Tortoise and Panda

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"The battle unscouted is the battle lost." The run begins on the Day of the Early Tortoise, in the month of the Phoenix, in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.

The run takes place in the Hidden City.

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Early Arrivals and Departures

The Silken Wings Circus has moved on, but the party is still in the Hidden City, mostly in the boarding house in Copper, except for Cai Wen and Kuan-Xi, still staying in the better hotel in Silver. Merit hires some thugs to watch the "party loot" cart, and sends the Riding Crop Of Smacking The Black Donkey on to Q Branch.

While everyone assures Anto that Kuan-Xi has been much more active since he left, she seems to be back to her old not-around-much ways, and is late meeting him for breakfast. Anto also spots a mysterious black-and-white-garbed figure on the roof opposite the dormitory, backlit against the sunrise, but after nodding at him the figure vanishes over the rooftops.

Cai Wen briefs people about the state of Breaking the Bribery Mechanic. Today's scheduled activity involves hiring new recruits for the Iron Keys, with a contest to win spiffy arms and armor. Cai Wen has some irons in the fire for a one on one social contest in the outer circle, so people should keep their eyes open for a Tao-based contest in the inner ring.

A servant brings in a tray of cloak clasps, which have been left for the group. They have little suns pictured on them. The group questions the servant, and determines that a young woman brought them, but she didn't introduce herself. Cai Wen warns the group that any random thing could be part of Ford's plan, so they shouldn't automatically destroy any unknown objects. Merit thinks they're part of a scheme, but not a very high-level one, and writes a note for everyone to keep with the clasp: "Don't know where this came from, but keep it with you", on the theory that if it proves horribly illegal to have these clasps, or they are stolen, this will provide protection from legal repercussions. Anto doesn't think they're magic, but no one but Kasumi dares wear one. The servant also mentions that some of the contestants are showing up early.

Anto asks if anyone else has seen the mysterious guy in black and white, or if they recognize the description. The cape sounds sort of like the coloration of a panda, and Xian wonders if there are panda people, the way there are panda bears and panda whales. Everyone shudders.

Cai Wen goes to check out the early arrivals - there are two. One is a young martial artist, who bows politely, and the other is a ferociously ugly guy. Probably a guy. Cai Wen tell them that they should drop by the Iron Keys hall to register. The martial artist says they have registered, but the instructions were not clear on what they should bring. Cai Wen says that they should be prepared for anything and everything - bring anything that they might need to fight and protect someone.

"What if we do not have all that we need?"
"Perhaps you should obtain it, then." -Cai Wen
"Often one obtains such things from one's employer."

Merit asks what they are missing. The ugly guy grumbles - he ain't got no armor. Merit says that he approves of initiative, and can find something for them in the light armor category. The martial artist bows and thanks Merit for his generosity towards Kun, but he himself is a practitioner of kung fu and does not wear armor.

Cai Wen takes a moment to remind both of the young warriors that bribery is against the rules.

Anto starts to worry more about Kuan-Xi's lateness.

"I don't know if I should be paying attention to that, because I know the meta-reason [Jennifer is sick]." -Kurgan
"I keep mentioning it, so you should probably pay attention." -Mike


The group proceeds to the Silver hotel where Cai Wen and Kuan-Xi have been (separately) staying. The hotelier says that there was some noise earlier, but things are quiet now, and she should still be upstairs. There is a puddle of water seeping from under the door, so Anto kicks the door in, without checking to see if it's open. The room is a mess, as if it was the site of a combat.

Those with detective skill think that someone came through the window, and then there was a small battle, and then she was taken out through the window. And there's something weird about the marks of the battle, like Kuan-Xi's water blasts were hitting the furniture and the walls, not her foes.

"So, she was fighting a family member!" -Kasumi
"... or an invisible person." -Anto

Anto, looking at the broken window, spots a guy in black and white, standing several roofs over from the hotel. He's backlit against the sun, cloak waving dramatically behind him, hat pulled down over his eyes. He nods again to Anto, and then vanishes over the roofline. Ahah! A culprit! Anto and the other fighter-types start leaping from roof to roof after him, while Merit and Cai Wen proceed that direction on the ground, gathering information. The latter team learns that a big guy dressed in heavy green leather armor was casing the place earlier, and that the only person in Silver related to Kuan-Xi's kidnapping is Kuan-Xi.

The roof-leaping group reaches the building that the black and white guy was on, and sees that there is an open door leading to a stairwell, from which a faint "oof" emerges. They pursue, and close in on a man in a white and black padded tunic and a large black and white cloak, with his cloak tangled in the banister. He spots Anto, and begins to babble.

"It's Master Antoraki of the Five Elements! Oh my heavens! It is such an honor to meet you! This is the greatest moment of my life!"
"And who are you?" -Anto
"...Let's head back to the roof for that."
"Indeed." -Master Zhou
"It is Zhou of Bear Mountain! I am unworthy!"
"And you are?" -Master Zhou
"We could go up to the roof and I could tell you!"

