A Really Good Time
|"Plans are insulted destinies"|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Serpent in the Month of the Spider in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place principally in the Shrouded Isle.
Shuyan is explaining to those at Tahiti about waking up in jail last run, when Deng mentions that he has an invitation from Lord Musashi for he and Merit to visit to discuss some recent concerns of the old swordmaster.
In case this turns out to be an actual plot, the whole group takes the water gate to the Shrouded Isle, and Deng and Merit head to Lord Musashi's house. The butler warns them not to tire the master - his years are weighing on him more heavily than they used to.
The master briefs Merit and Deng - he senses that there is a disturbance in the balance of the kingdom. The Shrouded Isle has a long history of what many choose to call "imbalance" - violence, discontent, and the like - but it is actually necessary, and well regulated across the cycles. These upheavals come and go, as is appropriate. However, right now the country is out of balance with its spirits, and the rising tensions are not in keeping with the way of the natural cycle at this time. This disconnect and tension could be due to spirits, or other agents of interference, but he senses that it is growing, and if left unchecked could bring peril.
Merit asks what the symptoms are of the danger that Lord Musashi warns of - but even that is unclear. He feels that the time for discontent and cleansing is not now, yet it hangs in the air about them. Merit, frustrated with the lack of tangibles, wonders if this feeling is a singular intuition, or something borne of small facts? Lord Musashi says that it is a perception of the greater use of the sword, when it should not be used.
Deng takes another tack - in more usual circumstances, when it is not at the wrong time, how do these upheavals normally go? It depends, but it can involve reforms, or crackdowns. It can depend on how long it has been since the previous upheaval. How do these things normally go? The most recent crackdown was harsh indeed, and it is too soon for another. Lord Musashi reminds them that a few years ago, much of the Brotherhood was killed, and the spirits who infuse the fire into the populace were severed from their companions. The spirits participated in their battle, but their champions were vanquished, now is the time for banking the fire, not stoking it.
Merit wonders if he can borrow the relevant shtick to see for himself what Musashi is talking about. Lord Musashi would be willing, but thinks that Merit does not have enough sword skill (or sword True Mastery) to properly understand. However, Merit can loan Deng the ability to be Grand Master of the White Lotus, which lets him borrow Lord Musashi's shtick. It is clearly a little awkward to have Deng suddenly in charge, but Musashi makes a chopping gesture with one hand, and the awkwardness evaporates.
Deng can see now, a sense of the overall battle lines, in which both Heaven and Earth are engaged (not against each other, but on both sides), and can see the disjunction between Heaven and Earth, which enables the battle to happen now. He still doesn't see the specific details of what is actually happening now, but then, if the shtick told him that, Lord Musashi would presumably also have known.
Deng and Merit take their leave of Lord Musashi, and go to brief the rest of the party.
Lijuan shows the prophetic art she has drawn:
That looks alarmingly like peasants are shelling the capital. (Or is it mortals shelling the World Above? Interpret Omens suggests that it is probably a real-world palace and not the World Above).
Min Feng wanders through the capital gathering information, and is bemused when the entire attempt is folded into being invited by a kid named Seven to "the meeting" after dinner. She also attempts to check in with the Songstress, but the Song's leader is in conference with the Firelord and will not be returning today. Min Feng overhears two of the other Song members discussing the future - if things go well, perhaps Lady Dusk will take over, which will make things easier.
Lijuan checks in on the status of the urchins, and learns that there will be a big city-wide birthday party in a few days, with free food and everything.
Merit contacts an old buddy who works on the docks, wondering what the dock workers are up to (and also wondering whether there will be an attempt in progress to have a new leader of the dockworkers). It doesn't seem like there's a burgeoning coup among the dockworkers, but when his buddy learns that he's back in the game, he assumes Merit is the contact he was waiting for, and passes a crate to him before wandering off with studied nonchalance.
Merit, not wanting to carry the thing himself, swaps it to Tahiti for one of his random trinkets, and then when he reaches the party, swaps it back. However, when he swaps it back again, it has been opened and the fireworks inside seem to have been partially disassembled. Merit is quite put out by the looting of his crate back at Tahiti, but when Shuyan takes a look, she notes that the fireworks are all overloaded with gunpowder and likely to be quite damaging when set off - and they have been partially disarmed, as if someone back at Tahiti was in the middle of disarming them when the crate vanished again.
