|"If at home you receive no visitors, then abroad you will have no host."|| The run takes place on the Day of the Late Crane in the Month of the Spider in the second Year of the Magpie since the ascension of the High Warlord Ze.|
The run takes place in Lijuan's new house.
Under the direction of Lijuan and Zhuai's majordomo, people have been cleaning and refurbishing the previously-haunted House on the Hill, and while there is still quite a bit of work to do (and rooms which have not yet been touched), many rooms are surprisingly livable. As people take a break from the cleaning, Domo takes Xiao Fa aside to tell him that there is a visitor to see him.
Xiao Fa heads to an anteroom, where he finds the Blue Dragon, who bows and says that he seeks Xiao Fa's advice. He has failed in his (new) duties, and must make amends to those who have been harmed. However, as he is not an immortal, he doesn't have the convenient "gold trinket" favor to give out. Xiao Fa gives him the standard Lijuan-based lecture of "you must give me context if you want advice". The Blue Dragon clarifies - a powerful entity penetrated the Empire, and did some damage. As the Warden of the Southern Seas, it was across his boundary that the entity came, so he is in part responsible. Xiao Fa says he will consider what might be done to express amends. The Blue Dragon also notes that he would be interested in speaking to Lord Takanata at his convenience, and Xiao Fa agrees to pass that along as well.
Xiao Fa heads back to the group, and briefs them. Cai Wen reminds everyone to not trust the Blue Dragon.
- "Do not blindly cooperate!" -Cai Wen, pounding the table with his shoe
Those who have not been paying close attention are also reminded that the Blue Dragon is thought to actually be Lucky Chang.
Takanata, meanwhile, draws some art, though it is not clear what it means yet.
Domo returns, to let the Lady Lijuan know that a representative from House Sung is here to meet with the Lady. Lijuan says to let him in - anyone from House Sung should be treated extra-nicely.
- "But the ones pretending to be from House Sung but are actually assassins, don't let them in." -Cai Wen
As Domo is not sure that he can distinguish without more details, he shows the emissary in. He is dressed sturdily, with a sword and a knife and a bow, and tells Lijuan that the Lady Sung sends her greetings.
- "She is pleased to see your family keep rise from the Forest once more."
- "Did it used to be in the forest?" -Lijuan
- "Not so visibly."
After some amount of talking past each other about who is interested in helping who more, the House Sung emissary offers assistance for Lijuan's formation and training of her house guard.
- "Zhuai, do we have a house guard?" -Lijuan
- "Working on it! Hard to do everything at once!" -Zhuai
- "We'll just find some urchins..." -Lijuan
- "No, you will not have urchins as your house guard." -Takanata
- "Thank you." -Zhuai
Takanata suggests that the emissary work with Zhuai. The Sung warrior looks pained, but will do so, and the two go off together.
Cai Wen, having become somewhat enthusiastic about table-pounding, wields his shoe again to make it clear that there will be No Complacency about the house guard.
A letter is delivered for Zhuai, but as he is busy, Lijuan takes it, and puts it in her pocket until later.
Domo introduces another visitor as "the Illustrious one", after putting on his good coat. This proves to be Ming Lieren. Lijuan bounces in welcome.
- "Hello! I'm working on a story. I think you're going to like this one! I did an ambush in the servant quarters! I didn't think you would like how the Demon of Animal Cruelty story turned out." -Lijuan
- "Did you marry it?" -Ming Lieren
Ming Lieren explains that she is here on behalf of her liege, who wishes to... er, hmm. She was expecting Xian to be here. With their permission, she will wait to see if Xian shows up, whereupon she is to extend the apologies and regrets of her liege for this recent most unseemly failure, and offer appropriate restitution.
- "Xiao Fa, what does that mean? Who is her liege?" -Lijuan
- "The Azure Blade." -Xiao Fa
- "In this case, the Warden of the Northern Seas." -Ming Lieren
Lijuan says that if she'd like to fish while she waits for Xian, there's a nice fishing stream outside. After some awkward pauses, she is also offered a guest room.
Domo announces another visitor, an emissary from House Tsui. They wish to propose a mutually acceptable alliance, and are invited to stay and discuss terms.
