A Busy Day
|"Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath."|| The run begins on the Day of the Tiger in the month of the Tiger in the eleventh Year of the Spider since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival in the Hon'eth Arcade.
The Silken Wings circus is getting ready to move out again after the week of "practice" (or vacation) following the "troubles", and last-minute issues are dealt with. Xiao Fa scolds Wei Han for walking on his broken foot (broken on Shen-Ji's trip to the swamp).
Lijuan declares that she has a message for Master Deng from his father - she sufficiently resembles an urchin that she was hired to deliver the message. Zhi-Hao visits his father, and learns that his uncle, a merchant in the Hon'eth Arcade, has fallen into debt, and his father wishes Zhi-Hao to deliver nine li (all Venerable Deng can spare) to him. He gives Zhi-Hao an address, which is near to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. Zhi-Hao wonders what his uncle does for a living, and Venerable Deng comments that what he does not do is work hard for a living, which is probably what has brought him to these straits. Zhi-Hao also takes the opportunity to warn his father that he has had several more bad interactions with the League of the Hidden Hand and other tongs, and they are rather unhappy with him. So Venerable Deng should be careful, in case they decide to take out their unhappiness on Zhi-Hao's family.
- "I will be careful, but I think that if your enemies are unhappy with you, you are doing something right." -Venerable Deng
There is a dress rehearsal before the circus leaves, to make sure everyone's act is ready to go, and to determine who will be part of a smaller show for the head of the House of Benevolent Oversight (that is, the King of the Hon'eth Arcade). Lijuan notes that in addition to her normal sharpshooter act, she and Xian have a comedy routine!
- "I should ask dumb questions, right, you said those were funnier?" -Lijuan
- "I meant Lijuan-regular." -Xian
It proves to be a bit improvisational, by which we mean "there is only one line written yet" and as a routine, falls a bit flat.
- "When I was born I was so surprised, I didn't talk for a year and a half. Ta-dah!" -Lijuan
- "You have to actually buy that shtick." -Kasumi
Lijuan's sharpshooting is quite a bit better than that, lucky for her. Shen-Ji has been practicing sword-swallowing, Wei Han shows off his feats of strength as an intro to Kasumi's acrobatics act, and Xiao Fa has put together a shadow-puppet storytelling piece that goes with Akimoto's act. The three party members chosen for the private performance are Shuyan, Kasumi, and Xian.
Then, Ringmaster Te, who has been unable to find Li Merit, presents three letters to the party, given to him by Her Majesty.
- "Their majesties note that you have certain experience at gathering information while travelling with the circus. Due to the circumstances of the troubles which are no longer at all recent in terms of auspicious omens that they cast on our current embarkation, they would appreciate if you could keep your eyes out, on these travels, for information on things in the northern kingdoms and parts further north than that."
There are three letters provided:
- A sealed scroll from Ti Jun. When opened, it will confer +10 temporary skill in any chosen KS.
- A sealed scroll from Ti Wren. When opened, it will contain three suggestions, one of which is particularly and providentially helpful.
- A sealed scroll from Ti Lao. When opened, it will contain an indication as to whether or not a particular course of action is appropriate at this time.
Lijuan says goodbye to Butler-san and Hikaru, the House Tokai huntsman. He says that if she does him proud on this trip, he will arrange for a lesson with the Huntress, Ming Lieren, when she returns. Shuyan says goodbye to Madame Sisen, who has no particular advice other than to keep the snakes warm in the north. Master Koji talks briefly to Xiao Fa, concerned about Anto, and Master Kwan advises Xiao Fa that if he passes through the Roof of the World, that he be sure he wishes to know the answers to any questions that he asks.
Zhi-Hao talks to Ti Jun; he has need of some advice.
- "How do you know when a sacrifice is appropriate in the furtherance of one's duty?" -Ti Jun
- "When that which is gained by the sacrifice is larger than the loss to future duty that one gives up in making the sacrifice." -Zhi-Hao
- "...Is there some decision that I can help with?"
- "You already have."
Wei Han also stops by to ask Ti Jun if there are any particular orders that the Prince has for him. Ti Jun thinks for a moment and says that he thinks Lord Takanata and Master Yang will be the most efficacious in learning about the North, so Wei Han should keep them safe. And defend the calendar, of course. Speaking of defending the calendar, Wei Han also takes one last pass by the capital's graveyard - there are prayer beads and flags everywhere, and nothing seems to be setting off his undead warning senses, so he takes that as a good sign.
