The Takanata Conspiracy
|"It's always the Night of Gates somewhere!"|| The run begins in late Crane|
The run takes place in Tahiti
Min Feng, Xiao Fa, Xian, and Kuan-Xi are hanging about Tahiti, discussing the plan for Takanata, as suggested by the Great Butterfly Spirit:
Min Feng meditates on the Butterfly.
She hears the beating of soft silent wings, and smells bright flowers opening in the sun, and then a voice speaks.
"It is not always possible for Me to see all the possibilities, and I am sorry for the damage your grandfather has suffered in My service. There is something - now was not the time that I had imagined it to happen, but perhaps it is a better time after all, and many factors have come together providentially.
There is no Butterfly Immortal at this time.
Thien Xian is owed a favor by the Prince of the Golden Pagoda
Suzuki Kuan-Xi speaks on behalf of all mortals to the Golden Pagoda.
Only one of those might not be sufficient, for the Golden Prince does not let others choose his people, but Takanata is worthy of the honor and even the Azure Blade must bend, slightly, to fate.
The bargain of the Golden Prince with both spirits and mortal humanity predates the building of the Walls and the rise of My Island, and even the king of that Island must acknowledge a greater claim upon his liegeman than his own.
How to get the Golden Prince is a little unclear. Xian has a sword, but is no good at using it. Could Kuan-Xi do something? What does her position entail? She thinks about what she knows about immortals - is "mortal who intercedes with the Immortals" often a thing? Well, it is sometimes a thing, sort of, but it's more like an honor than a responsibility.
So how does one get chosen as an Immortal anyway? That isn't something that Kuan-Xi's book covers, but they contemplate the tale of Hirosoto.
Long long ago, there was a conspiracy among men to throw down the Golden Palace and seize immortality for all men. The conspiracy was formed of only the odd and unusual - a master candle-maker, a master tamer of birds, a master charcoal burner, a master calligrapher... those who may not be greatly effective in their own right, but are nearly impossible to defeat. Thus it was that Grandmother Wu, far-sighted and silent, Keeper of the Secrets of the Golden Palace, decided that the Golden Palace must have a Ninja among them, and so she drank from the bitter gourd and took up her years, and passed to the World Beyond. Of all the ninja who walked the Empire, Hirasoto was chosen, and when he had slain the master candle-maker and the master tamer of birds and the master charcoal burner and the master calligrapher, he ate the flesh of the golden peach, and became known as the Implacable.
So, Hirasoto had to be awesome first, and then he was made an immortal as a reward. They consider Takanata's awesomeness, as laid out by him in TPK. He is the author of Air, Rain, and Water. He was named "Herald of the Butterfly" by the Perfect Master. He is a judge of the Court of Distinction on the Butterfly Meadows, previously known as the Isle of Beauty, previously known as the Butterfly Kingdom. He was chosen by the Sun as the messenger to arrange for the freedom of his daughter. He led the charge that drove back Kali's high priest on Midwinter. He is the father of the most recent child of the Jasmine River spirit.
He also got temporarily turned into Horse that time. Okay, maybe this is more like Takanata's Greatest Hits, and not useful.
So... where is the Golden Palace? Can they drop by? Kuan-Xi is pretty sure it is definitely not here. It's the place that the Twelve Immortals live when they are not in this world. So visiting is probably right out. They might be able to invite him here, somehow. Perhaps that's part of what Kuan-Xi can do? The group instructs the Tahiti butlers (with Kuan-Xi's supervision) to prepare an appropriate space for the Prince of the Golden Palace to come and have tea, with a not-quite-throne fancy chair for him to sit in. They leap to it.
Kuan-Xi tries to think about how to contact the Golden Prince, but she's kind of flustered, as the last time she spoke to him, he gave her a tongue-lashing (that ended up inciting her to become a PC). Xiao Fa helps her with some guided meditation, and she finally declares that she is going to her room, and if they need her, they'll Know What To Do. Hmm.
As everyone else chases after Kuan-Xi, there is a crash in the garden, where things have been set up for tea. Everyone heads back there, where two of the guards are lying, stunned. Someone seems to have punched them. Xiao Fa heals them, and they say that there was an old guy getting into the refreshments. Ah, that would be Old Hop, who is in the garden tent drinking all the wine.