Lijuan eventually gives Zhuai the letter, who opens it, and asks Cai Wen to discuss it with him elsewhere. Once they leave the main room, Zhuai shows Cai Wen the letter, which says it is not to be discussed near Shen-Ji, and has a set of instructions:
- Step one: build bonfire
- Step two: sacrifice Shen-Ji in bonfire (optional)
- Step three: throw letter in bonfire
Cai Wen's extra-refined moll-detecting skills suggest to him that "Step two" is in a slightly different handwriting than the rest, though "optional" is in the same hand as steps 1 and 3. It seems likely that this is will summon Ming I. Kuan-Xi confirms that it looks like some sort of gate spell, though why anyone would be crazy enough to fire gate rather than water gate is beyond her.
Oh, by the way - does Zhuai have a briefing on the Forest of Chin warlord mechanic? He says that he's working on it, but it will take some more time to finish pulling it together.
Xian eventually wakes up, and wanders out in search of breakfast. Lijuan tells Ming Lieren that Xian is back.
- "Is she prepared to receive me?" -Ming Lieren
- "She had better be." -Lijuan
Ming Lieren bows to Xian. She offers the greetings of her liege, and offers his apologies and regrets for failure to uphold his duties. As Xian was among those directly harmed, he offers reasonable restitution.
Xian says she is honored just to have attracted the attention of those such as the Huntress and her liege, but she has no idea what the appropriate thing would be to ask for. Ming Lieren says that thanks to the generosity of Lady Lijuan, she will be staying here for some time; if Xian doesn't come up with something by then, she will leave Xian with a token of her liege's favor.
- "That would be a great honor and a strong disincentive to think of anything else." -Xian
Speaking of which, Xiao Fa thinks Xian should think hard about whether she wants to stay as Coyote aspect or not. Xian doesn't want to stay as Coyote forever, but thinks that there might be tactical advantages for the short term.
An emissary from House Mong arrives; Domo is instructed to stall him for a bit, while Takanata reminds everyone that House Mong is on the enemy list, because they're feuding with House Tsai.
- "I offer the greetings of Lord Mong. It is unexpected to see your house founded here with such haste."
- "Zhuai thought I needed a place to go fishing." -Lijuan
- "... We understand the struggles of newer houses, and can offer aid and advice."
- "That's okay, Zhuai has lots of aid and advice."
- "Perhaps we could aid each other."
- "Well, have you resolved your difficulties with the bee-lady's house?"
- "Er... who?"
- "Tsai Su-Yin."
- "Ah. Our difficulties with House Tsai are not yet resolved."
- "Well, I hope that they will be resolved peacefully soon."
- "That... seems unlikely. But perhaps an alliance could cause the resolution to be swifter."
- "A peaceful resolution?"
- "... You perhaps do not have a lot of experience with the ways of the Forest of Chin. House Mong would be happy to advise you in the way that things are traditionally done."
- "I grew up in House Sung, so I am not enthusiastic about the way that things are traditionally done."
As the discussion does not seem to be very productive, Takanata suggests that House Mong wait for them to conclude some previous discussions first. Since the previous discussions aren't with House Tsai, the emissary is willing to do so, and Domo shows him to another room.
Cai Wen throws his letter in a bonfire that Zhuai has set up in the courtyard (Kuan-Xi watches). The fire leaps up and turns blue-white, and Ming I steps out of it. Kuan-Xi finds it just as puzzling in practice as it was in theory - that was a straight up temporary water gate, made with no water.
Ming I appears a little taller, more poised and less wild, than she has been in the past. She gives Cai Wen a kiss on the cheek and says that she is glad to see him again - where are they? Cai Wen tells her that they're at House Foon's keep in the Forest of Chin, which she is a bit surprised by.
- "There will be no pot shots at Shen-Ji in this house." -Cai Wen
- "That would be terribly unprofessional. Rest assured." -Ming I
They head back inside, and Takanata checks the deepest connection between Ming I and Shen-Ji: it's a not-very-strong professional rivalry, but simultaneously, distantly, mutual hatred. Xiao Fa looks at her chi, and she seems to be swathed in bands of chi while underneath, her chi is healing.
