|"One's good deeds are only known at home, one's bad deeds far away"|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tortoise in the Month of the Serpent in the tenth Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Tanzhe Plain
Cai Wen finds Master Zhou and Yanyu, and asks them to help him with doing some good deeds in the Tanzhe Plain. They are puzzled by why he wants them in particular, but he admits that he woke up in the morning and asked the butler who was around Tahiti, and the answer was them.
- "I don't want to do the whole Beast Rabban to Feyd thing here."
The trio heads out to the Tanzhe, to see how things are going. A quick Gather Information indicates that morale is reasonable - sure, they've been conquered, but they've been conquered before, and the bandits are gone. Of course, there were only bandits very briefly, but... well, these things happen.
Cai Wen has a list of five towns that he wants to focus on. The nearest one, in the corner of the plain closest to Tahiti, is Three Seasons, so they head there. In Three Seasons, things are basically good, as they weren't too damaged by the invasion and any expected terribleness hasn't come down too hard. Local gossip suggests that the person with the most troubles here is poor Mistress Tea Leaf - but what can you do? The group spots a tea house, built somewhat shoddily out of sticks, and goes in to order tea.
Yanyu orders jasmine tea from the very young server, and hears some confused-sounding fussing in the back. Cai Wen tries to overhear the conversation in the back room - it sounds like the server is arguing with someone who isn't saying anything, but based on the timing, he thinks it's an actual conversation, and not just the server pretending that there's someone else there.
When the server returns with the tea, Yanyu notes that the most important person tied to the server is Mistress Tealeaf. Master Zhou sips the tea, and notes that it is a very good pu-ehr, not actually jasmine.
Yanyu tells the server that this is a lovely tea house, and could she please talk to the owner? The server panics - Mistress Tealeaf doesn't... see people well. But Yanyu crushes the girl with her charisma, and the server leads Yanyu to the kitchen, where there is a woman with striking long white hair. When she turns around, Yanyu sees that she has very weird porcelain things in front of her eyes, that zoom out at people when she "looks" at them. She gestures, and the server translates that Mistress Tea Leaf wants to know if she liked the tea. Yanyu says that she did.
Master Zhou and Cai Wen join Yanyu in the kitchen, and Master Zhou bows to Mistress Tealeaf. She makes some special tea for him, then pours it out and blows to dry the cup. She hands him the cup, gesturing, and Master Zhou, puzzled, gets ready to give a kung fu strike to the teacup in response to her gestures. The server jumps in - please don't break the teacup! It's all a little puzzling.
Yanyu checks to see if either Mistress Tealeaf or the server is a supernatural being, but there is actually a distinct lack of supernatural in the room.
Mistress Tealeaf makes a special tea for Yanyu and points at her midsection, gesturing wildly again.
- "She thinks that tea is good for you. It's on the house." -the server
Yanyu begins to suspect that the server isn't saying what Madame Tealeaf is trying to say with her gestures, and notes this to the server. The server takes back the part about the tea being on the house. So... how long has the server worked here? She says she's been here since the previous invasion, when her dad got killed, and Mistress Tealeaf's husband got killed. She looks to be about twelve, so she must have been quite young when she came to work for Mistress Tealeaf. The server says that she tried to learn about tea ceremonies, but Mistress Tealeaf isn't a very good teacher, so it was hard.
Master Zhou tries to find out about the dreams and aspirations that the young serving girl has. Well, maybe someday she'll get married to someone rich and famous and they'll have lots of kids and send them to good schools. That would be nice.
Yanyu borrows Kuan-Xi's expressive gestures skill to try to understand what Mistress Tealeaf means with her choppy gestures. But the gestures don't seem to have any obvious meaning - it's like expressive gestures, but encrypted somehow? Mistress Tealeaf's aspect is Tortoise, Yanyu notes.
Master Zhou offers to train with her - the serving girl reminds Master Zhou that she's not a very good teacher, but he explains that he wants to teach her kung fu, not learn tea ceremonies from her. That doesn't make a lot more sense to either of the teahouse people. Mistress Tealeaf makes tea for Master Zhou again, and pours it out and blows on it so it dries, and then puts it in her own pocket. They persuade the serving girl that Cai Wen, as the owner of a tea house himself, can hold down the fort while Mistress Tealeaf goes out to train at kung fu.
After a great deal of practice, Master Zhou manages to learn four gesture-words for kung fu sorts of things. (She doesn't seem to have any kung fu skill, but seems to be mysteriously rolling for fives). They don't seem to have any obvious visual similarity to the kung fu motions themselves, which is probably why expressive gestures doesn't help. Master Zhou also learns that Mistress Tealeaf is fourth level, and her late husband was a natural philosopher.
Yanyu drinks the astringent tea that Mistress Tealeaf has made for her, and her after a while, notices her babies kicking for the first time, maybe a little early.
There doesn't seem to be an obvious string to pull to solve Mistress Tealeaf's problems, so the group decides to head to the next town while they mull it over. Maybe a future town will have the other half of the plot to put together like a jigsaw.
