|"Everything is small at the beginning and then grows; except trouble, which is big at the beginning and still grows."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Dog in the Month of the Dog in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Before setting off on his Monkey Treasure Hunt, Grasshopper brings up the House Sung documents. Xian is pretty sure there's a secret message in the lowered letters, but there isn't anyone who thinks it is both a fun puzzle and their plot, so it hasn't been figured out. Grasshopper notes that Master Zhou tells her that the things he needs to know are:
- the House Sung documents have one more clue in them
- that he has accidentally betrayed House Sung to House Siew, the Sung heir is in danger, and that's even more true recently (since the last run).
- that when 'Lijuan died' that left death searching for a Bear heir that had to exist. The trouble from this last has already begun.
Grasshopper thinks that the last has to do with Kei being attacked by a panda, though Xian thinks that "throw pandas at everyone in the Empire until they don't eat someone" is an inefficient way of finding the Bear heir. Grasshopper thinks that maybe it's "throw pandas at all the girls being secretly protected by Takanata", in which case Xian might be the next target.
Grasshopper leaves a message for box 3928 at the House of Judicious Increase:
There doesn't seem to be much more to do about the House Sung plot, so Grasshopper and Kasumi head off to send the monkeys on a treasure hunt. Xiao Fa has previously advised Grasshopper that Shiny (the seventh Monkey of the Apocalypse, and wounded) can only be healed by having him take part in very Monkey-esque things, and thus has given Grasshopper and Kasumi carte blanche to cause trouble. Their first pass at trouble has been to buy small treasures for the monkeys, in order to have them hunt for them without getting them near anyone who might mind.
The monkeys seem to think that this is insufficiently trouble-causing, so when Grasshopper and Kasumi send them on their treasure hunt, they promptly grab all the treasure and head back to the city to look for better stuff. Six hours later, when the monkeys have not yet returned, Grasshopper and Kasumi head back to the rest of the group to discover that many people's good stuff has been swapped for monkey treasure (most disconcertingly, the Butterfly Talisman has been swapped for a brass hoop). The monkeys, very pleased with themselves, are sitting on a small cart of random items in the stable.
Zhi-Hao rummages in the cart and emerges with a lodestone. Anto claims that's his, pilfered by the monkeys, and trades it for a lemon (that the monkeys left him in return). The monkeys watch to see if the lodestone and the lemon get up to any interesting trouble, but there's only so much trouble that a lemon can get into. Though Zhi-Hao thinks that the cart itself is a source of danger, if not an active one.
The next item drawn from the cart is a small crystal, dull white during the day, glowing as bright as a star at night. Kasumi juggles the lodestone, the lemon, and the star, and Anto makes the lodestone stick to a metal thing in the ceiling. The group sets to work playing with the star with dedication - Zhi-Hao brings the stable lanterns outside, and notes in passing that there's something that looks wrong about the city. The group contemplates whether the city is actually in the World Above and that's why it looks odd, but Anto thinks that's not it. Well, it's probably of no importance.
Grasshopper suggests trading the star to the Moon in return for freeing the ice pagoda, but Xian, who doesn't trust the Moon, suggests that he think about trading the star back to the sky for a bunch of darkness. Grasshopper, leaping upon the idea, asks the stablehand for a jar, when the boy comes into the stable to find out why all the lanterns have been removed. Rather than fetching a jar, though, the stablehand wants to know where they got the light. Grasshopper explains that they plan to trade it to the sky, which is why he needs the jar, but the stablehand backs out, muttering worried-sounding comments about stealing the light. The group goes back to messing with the star a bit more (it doesn't seem to be made of star metal, which is a dark metal), but there starts to be a fuss outside.
Grasshopper heads out of the stable to ask the people in the inn for a jar, but they seem to be very concerned about the light having been stolen from the Great Lighthouse. Grasshopper explains that the monkeys took it, and they want to trade it to the sky, but this doesn't seem to mollify anyone, and the boy is sent to run for the guards.
Well, perhaps if they return the light to the lighthouse, all will be well. The group sets out, bringing the cart full of monkeys, and is quickly intercepted by guards. The guards seem willing to escort the group to the lighthouse, after which they want to arrest Grasshopper and Kasumi (who keep helpfully volunteering that it was their monkeys that stole the light).
