Night of Gates IX
|"Having perfected our disguise, we spend our lives searching for someone we don’t fool."|| The run begins on the Night of Gates|
The run takes place principally elsewhere
Tying up some loose ends from the Dragon's Throne, the party asks Mondo to go help the Precincts Regent for the next three runs (no circus summons for three runs). Cai Wen asks if Shuyan is planning to throw a coup and become Queen of the Strand, and she surprises everyone by saying “Yes, that’s the plan.”
Shen-Ji briefs people on the state of the Steppes Regent - there's something up with him, where he is oddly incompetent and his wife is strangely more competent.
Lijuan draws some prophetic art, which is rather alarming in its spiderwebbiness.
Then the butler enters to announce that there is a traveling performer at the door - do they wish to see him? They suppose they do. The performer is dressed in long grey robes and a hood, and holds the end of his guzheng in a way to obscure his face. Beside him capers a small monkey, that dances in time to the music. Shuyan, a connoisseur of dance, thinks that both performer and monkey are naturally talented but unpracticed. As she peers at the cloaked figure, trying to identify who it might be, the monkey picks up a couple of expensive vases and begins to juggle them.
Cai Wen wonders who they have the honor of hosting. The musician keeps strumming, making it hard to hear clearly, and says that he could tell them who he is, but then they would be tempted to kill him. The party begins to debate whether to kill the performer on general principles.
The monkey holds up its hand, and shouts "Enough of this! This is important!"
Well, okay, maybe the monkey will be more informative.
- "It's time for you all to save the world from Spider."
- "I mean, no, but that's where we're going to start."
The monkey explains further:
- "As you know, the Marked will be installing their eighth member very soon. That requires the participation of Spider. We would prefer if they did not have the additional insight that would be granted by the new Eighth Marked. So what we'd like you to do, is take this gentleman and swap him into the ritual right under Spider's nose - so Spider will have this guy instead."
- "This plan has the virtue of being suspicious, but something we might agree to." - Cai Wen
The monkey goes on to inform them that the ritual itself will take place in one of antechambers A, B, C, D, or E. That's interesting, but where exactly?
- "As it happens, I managed to get Spider double-booked. So he can't do this all somewhere faraway and obscure; he has to show up at my party. So he'll have to do it off one of the antechambers off of my big ballroom."
All right, but who is the guy in the grey cloak? Cai Wen concedes that since he is a guest, they'll take no hostile action. So... who is it?
The grey-cloaked guy flips his hood back, revealing the Cryptomancer. Huh, yeah, the party sort of recalls that they want to kill the Cryptomancer, but don't remember why.
So... Monkey keeps saying 'we' - who does that we include? Monkey claims it's "the awesome ones", and allows as it does not include Crane or Bear. Or Spider, of course. Crane and Bear have some creative differences with the team, so they will need to be distracted and not see any of the shenanigans. The party should probably try to make sure that they are in a different antechamber entirely.
Xian notes that they would normally be more on a plan that Crane or Bear proposed, than on one that Monkey proposed. Monkey suggests that they check the prophetic art that "She" sent, and that maybe Xian should have more respect for a team that She is on. Xian isn't sure she knows who writes Lijuan's memos. Takanata's art comes from Butterfly, but Lijuan's art is a little more suspect. Monkey insists that the memos are always written by the one who always writes the memos, and the memo should have his bona fides.
People look at Lijuan's art, and don't see anything indicating Monkey is involved.
- "You ought to be more confounding than this." -Xian
- "You seem pretty confounded." -Monkey
People try to get more details about the plan, and Monkey is somewhat evasive. Who were the Marked actually expecting to mark? Monkey thinks it's funnier this way.
- "How about, I just assure you that you'll know when you see them?" -Monkey
Monkey seems to be excited to be part of a team plan, and people point out that his inability to answer simple questions is why he is not often invited.
Well, fine, then. The Marked think that the party has too much "mystic mojo" and wants to add some more of their own. So they plan to install the Cryptomancer as a Marked. Wait, isn't the Cryptomancer the person Monkey wants swapped in? Monkey laughs. That's the funny part!
- "But he's the Cryptomancer."