The circus junk is decked out with ribbons and streamers, and sets off from the Harbor of Shining Reflections amidst cheering crowds on the dockside. Up on a hill overlooking the harbor, a few people spot a woman waving a bright silk scarf in the wind. Lijuan is the only one with sharp enough eyes to recognize her as "that silky master of perfect distinguishment lady."
Once the junk reaches what the first mate says is as deep as it is going to get, Lijuan throws overboard a bunch of fish that she bought before embarking, and calls to the Not-So-Great Whale Spirit.
- "Here whale whale whale. I'm glad you're not angry!" -Lijuan
- "At you." -Xian
- "At me."
There are some shadows that move in the sea under the boat, but nothing else happens. Xiao Fa regards the shadows suspiciously - they are certainly very large.
Other than this brief encounter with possible whales, the voyage is uneventful, and the ship arrives at the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. There are various functionaries waiting for the circus, who escort the wagons to the Plaza of Deliberate Celebration. The circus hands start setting up the tents, and Ringmaster Te tells the performers that they can wander for a bit, but need to be back by six.
Plots, Other Plots, and Still More Plots
Zhi-Hao heads off to his uncle's house. Merchant Deng is surprised to see him, having not expected a visit, but offers him tea, apologizing for the meagre offerings. Zhi-Hao enquires how he is doing, and his uncle says things are well, though his son Lumang is a bit under the weather. Zhi-Hao hints that his father told him that there were troubles? No, no, not at all, his uncle protests, clearly lying - Zhi-Hao suspects that it is a question of saving face in front of the younger generation. He offers to help, but his uncle suggests that help might be in the form of a healer for Lumang, and Zhi-Hao's further attempts to pry about debts are not very successful, so he retreats back to the circus to recruit Xiao Fa to come and help see what is wrong with his cousin.
Lumang turns out to be a shorter, stronger-looking version of Zhi-Hao, except that he's in bed coughing and looking pale. His friend Do sits nearby, looking worried. Xiao Fa immediately suspects a trick of some sort - and once he starts doing diagnoses, he is pretty sure of it. Lumang is displaying the symptoms of a number of different maladies, all at the same time, which would be very distressing if he had any of them. He does seem reasonably skilled at the masquerade, Xiao Fa notes to himself, which is possibly surprising. Lumang says he has been ill since the beginning of the week, and Xiao Fa starts quizzing Do about where they have been, claiming that it might be "Strand Plague". Then Xiao Fa confers outside with Zhi-Hao, and explains that it's definitely malingering. Perhaps Lumang is even less willing to do honest work than Merchant Deng? They contemplate leeches and harsh emetics, to teach Moral Lessons about Malingering.
Xiao Fa takes Do into another room to perform a particularly grim physical examination, while Zhi-Hao talks to Lumang.
- "Impressive, cousin. Truly impressive. Really good job at that. What the fuck is really up?" -Zhi-Hao
Successfully intimidated, Lumang confesses. He can't fight tomorrow! If he wins, he'll be killed. But if he loses, his father will lose everything! To win money to cover his father's debts, he joined an underground bare-knuckles fighting ring. He's been winning, and he's the favorite to win the upcoming big fight, and his father has nearly made all his lost money back again. The whole sum (50 li) is riding on the next fight, but the gang that runs the bookies told him to take a dive. So... he's decided to be sick. He hadn't figured out anything beyond that. And don't tell Do that he's not really sick! Wait, is Do his friend, or one of them? Well, both. They both started in the fight club together, but Lumang is a lot better than Do is.
Hmm. What will happen to the bet money if Lumang doesn't fight? He's not really sure. The bookies probably can't get away with keeping all the money from all the bets - but they would probably try to roll them over into bets on another fight. Zhi-Hao says that they'll think about it, and return when they have a better idea what to do. In the meantime, Do should limit his contact with Lumang, lest he spread the plague further, and he should drink this astringent tea.
Then, Zhi-Hao chats with his uncle, and says that Lumang definitely seems ill. Merchant Deng does think it would be helpful if he could be cured by tomorrow, as these are hard times. Zhi-Hao leans on him a bit more - why now in particular? His uncle confesses to betting on Lumang in the fight - if he wins this last fight, it will make him enough back to clear his debts (about 80 li). He doesn't appear to know about the threats, though.
