|"A man who chases three rabbits will catch none."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Magpie in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run begins in Tahiti, but wanders quite a lot
It is the middle of the night in Tahiti when Wei Han wakes up with a sharp stabbing pain in the liver. Or maybe three sharp stabbing pains in the liver, the kind that suggests that three somethings crossed the Wall. He goes down to the kitchen to get something to drink, and finds Takanata is there. Takanata was painting all night, and when he fell asleep, woke with his golden I Ching reeds poking him in the belly. As the two commiserate over mysterious poky omens, Inokora Izumi comes in to grab a snack. Some of the guards had to wake her early, as there was an Incident down the road. A traveler was robbed by bandits, but is recovering now in the guard house.
- "That looks small for the Jasmine." -Takanata
- "That looks small for the Wall." -Wei Han
Wei Han and Takanata head to the guard house to speak to the injured traveler. Takanata thinks he hasn't met this particular guy, but something about his haircut is familiar. Hmm. The traveler, who introduces himself as Indus, is initially a bit evasive - thieves didn't acquire anything of particularly great value, and he was traveling to see friends. When Takanata tells him they are in the House of Exuberant Interference ("Thank all the gods!"), he is more forthcoming. Master Hiro is in need of help, but Indus's map was stolen by the bandits.
Things are not going well for the resistance to Kali's plans now. Kali has retrieved her Sankara stone by using "the sighted one," and Hiro sent Indus to seek aid. Takanata tells Indus to get some rest, and they can speak more in the morning ("Praise Ratri!"), but Wei Han is a bit more impatient, and wants to start riding for the Wall immediately. Takanata thinks riding through the night is not the best plan, but tells Wei Han to take the Shadow Quill to report when he gets there.
Subsequent searching of party loot for the second Shadow Quill takes long enough that the rest of the party (still asleep) is starting to dream impatiently of MAYBE YOU SHOULD WAKE THE REST OF THE GROUP UP. Wei Han thinks maybe he should bring someone else, so everyone else does get woken after all.
Indus says that there were at least five bandits, and he was attacked around midnight. The tale he tells sounds rather unusual, to Cai Wen's detective sense - travelers don't tend to travel at midnight, and bandits don't tend to bandit at midnight due to the lack of travelers. And the whole encounter seems to have happened by moonlight alone, and the bandits came from both sides of the road without sound and without additional light.
The bandits took Indus's money, and the map he previously mentioned, and an emergency letter (a red-dyed parchment wrapped with a blue silk cord). He doesn't know if they were trying to ambush him in particular, but finds it unlikely, as who would have known where he was?
Takanata notes that there seems to be a South-y plot (Indus) and a North-y plot (whatever Wei Han is fussed about), but there's the third path which doesn't seem to have evidenced itself yet. Does the fact that his golden reeds woke him up suggest that it's an Immortal-y plot? Possibly. Xian also notes that the right hand path is less blurry, so... maybe it's the one Takanata is supposed to be doing?
The group (plus Indus, plus Izumi) head to the scene of the ambush, and arrive just as dawn has begun to lighten the surroundings. Trackers survey what can be found - it looks like the two groups on the opposite sides of the road were coordinated in their attack, and afterwards, split up and went in two different directions - a group of about half a dozen towards the town and a smaller group deeper into the woods. It does appear that they hid in ambush for some time, long enough to have let some other travelers pass by.
At this point, the sound of a horse on the road is heard. A man in black, carrying a black staff and riding a black horse, slowly rides up.
- "Where have I seen you before?" -Wei Han
- "I'm sure I couldn't say, if indeed you have."
Despite some superficial similarities, he doesn't look as ominous as the Arbiter, or the other Shadow-touched folk. He declines to go into detail about who he is or where he is headed, but simply says he goes where the horse leads. And then, he rides off again... only to find that his horse turns, and then comes back to stop at Xian.
Ah, is this Xian, of the Sisters of Gentle Admonishment? Indeed, she is. He raps his staff on the ground and it vanishes; he hands the parcel that appears in his hand to Xian - it appears to be a blue leather dog collar. Xian is seriously baffled, but recognizes that the guy is dressed similarly to the Alchemists' Guild mages (except in black).
Takanata asks if he can arrange an appointment with the Alchemists' Guild - 21 status successes plus a shtick is sufficient, though only just. He will be contacted. With that, the rider in black rides off.
Xian continues to ponder the mystery of the dog collar, though Master Zhou recalls a clue: Lijuan has a plot hook to replace Ho's collar. Xian vaguely remembers there was ... something ... about having lost the collar that an armband could detect.
