|"He who does not feed the dog feeds the thief."|| The run takes place late in the Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place
Cai Wen explains (principally to Xiao Fa but also to everyone else who is listening) some deals he is trying to cut. In particular, during puttering, they talked with Lady Jin and explained a few things to her, including the ten-zhu version of who the Marked are and about Xiao Fa being the rightful Emperor and everyone else just pretenders. Lady Jin is naturally a little distrustful of the party's ability to meticulously keep its bargains in the long-term, but she is willing to agree to a general Alliance to the extent that she gets her rewards first. For example, trading 'she becomes Queen (and the loot necessary to support her plan for that)' for 'the Arcade supports Xiao Fa for Emperor'.
Xiao Fa is unwilling to promise away the Crown of Imperial Wisdom, sight unseen - what if it counts for a million points on the Imperial scoreboard?
Speaking of alliances: about that agreement with the House of Judicious Increase. In Invisible House, Sei-Lin raided their vault and stole their most prized items; one was sold to the Invisible House, and one (the Key to Magpie's Vault) is hidden in the Carriage even now.
- "It seems to me that this alliance is likely to become unsustainable at an awkward time." -Cai Wen
There is some discussion as to whether Sei-Lin can be plausibly denied as associated with the House of Exuberant Interference. After all, his I Ching suggests that he is only on the outskirts of the plot.
He interacts with the world at a full gallop, which means that he is either passing headlong into a plot, or seeing it recede in the distance. In part this is youth, which will pass, but it is also his nature and inclination. As such, he will never be in the heart of things, but will pass through the outskirts of a great deal.
On the other hand, he's been seen with the party quite a lot, the party was hiding in the woods outside while he was robbing the place, and they still have the Key, so... deniability may not be easy.
As far as allying with Lady Jin - what about her dumping the youngest son of Lord Ma? He's heartbroken, and that was apparently mean of her. Takanata has read her I Ching as well:
Potential inherited, but not from birth.
A willing ally, but pragmatic towards her goals.
Careful, and slow to move, but constant and formidable in the end.
Breaking alliances is like breaking relationships, she’ll sever the ties that bind, but never cut the hearts of others, for Fox knows all will be connected again before the end.
It's not clear if "never end a relationship or an alliance" is required for allies; it certainly doesn't seem to be required for Exuberant Interference, though there is always the "when we do it it's for a good reason" tradition of holding one's allies to a higher standard.
Lijuan asks the butler for some cookies, and in addition to the general assortment, Master Zhou receives a single fortune cookie which appears to be divinatory. He saves it for later, just in case.
General briefing complete, the party heads to Benevolent Headquarters. The rain is much lighter than it had been before, but there is still a lot of wind. The Prince and Lady Jin are sharing a light lunch, and Xiao Fa gets the idea that he might be able to pull rank and try to yoink Lady Jin away from the Prince if he really tried. He does not try.
Asking for a mission, Cai Wen uses a cheat to turn the dice into 2d4, and Takanata uses a cheat to push it in the direction of five with karma. The dice roll a one and a three, and with Takanata's virtual karma, the outcome is a five.
The Prince stands up, and starts to shake. It takes longer than usual for his eyes to turn blue and blue, but finally he says "Save.... save the lady of wheels and waves".
Lijuan points out that it has been really hard for her to do her prophetic art - maybe this was similar? Xiao Fa looks at the Prince, and thinks that the effect was that of a little spiritual battle inside his head - as if another spirit showed up and tried to block the prophecy. This seems to be a different effect than the last time something was trying to block the prophecy, and clearly it wasn't a full-on battle between Great Spirits because the Prince isn't completely destroyed. But he did take some damage in the process.
Did these problems prevent him from finishing the prophecy? No, all the problems were with the first word, not the last. Xiao Fa prescribes rest and ginseng tea, and Lady Jin escorts the prince off to rest, joining the group in the map room shortly thereafter. Cai Wen goes formal and does introductions, introducing Lo Xiao Fa, the Rightful Emperor. The Lady of Wheel and Waves seems likely to the party to be Kuan-Xi (who is not in the run). However, Interpret Omens indicates that it is Lady Jin, which is equally inexplicable, as she seems to be both in danger and standing right there. Cai Wen gets a bit of a headache.
Lady Jin suggests that the prophecy indicates she should be in danger, but she has altered her destiny to be the party's ally so she is here rather than off pursuing her own agenda - so maybe they should put her in danger and then save her?
Takanata thinks that makes sense - the prophecy would match a plan where she's trying to retrieve the Crown but there's a northern attack. Lady Jin agrees that if not for the current alliance, she would already be trying to beat them to the Crown.
Lijuan finally finishes her art. Lady Jin agrees she is the magpie in the pink hat, that Pao and Squeaky and... something in Lijuan's clothes...? are offering food to? Hmm.
