the Tanzhe (or anything else) specially vulnerable, beyond the lack of a Military roll to defend it. After talking about it more, the Prince thinks that the Army might have a plan to do something special by combining the requisitioned forces of several houses. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Imperial Warlord will personally show up to take command, and that he probably could (and probably will) arrange it so that Exuberant Interference’s forces take the damage.
Takanata gets his art. It seems to be a spider among the butterflies -- sort of creepy.
Zhou spars with the Prince. His aspect is still Magpie, but his potential has shifted a lot. He could go in three different directions. One is his previous direction -- very noble scion, political but not fighty, though that option has gotten more Bear-flavored. Then there’s the Weird path, with his high-energy Chi from drinking Crane blood, which seems less catastrophic for him now that the party did some patching; it’s not a full radiation accident yet. There’s a third path that’s harder to see -- if his House goes down and he doesn’t die, that’s a different radiation accident.
They arrive at the Harbor of Shining Reflections, where an honor guard of Seahorse Cavalry awaits. Cai Wen gazes admiringly at Golden Flame, who is resplendent in her armor, with her shiny trident gleaming in the sun. The Prince heads off to his negotiations with Ti Jun -- he’s hoping to get some help from the Seahorse Cavalry in the war, since the Sea Lord is nowhere to be found and there’s just been a naval action. The festival is tomorrow; the Prince is expecting to be off reviewing the Seahorse Cavalry on maneuvers, though he expects Ti Jun to be at the festival.
Takanata arrives at the Circus; Melina is pleased to see him, and wonders how he knew. Well, he didn’t know. She asks him to have a look around the Circus. With an amble around, he can see that nothing is obviously amiss, though a couple of things stand out -- Min-su has acquired a lot more monkeys, of all kinds of varieties, including spider monkeys -- monkeys with long arms and legs, though Takanata can’t sense anything capital-S-spider-y about them. He also notes that Bian Meiling has expanded her act to include a spectacular gliding move, that relies on a thin, nearly invisible silk line, as if it were spider-silk. Perhaps he has found Melina’s concern…
Looking around at other things for signs of spider influence, he sees that Murase Minako has more horses, and Akimoto is training with an urchin, and has a new move where he climbs smoke from a candle, which the urchin pinches out and then Akimito tumbles gracefully to the ground. Mondo is sporting a long beard now, and is adding some Sage to his circus game; he has more status and gravitas. Maybe he’s made Level 7 riddle-master?
He checks back in with Melina. She’s frustrated -- it’s all a bunch of spider aesthetics with no detectable tangible spider-y effects. She notes that Mondo says she doesn’t know what she knows when she says they’re not Spider-y.
Meanwhile, Xiao Fa is looking around at healing houses, hoping to observe someone who’s been poisoned. He also wants to check out a mausoleum. That’s not creepy at all; it’s for some kind of homework. He manages to find a suitable poisoning victim, and a funeral to be held in 2 day’s time.
Takanata interprets the omens. He thinks the spiderization of the Circus is a plot, not just a sign of something else happening. He fetches Xiao Fa and Min Feng to investigate further. Min Feng manages to overhear a couple of urchins talking about who forged Artemesia’s needle -- she has been upset about that.
Cai Wen has a pleasant brunch with Golden Flame. She thinks that the two Princes will be rolling status at each other today, in order to establish who is doing favors for whom. Cai Wen has a present for her -- a throwing net. He doesn’t know what it does, but he found it on a shopping trip. Golden Flame briefly considers trapping him in it; she tries it out on a nearby bush. It seems to wrap up the bush effectively, and also quickly untangle when she pulls it back.
Back at the Circus, once everyone is gathered, Cai Wen speculates that Ti Jun might be doing a Spider plan for changing the name of the country, and intentionally making it easier for us to find. This leads to a discussion about whether we should go sever the Prince from Spider. Min Feng notes that she has learned that shtick. Several people think we shouldn’t do that just now.