The group is persuaded to go back to the roof, though Anto keeps a firm grasp on his cloak so he doesn't run off. Then, he steps onto the ledge around the roof, and is backlit against the morning sun again, and Anto's grasp of his cloak seems more like a worshipper or a supplicant.

"I am Po, the Panda Warrior." -Po, on the ledge
"...and I am so excited to meet you guys!" -Po, stepping off the ledge.

He explains that he has been preparing to battle for honor and justice in order to receive a job with the Keys of Iron. So he has been following the party around as they are the organizers.

"The battle un-scouted is the battle lost, as was written by the Great Master Quan Lo in the 23rd Scroll of Wisdom. " -Po

Master Zhou is curious as to with whom he trained. Po enthusiastically explains that he has read the writings of the great masters from all the ages.

"Have you trained as a student of a kung fu master?" -Master Zhou
"I would be honored to be your student! But first, let me go into the world and prove my name, and then I will return and study at your feet." -Po
"Well... I do need some students. I was hoping for less goofy students, but it might be my lot." -Master Zhou
"Taking him on might be as much a benefit to you as to him." -Xian, who has clearly seen the movies.

Much to the group's disappointment, Po followed them here, so he did not see anything that they did not.

"Perhaps young Po can prove himself useful, as we have a rescue to mount." -Anto
"I would be honored to rescue someone at your side, Master Antoraki!" -Po

Po is particularly excited to hear that the person who needs rescuing is an actual Princess.

Merit asks Po for a briefing on the books he has read about martial artists. They sound like dramatized Lives of Martial Artists, rather than manuals of martial arts, but they do sound more or less true.

"Can you focus your chi to locate Kuan-Xi?" -Merit to Po
"O...kay." -Po, looking at Anto

Po starts going through a dramatic kata, still watching Anto, and Anto gestures with little head motions which way he should be pointing. He follows Anto's direction to point in the direction that Anto's "Nose for Trouble" indicates.

"He reminds me of me from Book One." -Anto
"He also reminds me of you from Book One." -Zhou

Merit asks him about the cloak clasps. Po is quite tragified.

"Oh. I see. I did not want to believe the rumors, but apparently it is so." -Po
"I don't know what it is." -Merit
"Indeed, Sunshine's charms win all but the stalwart heart. " -Po

Master Zhou fixes Po with a glare and insists that he explain.

"Your companions have fallen under the sway of Sunshine. She is a most canny enemy, filled with plans and plots and schemes. But she is not disciplined enough to master kung fu." -Po
"Ah, she could not spend the hours in the library necessary to master Kung Fu." -Merit

Cai Wen starts a new scoreboard.

Li Merit Master Zhou
1 0
"It could take days!" -Xian
"Do we have to have another talk about honesty, Xian?" -Master Zhou
"In all likelihood, yes. " -Xian

So, does Sunshine give out that sort of clasp all the time? Po thinks she just made them for the contest.

"But isn't there a princess to rescue?" -Po

The group, brought back to the plot, keeps following Po/Anto, until they reach a warehouse in the less busy part of the Silver district.

"Shall I deal with the mooks inside, while you save your energies for the greater challenge?" -Po
"No, we should scout." -Anto
"Right! A battle unscouted is a battle lost!" -Po
"That's my job! " -Kasumi
"Aaah! Ninja attack! Yah!" -Po

Po goes into a bit of a panic - Sunshine has ninja working for her! Did... did anyone else see the ninja, just now?

Kasumi, meanwhile, sneaks into the warehouse. There's Kuan-Xi, lying on the floor, next to a stool with a note on it. Kasumi gives her a healing potion, but she doesn't wake. The others enter, including Po, who is a bit concerned about the ninja bending ominously over the sleeping princess.

The note reads:

Return what you have stolen, or one by one you shall fall.
Give back what is mine, and the antidote will be yours.

"Hmm. There's so many things we might have stolen..." -Master Zhou

Merit tries to figure out what poison was used on Kuan-Xi, and he thinks it's one of those particularly rare and plotful poisons, like the Tincture of Wasting Death. If it's a magical poison, it probably has other escape clauses (like being kissed by a prince); if it's non-magical, extreme medical measures should work. For the moment, she can be kept comfortable by a very good Medicine roll.

Merit's analysis of the note is that whoever wrote it was either a Silver native, or was intentionally targetting Silver, as it is exactly ten successes of calligraphy. Additionally, hidden in the line weights of the calligraphy, with ten successes of cryptography, is a signature: "The Path of Knowledge".

Anto communes with the local arcane flora and fauna; a demon of Foreboding is vaguely associated with the warehouse, and says that there was one guy, accompanied by four large guys in armor, who brought her in unconscious and poured a potion down her throat before leaving her. The description doesn't strike anyone as familiar, though.

So... it's not a recurring NPC, but it's still someone who thinks the party stole something from him. Xian thinks it's likely to be the owner of the tortoiseshell bracers, which came out of the Monkey Cart.

