House of Jade
|"There is a skeleton in every house."|| The run begins on the Day of the Fox in the first Year of the Bear since the crowning of the Viridian Queen|
The run takes place in the Strand
Various people are in the Tanzhe Plain, at the
Invasion HQ Temporary Command Bunker Eventual Governor's Headquarters, when Takanata paints some prophetic art.
This seems likely to be related to the recent minirun in which Takanata, Xian, and Shuyan investigated Shuyan's backstory and found a map leading to her mother's birthplace.
Xian doesn't approve of the kerning. Takanata isn't pleased by the ghost, and Merit really doesn't want to go to the Strand at all. It's too far to walk, for one. Other people should go and come back and report to him. It is noted that that sounds like being sent as spies, which is probably no good.
Lijuan, happy to make Merit's day worse, draws some art as well.
Merit checks with the butler - are there any other plots that have wandered by asking to be done? No, not really. There should be a strategic campaign level map by next run, but it's not ready yet.
Ah, it's always time for the Signs of Toro to be read. Perhaps extra-slowly and dramatically. That does not last long as a distraction, so Merit suggests writing up wills. It's always good to have one's affairs in order.
- "Any other continuing business?" -Merit
Takanata notes that long long ago, there was a chi scry that organized the cycle spirits into pro-Spider, pro-Dragon, and other. Serpent was mostly neutral but had some Dragon-ish secrets. He wonders if his art is about a secret like that, given the "Spiders and Dragons" title. He thinks it is, though by definition all secrets of that type would be double-edged.
Finally, the group heads off. Travelling to Nine Terraces is fairly straightforward, but then they must head south into the jungle, following a map that only Shuyan can read, and things become a bit more perilous.
As the group approaches where Shuyan says the X is, Takanata is found to no longer be with the party. They backtrack, and find where he deftly sidestepped between two tanglevine bushes, and ended up on a different path. Not everyone else is as deft in following him, and Xian gets stuck in a bush. While there are oils that will get a tanglevine to let go, no one has brought any, and fire is also believed to kill the bushes. Deng draws his flaming sword, but Xian protests - she does not think that setting a bush with her in it on fire is an appropriate solution. There is much argument as to whether or not "the healers can patch you up after" is sufficient amelioration to justify burning Xian alive, as long as it is not particularly fatally. Lijuan tries to lure the tanglevines away from Xian with her wood-magnet, and gets them to stretch out enough that Deng finds a place to chop that isn't full of Xian. The question of whether or not Xian should get a veto over being set on fire for the sake of expedience will continue to be a point of contention, however.
Once the group catches up to Takanata, it seems that his particular path isn't going towards Shuyan's X. Takanata explains that he was trying to follow an auspicious path instead, but everyone else thinks that going to the place that they want to be going, regardless of whether it is auspicious, is a better plan. They go back to the original path, and finally fetch up against a thick wall of jungle. Merit takes a moment to complain about the lack of the Orb of Light, which... would have helped make the jungle passable? Or see through the wall? The narrator has kind of lost track at this point, but Merit would like it on record that the use of the Orb of Light has saved hundreds of lives.
- "There's a giant wall of jungle in the middle of the bitter recriminations phase." -Mike
On further examination, the wall of jungle seems to have an actual wall in it. Merit notes that the danger gradient off the path is higher - as is often the case for paths - but going forward to the wall jumps the danger setting from two to ten. Takanata notes that he did think the way they were going was inauspicious. So... what does it mean for their destination (or their path) to be auspicious, or inauspicious?
Auspicious is sort of Butterfly-favored. Possibly the House of Jade is something that only Shuyan can find. Or it's not a Butterfly plot in the first place.
Deng notes that the closest danger is quicksand, on the other side of the wall. Takanata starts wandering auspiciously again, back up the way he came. Perhaps this will lead to a gate in the wall! No, as it turns out, it leads to a short cut back to Nine Terraces.
Well, that seems clear that Butterfly is definitely Not Sending them to the House of Jade. On the other hand, the somewhat fictionalized prophetic art does seem to be sending them to the House of Jade. So Butterfly is saying... wink wink don't go to the House of Jade? It's somewhat puzzling.
The group heads back through the wilds of the Strand yet again (the short cut does not appear to be bidirectional), and finally gets back to the jungle wall. People climb to the top of the wall - there seems to be a rectangular area, like a box that has had jungle poured into it until it is overflowing. The group heads around the perimeter (walking on the wall) until they reach somewhere that appears to have once had a gate, on the theory that following what was once a path might be a little safer.
