|"Marriage... is what brings us together today."|| The run takes place on the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Phoenix in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Cup of Five Virtues and the rest of the Port of Propitious Voyage
Takanata carves a sculpture:
A small statue, set with jade and gold. The statue has Lijuan and Zhuai standing next to each other, with their hands touching. They're both looking forward, rather than at each other, but in approximately the same direction. Ho is at Lijuan's side and she's wearing her bow and fairly plain robes, and a half step ahead. Zhuai is dressed more as a courtier, and to his side is a wheelbarrow.
This is different than most of his prophetic art - it is proscriptive rather than descriptive, such that he can spend up to 9 karma (provided from mysterious sources) in making the vision of the statue come more true.
Lijuan draws a sketch, but it's kind of puzzling.
Zhuai checks in with Cai Wen. Chashui says that one of the rooms in the tea house is reserved, though it is currently empty. Chashui explains - there's a long term contract for that room for a gathering in the afternoon, with a group that call themselves the Elemental Braid. They're regular customers, they pay well in advance, and they tip very well. Cai Wen explains that as the Great Bear Spirit will be attending the wedding, it would be good if the sorcerers didn't cause additional trouble with that. Chashui boggles a bit - she had thought the whole Bear Spirit was... more metaphorical. She had set up a little Bear shrine. Cai Wen means that the Great Bear Spirit will be walking around on physical feet at the wedding? Maybe, Cai Wen says. It cannot be ruled out. But anyway, having one room with a meeting in it shouldn't be a problem, other than any sort of sorcery/great spirit feedback.
There are a number of tables piled with fruit and fruit baskets, and more are arriving. A couple of scruffy young kids try to sneak in, and a woman with a broom shoos them away. Cai Wen objects - don't chase the urchins away! He's endowed an Urchin Refinishing Fund and everything! Chashui says they're actually being shooed to the cleaning and changing area.
Speaking of which... Master Zhou is wandering around near the tea house, and about a block away he encounters a tent, from which young-sounding shrieking is coming. There are a couple of guards at the tent flaps and corners. Master Zhou wonders if everything is okay, and he is assured that everything is fine; children are being appropriately disciplined - they have some sort of meeting to attend. They suggest that Master Zhou speak to Lord Siew with questions.
When Master Zhou finds Zhuai, he's carrying fruit baskets around. Master Zhou demands to know what is going on in the tent down the street. Er... the north street or the west street? West. Ah, that's urchin processing. They are being cleaned and dressed and in some cases cleaned again and dressed again.
- "Apparently it's an iterative process." -Zhuai
The tent to the north has spirit offerings, for ancestor spirits. Master Zhou somewhat grudgingly admits that that seems appropriate. Whose ancestors? Lijuan's, and Zhuai's, and the ancestors of anyone else who offered good luck to the wedding party. Oh, and - Chashui has just informed him that the Great Bear Spirit is coming in person. Will he need a chair? Master Zhou thinks that the lack of a chair will be the least of any problems in that case. Has Zhuai invited anyone surprising that Master Zhou should know about? Zhuai says that other than some of his family, and the circus guests, there are some surprise guests for emergencies (such as a mystic healer), as well as just about every urchin in the city. He notes that he does not have a particularly good contingency plan for Ezokin showing up, other than the party's enormous wealth.
Lijuan is in one of the back rooms of the tea house getting dressed, with Kasumi's (and Kawaii's and Ho's) assistance. Zhuai has stationed another guard at the door, looking into the door itself (not at Lijuan), so that if there is anything she needs, he will go and fetch it.
- "That sounds boring, we'll play twenty questions." -Lijuan
- "Yes, ma'am."
- "All the security suggests that Zhuai is not totally convinced about his family." -Takanata
- "That's the wisest I've heard of him yet." -Master Zhou
Zhi-Hao checks to see if Zhuai is an enemy of the Dragon Empire, with his new shtick. No, not quite... but he is an enemy of emperors? He and Takanata confer, and Takanata explains the whole Doom of the Foons thing.
Zhuai explains the schedule: there's the first fruit banquet, to get rid of some of the extra fruit, and then the spreading of the luck (which he expects the party to handle), and then the originally planned fruit banquet. The priest arrives after that, and then there's the ceremony. Everything will be perfectly fine. The party clamors that "fruit banquet" sounds like it does not have sufficient pork buns, so Zhuai heads out to arrange Even More Pork Buns. Master Zhou vaguely recalls that there was something about fruit and Imperial Weddings, but he can't put his finger on it.
