Kasumi Makes Friends
|"With true friends, even water drunk together is sweet enought."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Crane 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 Hon'eth Arcade
The butler at Tahiti notes that there is a rather... disreputable... guest, to see Merit, Shuyan, and Min Feng. Merit recognizes the voice of the guest as Old Hop, however, and no misunderstandings ensue. Old Hop enters, and (once supplied with sufficient rice wine) declaims:
- "Behold! I bring before you the words of Her Highness, Ho Kuan Xi, Clad in Glory, Receiver of Petitions of the Golden Palace, Binder of the Unbinder, Princess of the Northern Waters, the Mystery Shopper."
He presents a letter from Kuan-Xi, which Shuyan takes, noting to Kasumi that Kuan-Xi has assigned her a Quest. Shuyan reads the letter aloud, though when she reaches the PS she wonders if perhaps she was not meant to have.
Merit writes a flowery reply to the tune of "Check. On it." for Old Hop to bring back to Kuan Xi, and as the Drunken Master is leaving, Takanata arrives at the door of Tahiti. Old Hop rallies to make another announcement:
- "Behold! For you stand in the presence of the Bearer of the Auguries of the Golden Palace, and Most Esteemed (though not First) among Artists."
Takanata hands him an augury: A sketch of a monk wearing blindfold, and an archer, walking along a forest path. Creepy trees stretch their branches down towards them.
On hearing the plan (as assigned by Kuan Xi), Takanata notes that he approves of Kasumi finding "companions who don't lead her astray". Shuyan gives Takanata a bit of side-eye for that.
The group heads out to the nearest town to Tahiti (named Little Ivy). It doesn't have much going on, but it does have a couple of winehouses. Kasumi picks the one that looks least like Takanata's preferred winehouse.
The winehouse isn't very busy, but interesting people include a woman in long white robes and a hood, seated in the far back corner watching the room, and two women chatting with each other at the bar. Kasumi sits down next to the two women, trying to make friendly conversation, but she isn't very good at it and they seem to find it a bit off-putting, until Shuyan wingmans in with a much better charisma roll.
The women ask what brings Shuyan and Kasumi here, and they look blankly at each other, before explaining that they are in town to visit their old reclusive boring friends, but they (the boring friends) are very boring so they (Kasumi and Shuyan) are here instead. Is there anything exciting to do? The women admit that there isn't a lot, though Key (one of the women) runs a nice bakery. The other woman is just passing through. Key rolls her eyes - baked goods are probably not what they were thinking of as far as "exciting" goes. The non-local woman is in shipping, "transporting things from place to place". But she always stops to visit Key when she's passing through.
So... if this town isn't so interesting, where would they recommend for fun? The traveler asks what Kasumi finds interesting, but she says she's looking for new hobbies. The two women look at each other for a long moment, as if they are speaking in some nonverbal language, and then they suggest visiting the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, which is having a festival of flying lanterns. If they go to the Silver Tent (an inn) and ask for a back room, they'll be given a room with a good view of the lantern flights.
Kasumi goes to the facilities, then sneaks back to sit sneakily near the woman in white. She appears to be taking notes on a parchment under the table, but when Kasumi arrives, she rolls it up and puts it up her sleeve. Kasumi is impressed - even if the woman in white doesn't seem to know where she is, she noticed something.
- "We are onto you." -Woman in white
- "I just wanted to know if we went where they said, if we would be sold into slavery, because it looks like you were watching her." -Kasumi
- "No, you'll merely be robbed - but only of the things you didn't want."
- "Um. Do you have any suggestions for what to do for fun around here?"
- "Do not drink with smugglers?"
Kasumi sneaks out and comes back in again more openly, and notes that Shuyan seems to be having fun and making friends with the women at the bar. Kasumi tries one last time - are there any good festivals coming up in this town? Not really, though they speculate that now that there's a Great House in residence nearby, they might throw a festival or two to drum up popularity.
Kasumi and Shuyan take their leave, and head out. Takanata finishes his tea, and heads out as well, stopping to ask the woman in white if she would like her I Ching read. She would not.
Merit gathers information about what the town is up to. Apparently Key's Bakery is good - the pork buns are okay, but the tarts and pastries are quite good. They have a small boy handling the pastry-selling at the moment.
Everyone gets back together and swaps briefing. Ahah - it is a plot! The group can go to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival to see the festival, and to save any hapless passerby from going into the Silver Tent and being mugged!
