Mystery in the Forest
|"The good dog follows the scent, and if, regrettably, there is no scent to follow, he noses around — seeking always something that is not very nice."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Phoenix in the month of the Phoenix in the twelfth year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Warlord's Throne in the Forest of Chin.
Signs of Trouble
Cai Wen has persuaded Takanata to act as Guest Ringmaster for a performance of the Circus for the wives of the High Warlord of the Forest of Chin. Melina sends a messenger to Tahiti to let Takanata know that the performance will be shortly, so the party heads off to the Forest of Chin. When they reach the Warlord's Throne, the circus is midway through setting up in the open space outside the city gates.
Melina invites everyone to the post-setup dinner, and Rubberlegs checks to see if there is anything Takanata needs.
- "A list of the acts would be good." -Takanata
Lijuan confirms that she will be doing her archery act, rather than sitting in the VIP box as Lady Foon. Melina confers with Takanata privately - has Takanata noticed anything odd? She has been having sleepless nights, but has nothing more specific than that. Takanata wonders if that has to do with the recent conjunction of the World Below and the World of Dreams.
Melina also warns the group to try to stay out of Forest House politics - unless you're Lijuan. Then, does Takanata want to say a few words to the circus? He starts to explain that the performance should be aiming for a less boisterous, more precise and artistic performances, when there are suddenly a lot of horns from inside the Warlord's Throne.
Takanata speaks Hornese, which lets him identify the Forest horn notes as an emergency call to lock down the city. He tells the circus to go to battle stations - they circle the wagons and start watching for intruders, but nothing further seems to happen.
Takanata heads to his wagon to work on a painting. Lijuan draws a sketch as well.
The art is very puzzling all around. Are those raindrops coming from the clouds, or puppet strings? What is up with the lollipops? What about the monkeys and the fish? There are six monkeys and six fish. Is that significant? There are only five people in the party today, but the GMs thought there would be six. So the party could be the monkeys. Or the
Lijuan and Kuan-Xi head to the city gates, which are now tightly shut. The guards apologize to Lady Foon, but now is... not a good time. Nobody can come in right now. They suggest she go back to her keep and lock up, and... make sure everyone there is okay too. Lijuan tries to persuade them that the circus can help, but the guards aren't entirely sure what the problem is. Some shouting behind them suggests that the Warlord is dead, but one of the guards shouts back that they don't know that for sure and the guy shouting should shut up. In any event, they don't seem to think that the circus performance is likely to happen, or likely to help. The pair heads back to the circus to report.
Kuan-Xi scries to the Great Hall of the Warlord's Throne, where there are small groups of people in tight clusters, whispering to each other. At one point, they all stop and look at the door to the Warlord's chambers (this is difficult, as the two locations seem very unconnected - as if they have fairly distinct boundaries between them), and then look back again. She manages to move where she is looking to the chambers, where the Warlord is furiously shouting at one of his guards. The guard says something, and the Warlord backhands him across the room. Then he turns to the next guard and starts yelling.
Well, the Warlord isn't dead, but there is definitely something going on. Min Feng disguises herself as a guard and goes through the wall, where she determines that guards are being sent all over the place to secure them. She is sent to secure the barn, and overhears some interesting news, but she has forgotten to bring any communication items, so she isn't able to let anyone else know yet.
Eventually, a guard comes out to speak with Melina and Takanata. They're sorry for the inconvenience, but the circus performance is cancelled. The court would appreciate it if they packed up and moved on tomorrow. Until then, they should stay in the confines of the circus.
Takanata asks if there is anything they can do to assist with the... issue?
The guard assures Takanata that everything will be under control and the circus will eventually be invited back. With the lockdown, the guard can't go back into the city, though. Yanyu and Lijuan drag him to the tea tent and ply him with tea and conversation.
He says that he's one of the five guards who isn't a suspect, because he was with the Warlord all day when it happened. He is less than completely informative about what "it" is, though - he knows someone was killed, but he doesn't know who.