Merit starts castling notes back and forth.
- "Who is this?"
- "This channel is compromised. Will seek guidance from proper authorities."
- "Sorry about that. Was going to show to a local expert."
- "Sorry, boss. Junior butler and I were disarming the bomb that appeared in our vault."
Ah. Well, that's probably the cook, then, and not a particularly lucky burglar.
The Day of the Spider (the autumn equinox) is in three days' time, so whatever is going on may be scheduled to coincide with that.
All the fuss about fireworks has passed enough time that it is after dinner, and Seven shows up to take Min Feng to the meeting. (The group is puzzled by this number-naming convention, and tries to find out if everyone at the meeting will be numbered, but apparently not. Seven is Blossom's little brother.)
Big Lo is at the front door of a warehouse where Seven leads them - he recognizes Seven, who says Min Feng is with them.
The first item on the agenda is a report from the organizing committee. Things are going pretty well, and they have have food and ribbons. One of their cases of fireworks went missing, and they're not sure what happened to it. They've been talking to the Shadow Man to get the timing right for when the heir comes out. And they do need a couple more volunteers to be on the fireworks committee. Min Feng volunteers.
Unfortunately, they've been having trouble finding a really good goblet for the toast; none of them can afford fancy crystal. Min Feng says she knows a guy who can provide something - she will introduce him to Big Lo. The wine will be arriving tomorrow, so everyone who wants to help with that should come down to the docks.
More discussion ensues, but since everyone but Min Feng has more context, it's hard to tell exactly what the deal is.
- "Should we be under the carts or behind the carts? The palace guard is everywhere."
- "The palace guards won't interrupt. Just stay behind the carts until the big reveal, and we'll all have a good time."
The banner committee reports that it's not quite done with their painting. Min Feng edges over to look at the banners - they seem to indicate a surprise birthday celebration for Minoru Katsu, the Shrouded Isle heir.
Back at the party's inn, Merit and Zhou try to figure out what's going on. Merit suspects that there is some sort of renaming or tag for Spider in the offing, but Master Zhou doesn't think there's anything left on the Shrouded Isle that Spider has to do.
Min Feng tells Big Lo to talk to Merit about the goblet, and then heads back herself. She forges some credentials as an advisor to the Songstress, to go and join her at the Shrouded Citadel; Merit, posing as her servant, waits outside for her. Min Feng is told that the Songstress is indisposed after viewing the Smoked Glass, and suggests that Min Feng send a note. She claims she has to deliver her message personally, and after some persuasion, she is shown to the waiting area outside the rooms containing Smoked Glass. On the way in, she overhears some courtiers discussing that they will need Lady Suzuki as more firepower, if it comes to that.
Back at the outer perimeter, Merit decides it's too dangerous to do "who's in town" because the last time he tried it on the Shrouded Isle, some of his spies didn't come back. (The GMs, who have carefully prepared a list of about fifty names, are disappointed, while Master Zhou more hard-heartedly suggests Merit hire employees with fewer relatives to mind if they are killed.) He asks the guards about the heir's birthday party. The guards find this unlikely - celebrating the heir's birthday is seen as tantamount to declaring an overthrow of the Firelord, by suggesting that the heir's birthday is the one to be publicly celebrated rather than the Firelord's, which is a national holiday..
Min Feng hasn't come back for a while, so Merit persuades the guards to let him bring her "special medicinal tea", with various insinuations that she will start running amok if she doesn't have it. Then he and Min Feng confer briefly about what to do. The Songstress still hasn't come out, which is surprising. One does not go into the Smoked Glass rooms without the permission of the Firelord, but who knows what is going on in there?
- "We have to exhaust all the alternatives before opening a door." -Xian
Min Feng finally decides to sneak in. The door doesn't seem to be locked, so she pours some of her "medicinal tea" on a cloth and puts it over her mouth and heads in, telling the group back at the inn what she's doing via communicating paper.
Inside the door is a room with several comfortable-looking bunk beds, but all of them are empty. There is a passageway leading forward, so she starts to trail a string behind her, and heads further along. She passes some mirrors, and then the smoke begins to get thick. Her health check proves insufficient, and that is the last anyone hears from her.
Everyone else watches the blank communicating paper, but it is uninformative.
