|"The hardest thing is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Serpent in the Month of the Bear in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place principally near the Bridge of Moonlight
A Direction to Go
At Tahiti, the butler delivers Takanata's letter, which Min Feng confiscated last run:
Takanata also puts the finishing touches on a painting:
Lijuan, not to be outdone, has some art of her own:
- "The Bridge of Moonlight does weird things under a full moon."
- "Like what?"
- "Maybe it eats people?" -Lijuan
People contemplate the various art and letters, and discuss what to do about the Bridge of Moonlight. The Marked tried several times to move it in the past, as the final step of the Cartogramancer's plan to reshape the chi by moving the roads, but the party thwarted it some, and it was thwarted by NPCs some (Lady Musashi is believed to be a member of the Song of the Phoenix), and then the Army gave up on it completely when the Cartogramancer died. There was some hope last run that Commander Musashi's problem (being assigned to move the bridge and failing) could be solved with a bureaucracy roll to give him credit for the brilliant idea of not moving it, but that doesn't seem likely to work.
In any event, it is probably better to figure out what is going on in from near the bridge, rather than in Tahiti, so the group takes horses through the water gate to Bear Mountain, and then rides for the bridge.
Yanyu starts to warn her husband:
- "We might have to do something about the..."
- "I'm not listening la la la la..."
- "... Okay, I'm going out for a while."
- "Sounds good! Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"
After some hours of riding, the now familiar black-cloaked rider on a black horse begins to catch up. The party detours off the highway to somewhere that they can have a meeting somewhere that it will be more difficult to observe, and the rider catches up. Sure enough, it is a delivery from the Alchemists' guild, this one an upgraded box for Yanyu.
The party finally reaches the Bridge of Moonlight, and sees a small cluster of buildings to the side of the bridge foot on the western side. Yanyu heads into one of the shops, and present her name in preparation for some information gathering. Before she can say anything, the proprietor exclaims that she is on the list and gives her a small membership card. Shen-Ji looks at it magically, but the first thing he is sure of is that Yanyu is a member and he is not.
Lijuan checks in with the local urchins, but they complain that things here are strict. Stealing food from the kitchens is hard, and the cooks aren't allowed to give away leftovers. Sometimes you can whine at the members and they'll give you something, though.
Then the sound of whistles are heard down the road - multiple people tweeting as if in alarm. A man bursts out of one of the shops, and makes a run for it. Immediately behind him are a bunch of goons in hot pursuit. The guy runs behind a building, and moments afterwards, a bolt of lightning from the clear sky strikes behind the building. The goons head behind the building, tweeting their whistles, but they don't seem to find anything. Well, that's all very odd. There is more whistling and then they disperse.
In Merit's professional thug-hiring opinion, the security goons aren't standard thugs - they have an unusual sameness that suggests that perhaps they've been training up together for years.
Shen-Ji thinks the lightning was some sort of water magic, but a lot more chaotic and destructive and wrong than normal water magic. Not to mention, it can't have been good for whoever cast it.
- "Bad sorcery. Not evil, but bad."
Lijuan and Merit head over to look behind the building - there are the clear tracks of someone running, right up to the burned spot, but then nothing (other than a lot of tromping around by the goons). Merit notes that this spot is the first place that would have broken line of sight with all the followers. Shen-Ji thinks about it some more, and concludes that the effect is like doing a big water gate ritual without doing the final step to soak the yin.
- "Surely there are easier ways to do whatever this was." -Shen-Ji
Merit thinks about what he can remember about how the guy was dressed. He had some Kuan-Xi stylings in there - the whole "Mistress of the Arcane" thing that she does when Shen-Ji is around. And he had a disguise on top of his disguise. So... he was a water mage disguised as someone who was dressed up something else? That's kind of baffling.
The shop that the guy ran out of is the largest of the buildings in the little cluster of buildings. The party heads there, and finds a small entry office with a guy seated at a desk in front of three doors. Lijuan asks where the pork buns are, and is told that they are three doors down, but you have to be a member.
