Water and Fire
|"A horse with two masters is always skinny; the ship with two captains sinks."|| The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place on the way to the Shrouded Isle and on the Isle.
On the Land
Min Feng, Anto, and Xiao Fa begin to make plans to take the Horse to the Shrouded Isle. Kuan-Xi, more confused about the plan, asked for a reminder as to why. She’s told that it’s because then maybe Phoenix can cut a deal with Horse to pull him away from Spider. Min Feng has the blockade maps, so they should be able to just get past the Dragon Navy. Or they could get the fog ship. Or a cursed ship, Anto remarks, but nobody else is keen on that since Xian isn't in the run. Anto thinks about taking the outboard motor as well, but Wei Han has already put dibs on that for his seahorse hunt.
There are several ships anchored down by the docks, and there's a fogged in dock down at the end. Min Feng goes to talk to the crew of the Moon's First Daughter, and the third mate notes that Kiri hasn't returned from her leave. They may be leaving her behind on this trip. The mate tells Min Feng that for a private passage (four people and a horse), it'll be three li each; perhaps as low as two if her naval charts are helpful.
The group heads to the stables to talk to Li Merit's horse, and tells Horse that the plan is to head to the Shrouded Isle at dawn. He seems a little rattled (at least, compared to his normally optimistic demeanor) and asks if the group has any offerings they can bring for the Phoenix? Min Feng assures him that they have pull with her. How do they plan to get there? Min Feng says they'll be running the blockade. Horse thinks that's particularly daring, but then realizes that that's why Anto is coming along - good job! The silence fades. The little group is puzzled by that, especially Anto. What does Horse know that Anto doesn't? He's not normally a blockade-running superstar. Is the blockade manned by angry spirits? Sadly, Horse has left to make preparations and so isn’t around to ask.
Anto asks if Kuan-Xi needs to be in disguise. What's the current state of things with her family? Well, she can probably avoid her family if she goes home this time. And there's been a stern talking to Katsu, so there should be no more kidnapping. When she went home after being released by the Whale, there was a lot of shouting, and her mother eventually agreed that there would be no more kidnapping. Min Feng is appalled - her parents were helping kidnap her? Why? Kuan-Xi explains that she's officially betrothed to Minoru Katsu, so as far as her family is concerned, bringing her home to be married wasn't really kidnapping kidnapping. But anyway, she'll be perfectly respectful when she's home, and if she stays out of her mother's notice, it should be fine. Her mother really hates the Song of the Phoenix - they had a falling out, when there were some sort of recruiting shenanigans when she was young. Min Feng wonders which branch was doing the recruiting. Kuan-Xi says her mother would never say, but it was probably Melody.. Anyway, as long as she behaves reasonably in public and doesn't hang out with other people known to be members of the Song, it should be fine. Okay, incognito it is. Anto gets disguised too, just in case.
When the group heads to the docks in the morning, there's a somewhat smirky-looking horse there - not Merit's horse. There's a young woman arguing with the first mate - she apparently also wants passage to the Shrouded Isle, but the ship has been privately hired already. It turns out to be Da-Xie, so Min Feng includes her as part of their group. When the horse gets to the gangplank to the Fog Ship, he looks somewhat taken aback.
- "Seriously? This is the boat? Really? Okay, I am proud to be a part of this plan. You guys are bold."
- "Given that your safety is on the line with ours, is there a reason we shouldn't be taking this boat?" -Anto
- "My safety what now?"
- "Well, we'll all be in the drink if something goes wrong, right?" -Anto
- "No, no, I'm sure it's fine. Why smuggle one power onto the island when you can smuggle four or five?"
- "Wait, what?" -Anto
Horse notes that himself, Anto, Da-Xie, Kuan-Xi, and the boat all count as biggies.
- "The renegade Phoenix princess slipping past the Whale on his own friend's boat! It's brilliant!" -Horse
- "I feel so insignificant." -Min Feng
Min Feng tries to haggle down Captain Xie with her copy of the blockade schedules. Captain Xie notes that it is probably his fault for letting the crew make the deals, but when passage was booked for four people and a horse, he did not realize that the horse was that particular horse. Some things are … hard to hide when sneaking.
- "Should we disguise the horse, too?" -Anto
Min Feng doesn't think she can help with that sort of disguise, but Xiao Fa says he has pass without disturbance, which might help.