- "Sure looks like him, doesn't it?" -Monkey
Xian tries to spend a Yin to see through the disguise, but isn't able to do so.
- "You think if you could just spend a Yin, Spider would fall for it?" -Monkey
You see why the team needed Monkey! Ah, then, it's a tengu? Tengu, pshh, Monkey says. They're going way past tengu.
People go back to fussing about the part where Monkey said Lijuan's art was supposed to have Monkey in it, but didn't.
- "I did tell Her to make sure to put me in the memo, but it seems She didn't." -Monkey
- "So we're supposed to take the memo as your bona fides, when you aren't in it?"
- "Well, duh, yes, because if I wasn't supposed to be in the memo I would hardly have claimed I should be, would I have?" -Monkey
- "This is so dumb it must be true."
- "She's probably just messing with me; I respect that." -Monkey
The party continues to argue - Monkey is handing them a guy who looks like the Cryptomancer and telling them to sneak him into the Marked? Without even knowing who he is really? Monkey notes that if he tells them, then the answer will be at the party, and other people at the party might be able to get it that way.
Xian suggests that Lucky Chang is extra-clever and might have pre-swapped someone else in for Monkey's fake Cryptomancer. Monkey doesn't think the party has a better fake Cryptomancer in their back pocket, and is just quibbling now.
And as to whether or not Butterfly is on the same team as Monkey in this - Monkey suggests that they go to the party and ask her.
Everyone can bring a guest to the party, so Monkey says they should go and find dates - and then when they actually want to go to the party, they should go to the "deepest darkest scariest part of the forest".
- "I'll leave this guy with you... no, wait, you'll just ditch him. I'll bring him to the party. " -Monkey
Monkey and the guy in grey leave.
- "Well, that might be the right plan. Or it might not." -Cai Wen
The plan is still kind of dubious, and there are serious holes. Not to mention, the monkey card that Takanata drew two runs ago didn't really look like a monkey. So there's something weird going on with Monkey. Not that that helps answer the question of what to do now.
Looking back at Lijuan's painting, there is the question of the red and blue things that people are showing to Spider. What are those? Also, is there someone missing in the bottom right-hand corner of the painting? Some Interpret Omens suggests that Red and Blue are the pieces of the Cryptomancer shell game. The missing quadrant does indicate that something was edited out - maybe by the source, maybe by the artist...?
- "Anyone else have Interpret Omens?" -Cai Wen
- "Nope." -Xian
- "Why, Xian, why?" -Cai Wen
- "Sheer bloody-mindedness, really." -Xian
The GM notes that you can't actually use interpret omens to ask the question of what omens you didn't get.
- "The simplest explanation is that that was the actual Cryptomancer and a talking monkey." -Xian
Lijuan has some interpret omens skill too, and thinks that the spiderweb is not an indication of this all being a spider plot - just that they should be focusing on Spider. Well, if Butterfly will be at the party, then they can talk to her. Come to think of it, why didn't Monkey ever say Butterfly? Or Night of Gates? Hmm. Xian thinks this is consistent with it having been Monkey - great spirits sometimes operate under various restrictions like that. Butterfly often is not mentioned by name.
Xian puts on the Butterfly Talisman, but no immediate direction appears from the World Above.
Cai Wen refreshes Lijuan's prophetic art shtick, and she draws another version of the painting. Now everyone has monkey tails, and there's a stick figure. Huh. Who is that?
Xian thinks about the fraction of the art that was not authored by Butterfly, and concludes that the missing things likely fall into the category of not telling the party things they don't want to know. Butterfly definitely does that. Also in the category of things that they don't want to know, Xian realizes that she could figure out who the fake Cryptomancer is - but Butterfly doesn't want her to.
The butler brings in the mail, and it includes five invitations to the party (+1 has been crayoned in on each).
People start coming up with their +1 guests. Lijuan invites Zhuai, and Cai Wen invites Mei-Zhen.
Cai Wen and Xian and Lijuan go to talk to Li Merit's horse, and wonder if he has received any invitations to any parties recently.