Min Feng sneaks back out across the wall, and fills the group in on what she found out. The heir to the Forest is dead; his body was carried into a tower, where the Warlord currently is. There are two guards on the tower, so she wasn't able to find out more. Those with more knowledge of Forest politics think that the heir designate was probably the first born son of First Wife Tsi-Shen, Sima.
Ahah, Takanata's art makes a little more sense. The party is no doubt supposed to investigate the mystery, and they are the confused-looking monkeys with magnifying glasses. On a tightrope.
Takanata and his entourage (and his status of 43) head to the gates. He is here to provide assistance to the Warlord in his moment of need; he does not expect to be immediately admitted, but requests that a message be taken to the High Warlord. About an hour later, a reply arrives - the Warlord thanks Takanata for his timely aid. He cannot see him because he is currently in seclusion, but he may bring in a few companions (Takanata chooses Mondo and Kawaii, in addition to the rest of the party). A guard (bearing the signs of being recently promoted) hurries up to escort Takanata in, and is immediately questioned for any details he can provide.
He shows them along the Forest Path to the Secluded Grove where Sima's body was found by a servant. The servant has since been interrogated; he probably doesn't know anything but is currently locked up for his own protection. The guard has not himself seen the body, but he has heard that the young prince was beaten.
Kuan-Xi checks for magic around the area, and gets the feeling that she is being watched very carefully by the forest. Also, there is the fading remnant of a magical ritual, emanating from back at the keep.
Tracking and detective work suggest that there aren't enough signs of combat here. Either Sima knew his killer really really well and was taken completely by surprise, or he wasn't killed here. Other tracks appear to be from the guards removing the body; there are also older tracks of fighting or sparring in previous days, and canoodling in the bushes. This is apparently the place one goes in order to do anything private away from the keep. Looking more carefully, there are also some tracks that indicate that the body was dragged into the grove from the Forest Path.
The Forest Path goes from the Secluded Grove to the keep. As the party heads back that way, Min Feng spots the peasant hiding in the trees. He is quick to protest that he didn't do it, and they hit him with a blinding amount of charisma and persuasion. He confesses that he's hiding here because he can't leave through the gates, and he really doesn't want to be scooped up by guards and executed for general suspiciousness.
He also notes that at 4pm, he saw a tall man with black hair stalking down the path towards the grove, bleeding from a wound in his shoulder.
The horns started to sound at 7:05pm, after the body was found at 7pm. A timetable begins to be constructed!
The group returns to the keep - Kuan-Xi thinks the magic ritual happened somewhere below the Main Hall. After some confusion about why the party would want to see the Cellars, they are escorted downstairs. There's an acrid smell as if something was burnt, and Kuan-Xi's best guess is that there was demon summoning - no, a negotiation, not a summoning - going on. However, carrying a body out of the Cellars through the Main Hall would be tricky, so this probably wasn't the murder location. The subject of the negotiation is likely whoever the owner of the hair that was burnt was - pale black and charred now. (Those who have met the Warlord's wives before recall that Xiulan has pale black hair.) Kuan-Xi is also pretty sure that there was just one person doing the ritual; it's set up efficiently, in minimal space.
Min Feng and Lijuan gather information around the Main Hall. Most everyone has figured out by now that Sima, not the Warlord, is dead; there's a lot of speculation about what that means. Maybe Xiulan (Second Wife) made her move. Others think it was Tai (Fourth Wife), but are soundly mocked - Tai doesn't have it together enough to murder anyone. Rumors also fly that An Ming (Third Wife) isn't as harmless as she seems. Everyone knows that Shao (Xiulan's son) will be engaged to Tsai Su-yin soon, but that is deemed not so helpful, since everyone also knows that Tsai Su-yin is dead, and also has been set to be engaged to Lord Mong, as part of a Tsui / Mong alliance against the High Warlord.
