On the River
|"No man steps into the same river twice; for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man."|| The run begins just after the Day of the Grasping Spider in the month of Spider Rising in the first Year of the Spider since the Butterfly King was Poisoned.|
The run takes place in the Butterfly Kingdom, and then up and down the Jasmine River.
More Elven Rope
It takes a little while for those scattered by Aku to return to the Butterfly Kingdom, but by mid-Spider, mostly everyone has made it back. His Majesty Ti Lao is on the mend, and is beginning to make public appearances, though his strength is not what it was before his long illness. Ringmaster Te lets people know that the circus will be in rehearsal and maintenance during the off-season, and will not be traveling again for several months; spring is normally when it leaves. People are still welcome to gather at circus headquarters to practice, help out with the off season equipment mending, and drink tea.
Her Majesty Ti Wren summons everyone who helped procure the cure for His Majesty, and as with other party members last run, Her Majesty expresses her gratitude to each of her visitors for their efforts both in retrieving the Tincture of Pure Respite, and their efforts to rescue His Majesty's spirit from the World Above. Now that they have returned, she has a gift for each of them as a small token of appreciation.
- Rainbow Snake - A small snake with shiny opalescent scales and large dark eyes. It is utterly adorable, even to those who don't like snakes.
- Golden Kimono - A beautiful formal kimono in subtly varied shades of gold.
- Firebox - An insulated metal box with double-baffled air holes. It is water-proof, and both heat-proof and cold-proof.
- Three incomplete letters written by Her Majesty, with the middles left empty. (Though Merit is nowhere to be found until later)
- Min Feng
- Linked Scrolls - Two blank scrolls of fine parchment with mysterious abilities.
- Silk Rope - A 50' coil of thin silk rope, incredibly strong and incredibly light. It can be coiled up and kept in a pocket.
- Wei Han
- Storm Shield - A dark grey shield with embossed clouds.
- Her Majesty shows him a part of the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation that had been damaged by their transition to the World Above and the attacks by demons, which has been re-imagined to match a watercolor sketch from his book of poetry.
As Master Deng has previously been asked to go and find Prince Ti Jun, he gathers those who are particularly impatient to go (plus Xian), and his party heads out on the cursed ship. The others decide that waiting three days for the non-cursed ship to take them to the Port of Auspicious Voyage will be acceptable, and continue to putter about the Butterfly Kingdom for a few more days.
Takanata points out to Ringmaster Te that he should make sure everyone in the circus knows that people call Bear Mountain by the name of Iron Mountain now, and they should probably all do so too. The Ringmaster is somewhat confused, but Takanata explains about the whole crossing-the-wall thing. Ringmaster Te finds that all rather disturbing, but will make sure nobody in the circus blows their cover. Ringmaster Te also notes to the party that those who wish to stay on with the circus in the next circuit (which will probably go to the north), that it would be good if they worked on their acts. Last circuit was kind of shaky, certainly much more due to circumstances than anything else, but it's time to start perfecting again!
Takanata reads the I Ching for His Majesty, but is not pleased by the results, as they do suggest that the Butterfly Kingdom's name is doomed. He suggests to His Majesty that he write himself some notes telling himself what the country is named, without actually using the name itself. Takanata also wonders whether using sorcery to restore the gardens more quickly (in case that's one of the ways that the Butterfly is being attacked) would be a good idea; Her Majesty is not sure that's appropriate.
Shen-Ji and Min Feng head back to the smuggler's cave to re-examine the water gate. There are no longer any crates there - presumably things were cleared out by the guards His Majesty sent. The magic circle is still there, with the X crayoned over it. Shen-Ji thinks he could probably erase the X and fix the sigil underneath well enough to get it working again, but decides against it. There isn't any sign of the Cartogramancer in the magic circle, and Shen-Ji doesn't think this is particularly cartogramancy.
