|"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls - but neither pick him up again."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tortoise in the Month of the Dog in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Shrouded Isle (and to and from).
A Tale of Two Hiros
Kasumi mentions to the group that she has recently visited the Golden Spire to talk to the Great Monkey Spirit, and he has suggested that replacing three or four spirits (not him, of course) would be good. Hmm.
Cai Wen is wandering around the city when Hiro (played by Mike) finds him, and asks if Cai Wen can hire him a boat to get to the Shrouded Isle.
- "It'll take more than a boat, because of the blockade." -Cai Wen
- "Well, two boats, one trip, we're good, then? I'll meet you this evening to sort it out." -Hiro
Once he heads back to the inn the group is in, Cai Wen spots Hiro (played by Andrea), and says that he was wrong, he probably can't get a ship for tonight, because the Moon's First Daughter is out of commission (because it was damaged when the islands switched places). But perhaps they can go to the City of Light and get Commander Sun to give them a ship, since he is probably sending people as well. Hiro wonders what the plan is - there are apparently a million people going to the Shrouded Isle to pile on Mola Ram, so is there any sort of plan beyond that? Cai Wen is confused - is Hiro feeling okay? Hiro says, well, that's the plan, isn't it? To blow the flowchart out of the water? Is this laying it on too heavy for Cai Wen? Cai Wen grumbles - wasn't Hiro just fussing about getting a boat to get there? Hiro says he doesn't think getting there is his plot, but yeah, they probably need a boat.
Well, perhaps there are smugglers who can be found to run the blockade. Cai Wen heads out to the seedier side of town, to find out if there are any around. He learns that there are probably more smugglers farther south, but the blockade has been getting less strong recently - it's thin enough that anyone with much skill can sneak through. Cai Wen is talking to a captain telling him this, when Hiro (played by Mike) wanders up and asks if this is the captain of the boat he is supposed to be finding.
- "Hurry up and pay him whatever he wants so we can get on this thing!" -Hiro
Cai Wen, his negotiations somewhat sabotaged, tries harder to find out if the captain can actually run the blockade. He finally admits that he is not a smuggler himself, but he's sure he could run it at this point. Well, that doesn't sound sufficient, so Cai Wen says he'll talk to some other captains and come back later. When he returns to the inn, Hiro (played by Andrea) is there, and it finally is made clear that the Hiro in the inn is not the one Cai Wen has been talking to out on the street.
- "Someone is trying to... get us to go to the Shrouded Isle? How nefarious." -Hiro
- "Sounds like Pir Pir to me." -Xiao Fa
- "Yeah, that's about his level of nefariousness." -Hiro
On the other hand, Hiro points out, Cai Wen has been out by himself, and seems as likely to be replaced by a shapeshifter as Hiro is. Can anyone tell if this is actually Cai Wen? Shuyan interrogates him about circus business, and he has forgotten some things that she thinks a proper circus employee should remember, but he remembers a lot of them. Perhaps he should mark himself with an X, so they can tell if he has been replaced, but that doesn't help if he has already been replaced. Wait, isn't there a Hunter's Map that points to Cai Wen? The party can't find it - maybe the monkeys took it.
Hiro gets one of Hana's eyebrow pencils, and requires everyone mark their arms with an X.
- "Hey, if we go to an empty field, I can just fireball everyone who's not in the party! Then we’ll know." -Shen-Ji
Xian, waking late to the confusion, says that he's confident that if he's the real Xian, then everyone else is the real them. That seems sufficient to reassure people. Hiro says that if Pir Pir is pretending to be Hiro, then he should pretend to be Hana, so he goes to change.
Cai Wen and Hiro head off to look for more smugglers. Wei Han goes to wander around the city to gather information about recent news. The big news is that terrorists from the Shrouded Isle disabled the Great Lighthouse, but it was relit before any ships crashed. After he returns, Hiro returns by himself, claiming to have lost Cai Wen. Wei Han and Shuyan tell him to sit down - Cai Wen will be back soon once he has a boat for everyone. Hiro is perplexed - it's a big thing, everyone is going? Well, he should be off. Wei Han grabs him and slams him into a seat, leading to the inn's bouncer coming up to make sure a brawl isn't starting. Wei Han says he was just about to buy a beer for his friend. That seems to placate Hiro, who immediately orders two of the most expensive beers and some cakes.
Cai Wen and the real Hiro (though he looks like Hana) find a smuggler. He's willing to take a bunch of "tourists" with no cargo to the Shrouded Isle for ten li. When they get back to the inn, the Hiro that Wei Han is buying beers for leaps up, calling out "Sis!".
Cai Wen wants to know why "Hiro" wants to go to the Shrouded Isle anyway. "Hiro" says that surely everyone has their own reasons, and he really can't say what his are. "Hana" protests that they tell each other everything. "Hiro" admits that there are ways that they could tell each other, but they're complicated, and perhaps they should speak upstairs. They head to the twins' room, followed sneakily by Kasumi.
