|"Know your enemy as you know yourself, and you shall ever be victorious."|| It is a few days before the Day of the Early Spider in Spider Rising, in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place in the Butterfly Kingdom.
Return to the Butterfly Kingdom
Having successfully diverted a summons to the Hidden City, the circus is in the City of Light ready to journey back to the Butterfly Kingdom. Ringmaster Te hires a ship, directs everyone to get the elephants on board, and the journey to the Isle of Butterflies goes surprisingly uneventfully (if marred by storms).
The circus will be wintering here, repairing, mending, cleaning, and putting together new acts, and Ringmaster Te notes that perhaps the people with the secret antidote should head off to the palace. Shuyan starts making her goodbyes to everyone else, but Hiro will have none of that, and insists that Destiny brought Shuyan in with the rest of them, and Destiny insists that she see it through to the end. After much discussion of the appropriate walking pace, and a few minor diversions, the party sets off in a Purposeful Stroll towards the palace.
The palace guards ask the standard "who goes there?" question, and everyone points at Takanata to introduce himself. He does so, and says he had hoped that Her Majesty would be available. The guard indicates the large mob of the party, questioningly:
- "And these folk..." -Guard
- "...are my entourage." -Takanata
Lord Takanata and his Enormous Entourage are permitted to come in, and head (under light escort) to the Queen's secretary's office. Zhi-Hao waves to various palace guards, and they are pleased to see him back again.
The secretary says that the Queen is currently in seclusion. At Takanata's request, he goes to inform her that Takanata is here, regarding matters of some importance. The party is led to a small dining room to wait, and arrives only moments before Ti Wren does. She is very pleased to see them, and asks after the Tincture. Hiro produces what appears to be a Tinicture of Pure Respite, but just as people are starting to check the spelling and become suspicious, Li Merit produces the real Tincture, having created a decoy in case of theft. The Queen leaves with the real Tincture in a rush, instructing her staff to have a celebratory banquet made ready for the group later.
The party entertain themselves for a bit in the palace - Lijuan and Kasumi watch for ninja, but there don't seem to be any other than Kasumi herself. Zhi-Hao looks for Prince Ti Jun, but hears that he has not returned to the kingdom since the tribute ship was sent. There is some concern about this; neither the prince nor his escorts have returned.
Cai Wen meets a young geomancer named Peng - she is visiting the Butterfly Kingdom to see the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation - and invites her to the banquet that evening. Takanata writes a note to Her Majesty asking her to please let them know if additional assistance is needed, as his most recent poem suggests to him that there is more to the King's illness than can be cured with the Tincture:
- Ravaged by venom,
- Salvaged by love.
- Far travelled, long sought,
- First key is the draught.
- Inquisitive and cunning,
- though assaulted by all,
- Memory's salvation
- needs those cross'd the wall.
- Peerless connection
- twixt body and mind.
- Off on a journey,
- Its plans to unwind.
- Recover the heart of the
- Butterfly's pawn,
- though spirit and demon
- will fight till the dawn.
Shen-Ji reports in to his master. Master Zhou reminds everyone, in case they've forgotten, that there is Upcoming Doom due to the year of the Spider coming, and that the Marked are surely up to something. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, so tonight's banquet is a little sparsely attended.
- Anto takes a moment to open the cage of the lockpicking monkey, following his new calling as an Unbinder
During the banquet, a messenger comes to find Takanata. As he had worried, the tincture is not working. He and Zhi-Hao head to the King's bedchamber. The Queen is there, and tells them that while he seems to be resting more easily, he is not waking. Takanata shows her his poem, and says that he and his friends are "those cross'd the wall," but she doesn't know what that means they should do, and the part about demons and spirit fighting until dawn doesn't sound good.
