The Final Seven
|"If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time."|| The run takes place late in the Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in various places around the Empire
The Seven Dodges
Since Lady Jin has been rescued, and there is very little left on the board to do, it is apparent that it is time to roll a seven in the Northern War Mechanic before the Prince of Benevolent Oversight is destroyed by his prophecy mechanic. However, there is some concern as to whether Master Zhou (who is not around) will be needed to buff the Prince's chi? Cai Wen thinks it should be possible for anyone to help, now that it has been sufficiently explained.
Most of Lady Jin's extra credit is on the scoreboard now; any puttering that is necessary to convince various militaries to come north and help the Dragon Army can happen before the Zoom War Finale, and does not need to be done immediately.
The party heads to Benevolent Headquarters, and finds Madame Song still there, though she is keeping well away from everyone. She explains, unhappily, that while she assured the group that she would prevent a roll during the last run, it turned out to be harder than she expected. She made sure that no one came in to ask any questions, so the prince was napping, and everyone was kept completely out of the room. However, as it got to be evening, it started to seem that everyone in the entire kingdom needed to ask the Prince a question, and... someone ended up rolling a six, and the Prince decreed a mission: "Wake the Lord of Protection."
- "Not knowing what else to do, I went on the mission with some of the girls."
Madame Song says that it was somewhat tricky, almost as if whatever was forcing everyone to go and talk to the Prince was similarly keeping anyone from going and talking to the Lord of Protection. However, after enough shenanigans, they were able to get in and wake him up. It turns out that he was partially trapped in... she thinks, maybe, the World After? His chi was split between the realms in an odd way. She admits that she was tempted to leave him stuck, but in the end, she tried to resolve it the way Cai Wen would have wanted. She enlisted the aid of a priest from Gainful Protection, Shui Zheng - she specializes in the spiritual effects of warfare, but Madame Song thinks Zheng knows more about necromancy than is savory.
Anyway... she doesn't think she can be any more assistance with the die rolls, and really should go home.
Cai Wen wonders... who actually asked the question that resulted in the six? Madame Song notes that it was a very confusing situation. People were coming in through all the doors, and there was a lot of construction going on outside the windows, and... it may have come to pass that she herself asked the question. Cai Wen moves to reassure her, but she backs away, warning him to not come too close. Her chi is still fragmented and reintegrating.
- "It's best if it doesn't start spreading again."
A retainer in the House of Gainful Protection told Madame Song that the Lord of Protection had his vengeance come upon him, but he was attempting to exploit it. Not that he was attempting to do vengeance, but vengeance was still visited upon him somehow, when he tried to turn it to his own ends.
Cai Wen ponders the minigame implications of everyone trying to get at the prince. It seems likely that there was a lot of spiritual pressure because the prophecy runs on a spirit bargain, and Madame Song's social defenses were insufficient to defend against the pressure of such greater powers. Additionally, Madame Song seems to have had the misapprehension that if no one asked the Prince a question, no one would get a prophecy. Perhaps it is better to think of it as when it is time for a prophecy, someone must ask a question. As to the question of whether it was caused by someone in particular, that's harder to tell. He might have been able to figure out the answer had he been there at the time, but it is more difficult to diagnose afterwards.
Lijuan arranges for the kitchen to bring pork buns for Madame Song, and Cai Wen remembers to warn her about the Light and the Dark - they are trying to make the Empire their game board, and he worries about everything they touch. He doesn't know what will happen to the touched things when Light and Dark have to be ejected from the Empire.
Madame Song finally makes her escape, and the party heads in to see the Prince. He looks poorly, though not as bad as before some of his recent chi infusions. Also, there are no signs that Lady Jin has been there recently.
- "It is my understanding that you do not wish the tide to proceed, but I trust my use of the metaphor makes my opinion clear." -The Prince
- "I believe my objections have come to an end." -Cai Wen
Before asking a question, however, Cai Wen wishes to do a ceremony to lend strength to the Prince, and infuses six Tao into the young man.
Since it is properly time to roll a seven, Cai Wen uses his cheat at minigames to lean into it. He gets to roll 2d6 three times, and pick the sevenist of the rolls. He rolls a 10, a 4, and a 3, none of them very seveny at all. He burns a karma to roll another three rolls, and rolls an 8, a 6, and a 5. Then one more karma to change the 8 to a 7.
The Prince stands up, his eyes go blue and blue, and he says "Go forth and save this land" before collapsing into his pillow. Lijuan does a first aid roll, then puts him to bed and orders a tray for later. Then, the party retreats to the map room.