Meanwhile, Li Merit, has been off at Butterfly Intelligence HQ, filing reports and filling out forms to try to be reimbursed for various expenses. He's been there all day, and has left the Shackles of Silence to see if they can be copied, when a courier finally rushes in. There has been a request for his presence from Her Majesty for four hours now! He hurries to the palace, and is presented with his nummy. He also briefs her on the other plots the party encountered on their journey - she asks some questions, which are less about intelligence analysis and more about "hmm, how was he dressed?" that let Merit make more connections between the things he saw. He begins to think that maybe "governance by random" isn't quite as crazy after all. Hana being dead gets skipped, because that is Awkward, and Her Majesty does not ask Awkward questions.
After that briefing, Her Majesty also asks Merit to assist Master Deng in finding the Prince, so he heads out to the docks just in time to see the cursed ship leaving. Whoops. He nearly hires a fishing boat to go after them, but then discovers the other half of the party waiting for the non-cursed ship. So, he goes back to finish his paperwork. On the way, Kasumi approaches Merit - she has a katana, but it's obviously stolen from the Dragon Army, and she doesn't want Wei Han to see it. Merit fishes for a hint on whether Kasumi stole it herself or what - but she claims she bought it on her way back to the Butterfly Kindgom, but from some... slightly less savory characters. Merit could definitely arrange to have it returned to the Dragon Army, were there an actual barracks here; since there isn't, it's a little trickier.
- "Throw it over the wall and run away!" -Shen-Ji
Anyway, Kasumi gets her original katana back from the cleanup of the Garden of Harmonious Contemplation, so she's not unarmed, though she is down the 80 zhu she spent on the katana.
Following Master Deng
The second wave of the party heads off on the uncursed ship. Min Feng wants to bring the Three Enlightened Monkeys; Wei Han thinks that's a bad idea, but most everyone else is in favor of chaos and lockpicking. Chaos notwithstanding, the voyage goes smoothly, and Takanata spends his time in his cabin making a paper chain, with water painted on one side and raindrops on the other. Hmm.
When they arrive at the docks of the Port of Auspicious Voyage, Kuan-Xi is there to let them know what happened earlier - the cursed ship, the battle with Ezokin, the Prince having gone to the City of Spires, and so on. That group's plan was to take a caravan south (avoiding coming close to the Tanzhe Plain) to the City of Light, and then take a boat up the river. Unfortunately, everyone but Kuan-Xi herself is feeling dreadfully ill due to food poisoning from the cursed ship, so they won't be able to travel for a few more days. If this group wants to head after the Prince's trail, then the others will catch up when they feel better. Merit suggests that Kuan-Xi should stick around in case Anto needs her - she's happy to be convinced by that.
Merit (who has been experimenting with Ice Chips of Doom) picks up a couple of casks of seawater, and arranges to have them transported in the caravan. He wanders around the Port for a bit, asking after the best centers of knowledge in the Arcade, as he's hoping that this will lead him to the Great Talisman of the Magpie. Since he thinks nobody knows it's actually wherever it is, his questions are rather circuitous, and mostly what he comes up with is that the arts have really taken off recently, and that if one is looking for something, you can always find one in the Port of Auspicious Voyage or the Port of Propitious Voyage - but if you're looking for something better, you'll find that in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival.
- "Wait, do we think we need all the talismans to stop the Spider?"' -Hana
- "No, but they're good loot!" -Everyone else
- "Er, what do we need to stop the Spider?" -Hana
- "We have no idea."
Shen-Ji thinks that they'll need a map in order to fix the country names, but it's on the Shrouded Isle somewhere. And they'll probably need to free the Dragon Spirit somehow.
Merit thinks that as long as they're following the Queen's plan (at this point, that's "Find Ti-Jun"), they'll randomly get dragged by plots that they need to do, due to her Butterfly powers.
