Night of Gates IV
|"Everything is small at the beginning and then grows; except trouble, which is big at the beginning and still grows."|| It is the Night of Gates in the second Year of the Magpie since the ascension of the High Warlord Ze.|
The run takes place in and around the Warlord's Throne in the Forest of Chin.
Merit gets a delivery, who tells him that Q Division should be recovered soon, after their disastrous investigation into the Shadow Staff. But, they made him something interesting, a very ominous-looking bracelet that can store a shtick-use from a demon or a spirit. Merit does some research in his library, trying to lookup the demon Giichi and Shadow Staffs - Giichi doesn't turn up a lot, but there is definitely a demon called the Shadow that is known to be a crime boss, who gives his enforcers staffs like that to let them use his power.
The group speaking with An Ming in puttering finishes up their conversation with her. To Takanata’s mystic senses, she seems fine, and she does claim to be recovered. Takanata tries a Visions of the Past on her, and spends a karma; he sees Lucky Chang doing the ritual with An Ming and the terra cotta warrior, kind of talking out loud to her though she's unconscious.
- "Were this a larger, more significant step, you might be in some danger, but when you have a checklist as long as I do, it's best to break it down into small pieces. But, luckily, this will fulfill several things at once.
It should be a good omen, it'll count towards rallying the populace, it'll help secure the Regency Council, especially with that crazy thing with Spider and Monkey that it's better to not talk about. Of course, it won't accomplish all of them, but it'll take a step, and that's always nice, isn't it?" -Lucky Chang
Cai Wen thinks that it's kind of suspicious of Lucky Chang monologuing like that, but people do tend to talk to themselves more in front of someone with an Overhear shtick, which An Ming has and Takanata's karma helped her retroactively use.
So... why use An Ming in the ritual? That part still isn't clear. Shen-Ji thinks that the ritual focuses through her as a lens, but the exact point of the focus isn't quite clear, as he's getting fewer successes at interpreting the ritual than Lucky Chang did casting it.
Cai Wen tells An Ming that he guesses that the danger to the Warlord himself will probably not be very great.
- "That is good to hear. Will you be in the Throne Room this evening?" -An Ming
- "Almost certainly! Is it a grand festival?" -Cai Wen
- "More like a grand shelter. We don't celebrate the Night of Gates so much." -An Ming
An Ming says that there are generally several exclusive parties, mostly thrown by expatriates of other countries who are living in the Forest. Locals tend to stay home, but the High Warlord has offered shelter for those in the Warlord's Throne if they are too far from home.
Takanata checks the deepest connection between An Ming and Cai Wen - she is apparently a pawn in Cai Wen's game. Takanata translates that to An Ming as "Your opposition to Lucky Chang is your deepest connection, but there's no more information about him," which is more polite.
Kuan-Xi brings Mei in. Mei offers a guardian wolf to save the Warlord from when he is in mortal peril, in exchange for An Ming helping with a ritual at some point in the future, which she believes won't hurt the Warlord or his interests. The party sort of vouches for Mei, and Xian confirms that she's not lying when she says it won't hurt the Warlord, so they make the deal.
A crier comes by, letting everyone know that people may shelter for the Night of Gates under the High Warlord's protection. None will be turned away!
Cai Wen huddles with Broken Sword. Broken Sword wants to know if this is the final showdown --- should he pull out all the stops? Probably not, but they should try to thwart him as much as they can.Takanata draws a painting.
Li Merit sends some guys out to ask who is in town related to the rampaging terra cotta army plot? They return with no names - possibly the related people aren't in town? Or they aren't here yet? Or rampaging terra cotta army isn’t really a plot? Merit declines to spend a karma to clarify.
The Protection of the Throne
The group heads to the palace, where a number of people are in line to enter. Cai Wen has some idea that one of his molls is around somewhere, though he doesn't spot her yet.
When the party enters, the Warlord hails them.
- "Greetings, Ringmaster Zhu! We have greatly enjoyed the performances the past couple of days. Perhaps you could have some of your people entertain the crowd to put them all at ease?" -High Warlord Ze
Cai Wen notices that he has been given 10 swank for this request, and that there seems to be a doom hanging over his head, as he hasn't carried it out yet. People with fabulous clothing have 3 swank, and everyone else has 0. Cai Wen asks Shuyan and Xian to entertain the crowd, and spends 4 swank on each of them. That seems to pass the doom along, so now they have doom hanging over their heads instead of Cai Wen.