Xiao Fa and Master Zhou go on a Feng Shui tour of the Circus. It doesn’t seem spidery, and all seems to be Circusy and Butterfly-y. Xiao Fa tries to follow the Chi downstream, and finds that there’s nothing obviously going on, but he notes that there is a bit more chi circling the horse stables than he would expect. They head over there, where they overhear a roustabout talking to himself in the back of the stable. “All the horses, that’s probably good” … “Can’t play favorites”. He scurries off, and they intercept him. He says he’s going to the port to shop. Zhou quashes this -- Ringmaster Zhu needs to see him immediately. Xiao Fa looks at him more closely; there’s something going on with him, like he has a particularly clever plan that has come from some Chi-flavored source.
They take him -- Third Chen -- to Cai Wen, and badger him about his behavior. What’s with talking to himself? Well, he just does that. He has also heard that Artemisia is complaining that someone switched her needle. Master Zhou takes him off for mandatory combat training for an hour, and gets that Third Chen is getting advice from his cricket. Master Zhou questions him closely on this. How long has it been giving him advice? What does it tell him?
Rubberlegs says that Third Chen was brought on recently, during winter-roustabout-recruitment. He actually came on during the Month of the Spider. Aha! Xiao Fa tells Rubberlegs that there’s something spider-y afoot.
They go back to the stables. Third Chen is very concerned that they’re going to steal his cricket. They eventually find the cricket in a little cricket cage. Third Chen says the cricket’s name is Pretty Li. Zhou tries blindfolding himself -- no, the cricket is not an enemy. Xiao Fa tries chi analysis -- yup, that cricket sure has a demon. Probably it’s somehow cricket-y. This is not terribly unusual -- Lucky Crickets are a thing, and having a minor demon of luck hanging around a cricket is one way for that to happen. He doesn’t know what this demon’s shtick is, though.
Cai Wen goes to talk with Melina to see what’s going on, and lets her know what the party has seen. They go to Artemisia and discover that the needle is forged -- it’s a “Gregn Needle”. It was replaced about a week ago. They then go over what they know about changes with everyone else. Melina starts with herself -- she has new ringmaster shticks, but her Seer shticks have been telling her there’s a shadow and a threat, but whenever she looks closely, everything looks fine. Rubberlegs has new stuff-management shticks, but nothing apparently spider-y. Meiling has new pieces of her act, but she didn’t get new shticks for them; just stuff. (The circus has been more accepting of gear to enhance performances, after enduring the party stealing shows with gear for a few years.) Likewise, Min-su is just using her existing shticks with new monkeys.
When they go talk with Mondo, he says, “Ah, you’re investigating *that*....” Cai Wen leads by assuring Mondo that he doesn’t know what he knows. With that settled, Mondo eventually nudges him to Check the Score, which Cai Wen usually doesn’t do until he has a better idea what the plot is. When Cai Wen finally checks the score, things become more clear and more confusing:
….The scoreboard seems to have been encrypted.
With more visits around the Circus, most of the suspicious things seem to have been acquired early in the winter. Akimoto did get a new shtick -- Inspired Climb; Jojo and Kar Lo have new shticks, though nothing about them seems spidery. Minako’s new shtick does have a weirdness -- it has a “B” on it, which means it was a beastmaster shtick; Mondo has given her homework for fixing that.
Everyone else goes to the stable, so Takanata can talk with the demon. They note that Second Chen can’t hear the conversation. The demon doesn’t give its name; after a little fencing, it offers that it will give advice if Takanata agrees to try to follow it. Takanata isn’t tempted yet; the demon offers to go with some constraints (it’ll go toward an objective, without unnecessary booby traps). Takanata is willing to give that a try; he says that Magpie broke his shtick such that he has to give cheap gifts, and he is trying to fix it through homework, but has had only one idea so far. Can the demon advise another one? The demon suggests -- give someone close to you a gift that’s inexpensive, but harkens toward a shared experience. Takanata judges this to be reasonable advice. Nobody else wants to try it just yet. The demon notes that it won’t give a person more advice until they’ve at least attempted to follow the previous advice.