- "I used to think there was a better way to run a country, but I was wrong." -Merit
City of Light
The caravan heads south to the City of Light, and like the ship voyage to the Port, things go basically smoothly. Merit thinks Ti Jun ought to have gone this way if he was going to the City of Spires, but if he did pass this way, it was more clandestinely than he was in the Port of Auspicious Voyage. People gather information throughout the area and are pretty clear that no one has seen or heard from the prince in the City of Light since the party last encountered him there. Shen-Ji hires passage on a boat heading towards the City of Spires. It's waiting for a few more passengers, but will be setting off the next morning.
Kasumi, Takanata, and Wei Han go to the Dragon Army HQ, and inquire about the state of the war. The Dragon Army has secured the river and thus river travel is now considered fully safe, but uninvolved boats should not dock on the Tanzhe Plain side of the river if they can avoid it. Also, don't transport soldiers/weapons for either side or you will lose the protection of the Dragon Army. Kasumi takes this opportunity to visit the quartermaster and present him with the stolen katana she found. The quartermaster waits a few beats and then realizes that this is the first person in weeks who has walked into his post without asking him for something. He's so relieved, that he gives Kasumi a chit which she can use to requisition some reasonable item from any other Dragon army quartermaster she comes across.
Meanwhile, Hana goes to visit the Exalted Library, meets up with Meng Shou, one of the librarians she met on a double date with Cai Wen, and talks him into sneaking her into the closed stacks to look for ghosts. She does see a young woman who Meng Shou can't; named Tien-Li, who is apparently trying to read all the books in the library, and isn't done yet.
Takanata wonders if Inspector Ando is around - as it turns out, he is, and he's investigating counterfeit tael which have been appearing in the area. He's managed to confiscate a few of them, and has determined that they were probably being distributed by southern spies looking for information. Takanata pulls in Shen-Ji, who looks at the "tael", and says that they're just gold (worth a handful of li each), not actually magical, the way tael are. They do not glow faintly in the dark (as Hana remembers that real tael do), and they can be nicked if you try.
- "I'm not in tael. As it turns out, I'm in forged tael." -Ando
The odd part is that the southerners who have been passing these fake tael have been buying supplies - perhaps for storage caches - and information on earth and wood sorcerers. Ando plans to head up to the City of Spires to talk to Sasaki, since he's found out that her name has been given out to the people asking the questions.
Takanata notes: Earth and Wood are the two elements that harm Water. Combining this with the clue provided by his artwork, he concludes that the southerners are planning to chain the spirit of the Jasmine River since they need giant elemental spirits as part of their ritual. Ando has already been briefed on the southron ritual plot by Commander Sun, so he knows something of what's going on, but is glad to hear more details and corroboration (though he notes it isn't really corroboration if they were the source of Commander Sun's information as well).
- "What's bad for the Empire is bad for my job." -Ando
- "We note that Ando's patriotism is underwhelming. We can use that." -Merit
Ando points out that he was recently relieved of his previous duties, so he doesn't have to follow the party around any more.
- "You see how well that is working out for me..." -Ando
Ando and Merit swap gossip and spy intelligences; neither of them has anything earth-shattering for the other, so neither ends up owing the other one a beer. Takanata is pretty sure that Sasaki is in the City of Spires now, since he was just talking to her about sweet-thorn.
So, everyone (including Ando) loads onto the riverboat, and heads upriver. The first bit of travel goes uneventfully, and Takanata starts to have a picnic by himself on deck, but at about the border between the Precincts and the Savanna, the boat makes a dreadful crunching noise, and runs aground. In the middle of the river. Wei Han falls overboard, which is unfortunate with his armor, but Merit throws him a rope and he manages to not drown.
Merit throws the outboard motor to one of the crew, and tells them to mount it on a lifeboat. Unfortunately, the lifeboats are full of things like luggage and monkey cages and barrels of seawater. Takanata spots an earth sorcerer on the bank of the river, and points him out to everyone else. Min Feng starts shooting at him, while Kasumi simply jumps to the bank with her superleap and chops at the sorcerer.