- "So... you can tell me, right?" -"Hana"
- "No, I can only tell Hiro..." -"Hiro"
- "What, you can't see through a disguise?"
Pir Pir (for that is in fact who it is) says that he can only tell Hiro if Hiro buys a "tell me your secrets" shtick.
- "How much is it, because I could totally buy that shtick." -Kasumi, from under the bed
- "You could buy it, but then I would be destroyed by powers beyond your comprehension, so we're NOT DOING THAT!" -Pir Pir
Hiro wants to know what the shtick is called. Pir Pir hadn't thought of that - how about "Oh Great Pir Pir, Grant Me Your Wisdom"?
Hiro declares that this is stupid - he doesn't care why Pir Pir wants to go to the Shrouded Isle anyway, they're getting a boat and going. Pir Pir brightly says since Hiro is inviting him, he'll clear his schedule and come along. Hiro grouses - there's going to be a horrible ritual and probably people trying to kill him. Pir Pir looks unhappy - Hiro is in the horrible ritual? That's no good.
- "Wait, what do you know about the horrible ritual?" -Hiro
- "I really can't say. And, I'll probably have to disappear at some point to meet the..." -Pir Pir
- "Meet the who?" -Kasumi
- "Aiee! Ninja attack! I'm out of here!" -Pir Pir
Pir Pir flees, much to Hiro and Kasumi's confusion.
Amulet of Invisibility
The group discusses what to do with the monkey cart - it still has some interesting stuff in it, they think. There's still the invitation to the Lovers' Catalyst, which nobody has figured out what to do with or who it belongs to. They decide to give the ticket to Yanyu, as that at least resolves the question of what to do with it, and she's officially in charge of love plot plots.
Wei Han draws something from the cart - This seems to be an amulet, but it's completely invisible. Putting it on does not make the wearer invisible, much to everyone's disappointment. Shen-Ji analyzes it, and concludes that the item is very well made - it's clearly forged by a master. It's made interestingly - it's a 1/book shtick with a permanent duration command to turn it invisible so it stays that way. That sort of thing is technically very difficult, and Shen-Ji is impressed - it tasks him, that he does not think he could easily make something like it. Two karma later, he has figured out that it has a second power - that all magical analysis performed on it will say that it was forged by a master. Huh. That's particularly puzzling - it was made by a non-master pretending to be a master... by making master-quality work? That makes no sense. Wei Han tries to make a rubbing of the back, but mostly only gets that it's a grey circle. Shen-Ji, more experienced with sculpture, uses some clay to get the markings, and finds something that is probably the maker's mark, a stylized family name, though it is not one he recognizes from his knowledge of master sorcerors.
Xian points out that drawing the things from the cart does not remove their other priorities - perhaps they should still be worried about getting to the Shrouded Isle? Well, okay. The group can hang on to the amulet for a while and keep an eye out for places that an invisible amulet could be used.
The Tasty Donut of Knowledge
On the way to the boat, the party peppers Pir Pir with more questions.
- "Were you summoned to the Shrouded Isle?"
- "I can't say."
- "Were you sent by the Fox Spirit?"
- "What part of 'I can't say' do you not get?"
- "Well, maybe you can say all the stuff that's not true?"
- "Well, what if you didn't go?"
- "It's not a matter of not going, it's a matter of how hard I have to try to get there."
- "Is there anyone else you expect to be there?"
- "Promise not to hit me?"
- "I promise not to hit you."
- "I can't say."
Hiro tries a different tack. There's all the stuff that Pir Pir can't talk about, and that's in a circle. Then, imagine there's a second circle, and outside of that circle is everything in the world that isn't even related to the plot. But between the two circles - that's the tasty donut of knowledge!
Pir Pir considers this. Well, inside the donut is the tasty shtick that Hiro could buy. And he can't talk about what happened near Hiro's house, or anything about what they're going to be doing on the Shrouded Isle, or who's going to be disguised as who. But if there were a shtick that compelled him to talk and he had no choice, that would be different. Hiro gives in and buys the shtick.
- "Tell us about the donut hole of knowledge." -Hiro
Well, Pir Pir really isn't supposed to say that he's been summoned by a great and terrible alchemist to go to the Shrouded Isle to help put some mimicry disguises on other people. Like, disguising some shlub to look like Anto. What else is he supposed to be doing? Well, that depends on whether we're talking about in the past or in the future. Interesting - what is he supposed to be doing in the past? He's not supposed to talk about disguising some people - well, okay, people is a very generous term - to look like Hiro's parents. Does Hiro know where his actual family is? Pir Pir complained about that at the time, but apparently they are "somewhere safe".