The jungle density is very high, and each hex is a new random encounter. Deng has sense danger, though, and Merit can copy it, so they can avoid the worst of the problems. (Deng thinks vampire frogs are more dangerous than saber tooth tigers, while Merit thinks saber tooth tigers are more dangerous).
The tiger proves to have claw-claw-bite attacks, which are non-trivial to parry, so it does some damage to Deng before he kills it. The whomping willow is avoided, though there is some outcry that perhaps it should be searched, just in case there is a secret entrance underneath it.
- "This is how we get on boats." -Xian
Eventually, the entrance to the first building (so overgrown as to be nearly invisible) is discovered.
Lijuan dances with the statue, opening herself to the chi of the room, and comes to understand that she's surrounded by fools. She starts getting cranky about the amount of time everyone is taking in order to dither about whether or not to open the cabinets.
Takanata meditates, and discovers that the chi of the area is trying to suppress... something... but he can't find anything else out because Lijuan has already tagged the chi here. He heads to the next room off of the foyer.
Shuyan proves to be an expert searcher, and discovers the lockbox hidden behind one of the bookshelves. Merit notes that the locked drawers have an old-style poison-fang trap, so Shuyan just pokes it a few times until it's out of poison, and then the lock can be picked more safely. The most interesting thing in the desk drawer is a coded ledger - Merit examines it for a while, but there are too many variables, and he thinks that he might need to know more about the person who wrote it.
The third and last room in the building is the dining room.
Lijuan sits confidently in the throne-like chair, surveying her domain, until someone suggests that "someone brave and nearly invulnerable should investigate the nest." She shakes the nest out, sending rats in all directions. Xian screams.
The grey stuff on the silverware is identified as "metalbane slime", which dissolves lesser metals but can't dissolve silver or gold or platinum. There could be a key underneath, it's hard to tell. Deng offers to set it on fire, but that might cause a lot of splattering. Xian notes that not everything needs to be set on fire. Possibly the slime wouldn't hurt someone who had stripped naked and had nothing metal on them.
Takanata meditates on the chi of the dining room.
- "Takanata, did you get anything from the meditation?"
- "Oh, I probably screwed up."
Okay, that's weird.
- "Do you think this is a bad idea?" -Xian
- "I don't know. If you think it's okay, it's probably okay." -Takanata
- "That's... that's kind of nice, actually." -Merit
- "Maybe we just leave them this way. Lijuan would be in charge." -Xian
Shuyan goes to meditate in the library, and Takanata goes back into the dining room to polish the silverware. Eventually, after Lijuan has been sufficiently contemptuous of everyone, she has some insight - there is probably a backup key to the lockbox hidden in the snake statue. It requires quite a lot of manhandling to get out, but eventually the key falls out, and Shuyan snatches it up to open the lockbox. There are some papers, and an armband and a brooch, which she puts on.
Takanata finishes cleaning the silverware, and sets the table. Does Shuyan want to take the silverware?
- "I don't feel like there are secrets inside of the silverware." -Shuyan
Shuyan, under the influence of the library, is differently cranky than Lijuan - generally suspicious and unwilling to share. Hmm.
Xian thinks the foyer cabinet could still have something interesting in it; after quite a lot of squabbling, Merit throws the silverware at the cabinet, until the creepy flowers are gone. He gets a lot of acid spray in the air, which gets in people's eyes, and discovers moldering linens.
Looking back in the library at what is on the shelves, Merit finds a book on natural philosophy, and the most well-thumbed of the volumes is a book of the history of the aristocracy of the Strand.
Then, it is back to the random hex encounters until another building can be found. The most interesting of these is a set of giant slugs, but by the time they reach the next building, all of Lijuan, Shuyan, and Takanata are feeling more like themselves. Shuyan's insight is only about the hidden lockbox, but Takanata has figured out more of the personality of the ledger-writer (quite wretched) and Merit can now decode the ledger, which itemizes a steady stream of supplies being delivered from Nine Terraces. The supplies are sufficient to maintain a decent household, but they are instead stretched and the gifts are sold, and the coin spent on over-expensive weapons (indicating that they might be being obtained illegally) and poisons. The book seems to be the most recent in a series.
The new building opens onto what appears to be a schoolroom.
Merit thinks that yellow mold is particularly dangerous to paper.
Off of the schoolroom is another:
Lijuan figures out that the birdcage holds what appears to be a loving family of rocks - two parents, an older brother rock, and a baby rock. Huh.