The next town on Cai Wen's list is Blood Hill, which does seem to have a good strategic location as far as the Tanzhe goes.
Everyone in town has put up banners for the King of the Arcade, except one large stone house which is conspicuously banner free, and also thronged with workmen. Local gossip identifies that as Galuki's house - he's always behind the times, politically.
Since the stone house seems to be the most interesting thing going on, the party stops by to ask questions. Has the house been here long? It has been here as long as Galuki's family has, and he will rebuild it as many times as it takes! The design he is rebuilding to is the way it looked when Galuki's grandfather brought him to see the Great King Sonwu, and that it is what it will look like when the next King Sonwu visits.
Master Zhou notes that the house really isn't built to be defensible, but it's at the top of the hill the town is on - so any time the town gets taken, that house is going to be either taken or damaged badly enough to not be a threat. Master Zhou comments on this, but Galuki thinks that this is just a sign of the times. They don't have respect any more, and back in the day, they didn't just overthrow the government.
The group puts their heads together and tries to figure out what Galuki's actual position is - it seems that he's not actually a partisan for the Fields of Honor, per se, he's more of a partisan for the imaginary Fields of Honor that never were.
- "Back in the day they didn't let people conquer the country, or if they did, they used armies, they didn't just bribe people into leaving."
So... would he be as impressed by a Governor as he was by the King? Maybe, if it was a Sonwu Governor.
Master Zhou tries to convince Galuki that maybe the thing to do is make the house more defensible - put in a moat, or make the windows smaller. But making it more defensible would make it not look like the painting! The workers warn Master Zhou that this is not an argument he will be able to win. It's a shame, though - in the good years, Galuki is a pillar of the community. In the bad years, he hates change for half a cycle. He sulks even when the Plains conquer the Tanzhe, because they didn't do it the same way they would have "back in the day."
Hmm. Maybe the thing they can do to help the town is to help get him through the adjustment period faster. The town itself is kind of short of money, but Galuki himself isn't. But right now he's hired all the workmen, so rebuilding the rest of the town is lagging behind.
Cai Wen swoops around investing money, about a tael and a half, in the name of the Great Xiao Fa, the Governor, and Yanyu spends some time persuading Galuki that Governor Xiao Fa is actually the Destined Emperor, and that this is a sign that the great old times are returning. Galuki is tentatively persuaded, though if he is not invited to Xiao Fa's governor-coronation ceremony, there will likely be trouble.
The third town is Tiger's Landing, a river community on the Jasmine. As the group starts to ask around about it, a bard rushes up to sing to them the tale of the town. The song focuses on the most recent invasion, and the glorious and ridiculous battle in which the bumbling soldiers accidentally stumbled their way into victory.
The bumbling conquerors are predicted to be planning to make stupid changes to the town just for the sake of change - to paint the blue walls red and red walls blue, that sort of thing.
- "Stick around and see what happens - it'll be hilarious."
The rest of the town is quick to write the bard off as a crank, but there's a sense in which they are actually being swayed by his propaganda as well, though they probably don't realize and wouldn't admit it.
Yanyu notes that his aspect is very assertively Monkey, and that his most important connection is also Monkey. (In fact, her senses tend to report this as something like "Monkey, but nope, you're wrong, it's actually *Monkey*!")
The locals note that when the Forest was in charge, the bard made fun of them instead - he's not a partisan, particularly. And when the Plains were in charge, he made fun of them. Before that, though - well, ten years back, he wasn't so political at all. Something definitely changed then, but it isn't clear what.
Cai Wen challenges him to a jester duel, more to convince the onlookers than the bard himself. Oddly, the jester always seems to get twelve successes, no matter what. However, Cai Wen has a lot of fortune to throw at the problem, and wins the duel.
Round 1: "The bard is just as silly as the government." Round 2: "The government is cool now, because it's new and different." Round 3: "Something something government." Round 4: "And hah, I'm the government!"
While the town is won over, the bard is probably going to keep singing, and may sway them again in the future. And any mysteries behind what the bard is up to or why are still mysteries. But for the moment, the town is reasonably solidly on the side of the new government.
Leaves in Spring
The next town, Leaves in Spring, seems to be happy and undamaged. The local gossip is that everyone is planning a surprise party for the Mayor's birthday - Madame Zheng, the Mayor, has kept everything on an even keel despite everything, and the town wants to celebrate her.
They'll be having a big festival in the center of town for it - oh, and they should probably get permits. The guy that the group is talking to runs off to file the permits, when the party realizes that if the Mayor is in charge of this sort of permit, the jig will be up on the surprise when she goes to sign the permit. Cai Wen sends Squeaky to fetch the guy back before he gets to town hall, and the guy is strategically disabled by a ferret in his shoe for long enough that the party can catch up.