Merit tries a bluff: "Sergeant Li, he's on this side of the embankment! Get the bandit!" but is not particularly convincing. Takanata heads down into the hold, where there seem to be giant stone stalagmites growing out of the bottom of the river and into the boat. He attempts to fasten the cane of free action to the boat. Wei Han gets back on board the riverboat, and, after evicting the barrels of seawater from a lifeboat, orders one of the sailors to start rowing him over to the bank. Hana tries to distract the sorcerer, telling him charmingly, "Come come, this is all a mistake, you must have mistaken us for someone else."
The sorcerer shouts back to Merit: "Fool! Stoneback Cho cannot be attacked from behind! And you dare call me bandit after the crimes you have committed?". Then, he tries to pierce the boat with another stalagmite, but the cane manages to block the entangle-part, but not the damage-part. So there's no rock in the bottom of the boat there, but instead, a hole through which water starts pouring.
Shen-Ji puts on his twig hat and makes monstery gestures at the sorcerer - but without Pir Pir to enchant it, it just looks like an ugly hat made out of twigs. Stoneback Cho is baffled, but not deterred. Kasumi chops him some more though, and that's more of a problem, so he shouts "Then drown!" and all the stalagmites sink back down, and the boat starts sinking with them. Stoneback Cho starts running up the bank. Unfortunately for him, he's just within Wei Han's move, and he forgets his shtick ("A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss"), so is grabbed. Shen-Ji gets a stone wall under the boat as Merit and the crew steer it towards the bank, keeping it from sinking much more.
Once the boat is somewhat rescued, it's time to figure out what Stoneback Cho actually wants, so they put him in the hold of the boat to interrogate, and Takanata goes back to his picnic.
- "He seems to be a gentleman who is happy to tell us what he thinks." -Merit
Merit and Hana try the buttering-him-up strategy. Takanata suggests that Ando help as well, but this immediately segues into Cho ranting about how can they work with such a dog as Ando? If they are people of honor, then free him, and he will help them rid the Empire of Ando now! Ando protests - he's never even met Cho. Merit "orders" Wei Han to grab Ando, but flubs his wink to Ando, and Wei Han isn't willing to grab someone for pretend. Eventually, Ando retreats upstairs, followed by Wei Han.
Cho tries to get them to overthrow their master and his evil ninja. Hana bats her eyes - but what has Ando done?
- He sent his associates under cover of night, and paid me with this." -Cho
- "Wow, that's a really good counterfeit!" -Merit
- "Ah, so you are in on his plan."
- "No, I just like money."
But - if it was some random other people (probably southrons) who gave Cho the fake tael, how did he track Ando down? He asked the earth to lead him to the largest concentration of fake tael (similar to his) in the land, and followed that trail to the ship.
- "Where I found him! And his ninja, I might add."
Merit explains that Ando is actually the lead investigator for the Imperial anti-counterfeiting investigation. But wait, Cho protests - what about his evil ninja? Merit suggests that the Imperials may also have need of sneaky folk, especially in combatting crime.
- "An *evil* ninja would use nerve strike, not got your nose..." -Merit
Light finally dawns on Cho.
- "I should apologize. I'm not about to be arrested for this, am I? I'm the victim here."
What did the evil ones hire Cho to do, anyway? It turns out they asked him to perform a somewhat implausible ritual - they had designed it, and assured him it would work. It created several stone pillars that made half of a cage, which would be impervious to the magics of water. How was it implausible? Well, it just seemed kind of slipshod and not very well designed. But it did work. Cho notes that he would really appreciate it if they could smooth things over with Ando, and he'd be willing to help them get whoever it is Ando is really after. Merit and Hana head up to the deck "to suck up to Ando." Ando, who has been listening at the top of the stairs, is amused.
- "Let the sucking up commence."
Ando thinks that if the biggest source of fake tael is what is in his bag, then the southrons have already spent it on whatever they're buying. Cho was paid several days before he started chasing down Ando, so perhaps the wood sorcerer has also already been paid.