"In some technical sense, those were stolen."

Merit sends off for a dossier on the Path of Knowledge.

First Round

Po notes that now that they have rescued the princess, it is time for the Battle of Honor and Justice. Everyone heads to the Iron Keys guildhall, depositing the sleeping Kuan-Xi back at the Copper dormitory.

Cai Wen gives his traditional "no bribery allowed" speech, and some of the Iron Keys giggle a bit. When Cai Wen starts passing out the counter-bribes, they want to know who he wants to win, then. He insists that it play out without interference, which seems inexplicable to them when associated with a bribe.

There are about thirty Iron Key freshmen, but eight of them seem particularly interesting.

  • Po, the Panda Warrior. He waves at Anto and Master Zhou.
  • Bu-Wei, a slim man.
  • Kving, a short armored woman.
  • Kitaro, the previously encountered martial artist
  • Sunshine, a cheerful-looking young woman with a cloak clasp with a sun on it.
  • Kinji, a swordsman.
  • Zedong, an impressive looking fighter with a sword and shield, also wearing a Sunshine badge.
  • Kun, the particularly ugly guy, now in new armor.

The first contest is "Capture the Flag". One team is Kitaro, Sunshine, Zedong, Kun, and 11 less interesting people; the other is Po, Bu-Wei, Kving, Kinji, and the other 11.

Some things that are learned quickly: Bu-Wei is very hard for the other freshmen to hit - he is quick and dodgey. Nobody dares to hit Kun. Kving can be hit, but has a very Wei Han attitude about it. Zedong and Sunshine are both leaders, but they end up squabbling a bit over command of Kitaro's team. Kitaro can take out a foe in a couple of rounds; Kinji is faster to take his enemies down.

Master Zhou identifies each of their aspects: Po is a Monkey, Bu-Wei is a Crane, Kving is a Bear, Kitaro is a Tortoise, Sunshine and Zedong are Foxes, Kinji is a Tiger, and Kun is a Horror. Uh oh.

During the contest, Bu-Wei steals the enemy flag several times, only to learn that it isn't actually the enemy flag, but a fake. Eventually, Kitaro's team's flag is discovered in Sunshine's pocket, and captured. Po doesn't score any personal points, but looks awesome. Kinji has the most takedowns. There is some argument as to whether having a "fake" flag should count, and the Iron Keys look ready to be bribed to provide an answer, until Cai Wen reminds them that they were already bribed by him. Oh, right - who does Cai Wen want to win? He doesn't want to bribe them to pick a winner, he wants them to go by the rules. Fake flags don't count. There is also some complaint that there isn't any score bonus for not being taken down, only for takedowns. The Iron Keys hint that maybe they can fix that next contest.

Name Capture the Flag Total
Kenji 2 + 3 + 8 13
Bu-Wei 8 + 1 9
Kving 8 8
Po 8 8
Kitaro 2 + 1 + 4 7
Zedong 4 4
Sunshine 4 4
Kun 4 4

Cai Wen wants to know which people were inclined to bribe the Iron Keys to get the ruling on the flag their way - Zedong, Kinji, Sunshine, and Bu-Wei all seemed to have an instinct in that direction.

One of Merit's contacts drops off a dossier on the Path of Knowledge. He used to be a Revered Sage, but some time recently he was... fired? resigned? left under a cloud? The details are not clear. He was renowned for not looking for knowledge in libraries, but out in the world, and was constantly travelling. Apparently it was something of a sore spot with the other sages that he didn't write down his findings or teach anyone else. Merit feels like the whole kidnapping plan is overly convoluted for getting the bracers returned, but then, "overly convoluted" does seem to be this guy's modus operandi.

Anto considers the question of how Kun is bound. There are the usual things like poverty, and less usual things like his appearance, which place restrictions on his choices, but he's not Cursed or anything like that. Anto's experience with adventure stories suggest that he might have demon blood.

Cai Wen announces that the next round will be in the morning, and that if he is kidnapped overnight, Xian is in charge. The Iron Keys have to be bribed again to make sure no one bribes them during the night.

Investigation and Recrimination

The first of the arguments about means and ends begins. The Path of Knowledge (assuming that he's the owner of the bracers) doesn't have a lot of moral high ground, as kidnapping and poisoning is deemed to be worse than theft, but some party members allow as their own moral standing is not great, as there wasn't really any attempt made to find who to give the bracers back to.

Kasumi and Xian head to the winehouse where the Iron Keys freshmen are all hanging out. Po's shtick apparently works in the moonlight as well, as he sits in a corner, gazing soulfully into his drink. Sunshine is working the room, making new friends, especially amongst the winners of last round like Kenji. Zedong is trading intelligence on what the next contest is for small favors - next round, he says, is "Running the Gauntlet". Shuyan and Master Zhou drop by a little later, as the evening is starting to break up; Zedong is the last one out, and Sunshine and Kinji leave together.