Yanyu heads to the womens' quarters to ask about Sima's birthday. Security is tight, but she is eventually shown to where all four wives sit. Tsi-Shen is the only one who looks at her; the other three kneel, heads bowed. Yanyu apologizes for disturbing Lady Ze's grief, but says that she is assisting Lord Takanata with his investigation. Lady Ze is willing to show Yanyu the records for the children's births; as she leaves, Xiulan takes her chair to preside over the room.
Several pages of records have been excised, in between the third and fourth wives. Yanyu asks about that, and Tsi-Shen replies tightly that those records were expunged when Lin Lin was banished. Why was she banished? Unsuitability and infidelity. Did she have children? If so, they are neither relevant nor spoken of, as she did not have any children here. Yanyu speculates that if she bore the Warlord's child, it would mean that she was pregnant when she left. However, that was only a few years ago, so the child would be young. Tsi-Shen notes that just because a child is young does not mean there are not those who act on their behalf, and Yanyu allows that to be true. Yanyu takes notes on the birthdays, and then Tsi-Shen returns to the room and takes her chair back, dismissing Yanyu.
- Sima, m, age 17, murdered
- Cixi, f, age 14 (twins)
- Ruogan, f, age 14 (twins)
- Shao, m, age 15
- An Ming
- Aofei, f, age 9
- Lieh, m, age 1
A horoscope for Sima indicates that he was a warrior born, Tiger aspected. Shao is a Fox, and a charismatic one, never more than minimally martial. The twins are odd, and have the same horoscope, but no aspect yet; the younger children also have no aspect.
Still More Investigation
The locked-up servant is questioned. She says that she was told to fetch Sima for dinner at 6:30, when he didn't show up, so she checked his usual haunts, and found him dead in the Grove at 7.
Usual haunts? What are those? She says they include the Barn, the Bakery, the Smithy, the Forest Path, the Secluded Grove, the Main Hall, and the Warlord's Chambers.
- "There should be eight." -Takanata
- "The prince apparently does not go into the Cellars." -Mike
- "Right." -Charles
Does the servant know of any "known associates" of Prince Sima? Well, he spends a lot of time with "that Zhen girl", who apparently has "striking hair". (Prince Sima himself had "regular hair").
To the Barn! Kuan-Xi checks for magic, and notes that a minor anti-fertility charm has been used. There is a groom hiding in the hayloft, who witnessed a fight between Prince Sima and Zhen Yubi at 1pm in which he dumped her, and also a young lady and young lord in the hayloft at 2pm.
The Smithy is the next stop - one of the Five Trusted Guards is here, securing the armory. There's no magic here, but some detective work indicates that there was a duel, some time between 3pm and 4:30pm. The duelists both left after the duel, one in the direction of the Forest Path, and one towards the back of the castle, according to an urchin who saw them leave. The one who headed towards the Forest Path was Zhen Tai, Zhen Yubi's brother.
The Forest Path has already been visited, so the group heads for the back of the keep. Lijuan notes that the wall can be climbed, giving a way to get into the Warlord's Chambers without going through the Main Hall. She also thinks that someone climbed up yesterday, but that they weren't bleeding at the time. She suggests that they climb up, but Takanata thinks that's undignified.
Takanata wonders if the "strangely separated" distinction of locations and times is part of the lockdown, or a demon effect, or something else. He realizes that the answer is "Yes, so don't waste it" - the effect is coming from the Forest Demon. That leads to the interesting idea of questioning the Forest, but Takanata is pretty sure he can only do that once, so it would better be done when they have figured out what they can without its help.
The party heads to the Bakery next - it's locked, but their guard can open it. There's no magic, but the smells are remarkable and unfamiliar, as if a new and wholly yummy food has been invented. There is a tray of delicious-smelling spiral buns, with one missing - where the missing bun should be is a sweaty smudge.
