Noodles of Fu Manchu
|"The best quality tea must have creases like the leather boot of Qin Chao horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr, and be wet and soft like a fine earth newly swept by rain."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Serpent, in the Month of the Crane, in the eleventh Year of the Spider since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Port of Propitious Voyage, in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Invitation to a Tea House
As people putter around the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, Cai Wen says that he has been investing in a tea house in the Port of Propitious Voyage, to be called the Cup of Five Virtues, and it will be opening soon - everyone is invited to the grand opening. He is a half-owner, and Wei Han is a sixth-owner. There is some puzzlement over exactly why he has been investing in a tea house - the short answer is that the proprietor, Chashui, was defrauded by Lucky Chang and is thus worth cultivating as an ally. Lijuan wonders what the five virtues are - Cai Wen identifies them as "Quality, Service, Taste, Discretion, and Comfort."
Kasumi pesters Hana as to how her date with Niyo went. Hana doesn't go into details about the actual date, but says that she learned that Niyo is in town doing research on transactions in tael that have been going on, and is looking at financial trends. Anto wonders if that has to do with the tael ritual that Hsu Verity and Namura Hayato put together. Or the tael counterfeiting that the Southrons were doing, Lijuan notes. Either way, it's not very clear. Cai Wen does a quick check through the marketplace to see if people are talking about a big shift in finances after the tael ritual. He finds that there is a grand new opera house being built, but there doesn't seem to be public knowledge of a specific trend or massive economic shift towards art. Wei Han buys Kasumi a new katana with the Dragon Army credits, since hers was grabbed by the guards during the Harbor Master House robbery.
Then, the group heads north to the Port of Propitious Voyage, preparing fancy costumes for the opening and renting horses to make a good impression. (Hana buys Lijuan some fancy "retainer" clothes when she deems "washing my hands" to be insufficient for a fancy party.)
There is a Dragon Army checkpoint, about halfway up the highway, asking about where they're bound and what weapons they have, and so on. Cai Wen tries to explain that they're travelling to the Port of Propitious Voyage on business, but when Wei Han comes to ask what's going on, the soldiers are willing take his word that everything is in order. The city gates also have Dragon Army soldiers on it, which is unusual, but again, Wei Han can get them through without a problem.
Lijuan asks the local urchins what's going on with the soldiers. They say that they don't have a lot of details, but think it has to do with the "war on boats" that's going on. The urchins also ask if Lijuan needs a flophouse to stay in. They mention a place called the Rat's Nest that's warm and dry, that they give her directions to, but she declines, saying she has to be respectable this week. Wei Han asks some off duty soldiers about the guards on the gate - they say there's been some sabotage of the blockade, though the problems have stopped now that they've rounded up some dissidents. (Wei Han notes with disapproval that "dissident" is one of those words you just don't say - discipline is clearly a bit lax.)
Cai Wen checks in with Chashui - she's quite nervous about getting things ready in time, and the staff is scrubbing and polishing and such to get everything in order. She also tells him that since he was talking about expanding, the building behind the tea house might be suitable to expand into - the family that owns it has retired to the country, and the building is not really being kept up. So it might be cheap to acquire. Not a thing to worry about immediately, but it's worth keeping in mind for the longer term. Lijuan recognizes the address for the building behind the tea house as the Rat's Nest, and she wanders off to investigate. It does indeed seem to be infested with urchins, all on the look out for some good marks to pickpocket. They perk up when they hear a new high-class tea house is about to open.
Xiao Fa looks at the feng shui of the tea house and its location. The location is quite good - it's quite near two major thoroughfares, but set back a street or two so that it's not frenetic. The outside of the house is also quite good - the inside has been remodeled several times, and not always with an eye to chi flow, so it isn't great, but it's not bad. He moves some decorations around to help, and gets the decor about as good as it can get, given the current configurations of the walls.
An Unexpected Gathering
There is a peremptory rapping at the front door - an elderly man, dignified in a tall cylindrical hat, wants to know why they are closed? It is very important that they be open! Cai Wen assures him that they will be open soon enough - the grand opening is in two days. He frowns and says that it would be best if they had their grand opening tomorrow. Why is that, Cai Wen enquires? Because tomorrow is when all the important guests will be arriving.