Master Zhou chats with Kitaro as he leaves. The young man says he has trained at the Chun Lo school of arms in Bronze sector; their novice instructor has some interest in the true art. But most of those who train there are busy playing with swords.

"The easy path is travelled by many. Why do you study the true art?" -Master Zhou
"One may not climb the mountain until one knows the path." -Kitaro
"The tiger might say the only way to know the path is to climb the mountain." -Master Zhou
"... but the battle unscouted is the battle lost." -Kitaro, a little embarrassed
"You have been speaking with Po."
"He has been telling us of the 23rd scroll of wisdom of Quan Lo, which I have not had the honor of reading."

Master Zhou asks Kitaro where he seeks wisdom. Kitaro says that he seeks it here at home, because that is all that is open to him. If he can get a job with the Iron Keys and earn more money, then he can seek it elsewhere as well. The Iron Keys are but a step on his path up the mountain. Kun also trains at the school of arms, he says, but is less well thought of by the instructors, who cannot see past his appearance to his strength.

"What is his strength?" -Master Zhou
"He does not believe he has found it yet." -Kitaro
"Sometimes potential is hard to discern."
"It is difficult when one does not have a teacher to light the way."

Master Zhou wishes him good luck, and bids him good night.

Meanwhile, the others have gone to investigate who is in town in Gold, on the theory that that might be the most likely district to have ex-Sages in it. Sure enough, in addition to the PCs, the Path of Knowledge and the Turtle Warriors are in town. Cai Wen asks around about anyone with that name, and learns that there is a retired Exalted Librarian who lives in Gold, and has house guests.

Merit writes a note in Torghut, using Senatali-style grammar, and has some hired thugs deliver it.

We came across a cache of stolen items - please describe which one you are missing. Give us the antidote and we'll discuss it.

In the morning, no one has been kidnapped, and Anto hires one of Merit's old friends to look after Kuan-Xi.

Second Round

Most of the Iron Key judges are wearing Sunshine buttons now, much to the party's suspicion. Cai Wen counter-bribes everyone again.

In running the gauntlet, Cai Wen explains, there will be two teams, and the team captains can bid away their teams' victory points to get to choose which to be. Sunshine and Kun are the captains, and Sunshine promptly agrees that if Kun bids just one point, she'll let him pick. He does so, and chooses to be the Runner team. (Runners get points for finishing, or saving each other from being taken down. Gauntlet people get points for taking runners down, or preventing most of the runners from finishing.)

Sunshine asks what happens if a runner goes off the path - Cai Wen says then they have to go back to the beginning. Sunshine's team (her, Zedong, Kenji, and Bu-Wei) confers for a bit, and then says they're ready.

Kenji is stationed early along the gauntlet, and he stabs each runner as they go by. Most of the rest of the team is clustered farther up, where Sunshine smiles and waves at everyone, just before they hit a patch of slippery oil, which Team Sunshine uses to push them off the path. Everyone has to go back to the beginning at least once. The second time around, Sunshine and Zedong call out to Kun, who is the lead runner, and he turns around, startling several of his guys off the path. The named runners finally manage to get by the oil slick, but all the mooks go down after having to run past Kenji several times. On the last pass, Kenji lets three mooks go by unstabbed, and each of Sunshine, Zedong, and Ghost takes the final strike to take them down. That gives Kenji two points for four takedowns, and the other three one point. Cai Wen nods, impressed with the team's cleverness.

Name Capture the Flag Gauntlet Total
Kenji 13 2 + 8 23
Bu-Wei 9 1 + 8 18
Sunshine 4 1 + 8 13
Zedong 4 1 + 8 13
Kitaro 7 -1 + 1 + 4 11
Po 8 -1 + 4 11
Kving 8 -1 + 4 11
Kun 4 -1 + 4 7

Cai Wen re-bribes all the Iron Keys over lunch, and asks them if anyone has tried bribing them yet. Zedong has, but he didn't have enough money. Merit's guess is that Sunshine arranged to put the money together, but had Zedong be the front man.

Anto goes to sit with Kun at lunch, to exchange adventure stories. Kun really hasn't been on any adventures - he lives in the orphan house in Brass. His mother used to be a dancer in Brass, but nobody talks about his father, and there seems to have been some effort put into convincing him that he doesn't have one. He's very keen on winning the contest, as he doesn't think anyone will want to hire him without some sort of name for himself like that. He'll just have to keep the client really really safe next contest (Zedong told him next run was an escort mission).

After that, Anto tries to commune with any spirits or demons that might be around or paying attention, and learns that the Horror is watching. By flinging enough money around, he does not have to flee. When he reports this to Merit, Merit notes that "Horror" is more like a class of demon, "the Horrors," but he doesn't know what this particular horror would be. Anto tells Kun to talk to Master Zhou.