The visible pouch is probably tobacco, because the arm of the chair holds a pouch of blue opium - imported from the southern barbarians, and prized by opium snobs.
Shuyan meditates in the schoolroom, and stops being able to stay still, while Kasumi meditates in the study, and becomes somewhat... odd.
Shuyan spins around until everyone is caught in her mesmerizing snake dance for a while, and then runs outside to accidentally get in a fight with monitor lizards. Kasumi jumps off bookcases onto Xian, who is not very good at ninja-catching.
Deng watches the monitor lizard fight with interest, and then Takanata actually kills one. With his sword!
Xian starts poking Shuyan and Kasumi to try to figure out their quirks; eventually they work through their new psych lims, and Kasumi has the inspiration to look outside the study window, where two seals are found. One is (very rare) black jade, with the Yu sigil, somewhat in the style of the armband Shuyan is wearing. The other is (less rare) redstone with an unfamiliar sigil. Shuyan finds a carved message in the schoolroom rafters, from Kyoko to her little brother Yachi, apologizing for leaving and telling him if he is old enough to climb into the rafters, he is old enough to go himself.
Takanata climbs onto the roof and looks around with Eyes of the I Ching. It appears that Serpent-flavored chi is influencing the chi of the Strand, which is itself influencing the local jungle, in order to keep the "spirits" (more like echoes than ghosts) trapped and forgotten while destroying it; there is a somewhat parallel effect keeping the inside / insiders in, and outsiders out.
Lijuan thinks that "echoes" explains why the ghosts in her upside-down-ghost art are so fuzzy and vague. And Shuyan points out that the "frantic" emotion was Kyoko, who escaped, and definitely didn't die here to become a ghost.
The next building is small, and nearby - just a gardening shed.
- "Er, maybe I shouldn't have just read that last sentence out loud." -Mike
Merit identifies most of the fruit as poisonous; the last one is healthful, but going bad quickly. The body is of an older man, dead perhaps ten years or so, who has been stabbed in the back with pruning shears. The state of the body makes it difficult to determine if there is any resemblance to Shuyan, but his clothes are more appropriate for a noble puttering in the garden, rather than a gardener. So perhaps this is her grandfather.
Takanata calls up visions of the past, and sees an older man in these clothes (green and red), stabbed by an older woman in green and black. Both man and woman have some resemblance to Shuyan.
Merit meditates on the chi of the place, and falls into despair. Xian interrogates him.
- "What are people like?" -Xian
- "They're mostly wasting their time." -Merit
- "What about children?"
- "I've never had any. Probably for the best."
There seems little else to be learned from the shed, so the group moves on while Merit contemplates the futility of supporting Dragon. Has anyone else noticed that Dragon is kind of desperate? He's supporting Xiao Fa for emperor, with Lucky Chang as backup, not because they're the best emperor choices, but because they're the only ones who he has! He put Merit in charge of his spy team and Merit just thinks of Dragon as a tool for Team Butterfly!
- "Dragon has no clue. He's out of options, and we're the best he has." -Merit
Merit is pretty persuasive, actually...
Deng notes, in great dismay, that this is the largest collection of non-magic masterwork weapons he has ever seen, but they have been allowed to rust down to x3. Such a waste. He takes down the broken sword and examines it - it has a red tassel, and a hilt mark indicating the House of Crimson.
The echo here seems likely to be dangerous - it would probably be a bad idea to let Deng meditate on it, if it comes with a "kill them all" impulse. Perhaps Takanata? Or Xian? People are nervous about making Xian too destructive either. While people are arguing over it, Lijuan meditates on the atmosphere of the room.
More bitter recriminations begin. Lijuan is not pleased that everyone keeps ignoring her opinions and plots. Xian points out that the party has gone to two of her weddings, which seem like her plots. Lijuan snarks about Xian's success rate with her plots. Takanata finds all this fighting distasteful, and goes into the kitchen, and Merit, still despondent, goes back to dig in the gardening shed. Takanata goes into the cellar.
- "Is this a goddamn horror movie? What are you doing? Don't go into the cellar! And back to the shed!" -Xian
Xian needles Lijuan into punching her in the face, while Merit digs up the journal that Grandfather buried underneath the gardening shed. Kasumi really wants to search the cellar, but it's dark and spooky. Carrying everything from the cellar into the kitchen to search would take all day, and no one wants to be here when night falls.
Takanata meditates in the kitchen, and Kasumi meditates in the cellar.
Takanata starts to head out into the jungle to look for flowers, but Deng grabs him to keep him from going anywhere. Takanata panics.