Hana tries to sense his motives - they seem to be as they as they appear, in that he's concerned about using the tea house, but doesn't seem to be malicious.
- "Would you do us the honor of informing us of whose presence we are in?" -Shuyan
He introduces himself as Solicitor Chan, and clearly thinks that people should be impressed. Shuyan dutifully looks impressed, on general principles, though no one actually recognizes his name. He says that there are a number of Important Guests coming, but their names should not be bandied about on the street. Cai Wen smoothly explains that at the Cup of Five Virtues, one of the virtues is discretion. Solicitor Chan nods, and says that he looks forward to sampling the noodles tomorrow. He heads off again, directing his daughter Chao-Li to stay behind and assist in making sure everything is in order for tomorrow. Chao-Li appears to think that Cai Wen is very cute, so she's happy to stay.
Shuyan asks Chao-Li what sort of noodles her father will be expecting? This is a tea house, and doesn't normally serve noodles. Chao-Li is intrigued to hear that it is a tea house now - she notes that that is definitely a step up from that other establishment, with a delicate shudder. In the beginning, though, long ago, the building was the site of a noodle house. The party also asks what office Inspector Chan represents - oh, Chao-Li demurs, he's not an inspector, he's a solicitor. He is the executor for a great estate. Though one of the guests will be an inspector. Oh, wait, he's not with the government? No, not at all. People wonder whether they really need to be jumping to his instructions to open the tea house early, though it may be hard to tell him now that they won't do it.
Chao-Li provides more details on the will: before the establishment was a tea house, it was an establishment that we will not talk about; before that, it was a merchant holding house; before that, another one of those establishments; and before that, a noodle house. The noodle house was founded by the departed. Ah, so the will is being read here for sentimental reasons? Yes, plus it is explicitly stipulated in the will itself. Chao-Li notes that those mentioned in the will are wealthy and powerful people, so if the tea house can be open, they will certainly make a good profit.
Cai Wen checks in with Chashui - would it be possible to open tomorrow? That panics her - they aren't nearly finished cleaning. Xiao Fa and Kasumi volunteer to help scrub. Xiao Fa also checks out the kitchen - it isn't really set up for noodles, though it is set up for producing large quantities of boiling water, so it could be switched over to noodles - but probably not vast quantities of noodles and vast quantities of tea at the same time.
Kuan-Xi suggests that Anto divert a river through the tea house to clean it... Anto thinks that's cool, but he doesn't have that shtick. Cai Wen puts his foot down - flooding is not an appropriate method of cleaning the tea house.
- "I'm sad because I can't think of anything equivalent to do with snakes." -Shuyan
- "With snakes, you could make them hold their party somewhere else." -Kasumi
Lijuan wonders if the urchins could help clean - she drags Cai Wen to talk to the kids in the Rats' Nest. At first, they panic to think that Lijuan has called the law down on them, but she manages to convince them, of... well, of something, at least.
- "Cai Wen is very important. He owns the tea house." -Lijuan
- "Oh, no! She told the law!" -Urchins
- "No, no, he wants to hire you. For food and money."
- "Does he have money?"
- "He owns the tea house, you dummy!"
- "Oh...oh, we get it now. Right. Come in! (Whispered: Sorry, we were slow up the uptake.)"
- "I left all my money with friends elsewhere, you realize?" -Cai Wen
Cai Wen tries to convince them that he wants to hire them - honest pay for honest work - but there is much scorn at this idea. He had better not be saying such crazy things when Fin gets back. However, the idea of hiring them to do a job seems more plausible. The difference goes over Lijuan's head, but Cai Wen gets the idea. Apparently, Fin is the guy to talk to - he gets the loot coming in, and divvies it up. He also gets the delicious pork buns for them. He'll be back in the evening, if they want to talk to him when he returns. Then, the urchins show Lijuan and Cai Wen out, pickpocketing Cai Wen's oil of squeakiness in the process.