The group heads back to the Main Hall again, where Takanata spots someone with pale hair - Ze Shao. The smith is also in the Main Hall - he says he was in the Smithy in the morning, but did not return until 5. He found the disturbance from the duel, and spent from 5 to 6pm cleaning. Only the Warlord and his family can get in without the smith. The baker - also in the Main Hall - says that he returned from a trip yesterday, and was in the Bakery from 2 until 4:30pm. At 5pm, he took out his tray of masterwork buns, and left them to cool. He was planning to unveil them at the circus dinner - they are called "cinnamon buns", using a secret spice he has discovered from traders with the South.
With their guard escort, the group is permitted into the High Warlord's Chambers. A dinner has been set up, and there are signs of the minor altercation between the Warlord and his guard that Kuan-Xi witnessed. The window is also slightly ajar, as if someone has come in and gone out again by that method. A large sword hangs on the wall, and the more eagle-eyed among the party note that the sword is nicked, and there is a smear of blood on it - and a sweaty stain on the pommel.
The group heads back downstairs into the Main Hall, to check through the people waiting there again. They spot Zhen Tai, and ask about his movements. He and Zhen Yubi came in at 5:30pm, looking unhappy, and have been here ever since. Someone else saw he and a bunch of mooks stalking towards the keep at 2:30pm, and one of his mooks was was spotted at 3pm talking to Lord Sima. While Zhen Tai is still in the Main Hall, the Zhen mooks are not.
Takanata draws a picture of the Warlord's sword, and shows it to Zhen Tai. Was this the sword his Highness was using when Tai was fighting him? Tai protests that he didn't kill Prince Sima, but it is too late, and the High Warlord's guards drag him away. Takanata notes for the record that the Prince survived a few hours longer than the fight, but such quibbles are not entirely relevant in the face of a Potential Culprit.
The group heads back out to the Forest Path, and looks around more closely. There are some drops of blood, and a pool of blood; the former are older than the latter, and the pool of blood has been hurriedly covered by leaves.
Takanata calls up Echoes of the Past, and sees the death of the Prince:
Sima is stalking down the Forest Path, muttering to himself and eating a cinnamon bun, when a figure cloaked in black steps out from behind a tree and stabs him with a knife. The prince's reactions are strangely slow and sluggish, and he falls. As he falls, the cloaked figure plucks the cinnamon bun from his hand. Then, his body is dragged off along the path.
Lijuan finds the tracks of where the figure stood (not behind the same tree as the servant from before). The tracks are booted, and reasonably heavy - probably male. She thinks that the coverup with the leaves was only moderately competent - not a trained outdoorsman.
Back to the Main Hall again, where Lijuan checks with the local urchins - they saw a bunch of armsmen on horses ride out of the gates at 5pm.
Asking around after House Tsui, they learn: the woman from House Tsui (with oily hair) was having lunch with Ze Xiulan at 12:30pm - she left through the Main Hall at 1:30pm. She returned again at 2:30pm and went into the Cellars, and came back up at 3:30pm.
Takanata heads back out to the Secluded Grove, to speak to the Demon of the Forest.
- "Is the responsible party dead?"
- "Not yet. We have located many things, which give us an idea of what has gone on. The thing we are most unclear on is what demon was summoned to the Cellars and what deal was cut."
- "I was."
- "Can you tell us what the deal was that was made?"
- "Will that help you?"
It's not entirely clear that it will, so Takanata lays out for the Forest what they know so far. It seems likely that the Prince was at least poisoned and then stabbed - so ruling out the summoning as having had to do with that would be good. Takanata is pretty sure that the killer expected the cinnamon bun to be weakening Sima - but then realizes that this isn't true. Now he’s puzzled, why then was the Prince sluggish when he was attacked?
The Forest says that it was bestowing its blessings on its son Shao, on behalf of its daughter the Tsui sorceress, until 6:30pm when it noticed the Secluded Grove was corrupted.
- "In a technical Southern sense?" -Takanata
- "No, in a "damaged my land" sense."
Takanata tries to figure out how soon before 6:30pm Sima could have been killed, and the Forest clarifies:
- "I have granulated events more than that. He was on the path at 6:00pm being stabbed if he was dragged into the grove at 6:30pm."