The map room indicates that changing the 8 instead of the 6 has mildly irritated Lucky Chang rather than mildly irritated the Lord of Protection, but it's not clear what else that means.
Does the map room know what the Light is up to? Apparently the Light is trying to tag as many cards as possible. It's odd - the room doesn't seem to be set up for a mission the way it normally is. Normally, this is where the Lord of Benevolent Protection would tell Cai Wen to go lean on everyone else to get them to roll military, but at this point, that can mostly be taken as read. And the last time people went in to see the king, Zhu Li was around being suspicious. So Cai Wen thinks he'll head south and ask for Willow's help.
Cai Wen has a present for Willow, which is an odd game in a foreign language with a lot of pieces. She is greatly intrigued, and instantiates the breakfast mechanic with it.
She also notes that Cai Wen is in an endgame, and were it not for the nice present, she would be quite put out that he has spent TWO YEARS (or three weeks depending upon how you look at it) in the largest mechanic ever and never come to see her once. Cai Wen admits that in retrospect, that does seem a little odd, though he didn't want to get her in trouble what with the Precincts possibly invading the Tanzhe. Also, does she know what Zhu Li is doing? Willow doesn't know, but thinks Zhu Li should be thwarted on general principles.
The party heads to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, where people seem to be keeping their heads down and behaving a lot more furtively than usual. Word on the street is that everyone is freaking out because the king has been assassinated - no, he's going to be assassinated. And there are beastmasters hiding among us - no, secret wolf people are hiding among us. And the necromancers are massing outside of town, killing the army and raising it up again. Nothing seems solid, but everyone is worried.
The group consults the Secret Diaries of Shen Dai Han - who is in town for Zhu Li's plot?
- The Lord of Benevolent Oversight
- The Lord of Gainful Protection
- The Lady of Judicious Increase
- Lady Jin
- Master Tranh
- Lord Zhu
- Zhu-Li and Willow
Huh, why are Zhu-Li and Willow on the same line?
Willow says she doesn't have time for a full country endgame right now, but she'll see what she can do. Then, she looks surprised - there is more than one endgame happening at present, and Cai Wen is stuck with her as his Treaty of Houses Consultant. Willow also notes that "Go forth and save the land" is not so much an instruction as a benediction.
The group calls on Lady Jin at the House of Beneficent Transportation, and Lady Jin sizes Willow up. She could be just the thing! Lady Jin says that Zhu Li came by and while the HBT played it cool, Zhu Li probably got the idea that they are going to be opposition. That explains why the Magpie Regent thought she was worth interfering with.
Anyhow - is Cai Wen here to ask Beneficent Travel to roll Military? He says yes. Lady Jin admits it would be really convenient to roll something else, and she thinks the mechanic might be well in hand, but Cai Wen says everyone knows the balloon just went up and they need everything they can get. Willow notes that they won't be losing 20 points of Military to the Obsidian Warlord, which will help. Anyway, Lady Jin says she's planning to have her house roll multiple times and pick the best roll, using her Loot that she's been acquiring all chapter. (She also wants to borrow Willow, but Willow declines to be borrowed and is rather standoffish).
So... what's with the mood around town? The people in the know are expecting a Treaty of Houses, which could be a lot of trouble. The people not in the know are expecting something. There are three triggering events coming: the House of Judicious Increase is pushing their wealth above a 9, and Enticing Vintage and Resplendent Decoration are off marrying even now.
- "And I expect there's a third out there, by the rule of Threes." -Lady Jin, watching Willow
Lijuan asks what the third thing is, and Cai Wen notes that it's probably Lady Jin. Willow is non-plussed at the overtness of this - she's picked up that Lady Jin wants to be team captain, and is surprised that Cai Wen is on the same team. Cai Wen explains that they're supporting her for Queen.
- "Maybe our breakfasts need more briefings and less bacon." -Willow
Willow had figured she (Lady Jin) was trying to pull a fast one on the party, and that's why she (Willow) was being so guarded.
Okay, time for a bigger briefing for everyone.
Willow continues to be surprised by only hearing about things now - this time, about the whole prong of the mechanic involving an Evil Sage trying to invade the Tanzhe Plain using everyone's proxies. Speaking of the proxies, those can probably be used to leverage the Precincts for something. Zhuai is summoned on the theory that he specializes in throwing resources at problems.
Cai Wen checks the other country scoreboards:
Willow thinks the Heights is looking for a min score, which means their lack of resources will hurt them a lot. On the other hand, the Steppes is doing pretty well. "Gamma-" means they've used their third special (they get one per week). The breakpoint is 9, but only one score is at the breakpoint.