"Ah, has Master Zhou been off sitting by himself?" -Mike
"I think so." -Kurgan
"Ahah!" -Mike

Master Zhou finds himself surrounded by the Turtle Warriors, with a green-robed man addressing him.

"I am told to give you another message. Return the items, and the antidote will be yours. If you are willing to do so, I will give you a location for the trade."
"If you think that there is property that is rightfully yours, you will have to say what it is that is yours." -Master Zhou
"Return both the bracers and the seal."
"Describe them." -Zhou
"How many bracers have you stolen, how many libraries have you pillaged, that this is a point of confusion? We want the tortoise-shell bracers returned, that you wore in the Library. And we want the Great Seal of the Library returned."
"Where can we discuss these things?"
"I am discussing them now."
"I know the bracers of which you speak. That the Great Seal is missing is news to me."
"You expect me to believe that the "cache of items you came across" had one of the Great Items of the Tortoise and not the other?"

The guy agrees that they can trade the bracers for the antidote, then, and calls the first round finished. Master Zhou wants a way to contact him, and agrees that they will hear from the party by the end of the day. The guy says to contact him as they did before, and leaves.

Master Zhou briefs everyone else on his conversation. Po stops by, but Merit tells him to go away. Anto notes that the holder of the Great Seal should know where it is, so why do they think that the party has it? Could it have been planted on them? It would be most vexing to have had the Talisman of the Tortoise hidden in party loot only long enough to get everyone in trouble for it. Master Zhou and Anto think that regardless of the trade, someone needs to be Chastised for having kidnapped and poisoned Kuan-Xi.

Kitaro comes by, and is nearly waved away by Merit, but Cai Wen starts to wonder if something is up, and Master Zhou asks him what he wants. He bows, and thanks Master Zhou for his words and inspiration, and he hopes to see him again. He is just paying his respects before he leaves.

Wait, why is he leaving?

"Those in the bottom half of the competition were cut."
"Who told you that?"
"Zedong... argh!"

Kitaro storms away.

Hmm. Maybe when Po came by before, he was leaving. The group sets aside their discussion of chastisement, to look for the bottom half of the competitors. (Or, the bottom half of the top eight, as Merit keeps pointing out).

Master Zhou and Kasumi track down Kun, following the trail of upset people. Kun's intimidation powers seem to be in high gear. They catch up to him, and tell him that no one has been cut. It takes him a moment to figure it out, but before he can storm off as well, Master Zhou offers to train him. After the training, Master Zhou notes that Kun must embrace his nature before he can move beyond it.

Shuyan and Cai Wen and Xian catch up to Kving, who is being a bit more sensible and just going to the bar. She also is quick to figure out that she has been snookered by Zedong once the party asks about the cuts.

Anto and Merit look for Po, and find him, standing on the wall around the city, looking down the waterfall, a dramatic and poignant picture of despair. Anto decides that it is time for his best Master Zhou impersonation, and attempts to lead Po to wisdom.

"Why are you here?" -Anto
"I am here, seeking meaning, the next step on my path. My good friend Zedong informed me of your decision. I do not hold you responsible - you must do what is best." -Po
"Tell me of your friendship."
"I did not know him before yesterday, but we have the kinship of warriors who fought at each other's side in the first round."
"So why do you think that he would deliver the news?"
"Zedong has ways of finding things out that the rest of us do not. He has been right so far. But yes, you are right. I shall take it up with Master Zhu. He should have been so kind as to inform us in person."
"Can you think of a reason why Master Zhu would not have told you? He is very organized."
"Perhaps he was distracted by the sad fate of the princess. But you are right to remind me - I must not leave while that is not yet resolved! I will fight by your side when we go to chastise those who laid her low."
"Why don't we go back to finish out the contest? You should watch out for anything untoward."
"Right! I will be ever-vigilant for those who might cheat while I watch the remaining contestants do battle!"
"Okay, this is harder than it looks." -Anto to Master Zhou

Li Merit Master Zhou
1 1

Round Three

Only six of the eight named contenders are ready - Po is hanging around near Anto, watching for cheating, and Zedong seems to be missing as well.

Cai Wen asks the remaining group where Zedong is. Kitaro admits that he suggested that it was no longer appropriate for Zedong to continue on this path of honor.

"Forcefully?" -Cai Wen
"He reluctantly agreed." -Kitaro

Cai Wen says that Zedong's absence would be regrettable, as it would leave Po without a partner in the contest. Kitaro goes off to fetch him back, and returns in a little bit with Zedong in tow. Po is chased back into the contest, though he still seems to think that he's a plant, not a real participant, even when Zhou tells him to try to win.

The Iron Keys try to haggle a larger bribe out of Cai Wen, but he says that it won't be any more than the previous rounds. They point out that the first round was a tael, not 64 li like all the subsequent bribes have been, and he concedes and gives them a tael.

Kitaro finally explains to Po that he wasn't cut, Zedong just lied to him. Po is cross.

Kasumi overhears an angry Zedong arguing with Sunshine.