- "So you only have one guy telling you what to do?" -Hiro
- "No, I have two guys telling me what to do, I am helpless before them!" -Pir Pir
- "But I know about me." -Hiro
Pir Pir wants credit for being concerned about the Tengs, which Hiro agrees to give him. But it was Hiro's uncle who asked the Imperial Alchemist to keep his parents safe. Pir Pir is appalled - that's not his go-to person for safeness.
Is there anything else useful Pir Pir can tell them? He says "don't get too close to your parents". This is a bit confusing - does he mean the real parents or the fake ones? Pir Pir doesn't know. Are they expected to be there? Pir Pir doesn't know. The Alchemist (who Pir Pir keeps calling the Dark Lord) didn't really brief Pir Pir. Does Pir Pir have any other instructions? Well, if Mola Ram gets too uppity, he is supposed to throw himself in front of the Dark Lord, but he thinks that will be unlikely, right? Does Pir Pir know if anyone else will be there? Apparently "a large number of inconsequential people." Oh, and there are a bunch of messages that Pir Pir is supposed to deliver to Takanata if he sees him. Xian suggests that Pir Pir disguise Xian as Takanata and then deliver the messages. Well, that's a plan for later - the messages are all for afterwards. Hiro asks nicely if Pir Pir can tell him what they say, and Pir Pir notes that he really can't say, though if he was compelled to...
Hiro, who has been trying to be polite, shrugs and orders Pir Pir to tell them what the messages say.
If everyone lives, the message is "Now we are even." If someone in the party gets killed, the message is "I am sorry for the inconvenience; I will grant you a favor to make it up to you." Everyone is glad that Shen-Ji is out of the room for that one. If Shen-Ji in particular is killed, though, the message is "That is deeply unfortunate; I will have my apprentice flogged on your behalf."
Is there not a message for if Hiro or Hana is killed? Pir Pir says that the Alchemist seem to be pretty on top of preventing that.
- "It would be kind of hilarious if Shen-Ji tripped on a rock and broke his neck and his apprentice got flogged."
Hiro asks if there is anything else that he would be upset if Pir Pir told him about. Pir Pir considers and says that well, the two entities disguised as Hiro's mom and dad - brrrr! Hiro would be upset if he knew horrible demons from beyond have been running the estate for a few weeks, right? There is some confusion - why would the Alchemist be upset about that? It turns out there has been some pronoun trouble - not stuff that would upset Hiro, but stuff that would upset the Alchemist. Well, the Alchemist would probably mind if Pir Pir mentioned that they're supposed to meet up on the Shrouded Isle to get further orders.
- "You won't tell him about all this, right?" -Hiro
- "Well, only if he commands me to." -Pir Pir
- "Uh oh." -Everyone
- "But I'll be super subtle guy, I'm sure it won't come up." -Pir Pir
How does the Alchemist compel Pir Pir, anyway? Pir Pir says he's very polite about it - basically you can do the task he commands you, or have your spirit cast into oblivion. So most choose the former.
Hiro grumbles a bit - surely there was a better way to protect his parents than to REPLACE THEM WITH DEMONS. Pir Pir thinks the Alchemist tends to use demons because it's convenient.
Then, it's on to the boat! The captain shushes everyone while the ship stealths through the blockade. There are definitely fewer naval ships in the blockade right now, though it does still require a serious stealth roll to get past. Xiao Fa thinks there's still a pretty serious curtain of chi, though - it's still just as symbolically powerful as it was.
When they arrive, Cai Wen asks if the captain can stick around for a little while, in case they need a ride back after Midwinter.
Pir Pir heads off, and says he'll meet them later. The group heads to the inn, where Cai Wen points out that he reserved the Ducal Suite, and gets an upgrade.
When Shuyan goes into her room, she hears a "psst!" sound at the window. When she looks out the window, there's a swirl of leaves going around and around. She opens the window, and the leaves enter and fall to the floor, sketching out two circles inside an oval, with a red leaf at the bottom of the oval. Sort of like the double-caldera volcano? Shuyan goes to point this out to everyone else.
Meanwhile, the smuggler captain comes to find Cai Wen - he's leaving today, as half the Dragon Army is on the island and he doesn't want to find any more trouble. Cai Wen goes to find out the details about this whole "half the Dragon Army" thing - Commander Sun is on the island himself, at the Obsidian Warlord's headquarters. Cai Wen wasn't expecting such VIPs to be here in person, and isn't sure how to contact Commander Sun without calling the Obsidian Warlord's attention too. Some more poking around turns up the fact that Da-Xie has a position in court as the Minister of Siege - with the Butterfly Talisman on, he can get in to see her. Da-Xie is pleased to see that Cai Wen finally made it, though she notes that she expected him a week ago. Cai Wen says he's found out that the ritual is probably at the Double Caldera volcano, which surprises Da-Xie - she had thought that Mola Ram would be trying to get the spirit of the Mountain of Fire. Cai Wen waffles. Well, anyway, Da-Xie will pass word to "Sunny" that Cai Wen and company are here. Cai Wen wonders if Da-Xie knows any more about what will be happening - she says that since Mola Ram can't go into the volcano's heart (due to his stone boat plan being sabotaged by Shen-Ji and Wei Han), he'll have to summon the spirit out of the volcano to capture it.