- "Funny that you're here." -Xian
- "You know, well, that guy." -Old Hop
- "Which guy?"
- "You know."
- "I don't know why you're not just answering."
- "I think I'm not answering as a form of protest!"
Apparently the Golden Prince has told old Hop that "now that she's doing her job, you should go and do yours" and this has somehow led to Old Hop being here. What is Old Hop's job? Is being drunk his job? Is kung fu his job? He doesn't explain, but complains that he doesn't have time to be the Herald of the Golden Palace on top of everything else he has going on.
- "I don't see why he needs me. Everyone knows who he is. But fine, fine..." -Old Hop
- "No reason to be too hasty!" -Xian
- "Oh, well, then, let's have lunch." -Old Hop
Well, lunch might be going a little far, before the Golden Prince is here, but they can have the good wine from the Tahiti wine cellar. Xiao Fa has some Golden Palace Rice Wine, also, which Old Hop happily starts drinking.
- "If you really want him to show up, you'll know what to do." -Old Hop
- "Well, that's a problem." -Xian
- "Do you really not know what to do?"
- "Step one is "draw the sword". But what is step two?"
As it turns out, Xian has absolutely nothing that she can do with a sword, as Fast Talk and Charming are not usually sword-requiring skills, nor is Kung Fu. After everyone spends some time poring over Xian's sheet to no avail, Old Hop sighs.
- "I do not do this for just anyone. Here, finish this." -Old Hop, handing his Golden Palace rice wine to Xiao Fa, who drinks it
- "Lo! I am here, and you are owed a boon. By the herald of the Golden Palace. Don't screw it up." -Old Hop to Xiao Fa
- "I... um... would like to request the presence of the Golden Prince here at our most humble proceedings." -Xiao Fa
- "Very well. What token of his favor might you present?" -Old Hop
Xian gestures ineffectually with her golden sword, whereupon Old Hop takes it away from her and draws it dramatically.
- "He totally lied. Kung fu apparently counts with swords." -Mike
Then Old Hop presents the sword to the Golden Prince, who is sitting in the fancy chair. Everyone bows.
- "Honorable ancestor, you grace us with your presence." -Kuan-Xi
Ho Tan Mi
Old Hop serves around the tea, though with some snide comments to Xiao Fa under cover of the tray.
Kuan-Xi starts working her way around to the request they want to make.
- "We would like to make a request of you. It was suggested to us by the Great Butterfly Spirit, and we are wondering if you would be amenable to it."
- "Indeed? Who makes the request? You or She?"
- "We do, that you consider Lord Tokai Takanata to fill the role of the Butterfly Immortal."
- "Hm. This is a most serious request. Is he worthy of such a role?"
- "We believe that he is."
- "He has many accomplishments. Most recently, at great personal sacrifice, he acted to put the islands of the Empire back in their proper place and caused the Butterfly Meadows to be renamed, and as such is in a state of uncertainty and flux. He has done many things in defense of the Empire and as a poet and artist."
- "My court has a poet. Would he accept not being the Immortal Poet? Or do you propose Ochi be removed?"
- "Oh, well, Takanata is an artist who writes poetry, rather than a poet who is an artist."
- "But you mentioned artist last. Is that the least of his talents?"
- "No! No, not at all."
- "Also, he was an artist first and has become an I Ching master." -Xian
- "Is this a thing he desires?"
- "... In our intent to help him with his Butterfly nature, Butterfly suggested that it occur out of his purview."
- "I don't think he knows what he desires." -Min Feng
They also explain that the Golden Prince would need to talk to Ti Lao to request that the King relinquish all bonds of fealty to Takanata, forgive all debts and transgressions, known and unknown, favors owed and owing, so as to let him become an Immortal with a clean slate. Or something like that.
The Golden Prince notes the interesting loophole there. What is it that must be forgiven? Min Feng explains that as part of the working to change the islands, it became necessary for Takanata to raise his hand against his liege's heir. Well, not raise his hand, but not defend him. But it was for the good of the Empire, and this has caused him great personal trauma.