- "Just ask your extortionate price so I can get an invite." -Horse
After some haggling, they settle on a price of a small favor for an invitation or a medium favor for an invitation, plus a small amount of help with a plan of Horse's at the party. In addition, Horse will provide triple move when doing his bidding at the party. Xian agrees to take Horse as her +1.
Shuyan sends the Snake of Secrets out to find Ando, and it goes after a stablehand. After some pointed questioning, it turns out that he is a low-level Spy who Ando planted in order to spy for him on the House of Exuberant Interference. In the past, high-level spies were ferreted out immediately by the Cook, so only low-level spies have infiltrated.
Shuyan convinces him to use his communicating paper to send Ando a message:
Finally, Shen-Ji invites Little Sister.
The group heads to the Forest of Chin and seeks out the spookiest part - and sure enough, there is a brightly lit mansion that isn't normally there. There seems to be an entrance from a path, and an entrance from a cave, and an entrance from some pools of water, and some stairways leading up and down, but all of them terminate in a winding entrance to the building.
As they enter, Monkey advises them to try the pink punch.
Other guests immediately identifiable at the party include:
- the Moon
- the Son of the Moon
- the Sun
- the Daughter of the Sun
- Spiral and Swiftgreen (aka Maelstrom)
- Lord Du and Lady Xing
There are also a bunch of apparently-human servants in red and blue livery.
Cai Wen asks how to get into other rooms, and a servant lets him know that he can reserve the entrance to a particular room for a future action. (The door to the room, colored appropriately, shows up beside the person who has scheduled it at the appointed time.)
Shen-Ji finds Maelstrom, and learns that Maelstrom has finished learning the path to reach No Face Ko, beginning in the bamboo fields of Dutiful Serenity.
Lijuan asks a servant what is the difference between the servants in red, and the ones in blue. The servant is both puzzled and puzzling, but allows as color is something that humans pay attention to.
- "What do you do?" -Lijuan
- "I greet people and take drink orders and so on."
- "What do the red guys do?"
- "The same thing."
Spirits are coming in pairwise, and everyone is surprised to see when Whale and Phoenix arrive together. Snow Leopard and Snow Wolf also arrive, and Nameless arrives with an unknown gentleman. The Obsidian Warlord arrives with a staff officer.
Shen-Ji wonders if Little Sister can invite "Him" here. She says that she probably can, but she'll need a private room. They reserve one. Shuyan leaves Ando behind, and the spy takes the opportunity to introduce himself to Spider.
The rumor amongst the party goers is that there is a competition between the Sun and the Moon, and whoever wins will be bestowing blessings. Or something like that. There is clearly a mechanic to be found.
Cai Wen introduces himself to the Sun's daughter, and everyone is surprised that he hasn't met her already. Does she have any advice? The Sun ostentatiously looks away, and his daughter advises him that he try to find his objective. Cai Wen notes that when he asked for advice, he really meant did she have any tasks for him to do. But, instead she had to give him advice.
Zhuai thinks the most interesting thing going on at the party is about to be the discussion between Shuyan and Serpent. Lord Du glares at Cai Wen, who pretends to not know who he is.
Dragon and Butterfly show up together, which is much less surprising than Whale and Phoenix. The Alchemist and the Demon of the Left Hand arrive. Tsai Su-Yin and Lucky Chang show up, and everyone who didn't already know that they were engaged gets an unpleasant surprise.
After some false starts with all the other colored punches, Lijuan requests a pink punch. She sips it, and realizes that Blue 5 and Red 5 both look like the Cryptomancer. Intriguing.
Serpent has a secret conversation with Shuyan about her decision, and asks if she has any wishes for what should be done if she doesn't succeed,
Cai Wen gets a teal drink, which swaps his Social and Tao, but as they are the same, he can't tell. Li the Wanderer and a mysterious date arrive.
Cai Wen asks Serpent if she has any advice for helping Shuyan. Serpent tells him that it is wise for him to be worried about her safety. There will be three attempts on her life - and she should not make more than three attempts on her rivals lest she push fate against her. Shuyan should also find a worthy consort.
Little Sister reports to Shen-Ji that Room A is outfitted with a ritual circle.
