Book of Five Rings
|"If you fix your eyes on details and neglect important things, your spirit will become bewildered, and victory will escape you."|| It is the day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Serpent in the third Year of the Fox since the Burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place in and around Harmonious Endeavor, in the southern Jade Taiga
Having had enough in the Strand (and having acquired the Tincture of Pure Respite) our heroes and the circus are preparing to move north, through the Jade Taiga towards the City of Spires, where the plan is to grab a river boat all the way down to the City of Light. First though is a gig about midway to the City of Spires, in the town of Harmonious Endeavor.
Ringmaster Te begins by looking for Yoshi, who usually heads out in front of the circus and scouts out the area before the main group arrives. This time, though, he's been with Lijuan at a temple of the Selfless Path attempting to arrange for a transfer of custody for their Southron prisoner. The temple agrees, but asks that in return, Yoshi seek out the Revered Cheng He, a disciple of the Selfless Path, who is in need of assistance. Coincidentally, the Revered Cheng lives in Harmonious Endeavor, so this is not so far out of Yoshi's way. The prisoner Ajeel is left in care of the monks, and Yoshi heads back towards the circus to rejoin Lijuan and the rest.
By this time, the circus is packing up though. Fearing to leave Yoshi behind, Lijuan leaves him a note with the innkeeper:
Yoshi We wint to Harmoneus Endever Lijuan
In any case, everyone does meet up, but Ringmaster Te is concerned that no scouting has yet been done. Therefore, he asks Yoshi to take the party ahead on fast horses to the town of Harmonious Endeavor and make sure the way is clear for the circus's arrival. Everyone is thrilled to make the last of their Strand survival rolls (well, most people make them, but Shen Wei Han is able to keep Kasumi away from the saparilla trees after she fails hers) and finally cross into the Jade Taiga.
A Town Divided
Cresting the hill overlooking Harmonious Endeavor, the party sees that half the town (mostly the northern half) has white pennants hanging from their roofs and windows as if in mourning. The party heads into town to see what's up. Approaching the tavern areas in the south, they find a pair of inns next door to each other but completely different in character. One inn is filled with rowdy revelers while the other is quiet and dignified. Cai Wen and Wei Han head into the rowdy inn, while the rest of the party heads into the quiet one to gather information.
In the quiet inn, the innkeeper relates that he thinks the partying is in poor taste as a man just died. Specifically, the Duke Lan Shai passed away suddenly a couple of days ago, and it is the supporters of the Duke Hong who are celebrating. Apparently, the town of Harmonious Endeavor was founded years ago directly on the border of the two duchies as a way to bring the two eternally feuding families together. That didn't work. Sadly their division has divided much of the town against itself. Lan Shai's funeral is scheduled for tomorrow, so bringing the circus in in full performance mode is probably not very politic. Hana asks a few details about the late Duke's family. He is survived by his wife and a daughter.
In the other bar, Cai Wen makes friends with a local named Bao who the other revelers seem to be avoiding. She claims they're all scared of her, so wouldn't mind hanging out with someone like Cai Wen who knows how to show a girl a good time. Elsewhere in the bar, Wei Han buys a round of drinks and makes a few friends of his own. His drinking buddies warn him that Cai Wen better not mess with Bao, as she's Lu's right hand. Also, he and his circus friends should avoid walking around at night, as there is a serious bandit problem in the area.
Meanwhile, Bao asks Cai Wen if he's looking to make a little money. When she hears that he's with the circus, she tells him that everyone in the circus could make some money. Apparently, at the funeral tomorrow, there will be a great giveaway of the late Duke's possessions and anyone who shows up can walk away with some of his riches (this is interpreted by Cai Wen to be some sort of euphemism, as it seems unlikely to be actually true). She encourages him to bring everyone he can. Heck, he should bring the circus elephants too, and make a real party of it. With that invitation, she's got to be off, as she needs to make a few preparations. It's the last night before the storm, as it were, but she won't tell Cai Wen what it's all about until tomorrow. Apparently, her boss will be "breaking up the band" tomorrow, so it's her last shot at the big time - but she'll see him tomorrow. She leaves, and Kasumi watches her as she looks around and then leaps up to the top of the inn and scoots off across the rooftops. Interesting.