People look around and spot potential Cycle Spirits hanging out amongst the crowd. In the VIP section, Takanata spots a woman in a yellow dress who looks a lot like his painting. Shen-Ji chats with a large burly guy.
- "You did not bring her?" -Bear
- "She's out looking for hamsters." -Kuan-Xi
Shuyan takes to an area of the throne room which has been cleared away as a dance floor, and goes into a greatly mesmerizing dance. Her doom lifts, and she earns a pile of swank. Horse waves at her over the shoulder of the woman he's dancing with.
- "Remember as we agreed, don't start too early." -Butterfly to Monkey
Lucky Chang shows up, and starts heading towards the Warlord.
In the first Drift, Monkey starts to take his hat off, but Butterfly glares him into sitting back down and putting his hat on again.
Kuan-Xi heads into the VIP stands, and introduces herself to Butterfly and Lady Tsui, who is also a sorceress. She spots several other phoenixes in the room, including one directly behind her dressed in red.
- "You seem a bright girl - what are your long term plans? Are you going to stay with the circus, or move on?" -Butterfly
- "Oh, stay with the circus, for now." -Kuan-Xi
- "When she says 'long term plans' she means 'this evening'." -Xian
Xian says that she needs props for her magic act, and the Warlord sends a servant to bring her whatever she wants. She asks for a large burlap sack, and locks and chains. The servant heads off to acquire these. Xian spots Sai and Huian in the crowd.
Takanata presents Butterfly with his painting, which pleases her, and she rewards him with a set of glasses.
- "If you promise to get these back to me before I am forced to rise twice, I will loan them to you." -Butterfly
They appear to be peril-sensitive sunglasses of the I Ching, suitable for using Eyes of the I Ching near Cycle Spirits. He starts to put them on and turn on Eyes of the I Ching, but Butterfly tsks.
- "Don't be hasty." -Butterfly
- "Ah, not until the hat comes off." -Takanata
Takanata chats with the floppy-hat-wearer, who is also smoking a long-stemmed pipe.
- "I was wondering if you'd like to brag about anything before we start." -Takanata
- "That's so kind! No one ever asks!" -Monkey
Monkey indicates the woman in red directly behind Takanata and Kuan-Xi, noting that she hasn't attended a party in hundreds of years. It's quite a coup to have her here.
Cai Wen contemplates the hidden opportunities available. Well, nearly all the Cycle Spirits are here, and they all seem to be in a good mood. That's an opportunity in its own right. Plus, the party has something that one of them wants, which could make for a useful trade. He chats with two fighters, who appear to be arguing about the best general strategy - strike from above or grasp from underneath? Cai Wen votes for "from above", which earns him the approval of Tiger, who thumps him appreciatively on the shoulder, nearly toppling him over.
Shen-Ji chats with the sorcerer from House Tsui, who is being a little coy about exactly what she does. They get into a "who is darker than who" sort of flirtation; House Tsui seems to know something about demon summoning.
Kuan-Xi tries to talk to Phoenix, but Phoenix proves to be a dreadfully awkward conversationalist and doesn't seem to want to talk to Kuan-Xi. Kuan-Xi figures that's because she doesn't want to give away the part about her being on Phoenix's secret team, but she's a bit disappointed.
Lucky Chang reaches the head of the room, and hails the Warlord. To entertain his people while they are worried for their safety, perhaps now would be an excellent time to settle their arrangement. The Warlord looks cranky - he's busy now.
- "But, Warlord, you told me to return when I was ready. And I assure you, I am ready." -Lucky Chang
The Warlord looks angry, as if he is going to throw Chang out, but finds himself agreeing instead. Tiger and several of the other fighter-types start heading for the front of the room to watch.
Things Get More Interesting
Cai Wen and Merit return to the party - Magpie gives Merit a "good job" nod, which Merit thinks means something more than "good job finding yourself some jewelry". Clearly, there was something that Magpie wanted that got done.
