No Port in a Storm
|"Where there is sea there will be monsters."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Tiger in the third Year of the Magpie since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place in the Strait of Silent Winds, on the way from the Isle of Beauty to the mainland.
The Circus always sets out on the first day of spring. While Cai Wen is not yet done training with Ringmaster Te, he doesn't want the "under new management" circus to start out late as the first thing it does. So (demonstrating that he has been paying some attention to Ringmaster Te's leadership style), he directs Merit to get the circus moving to the Port of Propitious Voyage, where he will catch up with it.
Merit hires a ship (for some reason, ships which have previously transported the circus are often not available to do so again) called the Crest of the Wave, and starts to arrange for the various circus possessions and elephants to be placed on board. Lijuan creates a rather ominous sketch, which she shows to everyone. Xian points out that as part of creating the Call of the Ocean horn, he is scheduled to be attacked by sea creatures next time he crosses the ocean.
Merit contemplates whether plans like "Send Xian on a different boat" or "Send the elephants separately from everyone else" would be helpful. Xian really doesn't want to be sent all by himself to be eaten by sea monsters, for one. Trying to evade prophetic art might work or might not, depending on if the art is a warning or a guarantee, but trying to deliberately evade a voluntarily accepted "curse" can sting. If there's some sort of doom slated for the elephants, and some sort of doom slated for Xian, putting them on separate boats might just get more doom for everyone. Merit hires a group of thugs to come along, just in case.
Merit isn't sure how good elephants are at swimming, so he rigs up a set of "elephant life vests" which will probably help them float, but they won't be happy wearing them for days and days. Another question is what is likely to cause the elephants to jump into the ocean - is something chasing them? Is something summoning them? Xiao Fa recalls some stories about siren-like monsters, though most of the stories describe the sirens luring people rather than elephants. But then, there really aren't all that many stories about the Sea Monster versus the Elephant to begin with. Merit lays in some wax for people to plug their ears with, though plugging an elephant's ears will be tricksy. Then, he spreads a rumor among the circus folks and sailors that there are siren-like sea monsters that sing people into jumping into the ocean, so that when he later passes out wax they won't be so worried.
The ship does have a winch suitable for loading cargo aboard, though it just has a hook at the end, which isn't so good for picking up elephants. He makes sure there's a supply of nets near the winch, just in case.
The party decides on watches, with the plan that the best time for sleeping is the shift before the watch you're on.
- Night: Min Feng & Xiao Fa
- Morning: Lijuan & Xian
- Evening: Merit & Kasumi
People wonder if the sea creatures are going to be going after Xian in particular, should he have the Monkey Talisman? He decides he'd prefer to be grabbable and fishable out of the water by the rest of the party should he end up in the ocean, so Kasumi takes it.
Things Go Wrong
As the ship sets out for the Port of Propitious Voyage, into what appears to be the teeth of a storm, Lijuan and Xian notice that the captain seems grumpy at the crew, and the crew seems grumpy at the captain. Merit futher notices that the crew seems particularly busy - nobody is goofing off or lazing about - and he recruits a sailor from amongst the crew.
About half a day out of port, in the afternoon, the storm hits. Xian starts to be seasick, but Xiao Fa manages to put a stop to that. Kawaii (Lijuan's panda bear) is caged on deck, but unhappy about being rained on; being near an unhappy panda makes the elephants unhappy as well, and fidgety about their life vests.
Then, Xiao Fa, while on watch, notices that one of the sailors, who had been working towards the back of the ship, is no longer there. He calls this to the captain's attention, but there is no sign of the sailor in the choppy sea. The captain, suspicious, suspects the sailor of having gone below deck to drink, or having fallen over the side in a drunken stupor, as he is known for his drinking. Some of the other sailors check below decks, but they cannot find him. No one wants to jump in and swim around looking for him, but the ship lets down a sea anchor, as the captain decides continuing to sail in the stormy dark is unwise.
In the morning, the captain directs the crew to get underway again, but the ship does not seem to be moving. Possibly there is something wrong with the anchor? The sailors let down the anchor and raise it again, but this does not seem to fix the problem. An elephant takes advantage of the distraction to fling its life preserver overboard, but Lijuan and Xiao Fa fish it out with a gaff, and notice a brief flash of something silver swimming underneath. Merit gets his sailor to report in on why the captain and the crew are at odds - the main thing seems to be that the captain was assigned to the ship by the owner (a merchant in the Arcade), and didn't work aboard it before becoming captain. He doesn't trust the crew, assuming they're mostly lazy, and the crew doesn't trust him.
Kawaii continues to be grumpy about being caged, so Lijuan unlocks the cage so the panda can stroll about. When she begins to do so, Lijuan whistles her to the front of the boat, straight through where the elephants are tethered. Unsurprisingly, the elephants panic and start to break free, and it is a near thing to keep them from charging over the side of the ship to get away from the panda.