- "How big is this gang? I could just take them, right?" -Zhi-Hao
Back at the circus, Kasumi begins her free time the way she does most days, by wandering around looking for hiding ninjas. Somewhat to her surprise, she spots one, hiding in a bush near the circus. She sits in front of the bush, trying to hide herself but doing a poor job at it, suddenly finds a rock resting on her own head. She tries to be nonchalant about it, until the ninja in the bush tells her to throw the rock at someone... Kasumi tosses the rock in Ho's direction, and Ho leaps for it as it explodes with a loud BANG. Ho falls to the ground, confused and unhappy. Wei Han and Lijuan both look around for nefarious rock-throwing ninja, and easily spot Kasumi hiding in front of the bush. Shen-Ji thinks the explosion was a little firework, not something magical, and decides it isn't worth worrying about. Kasumi attempts to grab the bush's nose, but it dodges and before vanishing tells her to meet her in the Great Bazaar at two hours past noon. Kasumi assures everyone else, in some puzzlement, that it's all fine.
Once it's two, Kasumi heads to the Bazaar, and manages to spot the ninja from the bush - a first-year apprentice from the House of the Laughing Shadow - hiding on a rooftop. Kasumi sneaks up on her, and then scolds her - “don't gasp when you're startled, and then you can pretend that you knew all the time”. The ninja explains that most of the older students are out of town for something, and they have an honor challenge, so they were hoping that Kasumi could help. They're in a feud with the Messengers of the Black Spot - they need to get them in some really hilarious way that makes the Messengers look like idiots.
- "What are your resources?" -Kasumi
- "Two other second-level students back at the house. And a bag of splodey rocks."
- "If only we had a wheelbarrow!" -Everyone
Kasumi notes that they know that the master of the Black Spot writes poetry, and there's a knife stolen from the dojo, except that Min Feng has that. The two ninja head back to their own house to plot.
After reassuring Ho (after his incident with the Exploding Rock) that everything is fine and he is a good dog and deserves dog treats, Lijuan heads out to ask the local street kids what they know about the news from the north. They ask her for hints, and she tells them about imperial pandas and furs and temples at the tops of hills. Oh, they know about the temples - if you need something to eat or somewhere to stay, you can go to a temple. But you have to be careful, because sometimes they capture you and make you sweep. She asks if any of them want to learn how to dodge, as part of her homework underway for Master Zhou, and several of them agree to learn to dodge if they'll sneak her into the circus. She says she'll ask Ringmaster Te for tickets, but they object loudly to that. No asking! No no no! Lijuan is adamant, though - she's not sneaking anyone anywhere. It's tickets or nothing. Finally, two of the urchins concede - she can get them tickets, but Lijuan has to tell the Ringmaster that their names are Big Li. Both of them.
A Kidnapping Plot
Meanwhile, Shuyan has gone for a walk around the city, when she starts to get the impression that she's being followed. Not being a fool, she avoids any secluded alleyways, and heads towards the Great Bazaar while she tries to catch a glimpse of whoever it is. She spots a cloaked figure staying some distance behind her, but isn't able to identify the person underneath the cloak. Shen-Ji, accompanied by Wei Han, has gone shopping in the Bazaar himself, and bumps into Shuyan. (Kasumi, on a roof waiting for her own secret meeting, spots the cloaked figure following Shuyan, notes that they're about to be kidnapped but decides that they can handle it.)
Shuyan heads back towards the circus in a circuitous path, while Shen-Ji lags behind to try to intercept the cloaked figure. Shen-Ji puts up a wall of iron between Shuyan and her pursuer, while Wei Han stomps threateningly towards the cloaked figure. The figure flips black her hood, revealing an unimpressed Snow Leopard.
- "Don't get all excited. If I wanted her killed, I would have done that last week." -Snow Leopard
- "Oh, hello!" -Shuyan
Snow Leopard says she has a message, but it's not really for the official law and order types. Wei Han says his hearing is quite erratic when it needs to be, but Snow Leopard doesn't think that's sufficient. Could he please walk around the corner? Wei Han trundles a little way up the street, looking ostentatiously uninterested. Snow Leopard explains that she and her brother will be leaving town shortly, as they were not hired for a particular job, because of certain issues with their reputation.
- "The House of Ornamental Vessels has arranged for the kidnapping of the heir to the House of Transparent Purity. In case you wanted to thwart someone else for a change." -Snow Leopard
- "Thank you!" -Shuyan
- "Don't thank me!"
- "I'll thank your brother when I see him?"
- "Bah. You're welcome."