Ando gives Cho the bag of tael. He buries it in the earth and concentrates for a while, and then says that there are equal concentrations in the City of Spires and the City of Light. Well, Sasaki is expected to be in the City of Spires; maybe there's a Water sorcerer in the City of Light? Cho doesn't know of any powerful water sorcerer there, though he knows a couple of lower level possibilities.
Takanata notes that Ando didn't say they were looking for Water sorcerers. What else were they looking for? Cho clarifies that they were looking for three things:
- contact with a wood sorcerer
- contact with an earth sorcerer
- contact with a sage who could tell them the names of water spirits
- "Okay, they've already done that, we go upriver." -Takanata
Actually, Takanata thinks about it some more and notes that "They've already done that," is technically not true, but they should still go upriver.
The party, now with both Ando and Stoneback Cho, heads upriver towards the City of Spires. Ando confiscates all the fake tael again, and Hana chats up Stoneback Cho while Shuyan, Merit, and the others patch his wounds. He boasts that he cannot be harmed in a fight he is trying to avoid, but he was angry at Ando and wasn't trying to avoid that fight.
As the river passes alongside the Tanzhe, a Dragon Army checkpoint is reached. The army seems to be going over the boat in front of them (the Lily Wanderer, which appears to have some scholars and some guards) with a fine toothed comb - they're pulling up decking boards, checking for secret compartments, unrolling coils of rope, and so on. The party panics - what do they have that shouldn't be found? The forgeries, mostly - both forged letters and forged Great Treasures. And Shen-Ji's necromancer spear. They hide things in the hold as best they can (6 successes), and then Wei Han searches the boat (2 successes) so he can declare that he's searched it.
Once the Dragon Army lets the Lily Wanderer go, they turn their attention to the party's riverboat. The captain says he has passengers for the City of Spires, which the soldiers accept; they look around desultorily. There don't appear to be any contraband elephants, and then Wei Han says that he searched the boat, and they're perfectly happy to leave it at that. Oh, so maybe it isn't that they're at high alert, it's that they didn't like that boat in particular.
Merit asks what caused the ruckus on the previous boat - the army captain says they've been through this checkpoint five times today and ten times yesterday! They're clearly up to something. Takanata asks if they had a cage of weird stone pillars? No, nothing like that.
Hmm. Maybe whoever was paid, in the City of Light, hired these guys to get the River Spirit's name? They're apparently the (Journeyman) Sage Xuetu and some apprentices. Takanata recognizes that name - he works for Chun-Zi, the Cryptomancer. He's said to be the person you go to if you want information - if you pay him enough, he'll find out the information you need, and not ask any pesky questions like what you want it for or who you might be causing trouble for with it.
The Lily Wanderer appears to have stopped, a little way up the river, and is fishing, or perhaps dowsing in the water. The party's riverboat pulls alongside, and Takanata calls over that he has cause to speak to Sage Xuetu. Several of the guards come up from the Wanderer 's hold, and there seems to be a commotion going on below. Takanata and Hana leap over to the other boat, and Takanata again asks that Sage Xuetu be summoned. The guards move to try to block him from going down into the hold, as Kasumi leaps across more stealthily.
The sage comes onto the deck, and asks what's going on. Takanata introduces himself. Another scholar-type whispers something to Xuetu, and points at Takanata. Xuetu tells him to get back below decks.
Takanata points out to the sage that the currency his master was paid in, in order to learn the name of the river spirit, was forged. Xuetu is a bit rattled by that, but invites him for tea, and offers to discuss things downstairs. Takanata says he has no interest in their determining the name of the river spirit or allowing Xuetu to use him to do so. Xuetu protests - is not knowledge an end in itself? In this case, Takanata claims, the knowledge is sought by those who are enemies of the Empire.
Kasumi sneaks downstairs, as does Min Feng. The hold is full of papers and books and notes, in some disorder. One of the apprentices is very excited: "No, a watercolor from that guy got us seven points! Get the guy down here and we'll just finish it." As Min Feng sneaks back upstairs, the apprentice notes in confusion that "it's getting weaker now."