As Cai Wen leaves, he runs into Ming I, who remarks that she had thought Cai Wen wasn't coming, but she's glad he did.
- "Do you want front row seats?" -Ming I
- "Is it a performance?" -Cai Wen
- "Oh, did you plan to fight yourself? I was just going to watch. How hard can it be?"
- "Well, if things go wrong, I might have to jump in."
- "Well, sure, if things go wrong, lots of people might have to jump in. But we have lots of people. I'll save you a seat."
- "I should warn you, Shen-Ji is here."
- "You say the nicest things! I've been looking a chance to take care of him!"
Cai Wen is suitably distracted for some time, so everyone else heads to the Double Caldera without him, as they think it's a meeting request rather than a warning about where the ritual will be taking place. Wei Han gets a native guide who can get them there, but there is still some trouble climbing the final mountain slopes, and Shuyan gets her foot scalded in sulfur mud.
They reach the spot in the caldera where the red leaf was, and then night falls, suddenly and swiftly. There's a whisper from the darkness - the Bandits of the Double Caldera know this Mola Ram thing is going down, but they're keeping a low profile. They've been continuing their fight to help free the people from their oppressive masters, but the Obsidian Warlord and half the army are here for the Mola Ram fight, and if they do too much flashy banditry, they might stay, which would make things worse. So they'll show up if they're needed to assist, but they really want to not be flashy.
- "Discretion is the better part of valor." - Xian
- "You hear scratching, as if someone is writing that down."
So... what can they do to help? The party asks if they can provide protection from fire. The Red Bandit can do that. How powerful can they make it? Can it protect everyone? How long will it last? Well, those are three different variables. They can do long, many, or strong, or a combination of parts of each, but all three is not so feasible.
- "Well, Mola Ram is going to be summoning the heart of the Mountain of Fire."
- "Oh. Well, maybe we should put it up at the very last minute."
The bandits give them a bird - the party can tie a message to the bird and send it off, or make it squawk to get fire resistance right now. How about flight - can they provide flight? Well, since they have the bird, the best they can provide is "swim through the air". If they make the bird squawk twice, they'll get air-swimming. Anything else they can do? Well, they have healing - they'll use their judgement on if that's needed. They'll be there, they're just planning to stay stealthy.
That seems to be about everything, so the party heads down the mountain again. Kasumi falls in a hot spring, so Xiao Fa provides doctoring to the two wounded overnight, and they feel better in the morning.
The next morning, Ando checks in with the group (sans Cai Wen, who is busy off with Ming I). Is everyone ready for the big day? He's not going to be one of the people on the front line himself, but he's been dealing with tracking Mola Ram. The people who know these things say it'll have to happen at noon, so it looks like it's going to be noon tomorrow at the Mountain of Fire. There is some concern - is Mola Ram actually going to show up? The number of people here to get him is pretty obvious. Ando dryly suggests that Mola Ram may be the only person on the island who doesn't know there's a mob here to get him - he's not really a "stay at the inn in town" sort of guy. And he's certainly here - Ando has been keeping tabs on where he and his guys are.
Wei Han complains - if they know where he is, why haven't they gotten him already? Back in his day, they didn't just let the bad guys wander around like that. Ando says that he is under the impression that when Mola Ram's dice aren't all tied up in a big ritual, he's supposed to be pretty good at escaping. Well, okay, that probably makes sense.
Does Ando think the Obsidian Warlord is working with the Alchemist? He thinks so, more or less. They're certainly both on plan "get 'em", though there's less coordination than he expected. Their advance guys were talking to each other, but in the past couple of days, they haven't been talking to each other so much.
- "I'm so confused. This is Pir Pir dressed up as Anto saying all this?"
- "No, this is Inspector Ando."
- "With the team you guys put together, I don't see how anything can go wrong."
- "Argh! Why do people keep SAYING that?" -Xian
- "So, if Mola Ram realizes that he's about to die, it's probably just a heartbeat before he sinks the island." -Xian
- "Wait, he can do that?" -Ando
- "Probably not." -Xian
- "... I'll let the appropriate people know." -Ando
Who is in town for the Mola Ram ambush? Ando gives them a list:
- The Fire Lord, and his elite troops.