- "His sovereign has not chosen to return his honor to him?"
- "His sovereign cannot know."
- "Ah, then all is clear."
- "We think that this might have been something that he would be ready for anyway, eventually."
- "I hope he's ready for it now." -Xiao Fa
The Golden Prince notes that the Golden Palace is not part of the Empire, it is an ally of the Empire. Do they understand this? Well, no, they hadn't, but they still wish to proceed.
- "It would be a loss to the Empire for Takanata to cease being a citizen of it, but he has given much for the Empire already."
Xiao Fa wants to know more about this ally relationship. The Prince says that they are allies, with good will towards each other, but that allies do not always have the same priorities, but it is possible to have conflicts with one's allies.
- "Has the relationship weakened with the current regime?" -Xian
- "All is in waiting. When there is a new regime, then we will know."
- "I'm perplexed by Li the Wanderer, then." -Xian
- "Subjects of the Palace have lives of their own, and there is often conflict between them. As long as the conflict does not interfere with their duties towards the Palace, it is not forbidden. Li at least understands the rules."
- "Takanata is a man of great honor, and if he knew the rules he would obey them. But Li has taken the Mark of the Spider!" -Xian
- "My subjects do have their... hobbies."
- "Not all who have the Mark took it with enthusiasm." -Min Feng
- "I think that this at least gives the appearance of divided loyalty." -Xian
- "Loyalty is a complicated thing, and there are things to be known about his apparent second master that are countervailing considerations, but they are not mine to tell."
- "It doesn't have to do with the fact that he's a skinwalking demon, does it?"
- "Almost entirely. The mark is the mark of the Spider. So it is less of a conflict than it might outwardly appear. Which is not to say that We are pleased."
- "Lord Takanata would have his own... hobby." -Min Feng
- "Certainly. Immortality without goals becomes hollow indeed."
If they would be willing to assist the Golden Prince in... clarifying a few difficulties, then he might proceed as they suggest. First, there is a technical difficulty, which is troublesome but not impossible. The Smith of the Golden Pagoda is distracted and does not have the time she needs to solve the problem she intends to solve while also fulfilling her duties. She attempts to balance between them, but she needs more time. Is that something they could assist with? The party agrees to do so.
- "We could be her minions! Does she need time itself, or does she need more minions?"
- "She does not lack for assistance, that is not her problem."
- "We could set her up in Three Piers! Would that work?"
- "Are you well regarded by the Whale?"
- "Well, no."
- "Then that would probably not work."
Well, if helping her doesn't work, and moving her to Three Piers is infeasible (and Li Merit making an Int roll was not sufficient to solve her problem), what could they do? It is a quandary! The Prince hints gently - do they possibly have a house spirit whose specialty is speed and time? Oh! Right! Okay, they can probably do something.
The second issue is a social one: the Golden Palace already has a poet, as the Prince has mentioned, and the Prince would not wish him offended. If they could persuade Ochi to agree to share (the Prince smiles to himself), or obtain Lord Takanata's approval to be installed as the I Ching Master that he is, but not the artist that he is, either solution would be acceptable. One of them will have to bend a little.
- "Well, Ochi is the Fox immortal, so whichever one of us talks first..." -Xian
(Everyone imagines fast talk at twenty paces, with tumbleweeds blowing by in the wind...)
The third consideration is more of a metaphysical one, but it is something that the Prince could take care of, as his favor to Xian, if Xian wished to discharge his obligation that way.
- "Wait, what?" -Xian
- "If you would enlighten us as to the third metaphysical difficulty?" -Xiao Fa
- "It is... complicated. I assume that your coterie would remain after, and thus you and Takanata and Master Yang would..." -the Golden Prince
- "Oh! He's talking about the thumping!"
- "But why Master Yang in particular?"
- "He's trying to become a demon god thing."
- "If only that were it." -the Golden Prince
- "Takanata has been the customary bearer of the Talisman..."
- "He would not be the only one of my subjects to bear one."