Back on the deck, Xuetu says that the allegations Takanata is making are very serious, and again suggests discussing them over tea. Takanata insists that the tea be served on his ship.
- "With my staff?" -Xuetu
- "I would not dream of separating you from your bodyguards." -Takanata
Hana makes tea, and Xuetu and two guards come across. Ando notes that he does have to confiscate the fake tael, but it's back at the City of Light; these guys don't have it. The two bodyguards look around as if they're casing the boat, until Shuyan starts dancing the Dance of the Mesmerizing Serpent, and they watch her in fascination. Xuetu offers to send his master a letter - Takanata writes one, telling him the tael is forged, and suggesting that he turn it over to the Imperial Customs Officer at the port (at Ando's suggestion). Then, once tea is finished, Xuetu and his guards are permitted to leave.
Takanata notes that they're probably going to try to kidnap him. Well, if the party waits for that, then they can definitely Get Them if they try. So the party heads up the river to the City of Spires, at faster speed than the Lily Wanderer, and prepares to set an ambush.
The soldiers at the next Dragon Army checkpoint on the river recognize the name of the ship - it went back and forth a lot several days ago, but it hasn't been by more recently. The party asks if they can try to slow the "Lily Wanderer" down. At first, the soldiers are a bit suspicious of this, but Merit says that they asked him a lot of questions about where the river traffic was heavy, and seemed in general rather dangerous and squirrelly, and he's kind of nervous about them. Ah, they understand that - they'll slow them down for him, and the rest of the trip upriver is pretty smooth.
City of Spires
Once arrived, the party heads off to find Sasaki. She is surprised to see Takanata and Wei Han so soon, and asks if they have more disturbing things to show her. Well, tell her, as it turns out.
- "Did you make a magical cage for someone recently?" -Takanata
- "I'm afraid I can't discuss other clients." -Sasaki
- "Well, you were paid in fake tael." -Merit
In fact, the tael are demonstrated to be fake, and Ando confiscates them. Sasaki is not pleased. She says she was approached about the cage ritual the day after Takanata left, and while the ritual seemed rather implausible, it did work. People interrogate her further about how exactly she means "implausible". Well, it seemed like the sort of ritual that a young apprentice would write, on his first try. "Look, here are the five elements!" with no aesthetic or flow or any beauty at all. They did provide some helpers, who spent chi, but she didn't note any sort of different feeling about that. Were there any additional elements she didn't recognize? Well, they had something of a fetish about incorporating shadows; everything was set up so that it was casting shadows here or there.
Both she and Cho can write down the rituals they used, more or less. Sasaki, like Cho, doesn't have any particular ability to find her half-cage now.
When the wood piece and the earth piece of the cage are put together, it will form a cage that will hold a water spirit, or a water mage, or the like. To break the cage again, burning the wooden part or chopping the stone part should work, but the whole thing will be completely impervious to all water magics. Because both wood and earth absorb water, the cage will probably work pretty well to actually trap the spirit in the first place as well. (Shen-Ji notes that while he has a bottle of spirit-catching, it is way too small for the Jasmine River Water Spirit.)
The party warns Sasaki that this "shadow" magical signature is likely that of Mola Ram, a southron, and that their lack of aesthetic sense in the ritual also seems to be relevant. While Sasaki isn't quite as angry as Stoneback Cho, she is definitely willing to help with getting the Southerners, and loans them a seed which will grow into a tree of wooden swords, which might be elementally useful.
Briefly remembering their original plot, the party checks around to see if there is any word on where Prince Ti Jun is. He has apparently been staying with Duke Huang (one of the Fire Dukes).