The group heads out, and when they reach the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, there are in fact a lot of paper lanterns being put together. They will be released when the city bells ring.
- "Sounds like a good time to cause trouble!" -Kasumi
Merit finds a place to stay which is not the Silver Tent, while Kasumi, Shuyan, and Min Feng play "spot the pickpocket." They spot several urchins, and one professional thief. They also buy some flying lanterns, and complain about the price (which is, admittedly, a little steep, but not unexpected given that the festival is about to start). There's also a floating lantern race on the river, though since there is no way to affect how fast the lanterns float, is only somewhat exciting.
- "Red lanterns are known to be particularly fast."
Takanata bets on a lantern, but it does not win.
The flying lanterns are launched. Up they go, then they begin to blow out to sea. The crowd thinks that is an auspicious omen. Takanata wonders why, and if it's actually auspicious - it seems likely that it's due to a long-ago fire when the wind was blowing inland and the lanterns caught something on fire.
Takanata reads Kasumi's I Ching:
This is similar to what it was before, but the last line has grown stronger.
The group turns in for the night.
In the morning, Shuyan and Kasumi go shopping - they both get flowery sundresses, and matching flowered hats. From there, they head to a nearby park to watch fighting kites. Two kites seem to have had some sort of catastrophe - one kite is in a tree and another in a crumpled heap, while the strings lead back to a heap of young men being berated by a tall woman. Apparently they walked on her blanket as she was picnicking, and she gave them a good thumping.
Kasumi climbs the tree to get the stuck kite. It turns out that flowered sundresses are not entirely appropriate for tree-climbing, and the young men are very appreciative, but that is sufficient to put Kasumi off and decide they're not worthwhile friends. They offer to let her fly their kite, which she tries, but not with sufficient enthusiasm to learn any kite-flying skill. Can the young men recommend a good place for lunch? They offer to take her to lunch, but she has had enough of them and ghosts.
Takanata has a vision of the past on the cranky lady with the blanket. He sees a moment in the past where she is being whipped, and then a small boy comes and wraps her in a blanket. Hey, it's the same blanket! Maybe that's why she got so unhappy when it was walked on. Well, that's somewhat mysterious, but it doesn't seem like a mystery that needs to be solved right now.
The group heads to a nice restaurant for lunch. There's a woman with her hair in a high braided bun who comes around every so often to make sure everything is alright, and she berates a server who isn't up to spec. People chat with her about whether there's anything interesting in town that she can recommend, and she mentions a spontaneous poetry competition happening later over in the town center.
- "Oh." -Kasumi, utterly deadpan
Kasumi and Shuyan try to chat up the waiters, but Kasumi's charisma continues to betray her. One of the waiters does mention to Shuyan that if she's looking for something fun, she might visit the Black Shack, around the corner.
Lunch over, the group contemplates the Black Shack.
- "Maybe we should gather information about it?"
- "NO, just go. What could possibly happen?"
Takanata and Min Feng go to the poetry slam instead. Takanata mesmerizes the listeners for quite a while, but he doesn't win, not having the Spontaneous Poetry skill. Amongst the other non-winners, he recognizes the proprietress of the restaurant.
- "Your style seems familiar - have you published anything I might be familiar with?"
- "Most likely." -Takanata
When he finally gives her his name, she is honored to meet him. They chat about the lantern festival, and she notes that she does not put stock in omens. She thinks that a lot of the successes that people attribute to omens should instead be ascribed to their hard work. Though of course, good omens are better than bad.
Meanwhile, Kasumi, Shuyan, and Merit head to the Black Shack - Merit disguises himself as someone younger first.
- "Ah, I don't think I've seen you before."
- "This was suggested as a place to have an interesting time."
- "How much interest are you looking for? "
- "No more than ten or twenty li worth..."
It turns out that 10 or 20 li is quite a lot of interest, so they are escorted to a private room, furnished as a comfortable lounge. They make a pillow fort out of the cushions.
Soon enough, a surprisingly attractive young man comes in with a tea cart. He makes some suggestions as to what teas to start with so as to not ramp up too quickly. The poison and herbalist experts identify the first tea as a mild euphoric, about equivalent to a strong drink. Kasumi drinks some of the tea, but Merit and Shuyan only pretend to.
So... have any of the other customers made a fort? The waiter says that it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on the other customers.