Merit, wonders if the guy got away with something that they need recovered, but the guy at the desk says that it is not that sort of establishment. Then, the guy recognizes Yanyu, and asks what services she might be interested in. She notes that she is so distressed over the lightning bolt, and convinces the guy to give her a pair of day passes for her friends, in order to calm her frayed nerves.
- "Do you blow a lot of people up with lightning bolts?" -Lijuan
- "Oh, is that what they did? Most efficient."
So, what did the guy steal? He snuck in for a long soak.
Yanyu decides that she would like a bath as well - in fact, she also wants a long soak. She's escorted off, through two locked doors into a comfortable room with a tub full of hot water. An attendant turns over an hourglass, and warns her to not stay longer than that - it's bad for the circulation.
Lijuan frets - she didn't include Yanyu in the picture of people in the stew.
Oh, wait, that's right. Lijuan drew a picture of people sitting in stew.
- "Interpret Omens: That cauldron, did she just go sit in it?" -Merit
- "Obviously. " -Mike
Merit takes out the Horn of Hornese, claiming that his lady likes entertainment while she bathes, and sounds out "You're in the cauldron from Lijuan's art." The desk guy shushes Merit, but not before Yanyu gets the message, and she gets out and comes back out. Everyone pretends that Yanyu is upset because Merit was forced to stop playing the horn.
Takanata checks Yanyu's health and general status, and determines that it is inexplicably "better".
The party heads to the river, where there are (happily) no bodies floating by. Wei Han and Takanata go swimming, and Takanata vanishes for a bit to talk to the Jasmine River. When he returns, he notes that nothing has particularly disturbed her chi, and that moving the bridge a little ways in this area wouldn't particularly bother her. Don't move it to cross the Pearl instead of the Jasmine, of course.
Then, the group crosses the bridge; on the other side they find something that looks less like a carefully arranged set of resort buildings, and more like a normal (if new) small town. Lijuan finds some urchins here as well, but they profess to be scared to cross the bridge. Apparently people vanish, sometimes. The urchins on this side of the river are the ones who can swim, but both sides have only been here for a couple of weeks.
Yanyu asks around to determine how things stand in the east-side town. People say that they're paid in a service contract to provide food and stuff for the spa on the other side of the bridge.
- "On that side, they have a weird deal - people pay a lot of money to get super exclusive free pork buns. But the pork buns come from over here."
This is weird, as economies go, which makes people suspect Ezokin or the Toe the Line company, but nobody admits to working for either. The Signs of Toro are read, just in case, and "people walk on the water and swim on the land" is eyed sidelong. Do bridges count as walking on the water? Do hot tubs count as swimming on the land?
The east-side town is on land belonging to the Green Duke, but he has subcontracted to the Black Duke, who is running the town. The Yellow Duke is objecting to the contract for bureaucratic reasons that are beyond the scope of that particular gather information roll.
Yanyu recalls that one of her matchmaking mentors lives in the City of Spires, so she heads there, accompanied by Wei Han, to see if Grandmother Sakota knows anything. She doesn't know much about any current plots about the Bridge of Moonlight, and wonders about Wei Han being single for so awfully long. The main thing she provides is a letter of introduction to Cao Caihong, the Green Duke's water sorcerer, in case it is needed later.
Meanwhile, everyone else ticks off on their fingers what they remember about the Bridge of Moonlight plots. The Cartogramancer was the one who wanted it moved, as part of his plan with the roads and the chi of the Empire. There was some resistance to moving it, in part from Lady Musashi (part of the Song of the Phoenix), in part from the party, and in part offstage. As his penance for messing with the Countess, Takanata sent the Son of the Moon to guard the bridge, and prevent it from moving. And, now that the Cartogramancer is dead, possibly the Marked have no advantage to having it moved any longer.
So, who might the mysterious maybe-a-water-sorcerer have been? Merit thinks that the Water Dukes have water sorcerers on staff, as part of their image, in the way that the Fire Dukes have fire sorcerers on staff.