- Da-Xie, Minister of Siege
- The Imperial Alchemist and his apprentice
- The Obsidian Warlord and his troops
- Commander Sun and his troops
- A secret society called the Song of the Phoenix
- The Bandits of the Double Caldera
- The party
- The Wu-Xing
- Inspector Ando
- Mola Ram and about fifteen cultists
Anyway, Ando is just the trigger man - he'll tell everyone the the balloon’s going up, but he plans to be somewhere safe, himself. Wait, there are balloons? What are the balloons for? Ando rolls his eyes - it's a spy term. Anyways, he emphasizes that things aren't very coordinated because it's not clear who is in charge - the party invited a lot of people, but they haven't been here to coordinate. Plus the Alchemist and the Obsidian Warlord stopped talking to each other.
So, Ando expects the balloon to be going up on the Day of the Spider, tomorrow. Wait - not the Day of the Dog, which is Midwinter Day? Ando is pretty sure he expects it to all happen tomorrow. The party fusses about this. They're sure the ritual should happen on Midwinter. The group Ando has been following is probably a different group of Southerners, and Mola Ram and his people are still in hiding somewhere else. Ando is not persuaded - in any event, there's a group of Southerners heading to the Mountain of Fire tomorrow.
Xian notes that it is possible that there are two rituals - the first one to capture the spirit of the volcano, the second one to use the spirit as part of the larger ritual. Oh. Hmm. Maybe. (Since Mola Ram's attempt to capture the spirit of the Pearl River happened in late Bear, over a week before the Midwinter Solstice, Xian is right).
Both the Alchemist and the Minister of Siege think the ritual will need to happen at noon, for Fire-ish reasons. The armies are spread around the mountain, ready to converge when needed. Ando thinks the bandits might have chickened out - he's not sure where they are right now. The Firelord's elite troops will be providing security for the important people, unless they're also needed. And he'll get their message to the Song of the Phoenix as soon as he's done here.
- "So... what is our job?" -Shuyan
Nobody is assuming the party is doing anything in particular, but they have a habit of leaping in, so... maybe that's what they're doing?
Oh, and what message is he talking about? Ando says he needs to tell the Song to make sure Mola Ram doesn't sink the island. Xian clarifies - that's a technical term, like balloon - it means some sort of thwackback. Well, he'll put them on suppressing thwackback. The Minister of Siege is on Mola Ram not escaping, and the Alchemist is on general enemy weird shit.
Ando wanders off, and Xiao Fa says that this all sounds like a very Spidery Web of Ambush - it would be good to make it more Dragony if they can.
Back in the Shrouded Citadel, where Cai Wen is visiting Ming I, she presents him with two amulets - one with a blue gem, for him, so he can come with her to the "VIP box", and one with a red gem, for Shen-Ji. He should give the amulet to Shen-Ji, "and then dodge". And he should meet her back here in the morning to go to the box.
A Tale of Two Antos
Pir Pir comes to find Hiro - he's met up with the Dark Lord, and disguised an actor as Anto. It sounds like the plan is for him to swoop in and provide some dramatic last minute assistance to Mola Ram.
- "Do you have anything up your sleeve to delay this guy?" -Hiro
- "Nothing that won't get me killed by the Dark Lord!" -Pir Pir
Anyway, the actor guy is with the Dark Lord right now. He's probably going over the plan with the Dark Lord and the Dark Lordette, and maybe Cai Wen.
- "Do you have any way to kidnap him, Kasumi?" -Hiro
- "Just the usual ways. I got a lot of practice with leg-breaking... " -Kasumi
- "We don't need his legs broken!" -Hiro
- "It's a term of art!" -Kasumi
Hiro tries to persuade Pir Pir to disguise Xian as Anto too, though he is hesitant about doing anything that will leave his fingerprints for the Dark Lord to see. In the end, they trade him the invisible amulet for helping make Xian really good at disguising himself as Anto. Then, Kasumi can kidnap the actor and they can swap in Xian, who can then not leap in to help Mola Ram. It's kind of a plan.
Cai Wen returns, and tells Shen-Ji that he has an explosive amulet in a box for him. Shen-Ji, carefully not touching it, takes a look. It's a fire-bomb of some sort, which will go off a few actions after Shen-Ji touches it. Shen-Ji is pleased to have a grenade, but gives it to Wei Han for temporary holding, so it doesn't go off accidentally.
Dawn breaks. Cai Wen starts to head to the Shrouded Citadel... with a disguised Xian and Kasumi sneaking after? Is the plan to swap the Xian-Anto for the actor-Anto now? No, wait, maybe it's to do the swap later. The party argues - it's not clear where the fake Anto is right now, or where he'll be later, but presumably the Alchemist's group will be going up to the mountain later to observe, and then maybe Cai Wen can convince him to go off to get a drink or something where he'll be alone to be ambushed by Kasumi.
After much thrashing about with various plans and insufficient information, Xian disguises himself as Anto and then, over that, one of the Firelord's Elite Guards. He can use "Blend In" to join the elite guards, which is good, because he promised Monkey that he'd do that.