Cai Wen spots Eternal Redoubt at a seat in the corner, observing the preparations with amusement. He has a braided ring similar to the others in the Elemental Braid group.
- "Let me guess. It's a no-bribery wedding." -Eternal Redoubt
- "Sorry about that, but the job really was trapped." -Cai Wen
- "I did notice that the winners both went to some Hell."
Cai Wen wonders if Hsu Verity or Ni Junxian are expected. Eternal Redoubt hadn't realized that Cai Wen was so well informed - but no, he is not expecting either of them today. If it was important, he could arrange for Verity to make the journey. Cai Wen says that's not necessary, but he does have a concern - today is not a good day for experimentation. Eternal Redoubt says that Cai Wen needn't worry - after the Incident, they've all agreed to limit experimentation at meetings to three dice. Cai Wen, intrigued, wants to hear more about the Incident, but Eternal Redoubt professes to have forgotten it entirely. Cai Wen warns again - he cautions them to do no experiments at all. He can't explain why, but no experiments. It is Eternal Redoubt's turn to be intrigued, and he says that he will pass along Cai Wen's warning, but they are a gathering of equals so he cannot give the others orders. Some of them would definitely want to know why.
- "I guess it depends on the specifics. Either the experiments would be very interesting, in which case there would definitely be some, or they would be very dull, in which case there needn't be any. So... you should think about that, and if you think that the specifics would mean there would be exciting experiments, then... then you should say nothing. In which case, if you say nothing, then... hmm. Maybe you should simply put it about that experiments would undoubtedly be very dull."
The first fruit banquet begins. There are a lot of urchins in attendance, as well as the expected guests. Every so often it looks as if the urchins may get into a fruit fight, but an old woman with a broom quickly puts a stop to any nonsense. The only guests that the party doesn't really recognize are a small group dressed in purple and red, who look vaguely disapproving of the urchins. Zhuai admits that they're his relatives. Zhi-Hao notes that they have a lot of hidden weapons.
Cai Wen notes that there's a mysterious scoreboard:
Lijuan tests out her new speak-to-pandas shtick, and Kawaii enthusiastically suggests that she and Lijuan go and kill Zhuai and all the bad people in purple and red. Lijuan tries to explain that the marriage is so they don't have to kill them, but this goes pretty much over Kawaii's head.
Zhuai explains to Lijuan and the others that as part of sharing the luck, a number of people left prayers to the ancestor spirits, which he arranged to copy. He has dealt with the ones that could be fulfilled by the direct application of money, and discarded the ones that did not seem doable, but there are ten interesting ones which contain plots that might be solvable before the second fruit banquet. With Zhuai's commentary on who left the note, they are:
- For whosoever stole my son's white horse, I call upon you to bring great wrath and vengeance upon them. I call upon you for stinging insects in his bed and stinging nettles in his soup. I call upon you for foul humors in his digestion and foul earth where he walks. I call upon you for all the perils upon heaven and earth that you may smite him with! (Goodness. This is Yip Qi-Chang, scribe in the Flat Market)
- Grandfather, is that you who is making all the noises? Please stop. It is scaring Mama and Papa. If it is not you, if it is another ghost, please make them go away. (Obata Katai, Middle White Jade neighborhood)
- Make Tzuyu stop being angry at me for no reason! (Pai Bei, Lowtown)
- May the Poisoned Thorns prick themselves on their own poison! Keep their poison, and their spines, away from our store. And everyone else's, but especially ours. (Lu Danzu, parents run a candle shop in the Nesses.)
- Please bring more rain, Grandmother-san. There have been so many fires. Soon someone will be hurt. (Khoo Mei-hua, Lesser Green Jade neighborhood)
- Please find my box. (Choi Jung-park)
- Please let Yushu come home again. Let him get free of the Poisoned Thorns. (Shui Douwan, Nesses neighborhood)
- Please look after my friend. She's always been really smart, but now she's smart about weird things, and I don't even know if they're really real. I don't think they are. Can you be too smart? Please look after her and make her okay. She's my best friend. (Shen Shao-yan, lives in the High Hills neighborhood)
- Please sway the heart of Lord Shang, and turn him against Rui. Or soften the heart of Lady Shang. I leave it to you. (Usami Miiko. Usami Rui is her sister. Middle White Jade neighborhood.)
- Please, help my daughter pass her exam. I know she is smart enough, and if you watch over her at all you know she has studied. But both times she has taken the exam before, it has been graded to fail, and I am sure it is because of Ko Hotoke, who hates her. If you could put him ill on the day of the exam so that it was graded by another, or even grant him the blessing of a promotion to the Harbor, I know she would pass. (Chu Yue-qin, fruit seller in the Flat Market)
Master Deng recognizes the Poisoned Thorns as a gang that is trying to promote themselves into a tong. Because the other tongs took such a hit in the Port of Propitious Voyage, they're being more successful than they might normally be.