The lighthouse keepers are somewhat cranky and do not answer questions about where the star came from or how it works, and Master Deng ends up paying a fine for both Grasshopper and Kasumi, and promising to make sure that they don't cause any more trouble in the future, so it is not a satisfying conclusion, but at least the lighthouse is no longer broken.
A brief interlude of chasing monkeys around ensues, after which there are only six monkeys, but they seem to be entirely sufficient. As the least competent of the monkey chasers, Grasshopper has to add some more Monkey to the world, and vows to be more disobedient.
It has gotten pretty late at night, but the party is curious what else is in the cart. They bring the cart to another inn (having convinced the first inn that they are all lighthouse-burglars), and draw another item: An ironwood wand, thickly carved with sigils and runes, with a grey crystal at the end.
Everyone enthusiastically attempts to blast holes in the wall with the wand, to no avail. Maybe they aren't the destined wielder? Maybe they don't know the magic word? Guessing "monkeycadabra" and "abricamonkey" doesn't seem to do it. Kasumi tries to dowse with the wand, and bumps into Xian. Ahah! Xian must be the destined wielder.
Anto notes that the wand has approximately three elements - wood, stone, and metal (both in the "ironwood" and in the claw that holds the crystal on). Maybe it needs all five elements (or minus one, to have an element-shaped hole?) Xian has a phoenix feather, and Grasshopper goes to find a seagull feather from near the docks, and Xian sticks the feathers in the wire wrapping.
Xian tries to blast the lemon, throwing in his fortune, but no luck. Maybe Kasumi's dowsing lied, and he's not really the destined wand-wielder? Zhi-Hao whacks the lemon over a roof with the wand, and the group heads to bed for the night.
In the morning, the party decides that Master Tranh ("the thousand-li-horse guy") is clearly the person to pester about the wand. Grasshopper knocks on the door, and introduces himself as a student of Xiao Fa's, here to consult with Master Tranh. That proves sufficient to get the group invited in, though when Master Tranh quizzes Grasshopper about his studies ("Xiao Fa is teaching me how big the moon is") Master Tranh seems somewhat dubious.
He thinks the wand is interesting, though, and identifies it as probably Professor Kusakabe's work. He's a scholar and historian at the House of a Hundred Scholars. Everyone finds it very odd that a historian would be making magic items, but Master Tranh says Professor Kusakabe is a woodworker. People make puppy dog eyes at Master Tranh to introduce them to the Professor, and Master Tranh agrees to invite him for tea later in the afternoon.
The group goes to eat dumplings, and then returns for tea with Master Tranh, and are introduced to Professor Kusakabe.
- "I specialize in history." -Professor Kusakabe
- "What, all of it? How remarkable!" -Master Deng
Master Deng quickly backpedals - he didn't mean that sarcastically. Professor Kusakabe turns off his glare, and says that he is particularly interested in the development of tools and other created things, how they influence the course of events. He digresses into talking about the South pointing chariot and its effect on military strategy.
The party brings out the wand, and he is surprised to see it - it's a toy he made for his daughter, Mei, but she said she lost it. The Professor invites the group back to his house, where they present the wand (without phoenix feather) to Mei. Anto tells various stories about the Monkey King to Mei, and the professor notes that there is a reasonably strong historic record for the Monkey King as a ruler in the Forest of Chin, who probably had a lot to do with their current rather competitive warlike nature (he compares it to the Arcade, where the Great Houses are competitive, but they have their own specialties, rather than "land" which you can always want more of).
After leaving, Anto checks his reference book - the runes on the wand were maybe more like "cool drop caps from a manuscript" and less like "a coherent ritual incantation". So it's probably not the case that he accidentally made a magic item. On the other hand, Mei's form with the wand was very good, so maybe she'll grow up to be some sort of wand-blasting sorceror.
In the ensuing chasing-the-monkeys confusion, there is a good deal of grabbing the wrong monkey - Anto vows to unbind more things (he lets the mice out of their cage), Grasshopper decides that monkey treats are particularly tasty, and Xian vows to use "Blend In" every run until the end of the book, because that will likely cause confusion or hilarity.
Bags and Money
The next item picked out of the cart is the "bag of temporary holding". Anything that was in it is gone now, which leads to a discussion of where the missing stuff is, which leads to a realization that if only Anto had not released the mice, they could send a mouse through and see through the monocle.
Grasshopper manages to catch one of the escaped mice, bloods it, and throws it in the bag; Master Deng disarms him, and the mouse is gone. Looking through the monocle, the mouse has appeared in a little pile of stuff and run underneath a bench. Unfortunately, that doesn't really tell them where it is.