Acorns of the Selfless Path
Leaving the inns, the party heads to the center of town to consult with the mayor and find the Revered Cheng He. They start with the local temple of the Selfless Path. Out front is a young kid painting numbers onto a pile of acorns, but he is happy to lead them inside and introduce them to Cheng He (anything to get away from the acorns!). The Revered Cheng relates that he was asked by the late Duke to give away all of the Duke's worldly possessions at his death. Cheng He and his assistant are a little concerned that the Duchess will not be on board with this plan, and so are grateful that the party is here to assist. Cheng is happy that Duke Lan finally came to this line of thinking, for it seems that he was quite a miser until recent months, when he suddenly started spending quite extravagantly, including numerous projects to help others with his wealth at Cheng's request. Cheng thinks that Lan's daughter will somehow survive the transition (he's clearly not saying all he knows here), but is worried that Lan's wife will not appreciate being made effectively penniless. Perhaps the party can speak with her about it. The late Duke wished his possessions scattered as widely as possible, so perhaps entrusting many of them to a circus full of travelers is the best way. Thus he too asks that the circus show up at the funeral. (Respectfully, of course.) He also notes that the Duke Hong will likely attend the funeral, but shouldn't cause much difficulty, as it would be too disrespectful even for him at a funeral.
Cai Wen changes the subject and asks about "Lu and his people". Again, it seems as if Cheng is not saying all he knows, but admits that he's heard of the bandit Lu. He finds it very interesting (and perhaps pleasing) that the party thinks Lu is about to end his banditry, but doesn't have much to add as to what they could be doing for their one final score.
Meanwhile, Lijuan heads back outside to talk to Cheng's apprentice. It appears that he and his master have been annoyed of late by a "monkey guy" who has been irritating Cheng to no end. Lijuan extols the virtues of circus monkeys and the pair heads off to find this "monkey guy". First though, they finish numbering the acorns for the random loot distribution at the funeral.
Wei Han is concerned that someone might put something incriminating into the house, so that when Cheng takes it out to distribute it, it will shame the Lan family in some way. Cheng suggests that in that case, the party might guard the house this evening with the Duke's guards, or stay with the family. Cheng will provide them with a letter of introduction, but agrees that the party might not want to "intrude on the widow's grief," which the party interprets as a hint that talking to the Duke's daughter might be more useful than talking to his wife. (However, they have no better plan for getting hold of the daughter than to pay a formal visit to Duchess Lan and hope Mistress Lan is also around.)
Mayor and Monkey Guy
Then they head to the mayor's office. They find the mayor arguing with a performer with a small organ and a monkey. He's trying to convince the monkey guy to leave town, but the man wants to perform at the funeral. The party arrives and announces that their monkeys are better performers. Dismayed that the Silken Wings circus is about to arrive in town and presumably show up any entertainment he might provide, the man leaves in a huff. The mayor is quite grateful to the party for getting rid of that annoying performer, who has apparently been making a nuisance of himself about town for weeks. The mayor talks to the party about the situation in town - he agrees that they do not want to exacerbate any local tensions, but thinks it should be safe for the circus to go to the funeral. He also corroborates that the late Duke became quite profligate in his spending of late, and his estate is quite deeply in debt. In fact, most of his debt has been bought up by the Duke Hong, so it seems likely Hong will not be happy with Cheng giving away all of the late Duke Lan's estate. Thus, the mayor would really like it if the party could find some way to mediate between the Revered Cheng and Duke Hong on this matter. They promise to do what they can.
Between Master Cheng and the Mayor, the party learns a bit about the two Dukes and their families: Duke Lan has a young wife, and a single teenage daughter. Duke Hong has a wife, but no heir; he had a daughter who would be perhaps 30 by now, but she disappeared and has not been heard of in years. (The party speculates wildly, but has not yet met anyone in the right age range to possibly be the missing daughter.)
Outside, Lijuan, Kasumi, Cheng's apprentice, and Shuyan catch up to the monkey man. He calls himself Fen Gong the Magnificent, and his monkey Tofu. The monkey dances a bit, but otherwise seems pretty unremarkable. He claims that he's on the road a lot, but settled in this town to perform for a couple of weeks because it seems nice. Fen Gong the Magnificent does get them to promise to talk to Ringmaster Te about a joint engagement here in town. With that, he bows with a flourish and leaves.
At this point, they discover that some of their belongings are missing. Shuyan appears to have a ring instead of her monocle, and Lijuan appears to have a monocle instead of her vanishing hat. Luckily for her, Ho is able to chase after the scent of the monkey. When they catch up to him, Fen Gong laughs it off as a silly monkey trick, gives back Lijuan's hat and quickly leaves again, leaving the gold ring behind.
The party sends a report back to Ringmaster Te, informing him to bring the circus into town quietly, and to attend the funeral, before starting any performances at least a day after that.
Then they head to the Lan estate to see what they can learn there. Hana is given the Butterfly Amulet to make her extra-statusy for the occasion. Madame Lan Shai, the duchess, greets them. She is much cooler to them when they present their letter of introduction, and wishes to know how members of the circus came to associate with "the bandit Cheng, who wishes to put a poor widow and daughter out of their home". The duchess explains that the minds of the aged become addled as they approach death. Hana commiserates with the duchess, and eventually wins some amount of trust. The duchess asks if she can expect the party's support at the funeral, as she tries to keep their estate from Cheng's vultures. Hana temporizes, which the duchess takes as at least a tacit agreement that the party won't interfere, if not actively support her. Hana points out that the mayor has invited them to be there, so she'll mostly be there to pay their respects as is appropriate. Pressing on the point of the Duke's death, the party notices that the duchess definitely doesn't want to dwell on that, although she does admit it was quite sudden and unexpected. Most people see through her though, and conclude that she likely had something to do with it. On that note, the duchess retreats.
Outside, Kasumi sees a young girl sneaking out the back of the house. She follows her out into the bamboo forest, where the girl stands next to a particular tree, makes a bird call, and grabs onto the rope that suddenly descends from above. Kasumi climbs to the top of a nearby bamboo tree herself, and finds the girl and the bandit Lu locked in a passionate embrace. Disappointed that they did not lead her to the bandit headquarters, Kasumi starts to leave in embarrassment, but the lovers are more rattled than she is.
- "They've sent ninja to kill us my love - as long as I die in your arms!" -Lu
- "This is not the bandit hideout." -Kasumi
- "No! And you shall never find it!" -Bandit Lu
The pair rush off across the treetops, and Kasumi follows stealthily. It turns out that they do, in fact, lead her to the bandit headquarters. Lots of bandits are coming and going and getting equipment, but unfortunately Kasumi is unable to overhear their plans. She watches long enough to see the girl finally leave their little bandit love-nest, and return to the mansion. Kasumi follows her back.
As the rest of the party is leaving the Lan estate, Shuyan gets the strange feeling that something meant for her has been left behind inside. A quick check of the possession indicates nothing is missing, but this brings the mysterious gold ring Shuyan has picked up to the party's attention. Lijuan notes that the duchess was wearing a similar ring, though not identical. Shuyan gives her ring to Hana for study.
The party does some discussing and then decides to guard/spy on the Lan residence for the evening. Kasumi and Lijuan take up a patrol route outside the estate looking for ninja or other intruders. Hana, Shuyan, and Wei Han go back in the Lan mansion. Sadly, the duchess is no longer available, but they do get to talk to the late Duke's daughter, who Kasumi pointed out is the bandit leader's lover. She's quite in tune with the plan to give away the estate, as she claims to have no desire for money of her own. Pressing her, it seems she does have some sort of plan for the future, but won't say what it is. Hana notes that Mistress Lan is also wearing a gold ring. Hana tries to convince Mistress Lan that she should make plans to take care of her mother after the loot is given away, out of filial piety. Mistress Lan agrees that even though she's only a stepdaughter, she does still have some duty to look after her stepmother. (Ears prick up: there's another Duchess unaccounted for? The plot thickens!)
Cai Wen, Deng Zhi Hao, and Yoshi head off to the Hong residence to speak with the other Duke. Sadly for them, he too is unavailable ("indisposed") at the moment so they can't get in. Hanging around for a while, they see Duchess Lan leave there, heading for home, and then suddenly the Duke is available once more. Suspicions abound. They head in to talk to the Duke, and once more are asked for their support at the funeral. The Duke wants to not have the estate given away because Duchess Lan has promised it to him in payment of the Lan debts. Hong has let her believe that he'll take care of her afterward, but the party's pretty convinced he's just playing her. Hong also mentions that the first Duchess Lan, the daughter's actual mother, died under mysterious circumstances, so he's not so sure that the current duchess is worthy of his trust in any case. (Lan married his second wife before his first wife died.)
Spending the Night
Meanwhile, back at the Lan residence, Hana fakes an illness, and so the trio is invited to stay the night. Shuyan meditates some, and decides that the thing which she feels should be hers, whatever it is, is deep down below them. Scouting around the mansion, the only thing down there is the crypt, but it is guarded and no one is allowed in until the funeral. So they begin a complicated plan of keeping everyone in the mansion busy and distracted, while Hana goes through the floor down into the crypt alone. It's pretty much as expected. She does find the late Duke's body, and goes so far as to unwrap it and verify that he has yet another ring on his finger, but not knowing enough about either the ring in her possession or the ring on the body, decides that swapping them might be a bad idea, so eventually wraps up the body again and slips out of the crypt.
Outside, Kasumi and Lijuan notice Fen Gong sneaking up and sending his monkey towards the house. The monkey slips up to the house, but then looks confused. Apparently, it's not very good as breaking and entering. It seems to ask Kasumi for help, but she doesn't let it in the house either. So the monkey shrugs and jumps on her shoulder. She shoos it away. It encounters Lijuan next and once more steals her hat, replacing it with something else. Lijuan searches her pockets and is shocked to find the Tincture of Pure Respite. Kasumi searches her pockets and finds a small monocle. Damn that monkey! Fen Gong the Magnificent appears and he and the monkey run off into the woods. No one pursues as they don't want to get too far away from the house, and do still have the Tincture.
By this point, people are starting to get confused as to who is who, and who is on which side, so they make a diagram to keep track of it.
They stake out the mansion for the rest of the night, but no bandits ever show up. What could they be up to? Cai Wen and some others retreat back to town to sleep the night in the inn, and Cai Wen encounters Bao. They have a fun evening together and she's so impressed that she answers a few of his questions.
- Where are the bandits? Sleeping before the big gig tomorrow.
- What's the plan for tomorrow? First we get the free loot from Cheng's giveaway and then steal the Duke's body.
- What's the big score? Lu gives them all a share of the vast wealth after he gets the body and they all retire.
- How do you turn a Duke's body into treasure? She has no idea. Lu's in charge.
Well, that almost explains what the bandits are up to. Sort of.
With the dawn, the party all gathers at the Lan residence for breakfast before the funeral.
There's a great deal of discussion. Should the party steal a ring from the body, from the duchess Lan, from the young mistress Lan, from someone else? Why are there all these rings anyways? Why is stealing the body helpful to anyone? Sadly, no conclusions are reached, and no one thinks they understand the plot well enough to actually risk stealing something, so they decide to wait for the funeral and see what happens.
First though, they head to the Revered Cheng's to get ready. They do press him though, for a little more information. He confides that he thinks Fen Gong is a low grade con-man - he hasn't noticed anything strange with the monkey. Of course, he doesn't have much in the way of material possessions to have stolen, so he may not have noticed if it was a thief. Cai Wen asks about the golden rings. He uses his Glib Guessing ability to trick Cheng into revealing that the lovers (Mistress Lan and Bandit Lu) wear a pair of magical rings meant to "preserve and protect their love". But if there's a monkey around switching rings, that could be bad. Especially once the party reveals that the duchess appears to have a ring as well. Cheng admits that the main plan was for Lu and Mistress Lan to marry, but they couldn't get the Duke's permission. Now that he's dead, they may just elope. Cheng has no idea what the deal is with body stealing though. Why would anyone want the Duke's body?
So, they all head to the funeral to see what happens. Shen Wei Han sets up some rope lines to keep order. Kasumi hides in the crypt to see if something happens there, although the body has already been moved outside for the funeral. They also make sure Min Su shows up to deal with any monkey issues. Ringmaster Te arrives to pay respect to the Lan family on behalf of the circus. Otherwise, the place is quite packed. Lots of people. Cai Wen recognizes Bao in the crowd.
The Revered Cheng speaks about the spirit of generosity and the nobility of giving. Thus, in accordance with his final wishes, Cheng declares that all of the Lan possessions will be distributed to the crowd. A bunch of people in the crowd cheer, but Duchess Lan says "No!". Unfortunately for her, Mistress Lan says yes, and the Lan guardsmen split down the middle on the issue, providing no help to either side. The Duke Hong also says no, but at the party's warning, the mayor prevented the Hong guards from showing up. So, with no one to interfere, and the crowd (comprised of circus folk and bandits) in favor, the loot distribution commences. Acorns are drawn and loot is acquired.
The party gets some stuff:
- Shuyan: A Red Sealed Scroll
- Lijuan: A [Pipa] (musical instrument)
- Cai Wen: A Dragon Scroll (level 1)
- Hana: A painting (which appears to have someone who looks like Lijuan in it.)
- Ringmaster Te: A first edition of Tokai Takanata's "Air, Water, and Rain".
- Deng Zhi-Hao: A scroll with a blue diamond seal.
- Min Su: An antique doll.
- Wei Han: A tiger skin rug
- Cheng's apprentice: Annoying wind chimes.
Shuyan opens her scroll, blushes bright red, and swears never to speak of it. Cai Wen opens the Dragon Scroll and is shocked at his good fortune. (A Dragon Scroll allows one to purchase a shtick as if it were in major concept even if it is not.) Zhi-hao opens his scroll and discovers that he is the owner of a small piece of land north of the city.
Suddenly though, a combat starts! For the bandits have all jumped out and are trying to steal the body. The Lan guards are trying to prevent them, but then some Hong guards arrive and try to steal the body for themselves. Unfortunately, as Lu, the bandit chief, reveals himself to the crowd, Hana, who has been carrying one of the golden rings for the last day and a half realizes that he is her one true love, and she his. Hana defects to the bandit side.
After some struggling, it becomes clear that people don't really want the body, they want the ring it is wearing. This causes the duchess to leap upon it to try to get the ring for herself. Hana, trying to forestall all not-bandit people, uses her powers to make the funeral area entirely too creepy. Lu calls to Hana to join him, which outrages Mistress Lan, who tries to reason with him. She thought she was his true love. Yoshi discerns that Lu is after the ring on the Duke's body because he thinks it's the twin to his Love Ring which he needs to get back for his true love so they can run off together. Yoshi tells him that the ring on the Duke's body isn't the one he thinks it is. At this point, Mistress Lan finally figures out that she's wearing the wrong ring, and says that Hana must have the ring she tried to put on her father before he died. Lu tells Bao to get him and Hana out of here, leaving his minions to stand around confused about whether they're still stealing the Duke's body. Bao tells Cai Wen to meet her at a secret location later, and sweeps the two lovers away across the treetops.
This confuses the bandits, as they didn't expect their chief to leave without them. This in turn gives the duchess a chance to grab the ring off of the Duke's body, but Shuyan snatches it from her. Wei Han grabs the body to keep everyone else away from it, but by this time the place is so creepy that it seems to start to writhe like the living dead.
Duchess Lan grabs the ring back from Shuyan, declaring, "You're not the only one touched by the serpent!" Then she slithers away, but is stopped by Deng's attack. This of course brings the Lan house guards back into the fight, now against the party.
Meanwhile, the monkey has been swapping items, and winds up with the Great Amulet of the Butterfly. Wow, perhaps that is one of the Monkeys of the Apocalypse. Min Su finally puts an end to his shenanigans and keeps the amulet for herself. Lijuan's dog Ho captures Fen Gong the Magnificent, and the Duke Hong decides that this is a bit too crazy for him and has his guards abate their efforts to steal the body. At this point, the Revered Cheng gets his biggest shtick off and enforces peace in the immediate area. (No one with a Tao lower than 1 can take any offensive actions).
Yoshi and Cai Wen descend on the crowd of remaining NPCs and force them to confess everything they can think of:
- The Duke Hong slipped the Ring of Profligacy to the Duke Lan months ago.
- Mistress Lan swapped her father's ring for her Ring of True Esteem in an attempt to get him to like Lu, getting the ring of Profligacy.
- Fen Gong has tracked the Ring of Profligacy across the land and swapped a plain ring for it with his monkey days ago, but got the Ring of True Esteem instead.
- Duchess Lan swapped her husband's ring for the Ring of Feign Death in order to stop him from spending them into nothingness. Oh, and she also accidentally killed the first duchess Lan.
- The Revered Cheng knew about the lovers, but seems otherwise blameless in this.
- The mayor was smart enough to not come to the funeral.
In the end, the party gives the Ring of Profligacy to Cheng (as he is unlikely to have anything worth giving away), and the Ring of Feign Death to Shuyan.
Finally, with the Ring of Feign Death removed from his finger, the Duke Lan wakes and it is revealed that he was not actually dead. Hooray! Most people give him his loot back, but he insists the party keep theirs for their service on his behalf.
Rescue of Hana
Then the party takes off into the woods following Cai Wen's lead to find the missing Hana and Lu.
They arrive at the bandit hideout to find a distraught Bao.
- "Thank god you're here, they've gone insane!" -Bao
She relates that she brought Lu and Hana back to the hideout and tried to get her share of the vast wealth. Lu informed her that there was no wealth. Bao yelled that he said they were going to acquire a great treasure. Lu declared that "Love is the greatest treasure of all." Then he and Hana ran off across the treetops together.
The party, with Bao's help, catches up to the fleeing lovers. Hana, not being as skilled with treetop running, was slowing Lu down. (Though he didn't mind, of course.) The party intercepts and tries to capture them. Hana protests, "Shuyan, don't stop us from escaping, we're in love!"
Bao shuttles people up to the top of the trees and a flowing treetop combat commences. Cai Wen uses the Great Amulet of the Butterfly to impress Hana after she's disarmed of her ring. She eventually starts to realize that Cai Wen is indeed much cooler than Lu (the fact that the ferret on his shoulder has Lu's ring also helps). In the end, Lu and Hana are both disarmed of their rings, and people wait around having tea until the effects wear off.
It is decided to let Lu and Mistress Lan keep their rings, as long as they promise to wear them themselves. Apparently, they really do preserve and protect lovers, assuming they are worn by true lovers. If worn by those not in love, well, then these crazy things happen.
- "Evil Yoshi's plan would be to get the two Dukes to wear the rings and bring harmony to the town." -Good Yoshi
On the way back, the party stops off at the land Deng now owns. On it, they find a little cottage, which houses the Duke Hong's long-missing daughter. She apparently has a son, who people identify as the child of the Duke Lan. Even more complications. Deng decides to give the woman his deed to the land. She confides that Lan always intended to give it to her when he passed, but she hasn't seen him recently. Apparently, she hadn't even heard about the funeral. However, since the Duke is alive again, no one tells her now.
The party returns to town and confers with the mayor. Duke Lan gets most of his stuff back, and has his wife arrested. Mistress Lan and Lu are given permission to marry, provided Lu gives up banditry forever. The mayor can't really punish the Duke Hong, but writes up the entire affair for the party to carry to the king in the City of Spires. The king will have to deal with him. Shuyan gives her red scroll to Hana and again vows to never speak of its contents (Cai Wen asks Hana about the contents, but Hana doesn't tell him). Hana gives Lijuan the painting, and Lijuan gives Hana the musical instrument. Tofu the monkey is taken away from Fen Gong and given to Min Su. Fen Gong himself is given to the mayor for justice.
Ringmaster Te decides that the circus will perform for two days here in town, and then head to the City of Spires.
- Lijuan tries to get the kids of Harmonious Endeavor interested in team sports