Takanata, Hana, and Min Feng head to the Duke Huang's estate. is His Highness still in residence? Duke Huang is so sorry to let them know that they have been misinformed, and that his Highness departed days ago. To where? Duke Huang says that he would have to make some inquiries. He might be able to find out sooner as a personal favor between friends. (Hana thinks that Duke Huang's lies are somewhat transparent, and notes that he isn't trying to stall them to thwart them particularly - he's just trying to see what he can get out of them.) Takanata apologizes; he is certain that he and his friends would not want Duke Huang to put himself out, and he will return in a few days. Hana adds that she is sure that the prince would be pleased to receive the message soon. Sadly, her lie is also somewhat transparent, and Duke Huang likely notices as well. Anyway, the group sets off again, promising to return in a few days when they can have an answer without owing Duke Huang a favor.
Staging an Ambush
The original plot disposed of, it seems time to arrange to be mugged. Has the Lily Wanderer arrived yet? Min Feng heads down to the docks by herself to enquire. The boat is around - they have been sending out scouts asking about Takanata and his party. Min Feng's information-gathering and the Wanderer 's information gathering intersect each other, and she starts being followed on her way back. She thinks she's lost at least two of them, though, by the time she reaches the inn where the party is staying.
- "Make an Int roll with tactics." -Mike
- "I don't have tactics." -Kate
- "For 9s, then."
- "I get none."
- "Well, you think he's totally not going to jump you, then."
When he does jump Min Feng, he manages to get a gag into her mouth before she gets an action, but she gets free of it to shout before he can drag her away. Takanata and Wei Han run out of the inn and chop him - he throws Min Feng at Wei Han and flees. Kasumi gives chase, as does Merit, shouting that the guy tried to kidnap Lord Takanata's niece; the public interest manages to give him enough attention that Kasumi can follow him back to the dock area near the Lily Wanderer, but it's not quite conclusive.
Takanata lodges an official complaint with the city guard that someone tried to kidnap his ward; they will investigate, but since he doesn't tell them more details, they don't get very far very quickly.
The party considers how they can get a good excuse to storm the ship at this point. If Ando thought that it had fake tael aboard, he could definitely investigate and search, but he doesn't think they do have any, and he wouldn't really be able to arrest them all without that evidence. Trying to find out the name of a spirit really isn't illegal - but it is something they want to stop. Waiting until they actually attack, and then Getting Them does seem like a pretty solid plan, though, since the sages seem willing to try to get Min Feng as well.
Merit finds a buddy who has access to a defensible house (only one door, strong walls, good sight lines through the windows), and the party conspicuously heads there and then tries to figure out how to finish stopping the catch-the-water-spirit plan. Burning all the notes could be a good start. Might Min Feng's friend from the House of Silence be able to find the cage? Are there other ways to locate it? Perhaps using the Golden Spire?
Is the Golden Spire something you can visit over and over, anyway? No, normally it's something that you visit at the important times of your life, not every time you're in town. Nobody who hasn't already visited the Golden Spire is sure that they want to spend a rare visit on this plot, at least, not yet. Ando sets some traps in the house, noting that they will mostly ensure that if someone goes down, they'll be a prisoner rather than a dead body. Stoneback Cho asks about stalagmites - Merit says not in the house, at least, not until they start losing.
Then, the bad guys storm the house! Hooray!
Stoneback Cho turns and puts his hands on the wall, once they enter - this appears to seal the house against escape. At first, the thugs try to grab Takanata, but he's using the cane of free action and guarded by Wei Han and mostly manages to block them. After a few attempts at this, they switch to plan 2, which is trying to "grab the niece" instead.
- "Technically, she's not my niece, she's my niece." -Takanata, indicating Min Feng and then Hana
One guy tries to jump out the window with Min Feng, but hits a stone wall, thanks to Cho. Another thug tries to grab Hana.
- "Unhand me, you fools! How dare you lay a hand on me!" -Hana
Unfortunately, once they aren't able to flee, the thugs have to turn and fight, and they're pretty tough. They're being whittled down, mostly from Wei Han and Kasumi, but several of the party are also looking pretty shaky, so Takanata tells Cho to start using stalagmites as well. Kasumi leaps to the rafters, and yoinks one of the thugs up and down with her rope, dropping him on his head. Merit demonstrates his razor-edged hat and boot knife to good effect.