- "Someone competent is managing this." -Willow
Willow also points out that for the Heights, the wild stat has to be added manually - it won't just magically appear where needed. Zhuai considers both scoreboards from his own perspective, and says that he's not really sure what's going on in the Steppes - he might be able to push up the Tradesmen, but he has no idea whether that's good or not. (Willow says that obviously, it's good to be higher, as long as it isn't over the breakpoint) But raising a Resources stat is easy - you can just throw money or other loot.
Cai Wen points out the Marked is running the Steppes and they're both competent and no fun to negotiate with.
Zhuai pokes through the party loot for what would work best for resources. The key to the vault, the hunks of star metal, Talismans of course... no one ever lets him burn Talismans. Or, of course, plain cash. It will take N^3 tael to buy resources from N-1 to N.
Willow thinks Chochiro is probably trying to deal with getting her Wild assigned, but for whatever reason that isn't working. Cai Wen speculates that she's dealing with Lord Du, but Willow thinks that he won't be able to try again to usurp the Heights yet, since he already made an attempt while the country's name was being changed.
After some information gathering, the party determines that the Heights mission team apparently jumps down from the sky out of the sun (!) but headquarters in the Red Pagoda. It takes a lot of successes for the little carriage to reach the Red Pagoda, as if it is mystically defended against intruders, and then any visitors must prove themselves physically, in order to be admitted.
Cai Wen says he'll go first, and if he gets stuck, everyone else should make sure that Gainful Protection rolls Military. He heads into a courtyard where a voice he sort of recognizes from a long time ago asks what he seeks.
- "To confer with Chochiro or leave a note. " -Cai Wen
- "You are unworthy! Prove me wrong!"
Then, his vision goes dark. He recalls that the large door in front of him was barred, so he tries to navigate to a different door. Then, he uses some Feats of Strength skill to get through the door. His vision clears, and he finds himself with Iala Mane.
- "You bear the imprint of the teaching of Zhou of Bear Mountain. Bring your party within, and we will speak." -Iala Mane
The party heads in, where Chochiro is very happy to see them, but she was hoping in particular for Yanyu's help, and Yanyu is not along. Chochiro's team has a war map with pushpins, and two diamond pushpins lay to the side. Cai Wen speculates that those are the two Wild points.
The Daughter of the Sun went to the Moon, to arrange to spend the Wild, but she has not returned. Only the Daughter of the Sun can use the diamond points, which came from two epic successes, one early on and one late. The second was from Lord Wolf, and the first from... Chochiro's team and Coyote. Everyone groans.
Had they thought of turning money into resources? Of course, but it doesn't work that way. Zhuai coughs politely into his hand. Could Anto go and get the Daughter of the Sun back from the Moon?
Willow starts cursing.
- "We're in their mechanic now. We have their timing! We don't have weeks, we have days! The run ends at sunset!" -Willow
The party buys an extra resource for 8 tael, and Lijuan wonders if Willow can find a way to spend the Wild points without the Daughter of the Sun. She thinks about it for a moment, and sets up a game board from Cai Wen's present. The resources have to be the right color, and have to be in the right location. Yellow is resources, so they just have to figure out where a yellow is.
Ting Ting looks on, mystified, as the game is won, and one of the Wild pushpins becomes available.
The pin can be any color (they choose yellow = resources), and can be put anywhere on the map. Lijuan suggests in the triangular corner near the edge, which is more or less where the Shadow Castle is.
For the second pin, Willow suggests starting with all yellows and cheating to table flip if there are none. The game has eight pins this time instead of six, but still there are no yellows, so Cai Wen burns a cheat to flip the table, and the third game is won, freeing the other Wild pushpin to be put into resources.
Given the way they won, with two yellow pins on the same board, Willow things the second pin can be put somewhere for double effect in world, though it does not have double power in the mechanic. Chochiro picks the Embanked Gate.
So... What happened to the Daughter of the Sun? Why did she go to the Moon? Chochiro explains that she went to the Moon in order to negotiate the ending time of the mechanic. She must have succeeded, because the mechanic did end, but she didn't return, and they don't know why. Chochiro is clearly hoping for help here, but Cai Wen thinks they have to save their points for the Imperial battle, and they really need to go.
Kar Fai raises an eyebrow at this, and Ting Ting is vibrating with the need to speak, but Kar Fai is standing right there and raises his hand, and Ting Ting sits back down.
- "You have made your choices, you do not need Ting Ting berating you for them." -Kar Fai
Cai Wen, with a full 30 status from the Butterfly Talisman, asks to see the Lord of Gainful Protection. He is first met by a colonel of the house, who wants to know what he has to discuss with their lord.