"Every time I listen to you, I get in trouble. They nearly beat me up! You can take the big bag of money - you can get in trouble for it this time." -Zedong

Merit wonders if this is part of Sunshine's plan too.

Cai Wen explains the rules of the escort mission - there are teams of two, each with three mooks to escort. Getting all your clients to the end first scores the most points (and ends the game), but taking enemies down also counts for points. A fallen team member scores only half, but the team member of whoever wins the contest will get a job offer from Cai Wen (to try to provide incentive against last-minute backstabs). Each team gets to select one of Cai Wen's companions for a lifeline - how they give aid will be up to them.

  • Kun and Kving pick Kasumi
  • Kitaro and Sunshine pick Master Zhou
  • Po and Zedong pick Anto
  • Kenji and Bu-Wei, after much discussion, decide that what they need is more tactics, and choose Li Merit. With their first action, they can "ask the old guy for a clever plan."

Master Zhou asks Sunshine and Kitaro if they will accept his instruction if they ask for it. Kitaro agrees; Sunshine agrees, if it will aid them.

"Can we ask for our lifeline now?" -Kenji and Bu-Wei
"No." -Cai Wen

The contest begins. Kun and Kving start marching forward against their opposition, both reasonably armored and defensive. They aren't fast, but they can keep their charges safe.

Kenji and Bu-Wei call for their lifeline. Merit tells Bu-Wei to carry the clients to the end, since he can keep from being hit. Kenji should threaten to chop whoever is closest - they won't want to engage him.

Po accidentally bonks himself with his staff, and Zedong shouts for a lifeline. Anto entangles one of their opposition.

Sunshine pulls out her big bag of money, and calls to the guards blocking her that she gets a two for one discount because of the Sunshine pins. She has 41 li, which brings her to 82, one more success than the 64 Cai Wen had been bribing them in previous rounds. But since they haggled a raise, it fails. She is most disappointed.

Bu-Wei gets his first client most of the way down the map - Merit's plan is working.

Sunshine calls for a lifeline, while Kitaro works on a fighting retreat, trying to lure some of the guards away. Sunshine is about to be overwhelmed by the other guard, though.

Master Zhou shows up and tells Sunshine to stand up straight, and takes one of her dice away.

"This is aid?" -Sunshine
"Welcome to my life." -Kasumi

Then, Master Zhou kicks the two guards on Kitaro halfway across the map, and tells Kitaro to pick up two of the clients and run, with double dice. Kitaro does so, as the guard takes out the now-penalized Sunshine.

One of Kenji's clients falls to the extra guard that Zhou sent their way.

The two bricks keep marching forward, but they think Bu-Wei, on the other side of the map, is beating them. They call for a lifeline from Kasumi, who leaps in and grabs Bu-Wei's nose. Shockingly, he dodges much of her strike and only loses one round.

The rest of the mission plays out.

Bu-Wei get the first client in, but loses the other two due to the extra guards on Zhou sent their way, and Kenji finally goes down in the process. Kving and Kun get all three of theirs in. Kitaro gets two in after Sunshine is down. Po and Zedong get one in.

Name Capture the Flag Run the Gauntlet Save the Client Total
Kving 8 3 20 31
Kun 4 3 20 27
Kenji 13 10 4 27
Bu-Wei 9 9 8 26
Kitaro 7 4 14 25
Zedong 4 9 8 21
Sunshine 4 9 7 20
Po 8 3 8 19

Kving wins, by virtue of the final contest, and is presented with a +5 sword and a new set of armor. Kun is promised a job offer from Cai Wen, though the Ringmaster will have to put some thought into what that should be.

Kenji thanks Merit for his plan - it certainly would have worked if Master Zhou hadn't sent the extra guards their way. Sunshine says that even though Master Zhou's aid specifically got her squished and lost them a client, he did help them other than that, and so he can have a sunshine brooch. Kitaro thanks him with less subtext.

Master Zhou tells Kun the lesson he needs to know - in order to transcend his nature, first he must embrace his nature. Kun is dubious - that seems like standard good advice, but not everyone's nature is best left unchecked. Master Zhou warns him that until he learns to harness his nature, it will always be ahead of him in his path. He says that he will think about it.

"If you had said 'until you learn to harness it, it will always be unbridled' you might have gotten a horse point." -Xian

That Last Thing

The contest is done, and bribery is nearly thwarted. Wasn't there something else, though? Oh, right, saving Kuan-Xi.

Xian, Master Zhou, and Anto are all somewhat unhappy at the prospect of rewarding this guy for poisoning Kuan-Xi. It also seems likely that there is some sort of trickery or treachery going on, since the librarians should know they don't have the seal.

A long discussion follows. Should they Get Him? Or scold him? Or both? If so, in which order? Should they beat him up and then leave the bracers on his body? Does he deserve the bracers if he is a bad guy? Does the party deserve the bracers? Maybe if he apologizes for his bad behaviour he can have the bracers? It seems unlikely that the party will be able to discern the result of a conversation before having it, so a compromise is agreed upon - they can send another note and meet for an exchange, and then, depending on how the conversation goes, they can start a fight or not.