When Min Feng does not reappear, Merit heads to House Suzuki, but Lady Suzuki is not available. She will be meeting with the Firelord tomorrow in the morning, but if Merit shows up very early, he may be able to see her first. Then he heads back to the inn, where the party tells him about Min Feng going silent. He and Shuyan head back to the Shrouded Citadel, Shuyan posing as Min Feng's physician.
- "My lady needs a new dose of tea. She might become.... erratic." -Merit
As expected, the waiting room where Min Feng was is empty now. The guard refuses to admit the idea that she might have gone into the Smoked Glass rooms without permission, so he and Merit and Shuyan "search the area". Merit distracts the guard, while Shuyan sneaks back to the room, and enters the forbidden doors to follow Min Feng's string.
Shuyan can burn yin to be immune to poison; at the end of the string, she reaches the fume-ridden room with the Smoked Glass, and the unconscious Songstress. Instead of Min Feng, though, there is a small phoenix which glares at Shuyan for bringing snakes, and then tilts its head as if to say that Min Feng will be fine.
Shuyan decides wherever Min Feng is, it's beyond her dealing with now, so she drags the Songstress out and puts her into one of the (very inviting-looking) beds in the recovery room.
In communion with Phoenix, Min Feng learns that there are two plots against the Songstress, but only one has Phoenix's favor, and Phoenix imagines that Min Feng is concerned about the other one. However, Phoenix cannot see it clearly because the connection is clouded. Min Feng notes that Master Musashi said that the cycle was unbalanced, and Phoenix agrees that if he said so, then She is indeed concerned.
The rest of the party regroups at the inn, and Shuyan explains what she found, with some reminiscing about the really nice beds.
In the morning, Merit gets up extra extra early, and pays a call on Lady Suzuki.
- "I once had a cover as a guy with eight hours' sleep." -Cael
He explains that he thinks someone is fooling the peasants into throwing a birthday party for the heir in two days - and also fooling them into using particularly and dangerously explosive fireworks, and poisoned wine. So, it will make it look like the peasants are actually attacking. Lady Suzuki notes that if they are being fooled into using actual poisons and vigorous fireworks, then they do pose an actual threat, and not fake one. So while she is concerned about the fooling, she does not think that a lack of defense is called for.
Lijuan, along with Deng, heads off to tell Seven and anyone else at the intersection of "local conspiracy" and "urchin" that their fireworks are actual explosives. She finds Blossom, who tells her to talk to Flying Lark, on the planning committee. Lijuan explains about Li Merit stealing the fireworks, and that they were extra-explosive, but Flying Lark is a little disconcerted by the stealing the fireworks part. Deng tries to weigh in - the birthday party will definitely spark off a big fight or revolution or something. Flying Lark thinks they should talk to the Shadow Man to sort it out, and then they can all have a good time. She brings them to the Shadow Man's house, and they introduce themselves as Master Deng and Foon Lijuan. The Shadow Man has a rather odd looking long-brimmed hat, and explains to them why the party is a good idea. They find him quite convincing, and head back out again, determined to make sure that the party happens (without bombs and other troubles), so everyone can have a good time.
Min Feng finally wakes up, and heads to the Suzuki estates, where she warns Lady Suzuki that the Songstress's indisposition may be part of a plot to oust her. Then she stops by the Song of the Phoenix, where she tells the Other Triad that they need to get the Songstress healed up.
- "I shall see that she is restored, or die in the attempt! If you do not see me again, know that I have failed." -Eto Tansho
Deng and Lijuan return to brief Merit and the others about the party being a good idea after all. They find this new turn of events somewhat disconcerting, and after a long chat with Lijuan, decides that it's basically a really good persuasion roll, backed by something with mojo that's stapling it in hard. Master Zhou trains with Master Deng, and hits him with a clue-by-four - for a moment, Deng realizes that he's been bamboozled, but then the effect kicks back in after a round. Well, that's no good.
Lijuan heads back to the warehouse, where she and Blossom (and Kawaii and Boo) will guard the fireworks to keep them from being replaced with explosives, while Master Deng goes to keep a close eye on the wine. So far, they both seem okay. Some guys bring in a new box of fireworks to replace the missing one, and Lijuan checks it over. It seems okay, though she's less sure than she was about the first boxes. She marks this one to be used last.