Takanata meets a medic from House Teng in the VIP area - the Tengs aren't leaving their keep for a while, while they recover, so he is the official representative to the court. Takanata scootches to the side of the VIP area, and starts casting Lucky Chang's I Ching. This will take a while, so Takanata suggests that people stall Lucky Chang.
Xian starts her magic act, which impresses all the mortals around her, though Magpie always knows where the gold ball is and Crane can follow the sleight of hand.
Cai Wen calls out to the Warlord, suggesting that he act as a fair adjudicator. Lucky Chang doesn't see why this is necessary, but the Warlord thinks that sounds like a fine idea, and summons him to the front of the throne room. He heads there as slowly as possible, and Lucky Chang starts throwing actions to him to speed him up.
Merit asks Tortoise a hypothetical thought experiment - what if a skinwalking demon killed and replaced a Great Cycle Spirit? What would happen? Tortoise starts pondering this, and Merit hovers nearby, hesitant to wander off in the middle of a question.
Phoenix tells Kuan-Xi that she's doing a good job, pats her on the head, and beats a hasty retreat. Xian spends a Yin, and notices that Phoenix isn't really Phoenix after all - she is a very nervous Pir-Pir in disguise.
Horse dances with Shuyan, and suggests that maybe the party (which is good at this sort of thing) could arrange for Horse to get randomly picked during drift? Shuyan thinks that that might be possible, for, say, fourteen horse points? Horse thinks that's a little high, though if Shuyan could arrange to have Horse drawn every single time, that might be a little more reasonable. Shuyan threatens that if Horse doesn't make a deal, she could arrange that Horse never gets drawn, and Horse is quite disappointed that Shuyan is resorting to blackmail.
People continue to circulate around the throne room, meeting various travellers. There's a guard from House Zhen, some members of the House of Gainful Protection, and someone who says he came just to see the challenge.
Getting impatient, Lucky Chang gives Cai Wen another action, as does Spider, so that he reaches the area before the throne, but then he declares that he needs a chair in order to adjudicate properly. Getting into the act of stalling and confusing, Xian disguises herself as Cai Wen, and decrees the other Cai Wen an imposter. A servant arrives with a chair for Cai Wen, and Chang says he doesn't care which Cai Wen does the adjudication, but they should just use the closer one, rather than spend another interminable amount of time waiting for the new Cai Wen to walk up here.
Tortoise finally emerges from his reverie, and tells Merit that his theory would not actually be possible, because at the exact moment of intersection, the... he goes off into somewhat arcane and incomprehensible metaphysical terminology, but the gist seems to be that you can't replace a Great Cycle Spirit without being noticed. Well, Merit says, what about if the replacement happened beforehand? Tortoise will have to ponder that.
Fox starts to chat up Kuan-Xi.
- "You used to be more my kind of person, but you seem to have gone down another path. Is it something I did? Something I could fix?" -Fox to Kuan-Xi
She makes Kuan-Xi an offer - they could base a whole shtick tree off of "My truth is your truth" if she's interested in switching to team Fox. Spider notes this conversation going on, and asks Phoenix if she's planning to do anything about it. Phoenix looks a little bit confused, and Spider starts to get suspicious.
Xian, in disguise as Cai Wen, continues to try to convince the room that they don't want an imposter and liar acting as the adjudicator.
- "Then, the only thing you can't count on from them is fairness." -Xian
- "What if you succeed?" -Merit
- "I hadn't thought that far in advance" -Xian
- "That is often the problem with Xian's plans." -Takanata
Time to start the wrestling match! Cai Wen projects his voice, to be heard by all.
- "Wrestling... that most manly of sports, a sport conducted between men from time immemorial. Here are the rules of wrestling [...]. As you are both honorable men, let there be no womanly tactics, womanly moves, or womanly actions in this battle." -Cai Wen
Cai Wen spends three karma to enforce his rules, and Lucky Chang appears to be rather baffled at what this sudden fixation on "no women" indicates. (It indicates that the party thinks Lucky Chang's ritual may be enabling him to use some of An Ming's ninja moves).