Also meanwhile, two visitors (a young man and woman) have come to speak with the Confounding Xian. Can he really confound the minds of others, the woman wants to know, and can he teach her? There are some people who she needs to be terribly confounded, but only briefly. Xian frowns - why does she want to do this? She hedges - she can't really say it's not bad, but it is in a good cause - it's for love! Xian tries to not let his exasperation show - what is it with this city and its stupid love plots? The young man explains that they want to be married, but his father does not approve of her, or, at least, not any more. His father will only give his permission to marry someone who can answer his riddle. The young woman protests that when she was tested, his father didn't give her the "standard riddle", he gave her a really hard riddle because she's poor. There are two more women who will be trying to answer the riddle tomorrow, but if she can confound them, then no one will have succeeded and then the boy can choose whomever he pleases, i.e. her.
- "Why is your father picking your wife in such a cliched manner?" -Xian
- "He thinks I'm not very bright, and the House of Continuous Sustenance would go under without a really smart wife. Or a really rich one."
- "I should marry him. It's a riddle contest, and they have food!" -Lijuan
Xian asks what else is known about the other two suitors. Well, one is from a high great house, and the other is a ninja. Xian is taken aback at that - a ninja? The boy grumbles that being put on the market like this is pretty degrading. Xian clarifies that confounding people is much easier if you understand their personalities. Well, one is a ninja, so she's probably mean and deadly. The other is rich, so she's probably... mean and rich? Only poor people are nice. They're from the House of Resplendent Decoration and the House of the L-something Shadow. Languid Shadow?
Feng Shui Master
Finally, Xiao Fa receives a letter from Master Tranh inviting him to tea tomorrow, at his convenience.
Circus Phase: Kidnapping Plot
Everyone meets back up at the circus, to draw up a list of plots. The most pressing ones seem to be Zhi-Hao's family and the kidnapping.
What can be done to sort out the fight? Lijuan declares that Yoshi would not approve of cheating on a bet. Hmm. What if they were to substitute a different fighter? Well, first, you probably can't just show up with someone else to fight in your place, and second, none of the party fighters are keen to get into a brawling fight with no armor. Wei Han approves of the plan where Lumang wins his fight and then the party beats up anyone who shows up to cause trouble later. Though - what will happen to Lumang and Merchant Deng after that? Zhi-Hao declares that he can tell them to leave town and move to the Butterfly Kingdom - this particular gang is small, it won't be able to chase them that far. And, if Lumang is really going to win the fight, then the party should bet on it too! The House of Judicious Increase owes them a favor - perhaps they can borrow a bunch of money, bet it, and then return the original investment. That could help Merchant Deng pay his debts - or, more excitingly, increase the seed for Li Merit's investment fund! Shen-Ji, wearing the Magpie amulet, borrows 82 li from the House of Judicious Increase, and that (plus Venerable Deng's 9 li) are bet on Lumang.
As for the heir to the House of Transparent Purity, perhaps they can invite him to the circus with a backstage pass, and talk to him about the kidnapping? Ringmaster Te arranges for two tickets for him, and two tickets for Lijuan's urchins. Wei Han suggests inviting Liet and Myo, because they're surely up to something else, but nobody else wants to add another dramatic plot.
- "I'm seeing a scene with pottery and glass and exploding rocks." -Kasumi
- "The role of "bull" will be played by a squad of the Dragon Army." -Wei Han
Maybe they can get the heir to stab someone (everyone looks at Wei Han for this), and then they can use the ritual of The Knife Returns to find him after he's kidnapped? Well, a plan that doesn't involve STABBING SOMEONE would be preferred.
Lijuan's urchins show up, and clamor to see the elephants, which she dutifully shows them, warning them not to touch. They totally case the joint while watching the elephants, and then head out again.
The Transparent Purity heir, named Tsu Yi-Ju, and his little sister, also attend, and Yi-Ju compliments the performers on their performances - he will recommend the circus to his friends. (Ringmaster Te thinks he was a good choice for the comp tickets). Lijuan and Kasumi take his sister off to show her the monkeys, while Wei Han brings up the plot to kidnap him. He pretends to be surprised, but Xiao Fa, at least, is not fooled. He admits that his house guards had foiled an attack the night before, but he will tell them to take further care. They offer him the ritual, in case he wants to stab someone in preparation, and he says that he'll take appropriate precautions. Someone mentions something about Master Yang, which Yi-Ju absent-mindedly corrects to Mistress Yang, until it gets sorted out that Shen-Ji's sister is his personal bodyguard at the moment. But she's back at home.