Everyone except Cai Wen and Xian climb the Mountain of Fire, and hide themselves around the center of the crater. The plan is to have Hiro stand up and challenge Mola Ram directly - that should be pretty Dragon-ish.
Cai Wen heads to the Shrouded Citadel, as does Xian, to infiltrate the Firelord's guards. Going into the Alchemist's suite, a guard has to wave a wand with a blue gem around before they can pass. Cai Wen covets the wand, but his own amulet with the blue gem also works. They end up with the Alchemist and Ming I, and a mysterious guy in a brown cloak (who looks like Anto under the cloak and is probably the actor) and a mysterious guy in a green cloak (who looks like Hiro under the cloak and is probably Pir Pir). The Alchemist opens a "window" from their viewing room to above the map - Ming I says that if Cai Wen needs to join his friends, he can leap onto the map.
The viewers watch as the party shows up and hides, and then Mola Ram, with two prisoners in tow, also shows up. Mola Ram looks around for people hiding, and Wei Han is about to be discovered, when Da-Xie says "Idiot, put your head down" and pulls him down. Then his followers range around the central lava, and Mola Ram starts chanting, walking around the lava.
Hiro strides out of the underbrush.
- "Mola Ram, halt! The Dragon Empire will not allow this to continue!" -Hiro
Mola Ram looks startled, but then smiles.
- "Your puny empire shall have no dominion. And you yourself shall serve Kali, or your parents will make the ultimate sacrifice." -Mola Ram, unveiling his hostages.
- "My parents have lived with honor and they will die with honor to protect the Empire." -Hiro
- "Very nice. Do you think he can see through the disguises, or is he more ruthless than I thought?" -Alchemist to Cai Wen
The Alchemist continues his running commentary as the battle begins (first with Hiro alone against Mola Ram's guys), but Cai Wen isn't up to the standard Takanata level of witty banter. He may not get another invitation to sit with the Alchemist.
- "Do you think they're holding their other guys in reserve, or are they betraying him?" -as nobody else immediately comes out of hiding to help Hiro
- "Nice backstab positioning, but - she's some sort of non-lethal ninja?" -as Kasumi grabs Mola Ram's nose.
Xiao Fa and Wei Han join Hiro, and the battle is more strongly engaged.
- "Red 7 and 11 are holding Hiro's Mom and Dad and pouring spoonfuls of blood on their heads, and other stuff like that." -Mike
- "What do you mean, "stuff like that"? What is like that?" -Xian
Wei Han summons reinforcements, which causes the Obsidian Warlord to stride in with his troops.
Cai Wen, worrying about Anto's sudden but inevitable betrayal, pretends to recognize him, and starts fussing about his being in the viewing area too. How did he get in? “Anto” claims to have been invited, the same way Cai Wen was, and nobody but Cai Wen seems to think that's a problem.
Mola Ram burns the deaths of his first minions on actions to recover his grabbed nose, and pushes some extra power to the rest of his minions. The Obsidian Warlord strides around killing mooks casually, though with no particular franticness.
- "I always find it works best if you try to kill them." -Obsidian Warlord to Kasumi, casually slaying a mook
The Alchemist is disappointed that the fight is not as interesting as he hoped.
- "That's the end of the show. Now it's just going to be "kill kill kill". I was hoping Mola Ram could get around the volcano three times so we could trigger our betrayal." -the Alchemist
Cai Wen tries to interrogate Anto some more to find out why he's there, and discovers that the Alchemist still has a no-added-dice shtick in effect. Anto claims that he just wanted to get the bird's eye view to know the proper moment to strike. Cai Wen thinks that he should have been able to get a more honest answer, but the actor seems to be particularly good at sticking to his script.
Mola Ram does finally manage to make it around the lava a third time after all.
- "Fools, you are too late! Face the power of the spirit of Fire Mountain! Cover them in flames!" -Mola Ram
- "Squawk!" -Xiao Fa, squeezing the bandits' bird
Lava erupts, splashing all around on everyone. Fire streams down from above as well, wreathing the party in a fiery halo and protecting them from the lava. The Dragon Army mooks die, but the Obsidian Warlord is fine, and the southerners are fine. Da-Xie also seems unconcerned by the lava. The two Teng parents burn a fiery death, but then rise up again as horrible-looking demon creatures, and one of them takes a ferocious bite out of Mola Ram, who appears to have been not expecting demon parents at all.
Anto stands up, and gets ready to leap onto the battlemap.
- "Anto, what are you doing?" -Cai Wen
- "You shall see! Fear not, my Southern allies! As the Wu Xing, I command the demons to attack the Dragon forces!" -Anto
- "What? I thought Anto was on your side!" -Ming I, genuinely startled.
- "Treachery is everywhere, my dear." -the Alchemist
Mola Ram is also somewhat confused by these new turn of events. His prisoners aren't really prisoners, and he seems to have allies he didn't know about.