Others are summoned. Xiao Fa looks at Ti Lao's chi, and notes that a lot of it seems to be missing - not cut away, like Master Zhou's, but just elsewhere. Master Zhou puts the King's unconscious body through some physical therapy, and concludes that he is spiritwalking. Shuyan uses her Serpent's Ring to become dead, and briefly catches sight of a golden cord from the King's body going elsewhere.
Meanwhile back at the party, Hiro regales the local women with his tales of heroism, especially the tale of crashing the Spirit/Demon Ball on the Night of Gates. Peng comes over to him to ask about his expertise in spirits and demons, as she has heard many rumors about the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation. She'd like to visit the Gardens in the dark - but the rumors of odd noises there during recent nights have kept her away. But with his expertise to protect them, Peng, Hiro, Hana, and Cai Wen head off to see the gardens.
Meanwhile, Shuyan and some others have started trying to follow the golden cord, by having Shuyan "die" over and over, and see where the cord goes. They follow the cord to the northwest area of the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation, where it vanishes - into what Master Zhou thinks is the exact place that he appeared when he arrived with no memory. There appears to be a tiny rift between the Material World and the World Above here. Xiao Fa notes that the feng shui of this part of the garden puts it very close to the World Above, and with some adjustment, it might be pushed farther, pushing the whole area close enough to the World Above to spiritwalk through the rift, even without a shtick.
Takanata briefs the Queen on what the party thinks has happened - that the King's spirit is spiritwalking. He thinks this will solve the "soul" portion of the poem (though he is worried about the "mind" part and if it is all right to do them out of order.) Xiao Fa confers with Peng about the arrangement of the garden, and comes up with a list of changes that should be made - move this boulder, take those blossoms off that tree, etc...
Once it is morning, work begins on rearranging the garden. Master Zhou thinks it is important to have the King's body be in the same place, so he is brought to the garden, with guards. Ti Wren stays in the portion of the palace adjoining the garden to oversee, so as to not end up in the World Above accidentally. Master Zhou reminds everyone of some rules about the World Above - if you are given a challenge by a spirit, you must do the challenge or fight the spirit. If you fight the spirit directly, you will die.
People spend many hours rearranging things at Xiao Fa's direction. During this process Li Merit and Song Min Feng are summoned back to the circus. There's apparently some sort of emergency there, and Min Feng is known to have a good relationship with the Lockpicking Monkey, so the pair head off. They plan to be back before sunset though. Sadly, sunset comes several hours sooner than expected and things become somewhat different in the garden. Those in the garden are able to spiritwalk (leaving their body behind) to the World Above, and can follow the golden cord towards the King's spirit. Before anyone can react, a large grey spider descends on a thread from the World Above, looks around, and goes back up its silken line.
The Spirit Journey
- Rolls made in the World Above are based on Tao, though people can add their non-Tao substats to a roll, once per substat.
- There are strands of spiderweb strung about throughout this part of the World Above. Touching one is bad. This is represented by saying the word "Spider"'. Touching the spiderweb, or failing in the challenges, increases the number of words that cannot be said, and, as it turns out, causes demons to arrive, each group shepherded by a spider.
- For each challenge, there is a "par" number (usually people, but not always). Accomplishing the challenge with less than the par number decreases the number of dangerous words.
Anto is the first to slip into a spiderweb, and "Butterfly" is added to the list. Some of the party leap into the World Above; those left behind try to drag the bodies of those spirit traveling closer together for easier defense. Those in the World Above choose one of many possible scenes to encounter...
Joining of the Cycle
- Here is a flat space, one of the few places you have seen where nothing moves or changes or tries to eat your head. From here, the demesnes of each of the Great Cycle Spirits stretch off in pie wedges that aren't really shaped much like pie wedges at all. It is very important to keep to the correct path here.
- Come up with a set of yes/no questions (par 5) which can be used to unambiguously tell apart the Cycle Spirits (i.e. "Do you have wings?).
- You cannot use the names of the actual cycle animals, or synonyms for them, in your question.