Ah, so everything happened at half hour ticks. So the murderer couldn't have been Shao (who was being blessed), or the Zhens (who were already in the Main Hall). But it could be any of the other players, or someone not yet heard from. When the Warlord emerges from his seclusion, the granulation will end. Then, the killer will almost certainly die - but if the party has found who they are, then fewer other people will die first.
So... when the Forest said its son Shao, and daughter the Tsui sorceress, was that literal? No, the Forest means someone born in the Forest. It also says that it can give more guidance, but it must be offered more in exchange. Takanata offers to push the Warlord's emergence from seclusion a day further into the future. This bargain is accepted.
- "I do not know who did this, but I think I would know if it were one of my children."
- "So, likely not someone born in the forest." -Takanata
(Was Lin Lin, the banished wife, born in the Forest? Yes, she was - that was part of what led to her being unhappy in her marriage.)
Lijuan persuades the party to let her test the cinnamon buns for poison. Both she and Min Feng take a bun; Lijuan nibbles hers, and quickly finishes the whole thing. They are delicious!
Investigating the Harem
Min Feng suggests talking to An Ming; she and Yanyu and Kuan-Xi head off to do that, leaving Lijuan to guard Takanata.
While First Wife is in her chair, none of the other wives are permitted to speak. Asking for tea just causes a servant to be dispatched. Yanyu finally draws First Wife away to speak about her son, and Kuan-Xi draws Second Wife away to ask about her lunch with the Tsui sorceress.
Min Feng takes An Ming off to talk to, leaving Fourth Wife in charge - but there is no one left to learn any of her clues.
An Ming is still sure that House Mong did it, [NB: "still" sure because somewhere near the beginning she showed up in ninja guise to ask us to investigate but not to tell Yanyu, or something, that seems to be missing up above] is glad that Yanyu (as the obvious Mong sympathizer) has been distracted, and wants to know if Min Feng has gotten to the bottom of the matter yet. Min Feng is puzzled by what the evidence for Mong's perfidy is - well, they hired Master Zhou to get Tsai Su-yin back, and hired Yanyu to get her married to them. Min Feng airily dismisses the idea that Yanyu is brokering a marriage between Mong and Tsai Su-yin, which An Ming finds interesting, given that she has heard that it is so. Yanyu did arrange for the younger Mong brother to marry the Tsui heiress, saving the older brother for Su-yin, so An Ming thinks she's definitely meddling. The heir to house Xing also just got married, leaving the Zhen girl as the only eligible high noble among the other houses. And if Sima was sneaking off to meet someone, it was probably the Zhen girl - he's been doing that for months.
An Ming doesn't know where the other wives were - she was eavesdropping on a meeting between Lord Sung and Lord Teng at 6pm. Min Feng wonders if Fourth Wife might know anything, but An Ming thinks that unlikely - she has not begun to play politics yet.
Meanwhile, Yanyu talks to First Wife about the Zhen girl and the duel between Sima and Zhen Tai - that Sima "obviously won". Well, perhaps the murder was vengeance for the lost duel? No, the culprit was probably not born in the Forest. First Wife thinks that points to An Ming, but Min Feng thinks the murderer was a man. Well, that leaves... none of the obvious suspects so far.
Kuan-Xi chats with Second Wife about the blessing for Shao. Xiulan thinks it is not inappropriate for a son of the Forest to be blessed by the Forest - even though Sima was expected to take the throne, a wise advisor is to be treasured. It was an exchange of favors between Xiulan and Lady Tsui. Still, Kuan-Xi suggests that the timing is very suspicious, and could be used to look particularly damning towards Shao and his mother. Unless Tsui suggested the timing, in which case the finger could be pointed that way instead. So... what did Tsui want? Just a friend at court. Hmm. Well, which people at court now are men who were not born in the Forest? Of those currently here, Xiulan thinks that both Lady Sung and Lady Xing have new husbands who were born outside the Forest.