Most people are dealing with the elephants when a scream is heard from below decks, so Xian goes below by himself to find out what is going on. He discovers the costume mistress, crumpled in the hallway and sobbing hysterically. She doesn't appear to be physically hurt, but it takes a while to calm her down enough that she can indicate that there was something terrible in the forward hold.
Xian goes to investigate, and finds that stuffed into the back corner of the hold is the dead body of one of the circus hands, with his arms and legs piled floppily on top of his torso. Not wanting to mess up any clues, Xian heads back up onto the deck to insist that Merit really does want to leave his elephant and come and see something belowdecks.
- "Li Merit, you do have a moment." -Xian
Merit heads down with Xian to investigate. The death appears to have been caused by a stab wound of a very sharp narrow weapon, like a stiletto, but there is less blood than there ought to be - though it takes a few minutes to be sure of that, as there is a good half an inch of water on the floor, slowly draining into the bilges. The floppiness of the body's arms and legs are because the arm and leg bones have been cut out and taken away. The circus hand had been sleeping in a hammock in the cargo hold to keep an eye on things, so it's not surprising that he's here, it's only surprising that he's dead, and in so odd a fashion.
There is some discussion of what sort of sea monster stabs someone to death, and comparison of this method of death with that used by krakens. Deep in the ocean, the kraken hears its name called out three or four times, and comes in reply.
It is only a small kraken, with two tentacles, but the elephants are again quite displeased, and run about in a panic, so the party must yet again work to keep the elephants from fleeing the monsters over the side of the boat. One of Merit's thugs is grabbed by a tentacle before it flees underwater due to too much damage, and then a flash of silver, like a large fish, pulls the thug underwater and he is gone. Merit looks at the ripples, aghast, but does not dare jump in after him.
When the kraken's head surfaces, Kasumi leaps up to grab its nose, and everyone else piles on the tentacles, and eventually the kraken has to flee. As it does so, wounded, it bumps... something... and Min Feng senses the ship briefly pulled down and backwards, and then bobs free, as if it had been caught on something and is now free again.
With the kraken gone, it's time to worry more about the mysterious murder, so everyone except Kasumi heads down into the hold - Kasumi helps the carpenters repair the damage the kraken has done, and keeps an eye on the elephants. Merit suspects that there's a Northern assassin hiding on board somewhere, as "using someone's bones for something" seems very northern.
Lijuan does her best to track any signs in the hold, and determines that the water came through - that solid wood board there. There's definitely no hole letting in water now, but all evidence suggests that there used to be one. As if some sort of sea monster made a brief hole to come in, but then sealed it up again. Another clue is that where the stab wound was made, there's also a bruise, as if there was some sort of suction that took the blood.
Xiao Fa tries to remember any particular stories about sea monsters, and recalls something about a story of "silverfolk", something like fish-people who use sharp bone weapons - stone is too heavy, wood is too light, and metal rusts. So... that might explain why they took someone's arm and leg bones? It's not clear why they took the blood, though. So maybe it's not a Northern assassin, just a hostile sea monster, which reassures everyone. The group checks with Takanata - the horn of the ocean has not in fact been stolen. Merit decrees that everyone has to stick to a buddy system, though Min Feng promptly thwarts that order by searching the captain's cabin while Merit shows him the body.
Min Feng finds where the captain keeps his money, and she pores over his maps. The main map he is using is a map of the Strait of Silent Winds, old and handsome-looking, but the captain seems to be scribbling on it, making changes here and there. There don't seem to be any eldritch sea treasures or other bodies or signs that the captain isn't actually human or anything like that, so he doesn't seem to be the obvious cause of the silverfolk attack. Min Feng copies the map, and sneaks out again. Merit takes a look, and realizes that the map was a masterwork, but now it's wrong since the islands have moved. It's kind of a desecration to be rewriting the map the way he is, but it is in fact wrong so it's no longer a very good map.
Now that the ship has become unstuck, it's time to get it moving again. Merit offers to attach the Icon of Aquatic Motion to the back of the ship, to make it go a little faster. His remaining thugs lower him on a bunch of ropes to attach the icon, but after a few minutes of this, fish-scaled arms grab his foot.
- "Aaaah! My foot is wet! Help!" -Merit
Kasumi jumps in, and discovers to her dismay that fish-creatures do not have grabbable noses, and when she chops one with her katana, it rusts somewhat (as does Merit's boot knife). However, the thugs are able to pull Merit up again and Kasumi jumps back onto the deck before they can pull her under. The creatures look like mermen or naga - they have arms, but a long eel-like body beneath. Xiao Fa thinks that the rusting phenomenon is similar to the chi of the wood shaping that opened the side of the hull.
The ship sets sail, and moves at a brisk clip for about ten minutes, before it jolts to a halt again. Kasumi goes out on a spar of the mast and tries to look below the ship to see what the creatures are doing - she sees two long silver fishlike creatures swimming around and messing with the bottom of the boat - there seems to be something attached to the bottom of the boat, like a sea anchor. One of the creatures is still wounded, though.