- The questions will be tested by someone who didn't help write them, choosing three Cycle animals at random and answering the questions.
After much debate, the group settles on an unaesthetic but workable solution involving questions of the form "In an alphabetic ordering, are you in the first half?" and find their way. Once past the confusion, they find a place where a Mark (looking much like the tattoo on the back of Machan Li) has been branded into the space. Touching the mark causes the one who touches it to see a vision...
Those back in the material world are plagued by Ripper demons (they seem to be a particular problem in the Butterfly Kingdom) and another sort of demon that seems to punch nearby foes into swapping with faraway ones.
Takanata notes "The demons are using the webs of the one they appeared with; if those webs go down, they may leave," doing well to avoid mentions of Spiders. Master Zhou is not so lucky and mentions Butterfly, and "Marked" joins the list of dangerous words, (although the demons have to wait to appear until the next section of combat, since Master Zhou is in the World Above).
Those in the World Above enter another scene:
- This area of the spirit world is silent, and all full of mirrors, at crazy angles, all up against each other. Some of the mirrors have no reflection, others, the reflections of you are subtly twisted or have oddly wrong expression. It doesn't seem to be possible to pass through without going physically through the mirrors. The spirit who inhabits this area peers furtively out at you from the corners of the mirrors, only half-glimpsed out of the corner of your eyes, never straight on, and often seems to look like you.
- The first person steps into a mirror, and picks, at random, the token for one of the other people in the scene.
- They should, with their eyes shut, physically mimic the character so chosen, for up to their Yang in minutes.
- At any time, someone can choose to try to walk into the mirror by saying they do so.
- If they were right, they are at the next step of the mirrors; they should then draw another person to mimic.
Hana, Shen-Ji, Zhi-Hao, and Xian manage to successfully mimic each other (to some hilarity), and trigger another vision:
The travellers in the World Above have done well to drop the list of dangerous words back to "Spider", but the demons called up are still causing trouble. The fighters learn that when the shepherding spider is banished (after taking enough hits), the minion demons are pulled back to the spider's location, but not defeated. A small victory, but in the end it's only a delaying tactic.
In the World Above, the travellers see a dangerous looking spirit in a maze:
- A maze of sharp-edged walls here, with a horrid spiky tree in the middle. Small spirits hang on the spikes of the tree, occasionally twitching. A sharp and pointy spirit, sometimes winged, sometimes not, stalks swiftly around.
- A 3x3 maze of GOOTMU tiles is set up. The tree is in the center.
- People can enter from the corners. They move their Yang in squares, and roll Yin plus Stealth to sneak. If you are not moving, you may roll Stealth for 5s.
- If the Shrike is in your map section, you need 3 stealth successes to not be heard. If he is in an adjacent section, you need 2. If he is in a farther away section, you need 1.
- If you fail your stealth check, the Shrike moves one map section towards you (or towards the most-failed person, if there is more than one.) If it was in your map section and moves towards you, it grabs you and puts you on its tree. Ouch. You cannot get off by yourself. And the Peril number goes up by one.
- Goal: to get someone to the center square while the Shrike isn't on it.
Hana, Xiao Fa, and Shen-Ji sneak into the Shrike's maze. Hana makes noise to draw the Shrike away, allowing Xiao Fa to make a run in to reach the tree and the mark there.
With so many people in the World Above, the combat starts going poorly. Shen Wei Han calls out for help, and some nearby vacationing Dragon Army soldiers who were picnicing in another area of the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation hear his call, and come to assist. Near the King's body, Cai Wen breaks a vial of smoke filling the area. This provides some protection against demon attacks, but even so, they won't be able to hold out forever.
In the World Above, the travellers find:
- The terrain here is constantly shifting -- a hill one moment is a valley, and then a huge chasm. A wall becomes a shadow of a wall, becomes an oil slick. One of the things here is probably the inhabiting spirit, but it is difficult to know which.