Is that Xiao Fa behind, frowning? That could be him. It looks like he's not in the nest, he's outside/above it.
The group looks around the map room. Are things focused on Resplendent Decoration or is it something more broad than that? There are notations on the house monopolies, including what land each Great House owns either as the house proper or by individuals. There are also notes on the lineages of several houses, including some going back before the Third Treaty of Houses. Other notes include the artistic holdings of houses, including the Finger Guards of a Hundred Deaths being held by the House of Gainful Protection, and the Crown of Imperial Wisdom being most recently the property of the house that later became Resplendent Decoration - the lord of that house had it during the time of the Second Treaty of Houses.
So... is there a Northern strike team being sent? Yes, the map room indicates that even now there is a team headed towards the House of Resplendent Decoration.
Xiao Fa stakes his claim to get to look at the crown before Lady Jin claims it, and Lady Jin points out that it is the Crown of Imperial Wisdom, not the Imperial Crown of Wisdom.
Master Zhou opens his fortune cookie:
Both the good and the bad take strength from their friends. It matters not which you are, so long as you know.
Finally, they are off to the House of Resplendent Decoration!
No, actually, they are off to the White Pagoda, to pick up Broken Sword. (Lady Jin changes into black leather armor rather than her decorative robes).
Broken Sword and Po are sparring.
- "You are training Po, then?" -Master Zhou
- "He wore me down." -Broken Sword
- ""I thought I should be conversant in the fighting styles of our enemies!" -Po
Master Zhou explains that there is a Northern strike team infiltrating the Empire, and they...
- "SHALL I CALL OUT THE TROOPS, MASTER?" -Po
- "It's a strike team, not an army." -Master Zhou
- "Then we face it alone!" -Po
- "How is your training going?" -Master Zhou
Po demonstrates a fancy parry he has learned - he spins around and around, parrying everything incoming, until he hits the side of the White Pagoda nose-first and takes a bunch of damage. Broken Sword says that he was showing Po how to block a sword strike, and Po added some... flourishes.
Shen-Ji asks Po if he has been working on his catch phrases, and Po complains that a lot of Northerners don't speak Xiang, so he's going with "Skrakathoom!"
Then, it's off to the House of Replendent Decoration, and their cemetery out back.
The group appears in the bottom right, as is traditional, and Lady Jin says that the gate to the cemetery is at the end of the path.
Lijuan senses that there's a person up ahead, but when Shen-Ji flies up, he is spotted. The guard looks to be wearing the fine livery of the House of Resplendent Decoration.
- "Halt and declare yourselves! Who intrudes on this sacred ground?"
Lijuan and Shen-Ji look at each other, not having prepared a cover story, and Xiao Fa hurries forward.
- "Ho, good warrior. We are here because there is talk of two troubles here. One, an imminent attack by Northern Enemies which may bestir the spirits of the dead." -Xiao Fa
Xiao Fa gives him an action, but alas, the guard does not let him in.
- "This place is guarded against such things by friendly spirits. You may not pass the gates after night."
Master Zhou examines the options for going off the path - there are hills covered with prickly briars, which will likely do some damage to anyone who tries to climb them.
Xiao Fa works to persuade the guard that he should escort them inside - the Northern intruders are not going to worry about the gates, and could already be inside! The guard seems confident that any invaders will be dealt with by the spirits inside. Shen-Ji warns that the invaders will have necromancers, and might have placed the spirits under their control.
- "They love eating Empire spirits."
The guard finally concedes that he will summon his captain, and tells them to "wait here". Shen-Ji takes the implicit permission to move up to where the guard was standing. The metal gate is closed, but not locked, but still seems to have a lot of authority about it.
Master Zhou, using his yellow silk sight, detects a faint enemy presence to the northwest, but the guard doesn't seem to be his enemy (yet). Xiao Fa discerns the chi, which seems to be sacred ground, protected by a spirit, which is manifest just a few hexes away. The gate is the line where their authority ends.
Lady Jin and half of the Danger Squad have wandered to the southwest outside of Cai Wen's status range, so the two squaddies start following Lady Jin's direction instead of Cai Wen's, and lift her up the hill.
A bunch of the fireflies seem to be heading to the northwest, too, as if investigating the enemies that Master Zhou is detecting.
Master Zhou declares that the gate is a Boundary - crossing it takes a small step into a spirit's domain, subjecting yourself to the spirit. Shen-Ji promptly flies over the gate, and has to declare who is on his team.
Most everyone declares that they are, in fact, on Shen-Ji's team, and find themselves moving in Bad Guys instead of Good Guys.
Master Zhou's enemy detection expands - the fireflies and the guards are now his enemies too. One of the guards shouts for reinforcements.