In any event, the Prince can... overlook... the metaphysical difficulty, for the favor owed to Xian. Xian would be honored if the Prince would consider the small favor owed to her to be worthy of such a boon.
Very well, the Prince agrees that Lord Tokai is worthy of the honor discussed, and if those small difficulties are moved aside, then he will proceed.
The group decides that talking to Ochi is probably easier than talking to Takanata.
- "If I talk to Ochi, he'll talk to me. If I talk to Takanata, he'll spend seven karma to stuff me in a box." -Xian
The Prince makes ready to leave, but Kuan-Xi asks if he might talk to her about her new role.
- "From what I have seen today, it is something you will grow into. This was a good first step."
- "Ixnay on the explanation-way" -Old Hop, making a throat-cutting gesture
The group offers Old Hop some more wine to stick around after the Prince leaves. There is a bugle fanfare as he exits the tent - it is not clear if these are Tahiti buglers scrounged up by the butlers, or if the Prince arrived with more of an entourage.
- "Well, that went well..." -Xiao Fa
- "That was great! He didn't kill anyone, or..." -Old Hop
- "Wait, kill someone? The Golden Prince doesn't kill people..." -Xian
Xian is shushed before she says anything more, just in case the Prince is still listening.
Old Hop is enthusiastic to have an Immortal I Ching master. That should be fun.
- "It's not often as clear as you'd like. " -Min Feng
- "Sometimes it's socks." -Xian
- "No one is getting a socks immortal!" -Xiao Fa
The group heads to the Tahiti shrine for Speedy. Hmm. No one here is a House member (since Yanyu is sick), so Kuan-Xi calls Anto in. Anto is officially part of the House of Exuberant Interference, and he can arrange to have Speedy talk at normal mortal speed, to boot.
A deal is cut with Speedy to have him take a tax, in time, from those who are petitioning him, and to pass most of that time along to Pai Zhi-Zao.
Each of them chooses two shticks to take longer, or have some other time penalty for the next book (Xiao Fa takes three to cover one of Min Feng's).
- Min Feng's Fast Disguise will be Slow Disguise.
- Xian's Fast Disguise will be Slow Disguise, and Disarming Smile will cost her actions in addition to her foe's.
- Kuan-Xi will be able to know where a triad member was yesterday, and her Puddle Gate will get her there next action.
- Xiao Fa's healing chi will not heal until drift, as will Restore the Balance, and his +1 Chi Master will take an extra phase to arrive as well.
Speedy heads off to fulfil his end of the bargain, and the party follows, heading for the Precincts (except for Xian, who doesn't believe in that country) in Kuan-Xi's little carriage to tell the Smith. (Also, they'll be able to tell Ochi that she can't use that excuse any longer.)
They reach Smith Pai's forge, there is a great deal of clanging coming from inside. Xiao Fa knocks for quite a while, until she finally stops clanging and answers the door.
- "Greetings! We bring good news! We have procured for you some time."
- "I hope you procured more than you are using now."
- "We have all given up some of our time so that you may pursue your own pursuits and make things for the Golden Prince."
- "Sigh. What is it that you want?"
- "Just that you will have the time!"
- "Huh. Really?"
She is a little surprised that the favor doesn't seem to have come with a price tag, and invites them in. She brushes a lot of work-in-progress off of a table, and heads to her back room to get some tea. There is a clunking and a hissing, and she returns with a cup of tea for Xiao Fa and Min Feng, and hands Kuan-Xi a strange frothy beverage. Xiao Fa is sure that she was not in the back nearly long enough to brew a pot of tea, but it is surprisingly good nonetheless, if balanced a little unusually.
The Smith says that she has tried making time before, and it doesn't work well at all. So what have they actually done? Well, they happen to know a spirit of speed and time. Oh, that makes more sense. She looks around to them, and asks who gave up the most time. That would be Xiao Fa. She hands him a golden gear.
- "Thanks for the time. If you need me, you’ll <she pauses, looking skeptically at Xiao Fa> ...figure it out."