- "No, I'm not." -Yang Tsi-Ya
He scolds her for sneaking in, and she scolds him for leaving her behind. But his sister really wanted to see the monkeys!
Anyhow, the House of Ornamental Vessels isn't even an officially licensed house, due to some previous irregularities - they need the support of the House of Transparent Purity at a council vote tomorrow night in order to become fully recognized. Mistress Yang thinks that if they can just borrow Master Deng for another day, that would prevent any difficulties, and is much better than a silly stabbing-based ritual. Yi-Ju vetoes that - they don't need any more people at the house. Well, they can't borrow Master Deng for the whole time, but the party fighters can split up the responsibility until the vote, which is at midnight tomorrow. Zhi-Hao, observing him, notes that he wears a dagger which looks ornamental, but is actually a reasonable weapon.
What are Yi-Ju's plans for tomorrow? He says that he plans to stay at home, but there is about an hour during the day when he will have to run some errands in the business district. Mistress Yang will be accompanying him, but she notes that any others who wish to come are welcome, as you can never have too many competent fighters.
Then, he and his sister and Tsi-Ya head home, accompanied by Wei Han, on the first shift. Wei Han eavesdrops on them as they go picking up some gossip indicating that Yi-Ju has a crush on Tsi-Ya.
Once tonight's events are over, time starting tomorrow will break into several phases:
- Circus Performance
- Bitter Recriminations
Most of the deadlines are scheduled for midnight tomorrow:
- Midnight is the deadline for the riddle contest
- Midnight is the big fight
- Midnight is the council vote
- Midnight is when the older ninja students will return, and so is the deadline for pranking the Messengers
- (The urchins plan to steal the elephants at midnight, but that's not officially on the schedule).
- "Why do we care?" -Zhi-Hao, looking at the list of plots
- "I've never asked you for a favor for a personal plot before! It is for the honor of where I trained." -Kasumi
- "No, the pranking is cool. It's the true love I was wondering why we care about." -Zhi-Hao
Night Phase: Riddles and Ninjas
Xian looks for his pair of lovebirds, and invites them to the tea tent to speak to a Mob of Bored PCs. They are introduced as Lei Tan Pai (House of Continuous Sustenance heir) and Shuxue (girlfriend).
Shuxue explains about the riddle contest, and that Pai's father asked her a particularly hard riddle. It started with a handful of rice, with eighty-eight grains to the handful, and putting the rice in a box, and planting it, and doing all sorts of things to multiply and increase it, and then the final question wasn't math at all, it was "how many grains of rice fell from the sky" which was one of the very early steps, and she didn't get it at all. So, tomorrow, his father will ask a riddle (and probably a much easier one) to the girl from the House of Resplendent Decoration (minor branch), and if she answers correctly, she'll win. If not, then at night, the ninja from the House of the Laughing Shadow will get to try to answer, and if she answers correctly, she'll win. But if nobody answers correctly, then Pai can choose which one he wants to marry, which will be her. No, she's not sure why a ninja is in the running.
These are the last of the candidates - there have been others who failed already, most of whom got to answer the standard riddle. Lijuan asks hopefully about the standard riddle - she loves riddles! Shuxue is disconcerted - she was hoping that Xian would confound the others, not her. Kasumi suggests eloping, but Pai really doesn't want to do that - he would be disowned! Another suggestion would be to marry off the other competitors - maybe to the heir to the House of Transparent Purity? Shuxue thinks that would be fine, though he tends to moon after "inappropriately older women". Lijuan asks again what the standard riddle is - it's apparently "If one and a half rice paddies grow one and a half bushels of rice in one and a half seasons, how many bushels of rice will nine rice paddies produce in nine seasons?”
- "The answer is not nine. That's been tried several times." -Shuxue
- "We are not trying to solve the riddle, and I already know the answer!" -Xian
- "Six?" -Wei Han
- "Fifty-four!" -Lijuan
- "What?" -Xian
- "I pretended it was chickens." -Lijuan
The party goes into wild brainstorming mode.
- "We could disguise Shuxue as the candidate from Resplendent Decoration, so she could get another guess." -Kasumi
- "I'm surprised nobody has suggested ice chips yet." -Lijuan
- "What we really need is love potions, to make the various plots fall in love with each other."
- "I don't suppose you could just marry the girl from Resplendent Decoration, and take Shuxue as a concubine..." -Xian
Xiao Fa quickly removes anything breakable from near the girl, as she looks ready to explode. Pai is willing to go with whatever they suggest, but wants Shuxue to survive. Wait, what? He explains that if he marries someone else, she has vowed to kill herself.