There is some argument about what to do next. The party could swim down and... fight them with their meaty fists in the place of drowning. That may not be the best idea. Kasumi wants a nap, as she and Merit haven't had any sleep since the ship first set sail. Xian thinks that napping may be missing the IMMINENT PERIL of the situation - three people have already died, and the whole boat full of people could die!
- "If our fire mage were here, he could... cover everything above the water line in fire." -Li Merit
Well, perhaps they can be lured within bowshot range. Min Feng disguises Kasumi as Xian (since Xian is the one with the sea-creature doom, perhaps they will be more interested in eating him), and she climbs in the water with a rope between her and the mast. The silverfolk do come for her, but they are quick to dodge, and nearly as quick to be driven away by the party's arrow fire; they lurk under the ship and try to lure Kasumi towards them with yummy-looking-glowing eyes.
Kasumi swims down to below the boat - very sneakily, as she has the Monkey talisman - and cuts the seaweed rope attaching the silverfolks' sea anchor to what appears to be a new shaped wood hook in the hull. She starts drowning before she gets pulled back aboard, but Xiao Fa can fix most of the damage.
Merit contemplates using a Book of Esoteric Knowledge to figure out more about exactly what they're trying to do and why, but decides to nap instead. Kasumi decides that's a fine plan, and naps as well.
At this point, the ship starts to turn, as the rudder seems to have gone all the way over and cannot be moved. Once the ship loses the wind, it stops.
Xiao Fa attempts to wake up both Merit and Kasumi, but they are not interested in getting up right away, having just gone to sleep. Can someone awake figure out what's wrong? He asks Kasumi for the Monkey Talisman, because someone awake might need it to help figure out what's wrong. When he hands it off to Lijuan, he is immediately exhausted, because he has been wearing the Horse talisman. Oops. He convinces Lijuan to go out on a spar and see if she can tell what's going on with the rudder. A massive burl seems to have grown out and pushed the rudder all the way over.
Well that seems like silverfolk work. Xiao Fa leans on Lijuan down to the galley where he makes 2 doses of wakey tea and asks Lijuan to give them to Merit and Kasumi, before finally succumbing to exhaustion himself. However, the group on deck decides to let people sleep.
A Nap Makes Everything Better
Two hours later, the naps are interrupted as holes form in the forward hold, and water begins to gush into the ship. Everyone but Kasumi heads to the hold to try to fix the damage, but Kasumi remains on deck to keep an eye on the elephants. Thus, Kasumi is the only one to notice eight silverfolk come over the railing and go for the elephants. They try to goad the elephants into stampeding over the side, while Kasumi tries to fend them off.
Lijuan is the first to join Kasumi back on deck, while others try to figure out what to do about the holes in the hull. Mystic Mondo suggests "Nail the door shut and seal it while the cabin fills with water", and that seems like a good plan. Xian forges the circus workers into a finely tuned frenzy of door-nailing - one of the circus hands finds Merit's stash of wax and seals around the edges of the door with it.
Up on deck, Kasumi stalls some of the elephants from being goaded forwards by grabbing their noses (unlike fish, elephants have very significant noses). Xiao Fa, Min Feng, and some of the circus folk leap on other elephants and keep them contained, and Xiao Fa is happy to demonstrate the move capabilities of the Horse talisman. Ljiuan lays down covering fire, though once the elephants stall, none of the silverfolk charge into it.
While the party is doing fairly well at defending the elephants, the silverfolk are very dodgy and do not fall down quickly, so the battle is still in question when Merit pulls out a small whistle, and blows into it. The whistle makes a sound like the shriek of a bird of prey, and the shadow of the sails on the deck suddenly looks like great wide wings. It is apparent to everyone that Merit has summoned a roc, and he may not have it well enough under control to specify who it should go after.
- "Finally, the roc has come back to the Strait of Silent Winds." -Cael, claiming that Mike would get it.
- "Heh, heh, heh!" -Mike, editing the log
The silverfolk give up on capturing the elephants and zip to the sides of the boat, though one stabs Kasumi on the way by.
The creatures seem to be gone, though it takes a while before any of the crewmen are willing to chop away the burl blocking the rudder, and nobody is willing to go up in the rigging where there might be a roc. However, Merit manages to browbeat them into getting the boat moving again, just in case the silverfolk return.
Thankfully, they do not return, and the ship stops for nothing else before it reaches the Port of Propitious Voyage. Merit does his best to convince the captain that the crew is more competent than he thinks they are; he does not manage to smooth everything over into perfect amicability, but when the ship leaves, it is with less intermural hostility than it began.
- Cai Wen and Merit look up Ezokin for a chat.
- Takanata searches for Jin in the Arcade.
- Cai Wen looks for Ni Cheng in the Tanzhe Plain.
- Takanata visits the Temple of Eternal Dream.
- Takanata goes to talk with the Prince.
- Takanata and Min Feng go to visit Helena.