Horse notes that he's going to need a favor. Spider paid for him to communicate freely all month on the Isle of Beauty. But to communicate elsewhere would require a boon. What can they pay? Min Feng says they'll arrange to run the blockade for him. He says that'll work as long as they're all over running the blockade themselves without his help. Min Feng is confident that they can handle it.
- "I have a bad feeling about this." -Anto
- "As you should." -Xiao Fa
So, why does Da-Xie want to go to the Shrouded Isle? Is she planning to turn it into a Southern country to get back at Wei Han? Well, kind of. The party has told her there's going to be a Southern sorcerer causing trouble there at midwinter, and she can't travel there at midwinter if it's not a southern country. Can the party introduce her to the court? She needs to set something up - maybe if the Firelord recognized her as in charge of something defensive? Maybe Kuan-Xi can arrange that?
On the Water
The Moon's First Daughter sets sail, and the party notices that it's less silent than usual - there are more creakings and normal ship sounds than they've heard before. Captain Xie says to do it right, the journey will take three days. One day to get there, one day to get past the Dragon Army, and one day to get past the rest of the blockade. There are a couple of options for that last - they can try it Xiao Fa's way, or try it the Captain's way, or perhaps they can get some help from their friend (i.e. Horse), or Anto. It seems the spiritual part of the blockade is stronger than the real way, and with so much spiritual weight on board, it'll be a significant challenge.
Xiao Fa says Horse can't assist with this, but they discuss the other options. Captain Xie can take the ship through... waters the blockade isn't paying attention to. Xiao Fa, on the other hand, might be able to divert the attention being paid. Just sneaking by physically will be seen by... others. (He points up). Does Anto have that covered if anything weird happens? Xiao Fa wonders how the spiritual portion of the blockade manifests. Captain Xie says it depends - it could be a storm, or getting lost. Anyway, what does Xiao Fa suggest? If they want to avoid the attention of... large beings... they should probably not go the Captain's way. Last time they went in the waters outside, they talked to Whale, and there were hostages, and it was a mess. Everyone wants to avoid that.
On the second day of travel, Captain Xie brings Xiao Fa up on deck, noting that they have reached the place in the sea where the spiritual part of the blockade leaks most into this world. Xiao Fa goes up to the front. Anto and Kuan-Xi hang out in the front too. Hopefully this will keep anything from seeing Kuan-Xi.
Metaphysically, things seem to Xiao Fa that they are approaching a shimmering curtain, sailing slowly and carefully towards it in a GIANT BATTLE TANK, which Xiao Fa is trying to smooth out the chi footprint of.
- "There are a lot of dice on this ship, and most of them are not yours."
The group asks Da-Xie to try to be small - she'll do her best. Xiao Fa is also doing his best trying to make things flat, and the ship is approaching the curtain, when a moonbeam hits the ship, and Captain Xie comes forward.
Everyone can hear Captain Xie's words; only Anto can hear the Moon, which is melodious but seems to be speaking words he can only just catch the gist of.
- "A tone of disappointment and confusion." -the Moon
- "No, Great Lady, their passage was paid for." -Captain Xie
- "No, the Phoenix girl's freedom was purchased."
- "Stern responsibility."
- "Yes, the Horse is... unusual, but we think that we can get him through."
- "A tone of thwapping upside the head"
- "Absolutely not! I would never dare bring a Dragon in these waters!"
A moonbeam hits Xiao Fa, and the captain looks horrified. A whale's blowhole goes Whoosh off to the side of the ship.
- "Sorrowful resignation."
- "I understand. Perhaps all may yet be well."
The captain bows deeply towards the Whale.
- "Greetings, Lord. We ask naught but the free passage that has been paid for." -Captain Xie
- "What is *that*?" -Whale
- "What is he pointing at?"
- "He's not pointing, he's a whale." -Mike
Xiao Fa bows deeply as well.
- "We bid you good greetings, Lord." -Xiao Fa
- "Your kind have not been seen in these waters in a long time. Where do you come from?" -Whale
Xiao Fa bows the bow of requesting forbearance, and notes that while they have been to many places, perhaps the Whale speaks more specifically of where he gained his Touch? There is a whoosh indicating that Xiao Fa should go on.
- "From the World Above."