Next, Takanata goes to scry Artemisia’s needle being stolen. He can see it happen -- the door opens, the needle disappears and is replaced, the door closes -- but not who did it. Someone with really good stealth, or unscryable. He also tries out the demon’s advice; he goes out to the banks of the Jasmine, where he painted his great masterpiece; he brings a bottle of cheap wine such as he might have shared with her back in the day, before his tastes became more refined, and offers it to her. That fits the bill.
The party checks in with the Magpie prince. He thinks things are off to a good start. He won’t quite say it, but he thinks Ti Jun is a bit eccentric. He’ll be out with the Seahorse Cavalry tomorrow, while Ti Jun will be attending the festival.
Min Feng goes to listen to the Prince’s thoughts in the garden. He’s content with the cavalry negotiations. He wishes we weren’t going to the Festival, but figures it’s inevitable. He’s not really trying to be cagey; he sounds resigned. We conclude that he must have some kind of Emperor plan going off there.
Next day, it’s time for the Festival!
We notice several things -- music groups, works of art, ice sculptures, food vendors, and the like. Xiao Fa looks with the Imperial Eye to see what is happening here that will affect the Imperial succession. Well, it’s not yet, and then it’s those two people over there, and it’s starting … One is bundled up like a local, the other looks like she’s from the Foxwoods. And then their connection is fading. Then other connections are fading. Suddenly people are babbling at each other and freaking out. The party manages to avoid whatever is going on through a combination of Chi successes (12 or more seems to be safe), Walls of Fate, Chi Barriers, and the like.
Takanata heads up to the stage, unloads some karma, and begins an epic Expressive Gesture performance, to try to contain people in the square. This enthralls most of the audience, and Cai Wen, who embarrassingly is the only one without some kind of social defense shtick. Everyone else goes to investigate.; Xiao Fa and Min Feng go for the original 2 people, while Zhou leaps up to a flagpole and blindfolds himself -- everyone here is a little bit of an enemy; the guards who are now surrounding the square are maybe a bit more of an enemy, but nothing strong. The guards all have earplugs -- they seem quite well prepared for this unexpected contingency...
- "Cai Wen waves his lighter and sings: “All we are saying is …. Wha wha wha whaaaaa”"
Waylaying the two original carriers doesn’t turn out to reveal anything -- neither of them is royal. Zhou does manage to kick the cryptomancy out of the woman from the Taiga, which gets her into a state where we can talk with her. Xiao Fa does figure out that the person from the Taiga was the Tao source, but more like she had some sort of chi on a timer and less like she did it herself.
Finally, as the party flails in the courtyard, a gong sounds, and a balcony door opens, and Ti Jun steps forward. The Yellow Prince has, it seems won the round. Xiao Fa considers whether there are any crazy karma-powered moves he could make to steal the show; but he concludes that he probably needs 2 different 7-karma effects to do that. At least he has a few minutes to think about it -- Ti Jun is just as enthralled with Takanata’s performance as everyone else is. So he thinks more, with some cryptomancy skill that Min Feng has borrowed and then lent to him. The whole thing is really contagious and sticky, and there’s no way that Ti Jun has the right mojo to overpower it, but it probably has a command word or key or something, which Ti Jun would have. He also realizes that there’s something in this that’s reminiscent of the circus issues; the forged item with one wrong letter; Bian Meiling with a shtick with a B in it, and probably a third thing.
Acknowledging defeat, Xiao Fa climbs up to the balcony to shake Ti Jun out of his reverie. Ti Jun begins his speech: “Be calm, my people! Be quiet, and listen to my words!” The people start to calm down a bit at the sight of their Prince. “Listen to …. Uh … crap, it’s encrypted.”