Everyone else heads back to the Shrouded Citadel, and Lady Suzuki meets with Merit. He explains that they haven't apprehended the person responsible, but thinks that there is evidence that that person is magically influencing the party-throwing peasants. He notes that Master Deng went to explain that the party would be a bad idea, and now he thinks it is a good one.
- "So you are in favor of throwing a party now?" -Lady Suzuki
- "It seems like it would be a lot of fun." -Master Deng
- "Ah. I see that this is somewhat subtle." -Lady Suzuki
She says she will brief the Firelord, and he will do something appropriate. Deng suggests that she talk to the Shadow Man, and notes where his house is. Lady Suzuki thinks perhaps she could have some guards pick him up.
- "But... the party!" -Deng
- "He's very convincing." -Min Feng
Well, she will talk to the Songstress and Lady Dusk, and see what they advise. Wait wait wait. The Songstress is incapacitated, but probably Lady Dusk is behind it! Lady Suzuki is a bit dubious at this new random accusation, but says she will look for the Firelord. She heads off, and Min Feng peeks behind the door into the Smoked Glass area - the Songstress is no longer there. Hmm. She heads out to look for her.
Merit, Deng, Shuyan, Xian, and Master Zhou head to Lord Musashi's estate again, to catch him up on the state of things.
- "Before you speak, could you pass me that sword?" -Lord Musashi
He chops with the sword at, but not into, Master Deng, and the persuasion effect finally clears. They explain about the Shadow Man's perfidy, and the party that seems likely to be a horrible disaster.
Min Feng reaches the headquarters of the Song of the Phoenix, to learn that Eto Tansho was last seen carrying the unconscious Songstress up the hill to the Mountain of Fire. Oh, dear. Min Feng pelts after her, reaching the top of the mountain just as the other Triad member is about to throw the Songstress into the volcano. Min Feng leaps at her, using a surprising amount of kung fu, tackling her to the ground and leaving all three rolling towards the crater's edge and dangling above the lava. Nobody fails their dex roll, though so Min Feng and Tansho scramble back away from the edge and pull the Songstress with them.
Tansho doesn't see what Min Feng's problem is - fire can't kill someone wearing the Talisman of the Phoenix! Min Feng demands to see it (the Songstress is in fact wearing it), and then grudgingly agrees that throwing her in is maybe not as bad an idea as it initially seemed, and they do so. A few moments later, the Songstress rises back out of the volcano fully recovered - though she wonders if perhaps a small bonfire would not have been simpler. Meanwhile, the Shadow Man stops by to talk to Lijuan, but her resolve roll is a little too good, and she does not get new orders. Not liking the look of the panda, the Shadow Man heads off again. Next to visit is Merit, who persuades Lijuan to come visit Lord Musashi - leaving Kawaii and Boo to watch the fireworks. That clears her persuasion as well.
So... dealing with the Shadow Man seems to require earplugs, to not succumb to his wily wiles.
- "Then it could be a battle in silence that both sides lose." -Master Zhou
- "Fireworks are a defense against that." -Lijuan, brightly
Notes from Flying Lark and the organizing committee are delivered to Deng, Lijuan, Min Feng and Merit.
Min Feng, Tansho, and the Songstress are heading for the Citadel as Min Feng explains that one, Lady Dusk is trying to become the new Songstress, and two, there's this whole bad-idea birthday party thing going on. Talking to Lady Suzuki before confronting Lady Dusk is probably a good next step. This is when Min Feng gets her note, so Tansho is dispatched to talk to Minoru Tama so she can talk to Minoru Katsu.
The other group frets about how to deal with the Shadow Man, and decides to go for the earplugs-and-chopping method. Shuyan sneaks in first to see if there is anyone home, and does not reappear for some time. When she returns, she says no one is there.
This seems plausible, but also seems like exactly what would happen if Shuyan has been talking to the Shadow Man. Hmm.
Master Zhou climbs up on a roof and puts on his blindfold, trying to tell if there are any enemies nearby. As it turns out, nearly half the people in the immediate neighborhood are his enemies, more or less.
At the Shrouded Citadel, Min Feng and the Songstress learn that Lady Suzuki is in conference with Lady Dusk. Is that bad? Min Feng isn't sure. They stall for a bit, and then the two ladies come out. Lady Dusk and the Songstress glare at each other for a moment, and then Min Feng spends a Yin and recognizes Lady Dusk - if she took off her disguise, she would look like Lady Xing, who Min Feng remembers as having been implicated in the death of the son of the High Warlord of Chin.