- "I have come to confirm that commitments to the defense of the country are still in place. " -Cai Wen
- "You question our commitments? "
- "I question everything, especially in days like these. "
- "All will proceed as has been agreed."
- "A military roll in defense of the country against the North?"
- "You have that as an agreement?"
Cai Wen recalls that he doesn't have this as an agreement in hand, he just read a lot of notes when invading the House several runs ago, and found that the Lord of Protection had made the decision to roll against the North.
- "I do not have an agreement in words, but I made decisions in his favor based on what I believed about his intent." -Cai Wen
- "Well, you can act on your beliefs. If you want promises and assurances, what do you have to offer? "
- "That's best discussed with him. "
- "I will need a compelling reason to bring you before him."
Zhuai, suspecting that this will keep going in circles for a while, cuts in.
- "A discussion will be to his advantage. Inform your lord that Lord Foon and party have arrived." -Zhuai, spending one of Lijuan's karma
The party is shown in, and the Lord of Protection arrives, carrying a mace headed staff and wearing a formidable helmet. Kuan-Xi is pretty sure he is exerting a lot of effort to not make it clear that he is leaning on the staff for support.
- "What do you wish?"
- "Before everyone knew it was the Treaty of Houses, I thought I knew your mind, but now I must ask if you will commit forces to defend the country from the north. "
- "When the annals of this time are written, we will not be the traitors. See if any of you can say the same. "
- "A noble sentiment but I must ask directly - will you commit forces to defend the country?"
- "Yes, is that not always our lot? But if you are uninterested in subtlety, we will commit whatever forces we have left to defend the land from the north."
The Lord of Protection leaves again, and a very low-ranking soldier shows up to show them all out. This is obviously the Gainful Protection version of a snub, but Cai Wen tells him to stand up straight as an honor guard.
Cai Wen wonders whether Willow thinks that badgering low-military houses to make rolls is useful? It depends on how close they think they are. If it will be close, then the chance of a success will be useful. But the chance of failure is high, and costly for those houses, so it would really have to be worth their while.
The sun makes a roll for sunset, but fails to set. The run continues.
Willow is pretty clear that all of the country turns will finish at the end of the run. However, the Imperial turn will finish at Chapter End.
While they are thinking about it, the party asks Willow about the Hearthstone plot. They seem to have been in the mechanics grid, but not in the war. Willow thinks that they were just leveraging the fact that there was a North Mechanic to get stuff done.
Willow also notes that if they go somewhere else and get deeply enmeshed in their mechanic, the party might find itself using their end mechanic instead of sunset. So everyone heads back to Tahiti, and dash through the water gate to Suzuki.
- "This isn't a scoreboard, it's a map!" -Willow
She identifies that the map has four colors:
Suzuki and Kobayashi are doing better than Minoro and the Firelord, though she isn't sure of the exact order.
Lijuan, feeling that the Lord of Gainful Protection could use a little pick-me-up, draws some art on his behalf (and when asked, spends three karma).
Looking some more at the Hearthstone map, Cai Wen thinks that the current fighting is near Kobe. Some of the locations are still tainted by Whale (Double Caldera, Hot Springs, Volcano) even though Whale is no longer an actor. Willow thinks the hot springs are three hexes to the east and one to the north.
The group splits into a Triad: Lijuan is physical, Kuan-Xi is tao, Cai Wen is mental. Kuan-Xi decides "off to the hot springs" and Cai Wen navigates. After a long slog of walking, costing Lijuan a lot of strength, they reach the Hot Springs of Needful Blessings, and the oogly boogers determine that yes, there does seem to be "whaleiness" in the waters.
Kuan-Xi and Lijuan drop a bunch of karma into purifying the water, which helps a lot for the Springs, and has a little effect on the map as well. A question arises: Which house claims the hex? Do they want to instantiate a new team?
Cai Wen considers the politics of the situation. Putting the Golden Palace on the political map would be quite entangling, and the Golden Prince would likely not approve, unless perhaps they made the hot springs the direct property of the Golden Palace and not the country. Suzuki and Kobiyashi are fighting over Kobe - picking one of those two to be the owner of the hot springs would probably win that fight for them. Giving it to Minoru would even out the Houses; giving it to the Firelord would strengthen central authority.
In the end Kuan-Xi decides to claim the Springs for the Northern Sea, which means that it is now on the coast.The turn ends, as does the run - Willow notes that it had changed from "sunset" to "end of turn" which is fascinating in and of itself.