Back at the tea house, Xiao Fa, Kasumi, Anto, and Lijuan throw themselves into scrubbing. The mirror metal polish gets used, making all the metal fixtures shiny-bright. Shuyan is particularly good at making things tidy, Hana does some organization with tea ceremonies, and even Wei Han somewhat grudgingly helps. Still, they're not quite going to be done in time, until Cai Wen hires a last-minute cleaning crew to sweep in and help finish. Lo, they are set to open!
When hearing that there isn't a night guard (tea shops don't usually need to post guards), Wei Han and Kasumi offer to spend the night, just in case some comes to sabotage the opening, or something. Before turning in for the night, though, there is more interrogation to be done!
Does Chao-Li think that anyone will be disappointed that there are no noodles? Cai Wen could arrange for a noodle cart, or something, if necessary. Chao-Li thinks her father is the only one who will be disappointed; the others might expect noodles, but some might be happy that there are no noodles. She mostly advises not deliberately offending them - "Who needs people like them for enemies?" Cai Wen points out that he doesn't actually know who they are yet. All she knows is that they are all high-ranking members of the Si Fan. Nobody is sure what the Si Fan is - maybe something about spies - but Cai Wen doesn't want to ask. He does ask where the inheritors are coming from - she thinks they hail from the Hidden City, the Illuminated Precincts, the City of Spires, and the Savanna. The deceased himself is the great Fu Manchu, and these are the scions of the Fu family, here to divide up his... holdings. People with KS: Hon'eth Arcade remember the name of the Fu Bar and Noodle House, a long-ago landmark of the Port of Propitious Voyage.
- "I am intrigued by your information gathering approach in which you do not admit that you want any information. Teach me your wisdom in why you take this approach." -Anto, to Cai Wen
Since Cai Wen is a bit unwilling to appear ignorant of what's going on, Anto volunteers to be the one who admits to no clue.
- "I'm sure that Cai Wen knows everything that's going on, but I am more confounded. Could you tell me who the great Fu Manchu was?" -Anto
Chao-Li skirts around the issue a bit, but says that Fu Manchu was a... mastermind, of sorts. He founded an organization called the Si Fan - similar to how countries have spies, but it is not associated with a country. A private spy organization, you might say. The scions of the Fu family who are attending are:
- Fu Li, number one son.
- Fu Sen, number two son
- the Precious Jade... also a member of the family
- the mysterious Inspector Ando, who she's not heard of before.
- "Is Precious Jade a lady?" -Shuyan
- "I would not presume to say." -Chao-Li
Chao-Li is also quite unsure of why Inspector Ando has been invited.
- "Should we expect trouble?"
- "Oh, yes."
- "What sort?"
- "No one hires my father for these things unless they expect complicated mechanics."
But what about violence? People are concerned about that sort of trouble in particular. She thinks that it is possible, though not likely, that they will try to assassinate each other. To do so in the tea house would be very rude, though.
Lijuan, Cai Wen, and Wei Han make another trip to the Rats' Nest, to talk to the urchins about not causing trouble for the tea house opening. Fin, the leader, is willing to negotiate:
- "How much trouble do you not want to have?" -Fin
- "How much trouble do you control?" -Cai Wen
- "He's only thirteen. We rate higher trouble than him..." -Hana
Cai Wen thinks that a handful of zhu and some food, every so often, will keep them at bay indefinitely, though if they notice that the tea house is full of really rich people, they may ask for more. He bribes them for the moment with some zhu and "a pile of pork buns", and they agree to Keep Trouble From His Door.
A Night-time Visitor
Kuan-Xi arranges for rooms at the best inn in town - it even has its own attached bath-house! Lijuan stays at the Rats' Nest, while Kasumi, Wei Han, and Xiao Fa stay at the tea house. Those staying at the inn spot Inspector Ando, drinking rice wine downstairs.