Xiao Fa starts a ceremony of propitiation: "Forgive us our trespasses. We are only eager to help you. Great terrible things from the north are here to loot and pillage and destroy." With the help of Master Zhou and Lijuan, he cleanses himself of "enemy" status, but everyone else is still a bad guy.
Shen-Ji zooms into the middle of the map - the area is lit in little patches by fireflies, but there are a lot of tombs around blocking visibility.
The Danger Squad boosts Cai Wen up the south hill to join Lady Jin...
... while Takanata ascension-grapples up the north hill.
A guy in a Dragon Army uniform runs up to Shen-Ji, warning him about incoming northerners.
The guard back at the gate attacks Master Zhou, who has no trouble parrying, but then evacuates Xiao Fa away from the "enemies".
Shen-Ji disarms the batleth northerner, and shoots at Rhino, but then gets mesmerized by the cat-eyes guy.
Takanata auspiciously wanders to a mausoleum, but the gate is locked.
Master Zhou finishes the ritual of propitiation, so he gets to act in good guys again. Xiao Fa convinces his guards to head off to deal with the Northerners, while he (and the newly good Master Zhou) "hold off the others".
Po, at the top of the northern hill, reaches the bell tower and rings the bell.
Takanata gathers anti-combat flowers, but the combat has already begun so he can't really prevent it at this point. .
- "Well, okay. I'm a bad guy, I try to knock the door down." -Takanata
The guards try to take out the necromancer - he has an aura of death, so it's rather an even fight.
Master Zhou starts punching more Northerners, and also has some trouble with Cat-Eyes being mesmerizing. The guards call for reinforcements again, and two figures in black appear to take on Po.
Lady Jin picks a lock on one of the tomb doors, and heads inside. Cai Wen realizes it's a hat mechanic.
The Dragon Army guy continues to be problematic about engaging with the "enemy" party like Lijuan and Broken Sword, instead of fighting the Northerners.
Off in their tomb, Cai Wen and Lady Jin and Lin Fortune find themselves in a "rats in the basement" minigame in which they can spend time to earn personal eps. It's tempting, but there are bigger plots to fry, so Cai Wen and Lady Jin tell Lin Fortune to stay for a bit while they leave.
The trap-icon Northerner throws a bag of powder at Master Zhou - he parries it but that still causes it to explode, and the pair of them are both coated in poison dust.
The guards take out the necromancer, but his death burst kills them and turns them into skeletons.
Reinforcements arrive, and swarm both the Northerners and Broken Sword.
Master Zhou follows Rhino down into the basement of a crypt, which proves to be covered in spiderwebs. Master Zhou identifies the damage-per-step attack Tai Lung did long ago as having been based on the venom of that red spider right there. Master Rhino tries to get away from the red spider, but is not stealthy enough, and gets bitten.
One-Eye pulls half of the purple reinforcements with him away from the fight, and is definitely starting to go on the suspicious list.
Cai Wen puts on his saparilla suit (from way back in Book One!), and slides down the bramble hill. That protects him from the prickers but the suit is toast. He puts his hat over his heart - farewell, trusty suit.
Takanata goes down the stairs of his tomb, and finds a very long corridor that he thinks leads back to the main house. He senses echoes of the past, and sees, at some point long ago, a man and two little girls run out of the passageway and up the stairs. The first little girl says "Daddy, I'm scared" and the man replies "Don't worry, I won't let them get you - the house shall not fall." While an escape passage is interesting, he's not sure it's what he is looking for. The most recent "Krakathoom" came from down that hallway, though.
Lady Jin goes into another crypt.
Master Zhou kicks Rhino with True Kung Fu, kicking him back into the basement but taking no damage. (Thinking about what happened, he concludes that he used True Kung Fu to bypass both Rhino's defense and the mechanic, but that didn't leave anything for normal damage. )
Xiao Fa tells the guards to watch for Rhino coming back out, and get him when he does.
Master Zhou takes out Trap, unfortunately coating himself in some more poison.
The guards are running out of bad guys, but there's still Shen-Ji and Broken Sword as candidates.
Xiao Fa gets briefed by the reinforcements - the spirit indicates that there are two bad guys on the lower terrace, five on the middle terrace, and two on the upper terrace - though the two on the upper terrace are probably not a problem. Where should the reinforcements go? Xiao Fa sends them to the upper terrace.
Takanata comes to the other exit from the tunnel, at the base of the bell tower, where Po is fighting two ninja. Does Takanata have Liet or Myo memorized?
- "The odds it is not them are very low." -Takanata
On full defense, every time Po gets an action he loses 10 hit points smacking his nose into the bell tower, or some other buffoonery, but otherwise he can hold them both off.
However, Lady Jin and the Danger Squad have gotten in some trouble. Cai Wen yells for help, and Shen-Ji the attack helicopter sweeps in.