What should the note say? It's hard to put "We want to yell at you" in a note. Should Merit send a strike team to burglarize the librarian's house while everyone is out at the meeting, and steal the antidote? (Or anything else?)

"We have four fighters and they have four fighters."
"Well, then we're even, because there's no such thing as one fighter who is better than another fighter." -Xian
"Maybe we should provoke them into a fight so we can beat them up and take all their magic items."

Kasumi finally writes the note, in an attempt to speed the argument along, trying to include everything that's been covered.

Let us converse until we are agreed upon the truth, then we will make the exchange. Master Zhou of Bear Mountain swears this is in good faith.

The note is written in plain Xiang, though Merit adds some spycraft saying "this is the only hidden message" on general principles, and then some thugs are sent to deliver the note while everyone else heads to the warehouse.

Kasumi and Shuyan hide in the shadows in the corners, and the group waits for the others to arrive. One of the Turtle Warriors looks in, goes out again, and then the Path of Knowledge and the Turtle Warriors come in, and the librarian and another dozen guys. Merit is offended by this breach of etiquette - he didn't bring his thugs. (He will later realize that this is because they are actually more like two loosely allied teams, and not one big team).

"Where are the rest of you?" -Path of Knowledge
"There are a couple hidden around the premises." -Merit

The librarian wants to know what truths it is that the party demands that they agree upon, before they return the property that was stolen? First, they want to explain how they came upon it - they just took it out of a cart that was under the purview of the Great Monkey Spirit. Was it their cart? Well, no, not really. Did they know the bracers were stolen? Well, it seemed likely that they were stolen. The Path of Knowledge wants to know all about this very interesting monkey cart, but the librarian wants to stay on target. So, there was a cart full of stolen goods, that they mostly knew were stolen goods, and they kept them? Well, no, they returned some of them. Just not this one. The group tries to explain that they were thinking of them not so much as "stolen goods" as "plots dropped on our heads", but the librarian seems to think that there is some shading of the truth going on.

So... once they had the bracers, they moved on to the Talisman?

The party protests! They haven't seen the Tortoise Talisman. Except in the library. Well, and they didn't really see it there, they just knew it was there. The librarian notes that they determined that the group had bribed librarians to seek out its location and generally case the place, prior to its disappearance. Well, yes... but only to make sure it was safe! The librarian is quite confident that this is a lie.

However, it seems to be the case that while the party was planning to steal it, they failed to do so, and they don't actually have it now.

Merit notes that he knows someone else who is seeking the Talismans, and has vast resources to pursue them. So... what do they intend to do with it, if they recover it?

"Return it to the library!" -Librarian
"Its proper place is in the library." -Path of Knowledge

The librarian looks a little suspicious at that, and Merit throws his "Good Listener" shtick in. The Path admits that he wants to use it before returning it to the Library. But the bracers are his, not the Library's. They were stolen from his vault.

The party starts peppering him with questions - can he prove they were in his vault? Where did he get them? (From the world above). Where exactly, in the World Above? Does he have a receipt?

"I do not feel I need to be interrogated about my path by thieves." -Path of Knowledge
"Well, we don't want to be interrogated by poisoners!" -Kasumi
"I am not going to reveal the secrets of the world above to just anyone. If you want to know, go there." -Path of Knowledge
"I've been to lots of places, like the World Above, the other side of the ocean..." -Xian
"Wait, what? What is on the other side of the ocean? How did you get there?" -Path of Knowledge
"How about we swap first, and then after that we can interrogate each other to our heart's content?"

No, swapping still isn't acceptable. The party thinks that poisoning and kidnapping is Not Okay. The Path of Knowledge concedes, but thinks that Stealing Privately Owned Artifacts is also Not Okay, and that it is not reasonable to expect that thieves will respond to a sternly worded note asking for the stolen property back.

Well... so it was all just a mistake of information? No, it wasn't, Xian protests. She wouldn't poison anyone no matter what misinformation she had. There is some murmuring amongst the party that not everyone in the party has the same scruples. The Path of Knowledge points out that the Vial of Eternal Sleep, while technically classed as a poison, is one that carries no actual peril to the party - Xiao Fa could make the roll trivially, and Merit has well beyond enough money to cover a poorer roll. Merit thinks his logic is flawed.

The party huddles together. Xian doesn't want to help the possible "one sage crime wave" who might have stolen the bracers in the first place. And Kuan-Xi had nothing to do with the monkey cart - she wasn't even a PC then.

"From his point of view, he doesn't know Kuan-Xi is only recently a real person. He thinks she's like the rest of us."

In the end, everyone except Xian is in favor of the deal, and Xian won't deadlock the argument indefinitely. Master Zhou and the Path of Knowledge trade the bracers for the antidote - the Path says to wet Kuan-Xi's lips, and she'll wake up in puttering (unless Jennifer continues to be sick, in which case she might sleep longer).