- "You couldn't have led with that?" -Xian
She admits that her vow was a little impetuous, but now she's bound by it - she made it to the Great Spirits, and cannot go back on it now. Well, hmm. Can Xian talk the other two out of it? Or disguise her? Without Min Feng, nobody is very good at disguise. Did they still want to learn confounding, or is Xian doing the confounding okay?
- "It has become clear to us that we will never learn this level of confounding."
- "Can we disguise the girl from Resplendent Decoration as the heir to Transparent Purity so she gets kidnapped instead?" -Shen-Ji
- "All the other ideas have been dumb. That one is dumb and cool." -Xian
Kasumi heads off to talk to her ninja school and ask why someone is trying to marry this random nobleman. Tsinsi (the girl in question) says that she was going to buy a shtick in "Unassailable Cover" by marrying a nobleman, and this one was available. She hopes she can answer the riddle, though. The last person who failed to answer the riddle ran off in tears. Kasumi explains that whoever that was didn't understand the first rule of riddles, which is that the answer is always odd.
Anyway, what are the Messengers up to? Normally they just run around doing Messages of Doom, that sort of thing, but the rumor is that they took a kidnapping job. Kasumi convinces them that thwarting the kidnapping plan is definitely the way to go as far as pranks go.
Day Phase: Shan Tsu
Lijuan leaves a note on the elephant pen, telling any potential urchins to not mess with the elephants.
Xiao Fa heads to the house of Master Tranh for tea - Master Tranh explains that he is interested in hearing about the changes to the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation - he is curious as to what changes have been made, and why. Xiao Fa explains that there was a great deal of destruction followed by repairs and goes into details about the changes. Meanwhile, there is a quiet knock at the door, and a servant hands Master Tranh a message. He reads it and sighs, and tells the servant to inform Shan Tsu that he (Master Tranh) is indisposed. Xiao Fa is startled - could he have meant Master Shan Tsu of the Silver Dragons? Indeed, Tranh explains that this Shan Tsu has been attempting to convince him to show him and some others a way into the Hidden City without being seen. A feat only an accomplished master of chi or feng shui can perform. Master Tranh explains that he does not like requests which come with both great urgency and great secrecy. He can understand secrecy, when needed, but when combined with urgency it is off-putting. Xiao Fa takes his leave, and while he looks around for hidden masters in the shrubbery as he goes, he does not see any.
Back at the circus, Xiao Fa asks if Lijuan's urchins can locate someone and where he is staying - such as Master Shan Tsu, a kung fu master who sounds even grumpier than Master Zhou. The urchins report back that they have seen him around, but do not know where he is staying. They can pass a note to him, though, for a few zhu, and Xiao Fa writes a request to meet him at the circus.
Xiao Fa and Zhi-Hao visit Merchant Deng, and declare that they have a cure for Lumang's illness. Merchant Deng is pleased - this will let them get out of debt. Zhi-Hao suggests that they pack up and leave town immediately afterwards - move to the Butterfly Kingdom, or somewhere else, as people will definitely be grumpy with them. Zhi-Hao's uncle isn't pleased with this as the best solution, but there doesn't seem to be a better one, so he agrees to at least move to the Northern Arcade. Lumang is fine with moving, being a bit more adventurous than his uncle. Xiao Fa doses him with some invigorating herbal tonics to help him get his energy back after his week of bedrest, and suggests that he spar with Wei Han. Wei Han is reasonably impressed with Lumang's fighting prowess - he has ten dice and twenty skill.
Xian declares that it is time to "cut the Gordian knot" of the riddles, and summons the pair of lovebirds.
- "Oh, are we going to kill them?"
Xian interrogates Pai on the situation. His father has a good head for business, but he himself doesn't so much. Shuxue is smart and can pick it up, but has no training. Xian asks what the biggest business problem facing his house is - Pai says that they are in a consortium with several houses, and though the weather and the harvest has gone much the same as last year, they are not getting their full cut, so someone in the consortium is presumably defrauding them. Xian asks how would Shuxue solve that? She thinks for a little while, and suggests hiring a ninja to steal a copy of the books from the other houses, to see which one was stealing money.