Various people head out into the city to gather information.
Checking the Check Marks
There are definitely a lot of fires happening in the Lesser Green Jade District, mostly at the houses of mean kids. Arson investigators are stumped.
Lord Shang is fairly popular; they're a minor branch of the House of Resplendent Decoration. Lady Shang... spends a lot of money. Cai Wen gets the feeling that "spends a lot of money" is the nicest thing anyone could come up with to say about her. The second wife of Lord Shang is more of a shut-in; she does not do so much shopping. And Lord Shang is about to marry Usami Rui; the Usami family does a lot of the caravan runs between the northern Port and the Harbor, so it would be a strong alliance.
The weirdest thing going on in the Middle White Jade neighborhood is the haunted house. All the kids know it's haunted - conventional wisdom says for ages and ages, but the kid explaining the haunting says that he only heard a few weeks ago. The Obatas live there - they run a little restaurant. It would be a shame if they moved because of the haunting.
Lijuan finds Fin. He says he has a secret escape plan ready for her, if she decides she doesn't want to get married. She can just yell "Buster!" and they'll get her out in a jiffy. He's kind of familiar with the Poisoned Thorns, and doesn't much like them. Lijuan offers to hire them to report to the Rat's Nest, which kind of confuses Fin. She expands on her plan - the Rat's Nest can become a militia, and then they can hire the Poisoned Thorns to work for them. Fin is clearly a little iffy about the ability of eight-year-olds to boss around late teenage gang members, but also isn't willing to show weakness in front of Lijuan. She gives him fifty li to buy "stuff and things" necessary to become a militia, so he heads out to do so. When Lijuan tells the rest of the party this plan, Master Zhou notes that this is a terrible idea. Lijuan thinks this is what Yoshi would do, but the party decides maybe they can find a better way to deal with the Poisoned Thorns.
Zhi-Hao looks up his uncle and cousin, and invites them to the wedding. They don't know much about the haunted house, but Lumang could prove useful in pep talks to get people out of tongs.
Cai Wen determines that the civil service exams are today, and, in fact, they start in an hour. Everyone is very emphatic that he cannot get on the list to take the exam at this point, because Ko Hitoke, the chief proctor, is very strict. With some more prying, he manages to find out that he is very strict and very fair, and except for that girl who jilted him, he doesn't hold grudges. Well, that explains that one.
Kuan-Xi checks in with the imperial civil service, to try to pull strings on the proctor's behalf. After a bit of persuasion and a bit more bribery (and some clarification as to whether she is interested in patronage or vendetta), she arranges to have Ko Hitoke immediately promoted to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. (Check mark!)
Lijuan locates Shen Shou-yan amongst the urchin mob of wedding guests, to try to find out who her best friend is. By offering to send Master Zhou with spare pork buns for absent friends, she learns that the best friend's name is Kai, who was "smart enough not to come." Or so she said. Lijuan also finds Pai Bei, and gets a quick rundown on Tsuyu. Tsuyu is apparently angry at everyone now, so he didn't come to the wedding, because why would he come to the wedding of stupid people he's angry at even though he doesn't know them? That starts to sound like a curse, not just a spat between friends.
Zhi-Hao and Lumang and Cai Wen find the noodle shop that the Poisoned Thorns hang out at. The first bowl of soup is on the house - and it's really good. After some posturing and not-quite-intimidation, Master Deng covers the protection money (2 li a week) for the candle shop for the next year. Cai Wen considers that he might want to hire some muscle, and the group gets escorted into the back room to meet "the boys" where they're playing pai-gow. Well, that's tailor-made for Cai Wen, who manages to put Yushu all in with a "you work for me" before provoking an argument over who is cheating more. (Cai Wen isn't, but he's good enough to win even though the boys are cheating). The boys draw knives, and Zhi-Hao draws his sword, looking extra-terrifying. Before any carnage starts, an old man comes in, and fixes the boys with a glare. What's going on? They explain, somewhat incoherently. He glares at the boys and asks if Cai Wen was cheating. No, Grandfather, he wasn't. Well, then, Yushu does work for him for a day. Did they like the soup? Yes, they did. Yushu is instructed to follow Cai Wen around for a day, and after that Cai Wen will find him some sort of other job. (Two more check marks!)