- "And Spider allowed this?"
- "Spider does not have everything his way. No, sir, he didn't."
- "Captain Xie, you appear to have filled the ship with my enemies. Do you bring me a gift?"
- "My apologies, Lord, but these travelers have paid for safe passage, so I am bound to assist them."
- "I see. You understand that your assistance, while significant, is not sufficient to oppose me."
- "I understand."
- "If that's the way it must be..."
Xiao Fa bows again, with the bow of respectfully requesting to speak.
- "You have something else to offer?"
- "It was never our intent to make the Captain pay in this way for your displeasure. We do not in any way seek to quarrel with you, and while we foolishly do not have anything suitable now to offer you..." -Xiao Fa
The party quickly goes through their pockets. Anto's pockets have the best possibilities - he has a vial of spirit water from the Jasmine in the World Above, and an ice chip of doom.
Anto goes to whisper to the captain "in earshot of the moon" that he has a small piece of the Moon's power, and offers him the ice chip. The captain looks at it quizzically, offers it up to the Moon. (Somewhere far away, the Butterfly Talisman thumps, and the rest of the ice chips of doom in the party loot go away as well). The Moon tells the Whale that she does not want the ship smote - they have a long-standing agreement, that the ship is permitted to carry people over the water who have paid a fair and equitable price.
- "This one has paid a fair and equitable price. And this one has paid a fair and equitable price. And this one need pay no price to go where he will. But let us hear from these two about the fairness of the price they have paid."
- "I'm sorry, but, which two?" -Anto
- "Oh, thank God." -Xiao Fa.
- "The Traitor and the servant of the Betrayer."
Happily, that last translates in Anto's head to "Horse" and "Dragon's Pawn". Everyone briefly boggles. Wait, Dragon is the Betrayer? Not Spider? Oh, right, he's the one who threw Whale out of the Cycle. Everyone forgot that. And Horse...? Oh, he's a much more recent traitor, because of the riding whales/seahorses.
- "What is a fair price for the servant of he who betrayed me?"
- "Undoubtedly, unfortunate decisions were made. But it has been made clear to this one that it is the nature of those of you who dwell above us that your interplays amongst each other are not only beyond us, they are in fact hidden from us. This one cannot speak to what may or may not have transpired in the unknown past, and in fact, to justify in his patron's mind what was done. It is somewhat (one hopes you will forgive) unreasonable to expect one as fleeting as this one to have information and opinion on what was done thousands of years before. However, that being said, this one recognizes that you were the wronged party, and were it in my ability to put you in a place where you could confront and speak to Dragon about it, I would argue for such a thing to be possible." -Xiao Fa
- "Your offer is accepted."
- "And now let the more recent traitor speak."
- "Whoa! Let's stop with the T word..." -Horse
- "May I speak?" -Min Feng
- "Great Spirit, I believe you have perhaps applied the traitor to the wrong spirit. I believe the Spider made a deal fully intending to take the boon you gave him and pass it off to the Horse. The Spider does not care about you or Horse, only about what happens to the Butterfly."
Horse adds his own persuasion to Min Feng's - Horse and Whale are both the victims here! The two are mostly able to persuade Whale that Horse didn't know the details about the deal beforehand, though Horse lets Min Feng do most of the talking, only occasionally jumping in with an aggrieved camaraderie with Whale. Whale tells Horse that this is not over, but he does not want to expend the resources to take him down, which he could, it being his home turf. Horse agrees totally Whale could take him here.
Before Whale leaves, he notes that Xiao Fa should tell his patron that Whale is displeased. There is no message for Min Feng and Kuan-Xi's patron - She already knows how Whale feels. Anto might consider better who he consorts with, but Whale will let him pass because of the agreement with Moon.
After that, getting through the shimmering curtain is something of an anticlimax. Xiao Fa bows before Captain Xie in abject apology. Min Feng apologizes as well - she didn't realize that this would be a problem. Captain Xie notes it hasn't been a problem for a long time, so it is not surprising that Min Feng did not think of it. (He does seem to think that Xiao Fa should have thought of it, though.) Anto wonders if they will have to face the whole thing again to get out, but Captain Xie reassures them that this has been the trouble for the whole trip.