Ming I asks if Takanata's esteemed granddaughter is around, or Shuyan - no, not at the moment. Well, messages from her mistress will have to wait, but she has a message from her master to present.
The bullet points seem to have tiny alchemical symbols by them, and Kuan-Xi suspects that they are more "tags". She carefully copies the letter, and burns the original.
Ming I is invited to stay for a bit, in case there is a return message. Cai Wen suggests that she have her own room, and Domo begins to get a little worried about the number of guest rooms left. (Four more visitors is about all they can fit, without starting to use the rooms that haven't been cleaned up since the haunting).
Zhuai says that House Tsui is offering a house sorcerer, if they want them. Shen-Ji heartily recommends House Tsui, with all the caveats that might suggest.
The majordomo of House Teng arrives, to extend the welcome of Lord and Lady Teng, and to hope that Lijuan's upcoming endeavors result in all she desire. As they are stretched somewhat thin at present, they are unable to provide assistance, but they do extend their greetings. Lijuan and Takanata both leap in to offer any assistance that House Teng might need, but the majordomo is sure that is not necessary either.
So... was House Teng all right on the Night of Gates? Yes, of course. It is their custom to make sure that everyone is behind closed doors, and usually nothing happens inside one's own house.
- "There's a lot of blood and screaming between usually and always." -Xian
He is willing to stay if they want to send a return response, but a cordial thank you is all he is hoping for. He's shown to a room, and Takanata follows to chat with him more. Is the Teng majordomo concerned about anything in particular? Well, the majordomo is a little concerned, but not about any pressing problems. House Teng has made its way through the Forest by being well-known for being neutral and apolitical. However, the majordomo believes that the Tengs would be inclined to provide aid and alliance if Takanata and Lijuan and their associates were to ask for it. His concern, which he delicately leaves unstated, is that this would jeopardize their neutrality. Takanata says that he is also investigating ways to get a message to Master Hiro, if they have something to say to him. The majordomo will make sure they send a letter.
Autumn Rose / Blue Dragon
Domo announces that the Lady Autumn Rose is here, and that the Blue Dragon is still waiting to speak to Xian. The two are shown in together.
- "Congratulations on your recent ascent, and I hopes it brings you what you seek." -Autumn Rose
- "Thank you. There's a wonderful stream for fishing!" -Lijuan
Autumn Rose was also hoping to speak to Takanata and Cai Wen.
- "Master Zhu and I had a disagreement; he believes he was overcharged, and I agreed to leave the decision in your hands." -Autumn Rose to Takanata
Before Takanata can wander off with Autumn Rose, the Blue Dragon bows to him. He understands that Takanata's granddaughter is not here at the moment, but asks that Min Feng contact him at her convenience. He would be pleased to offer her something that she might find useful in the future. He presents Takanata with a blue stone that she can use to contact him, much to Autumn Rose's fascination.
The Blue Dragon also bows to Xian, and offers his apologies for the most serious breach which occurred. If Xian has some restitution in mind, that would aid her in recovering, he would be more than pleased to see what he could do.
An emissary from House Tsai is here, and is promptly filed away from House Mong. Also, a letter for Takanata arrives, but happily, it is not something to be dealt with right now. Takanata, Cai Wen, and Autumn Rose head for a side room as the House Tsai emissary is shown in, and the majordomo from House Teng is politely shown out to make room (since he's not waiting for an alliance).
House Tsai confirms that Tsai Su-yin has not returned, and the Lord Tsai’s sons are still suffering from “occasional disagreements”.
Autumn Rose understands Cai Wen's position - that since she was unable to provide Mondo's exact location, it was not worth the price. But she notes that part of the issue is that the main thing that she knows of that the party can offer her is a fairly large price. Takanata suggests that as a second small recompense, that she turn her talents to thinking on how the name of a house might be set rather than determined; her efforts along those lines will make up any disparity in the previous bargain. And if she comes up with something that she thinks can be done, then they can bargain for that separately. Autumn Rose finds that a most gracious compromise, and agrees.
She also says that there is something that they might find interesting, but not pressing, and trades that for a quick briefing on the Coyote breach, which she also finds interesting (and thinks she might be able to figure out more about what sorts of things creatures named coyotes are). She tells them that her father has had several unwanted visitors from the Savanna, whom he has "shown out".