Kasumi goes to talk to Horse. She shows him the prayer about the horse thief. Horse is willing to trade information about stolen horses for the exclusive use of Kasumi's Overhear shtick for the duration of the run. She agrees. The white horse was bought for this guy's son, but the son is an abusive horse-beating jerk. The stable boys and some local urchins stole the horse, and he's hidden in a field on the east side of town, where they're bringing him horse treats, and for some reason pork buns. Kasumi thanks Horse, and heads off again. She ponders where to find stinging insects, but can't think of any obvious place to acquire them. So, she heads to the field off to the east, and finds the white horse, tied to a tree, next to a pile of somewhat familiar-looking apples and pork buns. Kasumi takes the horse, and brings it home again, leaving a note:
Your son has not deserved this horse. Treat it better or the foul humors will befall YOU.
(Another check mark!)
Lijuan asks around about Choi - that's probably Choi Young-Park, an old homeless man. She sends Fin off to find out what happened to him.
Master Zhou finds Kai, who is at home in the yard, drawing squiggles in the ground with a stick. As Master Zhou's shadow passes over her drawing, a cryptic conversation begins.
- "What brings a Bear-servant here? This is far from your home." -Kai
- "Your friends lacked you at the wedding; they asked that you be brought these pork buns." -Master Zhou
- "That's kind of them. You should extend them my thanks and tell them again that they should leave before the turmoil arrives."
- "What turmoil do you expect?"
- "Do you truly wish me to name it and make it certain?"
- "Is it avoidable otherwise?"
- "I would say no."
- "Then will it alter things if you speak it?"
- "What led you to believe that there will be turmoil, and are there things I should be doing to prepare?"
- "Is it not obvious to you already?"
- "Well... you speak with a greater degree of certainty, and you warned your friends."
- "I warn them of many things."
- "Where do these warnings come from?"
- "From within me."
- "You have a gift of sight, then."
- "If people listened, I would call it a gift."
- "I would listen." -Master Zhou
- "Very well. Let us train." -Kai
She has no kung fu at all, but she does her best. Master Zhou notes that she is first level, her aspect is Enigma, and her best shtick is Dark Insight. Her general potential is newly large / no longer neglected. And, the interesting thing Master Zhou finds out is that she has unwittingly become the Guy of the Enigma demon.
Kai tells Master Zhou that his master will be the enemy of hers. Does she know why? She never does.
- "That must be challenging." -Master Zhou
- "Somewhat annoying, yes." -Kai
Master Zhou advises her that true knowledge that others cannot see the path to learning is too much - she must show them the way to discover it for themselves. But... does she find having these insights to be too much trouble? She agrees that it is hard to know the bad things that will happen, but notes that Master Zhou knows a lot of the bad things that will happen, and it hasn't led him to get amnesia a second time.
- "I would rather know what is coming and strive against it." -Master Zhou
- "But the more you know about what is coming, the less you can do." -Kai
Master Zhou offers to give her homework - after she does it, she can tell him what she has learned, and he will have advice for her.
- "Before you give me a task, you should know that the more people you help, the more people you are responsible for." -Kai
He assigns her the task: Travel to Daizhou, and find three people there to speak with for an hour about their view.
- One who strives to do what is right knowing what is to come.
- One who maintains equanimity.
- One who finds strength through their friends in the face of the storm.
He will give her a letter of introduction to Masters Tien and Lin. Once she has done this, he will return and find her.
Kuan-Xi pays a call on Lady Shang, who takes a bit of time to enhance her charisma before rushing in to see Kuan-Xi. They gossip for a bit, and Kuan-Xi gets a better briefing on the Shang household. The House of Resplendent Decoration is only just holding itself together in the north; it is stronger in the south. Though there is some secret trade with the North, of course. Lord Shang is getting married again; Lady Shang sees this as an unfortunate necessity, as the young woman has excellent connections. She doesn't seem to personally dislike Rui, she just doesn't think her husband needs any more wives. Alas, Kuan-Xi doesn't have the temperament to convince Lady Shang that tolerating an unwelcome marriage is the way to go. Kuan-Xi asks if the Shangs will be going to the wedding. Lady Shang has heard of the "trumped up peasant wedding" at the tea house, but it isn't her thing. She understands that half the urchins in the city are there.