As the Moon's First Daughter heads towards land, people on deck see a tiny Dragon Army patrol boat with a broken mast limping towards the larger ship. This boat isn't on the patrol schedule, but it appears to be having trouble. The group decides to claim that this is a local ship (renamed the Grey Lady), belonging to a cousin of Kuan-Xi's, and Min Feng disguises herself.
The patrol boat tries to claim the authoritative high ground and ask questions, but Min Feng keeps offering it aid, assistance, and rescue. Xiao Fa and Anto climb down to help with first aid, and the soldiers try to ask questions about what they're up to, but they both defer to their mistress.
The patrol boat's captain is finally worn down to accept that the Grey Lady is here to rescue them, but he is beginning to have suspicions that Min Feng is not in fact a mere cousin Suzuki, but someone a bit more impetuous. He hints that there has been some scandal about House Suzuki recently. Min Feng claims that even if such a thing were true, she couldn't gossip about the House, and surely the Dragon Army wouldn't want to stoop to such gossip either. He seems to be fishing for a favor from House Suzuki for his silence, but in the interests of speeding things up, Min Feng gives him twenty-five li instead. Da-Xie doesn't seem to be as much of a favorite with the soldiers as she normally is, much to her chagrin.
On the Land
- "I can guarantee you a less eventful trip back, as long as you don't bring anyone new back. If you try to bring the Great Phoenix Spirit, we will Have Words." -Captain Xie
The Moon's First Daughter puts in to a secluded cove, and the captain says he'll wait there for them to return.
Kuan-Xi and Min Feng go to check in with their secret masters, the Song of the Phoenix. They brief them on Mola Ram being here at midwinter, and say that they've brought the Southern Wall here. That requires a lot more explanation.
Unfortunately, the Song's influence with the Firelord is waning, in great part thanks to the machinations of Lady Suzuki, Kuan-Xi's mother. They will probably not be able to influence him sufficiently to get Da-Xie appointed to a court post, at least not in a short time. Essentially, most of the people of the Isle blame the Firelord for the blockade, but the Firelord mostly blames the Song. (Do the people of the island know about the Song? Some of the nobles do. They're a semi-known-about secret society; some nobles join and it makes them more political, while others drop out of politics entirely after joining.) The blockade has politically weakened the Firelord, and it is becoming clear that the time of succession is rapidly approaching. Could Kuan-Xi arrange for something? She was hoping to remain inconspicuous, unfortunately.
Anyway, in addition to that, they've brought the very large Horse Spirit here to make deals with the Great Phoenix Spirit - maybe they can get him to not help Spider. Interesting - the Phoenix can't ask for anything to help Dragon, but maybe "don't help Spider" is legitimate. Min Feng asks them what other Great Cycle Spirits should be on the chopping block to unseat besides Spider - they'll have to put that to the other sisters, and will take a while to argue about.
How can they speak to the Phoenix? The best way would be to wait for the Day of the Phoenix and do the standard ceremony, but they obviously don't have that kind of time. Kuan-Xi proudly reminds the others that Anto can talk to her - well, yes, but they'll need to get her attention first. Min Feng notes that they also have a Dragon with them. Intriguing. The sisters suggest that they take the Wu Xing and the Dragon up to a volcano... if you can produce a significant enough offering, then it should be reborn in flame and come out just fine.
- "Of course, if she doesn't find the offering interesting, then you have to find a new one."
Kuan-Xi does not approve of Anto being pushed into a volcano. She's sure Xiao Fa alone would be sufficient. Though something like a phoenix feather is traditional. The sisters think Kuan-Xi would also be an interesting offering, since the Phoenix saved her once before, but she is not keen on being pushed into a volcano herself either.
- "We usually let the Melody folks jump..."
Min Feng, hoping for a better offering, opens her lacquered egg. It has a bracelet with a fire opal in it.
Min Feng and Kuan-Xi head back out to meet with the others again. Xiao Fa, a little nonplussed at Kuan-Xi being willing to throw him under the volcano bus, checks with the Dragon whether jumping into the volcano is a good idea. The answer comes through very clearly - yes, it is. Go and bring the bracelet and give it to the Phoenix yourself he is told. Huh, Kuan-Xi was right!