Hoping to impress the monkeys, Grasshopper offers the monocle to one of the monkeys, but the monkeys are not fond of the monocle, and it is quickly buried in the cart, replaced with a tael.
Huh. A tael is pretty cool. Grasshopper finally gets to do his experiment with two tael and a funnel (the item-card tael comes out of the funnel first). The question of where the tael came from is not particularly interesting, so the only question is "how to spend it".
- "We could commission a statue of Monkey." -Master Deng
- "That probably won't be done in time."
- "We could convert it to zhu and drop it off buildings!"
- "We could levitate it over the marketplace and make people jump for it!"
Grasshopper is getting somewhat impatient with not being Lijuan, so broaches the idea of doing something to somewhat blow his cover - spend it all on urchins. That sounds like an actual interesting thing, as opposed to a silly thing, so the group settles on that. They visit every pork bun stand in the city, and pay in advance to have them come to the Great Bazaar and give away free pork buns to everyone (especially urchins) all night.
- "We want to plausibly have done this by accident." -Xian
The next monkey-chasing features Xian critically failing to throw himself a monkey; he and Anto are the least ept monkey-chasers so Anto promises to go and be chased by the guards on the Isle of Beauty the next time he's there, and Xian vows to be extra-disrespectful of authority.
Blood and Smoke
The next item drawn is A vial of what could be blood, marked in golden paint with a 12.
- "Huh. This is getting serious."
Xian decides that the best way to figure out what it is is to taste it. A set of visions flash before his eyes - an older man in fancy robes, pointing. A monk, bowing and then going in the direction that was pointed. The monk, crossing plains and mountains. The monk, undergoing travails of fire and water and metal and wood and stone. A very confusing place. Then a great white wing, buffeting the monk and buffeting Xian as well, and he collapses.
The group is not sure what to do with a fallen comrade when Xiao Fa is not there and there are no obviously bleeding wounds. Zhi-Hao doesn't think he's been poisoned per se, that it's a chi effect rather than a physical effect. So they tuck him into bed surrounded by the perpetually warm rocks, which Grasshopper thinks should be comforting.
Once Xian wakes up, he narrates what he saw, to much confusion all around. Was Xiao Fa the twelfth attempt at a... whatever it is he is? But the monk wasn't actually Xiao Fa. Xian thinks he would recognize both the monk and the robed man if he saw them again.
Anto thinks there are lots of adventure stories which have monks on quests to the World Above; there isn't one obvious story which matches this description more than others.
- "Do you know what to do?" -Anto
- "No, do you know what to do?" -Xian
- "Well... it's gold!" -Anto
- "It's gold paint. This is not from the paint immortal, who shows up with a bucket of golden paint who says "you'll know what to do"!" -Xian
Anto wonders whether it's spirit blood - "12" is sometimes a shorthand for "the Cycle" as a whole.
- "I better pay attention to this one. Last time Crane gave me a vision, I dropped it on the floor." -Xian
Anto thinks it would be totally awesome to use the blood with the monocle, but it's lost in the cart at present and he can't. Xian warns Anto that trying to see through the Crane's eyes could KILL HIM DEAD, but Anto doesn't think it would be that bad.
Nobody can think of any other leads to pursue about the vial, but the monkeys think Xian tasting it counts as interesting enough and lets them near the cart again, so Zhi-Hao draws his helmet from the cart. Anto builds a fire with wet wood in the helmet, filling their inn room with smoke and causing a general evacuation and fire alarm, and Zhi-Hao leaps out the window with his helmet.
The party has to leave and find yet a third inn, but between the blood and the smoke, that counts as enough trouble to play catch-the-monkeys again.
Anto, the least competent monkey chaser, has to vow to go pick some fights with martial arts schools.
Blood and Bone
The next item of interest is a severed head, not all that recent.
- "This one maybe we should actually find out where it came from?" -Kasumi
Kasumi also thinks that Myo and Liet might be able to help - as bandit-ninja types themselves, they would presumably be acquainted with any... recent murders in the city.
- "Why did you think of them? They have no relevant skills!" -Xian
- "They live here?" -Kasumi
Grasshopper examines the head - he thinks it was severed after death, and has been preserved in something, maybe alcohol?
- "I had a cover as a severed head once?" -Xian
Well, perhaps Liet and Myo are not the right place to start. How about the Order of Continuing Remembrance? The group heads there. There is a solemn novice at the door, who asks if she can be of service.