- "Trumped-up peasant wedding? He did it just right!" -Lijuan
Takanata and Lijuan sneak out to talk to the Tsuyu, with pork buns. (In Lowtown, Takanata sticks out ridiculously, but no one bothers him). Lijuan tries to convince the boy to be her friend, but he's really pretty angry about it all, and only grudgingly agrees to come to the stupid wedding. While he's distracted, Takanata gets a vision of his past, which indicates that one day he was fine, and then the next morning he was really angry. They bring him back to the tea house, where Takanata reads his I Ching. His aspect is Rage, his specialty is Urchin, and his highest skill is pissing people off.
Everyone confers about what they have found out so far. Takanata tries a connections reading: Kai, Tsuyu, and whoever is starting the fires are all touched by demons in Toro's army, and they're planning to strike at Bear. He squiggles over a few words here and there, but not nearly enough.
- "The Darkness that comes at the end is coming to my wedding? That's beyond my wildest nightmares." -Lijuan
Cai Wen checks the scoreboard.
|5 of 10 check marks|
A and B are still mysterious, but Zhuai did mention that solving the ancestor prayers would get points, which are often... good for something. And Zhuai has a knack for bringing things together without necessarily knowing all of the purpose in the end. On the other hand, he probably wasn't planning for a giant fight between Bear and demons at his wedding. Maybe it's worth briefing him.
Zhuai wanders over to let the party know that the sorcerers are starting their meeting. Lijuan lets Zhuai know that the Darkness at the End is coming to the wedding.
- "That's probably a little strong. It's more that his army of demons is showing up." -Master Zhou
- "I... don't have a contingency for that." -Zhuai
Takanata thinks again about Lijuan's picture. Are the guys handing out the blessings protecting Bear from the little people? If protecting Bear weren't in and of itself oxymoronic, probably. They're at least standing between the little people and Bear.
Fin returns, now dressed for the wedding, and accompanied by Old Choi, who is carrying two pots. Fin introduces him to Lijuan, and takes the pots back. (They are apparently part of the "stuff and things" collection). Kasumi asks Old Choi where his stuff is, and he nearly wilts at the tragedy of it all. He misplaced his box, that had all his stuff in it, and now he has nothing.
- "What sort of stuff was it? Shoes are easy. If it's lucky rocks, I got nothing. Xiao Fa told us to stop stealing lucky rocks." -Lijuan
- "Nmmfmfgghg." -Master Zhou
Old Choi lists a bunch of stuff, most of which could be easily replaced with a few li, but includes a few sentimental items, such as a cameo portrait of his departed wife. Lijuan considers this all from the point of view of a detective, asks Old Choi about his day in detail, and concludes that when he was eating at the Flat Market, he was probably sitting on his box, but then left it behind. She and Zhi-Hao head to the Flat Market, but the box isn't there any longer, and the marketplace is really a disaster as far as tracking goes. However, when Zhi-Hao looks around for some of Old Choi's stuff, he does find a cameo at a trinket shop that matches the description. With some pressing, the seller admits to being a fence (not a thief), and says that he got the cameo from Stickyfingers, over there. The group grabs Stickyfingers, who seems to have just picked up the box once it became unowned, and tossed the rest of it in an alley. Luck smiles upon the party, and the box is recovered before the trashburners pick it up. They bring it back to the wedding, and give it to Old Choi. (Another check mark!)
Perhaps the Elemental Braid have an idea about how to make someone less angry. Cai Wen goes to talk to them, and agrees to put them on retainer for the rest of the day. Eternal Redoubt demands a day's worth of the salary for the Municipal Sorcerer position, on the principle of the thing, plus expenses and Cai Wen agrees (though he'll have to find out exactly what that is). They agree to "confidentiality, with the standard caveats", and Cai Wen tells them that the Great Spirit of the Bear is going to be attending this wedding, one way or another, and that there's a war brewing between many demons and the cycle spirits. This is an opportunity for the demons to attack the Great Spirit of the Bear, in the person of a few kids who have very recently been aspected by demons.
The sorcerers think that the easiest and most effective thing to do would be to wait until the demons engaged Bear, and then kill the kids. But the retainer really doesn't cover them doing that sort of thing, and they seem a little reassured to learn that Cai Wen isn't interested in that as a solution. The group digresses into wanting to know why the Bear is showing up, and Cai Wen concedes that the bride kind of has a connection. Normally the Great Spirits are everywhere and nowhere at the same time, which is a digression in its own right that quickly goes over Cai Wen's head.
Getting the kids far far away (possibly by stuffing them in Kuan-Xi's little carriage) might temporarily solve the problem, but doesn't solve the general problem for things like being angry all the time. Oh - the sorcerers have another thought. If there's some who is Bear aspected, they could stand in as Bear's Champion, and be the front line of defense first. Kawaii is deemed to not be Bear-aspected, but Takanata is pretty sure that Lijuan can declare herself Bear's Champion.