- "I, the real Zhu Cai Wen, would never denigrate women like that. Anyone who knows Cai Wen knows his respect for the fairer sex. Cease this chicanery at once. Vacate my chair!" -Xian
- "You are entirely correct! We must get you to your chair at once!" -Monkey
Monkey takes Xian's elbow, and escorts her (along a rather meandering path) up to where Cai Wen is. Another chair materializes next to Cai Wen, and Monkey puts Xian in it. However, Cai Wen is currently more persuasive than Xian as to which of them is the real Cai Wen, so he is still the current adjudicator.
- "But, do remember, there are women, and then there are wives." -Monkey
Takanata finishes casting Lucky Chang's I Ching. His destiny is to be Emperor, but the weird thing is that he wrote it himself on the fate of the world. He's still in the "web-spinning" part of the prophecy, as far as this run goes. And, Spider likes his style, but hasn't decided to totally throw in behind him yet.
Shen-Ji heads over to Phoenix, and throws Ka-Pow at her. Shen-Ji's little phoenix bursts into flames, cawing loudly at Phoenix, and Phoenix bursts into flames herself. The disguise burns away, revealing Pir-pir fratically trying to put himself out. Monkey storms over, shouting at the hapless Pir-pir - an imposter! What is he doing here? Pir-pier protests that he was just doing what Monkey said as Monkey hustles him out of the party.
Tortoise finishes his contemplation again.
- "First, do not underestimate the responsibilities to being a Great Cycle Spirit. If we should arrange for all that to happen to replace a spirit and then become a Cycle Spirit, the demon would actually have to be a Great Cycle Spirit, so in many ways not a lot would change. So, for example, if we were to raise a demon impersonating Whale into the Cycle, he would have to be in nearly all ways like Whale. But it is an intriguing idea - the main flaw is that the other Cycle Spirits would simply notice. Unless, of course, you started with a powerful demon who specialized in not being noticed." -Tortoise
- "Such as Toro or..." -Merit
At that point, there's a great outburst as Monkey throws Pir-pir out of "his party" on his ear, and Spider glides over to the conversation between Tortoise and Merit. The Warlord looks irritated - what does that fool in a floppy hat mean, his party?
Merit bows to Tortoise and says "It appears your friend does not want me to talk to you", and Spider looks more annoyed. Merit grovels at Spider, but for only two successes, which even Tortoise thinks is rather insulting.
Cai Wen, a bit worse for wear, leans back in his chair and tries to catch Horse's eye, and Horse and Shuyan dance over. Cai Wen whispers to Horse, wondering if he could get Horse to leverage the "cavalry" aspect of the terra cotta army to mess up Lucky Chang's mojo. Horse demurs - the terra cotta warriors aren't cavalry yet, as nobody has drawn Horse, but even so, right now both Spider and Monkey are helping Chang, and that's more than Horse wants to go up against. Horse's advice is that Cai Wen pick his battles, and thwart Chang after he's sitting on the chair, when Monkey isn't helping him any longer. Cai Wen agrees to draw a Horse tile for two horse points (increased to 2.4 from the Magpie talisman and a "cheat" shtick).
The Warlord and Chang bow to the two Cai Wens. Xian bows to Lucky Chang and stares him straight in the eyes. Chang remains staring at Xian, caught by her gaze.
- "Ahem." -Warlord
Spider fixes Merit with a glare, before heading towards the throne again.
- "You do talk too much. If you're still here when I get back, you'll regret it." -Spider
- "Apparently I have to leave, but I'll leave you with three thoughts. Toro, Giichi, A-..." -Merit
Chaos erupts again, as the Warlord loses his temper.
- "Enough! You called for this battle, we will fight it. Now." -High Warlord
The Warlord pulls Chang out of Xian's gaze, and in the chaos, Takanata notes that Spider - the Great Cycle Spirit, not just the guy walking around in the room - has briefly come from the World Above, and a wave of darkness rolls over the room, hitting mostly the other cycle spirits. Merit notes that Tortoise does seem to have lost the train of thought about demons, and heads for the throne.
Takanata notes that Lucky Chang's aspect is Spider, his specialty is "Player", his best skill is Gambling, and his highest shtick is "Marked". His health is phenomenal, and his general status is "winning".