Merit checks who's in town:
- Cao Caihong
- Song Min Feng's contact
- Bo Bolin
- Dishi Delun
Are any of these people famous? Cao Caihong is known to be the Green Duke's water sorcerer, and Dishi Delun is the Yellow Duke's fire sorcerer. Bo Bolin isn't famous, and "Song Min Feng's contact" is not obviously famous.
Breaking and Entering and Breaking
Merit drops by the inn, and gets two rooms on the third floor for himself and his friends. He asks the innkeeper if he's seen Cao Caihong, but the sorcerer hasn't been around since yesterday evening. Merit leaves a message for him, and finds out that he's in room 3. (The party has rooms 5 and 6.)
Merit drops some hints about a kerfuffle between the Yellow and Black Dukes, but the innkeeper hasn't heard about that, so he pumps Merit instead of the other way around.
The group knocks on the door to room 3, but nobody answers. Shen-Ji checks out the doors, and notes that the hinges to door 3 have water magic on them and door 4 is magicked up with fire. (This starts to suggest that the inn is about to become a logic puzzle murder mystery.)
The group contemplates whether they can get through the doors without setting off whatever the magical traps are. They probably aren't set to go off if someone with a key goes through, or they would explode the housekeepers. A proper thief could probably pick the lock well enough to fool the trap, but no one here is a proper thief. Instead, they double-team the door: Shen-Ji dispels the trap on door #3, and Merit picks the lock.
Inside, there's a charred and unconscious body on the floor. Merit does a bunch of first aid, and he comes around. The guy is briefly dismayed to have been captured by Merit, but the party simultaneously reassures and threatens him, and in the end he agrees to owe Merit some information in exchange for more healing.
Merit says that he's here in order to move the bridge, and now is Cao's chance to talk him out of it. Cao notes that if the bridge happened to get moved, it would take the Green Duke quite some time to notice. So... how about that lightning teleport ritual? Cao really can't talk about that. Merit says they saw it happen - does he know anyone special enough to pull it off? Cao says he really isn't allowed to talk about the baths. Well, what about the lightning? Cao says he REALLY ISN'T ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT THE BATHS.
Next step, room #4 - again, a combination of dispel and pick locks gets in. There isn't much of interest here, except for a small chest of dark wood and metal, which Shen-Ji recognizes as an immolation chest - if the chest is opened without the key, it will burn up the contents.
Because it's an item, not just a spell, it's harder to dispel, but Shen-Ji suppresses the spell long enough for Merit to pick the lock. They grab the things, then shut the chest again with a knife keeping the latch from reclosing. The chest erupts with a FOOMF, melting the knife blade, but it's still unlocked.
In the hopes of attracting the attention of "Song Min Feng's contact", the party spends dinner talking loudly about how sad it is that Min Feng is under the weather, and that her uncle is here in her place. Takanata then gets some unwanted attention when a woman keeps trying to pick him up despite his signals to the contrary, and eventually she loses patience and tries to give him her room key, which he refuses. Merit has noticed all the spycraft signals she has been sending more and more blatantly, and knocks on her door after dinner.
Apparently the woman is here on the behalf of the Black Duke - she is the source of the memberships for Min Feng, Xiao Fa, Kuan Xi, Yanyu, and Takanata. (Sadly, of those, only Yanyu and Takanata are here.) The Black Duke has been given an opportunity to join with the Purple Duke in this endeavor, and is hoping that Xiao Fa and Min Feng can look at what's going on, and the chi shenanigans, and tell him whether or not that's a good idea.
So... what sort of chi shenanigans are these?
- "You go and partake of the services, and then you become an elite master and stride forth into the world. You see why we're suspicious."
On the other hand, the Purple Duke does sometimes get a bad rap, because he does weird things. Not evil things, not even necessarily bad things, but confusing and icky things, like having swamp monsters on staff.
- "Nobody wants to have swamp monster pork buns."
The Black Duke's agent says that Bo Bolin is technically her backup, but works for the Purple Duke. She's the Black Duke's information gatherer, and Bo is the Black Duke's enforcer, so the two of them are the Fixit Team. That Dishi Delun is here is more alarming - he'll probably burn everything to the ground. Cao Caihong is maybe a little less destructive, but also alarming.