Putting some Pieces Together
Which of the nobles entered the Main Hall after 6pm? House Sung, Teng, Tsai, Mong, and Xing all arrived after 6pm.
Yanyu finds Zhen Yubi in the Main Hall, sobbing. Her boyfriend dumped her, then died, and her brother is about to be executed for his murder. It hasn't been a good day. Yanyu tries to find out if Yubi knows who Sima might have been meeting, but she really doesn't know. So... why did Sima dump her? She doesn't know that either, just that he was incredibly cruel in the conversation, which he had never been before. Later that afternoon, her brother said that he and Sima had fought, and he was wounded - she had to bandage him. Tai also said that Sima was already wounded when they fought. Huh - that's interesting. More precisely, Sima was unwounded at 1:30pm, when he broke up with Yubi, but was injured at 3:30pm when he dueled Tai. Which is well before he was killed at 6pm.
- "I think we know less now."
The party's guard escort confirms that the rumor (amongst the guards) is that Prince Sima was bruised, not just stabbed.
Takanata goes back to Lijuan's art - is that rain? Or puppet strings. The puppet strings are carefully arranging all the red herrings that are in Takanata's art. Oh - not just fish, but red herrings. The cloud is... possibly some sort of guard against being clearly scried.
It has gotten late, and the Main Hall is starting to clear out. The guard arranges for guest quarters for the party, and everyone heads to bed.
Investigating in Dreams
Takanata attempts to dreamwalk to the missing parts of Sima's day; he finds himself at lunch with Sima and the High Warlord. The King criticizes Sima seeing the Zhen girl, and this provokes a fight with Sima, after which the young man storms off and gets killed. The King will find who killed him, if he has to chop his way through Teng and Sung and Mong and Tsui.... Then it starts again - the King asks cautiously about the Zhen girl, and this provokes a fight with Sima, after which the young man storms off. The King will find who killed him, if he has to chop his way through Tsai and Foon and Sung and Zhen... Then it starts again - the King brings up the Zhen girl, joking, and this provokes a fight with Sima, after which the young man storms off...
Takanata realizes that the Warlord is running through lunch again and again, trying to see if if he could have done anything differently. But also, the list of names never seems to include Xing. Takanata sends the Warlord a dream saying "Xing!", and this causes Xing's name to be included in the list of names to chop, but he still seems to be stuck in the cycle. And Takanata is now stuck as well - the dream isn't just a nightmare, it's a trap. Takanata summons Kibo, who launches himself into the nightmare, and Takanata is able to wake up, well after everyone else has gone and gotten breakfast.
He relates the dream - that was definitely a trap with at least a little power behind them.
But who is it? The Marked don't want to outright destroy the Forest. Who benefits? Maybe it's not a "destroy the country" plot so much as a "create a political vacuum" plot. That might indicate Lucky Chang.
Lijuan talks to the House Sung lordlings. She warns them that Sima is dead (they knew that), and that he was killed by a man who wasn't born in the forest (they didn't know that, and are now rather alarmed). They say they can try to escape, and while Lijuan getting Zhen Tai thrown in the dungeon was a good start, maybe she should make sure there's some evidence that it was him, so people don't try to pin it on them.
Asking around the Great Hall about the new House Xing member, everyone seems to consider him an unlikely suspect. He's very helpful - he helped arrange for secret talks between Sung and Teng, and for Mong and Tsui to have a rendezvous in the hayloft. He got Lady Tsui in to see Xiulan, and gave the Mong dossier to An Ming. The party finds all this exuberant interference highly suspicious.
An interview with Zhen Tai, in the dungeon, doesn't turn up much more. Tai doesn't know who the prince was fighting with before the duel, and suggests that the wounds were probably self-inflicted. His armsmen were just there to keep people away from the duel, and they left after that.
Searching the Prince's rooms, things seem to have been tossed about a lot - there's a broken glass, and some cloth that has been torn into strips. So... a tantrum? Maybe the wound was self-inflicted after all.