- First, who can identify the objects on the table that have just been covered with the scarf?
- Second, everyone can make a Yin roll with Perception skill and study the table for 15 seconds x successes.
- Now, shut your eyes/turn your back while we move things / change things / remove things / add things.
- Identify all the differences. (The initial identification counts for extra credit).
People in the spirit world initially remember ten of the clutter of objects, and correctly identify all the changes: the magnet of David changed his clothes, the coaster of Poseidon has become a coaster of Zeus, the tea has changed brands, the stones have moved from the shot glass to the bowl, the candle snuffer has been turned 180 degrees, the dice have been rotated, the cinnamon stick has been removed, a spoon has been added, a bottle cap has been added to the "mana bottle", and the blue gems have been turned upside down. They misidentify that the cows have been moved, but the extra credit cancels that out.
They find another mark and trigger another vision:
The three vacationing Dragon soldiers join the fight - it seems pretty clear to them that the demons are the bad guys, so they don't need a lot of briefing.
Takanata warns people not to remove the bodies of anyone who is spiritwalking - their spirits might be unable to get back, as the King's might have been. He also tries to exit the Gardens long enough to ask the Queen to summon more guards, but they shoot at him, thinking he is some sort of spider-demon himself. Apparently, those outside the gardens can not clearly see those within. Takanata retreats back into the Gardens and continues the fight.
Kasumi is targeted by heavy attacks from the lightning-throwing demons who have all been pulled back to near her, and Ho leaps in the way of some of them, falling himself. "Noooo! Hoooo!" Anto also comes in for a lot of chewing on by demons, but his dog is less self-sacrificing.
In the World Above, the party enters another area.
- The landscape here is painted in the five bright colors of the elements. In the center is a small pagoda; a spirit in elegant gold sits, watching as people approach. He negligently gestures, and obstacles begin to spring up. "I shall let you pass," he says, "if you are sufficiently amusing."
- There are five obstacles here: A wall of fire, a flooding river, a chasm too far to leap across, a metal grate, and a thornbush.
- Each must be passed by making a plausible and amusing roll, using only 1- or 2-point skills.
Takanata writes a love poem to the flooding river, and tosses it in. It parts for him. He gathers up some sticks, and places them at the base of the wall of fire, so that they look like lit candles, and calls to Hana to come and blow them out, singing "Happy Birthday" to her. When she tries to "blow out the candles", he opens his Bag of Wind (a minor magic item), and the wind rushes out extinguishing the fire.
Anto tells a tall tale of an adventure story involving a grand and exciting journey around the chasm to the other side, demonstrating that he is, in fact, already there. "But how will you get back?" asks the spirit, and he has to tell another story to retrieve himself.
Shen-Ji identifies the metal grate as actually made out of gold. Using his jewelsmithing and sculpting, he fashions a gold statue of the spirit out of it, and presents it to him.
Hiro (who has recently acquired the "Stomach of the Termite" shtick) eats the thornbush. The spirit is amused, but thinks it is poor form to bring a tengu in a party of adventuring humans!
Once past, another mark is touched and another vision is triggered:
- "Wow, they can alphabetize in Chinese. That is pretty menacing." -Cael
The World Above travellers have done a good job at decreasing the dangerous words, but there is one more encounter with a spiderweb, triggering demons who seem to be made of broken weapons. These destroy weapons when they are hit by them, and an attack by such a demon also destroys weapons.
In the World Above, the travellers reach:
- Dark, swirling mist obscures nearly everything ahead.
They enter; various things happen, causing several of them to take damage in their Tao stats.
They are successful, but Takanata notes "... and we probably won't remember most of that. But that's why no one will believe us."
At this point, the fighters in the Material World are heavily beset by demons, and several have lost their weapons. Master Hsi's gift of healing potions is all that is keeping them standing, and protecting the unmoving bodies of the spiritwalkers from demons intent on eating them.