The librarian is glad that the difficult part has been resolved - now, what about his stolen seal? Do they really know who has it? Well, they know who was seeking it. But - shouldn't someone know where it is at all times? Yes, that was true, before the seal was broken by ninja (he glares at Kasumi suspiciously).

"Was it the House of Escalating Doom?"
"I don't know the names of the ninja!"
"Well, "Not Kasumi"."
"Then tell me who does have it!"

They give in, and tell him that they believe the ninja to have been hired by Su Song, the Imperial Cartographer, in an attempt to acquire all the talismans.

"All the talismans? So eventually he will come to blows with you." -Librarian
"We have dealt with the ninjas who were attempting to get our talismans from us."

The Path offers to find out if "Su Song" is the correct name, and the party offers assistance in recovering the Tortoise Talisman, in exchange for other assistance in the future. The librarian says he would be satisfied, if the name is correct. The Path asks himself if Su Song, the Imperial Cartographer, possesses the Talisman of the Tortoise, puts on the bracers, and leaves (followed by the four Turtle Warriors).

Xian wants to know whose plan the "poison Kuan-Xi" was. The librarian says that the Path did a lot of research, and came up with the plan, and they both agreed on it. Xian wants to know if this was research into their character and past actions? Well, their capabilities, principally. This was the only way that the two of them could confront the party at anything like equality. Xian continues to push on the question of character, and how the party might react to putting a friend in a life-threatening situation. The librarian protests - he does not think that she was in serious danger, and the party has the capability to start wars, end wars, and do any number of very dangerous and life-threatening things themselves.

"So what reason do we have to not kill you now?" -Anto
"That's a very good point." -Librarian

The librarian and his guys start backing swiftly towards the door, agreeing that Anto is correct and they should have not let their more powerful companions leave them alone here.

Everyone glares at Anto, as no one else is done either interrogating or yelling at the librarian, and tries to assure the librarian that Anto won't be killing anyone, probably.

How much did the poison cost? The librarian doesn't know - the Path went to the Ancient to acquire it. Well, that's no good. Anything that requires the Ancient is more or less automatically bad-guy territory. Shuyan comes out of hiding to help scold - leaving someone asleep forever is not unharmed! The librarian protests - they also acquired the antidote before embarking on the plan, and starts backing faster.

Merit, trying to fish for librarians with more information, says that Su Song is a servant of the Great Spider Spirit, and Spider is attempting to create the Spider Empire.

"Then renaming the city the Dragon's Throne is a poor first step."
"Argh! I want to talk to him more!" -Merit
"I want credit for returning the star to the lighthouse!" -Xian

Anyhow, the librarian notes that once the Path of Knowledge has verified the location of the Talisman, they can speak again, if they want to. But his goal is to get the Talisman back in the library, not held by adventurers, Tortoise or otherwise. Does the librarian know what the Path of Knowledge wants to do with the talisman?

"I am sure the Path wants it to speak to Tortoise. He always wants to speak to Tortoise." -Librarian

With that, the librarian makes his escape (though Merit recruits someone from his house guard).

As the party leaves the warehouse, Po, standing on a roof in the moonlight, bows.

"I am glad that the princess is safe." -Po

Then, he is gone into the night.


  • Takanata, Master Deng, and Cai Wen wander around the Jade District.
  • Cai Wen and Min Feng talk to most of the thieves' guilds and arrange for them to use little horse statues for protection. This, plus the horse statue Shen-Ji will leave in the Imperial Job, should tag the Hidden City for Horse. In exchange, Horse will provide a bunch of scrying protection for the theft.
  • Cai Wen orchestrates a social defeat of the Small Knife (head of the Pewter Thieves' Guild) by the Beggar Lord, and arranges for some good gossip about it afterwards.
  • Shen-Ji duels Shingao, throwing in a bit of bribery, and Shingao wins. That's the last 1v1 for Breaking_the_Bribery_Mechanic, and bribery breaks! Cai Wen gives a 35-success speech:
"Remember this day, my friends. You have witnessed the turning of the wheel. The Reign of Bribery came 'round to the Hidden City, and now it is gone from the Dragon's Throne, and this has happened not a day too soon.
All things have their place. Until now, the place of bribery was in every home, in every shop, in every word, with every person, in every moment. Today, you return the institution of bribery to its proper place in a civilized society -- you make it the province of venal and desperate men.
The honest citizens of this land shall have no need of it. They shall achieve their positions fairly and be acclaimed throughout the Empire. For those who seek positions of trust and responsibility for the purpose of selling their powers, let them hold out their hands from the shadows. Corruption should shrink from the light of day.
The truth is before you. The way of bribery was never necessary, or inevitable. It was in fact a tyranny most unnatural for the subjects of the Dragon Empire. Let the word go forth, that Bribery is the way of this land no more!"