Another point of information is that the Purple Duke's strike team will be arriving tomorrow to partake of the services.
Shen-Ji suggests they go with Dishi Delun's plan and set everything on fire. Takanata points out that the Purple Duke is creepy but not evil, and that might be overkill.
Should the group go back to the other side of the bridge to skulk around? Should they swim rather than walk? Takanata would prefer to go to bed, and bedtime prevails.
In the morning, Merit leaves the day pass in his room, and everyone heads back across the bridge to the spa buildings. Yanyu uses her membership to access the reading room - would she like 1, 3, or 5 hours? She chooses an hour's time, and finds some scrolls on omens. Thinking about Lijuan's art, she concludes that the cauldron is unpleasant or hot, but not fatal. The moon is watching, but only at night. And in the picture, the bridge has been moved. She's not a chi master, but she also thinks it's significant that the combination of bridge and river is a crossroads, not an intersection.
Li Merit investigates who is in town on the western side on the plot of the party being PNG with the Dragon Army? Nobody really.
Merit thinks about options for where to move the bridge - basically, the choices are to leave it where it is (connected to the older curvier highway), move it to the new straighter highway, or move it somewhere that is not connected to a highway at all. Moving it to the new highway is what the Army was trying to do; moving it to the middle of nowhere would not make anyone happy.
Shen-Ji doesn't think he is much help for a big sorcerous working to move the bridge, as it's stone, not metal or fire. Takanata notes that it is art, though, and Shen-Ji is also an art sorcerer. Could one of Shen-Ji's shticks in moving metal be reworked into moving art? Well, it would be only twenty-five pounds of art, so probably not a whole bridge. That's a thought, though. Shen-Ji allows as maybe it would be possible with thousands of virgin sacrifices, and everyone eyes him a little sidelong before deciding he is kidding.
Takanata doesn't like the idea of moving it to the new highway - couldn't they put it in the middle of nowhere? Merit points out that doesn't save Musashi's reputation and doesn't help with getting in with the Dragon Army.
- "I'm sick of this town - I turn on eyes of the I Ching." -Takanata
Looking at the chi of the place, Takanata thinks that they have put geomantic taps into what is the major connection between the chi of the eastern and western parts of the Empire. The tap is small still, but it's a little disruptive to the chi, and is also disruptive to the chi of the recipient. The effect is a serious buff, but not without cost. At higher volumes, it would have a notable effect on the chi of the Empire. So as a project, it is worth disrupting.
Of course, the land to the south where the new highway runs, is the Blue Duke's, so the Purple Duke wouldn't be able to replicate the resort there.
A plan begins to come together - gather enough other sorcerers to handle the water and stone aspects of the bridge moving, buff everyone up in the spa, and then move the bridge with a lightning ritual.
- "For the record, Xiao Fa would say not to do this." -Merit
People recall Tsu Fa, the earthmover from the Dragon Army. Merit requests a dossier on him, and learns that he has been promoted and is part of the construction battalion now.
Yanyu gets a day pass for Merit from the spa, and then goes to lunch. She has a choice between a light lunch, the chef's special, and a seven course tasting. She chooses a light lunch, but since she isn't suffering from anything interesting, the beneficial aspects of the lunch are lost on her. It is tasty, though.
Takanata adjusts the calendar so that the Purple Duke's guys will not arrive for buffing until tomorrow, and confirms with a connections reading that moving the bridge will not make Butterfly or the party terribly unhappy. So it is resolved.
Merit disguises himself as a messenger and travels to the Dragon Army camp that Tsu Fa is stationed in, and passes a message to meet for lunch. At an out-of-the-way tea house in the back corner, they discuss moving the bridge. Tsu Fa has certainly heard about the changing priority - it goes from super high priority to nobody caring. Right now it's that nobody cares, but after a good persuasion roll from Merit, Tsu Fa is willing to help in order to get it out of their backlog.
Everyone regroups at the inn, and turns in for the night.