In the World Above, the travellers find another spooky area.
- An upside down tree stretches its roots into the dark air, and a passage leads below into the ground beneath its trunk.
- The spirit here will taunt you. If you cannot face it with equanimity, it will take your face.
- Equanimity means success in Chi (substituting in for Resolve) with Strong Will type skills. Each time you are taunted, you must get one more success.
- As a whole, twelve taunts must be withstood.
- Xiao Fa
- You left your brother to be killed.
- You did let your sister get killed.
- There's nothing more pathetic than a ninja working for a pacifist.
- When you die, you'll be burnt as a necromancer - and they'll be right.
- Even your own friends won't tell you your destiny.
- You left a whole pile of your sisters to be killed. (This seems to be a party theme.)
- Xiao Fa
- You sacrificed the only likelihood that you'll ever amount to anything.
- If you take all your lessons from demons, that's the direction you'll grow in.
- You are too lazy and easily discouraged to become a proper sorcerer.
- And these people think you're their friend.
- Xiao Fa
- The monastery only took you in out of pity.
- You're actually hard to taunt, because you just have no heart.
Some of the taunts make others wince, but the target of each is able to keep any reaction from showing on their face, and the mark is found.
No new demons have shown up for a little while, so the tide is slowly beginning to turn back in the party's favor as people retreat into the smoke area, and several of the most pesky demons are down. Many healing potions have been used and karma points have been spent on healing shticks, so this can't last forever, but it seems the end is in sight.
In the World Above, the travellers reach the last of the scenes they must navigate.
- Several spirits frolic in a brightly colored but otherwise peaceful looking meadow. The spirits split into tiny dots of color, and reform again, laughing. One of them, which stays resolutely un-formed, calls out to you "I will let you pass by if you name me."
- A number of circles of dots must be put together to show the spirit's true form.
Quite a while later, Anto correctly names the spirit "Rooster" and the last mark is found.
The Butterfly King Returned
Now the golden cord to Ti Lao's spirit (which appears here as a monarch butterfly - the same one the monks of the Eternal Dream were trying to free) is clear and the spirit walkers converge on Ti Lao's spirit. He bows, and conveys his gratitude to the travellers, as well as his sympathy for the trials they have endured. He apologizes for having to put them through these trials, but says that "it was necessary that you see the things you have seen and remember them, for I will not, since I have not crossed the wall."
Takanata asks if he will be able to learn these things again if he is told? Yes, in theory, but he expects he will not believe them. Takanata asks what he wishes them to tell him of what needs doing?
- "Tell me what you feel is necessary, but the important thing is that you do what you know is necessary."
Ti Lao thinks that one of the eight Marked (the one in the misty scene) is particularly resistant to divination, and responsible for the greater inability to remember things such as the changes in the country names. Takanata asks if that has anything to do with Ti Jun's fate being shielded. Ti Lao does not know, though he says he was trying to find out what had happened to Ti Jun when he was trapped in the spider's web. He again thanks Shen-Ji for freeing him.
Ti Lao then says that dawn is coming, and they should return to the material world before the Cycle turns. Everyone moves back to their bodies, and then Ti Lao invokes his authority over the Isle of Butterflies to separate his land from the Worlds Above and Below, forcing all of the remaining demons to retreat.
Ti Wren and her guards can now see into the gardens clearly again. She is overjoyed, thanks everyone, and promises them rewards for their doings this night and over the last six months.
Then, as the sun rises, another voice booms out.
- Fools! You think you can keep me out? My time has now come! With the turning of the Cycle, I am now finally free to act directly once more. As my first act, I shall scatter those who have annoyed me.
Yoshi takes a moment to look at the Great Spider Spirit and wonder why it does these things. The answer is "Power and Dominion", and Yoshi finds its intensity quite... intense.Then, the tiny rift between the worlds ripples and tears one final time, and the party is flung far and wide, to who knows where...