- "Well, if there's anyone else who seems similarly... playful... you could invite them to join us. Not sexually, of course. Just to hang out." -Merit
The tea cart waiter returns with a young man that he introduces as Lo Lowlands, and Merit asks for a pot of giggly tea for everyone to share. When the waiter returns with Merit's giggly tea, and Kasumi drinks some, but Merit and Shuyan only pretend, again.
The group interrogates Lo - what's up with him? He says that every year he gets tired of the country he's in and moves to the next. He was going to be a monk of the Wandering Path, but that didn't work out. In his travels, he often works as a town guard, so that's what he's currently doing. Kasumi and Shuyan say that they used to be in the circus, which is certainly interesting as a career track.
Lo says he started as a fisher, but he wanted to bring honor for his family, so that led him to become a monk. But he wasn't any good at sitting still, so now he moves around a lot instead.
Kasumi thinks there must be monkey-monks around that he could join. Certainly there are monkey ninjas. Lo disbelieves in monkey ninjas - he thinks minjas are all stern and choppy. Merit says he's seen a monkey ninja run up and grabs someone's nose rather than chop them. Lo thinks that'd be a good sort of ninja to be - terrorize your enemies without having to kill them.
- "That's the hard thing about being a wandering adventurer - people are always offering you things like, do you want to go murder people for cash? No!" -Lo
As Lo talks about this, he's kind of wandering aimlessly around the room, or so it seems. Nobody catches on to what he's really up to, until he suddenly shouts "FOOLS! Your fort is mine!" and it becomes clear that he has taken the pillow fort while no one was paying attention. The war for the fort commences, but Lo is outnumbered and the fort was really not well constructed for defensibility. Fun is had by all, and Lo and Kasumi keep drinking the giggly tea, until Lo finally says that he does have to go to work in the morning, so he should probably call it a night.
Kasumi tells him about the Silver Tent - they'll steal your stuff if you ask for a back room! Lo should arrest all of them, she suggests. Shuyan persuades him that testing this out tonight might not be the right thing to do.
Lo takes his leave, saying that he was pleased to meet everyone, and hopes to see them again some time. Shuyan and Merit nod noncommittally and look at Kasumi, but she doesn't think Lo is sufficiently interesting to be worth friending.
Shuyan and Kasumi grab people's noses all the way back to their inn. Kasumi briefly toys with the idea of grabbing Takanata's nose, but that snaps her right out of her giggliness.
- "Let's not get excommunicated over Takanata's nose."
That night, Merit goes questing for the nearest shtick source for something along the lines of stumbling into fun. He meets a man drinking at the bar at the inn, who occasionally joins in with nearby laughter, but mostly he looks into his cup. Merit chats with him, and they bond over happy past times that are lost now. Merit's wife, dead and forgotten, and the man's children, definitely not forgotten. He has a whole set of parenting shticks, including something to "find the fun thing for you to do". Merit finds this terribly depressing, and wonders if there is a good career fit for him in the House of Exuberant Interference. Well, he'd be the perfect person to run an orphanage, but he'd have to go through a lot of psychological trauma getting there first.
The guy (named Zaimini Zhou) tries to draw Merit out on whether he's learned anything about anyone who could come back from the World Beyond. Merit denies knowing any good ways to do this, and tells Monkeys-Paw type stories about how it ends up in carnage for everyone. Merit suggests burning offerings to the dead children instead.
Zaimini Zhou is a banker now, working for the House of Judicious Increase. Merit suggests that he become a teacher instead, but he doesn't think he wants to deal with having to meet and lose new children every year. Merit says he'll check with his contacts and see if he can find something. In the meantime, though, does he have suggestions for how to get an... older girl... to find friends? Zhou suggests that Merit sign her up for something, and then when she's committed to going twice a week, she'll have an activity to bond with people over. Merit thinks that the "find the fun thing" would be a possible start for Kasumi, but the shtick has the word "kid" in it, so it would have to be tweaked. It would also likely work if Zhou had karma to spend on using it on Kasumi, but he doesn't have any.
Takanata dreams about people that Kasumi could meet, and finds himself wandering to a ninja bar, with various "ninja wanted" job ads.
- "What are you doing here?" -Yeh the Mountain
- "I do live in the same house. I noticed when you sent Old Hop." -Takanata
- "I didn't send Old Hop, I sent Kuan-Xi. Perhaps she doesn't understand this sort of thing."