- "We pull a head out of a bag..." -Zhi-Hao
- "NO! Shh! All of you!" -Xian
Xian explains that there is a matter of some trouble and delicacy, and that they would like to speak to the master of the order. Anto name-drops Master Hirayasu, and the group is shown into a sitting room, and after a short time Master Takase (the abbot of this temple) enters.
She is in fact quite disturbed to see the head, and places her hand on its forehead for a moment or two. She says it is in some sort of thrall, but it is not necromantic.
Hey, wait. Does that mean there's a binding? That's something Anto can check. He thinks it's something controlling a physical semblance. Not a skinwalker, but something more like Hiro's mimicry. So... there's someone out there, pretending to be whoever this is? Anto thinks the binding can probably be broken by completely destroying the head (though possibly also other body parts would need to be destroyed, if they're all powering the semblance).
Master Takase performs a ceremonial cremation and laying-to-rest.
Then, astonishingly, the party decides it's time to gather information to see if they can learn anything about things that might have happened. Xian hears that the senior clerk of the Master of Trade burst into flames and then vanished, though the exact details of what happened are somewhat murky. He manages to get the name Mikata Yuji, so they pass that information along to Master Takase, and also file a report with Li Merit, in case there is any useful profit he can make from that.
In the next round of monkey-chasing, everyone is reasonably successful!
One Golden Ring
The group troops to Myo's house. He's glad to see them, as interesting things often happen when they're around, and he's willing to make a per roll on the ring, noting that it seems to be old (there are nicks), and it's real gold, so probably someone well off. He says that he's really not a jewelry expert, though, so suggests asking Liet.
The group heads to Liet's, and she recognizes the ring as belonging to her father. The group hurries to explain that they don't know whether the monkey took it off his finger while he was asleep or he left it somewhere unfortunate or what.
Liet notes that her father hasn't mentioned it being missing when he woke up, so... well, who knows.
- "If I don't tell Mom, he totally owes me one." -Liet
Xian clarifies that the party isn't interested in blackmailing Liet's dad if it's just a case of adultery, but if his missing ring is a symptom of some terrible conspiracy, then they are totally still after him and either going to blackmail him or Get Him, depending. Liet isn't sure what sort of terrible conspiracy a missing ring would be, but says she'll make sure that Xian's warning is... as clear to her dad as it is to her.
When she returns, she says that she thinks it was the adultery version rather than the vast wedding ring conspiracy version, but she definitely has some leverage on Dad now. So she owes the group a favor, which is admittedly not a house-sized favor, but it's a some-leverage-over-her-house sized favor.
The last monkey is chased around, leaving only Shiny, and Kasumi takes a psych lim of "Climb Everything". Shiny is wearing a Great Talisman:
Anto claims that it is clearly his by right - he can't be bound! But several other people want to wear it too.
While they have accomplished their goal, there are still possibly interesting things in the cart. They can probably keep drawing them as long as they get resolved interestingly; if something (not party loot that's been stuck in the cart) gets drawn and gets ignored, then the cart will likely be done.
The next item from the cart is an obsidion key. Interesting, it seems to be forged.
The group contemplates who would need an obsidian key. There aren't any Imperial Regents in town, or, if they are, they're more incognito than a cursory gather information can discover. The heads of the major Arcade houses might have a need to go to Obsidian, but in general, anyone who really needs to go probably doesn't need a forged key. Maybe it's an assassination? But why is the key here, rather than the Hidden City? It is all so confusing.
- "Is there someone we don't like, who we could give it to as a gift?" -Anto
- "How about we find the truth out before we start framing people?" -Xian
Grasshopper suggests that the party make it known that they have found a Lost Thing, and that then people will come for it. Of course, the cart is probably full of other lost things (not to mention lost tael and lost weird blood, no longer in the cart), so it may be hard to narrow it down. On the other hand, that could mean that lots of villains come to get their stuff back. Maybe this is a party that should happen at the Cup of Five Virtues?
- "We could found a detective agency specializing in finding lost things!"
Grasshopper looks at the key, and thinks it looks relatively new. So perhaps it was made by someone in the city. Well, where would you go to make one? Nobody is sure.