Wei Han, Kasumi, Deng, Takanata, and Indus head after the bandits that went into the forest, while Cai Wen, Zhou, and Xian head into town. (The town of Little Ivy is the one that Kasumi started out in to make friends).
Cai Wen has the Crane Talisman, so he quickly hears the most interesting gossip in town - that the Sin Brothers have been saying that they got drunk last night, and they were rich when they woke up, so it must have been magic beer. So they're getting drunk again. Finding them in the inn, they notice that one of them has a silly-looking hat. Cai Wen sits down at their table, followed by Xian, and sends Squeaky off to look for maps and letters (but alas the ferret does not find any.)
Xian thinks that some of the brothers believe in "magic beer", but some of them know better and are playing along. Xian asks if the silly hat makes the beer more magic, and has a sudden and inexplicable impulse to take the Sin brother away to find out. Wait, what? Xian persuades him into letting her try the hat on, and then spends some time flirting with all five brothers, winking at one and then the next when the first isn't looking. After one of the "magic beers", Cai Wen also notes that Xian is starting to show up on his babe detector, which she usually does not. After causing a bit more trouble between the brothers, Xian's sigma goes up by one, and a brawl starts. But then she pulls out her pipes, and the combat stops again. She is hit by another inexplicable thought, that those were the wrong pipes (and her no-combat shtick doesn't use pipes, since she doesn't have any). This is all very confusing.
- "I take off this goddamn hat." -Xian
Cai Wen pays for the brawl damages to the somewhat disapproving waitress.
Out in the forest, Deng and Wei Han are arguing about which way to go. Deng thinks that the trail leads off the path and through the most impenetrable of thickets, while Wei Han finds that stupid and unlikely. Takanata suspects Deng of being led astray, so he puts his tinfoil hat on Deng's head, but Deng still thinks his way is correct, and prevails on the others. They manage to sneak to the edge of a clearing.
- "Raise your hand if you want a hundred skill points to spend on combat skills, three battle-relevant shticks, and a group combat shtick." -Mike
Wei Han, Deng, and Kasumi all put their hands up, while Takanata bangs his head on the table. The fighters manage to talk themselves back out of it again before actually accepting, though they have to make will rolls. Indus warns Deng that he's on the ragged edge - best not to be violent.
- "Whatever you do, don't do anything." -Indus
The clearing has two guys dressed in what appears to be ceremonial Southern garb, constructing some sort of altar, but whatever they are trying to do "isn't working". They look up, gasp, and draw knives.
Takanata thinks the shrine is to Niritti, a minor outcast Southern god who is said to "make golems of men". Kasumi goes to smash the altar, and one of the guys tries to put a knife to Takanata's throat. Wei Han jumps in the way, and then grabs the guy, so the combat is quickly over - Master Zhou has one priest nerve-struck, and the other is grabbed (though not before he slashes Wei Han's throat quite badly).
The map is recovered, as well as a crimson parchment wrapped in blue silk, labeled in Senetali "open only in case of emergency".
(Back in town, Cai Wen is trying to construct some sort of scoreboard by intuition, and recovering the map appears to generate a check in one of the boxes. )
Indis appears to be more confused now, so Takanata puts his tinfoil hat on Indus's head. Indus throws it on the ground, protesting that it's not his hat, and seems even more confused than before. Wei Han investigates the map - it seems to be a nice hand-drawn map of the South, with three X's with little skulls
Both the woods group and the town group head back to Tahiti to regroup. The two unconscious priests of Niritti are given to the House guard to put in a guarded guest room, as Tahiti is lacking an actual dungeon. Indris's increased confusion is somewhat troubling, and questioning him is not very ineffective. He agrees that he's a priest, but is either evasive or forgetful about what god he serves.
Master Zhou hits him with a clue-by-four, knocking him unconscious - oops. As he's flying across the room he cries out "Vishnu!" though whether that's his personal deity or an epithet is unclear. Some healing potions wake him up, but don't cure his confusion. He wants his hat back, but Xian won't give it to him.
Wei Han is too impatient to keep stalling on other plots, so he and Cai Wen head northwards on courier-horseshoe horses, while Master Zhou trains Indus in a tai-chi-like style of non-confrontational kung fu. This cause Master Zhou to realize that Indus is not actually a priest - he's a god - but his realm is somehow disconnected. After some pondering, it seems like Krishna (known for pacifism, pipes, and lust) is a possibility.