It would seem that the Prince might have received a defective Cryptomantic Acclaim Of The People kit…
Takanata goes to the balcony and summons Jin, and explains that the whole festival has been Encrypted. Xiao Fa gives details. Jin is terrified -- the Cryptomancer is here? No, everyone has just been encrypted. Jin is appalled. But he can eventually come up with an encrypted set of words, and a mechanic to decrypt the festival.
In the course of decryption, the party struggles to remember a bunch of things that they noticed upon entering the festival; and to generate more clues, interesting festival-related facts must be revealed. Takanata offers to share a fact which Ti Jun can take advantage of, but not tell anyone. Ti Jun considers, and decides that he can agree in good faith by spending a karma on something. Takanata then divulges to him that the cryptomancer who did this isn’t the one from the Precincts who Jin has studied with -- it’s someone else in disguise. Ti Jun’s eyes go wide. Really? He is floored. That’s a karma well spent, for sure.
The encryption puzzle is eventually slain with much difficulty, and the tumult of babbling comes to an end.
There is a knocking in the skull,
An endless silent shout
Of something beating on a wall,
And crying, “Let me out!”
That solitary prisoner
Will never hear reply.
No comrade in eternity
Can hear the frantic cry.
Back at the circus, Mondo advises the party to write down what they know, so Jin can see what’s wrong with the written words. As we do this, Takanata goes up to the tallest nearby tree and looks down, and sees that a spiderweb image has been sewn into the big top. Well, that’s definitely a problem.
After much writing down and prodding, we identify Akimoto’s shtick as the third problem; “Inspired Climb” can be changed to “Spider Climb” by removing the “in” and then rearranging. Jin points out that Minako’s shtick has an extra B, and Artemisia’s needle turned an E into a G. He suggests reversing those operations on something that the party thinks is important. And so they try with the Silken Wings, which can be turned into Silken Webs by removing an I and N, turning a G into an E, and adding a B.
Replacing Artemisia’s forged needle with an actual green needle causes one of the chrysanthemums on the scoreboard to change to a house. For good measure, Takanata takes the Gregn Needle to Pai, to be re-forged into a legit green needle. Then he goes to Akimoto, and rewrites Inspired Climb to Astonishing Ascent. That changes the house to a jack-o-lantern -- there are still two other untouched problems, the party thinks.
Replacing the big top with the spider image is enough to change a second chrysanthemum to a house. Cai Wen decides that the icons are encrypted enough that we can’t tell anything, except that a state changed, but we should get rid of all the chrysanthemums.
Xiao Fa goes to talk with Second Chen (there are 3 Chens, who seem to have buddied up, even though not all of them actually started with the name of Chen -- it just became a thing). She has a lucky rock with a demon in it. He seeks out First Chen and demands to be taken to the Lucky Thing. First Chen has a book. He’s had it for a long time, but it did get luckier this winter. All of the Lucky Things seem to be individually benign. Takanata does Eyes of the I Ching and Connections II, and finds that they’re all connected to the Alchemist’s apprentice. The party tries to remember what we know about the apprentice -- they can’t remember details, but they remember that Xian seemed to know something about them in Persona Non.
The party decides that they feel guilty about taking the Chens’ lucky items, but something needs to be done. They ask Melina to look at the Chens; she thinks they are being groomed to become Spidery. Can Xiao Fa hit them with The Glow? Well, it’s kind of a big hammer since they don’t actually have aspects yet, but it probably can counteract being nudged toward Spider. Xiao Fa asks for Dragon’s advice on which of the Chens to glow. Dragon thinks he should glow Second Chen -- she’s the leader. He hits her with the Glow, and she looks thoughtful. The last chrysanthemum on the scoreboard changes to a house.The party has no idea whether it has succeeded or not, but the Rubber Ducky contest has three changed values, and that is taken as victory enough!