The group troops to Master Tranh's house, and asks if he lost the key. No, he did not. Oh, well. How about Myo? They could ask Myo, and he has a per roll. Myo also notes that the key seems new, and says he knows several forgers who might have been able to make it. They ask who might want such a key, assuming it's someone who has legitimate business there but is too poor to get a key. Myo thinks maybe it's someone who has illegitimate business there. Ahah, maybe it is that clerk who was being impersonated? All these plots are probably related, right?
Grasshopper is happy enough to go visit the forgers and ask them if they made the key and why and for who, but Xian thinks that's a bad idea, and can't imagine asking the forgers questions would be a good idea in the general case, so the group discusses some more. If only they had the monocle, and could look through the Eyes of the Crane using the blood! Xian doesn't think that is a good idea either.
Anto spends a karma to put the key back in the cart, as arguing about it any longer seems unproductive.
The next item is a fragile-looking glass bubble, with a dark twist of smoke inside.
- "It says fragile, so we're supposed to break it."
Anto says whatever it is, it's bound, so he should unbind it, and he smashes the glass.
The smoke boils out and expands into a large dark inverted teardrop.
- "You have my gratitude. I bless you, and I shall not devour you now."
- "Okay, maybe this wasn't the best idea." -Xian
- "Well, it probably owes me a favor now. That's good, right?" -Anto
The creature leaves, leaving everyone very very hungry. They go to buy pork buns, and the pork buns are the most satisfying meal anyone has had in as long as they can remember.
By the rule of threes, they must pester Master Tranh again. And by the rule of threes, Grasshopper has to knock on the door. But instead, Kasumi climbs to the top of the doorframe, hangs upside down, and knocks on the door. The door opens - the servant panics at the sight of a ninja laying in wait for him, hits Kasumi with a stick, and slams the door shut again.
After a little while, Master Tranh opens the door, sighs, and invites them in. The party explains the terrible doom they have unleashed - it seems to be some sort of hunger demon, and it's physically present in the world.
Master Tranh is not a binder or a spiritualist, but he thinks that it might be possible to adjust the feng shui of a place to make it particularly attractive to a being of hunger (assuming it is already somewhat attractive, like a restaurant or a food storage area). But it would be up to them to do something with it once it is there.
Grasshopper thinks maybe they can set up an deal with a restaurant, where the demon blesses people, and then they eat and it's really great.
- "That sounds like a... possibly not bad idea." -Xian, surprised
The group canvasses the city to find the local Gordon Ramsay equivalent - a good restaurateur ruthless enough to be willing to make this sort of deal to make their food "really satisfying and nigh-addictive". Anto buys some enchanted candy in an exquisite white box, for bribing the spirit if necessary.
- "Years down the road, when something happens that causes the bargain to break, it'll be a problem. But that's kind of traditional for this sort of plot."
Kuan-Xi turns out to have a really good handle on the best restaurants in the city, including one which is not quite the best restaurant (not a good location) but has really good food, and is supposed to have a very driven owner.
Xian is charming and persuasive to the owner in question, and convinces him that this deal with the devil is in everyone's best interests: the restaurant provides the demon with lots of good food, in exchange for its "blessing" upon the restaurant patrons before they eat. Master Tranh is persuaded to come and make the feng shui of the restaurant particularly inviting to hunger, and the demon does in fact show up.
There is some negotiation - the demon would rather not be so restricted as "eat nothing but the food at the restaurant", but is willing to limit itself to "eat only here or the things Xian wouldn't particularly mind it eating". It takes a small taste of Xian to get a proper idea for what that would be (no eating enough supplies to cause a famine, no eating people, no eating beloved house pets, etc).
Their work here is done! The group leaves the demon and the restaurateur to their happy ending.
The last item drawn is A ticket, wrapped in perfumed red paper: Admit one to the "Lovers' Catalyst", Nights of the Crane, Butterfly, and Fox.
Shiny is pretty tired, so the party is allowed to put it in party loot to deal with later.
- Takanata speaks with Ti Wren about the Hon'eth Arcade bad art.
- Xiao Fa goes to speak with Li Kao again.
- Shen-Ji does a whirlwind tour of the eastern Empire, including visiting Sakong Yue.
- Shen-Ji takes possession of an articulated metal horse statue, and cashes in his Horse Points on it...
- Kasumi goes to the Golden Spire to talk to Monkey.
- Anto and his gang go to pick a fight with some other martial artists.
- Takanata does an I Ching Scry on the Cycle Spirits.
- Merit sends a strike team to raid the Cartogramancer's house and copy / modify some maps.