- "Stop him! He got possessed by something and is going to kill me!" -Takanata
Takanata explains - if he has a bouquet of flowers, people can't attack him.
- "Why do you not have flowers all the time?" -Xian
- "Yup, that's why we're going to lose." -Merit
Kasumi's new emotional state seems to be jealous, so Merit passes out cookies, giving the most to Kasumi. Almost everyone is suspicious of the cookies and refuses to eat them. Then he throws three li at Lijuan and searches the kitchen.
- "Okay, that's the old Li Merit back." -Xian
Xian and Deng squabble about how the only use Deng ever makes of the flaming sword is to set Xian on fire.
- "Wait, neither of them is possessed, right?" -Shuyan
Merit disguises himself as a scary clown, and Takanata blasts him with his wand of fireballs. Things seem to be getting a little out of control. Takanata notes that the kitchen is full of poisons, which are collected up. Kasumi finds the treasure in the basement, hidden in a small cask - a set of miniature portraits. And Lijuan notes that the broken sword is likely Grandfather's, as Grandmother's perpetual reminder of his failures.
That's enough of this building; the group heads out to look for the next. Deng picks some flowers for Takanata, who makes a bouquet.
The most interesting of the random encounters is a boulder on which there are large dark butterflies watching them.
- "That's the past five years of my life." -Lijuan
People have begun to get the hang of things, so they quickly look through the three rooms in the final building.
There are no obvious signs of foul play for the body of the old woman.
Kasumi meditates to pick up the echo from the ballroom, and promptly changes into a fancy dress. Merit meditates in the solarium, and Shuyan takes the shrine.
Merit starts setting up the ancestor tablets into a pai-gow game, appalling Lijuan and Xian, and causing Shuyan to vow vengeance against him. Lijuan swaps some decorative rocks in for the ancestor tablets, and puts them back on their tables.
Lijuan checks for decorative rocks in the ex-potted plants, and goes to make a sleight of hand roll to swap the rocks for ancestor tablets. Shuyan and Merit seem to be setting each other off, so Xian and Lijuan try to get Kasumi through her psych lim.
- "I just want to go home and take a shower, somewhere that I can touch things and eat the fish. We can't all be as strong and pretty as you." -Lijuan
Deng searches the body of the old woman, and finds a key. There is no obvious lockbox, and he thinks that there might be something in the chair, but there's no opening. This key seems to match the key found in the first building, so perhaps there is no second lockbox.
- "Here is a lockbox key, and here, I assure you, is another lockbox key." -Xian
Merit searches the throne some more, and Shuyan punches him (with her kung fu!). Shuyan's adorable snake goes to help Merit, looking reproachfully at Shuyan.
- "I push the body off so I have more room on the throne." -Merit
Well, the snake has a little less sympathy now.
After a lot more squabbling, everyone finishes the last of their emotional echoes, and finds the last of the various hidden clues (a family tree in the carved ballroom trees, a discarded ancestor tablet in the cesspit, the banishment scroll hidden in a sealed compartment in the chair).
Shuyan's great-grandmother was the eldest daughter of the Nephrite Queen (mother of the Malachite Queen and grandmother of the Viridian Queen). But she was banished by her mother to the House of Jade, along with her lineage. Interesting. So... Shuyan is the rightful Queen of the Strand? Well, that sort of depends on whether the Queen has the ability to disinherit her daughter or not.
Shuyan packs up the mementoes and clues, and Xian and Lijuan perform a laying-to-rest ceremony on the two bodies. The ceremony is performed without complications, but those sensitive to the chi of the area find things more oppressive now - the pressure of the jungle to wipe the place away is now unopposed. So the atmosphere seems... more foreboding but spiritually cleaner.
Takanata spends a karma to let Shuyan ask for a conversation with the Great Serpent Spirit to ask her remaining questions. A long conversation later, Shuyan reports that Serpent said that the line was tainted and had to be crushed; the tainting happened as part of an attempt to change the country that was prevented (by the banishment). Unfortunately, a later attempt to change the country succeeded. When Shuyan asked if the Serpent would approve of her trying to become queen, the Serpent's reply was that if Shuyan wanted to content for the throne against another of Serpent's daughter, she should give it careful consideration first. It is not a small step.
As for why there might be a Dragon-relevant secret here - presumably the Jade Queen could be quite helpful to the Dragon. Xian notes that if Shuyan doesn't want to be queen, she might be able to get something for agreeing not to contend for the throne.
Everyone return to the Tanzhe to think...