- "I have no idea if that's clever or not." -Xian
Xian concludes that it's somewhat clever, but not very business-y, so Pai's description of Shuxue is about right, and heads off to talk to the elder Lei Tan, brandishing his 14 status thanks to the Butterfly Talisman. He makes a pretty speech about having been speaking to Lei Tan Pai and Miss Shuxue, and notes that he is a good judge of character, and feels that she deserves a second look. One can marry into power or wealth, but if there is no real foundation for an intimate relation, that is a point of weakness in the marriage, and it is easier to be broken up. Master Lei Tan agrees that this is true, but notes that not having the skill or resources to command her own affairs is also a point of weakness. He asked her a hard question, but it was not impossible to answer, and if she had succeeded in answering it, he would have upheld the bargain. Xian notes that he may have missed the talent that she does possess, and that she is quite clever - is Pai quite clever? His father notes that he is not unaware of his son's deficiencies, which is why he is trying to give him the best opportunities possible. Xian notes that if both husband and wife are personally incapable, it will not take them long to squander twice the wealth, but a capable wife with a skilled father-in-law to teach her... she may not know much of business, but she is a strategist. Master Lei Tan protests that even if he were to accept Xian's advice now, what's done is done, and honor demands that he allow the others a chance to answer. Xian notes that he has full choice of what riddle to ask, however. Presumably the elder Lei Tan has done his homework and knows what strength and weaknesses the suitors have. Xian throws in a persuasion roll, and a gentle emotional manipulation to make him less fearful of the future, and more concerned for his son's well-being. Master Lei Tan nods and says that he will be willing to take the advice of Lord Xian in this matter, and the suitor from the House of Resplendent Decoration is shown in. Master Lei Tan asks the harder non-math riddle, and she is suitably befuddled.
Meanwhile, Tsu Yi-Ju (the Transparent Purity heir) and his bodyguard go to run their business errands, escorted by Zhi-Hao, Wei Han, Kasumi, Shuyan, Lijuan, and Shen-Ji. Yi-Ju wears the parrot feather amulet, and Kasumi lets Pooky Tako go to see if the monkey can find anyone hidden. As it turns out, no one attempts to kidnap Yi-Ju, though Lijuan is intercepted by a ninja with a blade to her throat, who hands her a piece of paper with a black spot, and instructs her to give the spot to Tsu Yi-Ju, and tell him that if he does not wish to suffer a terrible fate, he should swear to vote for the House of Ornamental Vessels. Zhi-Hao is not impressed, and taunts the hidden ninja that this is totally not a credible threat, but the ninja is not baited into attacking the full party on his own, and the heir goes home again.
Kasumi heads off back to the House of the Messengers of the Black Spot, and notes that they seem to be busy planning a mission (a kidnapping, presumably). Lijuan toys with the idea of disguising herself as the heir, but Wei Han convinces Yi-Ju that he should spend the afternoon at the circus instead of at home, as he can be better guarded there.
Circus Phase, With Messages
The private performance for the King goes swimmingly - Shuyan performs her Mesmerizing Snake Dance, which means the King is more easily impressed by the others (Kasumi and Xian, plus NPCs). The King is greatly impressed, and tips all the performers many li, and tells Ringmaster Te that he will place his blessing upon the circus's travel while it is in his country.
As Yi-Ju continues to be surrounded by the party fighters, nothing untoward happens, until an urchin shows up with a message for him - his little sister, left back at home, has been kidnapped instead. He is required to deliver a letter of proxy to a park on the outskirts of the city, at night tonight, or his sister will suffer.
Of course, while the Messengers of the Black Spot are off performing their kidnapping, the House of the Laughing Shadow has been breaking into their home base and filling it full of exploding rocks and shaving cream.
Shan Tsu arrives at the circus to speak to Xiao Fa.
- "What have you learned since last we met?" -Shan Tsu
- "How to do shadow puppets!" -Kasumi, kibitzing
- "Wait, have we met? Uh oh." -Xiao Fa
Xiao Fa says he has learned a pittance of kung fu since Shan Tsu last saw him. They spar, and Shan Tsu is mildly impressed.
- "Your master has taught you well. Tell him before he returns to Iron Mountain, one of his students should have twenty levels of kung fu." -Shan Tsu
Lijuan asks him if he will spar with her, for her homework, and whether he thinks dodge counts as a form. He notes that the form of the Golden Wheat specializes in dodge and evading the main strike. However, he does not have an hour to spend with Lijuan, much to her disappointment.