Lijuan has finally given up on treating One-Eye as a good guy, and shoots him in the back. The purple reinforcements, who have bows, target Shen-Ji.
Master Zhou summons Cai Wen, and then tries to lead the elite guards the other way around one of the tombs.
Xiao Fa uses Shen-Ji's flying disk to hop up the hill, and tells the reinforcements that the Spirits say that One Eye is an enemy and he's trying to trick them.
Takanata contemplates trying to summon Liet with Auspicious Arrival. Hi thinks if she's one of the ninja, her hat would probably come off. That might have… consequences, so he demures for now.
Lijuan finishes taking One-Eye out, but his final Splosion sends the remaining nearby two purple reinforcements after her for vengeance.
One of the reinforcements spots Cai Wen as he flees, despite Master Zhou's distraction, and gives pursuit.
Takanata checks the deepest connection between the two ninja - it's "Storybook love". Okay, that's Liet and Myo. Takanata decides to leave them to fritter away at Po. (Master Zhou thinks Po can stand up for another eight actions, which is practically forever.)
Cai Wen instantiates a loot scoreboard, and confirms that only one choice remains in the hat mechanic.
Rhino eventually charges back out of the tomb, and into Broken Sword.
Cai Wen recalls that the only other red door he saw was up to the north.
Cai Wen wonders about the hidden opportunities, but can't think of anything big. There's mostly just stuff he doesn't care about much, like capturing a good source of spider venom, or picking up some KS: Necromancy.
Xiao Fa gets one of the purple elite to escort him down through the brambles, while Xiao Fa makes flashy chi displays to "hold off" the danger squad. Master Zhou tells the remaining purples to stop chasing the harmless Cai Wen and come help first aid him, as he's taking a lot of poison/bramble damage.
Xiao Fa clears the corruption on Purple 2, so he realizes that Lijuan isn't actually bad - though that flying disk guy is still pretty dangerous. Takanata uses Hand on the Pattern to get Lady Jin to the last red door, just as Shen-Ji melts it open.
Lady Jin, Shen-Ji, and the two Danger Squaddies head into the crypt. Takanata butterflies down the hill, avoiding the brambles, and Cai Wen gets his portion of the Danger Squad to get him down the hill safely before the purples can catch up to him.
Meanwhile, down in the crypt - it's a whole dungeon! The group splits up - Shen-Ji heads north into the necromancy lab, Lady Jin heads south, and the Danger Squad heads east.
Lijuan tries to persuade the purples converging on her and Broken Sword that he's an old family retainer, but these turn out to be the ones coming to avenge One-Eye and they are less likely to listen to Lijuan.
- "Surrender, and you'll be tried before the Lord more honorably than you deserve!"
Takanata suddenly realizes that the prophesied time to "save the Lady of Wheel and Wave" is now.
Lady Jin's health is okay, but her general status is "being soul drained" which isn't good. Unfortunately, she's quite a distance away from everyone else except Shen-Ji and the Danger Squad, who aren't listening. He puts Hand on the Pattern to get Xiao Fa there, and the purple elite guards decide to escort him into the tomb to get him away from the dangerous Broken Sword.
- "Shen-Ji, which way did she go?" -Xiao Fa
- "South?" -Shen-Ji
Master Zhou spends some karma to get one of the other guards to help get him there, and Xiao Fa and then Master Zhou take out the ghost before it finishes draining Lady Jin (who can't see it).
- "Don't make me destroy you." -Xiao Fa
- "I am eternal!" -Ghost
- "Yeah, we're destroying him." -Master Zhou
An exhausted Po finally escapes.
- "The thing about fighting ninjas is they never expect anyone else to have ninja smoke! Shakaboom!"
Lady Jin's Danger Squaddies return from the far room with the Crown of Imperial Wisdom.
At this point, everyone can evacuate except for Lijuan, who has surrendered. (Lady Jin gets taken back to Tahiti to treat her soul damage). Master Zhou cleanses the guards of One-Eye's corruption, which makes fast-talk rolls work better, and explains that the Prince of Benevolent Overight sent them to thwart the Northern Invaders.
Xiao Fa examines the crown for relevance to the Imperial Succession. He thinks that one who wears that crown would have insight to benefit and expand the Empire, but it doesn't actually work until you're on a throne. It's pre-Phoenix, in some ways similar to the two rings Kuan-Xi has been playing with.
True magical analysis indicates that it was made by several of the spirits (Magpie, Monkey, and Dog) as a gift to an Emperor, and their descendants later gifted it to the King of the Arcade.
Hmm. Is the fact that the Crown spirits are Magpie/Monkey/Dog and the Prince's spirits are Magpie/Crane/Dog the source of the problem with the Prince's prophesy? “Almost,” thinks Takanata.
While in Tahiti recounting the events of the evening, the butler shows up a with a note.
Five of my guards dead. Did it even once occur to you to ask?