Wei Han thinks that the people who shouldn't have come into the Empire crossed at the official Northeast Crossing at Daizhou. Cai Wen visits Chiyo, since she probably won't report them, and tells her that he thinks there may have been an unauthorized crossing last night. She looks into it, and determines that three long-range scouts crossed back last night, and all three went on leave after debriefing and left Daizhou. Their records indicate that they live in Stone Drum, the Reflected City, and Dragon's Throne. Chiyo can give Cai Wen their names, and something of a description of the three scouts. In the morning, they brief the people still in Tahiti via the duplicating paper, and ride as fast as possible for the Dragon's Throne.
Meanwhile, Takanata heads to the Golden Palace, and asks some questions about burning water. It is suggested that he check the south.
- "Near the Jasmine?"
- "Near Tortoise's place?"
- "Whose place, then?"
Maybe the "shh" was supposed to be a clue, and the person he was talking to did also suggest that he should have a buddy, for a buddy story. Maybe he needs a buddy from the House of Quiet Admonishment! Xian points out that she is from the Sisters of Gentle Admonishment - they are not really known for their silence.
Xian taunts Indus with his hat, trying to figure out what is going on there. Takanata suggests that Xian might instead return it, so she does. Indus puts it on, and then stands up, stretching and looking a bit taller than he was before. He shrugs as if to put off something confining, and then looks quite a bit less confused.
Some argument/flirtation/banter with Xian ensues, but it eventually circles back to the map. Ah, if they have found Young Master Hiro's map, then his favor has been paid for, as he was running a message for Hiro. So... which of those X's is Hiro at? Well, he's not at any of them. Those are where the three parts of the amulet are, and Hiro needs them extracted. What needs to be done with the three parts of the amulet? Indus notes that if he had three parts of an amulet, he would reassemble them. Xian points out that Indus got mugged by random bandits, so his judgement may not be the best here, and Indus grumbles that he was in disguise. (Or, "Indus Guise" as the case may be). They bound and disconnected him, via the hat, and then disposed of the hat - probably for the same reason that they didn't kill him, for a general sort of plausible deniability,
The three X's aren't all temples of Kali - one is just a fortress - but they're all Kali-related. He doesn't really know much about the amulet, though - he tries to avoid politics.
- "I find myself..." -Indus
- "...Ready to depart?" -Takanata
- "I was going to say, indebted."
But - why did Hiro have him go all this way to ask the party for help? Indus thinks that Hiro trusts them, and couldn't let anyone in the South have the amulet. What should the party do with the captured priests? Indus doesn't have much opinion on that - they caught them, so they belong to the party now.
- "You could try to ransom them back - that's always popular."
Things digress a bit more - are there countries to the south? No, just the eternal sea. Is there a god who is the scholar of everything? Well, both Kubera and Yama both know a lot about things. The party can't think of any good favors to ask for, though, and Indus/Krishna doesn't want to have another favor-to-be-named-later hanging over him, especially to people so far away, so he says that he will spend twelve days reveling and then will return. If they have a favor to request of him then, he shall do it. Otherwise, he shall go home. Can they recommend a city for reveling? Takanata recommends Jabon, to everyone else's bemusement.
Cai Wen disguises himself, and heads into the Dragon's Throne to set up a plan with the Iron Keys and the Invisible Gates to get the scout who might be headed for the Dragon's Throne, while Wei Han lies in wait on the road into the city. They've gone quickly enough that they have beaten the scout here, so Wei Han manages to grab him without too much trouble, and determines that he has been "beastmaster of men’d" into wanting to change the patrol routes to divert attention from the upcoming Summit of Clans. The changes that this scout wants to make are suggestive as to whether the summit will or won't be - but this alone isn't enough to indicate exactly where.
Meanwhile, Master Zhou, Kasumi, and Xian water gate to Bear Mountain. Master Zhou checks in with Yanzi, but things are relatively quiet here. He also checks what Broken Sword and Yue Mei can tell him about the Beastmaster of Men's evil plans, but they were in the North longer ago than that. They could go back to see what they can find out, but Master Zhou is worried that they will also get beastmastered.
They get to the Reflected City. Zhou sends Xian to the Dragon Army bars to find out stuff about the returning scout. He got stationed all the way on the other side of the country, probably got too close to the recon unit’s captain's daughter, and got transferred to the other side of the world.
Burning and Digging
Also meanwhile, Takanata and Master Deng start poking around the Strand. Following Takanata's butterfly-wandering, they eventually reach a small pagoda, where Pai looks surprised to see Takanata.
- "What are you doing here?" -Pai
- "Looking for burning water." -Takanata
- " How do you even know about that... oh, auguries. Of course."