Domo shows in another visitor: Fa Mulan, wearing an interestingly overwrought Dragon Army uniform. It's more brightly colored than the usual, and the insignia is a little simplified and stands out more boldly. Kuan-Xi thinks that from a fashion sense, it's been "punched up" by someone with some talent.
She says that things are going reasonably well for her and her friends; she reunited with Chien-Po after the naval engagement, and since then, they've been transferred around a lot. Since she happened to be in the area and heard they were here, she was hoping to meet with Master Deng, as he asked her to get in touch with him, but he's not here at the moment. She does have a few days leave, and Lijuan invites her to stay.
She says she's heard some foolishness about giant fuzzy elephants in the North - Kuan-Xi and Shen-Ji assure her that the fuzzy elephants are real, not made-up stories, and she's not pleased to hear that. (And the scouts who mentioned them perhaps shouldn't have been disciplined.)
So... who is her new tailor? She looks a little embarrassed - she's part of the Dragon Army Propaganda Corps at the moment. After the losses in the southern campaign, they're trying to recruit more. And since Mulan seems to have gotten a good reputation, she and her companions are doing outreach and recruitment.
People ask for news from the Dragon's Throne. The Regency Council has cracked down on corruption, so people get jailed for giving or taking bribes, but... it makes it really hard to get things done. So things are kind of disorganized. Everyone assures her it's undoubtedly for the best in the long run.
Domo says that an emissary from House Xing is here, surprising everyone, since Xing wasn't on the list people made earlier of who they might expect. The house is definitely getting full.
The House Xing emissary enters, and bows to Lijuan. His questions, unusually, are about her interests outside the Forest. Lijuan admits to travelling a lot. Has she found any targets? Hmm, er, what? She says she's looking to find someone to support for Emperor. The emissary thinks that's particularly interesting, though when Lijuan says that she wants the "best person" for Emperor, rather than someone from the Forest, the Xing emissary clearly disagrees a little. She says that someone will no doubt tell her who the best is.
- "Bobby Li!"
Lijuan says she has surrounded herself with wise advisors to tell her things like that, indicating her companions. The Xing emissary thinks perhaps she should have some local advisors too? Oh, well, House Tsui and House Tsai have both offered.
- "The people I know and trust know that I know and trust them." -Lijuan
Well, perhaps Lijuan could visit Xing Keep, and they could discuss these matters? Lijuan would be happy to stop by. During puttering, then? Er, Lijuan meant the next time the Silken Wings Circus happened to travel through the northern Forest, which might be some time next summer. The Xing emissary was hoping it might be before that.
House Xing's reputation is less about internecine squabbling with other Houses in the Forest, and more about nationalism in the rest of the Empire. That includes, Xian points out, lending their shoulder to the Empire's fight against the Northern Barbarians in a way that most others aren't - Xing is the ones who sent their terra cotta soldiers north with Dog.
Lijuan tells the Xing emissary that when she visits, she would need to bring her panda bear and also her hamster Boo. She introduces the emissary to the (imaginary) Boo, and the emissary does a credible job keeping a straight face. He wonders if Boo is one of her advisors as well? No, Boo doesn't talk very much. The emissary is herded off to another guest room, leaving the house nearly full. Takanata declares that it's time for Enlightened Melina to visit, to exercise her cat-herding abilities.
She notes that most of the visitors have more status than she does, so she can't really herd them, but she should be able to warn about impending catastrophes of running-into-each-other before they happen. Once the house is at max capacity, they'll start rolling on the random guest encounter table.
Several representatives from House Zhen arrive. Lijuan notes that she'd rather just kill them all, but suspects that people won't let her. Cai Wen and especially Shen-Ji assure her that they don't mind if she slaughters the House Zhen emissaries, and, oddly enough, nobody seems willing to weigh in on the side of it being a bad idea.
Lijuan goes to fetch Kawaii, and she and the panda poke their head in to say hello to the House Xing representative.
- "We'll be happy to come visit next puttering." -Lijuan
- "ROAR!" -Kawaii
The emissary tells them that they will be more than welcome, and then barricades himself in his room.
Then, the House Zhen emissaries are shown in. The leader bows deeply, and offers greetings, welcome, and friendship from House Zhen to Lady Siew. Lijuan corrects him to "Lady Foon", and wonders if the offer of friendship extends to House Sung, as they are very close. Kawaii growls.
Ah, well, um, could he speak with Lord Zhuai, perhaps? In a moment. The Zhen emissaries are escorted to the antechamber, as House Zhen is not going to be offered a room. Cai Wen's guess is that he thought they could just show up and wrap up an alliance with Siew.
- "So, are you saying it's okay to wipe out their house?" -Lijuan
- "Wait, what, are we wiping people out now?" -Zhuai
Zhuai notes that if they want to fight Zhen, then they shouldn't ally with them, unless they really want to wipe them out, in which case they should be bound as tightly as possible by alliance before the betrayal. Nobody likes that plan; killing them all might be okay, but betrayal is right out. How about offering them a mild rather than overwhelming insult? Zhuai suggests that the plan not be to convince House Zhen to attack them before they're ready for a fight. Well, all right. Perhaps Zhuai should tell them that he's in favor of an alliance, but Lijuan is stubborn and will need to be brought around first. That's almost even true.
Zhuai heads to the antechamber, interrupting the Blue Dragon speaking to the House Zhen messengers, and suggests that they'll talk later. Xiao Fa claps for the Blue Dragon, wanting to know what they were talking about. The Blue Dragon says that they, like many of the guests, seem to be somewhat confused about the name of the house. House Sung thinks that obviously it is Foon, and Tsui thinks obviously it is Siew. House Zhen thinks that Sung and Tsui don't get along very well, and doesn't think that Sung will ally with Siew at all.
Takanata encourages both Lijuan and Zhuai to make sure that both their houses ally with House Tsai. Xian notes that Foon and Siew are currently treated as separate in the House mechanic, so they can have different alliances and assets, but they only get one turn between them. As far as the House mechanic goes, Takanata notes that it's not as unified as the Arcade mechanic. House Tsui, for example, has a high Chi stat, but other houses don't seem to even have a Chi stat.
Melina notes that at the moment, the emissaries from Xing and Tsui are talking to each other.
In a new turn of events, Lijuan's art suggests that there are bandits outside along the road that leads to the house. What, are there more people intending to visit who aren't here yet? Well, House Ze hasn't sent anyone yet. Or it could be that the bandits are preventing people from leaving. The only person who has actually left is the Teng majordomo, so Takanata auspiciously summons him back. He says that he came back to warn the house that there's an official delegation from High Warlord Ze approaching on the long road. Well, perhaps that's who is going to trigger the ambush.
The party heads outside, confident that there ought to be someone to fight. The House emissaries are left with Melina to keep an eye on them. Mulan, Ming Lieren, and the Blue Dragon are all interested in the fight. Xiao Fa thinks Ming I is stable to bring, but Shen-Ji warns that if she does anything to him, he's killing her dead dead dead. Well, she can stay behind too.
A carriage and outriders with the High Warlord's banner are coming up the hill, and Takanata gets a vision of the future of one of the outriders: trying to free the carriage from a hole further up the hill. Mulan checks to see if Shen-Ji is confident there will be an ambush, or if they're just improvising - Shen-Ji is pretty sure there's an ambush. Mulan sends a firework arrow into the air.
Lijuan shouts to beware the ambush, and Takanata calls out to the carriage to please not proceed into the trapped area. As the jig seems to be up, the ambushers spring their attack. The Blue Dragon leaps in the way of an ambusher targeting Takanata, leading to some consternation.
- "I charge in to defend Takanata, so that Lucky Chang isn't the only one who cares."" -Cai Wen
Shen-Ji does his traditional porcupine trick, and Lijuan shoots bandit after bandit, looking over to Ming Lieren and pointing after each takedown. Kawaii charges down the hill after the bandits, with orders to kill everyone who isn't one of the friendly team or House Ze. Unfortunately, she arrives near Mulan's reinforcements just as they arrive, and takes one down since they weren’t on the friendly team when she was briefed. Lijuan calls Kawaii back in embarrassment, and Ho heads in that direction with several healing potions.
A second set of ambushers decloaks, possibly unrelated to the first group, and then yet a third group appears, declaring that they will save House Ze from the bandits. The third group doesn't get much credit with the party, as they seem to think Xiao Fa is a bandit, and are identified as a patrol from House Mong.
- "If you're going to claim I'm a bandit while I'm healing, nobody is going to fall for it, so just admit you're idiots and bad." -Xiao Fa
A lot of fighting happens; House Mong appears to be playing to the crowd, and also poisoning their swords and arrows to make sure that all of the bandits fall. Takanata curses one of them so that when he is asked what brought them here, he must tell the truth.
Once the combat finishes, Takanata introduces Lijuan to the House Ze group, including Xiulan, in the carriage. He explains that they had a divinatory warning that there might be an ambush, and came to make sure nothing went awry. The head of the House Mong patrol also introduces himself - they are on standard anti-bandit patrol, for banditry is known to flourish in the areas only guarded by younger weaker houses. They heard the struggle and came to the aid of the beleaguered carriage.
Ze Xiulan says that she had hoped to meet Lady Lijuan in better circumstances, but she supposes that this was better this than the alternative.
Takanata herds his Mong dupe over to near the carriage, and asks him what brought them here. He explains that they came to kill all the bandits, and hid and jumped out when the bandits decloaked.
- "You knew of the bandits? Traitor!" -Mong leader, drawing his sword
He tries to take out the cursed guard, but Cai Wen and the Blue Dragon are in the way, and the Blue Dragon takes the poisoned strike.
- "Oh well, we are all out of healing potions." -Xian
There is a bit of an argument as to whether they should be taking all of the Mong patrol prisoner, or just the confessed "traitor". Lijuan and the party are all for Getting all the Mongs, but Xiulan notes that there will be consequences between her house and Mong if she does so. Lijuan settles for taking the Mong captain as well as the "traitor", but that is sufficient to provoke the House Mong emissary into righteous outrage.
- "I will discipline my men, but I assume you will also discipline yours." -Mong emissary
- "All of my guys were fine - it was all of your guys who were bad." -Lijuan
As Lijuan is in no mood for placation, the Foon/Mong feud duly turns on. The Ze guards will take the two Mong prisoners to House Ze for justice, but Xiulan clarifies that what this will mean, to Lijuan and her advisors. She expects that by the time they get to the High Warlord, they will all obviously be found to be rogues and un-oathed men, and will be executed. There is a rash of banditry in the Forest, and much of it has that characteristic. Well, House Foon supports getting rid of that sort of banditry. Xiulan welcomes Lady Foon and Lord Zhuai and wishes them much success in the future.
Some uninspired detective rolls on the second group of bandits indicates that they were bandits - if they secretly belonged to another house, they weren't carrying anything in their pockets making that clear. Zhuai thinks they weren't another group from Mong - they might have been another house, or actual bandits.
After more prodding from Takanata, Lijuan and Zhuai both formally ally with Tsai.
Shen-Ji talks to the House Tsui emissary before she leaves; she says that they're trying to build a more secure power base, and if Shen-Ji can get the lady of the house to fall in line with the lord, that would go a long way towards everyone working happily together. Shen-Ji suggests that if they want to convince Foon to ally with them, that they support Zhen rather than Mong; whether he's sabotaging them or just hasn't been paying attention to Lijuan is unclear. Shen-Ji would be interested in trading more magical secrets with the mistress of House Tsui - for example, he might offer them the secret of raising zombie armies. The emissary allows as that might be something his mistress would be interested in knowing. Also, he lets them know that a lot of the recent demonic activity is tied to a demon named Toro, who is keen on ending the world.
- The political emissaries all go home, but the non-politicals will be staying in the House for puttering and can be talked to.
- Lijuan (and Kawaii and Ho and Boo) visit House Xing.
- Takanata has tea with Autumn Rose.
- Cai Wen spends some quality time with Ming I trying to figure out what is up with her.
- Shen-Ji visits House Tsui.
- Takanata and Kuan-Xi talk to the Firelord, and then Spirit Builder.
- Takanata, Xian, and Merit visit the Countess of the Gentle Admonishers of Disquiet to ask about Coyote.
- Xiao Fa, Gi-Su, and Kuan-Xi go visit Petal Bay.