Ando tells Shuyan that he will swap what he found out about the party if she tells him what she found out. Shuyan tells him that there's a contest between the Sun and the Moon, and the Moon is winning. Ando tells her that the Sun and the Moon each will be giving out one blessing, one curse, and one favor.
More people drink pink punch, and can see the Cryptomancers, while the dehydration demon drains some of the punch bowls dry.
Cai Wen talks to the Moon while Mei-Zhen mirrors his actions across the ballroom and talks to the Sun. Does the Moon need anything done? She says that that is not for her to say, but he does earn a point for his talking to her while Mei-Zhen talks to the Sun at the same time. Hmm. Cai Wen and Mei-Zhen castle, and Cai Wen asks the Daughter of the Sun if he can be of service. She says that she can't explain it to him, but he is famous for breaking rules, while she gestures across the ballroom at the Son of the Moon.
Lijuan and Zhuai go into one of the anterooms to talk with Bear and Fox, and Bear says Lijuan can ask him three questions, and he gives Zhuai a Look that passes Lijuan by and makes Zhuai pale.
- "You know Xiao Fa wants to be the Dragon Emperor, so that means that I can't be the Bear Empress." -Lijuan
- "Your premise is untrue, and that is not a question." -Bear
- "So, I have a new majordomo, from the West of the Empire. And Sima is Dark, he's from the same place. What is up with these people and why now and should we trust them?" -Lijuan
- "Which of those Is your question?" -Bear
- "Why have we never seen them before?" -Lijuan
- "Because it has been a pair of generations since they last came." -Bear
- "They just didn't feel like it?" -Lijuan
Bear doesn't say anything, and Fox elbows him.
- "We try to keep them out." -Bear
- "Are you mad at me? That's not my third question. If you were mad at me you'd tell me." -Lijuan
In Shen-Ji and Little Sister's ritual anteroom, Sam shows up, with a goddess named Saraswati.
Shen-Ji tells Sam that the last time they talked, Sam had a long and complicated and inexplicable set of things that he wanted, and now Shen-Ji wants a more clear statement about what Sam wants from him. Also, he wonders if the ritual circle they're in now is sufficient for the marking ritual that Monkey told him to expect. He thinks it's generic enough that it will do, though there are some details to the circle that he isn't quite sure of.
Lucky Chang figures out the mechanic, so he and Su Yin split up to tackle the Sun and the Moon separately. Shuyan and Ando head towards the Sun and the Moon - Shuyan gives Ando the choice, and he picks Sun, noting that Shuyan is being generous.
Shuyan asks the Moon if there is anything Shuyan can do for her. The moon looks somewhat blank - apparently people keep asking the wrong question.
Cai Wen checks the scoreboard, and finds it strangely blank:
Shuyan goes over to say hello to Snow Wolf, drawing a frown from Crane possibly for walking on the dance floor.
Xian draws a servant (Red 5, who the careful reader will realize is the 'real' Cryptomancer) away to ask about an issue with a guest. There is... a very confidential issue that needs resolving. Xian suggests going outside, but the servant will not leave. Can they take antechamber F? The servant claims there isn’t an antechamber F. Xian persuades the servant that there is an antechamber F, so the servant tries to summon it. A round later, a foreboding black door appears.
Cai Wen asks the Sun for a curse upon the Bureaucrat that all his methods be exposed by the light of day. The Sun says that all his methods is a little much, but at least one of his secrets will be revealed when Cai Wen needs it. Also, since Cai Wen has asked for something, neither he nor Mei-Zhen can ask for anything else.
Lijuan, still on target, continues to keep Bear (and Fox) distracted from any shenanigans.
- "This isn't a question, but you should know that people want to use you to create a great rampage to make a sign of Toro, so you should be careful who you listen to. " -Lijuan
- "You are correct; that is not a question." -Bear
As Xian has not had a chance to go through the black door she summoned, Shen-Ji leaps into it instead, and finds a cozy office with a desk and a bar, and a guy dressed in Deep Crimson in it. Shen-Ji turns on the duping, and explains that there has been some confusion outside - is this room G? The guy seems to be confused enough by Shen-Ji, until Xian and the "servant" follow him through. Still seemingly confused, the guy muddles about while Shen-Ji suggests drinks. The guy hands everyone drinks, and (quite persuasively) encourages the servant to drink his. The servant drinks, and immediately passes out.