Merit briefs the Black Duke's contact. The project is dangerous in the short term, and long term would likely get everyone involved smacked down by the Dragon's Throne. So the party will be arranging to have it stop being possible, by virtue of moving the bridge, and the Black Duke should lose the legal challenge to the Yellow Duke, to get out of the whole thing.
She wonders if she should use the spa before it ceases operation - Merit tells her that Xiao Fa would say "absolutely not". Well, since her plan was to ask Xiao Fa to look at the whole thing, she supposes she ought to go by that judgement, even if it isn't really his. She notes that Bo Bolin will probably try to stop them when they try to move the bridge, and he puts a good seven hours a day in the spa. She gives the group a description of Bo - among other points, he wears a fancy red scarf and has a mirror to look at himself in.
The agent also notes that in order to get a serious long-term benefit, you have to take the long soak. Short soaks are just temporary measures.
Yanyu crosses the bridge and goes for a massage at the spa - they offer her a soak, but she declines. The massage does not appear to come with a mechanic, but is pleasant.
Merit "introduces himself" to Cao Caihong over breakfast, and asks for some advice about water magic. They confer in private, and Merit explains about the whole "hurting the chi of the Empire" thing. Cao thinks that's perfect - that will get the Dragon's Throne to smack down the Purple and Black Dukes, which all to the good. Well, actually, Merit thinks they should put a stop to it sooner than that, before the Purple Duke finishes turning all his guys superpowered. He convinces Cao to be on board with a supercharge-the-sorcerers plan. Cao says he CAN'T TALK ABOUT THE BATHS, until Merit recalls that Yanyu left a letter of introduction for him. He brandishes the letter, and Cao says that they should have said they were working with Grandmother before this!
Cao only had one day pass because he stole Dishi Delun's - he got a chi buff (giving him the shtick in zero-time rituals), and then he snuck back in to get a body buff, which is when he was caught and chased out. Merit offers to put a guy with a lot of hit points in the ritual to soak the damage, but Cao is concerned because his ritual shtick came with a disad of soaking all the chi/magic damage in the area first. So if he could get another long soak to try to ameliorate that, that would be good.
Merit assures him that the shticks and disads won't last long, but Cao is less convinced by that. Takanata reads his I Ching, and concludes that he has a new shtick in a "spa" tower; it costs no eps, but is paid for by the disad of "all chi/magic damage on the map goes to you first until you're unconscious." It doesn't seem temporary.
It's not obvious what "chi/magic" damage is, though, so they do some experiments; an ice spear directed against Wei Han doesn't get soaked by Cao, nor does an iron arrow. That's puzzling, until Shen-Ji points out that magic which creates physical damage-dealing objects like iron arrows aren't magic damage per se. A fire blast from Merit's wand aimed at Wei Han does hit Cao, so that matches.
Merit calls his strike team, and tells them that their job would be to distract Bo Bolin without letting him kill them. They think they can do that. Then, the three sorcerers, plus Wei Han, go to the spa - the sorcerers for a long meditation, and Wei Han for a long soak. The strike team is asked if they want to go to the spa too, but they think if Merit thought it was safe, he would be going, so they decide not to. Cao also gets a short soak in, to boost his hit points, since he is not confident that Wei Han will be able to soak the magic damage.
Wei Han returns with a "3x hit points" shtick, and Shen-Ji returns with a shtick in adding his chi to his northern and southern tao stats. It's not clear how the latter will help with the ritual, but it seems to have been what he was thinking of during the meditation.
The bridge-moving plan is put into action on the following day. The party has managed to do all of:
- it is during the day, so the Moon is not watching,
- Bo Bolin is distracted,
- The Purple strike team is postponed so can’t interrupt,
so there are no perilous interruptions, and the bridge is moved. Cao does soak all the damage, but with his extra hit points, he doesn't die, and Merit heals him back up. Merit thinks that Cao has a new disad, where if he ends the run not at full hit points, he'll die, so the whole thing of soaking damage is really rather perilous. They promise to help him fix that later.Wei Han writes up the formal report on the moving of the bridge, with a persuasion roll, to send to Commander Musashi and the construction battalion, and the party's PNG status is finally revoked.