Does she know where Ochi is? She is pretty sure he's not in the Precincts - she thinks he's in the Taiga now. Well, that will require trading Kuan-Xi for Xian, but luckily, Min Feng can drive the carriage. Kuan-Xi gets a refill on her "hot steamed cocatea" before she goes, and discusses steam and water with the smith. Kuan-Xi warns Min Feng that the carriage will only take them to actual places, not abstract concepts like the Taiga, but they think they'll be able to manage.
Kuan-Xi stays home in Tahiti, playing with steam and tea ingredients, while everyone else heads to the City of Spires. Min Feng has Ochi memorized, so she locates him in the best brothel in the city.
Neither Xian nor Min Feng is willing to go in, so Xiao Fa resigns himself to falling on this grenade, and heads in by himself. He tells the proprietor that he is looking for someone. They do have many someones here, but for thirty li, she agrees to take a message to "the most intriguing patron in the building", and stations Xiao Fa in a library to wait.
- "Why are you here? Wait, no, that is the wrong question. Why am I here?" -Ochi
- "I'd like to chat about a mutual acquaintance." -Xiao Fa
- "Is she cute?"
- "Lord Tokai Takanata."
- "No, then."
Xiao Fa admits that his friends who are better at this are cowering outside, because this is a brothel. Could they go out there? Ochi thinks that the conversation is far more entertaining this way, and declines.
- "We were wondering how you would feel about sharing the artistic side of things. At the Palace."
- "Gasp! I hadn't thought of that. His work is excellent. I do need an immortal apprentice. I could take him under my wing and show him off at parties."
- "More 'artist' than 'poet', perhaps..."
- "Exactly! I am in fact, an Artist..."
- "Put down the shovel!" -Xian, offscreen
Ochi says that Xiao Fa is beating around the bush, but his intention is finally made clear. What is his first offer? Xiao Fa's first offer is to have Ochi be able to get golden quills again. Ochi thinks that that's not a bad start, though if he needs quills, he can always get them. He would prefer to get them when he wants them, of course.
Ochi thinks for a bit and then suddenly stuns Xiao Fa with a grievous insult, allowing him to spend some time persuading Xiao Fa while the poor guy can’t respond: he will not object to Takanata being an Immortal Artist, as long as it is clear that there is a hierarchy, at least in the realm of Poetry. If Takanata will compose a masterwork ode to Ochi, that should make it clear - and after Ochi's persuasion, this seems eminently reasonable to Xiao Fa as well. Now that they are agreed, Ochi calls for the girls, but since Xiao Fa would rather not, he heads out again.
Xiao Fa heads back to the carriage to explain the plan, and Xian and Min Feng regard him with suspicion. He seems a little too enthusiastic about this plan.... Xian whammies him with her persuasion, just barely managing to break Ochi's hold.
No one wants to go back in the brothel to talk to Ochi any more, and it does seem like this has not made matters worse. If Takanata writes the poem, that's Ochi's price for allowing a second immortal as Immortal Poet/Artist as part of his concept. If Takanata doesn't write the poem, and is willing to be the Immortal I Ching Master only, then that's also fine. Xian could go in there and try to persuade Ochi, but she's not actually confident that she can take the Fox Immortal in social combat.
The trouble is, talking to Takanata removes the part where the Golden Prince is the one to ask him to become an immortal, which everyone thinks will work best.
Hmm. Maybe they can get Zhuai to do it, or the Queen. Actually, having Ti Wren make the request might work.
The carriage heads back to Tahiti to pick up Kuan-Xi, and then to the Butterfly Meadows. Min Feng wears the Butterfly Talisman, which is sufficient to get her and her companions an audience with Ti Wren fairly swiftly.
Min Feng explains that she has been pondering the matter of her grandfather, who is not well. Ti Wren has also been concerned about him. Min Feng says there is something that she might do to assist, though it will seem an odd request. Could she commission a masterwork ode to the poet Ochi from him?
Ti Wren is a bit surprised - that will help with his illness? She does not normally set the terms of the art for her Court because she likes to give her artists more of a free hand, but she could probably arrange that. Should she not mention that Min Feng asked for that? Min Feng agrees that that would probably be for the best. Ti Wren thinks about it for a minute and then says she will see what she can do.And then, the carriage heads back to Tahiti, strings as pulled as they can get.