They put together a quick ritual (after getting permission to use real dice), and note that Lijuan would have six extra successes in the combat, due to the six check marks acquired so far. Kasumi suggests that Zhuai be Bear's Champion instead, but the sorcerers confirm that his connection seems wrong for that.
Is it possible to sever someone from their aspect? It is possible, but very hard. And sometimes it naturally changes, due to serious life changes. The sorcerers also note their theory is that every spirit and demon carries the seeds of its own destruction. So, for example, one way to thwart rage is to properly channel it. Takanata wonders if there is a way to phrase a curse to help Tsuyu channel his anger. The Braid think that would require some rules lawyering, but they'll think about it.
Kasumi and Takanata head to the haunted house, where Takanata declares that the haunting is disrupting his I Ching readings, and that's simply unacceptable. The Obatas are happy enough to have an I Ching master trying to fix their ghost problem, so Takanata putters around the house for a bit, looking for an interesting vision of the past. He sees, a few nights ago, a guy sneaking up to the house and gesturing at it, after which there are creepy creaking footsteps. Takanata recognizes the sound as very like that of the Footsteps demon that Shen-Ji encountered in the World Below. Takanata sketches the guy.
- "Do you know who this is?" -Takanata
- "That is my competitor."
- "I will speak with him."
- "... what does he have to do with the ghost?"
- "I WILL SPEAK WITH HIM."
The Obatas can give Takanata directions to the competitor's house, so he and Kasumi head there and throw the hammer of lordly status at him. He is reasonably impressed, and probably won't do anything for at least a little while after Takanata leaves the city. So Takanata briefs the Obatas that it's that guy behind it all, and that it's not ghosts, just a demon of irritating noises, so if they hear them again, they will know who is responsible and to ignore them. They figure that they can be brave enough to not move out, now that they know a little better what is going on.
Takanata wonders about the demons - someone in the Rui wedding plot must be tagged too, and they're not a kid. Wait, that's not true. Oh, okay, so not all the prayers are demon-related. (The box and the tong didn't have any obvious demon fingerprints...)
A lack of demons makes that more straightforward to deal with, at least. Kuan-Xi and Cai Wen talk to Usami Miiko, who is one of the local kids at the wedding. She can easily be convinced to explain the plot: Her older sister is going to get married to Lord Shang, and Lady Shang is evil and will beat her up. But her dad really likes Lord Shang, and vice versa.
Next, a visit to the Usamis. Kuan-Xi dangles the offer of becoming a lady-in-waiting, which would of course be impossible if Rui were married. Rui's mother is very impressed, but unfortunately, Master Usami has already promised Rui to Lord Shang. A messenger is sent for Master Usami, and Cai Wen and Mistress Usami discuss details while Kuan-Xi has a private chat with Master Usami, after which he is perfectly willing to let his daughter go off to be a lady-in-waiting with this strange princess.
Tsuyu seems to be a tougher problem, though. Some sort of meditation would do him good, but that's a hard sell for someone who would be angry at the idea of meditation.
Takanata checks around the room with Eyes of the I Ching. He notes a cloud of anger, and a ball of fire, and some spooky footsteps outside, and nexi of power flavored with Magpie and Butterfly and Monkey, and Dog. Dog? Yes, that guy in the corner seems to have a Dog chi nexus. Takanata recognizes him as Gou, previously encountered in this very tea shop, a while back.
Master Zhou talks to Tsuyu, who seems generally angry, as well as specifically angry about things like being poor and hungry. Master Zhou offers to teach him to harness his anger in order to become more powerful. Tsuyu's initial reaction is that that's a stupid idea, but he quickly changes his mind almost in mid-sentence, and trains with Master Zhou. Master Zhou has to make a teaching roll on Tsuyu, and then the same roll for 11s, which is probably to train the anger demon, and suddenly Tsuyu buys a shtick in adding his Yang when he is angry. Master Zhou insists on also teaching him meditation, so that he can focus his anger on his enemies, not on everyone.
- "Well, cursing him to be less angry is totally a curse now!" -Takanata
That gets the group another check mark, though Master Zhou has someone else to follow up with later.
- "The lady of dark insight did warn you about that." -Mike
Lijuan checks in with Fin again - when she calls Buster, he should get all the guests out rather than her. Fin doesn't think that will work - for one thing, not all the guests will fit in the cabbage cart that they have waiting at the back.