He does, however, want to know whether Xiao Fa thinks he can pierce the chi of the Hidden City and lead others in? Xiao Fa worries - is this needed immediately? No, but Shan Tsu says that it is important to know where the resource will come from, in order to devise the plan. If Xiao Fa can do it, then he will devise the plan around that knowledge. Xiao Fa notes that Master Tranh is unwilling to undertake it himself, because he is concerned about the secrecy aspect.
- "Our enemies are men of power in the empire. We preserve secrecy because, while loyal beyond doubt, some of our actions could be perceived as treasonous." -Shan Tsu
Xiao Fa agrees that he will either learn how to do this, or convince Master Tranh, at his option. Shan Tsu gives a salute with "May Kar Fai return!" and heads off again.
Night Phase: Exchange of Valuables
There is a brief period of planning before heading to the park to meet the kidnappers. Nobody wants the sister hurt, which might put a damper on the "Get 'em" plans, and Zhi-Hao thinks it would be a bad idea to show up as People Obviously There To Set An Ambush. Mistress Yang notes that it will probably be fine to have a couple of guard types, since it would be stupid to go alone, and bringing Xian as a hostage negotiator is probably also fine.
Yi-Ju writes a real proxy letter, in case things go badly, Xian writes a fake proxy saying "You've been punked by the House of the Laughing Shadow", and Lijuan brings Tofu, and a random letter, on the hopes that if the ninja escape with the real proxy she can get them swapped. And Zhi-Hao suggests to the circus animal handlers that they keep an extra eye on the elephants, in case the urchins come back. Then, it is off to the park, where the more stealthy people like Kasumi hide in trees and the less stealthy people pretend to be bodyguards.
The Messengers show up, with the little sister. Xian spends nearly all his yin to spot the other ninja, hiding all around the park as well. The two parties walk carefully towards each other; Xian requires that the girl's hands be untied, and they do this. He asks them if they plan to conduct the exchange honorably, and the leader claims that they are (and appears to be telling the truth); sad for them, but the ninja cannot perform the opposite check. Xian beguiles him into thinking the fake proxy is the real one, and the exchange is made, and then the ninjas retreat.
At this point, the heir panics - instead of the proxy, he has a crayon drawing! It turns out that Lijuan has the actual proxy, swapped by Tofu. She gives it back, and he promptly tears it up.
Later that night, Kasumi's friend says that she failed to answer the riddle - it was way too hard.
Midnight Phase and the Resolving of Plots
- The council meeting happens, and Yang Tsi-Ya reassures the party that security there will be very good. The vote takes place, and nobody votes in favor of the House of Ornamental Vessels.
- Since no one has succeeded in answering the riddle, Lei Tan Pai gets to choose his bride, and picks Shuxue.
- The urchins are intercepted by circus workers and do not steal any elephants.
- Lumang wins his fight; the party wins a substantial amount of money, as does Merchant Deng. The bookies who told Luman to throw the fight warn that they will be seeing him in the bitter recriminations phase. Zhi-Hao carefully takes 9 li from his winnings to give back to his father, and keeps the rest.
- "Li Merit would be proud of you."
- The House of the Laughing Shadow has scored big against the Messengers of the Black Spot, and are quite happy.
The urchins are brought to Lijuan for sentencing - they protest that they were triple dog dared to steal an elephant, and the Great Dog Spirit takes that sort of thing very seriously, so if they didn’t do it they’d be doomed. She declares that unlikely and sentences them to shovel elephant dung for the rest of the night. They declare themselves doomed.
Bitter Recriminations Phase
Lumang is down quite a few hit points from his bout, but Shuyan heals him to near-peak condition before the group triggers the fight.
- "If you mend your evil ways now, I will not fill you through with arrows!" -Lijuan
- "Make a Charisma roll." -Mike
- "Nah, I'm saving my dice to fill them full of arrows in late actions."
The party starts to divide and conquer the attacking tong bullies - Kasumi shackles one, and Xian starts working to convince the second in command to flee to fight another day. After Shen-Ji cuts the leaders off from the rest of them, plan "convince them to flee" works pretty well. Two surrender to Xian, a few go down, and the rest get away.
They don't have much loot on them - of the most interest is a little black book on the leader, filled with markers indicating that he borrowed a bunch of money from the League of the Hidden Hand to put on the fight. So, it will probably suck to be him now that he can't pay it back - if the guards don't hang him, the League will likely take care of him. Wei Han prevails on the group to give the thugs to the guards anyway.
The Deng family heads north to the Port of Propitious Voyage, and the party heads to bed, many plots well sorted.