Pai starts to explain that she had been planning to talk to the head monk, but her exposition is interrupted by a lot of screaming from inside the pagoda. Everyone runs inside - there is a central area with a small tended flame burning in it - and several monks in burning robes and other people throwing bottles of burning liquid at the monks.
Master Deng chops everyone with a bottle of burning liquid several times - between the two hundred points of damage he does to all of them and the bottles of burning liquid which set them all on fire, they perish pretty quickly. Well, whoever they were, they've stopped attacking, though the question of who they were is a bit harder to solve now. The temple is also on fire now, but between the monks and the visitors, they can extinguish the flames. Pai looks like she is itching to start repairs, but restrains herself.
Pai turns to the high monk, glaring - now does he understand the danger of the powers you are messing with?
- "You were warned, and you persisted in using the burning water, and this is what comes of it." -Pai
The monk protests - the burning water is just to keep the eternal flame burning, but they will defend the temple more fiercely in the future. Takanata offers to provide a fire sorcerer to set them up with an eternal flame instead of using the burning water, which the monks happily accepts.
Pai turns to Takanata - so why is he here? Auguries, but about what? Well, why is Pai here? She says she came to convince the monks to stop using the burning water - it leads places that she doesn't approve of. Who were the attackers? Pai has no idea - she assumes they were Takanata's plot, not hers.
So... why do the dead guys know where the burning water comes from? That could still be a problem for Pai. Takanata suggests that they bring in a natural philosopher, but Pai thinks that is the worst idea ever.
After a bit more confusion about exactly what the plot is, Takanata and Deng follow the tracks of the attackers back to Shrouded Pond, which is much busier than the last time anyone visited. There are six new buildings, and people are pushing carts of dirt around.
Takanata starts gathering information to try and find out what is going on, but is quickly intercepted by a man in green armor and silver tracery.
- "Sir! If you have official concerns, you should consult the Hall of Poetic Justice. Move along, please."
Deng wanders over to spy on the diggings, and sees that it goes about a quarter mile back to a pair of double doors. '
- "Sir! I am going to have to bring you in."
Deng isn't quite arrested, but it is made clear that any more spying will result in serious consequences.
Meanwhile, back in the Craneslake Heights, Xian, Kasumi, and Master Zhou are trying to locate the second scout. Asking around, the rumor has that a local Dragon Army captain transferred him to the other side of the world in order to get him away from courting the captain's daughter. So it seems plausible that instead of planning to talk to the captain, he'll get the daughter to sneak him in in order to change the patrol routes.
Xian finds out where the captain lives, and Kasumi hands off the Sankara Stone of Night to Xian so she can sneak more effectively. She sneaks into Dragon Army HQ to copy the patrol routes, and then sneaks into the captain's house to keep an eye on things.
The captain and his wife argue a lot, and then the captain stomps off. After that, the scout sneaks in the back door. After spending some time with the daughter, he pockets a set of keys, and then sneaks away again, followed by Kasumi. He holes up in a different house, but late that night, he leaves again, heading this time for the Dragon Army headquarters. He makes some notes on the patrol routes, and then leaves again. Kasumi goes to take a look, but she has already given the copies to Xian, so she can't compare. She makes a new copy, and goes to confer with Xian and Master Zhou.
They write up a set of routes to look like the original, and then Kasumi replaces the scout-modified set with the copied copy.
Then, the scout is leapt upon and captured.
Down in the Strand, Takanata speculates that the diggers are digging burning water out of the ground somehow, but the high monk doesn't know the details of where it actually comes from. Takanata persuades the high monk into asking that Takanata look into why the pagoda was attacked - but the monk suggests that he bring an invigilator with him to avoid any appearance of impropriety. He agrees to make the request officially, in exchange for Takanata agreeing to get him a sorcerous eternal flame.
Takanata asks Pai why they don't like people using burning water, and she says it's for the same reason that they don't like them making weapons out of fireworks: they're pushing on the rules of the Empire. It's her job to prevent that. No, "job" isn't right. It's her choice to prevent it.
Takanata and Deng head to Nine Terraces to look for an invigilator.
The two captured scouts are given to temples of the Clear Melting Sect in Daizhou and the northern Heights, respectively. However, when Cai Wen and Wei Han finally head to Stone Drum to try to find the third scout, there is no sign of him on the road and no word of him back at his original home. As far as everyone in Stone Drum knows, he's been assigned to the Northeast Command.
Wei Han writes up a report (for 14 successes) on the three scouts:
He has the report delivered to the captain in Daizhou, hopeful that this will count as helping an enemy.
Cai Wen thinks the final state of the scoreboard is approximately: