House Sung and House Zhen
|"He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself."|| The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place in the Forest of Chin
Court of the Warlord
Zhi-Hao, Cai Wen, and Grasshopper have planned to go to the Forest of Chin, to further investigate Lijuan's past and the fall of House Sung. Horse offers to take them, if they have a good Horse-related plan to carry out. Zhi-Hao says that they'll get some good horsemen for the race in the Savanna. Horse notes that the party has already promised their best good faith efforts to get good riders, so promising again to do that isn't very much of a price. Well, maybe they'll get great riders, not just good ones. Do they know any great riders in the Forest of Chin? Grasshopper, the only one with much knowledge of the place, thinks that High Warlord is known as a good rider, but he doesn't know any other epic level horsemen in the forest. They fall back to promising to get some horsemen for the aquatic cavalry.
They take a ship to the Port of Auspicious Voyage. At the dock, there's a man standing with a sign: "Zhu Cai Wen and Party". Ah, this must be Cai Wen's ninjas!
- "We should probably spring the trap." -Cai Wen
- "I'm good with that." -Zhi-Hao
Zhi-Hao's danger sense indicates that there's an armed man hiding behind some boxes, but that the guy with the sign does himself not have any weapons.
- "Hi! Were you sent by the House of the Night Blade?" -Cai Wen
- "Uh... no sir. Who are you?"
- "I'm Zhu Cai Wen!"
- "And I'm party!" -Zhi-Hao
Grasshopper quickly goes into hiding, while Cai Wen and Zhi-Hao happily troop after the man towards what they assume is an ambush. However, the ambush turns out to be a kid holding the reins of three horses, which are for... the two of them? The kid is a little confused. Grasshopper comes out of hiding, and the three get on their horses, which is when the ninja ambush happens.
As ninjas start to jump off of buildings at them, the horses run very quickly, leaping over a rope blocking the alleyway, and the group is soon miles from the Port. Cai Wen is rather distressed that he has fled from his ninjas, but decides he can go and taunt them again later.
The horses stop running at the border between the Hon'eth Arcade and the Forest of Chin, wondering where to go next. Hmm. That's a good question. Cai Wen had previously located an old house servant who might know more about either the feud between Houses Sung and Zhen, or the debt that House Sung owed Lijuan's parents. Zhi-Hao talked to Shen-Shin Gao at the Warlord's Throne, and he said it was a nasty little feud - he might know more. The group decides to head there first.
They stop in an inn, and Cai Wen primps for a bit before they proceed to the court, where they are eventually permitted to enter to visit Master Shen-Shin, who is training the Warlord's armsmen. Eventually the students are dismissed, and Zhi-Hao invites the Arms Master to lunch.
Zhi-Hao claims to be just passing through, looking to recruit some horsemen for the Isle of Beauty. But since he's here, he was wondering - there was this girl in the circus, now sadly killed, who was from House Sung. So he's wondering about the feud with House Zhen. Cai Wen takes over the conversation - because of the stories the girl told, he's worried that her death might not have been an accident.
Master Shen-Shin nods. The whole thing was a terrible feud in which many bitter insults were passed back and forth - even the peace overtures concealed insults, or thinly veiled contempt. The High Warlord sent someone down to mediate, but the insults were too significant and he returned, saying that he did not think there was any likelihood of reconciliation. Very soon after that, the two Houses erupted into active violence. Cai Wen asks about the insult to the High Warlord that he had heard about. Well, the mediator came back aggrieved - one of the missives from House Sung was... not complimentary of his negotiation skills. The High Warlord took it as an affront to his own authority- not a very grievous one, but once the fight started, there was cause to end it quickly. Who was the mediator, Cai Wen wonders. Is he still around? Master Shen-Shin has not heard that the man died, but he is not in the employ of the Warlord any longer - since he proved to be such a poor mediator. He retired back to House Tsai - he was some sort of second son that they were hoping to put forward as a royal diplomat.
Master Shen-Shin does some polite question-asking of his own - he's clearly trying to find out more about the about the mysterious House Sung girl, but Cai Wen manages to stick to the party line (just a servant, tragically dead now in a riding accident). The Arms Master notes that there had indeed been rumors among the higher members of the court that an heir to House Sung escaped - but if she is now dead, the Warlord should be informed. And they might be able to earn his favor, if they could provide proof. Cai Wen demurs - the girl was of course not the heir, she was just a servant. Master Shen-Shin nods - he entirely understands.
- "The High Warlord doesn't declare those kinds of things over, they just end." -Master Shen-Shin
Master Shen-Shin continues thoughtfully: if something untoward has happened to the girl, then even if the feud wasn't over before, it is now. He notes that if they wish to learn more of the feud, perhaps House Zhen is the place to look - though if she is really dead, they might not want to get themselves involved.
Zhi-Hao, changing the subject, asks if Master Shen-Shin can recommend any horsemen for hire. Not catching the subject change, the arms master is confused and appalled to think that Zhi-Hao is looking for people to arrange more riding accidents, but once the question is clarified, he can recommend some that might be interested in a new career.
Cai Wen ponders what Master Shen-Shin is trying to figure out from his questions. Well, if there is a House Sung heir about to pop up and cause trouble, the High Warlord should know. And if Zhi-Hao and others have taken it upon themselves to revenge the fall of House Sung, that will also be a problem that the High Warlord will need to know. And, he really doesn't think they should be doing the latter.
The party takes their leave of the arms master, and goes hunting for the potential cavalry he mentioned. With a bit of signing bonus and paying for relocation expenses, they get five new cavalry soldiers.
The group heads down to the lands of House Tsai. There's a lot of activity, and it looks to Master Deng as if they're drilling hard and preparing for military action. One of the soldiers outside asks what their business is, and Cai Wen says he would like to speak to the ex-mediator Tsai Yu. The soldier heads into the keep, leaving them to wait outside, while Grasshopper pokes around, looking for someone lower-status to talk to.
Grasshopper settles on talking to one of the younger soldiers, and asks him if the monk Tsai Su-Yin is from House Tsai. Why, yes, she is! He is quickly escorted into the keep, while Cai Wen and Zhi-Hao cool their heels.
After some time, Tsai Yu comes out to meet the pair waiting for him. They ask if they could talk somewhere more privately, and he sighs and takes them over to the soldier's little hut and shoos the soldiers out. Cai Wen explains that Master Deng is the Arms Master for the Beautiful Court, and that they are hoping to hear about an old feud that Tsai Yu was a mediator for. Tsai Yu wonders why such old affairs would interest the Isle of Beauty, and Cai Wen explains that it is a matter of honor. There was this girl, who travelled with the circus...
Tsai Yu is even more puzzled - what does the circus have to do with it? Well, there was this "servant" of House Sung, "killed" in a suspicious accident. Whether or not Cai Wen means the quote marks, Tsai Yu seems to hear them that way, and notes that it would not be surprising if House Zhen wanted to make sure there were no future reprisals against them, by exterminating the house. Cai Wen asks after the particulars of the insult offered him. He seems to be still cross about that. Cai Wen wonders - it seems odd and implausible that House Sung would take such a self-destructive action as that. Tsai Yu remarks that sometimes for an old house, its pride will outstrip its actual resources, and has the look of someone who has made a funny joke. Cai Wen, suspicious, tries to figure out if he's smug at having taken down House Sung, and realizes that the guy is pretty formidable as a conversational opponent - his own 11 successes only just get through. However, he thinks that Tsai Yu is referring to a different house entirely. Ah. Cai Wen looks towards the soldiers drilling, nods, and remarks that he did find himself inconvenienced by House Mong recently, demanding payment for passage. Tsai Yu suggests that if Cai Wen simply avoid the area for another month or so, it should be well again. Anyhow, is there anyone else that Cai Wen should be talking to about the House Sung affair? Tsai Yu shrugs, and says that pretty much all of the survivors, except for the nameless "servant", would be in House Zhen.
Meanwhile, Grasshopper is being shown farther and farther into the keep, and being introduced as a friend of Tsai Su-Yin, until he is brought before Warlord Tsai. Grasshopper bows very politely, trying not to look at his hands to check if they are clean.
The Warlord says that he hears that Grasshopper is a friend of Su-Yin's. Grasshopper tries to clarify - he himself doesn't know Su-Yin, but his master Xiao Fa does. Ah, this Xiao Fa is also a monk? Yes, like Su-Yin. This appears to have been the wrong thing to say, and the Warlord glowers. So... where is this Xiao Fa? On the Isle of Beauty. Ah, in a monastery there? No, in a circus. Wait, what? Su-Yin is with a circus? No, she has left its employ. This appears to have been even more the wrong thing to say - Su-Yin was in a circus? Grasshopper retreats - this was all before his time. He is forced to admit that Xiao Fa might know more, though he doesn't promise that Xiao Fa knows particularly much, trying not to throw him under this particular bus.
The Warlord gives Grasshopper a zhu, and tells him he is welcome to the hospitality of the keep for the night, and if he wishes to enlist in the forces they are building, he may. Grasshopper flees, and regroups with his two companions outside, and confesses that he might have just accidentally arranged to have Xiao Fa seized. Or seen. One of the two.
The group heads away from Tsai Keep, pondering. Is Tsai Yu also part of the conspiracy? Cai Wen doesn't think so, but it's hard to be sure. But it does seem to be the case that everyone they talk to comes to the conclusion that the "dead servant" that they're talking about is alive and an heir to House Sung.
- "Shall we poke it with a stick some more?" -Zhi-Hao
Is there anyone in House Zhen who might have thought that it was all a terrible misunderstanding? If so, perhaps the group could talk to them, but that still might provoke things. Are they out of leads otherwise? Cai Wen recalls that there was the house servant he found a while ago, and they know the location of the ruins of House Sung, as other potential leads.
The group heads to the roadside inn where Cai Wen tracked down the cook from House Sung. Zhi-Hao doesn't think there's anything particularly dangerous around the inn, though there are a lot of knives in the kitchen.
Cai Wen asks after the cook - he's heard that he's excellent - and asks what is on the menu today. It seems that today's dish is stew. Excellent! Cai Wen loves stew! He says that he'd like to give the cook his compliments in person, as well. When the cook comes out, Cai Wen says that he'd like to speak to him privately about hiring him for a cooking engagement. Well, they can speak after dinner. Dinner proves interesting, as Cai Wen's party keeps being served extra side dishes.
Afterwards, they go up to an empty room to talk to the cook, though they run about madly for a bit first looking for ninjas and spyholes (but finding none). Cai Wen sets Squeaky loose, and he runs off.
Cai Wen interrogates the cook about his favorite recipes and so on, stalling while he waits for Squeaky to return and to see if the cook recognizes Grasshopper. As Grasshopper isn't saying anything, the cook doesn't take much notice of him.
- "Your cooking skills do impress me and I do intend to offer you employment as opportunities allow, but I've come here for a different reason. I once met a girl who was a servant of House Sung..." -Cai Wen
- "I wouldn't know anything about that."
- "She was a dear friend of mine; I assure you there is no peril." -Cai Wen
- "Do you remember me? I'm in disguise, don't tell anyone!" -Lijuan
One he recognizes Lijuan, he is pleased to see she is alive, though he is not very impressed by her disguise, as she still looks pretty much like "Lijuan but bald." She promises to buy some disguise skill.
- "Why did you come back?"
- "No, no, you mustn't think those thoughts - that will just drive you mad."
- "House Sung was wronged!"
- "Yes, they were terribly wronged, dear child, but their time may yet come again, don't you worry about it."
- "How can I help?"
- "No, no, don't worry about it! If you really want to help, tell me where you are staying, and when the time comes, someone will contact you. Don't stir anything up until then."
As Lijuan and the cook are talking, Squeaky returns with the corner of a page, mostly burnt. There's half of a sigil on it, that looks like the House of Gainful Protection.
Cai Wen asks if the cook remembers a family that came to stay in House Sung longer ago - parents and two daughters, who came for protection and were attacked while they were under the protection of House Sung. Maybe fifteen years ago? The cook says that they have heard the story wrong - there was an attack by ninjas at that time, against House Sung, no doubt by House Zhen - a daughter of Lord Sung was killed.
Anyway, are there any higher ranking survivors of House Sung that Cai Wen could talk to? The cook says that of course there are not, no one of higher rank is left, but is not a very good liar.
Cai Wen wonders what risk he's underestimating - the biggest thing he's not worrying about, he decides, is that they are kind of conflating Lijuan in people's heads with the missing heir of House Sung, and everyone they talk to about it is jumping to the conclusion that she's not really dead. So if there are people hunting the heir of House Sung, now Lijuan may be drawing their fire. But that could be okay, the party concludes - if House Zhen tries to get her, then the party can just kill them, and that will be far more straightforward than this intrigue.
Cai Wen pleads with the cook - he would be extremely grateful if he could speak to someone who might have knowledge of such guests. Alas for the cook, he is puny before Cai Wen's persuasive might, and he reveals that the heir to House Sung escaped and is hiding out in the House of Gainful Protection in the Arcade. But they must promise to die rather than reveal this!
Cai Wen leaves five li with the cook as a donation to the cause, and Grasshopper bids a tearful goodbye.
The group heads to the ruins of the Sung Keep. The land is House Zhen's now, but the keep has burnt and is uninhabited. There's a man working in the field near the keep, so the group tries to sneak past him. Grasshopper is the only one who is anything like sneaky, so the farmer hears some strange noises, and flees from the "ghosts" he thinks he hears. The trio scoffs at the idea of ghosts, though - why would they have anything to worry about at the site of an old massacre? Grasshopper starts sneaking, and Zhi-Hao and Cai Wen lose track of him. Zhi-Hao thinks there's some sort of danger around, but can't put his finger on what, and Cai Wen thinks the biggest hidden risk is that while he is worrying about bandit traps or ghosts, the people who actually care about the plot might be paying attention.
Master Deng suddenly realizes that the only weapons in the area are the ones going for Grasshopper right now. Cai Wen pulls out a (blood stained) House Zhen tabard and puts it on, hoping to confuse the enemy.
An arrow shoots from the trees at Grasshopper, and Grasshopper screams "Justice!", shooting back at his attacker. When the attacker dodges, it becomes clear that he's a ninja.
However, even a skilled ninja is no match for both Zhi-Hao and Grasshopper at their stabby best. Cai Wen points at the ninja and shouts "You - you're not supposed to be shooting at us! Stop this immediately!" His Sense Motive gets some amount of "Yes, that's what you're supposed to think..." just as Grasshopper cuts him down.
Cai Wen shouts to not kill the ninja - he's on their side! Grasshopper tries to first aid him, but he's pretty far down, well below Grasshopper's meagre first aid abilities. Should they use healing potions on him? Grasshopper searches the ninja's pockets, and finds a magic scroll - it looks a lot like one of Min Feng's paired scrolls, and has some writing on it in two different hands.
Grasshopper spends five karma on a sufficient first aid roll to keep the ninja from dying, and Cai Wen tries to determine if the second hand belongs to a woman. It doesn't seem like a female script.
After a while, the scroll adds a few more lines:
There doesn't seem to be anything else to do but try to write a conversation with the scroll, so Cai Wen makes a brave attempt.
The party confers - is there anything they can use to verify someone as being from House Sung? Grasshopper offers that "Bruno" was the name of the hunter's chief foxhound. Well, that's better than nothing.
Zhi-Hao takes away the ninja’s weapons, and Grasshopper ties him up. Four healing potions later, he is awake. He can't write with his hands tied, though, so they untie his hands and give him a quill.
- "I know you can kill me with that, just write on the damn scroll." -Cai Wen
He reads what has been written, takes the quill, and writes "Zhen". Then he breaks a smoke vial, and vanishes, though the scroll is left behind. Well, that doesn't seem to have helped. Cai Wen writes again:
Then he adds a number of obscure facts about House Sung that Grasshopper can think of, from how many foxes Bruno took to when the Master's horse was lamed by an acorn.
That's pretty much it for what will fit on the scroll, so they pocket it and search the ruins of the castle.
It is clear to Grasshopper that the place has been burnt down as a symbol: House Sung is Defeated, and will not return until House Zhen is itself Defeated.
In a heavy desk that partially survived the fire, they find a small sheaf of papers, which appears to be some of the correspondence between House Sung and House Zhen and the High Warlord. It'll take some intelligence analysis to go through them.
The party sets off for the Port of Propitious Voyage, but there isn't a message for "mysterious people who attacked the ninja" there yet. Cai Wen and Zhi-Hao recruit another five cavalrymen, and Grasshopper recruits a pile of urchins to become "stable boys for riding fish." They're kind of dubious, but willing to trust Grasshopper if he thinks it's a good job. The offer to pay transportation expenses convinces them.
- "They're like whale horses!" -Grasshopper
At first, Horse is dubious, but after considering for a bit, he decides that Grasshopper's urchins count towards horse points.
- "I'm taking the contents of this run straight up to Takanata." -Cai Wen