The Warlord gives the Xian incarnation of Cai Wen an action, noting that they are ready to begin.
- "Um. Right. Do it!" -Xian
- "The word you are looking for is "fight"." -Bear
- "Go forth! Now!" -Xian
- "FIGHT." -Bear
Ninja look in on the various Talismans, and Cai Wen spots the ninja going after the Magpie talisman, well enough that he is surrounded. An Ming grabs his escape smoke before he can use it, and Cai Wen hits him with a Grievous Insult, stunning him. Broken Sword tilts the battlefield so that no combats in the throne room are lethal. Various cycle spirits look distastefully at Broken Sword and his Northern magic, and Bear looks ready to object more forcefully, but the effect seems both useful and harmless, so Bear does not smack him. Broken Sword, Xian, Cai Wen, and An Ming hit the ninja, and he crumples; the Warlord's guards grab him for later.
Takanata uses his I Ching casting to get a vision of Lucky Chang's future, and sees his immediate plans. Once he is seated on the throne, a number of people start asking him questions, asking for his wisdom about this and that. Next, the guy over there in green walks up to the throne and pulls out a scroll and reads it. It's something about finances. He asks if the throne wishes to exercise its veto, and Lucky Chang says that as he is not the king, he will say nothing. Finally, at the end of the party, Chang declares the party over, and a success, which seems to be significant.
Kuan-Xi starts heading after the man in green with the scroll, and Merit dances with Crane for a bit. She notes that her previous dance partner (Magpie) was wondering if Merit was stalling.
The wrestling match finally starts, and Lucky Chang appears to have the body stat of a terra cotta warrior, which is huge, and wrestling is basically strength-based. After a few rounds, Lucky Chang pins the Warlord, and wins his bet.
The Warlord, grumbling, leaves the room with one of his wives, leaving First Wife to keep an eye on Chang and An Ming to keep an eye on everything else. He tells Chang that he can have the throne for an hour, and to send the guests home at the end.
Takanata curses Lucky Chang: "As you stole the power of the statues to gain your prize, now have the weakness of the statues as long as you hold it. You cannot speak, you cannot move, you are as stone." He also flips his charisma and status, while he is at it, and lays his hand on the pattern, that Chang will be out of the room by the end of the sequence.
Spider notes that while Takanata's curse is well crafted, is this not the one night in which statues aren't actually immobile? Takanata throws up Wall of Fate, blocking Spider's effect for the moment. Butterfly giggles, and Spider glares at her.
Shuyan heads to the guy in green, and hits him with an unblinking gaze - he won't be going anywhere. Horse decides that it's time to get out of the blast radius, and heads away from the throne. Everyone else looks a little alarmed - there's going to be a blast radius?
Merit petitions in extreme and long-winded detail about why House Tsai should be given back all the land that House Mong took from them. Lucky Chang takes a piece of paper from his pocket, and tears it up, and then gives a nice speech about how he is not the King, but that the current situation does give houses incentive to support bandits against their enemies, and that a better set of incentives would support houses which actually brought in bandits with a bounty. The speech doesn't quite fit Merit's question, but it's within the ballpark, and many people applaud.
Spider strides over to Merit, looking annoyed.
- "You do love to talk - rather than spill the secrets of others, you should tell those of your own." -Spider
Merit's protection-from-the-weird armor whittles that down to a one-shot curse. Meanwhile, Tiger is baffled - if Merit has offended Spider, which he clearly has, why has Spider not just slain him outright? Spider says he's being civilized, but Tiger thinks that he's being soft. Merit begins to think that maybe deliberately provoking Spider is not as safe as he had hoped.
Butterfly notes that Takanata's curse is pretty, and effective, but it will have irrevocably attracted Spider's attention. But she will do what she can. She rises from her seat, and heads for the floor.
Cai Wen decides that the best way to thwart Lucky Chang's hope of declaring the party a success is complete mayhem, so he tells Broken Sword to make it so.
One of Lucky Chang's plants starts to ask about the Tanzhe plain and the corner with the monasteries in it, but Xian tears off her disguise and announces that the show has ended, and it's time to bring the Warlord back in. She spends all her swank on First Wife to get her to do so, and First Wife throws the swank at An Ming, who goes a lot faster. Lucky Chang fails to answer about the Tanzhe Plain, but the effort burns through the last of Takanata's curse.