Wei Han finally falls, as Takanata and Shen-Ji finish taking down the leader. Ando finds the last of the party's healing potions, and heals Wei Han. He tries to pocket the other potion, but ends up using it later when Wei Han falls down a second time. The second thug goes down to Cho's stalagmites, and Kasumi intimidates the last of them into surrendering.
The thugs are interrogated. They indeed work for Chun-Zi, and they have two jobs: first, protect Xuetu and the two apprentices, assist as needed, and make sure that they aren't harassed. Second, make sure that they don't leave - Chun-Zi does not approve of learning from him and then leaving without permission. And yes, Xuetu and the other sages suggested that they temporarily borrow Takanata to let them finish their mechanic more quickly.
Ando notes that they could be sent back to the Butterfly Kingdom to be executed there, but Takanata doesn't think that's necessary, and is willing to let Ando make arrangements for them to be punished here. He heads out with the thugs as prisoners, while the party storms the Lily Wanderer. As it turns out, the three scholars are not worth much in a fight, and are swiftly captured.
Interrogation of the new set of prisoners indicates that the apprentices didn't want to know any details about the kidnapping - they're just trying to find out the name of the Jasmine River spirit. Xuetu tries to blame everyone else - when the apprentices realized there might be a short cut, they became somewhat excited, and their employees most regrettably overreacted in response... Merit notes that he has five witnesses saying Xuetu ordered the kidnapping, and Xuetu folds.
- "What can we do to make this right?" -Xuetu
Xuetu is willing to believe that the forged tael story is true - but Chun-Zi is not the sort of person who would approve of his underlings deciding to disobey his orders just because they learned new information. They sent him a letter, and assuming that the story is true, they expect to be called off the task soon.
The party decides that the plan is to use the journeyman and apprentices as leverage over Chun-Zi - they have the "stick" of "your guys tried to harm us, and we can probably blame that on you" and the "carrot" of "we will help you destroy the people who gave you the fake tael." Meanwhile, Min Feng and Kasumi search the boat; they find the notes on the spirit's name (which Takanata pockets), and 20 li (which they end up partially disbursing).
The thugs are left to their punishment in the City of Spires; Xuetu is required to go back with the group, and the apprentices are given the option of leaving Chun-Zi's service here, since the thugs aren't currently able to stop them. They manage to talk the more enthusiastic student (named Jin) into leaving, though he does actually travel back to the City of Light with them, since he needs to convince his girlfriend to leave as well, plus he wants to try to find out more about the Jasmine River Spirit from Takanata. Takanata doesn't really tell him anything about that, but does tell him that the Great Spider Spirit's name (or, at least, part of it) is Aku.
Merit tries to get Takanata to relinquish the notes on the spirit's name long enough for Min Feng to copy them, just in case they need leverage over the spirit later, but Takanata doesn't think that's likely to be necessary.
Ando agrees to go and confiscate the last of the fake tael, and pressure Chun-Zi, and that works reasonably well. Chun-Zi declares, of course, that his journeyman totally overstepped their authority in calling for a kidnapping (and that seems true). However, if Ando (and by extension, the party) is willing to make the entire trouble stop being trouble, he is willing to make it known that he has the river spirit's name, and then when the contact comes for the name, he'll tell the party and they can Get him.
Finally, a message from Duke Huang catches up, to let them know that his investigations have revealed that Ti Jun was heading for Nine Terraces when he left.
- Shen-Ji goes drinking with Stone-back Cho and meets a metal mage named Copperhand.
- Cai Wen zips up to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival.
- Wei Han and Shen-Ji start repairing the star-scale mail.
- Takanata, Xian, Master Zhou, and Wei Han take a trip to the Temple of the Eternal Dream.
- Cai Wen visits Commander Sun.
- Anto, Lijuan (and possibly others) visit Masters Kangjon, Fu, and Hwa.
- Master Zhou visits Master Jinghua at the Brilliant Dawn monastery.