Master Zhou and Takanata go to talk to Gou, who looks a little disappointed to see them. Takanata asks if Ochi delivered Takanata's apologies for getting the Bandits of the Double Caldera killed. He did, though Gou says it is not he who Takanata should be apologizing to. Takanata says they're working on it.
Anyway, Takanata hoped that Gou could provide some assistance in a matter they have uncovered. Tsuyu has recently been touched by an anger demon, and needs assistance in learning to control that connection or his fate will not be good.
- "Who is this child to you?" -Gou
- "He is a guest at the wedding of my friend." -Takanata
- "I will do it." -Gou
Takanata gets the impression that Takanata's answer was unexpected but good. Master Zhou says that he is teaching Tsuyu, but it may not be enough. Gou nods approval that Master Zhou is teaching him, but will also speak with him.
- "I'll look out for the big people; he'll look out for the little people. That's how it works." -Takanata
Takanata also warns him that there may be trouble coming - the demons who are touching people are looking for opportunities to harm the cycle spirits, and an opportunity may present itself. Gou looks a bit surprised at that, but guesses that Bear is the target. He will do what he can to keep the little ones safe.
Cai Wen checks in with Chashui, just as the Eternal Braid runs up - they've figured out the protocols for spiritual combat. Chashui looks rather unhappy at that announcement. Cai Wen tells her to get all the guests out if she hears "code word Buster".
- "I should have seen this coming, but Zhuai seemed like such a nice guy." -Chashui
Lijuan declares the plan for the "fire guy" to be that she will go in and make a horrible mess, and Master Deng and Kuan-Xi will step in and fix it. Lijuan lectures the kid (Little Chen) about how you should turn bad guys into good guys, like Yoshi and the yumekui, rather than do bad things to them, or burn down their houses. The boy protests that sometimes people deserve bad things, and tries to claim he has nothing to do with houses burning down, but the group claims, somewhat insincerely, that nobody ever deserves bad things or deserves to be beaten up. Or deserves to have their house burn down. The other kids start eying the boy oddly. The party suggests that the boy find a larger scarier friend to look threatening to mean kids with, but unfortunately, his large scary friend is invisible, so that doesn't work so well. Kuan-Xi hits him with a stronger persuasion - no setting houses on fire. The kid is persuaded, but his friends are deeply suspicious. They introduce him to the fire sorcerer in the Elemental Braid as well, though there is a brief misunderstanding as to whether this is meant to be an ambush or a mentorship. Well... that's kind of a check mark.
- "Tokai-sama is right!" -Lijuan
- "Who's Tokai-sama?"
- "He's not really my uncle."
- "...Okay, that's not at all creepy."
World Slightly Below
The Eternal Braid thinks that someone who is Bear-aspected, or otherwise strongly connected to the Great Bear Spirit, can be consecrated to become Bear's champion for the battle. And then Bear can't be touched until the champion falls, though that could be a problem for the champion. If it's the bride or groom, then they will get the additional mojo that the ancestor-prayers have been building up. And if there is some sort of binding agreement between other people and Bear's champion, like a spirit bargain, then they can be put on the battlefield too.
They think maybe the groom would be better for the task than the bride, as he looks more combat-heavy. Lijuan is aghast. Plus, Lijuan is a descendant of the Bear Spirit, and the groom's house has been sworn from time immemorial to destroy her for that reason. Okay, that's an important thing for them to know, the groom is probably not the right choice.
The Eternal Braid asks if the group wants to wage their battle slightly above, or slightly below, the Material World. If it's below, the demons will be stronger, but the defeats will count for more. If it's above, the battle will be easier, but the demons won't really care in the long term. The individual battles will likely depend on the demons - the Rage demon is more fightable with charisma and strong will, while Fire is more tao-based.
- "Symmetry indicates that there will be a demon for each main stat. But it's hard to know how much to bank on symmetry."
- "Just like the rule of threes."
Takanata lets the Eternal Braid sorcerers know that the party connection to Bear's champion is Butterfly-based. They nod in thanks - that's useful to take into account with their ritual. Zhi-Hao asks if he can bring Lumang, but not unless he's a shtick. Cai Wen wonders about molls - Ming I might have been the most relevant moll, but she's held up. Takanata summons Mei-Zhen, on the theory that she might know something useful about fighting demons.
Cai Wen notes that the Mysterious Scoreboard is now:
and the other one is 10 out of 10. Yay!
The priest shows up for the ceremony, and Cai Wen confirms that it is not Lucky Chang. Takanata realizes that his memorization of Lucky Chang is broken, and Deng thinks that the priest is a pawn of an enemy of the Emperors. Well, that's probably okay.