The group (including Da-Xie) heads up to the volcano, and Xiao Fa, refusing the indignity of being pushed in, jumps down with the fire opal. Anto is pretty sure that an opening to elsewhere grabbed him, but everyone else thinks it looks like Xiao Fa vanishing into the lava. There is a long long pause, as people begin to wonder whether this was a bad idea. Suddenly, a phoenix flies from the volcano, spreads its wings, and bursts into flames, from which Xiao Fa emerges. His robes are red now.
The Horse, not nearly as casual as he usually is, bends before the Phoenix. The Phoenix nods to him, and then turns to the two members of the Song. Anto finds himself speaking for the Phoenix.
- "What would you ask of me, daughters?"
- "It has come to our attention that the noble Horse spirit has been attempting to get into the Cycle, and has been negotiating with Spider and Whale, so we have brought him that he might negotiate with you instead. Oh, and we also brought the Southern Wall." -Min Feng
The Phoenix asks what Horse wishes, and the Horse explains that he would seek to add his aspect to her Isle, though obviously he would never presume so much as to raise up his attribute here. They negotiate for a bit, and the Phoenix finally says that if he agrees to cease offering aid to the Spider in the future, she will arrange for two volcanoes to erupt on a future date that Horse is aware of.
- "... How does that add my aspect?" -Horse
- "If you cannot figure out how to use that foreknowledge, then this is not the game you should be playing." -Phoenix
Horse, perhaps outmaneuvered, but definitely not admitting that he's not up to the game, agrees to the deal.
Next, Phoenix asks Da-Xie if she wishes her blessing. Da-Xie, somewhat less formal than Horse, says yes, Great Lady, that would be helpful. She is told that it will be needful in the days to come, and is not at her best in the midwinter. Phoenix tells her that she will have to arrange to a post herself, but should she succeed, Phoenix will grant her three days of summer when she asks for them.
Also, Phoenix tells Min Feng to not underestimate the utility of the inheritance that was arranged for her mother to provide to her. To Xiao Fa, she says he already knows what she would say. Then the phoenix dives back into the caldera of the volcano. (Next time Anto sees a Great Spirit in person, he should remind the GMs that he's also seen Spider and Phoenix.)
Da-Xie remarks that she has only met the Phoenix once before - when she and the Butterfly and the Serpent came to tell her what her job was. The group notes that Wei Han hasn't mentioned meeting with Bear and Crane and Dog, but Da-Xie thinks that would have been a long long time ago. He's the same guy, getting grumpier and grumpier, but she's reborn anew, like summer. That's how it works - doesn't Wei Han ever explain this stuff to them?
When the group gets back down the mountain, the Song says that they've arranged an audience with the Firelord. The group ponders who the best person to meet with him should be. The Wu Xing is certainly interesting, but his personal status is low enough that politically, he comes across as a useful pawn, not a player. How about Da-Xie herself? She says her status is based on how close she is to the wall. Surely he explains that, doesn't he? Though it doesn't work on everyone - mostly Imperial people. Min Feng might be the best - she can play on reflected status from Takanata, and is good at persuasion. Kuan-Xi says she'll go get rooms at an inn while Min Feng is with the Firelord, and has to be persuaded down from the best inn in town.
Min Feng and Da-Xie head to the Shrouded Citadel to speak to the Firelord, and Min Feng explains about the threat to the Isle from southerners beyond the Wall who wish to bind one of the Volcano spirits. But appointing Da-Xie to a post of defense would help mystically, as she is tied to the Southern Wall. Min Feng is passably persuasive, but the lack of anything other than her word regarding this plan is a bit difficult. However, the part about Da-Xie is something he can verify, so the Firelord leaves them, to gaze in the Smoked Glass. They wait for several hours until he returns.
- "While the Smoked Glass cannot show the future, it is clear that this one is more than she appears." -the Firelord
He gives her a minor title related to defense of the fortifications, and notes to Min Feng that her grandfather should expect that as the game of houses evolves here on the island, he may be called upon to perform the Firelord a small service. The Firelord says he'll also take other precautions against a Southern incursion - though how could there be problems when they are so protected by the Dragon Army?
Kuan-Xi sends a message from an appallingly adequate inn, and the party regroups. Xiao Fa thinks that Da-Xie's status has increased, though it isn't evident for anyone else.
Anto wants to go and visit the Bandits of the Double Caldera, while Min Feng wants to talk to Lady Suzuki. The party splits up again.