Min Feng warns Lady Suzuki and the Songstress - she and Lord Du were trying to overthrow the Forest of Chin, and they have notes on overthrowing all the other countries, She should be stopped.
- "That's crazy!" -Lady Dusk
- "Hold still and this won't hurt too much." -Lady Suzuki, casting a fireblast
Lady Dusk throws down an escape smoke, and is gone. When the smoke and embers clear, and a bunch of royal guards run up, lying on the floor are a bunch of burning notes. Min Feng leaps on them to try to put the fire out, and gets some of the notes on the current plan. Of particular interest is that the Shadow Man’s strange hat is actually the Shadow Helm which was carved from the skull of a tengu, and Lady Dusk would really like to get a second one, because sharing between the two of them is annoying.
Lady Suzuki and the Songstress head in to brief the Firelord, while Min Feng dashes off to look for Minoru Katsu.
Merit starts asking around to find out where the Shadow Man is - the locals in his neighborhood don't know, but suggest Merit go to the party planning HQ to find him. Shuyan sends her Snake of Secrets off to find out what it can. Meanwhile, Lijuan has headed back to party planning HQ already, since leaving Kawaii alone for so long has led to the panda helping herself from the stored refreshments.
Merit gets a communicating paper briefing from Min Feng about the events in the castle - this "skull of a tengu" stuff sounds like the first steps towards skinwalking.
- "On the path to terrible darkness." -Master Zhou
- "Wait, did you say terrible darkness, or wearable darkness?" -Lijuan
Some more emergency backup fireworks show up, and the Snake of Secrets reports back that the Shadow Man is getting on a boat. However, it seems like the birthday party has been told to start happening RIGHT NOW.
Deng and Zhou and Shuyan head towards the docks, while everyone else sets to work thwarting the party.
Lijuan tells Kawaii to sit on top of the banners; this prevents most of them from being picked up at all, but some have already been carried towards the Shrouded Citadel. Ho tackles the wine-bearer into dropping the bottle of wine and the fancy cup.
Merit starts brandishing his box of fireworks, convincing people that he's about to kill them all. They start running out of the party HQ, leaving most of the rest of the preparations behind, but they are kind of running towards the castle.
Xian convinces the nearby mob that they spelled the banners wrong - it should obviously be HIER and not HEIR. Also, this isn't the hier's birthday. Surely there was a memo about it - but the party was scheduled for tomorrow! The hier's birthday is tomorrow, but the Firelord's birthday is today or maybe three months from today, same thing. 24 successes of persuasion later, everyone is convinced that the Firelord has moved his birthday, and the last of the signs are hurriedly crossed out and repainted.
In the castle, Min Feng finds Minoru Katsu, who in some panic denies any responsibility for this bad-idea party. He was at the hot springs all day! Min Feng agrees it really wasn't his fault, and makes sure the notes implicating Lord Du and Lady Dusk/Xing are shown around.
Merit and Xian continue chasing after the most fanatical of the party-throwers as they stumble towards the castle. At this point, really only the most devoted are left, including one guy about to open his wrists to paint with (Xian talks him out of that). Merit catches up with Lijuan and tries to sweep her up onto his horse, so she can help him disguise himself as the Shadow Man. Without the hat, and without Lijuan remembering the details very well, he's not all that convincing (and he's certainly not as convincing in other ways!). However, Xian is all that convincing, and hits the crowd with 40 successes of persuasion to get them basically all on track to Firelord's Birthday Celebration instead.
- "How did the World Above get disconnected?" -Xian
- "NOT DOING THAT NOW!" -Everyone else}
Min Feng lets Lady Suzuki know that the crowd has changed to mostly celebrating the Firelord's birthday.
- "Well, that's... not treasonous, just highly incorrect." -Lady Suzuki
She will send some guards in mufti out, to help make sure this stays on the right track.
The mob reaches the palace and has a "spontaneous celebration" of the Firelord's Birthday. It does not need to be suppressed, no fireworks are launched at the castle, and Lady Suzuki does not have to set anyone on fire. Hooray!
When Deng and Zhou and Shuyan reach the docks, there is a guy in a dockman's hat waiting for them. He has a message for them:
- "I don't know how you people keep finding me, but next time it will be different. I will be more prepared! So stop it!"