So... if there is someone here who wants to kill the bride, will they have the opportunity to do so? Oh, definitely. She's going to be unconscious. Zhuai gets briefed. Should Kawaii be left behind to protect them? No, then she'll kill the groom and his family when Lijuan goes down.
The priest begins the wedding ceremony, and the sorcerers start their ceremony. When the priest reaches the part about uniting two houses, the sorcerers have to improvise a bit, and Gou nods to them in approval.
- "If there is anyone present who has any objection, let them speak now or hold their peace."
- <Everyone looks at Master Zhou>
And then, everyone finds themselves on a vast and featureless plain, facing seven demons:
- Animal Cruelty
- "We have no battle with you. Stand aside and let us pass."
- "I am Bear's champion - you have to go through me first." -Lijuan
The demons prove resistant to damage which is not directly opposed to their concept, able to do impressive things in some cases once per person, and very tough.
Footsteps focuses on Cai Wen, forcing him to make ever-increasing will checks. Animal Cruelty can abort to throw damage onto animals (such as Squeaky, Ho, and Kawaii), or redirect Kawaii's attacks. Ignition just sets things on fire, very very hard. Enigma steals skill, and Avarice does damage based on how much money people have.
Ignition is the first to go down, principally to Kuan-Xi's flame dousing ability and Master Zhou sounding the Horn of the Ocean. However, when he goes down, he explodes, damaging everyone nearby and taking Kuan-Xi down.
Cai Wen asks Mei-Zhen what she can help with. She doesn't want to just thwart the other demons (she doesn't want to look opposed to the whole demon cause), but she can move things around if it's amusing or isn't directly opposed to them. He has her deflect all the non-physical damage onto him. (This will eventually include a bunch of skill damage, and a bunch of resolve damage).
Animal Cruelty ends up burning most of his actions on redirections - redirecting Kawaii to attack Zhi-Hao, taking Ho down with a shot from Lijuan, and having Kasumi grab Kawaii's nose.
Takanata curses Animal Cruelty to not defend against the next attack with a defense less frequent than 6, and spends a bear point to get temporary hit points as he was almost out. Lijuan shoots Animal Cruelty, and Kawaii and Ho both disappear.
Zhi-Hao takes down Footsteps, but when he explodes, he does a bunch of resolve damage, which all reflects onto Cai Wen, who goes down.
Takanata spends three of his sculptural karma to prevent Kawaii from causing too much death and destruction during the next drift back in the Material World, and then hits Enigma with visions of the future, exploding him.
Rage is the last to fall, after sending Master Zhou and Kuan-Xi to attack other people, and convinces everyone to blame someone else with his explosion.
When everyone wakes up, the scene is one of great chaos. Zhuai is standing in the center, badly clawed, surrounded by guys with knives, about to be attacked again by both them and Kawaii, holding the still-unconscious Lijuan, and shouting at the priest. A healer is standing behind the priest, hand on the priest's shoulder.
- "MAN AND WIFE! SAY MAN AND WIFE!" -Zhuai
The priest gets "Man and Wife" out, and Kawaii in an instant turns away from Zhuai and takes out the guys with knives, and Zhuai collapses.
Healing is passed about, and the priest seems to have been triply dosed with mild drift poison. Also amidst the unconscious bodies is Beastmaster Ze, puzzling everyone. Lijuan brings him around, but doesn't find him nearly as dreamy as she used to - apparently his animal magnetism doesn't work on married women. He says he was part of Zhuai's Contingency Team Two, to try and avert panda carnage. He would have held it off for longer, but someone sapped him from behind.
The skill and stat damage will heal slowly (one per run), but Mei-Zhen spreads around the will damage enough to let Cai Wen wake up. Squeaky and Ho will be recuperating until their next run, injured in their next run, and then better by their run after that.
Master Zhou shows one of the Alchemist-marked items to the Elemental Braid sorcerers. They think it's interesting.
- "The Imperial Alchemist put that there." -Master Zhou
- "Oh, we could not possibly break it. Not at all."
- "What, really? How about if we changed its nature to..."
- "I SAID WE COULD NOT POSSIBLY BREAK IT."
- "All right, maybe we could break it. But he would know."
(Their overall conclusion is that slightly transmuting the item would probably be easier than severing his memorization by itself, but he would definitely notice, and they don’t want that level of trouble unless it’s really important.)
The blood and fruit is cleaned up, the guests have been evacuated long ago, and everyone including the newly married couple retires to the circus for some well-earned relaxation.
- Wei Han and Shuyan go to visit Li Kao.
- Takanata visits Ti Lao.