So... maybe they should claim to be having something like a pro-government rally instead, so that it will still be a surprise when it turns out to be a birthday party? The guy is confused - the Mayor isn't pro-government, she protects them from the government. They disillusion him - the Mayor is part of the government. He finds this hard to believe, but they are very persuasive.
- "But if it's a government rally, will everyone come?"
- "We'll make sure they come." -Master Zhou, ominously
Cai Wen arranges to import all the pork buns in the world to give away, and gives them a box of fireworks. Yanyu throws in some event planning, which is needed, because everyone in town seems a lot less enthusiastic about a pro-government rally. Nobody here is in favor of the government.
This calls for a propaganda roll to convince everyone: the mayor is the government. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Master Zhou makes a bunch of posters, featuring Xiao Fa (who no one here has ever heard of) and the Mayor.
The Mayor, who seems to be a no-nonsense sort, is baffled by the pro-government rally ("Who's that guy on the posters?") but is in fact surprised by the party. Success!
The last of Cai Wen's towns is Fallen Castle, which features, in fact, a semi-ruined castle on the hill above it. The first local they meet suggests that the party not spread it around that they're from the House of Exuberant Interference - it could get them in trouble with Sakomoto, the defender of this town, up in the castle. If the townsfolk need to be saved from them, Sakomoto won't hesitate to shoot them.
So... what does the town need help with? Well, the harvest is coming soon, and Sakomoto said it would be a bad winter, so they will need to get everything in before the weather turns or the weevils come. There aren't as many field workers as are needed.
Master Zhou heads up to the castle to talk to Sakomoto, while the other two head back to Three Seasons to hire any spare workers they can get.
Arrows come out of the sun towards Master Zhou, but he easily parries them all. Sakomoto ends up confused by the introduction, as Master Zhou seems a lot less invader-y than expected, but once Sakomoto gets Master Zhou to cast from his bag of bones, Sakomoto apologizes and puts his bow away. (The bones say that Master Zhou is an Enemy of Spider and a Defender of the Empire).
Sakomoto is persuaded that Master Zhou and company are not invaders to be dealt with and the rest of the party returns with workers to help with the harvest. (More money invested.) Twenty spare workers for a couple of weeks are enough to save the harvest, so Fallen Castle is on the party's side now too.
Three Seasons, Redux
So... none of the other towns had an obvious solution for Madame Tealeaf, but it has become clearer that the plots are sort of random difficulties and not Complicated Mysteries to be Solved, so maybe the solution isn't that complicated. Maybe Mistress Tealeaf just needs a better teahouse that will help her communicate?
- "We need a linguist/architect!!!" -Master Zhou
- "Master Zhou is a Huan Ken fanboy." -Laura
Cai Wen offers to build Madame Tealeaf a better teahouse, and she makes him tea with a fragrant stick. The meaning is not immediately clear. Yanyu offers her a brush and paper, in the hopes that she can write, even if she can't speak, but she dips a brush in the tea and makes some squiggles.
Perhaps the thing to do is get a different tea house's advice. The group heads to the Cup of Five Virtues, where Cai Wen declares to Chashui that they have a tea emergency! He explains the situation.
- "Building people a tea house is just your go-to move, isn't it?" -Chashui
People vaguely remember that Ando had some deaf confederates who spoke in a gestural language - might it be the same one? Also, Chashui notes that sometimes a natural philosopher named Shintao the Wise drops by to argue with the sorcerers.
The party waits until Shintao shows up, and explains the plot to him. He says that if "Master Tealeaf" was not from one of the problematic schools, he should be able to decipher her language. The group pays him a consultation fee, and drags him to Three Seasons.
Shintao is particularly impressed by Mistress Tealeaf's polished auraloptics, and tries to get an explanation. However, it will take a while for him to learn the gestural language. The party returns a week later, and he has figured out the details - both Cai Wen and Yanyu both learn 8 ranks of PSL (Philosophic Sign Language). Being grounded in natural philosophy, it cannot be used to discuss magic, spirits, the supernatural, or anything like that, but otherwise is a silent language.
Mistress Tealeaf explains that she knew about teas, but her husband studied teas. He was about to make a breakthrough on a hangover cure when he made an error in his calculations and passed away. She is both blind and mute, so her husband made her the auraloptics. She knows that the serving girl doesn't understand her - she thinks the girl is an idiot, but she feels sorry for her, and the girl does need a place to live.
Yanyu concludes that this is a situation which needs a marriage to solve it, and after thirty successes of fast talk, Mistress Tealeaf and Shintao the Wise are willing to be married. Yanyu thinks they should probably get married before the fast talk wears off again, and Master Zhou grudgingly admits that he has learned enough ceremonies to perform a marriage. This is on Cai Wen's head, he claims before performing the ceremony. (He has been trained in ceremonies by the Temple of Continuing Remembrance, so it is a particularly solemn and reverent ceremony...)Cai Wen, who has not managed to invest in all the towns yet, arranges to have her tea house rebuilt out of wood rather than sticks.