- "I hope that was what you brought him here for. Good to see you're back on the plan." -Coyote to Xian
Lord Du gets a favor from the Moon, and Su-Yin asks for a blessing upon her upcoming marriage.
With a lot of extra muddling, Lijuan asks Bear if there is anything Bear thinks she should be doing. There is a lot of whispered argument between Bear and Fox, and finally Bear tells her that he thinks Lijuan should stop predicating her decisions on what Xiao Fa and Cai Wen and Takanata and Yoshi and especially Zhuai think she should do. He also ought not tell her what to do, but thinks she needs to consider a shtick in 'what would Lijuan do?'
Crane, who has until now been dancing with Tiger, starts to notice that there are shenanigans going on near the door to Room F, and starts heading for that doorway. Shen-Ji goes out of the door and heads across the room to try to move the doorway to the bar area, while Xian drags Red 5 behind a desk to hide him (using a shtick), and disguises herself as a servant in blue (using another shtick).
Cai Wen tells Nameless that she and her date should split up to go to the thrones of the Sun and Moon, and the first one who asks for a shiny will get it.
Lijuan tells Bear that it's his turn to ask questions. He had been about to leave, but agrees that she is correct.
Shen-Ji and Little Sister race to the Sun and the Moon, and Shen-Ji gets his request in first, and asks for the Sun's favor. Shuyan and Ando get to their sides too, and Shuyan rolls off with Ando. Cai Wen throws "no luck for you" at Ando, but even so he is quicker - sadly, the Sun has already given out all his shinies. Alas for Ando! Shuyan asks for the Moon's blessing on becoming Queen of the Strand.
The Obsidian Warlord has drunk the pink punch, and located Blue 5; he and the Marked have headed for Antechamber A, where they mark him with the Mark of the Spider. Back in Antechamber F, Coyote shouts "She did it!" and tries to give Xian a high five. Xian dodges. Then Crane comes in, fixes Coyote with a stare, and tosses the disguised Xian back out through the gate, which promptly vanishes.
Bear takes a stab at asking Lijuan a question:
- "Assuming all your hopes and dreams come to fruition, in thirty years where will you be?" -Bear
- "The Forest of Chin." -Lijuan
That wasn't quite what Bear meant, but the confounding is thick.
On the blessing/favor/curse chart, the only thing left is a curse from the Moon. Cai Wen asks if Nameless wants something other than a curse. Well, she wants a name, but that's more like "remove curse". Cai Wen spends three karma to get the Moon to do a remove curse instead.
|Curse||Bureaucrat||Nameless (remove curse)|
Xian remarks to Monkey, as inscrutably as possible, that she is informed by the auroral canid acquaintance that 'her plan has come to fruition with great success' and five of something are elevated.
- "In other news, did you know that the gates are closing and the party needs to end very soon?" -Monkey
Shen-Ji still wants to know what Sam was nattering on about about being 'good' before. Sam notes that Shen-Ji is on Team Yama, so now that's up to Yama. However, his date is the goddess of wisdom ("and music!" she adds), so if Shen-Ji has need of wisdom, she might be an appropriate source.
- "What if you were offered a choice between total understanding over how magic works, or total control of magic without understanding?" -Saraswati
- "The first." -Shen-Ji
- "Then keep that firmly in mind and it will serve you well." -Saraswati
Cai Wen prostrates himself in front of the Moon, accepting that he has transgressed and accepts retribution - if there is anything he can do to earn her forgiveness (for the karma spending disturbing her mechanic)? She seems to accept that, and turns it into him owing her a favor.
Bear gives his question to Fox, who tries to ask a three part question but gets cut off because there are only two questions left. What would bring Lijuan meaning and joy in the future? Being Empress of Urchins, and hanging out with Kibo and fishing. Bear isn't really sure what to make of that, but it is an answer.
And then, everyone escapes before the Gates close.
Xian briefs everyone about Coyote being in Room F, and that she realizes (now that she allows herself to think about it) is that the fake Cryptomancer was Unexpected Orchid.
- "Huh, I didn’t expect that." -Xian