Lady Tsui invites Shen-Ji back to her room in the palace to compare dark rituals, as the party seems to be sliding downhill.
Takanata examines the connection between Spider and Lucky Chang - sure, he's Marked, but what does that mean? Spider can watch and listen in on what he's doing, though he probably isn't doing that constantly. He's Spider's "guy" in the same way that Hiro is Pir-pir's guy, that the trades between then don't have to be exactly fair. Helping your "guy" is more restricted by etiquette and opinion of the other spirits (and the other Cycle spirits, if you are one), and not by the rules, the way spirit bargains otherwise are. Lucky Chang being an agent of Spider probably counts a lot towards balancing any favors that Spider does. And, he's only been Marked for a brief time.
- "Do not trouble yourself, madam. They are going to know who I am." -Takanata to Butterfly, returning the spectacles
Takanata hits the connection with seven karma of "disentangle fate". Several moonbeams hit Takanata and Lucky Chang, and then the month of the Moon paying attention ends. Lucky Chang, screaming in pain, is un-marked, and Spider tells him to not return until he's proven himself. Takanata promptly drops an escape smoke, vanishing with Butterfly, and Spider leaves in irritation.
Broken Sword triggers "mayhem", swapping social and physical combat. Exactly what that means is not clear yet.
Cai Wen shouts to Lucky Chang, using his projection - "What have you done? You've brought ruin on us all!" This ends up meaning that he runs up (elbowing Xian, Merit, First Wife, and Tiger along the way), to punch Lucky Chang in fury.
Shuyan begins to brandish her terrifying snakes, and the Forest Regent (that's who the guy in green is), Kuan-Xi, Sai, and Huian all take a handful of damage.
Lucky Chang's "know when to run" shtick goes off like mad. He stabs Cai Wen deeply with his knife, thus convincing Cai Wen that this is a fiasco and it is ALL HIS FAULT. Cai Wen turns to First Wife in abject apologies, healing her some of the damage he did earlier.
Merit invokes his curse and confesses everything to Bear.
- "We are in way over our heads. We're involved in all of it, and it's going crazy. I've been outside the Empire, I see things other people don't see, and I'm worried that it might be bad for my soul." -Merit
Bear frowns as if to say that Merit had better not be a bad influence on Lijuan, and Merit takes damage from the frown.
- "We're trying. But she's worse than we are." -Merit
His forced confession done, Merit flees before Bear gets actually angry. Monkey starts declaring that this was the best party ever, and Lucky Chang makes his escape.
Monkey really tries to keep the party going, but now that it's turned into mayhem, no one is interested other than him. Most of the rest of the Cycle Spirits have drifted off at this point. Kuan-Xi manages to seduce/pickpocket the Forest Regent, and gets his scroll, and Cai Wen punches him with his explosive sword cane, burning the rest of his swank to try to get him to rename the Hidden City to the Dragon's Throne. He says that he'll vote for that name once.
The Regent's scroll appears to be a request for a housing upgrade in the Hidden City, requiring an increased allowance from the Forest. “The Throne” has to approve the increase, or, at least, not veto it. And yes, there has to be someone on the Throne at the time he asks.
Broken Sword turns the mayhem off again as the party is over and nearly collapses in exhaustion. About the only thing left to do is interrogate the captive talisman ninja, which Xian proves quite accomplished at.
The ninja is from the House of Escalating Doom; they have been hired for a one-shot contract. Twelve ninjas were hired, each to find a talisman, and the client gave directions to most of them. 7 successes or more spots a ninja and prevents him from scoring a point; 14 spots him well enough to fight, and 21 spots him well enough to corner him and fight him with your friends. When they have enough points, then the ninja comes for the talisman, and each point can be spent for a "that doesn't work" effect on the target. The group finds enough out about the ninjas' stealth techniques that they can roll for 6s on their per rolls until they change their methods.
- Takanata picnics by the Jasmine.
- Merit finds a job for Song Ming Zhu in the City of Spires.
- Takanata and Xiao Fa visit Stone Drum.