Min Feng botches her status roll, and only manages to meet with a younger cousin to begin with. Min Feng says that she has news of Kuan-Xi ("she's okay"), but that she doesn't have plans to return soon. She hints that she might be able to say more of Kuan-Xi's doings, and the cousin says that Lady Suzuki would be interested in hearing about that. A little while later, Lady Suzuki enters, and offers Min Feng tea and refreshments. This is an interesting shift from standard etiquette, which would involve servants.
Lady Suzuki leans on Min Feng to persuade Kuan-Xi to have some sense - are they close enough friends for that? Min Feng allows as they might be friends, but that Kuan-Xi is really pretty stubborn. Lady Suzuki notes that if her family responsibility is not sufficient to the task, tell her that her uncle Jiro, who had been also seen as a significant contender, has been rapidly losing support in favor of Minoru Osamu.
- "If she wishes our house to have any say in the future of the governance of this island, then she will need to seal the alliance." -Lady Suzuki
- "Or end the blockade!" -Min Feng
Lady Suzuki boggles, but yes, if Kuan-Xi can end the blockade herself or in a way that gets House Suzuki the credit, then that would go a long way towards restoring her favor in the family.
- "Those whom she is associated with also wish to end the blockade." -Min Feng
- "Oh, them." -Lady Suzuki
- "No, not them. Most of the people I speak of are not on the island."
- "But Kuan-Xi is, is she not?" -Lady Suzuki, hitting Min Feng with conversational interrogation
- "Not for long - she'll be leaving shortly."
Lady Suzuki says she has some things to arrange, but welcomes Min Feng to the hospitality of the house as long as she likes.
Meanwhile, Anto, Kuan-Xi and Da-Xie have headed into the hills to look for the Bandits of the Double Caldera. They make a dramatic entrance, and Anto asks after their quest. He briefs them on Mola Ram, and notes that the last spirits they went after were the Pearl River and the Forest of Chin. Well, the Mountain of Fire is the biggest volcano; and there's another that's almost as large.
Da-Xie is not particularly keen on the bandits, as she is pro-Dragon Army herself, but the bandits assure her that the Dragon Army here is being kind of oppressive. She can probably influence individual soldiers when she's near them, but she can't change army policy. However, she thinks keeping southerners out is more important, so they might need to put up with a little oppression in order to insure that.
Xiao Fa meditates on why he cares about Da-Xie's status when other people don't; he thinks it has to do with his Destiny V shtick.
The group heads back towards the capital, but Min Feng is hiking out into the hills herself to intercept them.
- "The good news is that if we can lift the blockade and credit House Suzuki, that'll sort things out. The bad news is that your mother sussed out you're here, so we should go."
The group heads to the cove where the Fog Ship is - there seems to be a lot of fog now, and soldiers wandering around in it.
- "Keep your eyes open, she's probably trying to get to the ship."
Horse offers to take them in, but they think they can handle it. Min Feng starts sneaking in, to tell the Fog Ship to meet them three coves over. She's spotted just as she gets close to the water, and jumps in to swim for the ship. The rest of the party hears some shouting, and some splashing, as the soldiers (who seem to be better swimmers than Min Feng) start catching up to her. However, once they catch her, she proves to not actually be Kuan-Xi, so this is mostly okay, and they can't really arrest her for swimming.
Anto offers Horse a deal that he can act directly in the world, but only to allow them to get onto the boat, and only for ten minutes. Horse doesn't think "act directly but only for the stuff you want, not the stuff I want" is much of a deal for him, and counter-offers that to include ten minutes of running around for him. Anto counter-offers that plus the next time they make a deal, Horse tells him what the catch is.
Horse agrees, and throws in for free that the catch this time is that Min Feng had mostly already solved the problem. Horse runs them all to the new meeting cove which Min Feng arranges by swimming the rest of the way to the Fog Ship, and then dashes off to run around the island a number of times and up and down the several volcanoes. He thinks he has an idea about the eruptions - lava roads! Luckily, he knows someone who is in good with fire spirits, so it shouldn't be a problem.The party goes back aboard the Moon's First Daughter and as it sets sail for the Isle of Beauty, people try to get Xiao Fa to tell them more about his encounter with the Phoenix and being reborn in fire. He blushes and says it was very unusual, but doesn't explain further.