The party tries to put together the Prince's timeline. Why would he be climbing in and out the window of his father's rooms? The guard notes that it's insulting to use someone else's sword, and he probably would have been seen if he went through the Main Hall with the Warlord's greatsword. Also, the guard is not pleased at the part where people can climb in and out of the King's window.
|1pm||Ze Sima breaks up with Zhen Yubi in Barn|
|1:30||Sima and Yubi go opposite directions on Forest Path|
|2pm||Mong and Tsui in hayloft. Zhen Yubi and Zhen Tai in Secluded Grove|
|2:30||Zhen Tai and armsmen to Keep|
|3pm||Armsman talks to Sima in Main Hall|
|3:30||Duel in Smithy - Sima already injured|
|4pm||Zhen Tai on Forest Path towards Grove, bleeding. Armsmen go to Barn to get horses.|
|4:30||Zhen Tai & Zhen Yubi in Grove|
|5pm||Cooling tray in Bakery. Armsmen leave.|
|5:30||Zhens appear in Main Hall. Prince takes Cinnamon Roll.|
|6pm||Prince killed on Forest Path|
|6:30||Body dragged into Grove, alerting Forest. No dinner.|
|7pm||Body found by servant.|
What Do You Know?
Perhaps it's time for Mondo to weigh in - can he shed some light on the whole thing?
So... what do they know that they know? The party starts going through Prince Sima's timeline. No, no, not what do they know about Sima. What do they know about the killer? Well, they know that he wasn't born in the Forest, so Lord Sung or Lord Xing. But they know where Lord Sung was at 6.
- "So what you know about the killer is that it was Xing. And what you know about the red herrings is that you have not found them all yet. So - do you know what you know?" -Mondo
The party protests - they know who the killer is, but they don't have proof yet, and they don't know how he poisoned the Prince! Or why he did it! The mystery isn't done!
- "Perhaps you should walk in the steps of the Prince and see where you find poison?" -Mondo
The party begins to lay out the timeline yet again, but Mondo notes that he means actually walk in Sima's steps, rather than talk about Sima's steps. Oh. Mondo begins to hustle everyone around, following the timeline.
Ahah - Sima can have left the Warlord's chambers through the Main Hall with his sword (and, in fact, the people in the Main Hall confirm this), but when he was returning, the sword was bloody, so that's why he climbed up to the window. Lijuan leaps up to the window, but Mondo suggests that might not be exactly the same as climbing it. When she climbs down again, she finds it very strenuous, and is at half body and reflexes until she eats something. So - Sima sluggishness weren’t caused by poison, he was tired and hungry. Ah ha! That’s why he went to the Bakery next!
They get from a guard, a full list of Sima's characteristics at his death:
- bruised x2
Takanata draws up a Crossroads, putting together the clues, and concluding that the House Xing new husband did it. He determines that everything he’s said is true.
Well... there seem to be no remaining excuses to not Get Him. However, the group has spent long enough converging on him that he is not very surprised at this point, and has his escape smoke prepared.
- "Damn you! Damn you all! Why is it always you?"
- "Always us? ... Who are you?" -Everyone
They finally realize that (under a disguise) the new Lord Xing is actually Lord Du - the guy with the concept of "Usurper". Takanata tries to turn his foot, but Lady Xing throws the escape smoke and they are gone, leaving a pouch with some notes on his Plan behind.
The Plan indicates that he has different plans in other countries, but this one for the Forest had to be pushed into high gear because all mystic reports indicate that Tsai Su-yin is returning soon, and that will change all the politics.
The evidence is presented to the High Warlord, who sends his guards off to summon Lord and Lady Xing (the heads of house, not the two who were here), on pain of death, to answer some questions.
Takanata thinks he may be able to find Lord Du in a month or so, but the High Warlord plans to be moving a little faster than that. However, he hasn't started by chopping anyone else, which is a good sign.