More reinforcements appear, led by Commander Sun. The Obsidian Warlord demonstrates the ability to use Wei Han's intercept shtick, much to Wei Han's disapproval.
Shen-Ji notes that Mola Ram is controlling the fire spirit with Shadow Magic, so the way to disrupt the control is with Light Magic or maybe Dark Magic. But on looking more closely, he realizes that Mola Ram only thinks he's controlling it with Shadow Magic. Interesting.
Xian sheds his guard uniform and leaps onto the battlefield by Anto, looking like a second Anto.
- "By the Five Elements and the name of the Dragon, you shall not sully the name of the True Wu Xing." -Xian/Anto
He wraps the other Anto up in vines, lending quite a bit of verisimilitude to the theory that he is the real Anto. Commander Sun nods thoughtfully.
One demon takes a bite out of Wei Han; the other starts heading towards the new Dragon Army reinforcements for a moment...
- "No, that was well done. I should give him the credit..." -the Alchemist
At that, the demon turns and heads back for Mola Ram, taking a second bite out of him, and Mola Ram falls.
- "As first on the field, would you care for the honor?" -The Obsidian Warlord, gesturing towards Mola Ram
Hiro stabs Mola Ram, and the Southerner looks up with his dying breath at Hiro, as Hiro had promised.
- "Fools. I at least wanted to preserve the Empire to rule it. Now you must face a far worse fate." -Mola Ram, last words.
The two horrible demons leap into the lava; the fire spirit bows in the general direction of the Alchemist's invisible window, and says "It is ended."
Then, Hiro starts looking kind of odd, as if Hana is flickering in and out of him.
- "I take the Monkey amulet from Hiro!" -Kasumi, keeping her eyes on the prize
Wei Han starts trying to move Hiro away from the lava, but Da-Xie yells at him not to do that. Xiao Fa says that the binding holding the two of them in one body was because of Mola Ram's ritual, and now the bond is loosening. He thinks that one natural outcome would be for Hiro to go on and live a normal life, and for Hana to go to the World Beyond, but possibly there would be another way to tighten the connection by putting it under a different sort of strain.
Then, the Great Phoenix Spirit opens its fiery wings above the volcano.
- "Oh, damnit." -the Alchemist
The Phoenix explains more clearly to Hana her two choices.
- Hana moves on, leaving Hiro behind to live a normal mortal life.
- Hana and Hiro seize the powers that Mola Ram accidentally gave them, and Hana moves north to the Tao of Death, and Hiro goes south to the Tao of Light, and they battle their foes there.
- "But you would be beyond Our protection there."
- "There is a slight amount of internal bickering, but we resolve to continue to fight our foes."
Two fireballs fly away from the volcano, one arcing far to the north, and one to the south. Then the Phoenix spirit folds its wings and vanishes (pursued by Shen-Ji's little phoenix, who later returns with a hint from Phoenix about how to un-magic the tael).
- "Who wishes the honor of explaining that to me?" -the Obsidian Warlord
Everyone looks at everyone else for that one, until Da-Xie leaps in to explain.
- "The Great Phoenix Spirit totally intervened, so they can go and serve the Empire far and wide. Did you know there were two of them? One went to fight northern barbarians and one went to fight southern barbarians, and... that was a terrible idea and now they're not our problem." -Da-Xie
- "Good try, but that did not help." -the Obsidian Warlord
Shen-Ji suspects that fire will heal the southerners, though healing the dead ones is a little iffier, and suggests that Mola Ram's body not be thrown in the lava. Xian/Anto demonstrates to everyone that the other Anto is in disguise.
The Obsidian Warlord dismisses Commander Sun, but says he's going to use Sun's troops for a little while. He's planning to patrol the island a few times to make sure the bandit problem is as overstated as he thinks it is. Then the Dragon soldiers all head off.
Wei Han gives Da-Xie some grief about not doing anything in the combat, but she says she was on hold waiting for him to try to escape, and he went down too fast. Mola Ram's body doesn't have much of interest on it - he does have a wavy dagger which Shen-Ji says is a Shadow Magic focus and also a focus holy to Kali. It's pretty versatile, in comparison to Empire magic items. There's also a letter:
Back in the viewing box, the Alchemist complains that he's going to have to talk to the Firelord about the Wu Xing being stealthily part of his guard. Cai Wen goes off to spend some quality time with Ming I, and tries to find out why the Alchemist and the Obsidian Warlord weren't coordinating. She says that a message came from the Hidden City; then the Alchemist was cross and stormed about and destroyed the message, and then sent some messages of his own - several back to the Hidden City and one to the Isle of Beauty. And at that point, he mostly stopped listening to the Obsidian Warlord.
Ming I does take back the amulet with the blue gem, but she has another present for Cai Wen - a bracelet with a little red stone.