- "Kuan-Xi sent Old Hop to deliver a letter."
- "Well, is it working? "
- "... Well, she has met a bunch of people, most of whom she didn't think were appropriate friend candidates."
- "Surely anyone who can make friends with Hirosoto can make friends with anyone."
Takanata notes that Kasumi isn't really friends with Hirosoto, per se.
- "The Bear Empress-to-be told me that Hirosoto was her only friend in the world." -Yeh
- "It is possible to misunderstand things by speaking to the Bear Empress-to-be." -Takanata
- "The more I considered this as a concept, the darker my dreams became. This is why I sent Kuan-Xi to deal with it."
Yeh notes that the ninja bar is not actually something that he put in the Dream. Takanata tries to figure out what it could mean, but Yeh suggests that perhaps if Kasumi's only friend was a ninja, maybe he is overthinking it.
Actually, that reminds Takanata when he wakes in the morning - didn't Kasumi have a friend from ninja school? Ayuki? She did, but Ayuki is one of Cai Wen's molls now, so she often spends more time with Cai Wen when she appears.
Hmm, how about Sai? Kasumi seemed to like her.
Four rings of water breathing are rounded up, and the group heads into the Harbor to sing some sea serpent opera, at which point Takanata summons Sai.
There's a sploosh, and a sea serpent tumbles into the water on top of them. Then it swims around a small boat three times, and leaps back into the boat. When the group surfaces, they find that Sai, in human form, is in the boat with Huian. Kasumi grumbles - here's someone else who has a boyfriend, making them ineligible for friendship.
- "I heard you singing and went down to see who it was in case I was in trouble, but it was just you! I was worried that I would have been in trouble, because I'm not supposed to be breathing air or visiting Huian. But I cut some deals, and I didn't actually talk to a talking fish, because someone told me he wasn't a fish." -Sai
The party grudgingly admits that Whale isn't a fish.
Huian explains how whales are actually more like people than fish, but Takanata and Merit carefully avoid listening. Sai talks about having seen the islands moving around, which Huian finds a little implausible. Sai suggests that Kasumi come and visit as a sea serpent, but Kasumi says she's not allowed to make bargains with spirits. She and Sai bond over the unfairness of these restrictions. Sai notes, though, that Kasumi could talk to a talking fish instead, since she hasn't been banned from that. Sai's deal involves some secret stuff on Huian's part, but she can swim around his boat three times and jump in, so then she can talk human instead of just sea serpent.
Takanata offers to curse her to become a sea serpent once a month, and there is a great digression as to whether or not that actually would count as a curse. Huian shows off his contraption to breathe underwater - it seems to be a fishbowl with tubes and a thing with pedals. Merit thinks that's ingenious, but it's easier to use a ring, but Huian doesn't believe in such things.
So... can Sai recommend any people that she misses talking to? She recalls Shimuzu, a bard from the Shrouded Isle. She tells really good stories about a friend of hers who goes on adventures. Kasumi writes this off - she doesn't want to make friends with anyone who has a boyfriend. Sai thinks some more, and says she met another guy - but they aren't prejudiced, right? Against people who aren't supposed to be where they're not supposed to be. This guy is like a ninja except they don't have ninja where he comes from (which is the South).
His name is Faruk - but that's his secret name. He goes by "no-iron" when he's here, because he's allergic to iron. Sai doesn't think you can be allergic to iron, and Huian agrees that this is a little implausible. Anyway - if they go to where the Wall meets the sea, on the last day of every month, then that's where he goes to get orders and report. But don't tell anyone he's there!
What has Huian been working on? He explains that he has been pursuing a great project to make artificial lightning. He has another apparatus that he uses for this, and he explains that you can also make lightning out of vinegar. Takanata and Merit carefully stop listening again.
Does Sai know about when the Shrouded Isle became foggy? Did the sea start hiding the volcano from people? Sai explains that the sea and the volcano don't like each other. Does that mean the sea and the volcano are spirits? Sai doesn't think so, but she still thinks they don't like each other. Huian doesn't think "spirits" are needed to explain mist where lava meets water.
The group bids their goodbyes to Sai and Huian, and everyone swims back to shore.Merit recalls a lower ranking White Lotus member, who is also in an illegal cliff-diving club that dives off of the rock cliffs north of the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. That's another potential friend to introduce Kasumi to, but perhaps that will be for another day.