- "Does it have mystical powers? Does it blow up Shen-Ji?" -Cai Wen
- "Of course! When you shake hands." -Ming I
She says that after he blows up Shen-Ji, the red stone will turn blue, and then he'll be able to come visit her. But the boss wants to get back to the Hidden City as soon as possible, so she has to head off, after a farewell kiss.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party drags Mola Ram's body down the mountain - perhaps they can toss him overboard on the return voyage.
Pir Pir joins the group, pleased that he hasn't been killed by the Dark Lord. But then he notices - what happened to the other Hiro? The group explains that he went off with the Phoenix. Pir Pir sulks - the Phoenix shouldn't be stealing his loot.
- "Do you need a new person? We should talk." -Kasumi
Cai Wen regroups with everyone else, and shows off his new explosive-to-Shen-Ji bracelet. Xian mentions the wand with the blue gem, which also seems to be protection against the Alchemist's defenses. Is there a residual effect still on him? Shen-Ji doesn't think so.
So, the Obsidian Warlord will be staying briefly to check out the bandit situation. Perhaps if the bandits do act up, he will stay for longer, and stop overruling Commander Yao back in the North. There is some discussion - maybe now that Commander Yao has improved, the Warlord will stop messing around up there anyways? Wei Han doesn't think so, as the Warlord has the additional agenda of "have a Spidery victory against the North".
The party sends the bird off with a message asking to meet the bandits in a park in the city. Night falls quickly when the group heads to the park, and everyone expresses gratitude for not being dead of fire damage.
Xian contemplates how to subtly convince the bandits to take up the rather dangerous pastime of baiting the Obsidian Warlord.
- "We need you to keep the Obsidian Warlord here. His presence in the North is interfering with Commander Yao's battle." -Wei Han
The bandits are really not that psyched by bringing down the wrath of the Warlord on their heads, especially not on behalf of other people's countries, but Xian launches into a very persuasive speech about how other countries don't have the same caliber of protector, but they still have oppressed people who need protection, and how the bandits are the best ones for the job.
White is keen on self-sacrifice for the common man; Red, Blue, and Green think that they can definitely draw his attention, but once they have his attention, how will they get him to go away again? Black really isn't in favor of self-sacrifice for the common man of the North, but he's outvoted. Wei Han assures them that once they stop causing trouble, the Warlord will surely just leave again.
- "Word will spread through the countryside that the Bandits of the Double Caldera are not intimidated even by the Warlord. That will inspire the people!"
They do have a golden ocarina that Gou gave them - maybe that will help them escape once the Warlord comes for them? The party assures them that it will.
- "Will you promise to take up the banner of the people if something happens to us?" -White
In the end, the Bandits say they'll try to do something tomorrow to embarrass the Warlord.
- "You guys should make sure you have an alibi for brunch."
- "Um... maybe we'll just leave the country."
Kuan-Xi rejoins the group, very confused about the terrible things she's been hearing about Anto. She was in a meditation chamber with the other members of the Song of the Phoenix, preparing to save the island from sinking (or other terrible thwackbacks) so she didn't get the details. The group assures her that it was all the work of an imposter.
Cai Wen suggests that he talk to Commander Sun to get permission for the group to return on his ship. Of course, that may make it more awkward to tip Mola Ram's body overboard in the middle of the ocean.
- "Put it in the cart!" -Xiao Fa
- "Hey! Yeah!" -Xian
- "Seriously? Seriously, Xian? Really? Seriously?" -Cai Wen
Cai Wen says they can just hire a different ship once they get back to the mainland, and take it out to dump the body.
Commander Sun invites the group to dinner - he wants an actual debriefing on their version of what happened. Cai Wen generally explains most of it, leaving out principally the part about knowing about things in advance because of Pir Pir. He says that both Antos were fakes, which Commander Sun finds particularly inexplicable, but is willing to write off to the Alchemist being confusing.
Cai Wen also asks about what Commander Sun can do to help with Commander Yao's problems. He really can't do much in the area of the blockade (the main thing distracting the Arcade's troops), though he says that the ships do keep being reassigned, so the blockade is constantly shrinking, it appears. And he can't really reassign his troops to the North Wall. But he'll see if he can do anything.
Oh, and if he runs into Hiro while dealing with the South, he's probably trying to help. He's like Da-Xie but not. That confuses him even more, as he thinks of Da-Xie as the favorite army mascot who inexplicably also has a job with the Firelord.
Commander Sun's ship leaves the next morning, and brings the party to the City of Light, where they hire another ship to take them on a day trip into the ocean to dump Mola Ram's body (in a weighted crate).
- Xiao Fa joins the House of Quiet Concordance.
- Takanata does some library research.
- Xian, Grasshopper, Kasumi, Takanata, Master Zhou, Wei Han, and Min Feng visit the Temple of the Eternal Dream.
- Takanata visits Li Kao.
- Wei Han patrols the North Wall.
- Merit shops for books.