- "I could go talk to him and you and Chao-Li could go... amuse yourselves." -Hana
- "That would be fine." -Cai Wen
Hana sits down near Ando and starts up a conversation with him. He's curious if Merit and Takanata are in town, but Hana says they're not here yet. Ando is reassured to learn that the party clearly isn't here on business then. Hana corrects him that it is business, but it will hopefully not discommode him. They are opening a tea house, near the Avenue of Abundant Prosperity. Ando notes that he also has business near the Avenue of Abundant Prosperity, so perhaps he will stop in. Hana notes that she hears he is already planning to. He is a bit disconcerted by that, and she explains. Ando is shocked - Cai Wen owns the Fu Bar? How did they get involved with such people? He is also still puzzled by why he has been invited. Hana explains further, and he is shocked yet again - the ranking members of the Si Fan are coming here? Perhaps it would be safer if he did not attend at all. Hana says it may be awkward to explain his absence.
- "We have a long tradition of being awkward with each other." -Ando
Is there anything in particular that they should know when dealing with the Si Fan, that Ando can tell them? Ando racks his brains and advises that Hana not offer noodles to the younger son. Well... all right, but are there particular concerns when dealing with... these sort of people? Ando thinks not at the moment, though he's clearly thinking frantically.
- "A concerned citizen should have no concerns. People in actual information-gathering services do not get along well with private information-gathering services. Others shouldn't notice." -Ando
Hana confirms that the Si Fan isn't a group of assassins, or people trying to take over the world, or consorting with evil sorcerers. Well, they do hire out - so they might on occasion consort with evil sorcerers, but they aren't a group of evil sorcerers.
As she's leaving, Hana notices a well dressed merchant type killing time in the inn. She goes over and looks ornamental at him until he buys her a drink. He turns out to be Fu Sen. She chats him up and discovers that he is in town for a family reunion of sorts, that he doesn't seem to like his family, that he hasn't actually seen his siblings in years because they were all forbidden to come to this city while his father was alive, and that he has noticed there are a lot of high-powered merchants in town, so he expects that he will be given some sort of merchant-y test. Hana tells him that her friend, Cai Wen, owns the tea house where the will is to be read. (Fu Sen is pleased to hear it is no longer a noodle bar.) She also lets slip that Cai Wen has some spiffy trading skills (because he is wearing the Magpie Talisman, though Hana doesn't mention that part). Fu Sen hints that if Hana will use her influence to get Cai Wen to help him, there would be dinner and a nice piece of jewelry in it for her.
Back in the tea house, Wei Han discovers an unlocked door which he is sure he locked, and Xiao Fa discovers some spices in the kitchen which he thought he put away. Between the two of them, that seems to be No Good. Kasumi lets Pooky (the hiding monkey) go, and the monkey manages to find someone sneaking towards the exit. She throws a knife at the door, being as intimidating as possible, and telling the monkey "No, I said stay in the house." Wei Han takes the hint and blocks the door. The thief flees, and Wei Han grabs them as he tries to leap out a window. Both of them crash through the window to outside, but the thief is captured, and Wei Han starts shaking him around. Ho starts barking, and Lijuan and a bunch of urchins show up as well.
The thief apologizes, and claims to have not found anything worth stealing.
- "You're just a common thief?" -Wei Han
- "I'm a very skilled thief, but I didn't find anything."
Xiao Fa checks everything in the kitchen which was disturbed, and finds some hallucinogenic jasmine tea. Kasumi reports to Solicitor Chan - he says he doesn't want a thief. If Kasumi can find out who he works for, he can hold it against them. Well, technically, the gathering hasn't begun yet, so he cannot strictly penalize them... but he will keep it in mind. Lijuan goes to report to Cai Wen, interrupting him at an awkward time.
Wei Han insists that the thief pay for replacing the window, which the thief takes as solicitation for a bribe, offering five li plus a new window. Wei Han threatens to give him to the army for military justice instead, unless he confesses who hired him. They end up agreeing that if the thief tells Wei Han who hired him, Wei Han will give him to the local authorities instead of the army. The thief says he was hired by Fu Lo Sui (not a Fu name the group has heard before). Wei Han says that if the tea house owner is happy, then he'll take him to the local authorities. The thief thinks this is unfair - Wei Han is changing the deal after the guy has done his half. Cai Wen shows up, and presses him a bit further on what he was doing, and the "thief" admits to planting the jasmine tea, as an advantage to his employer. Anyway, he'll see to the window, and Cai Wen notes that it had better not be an advantageous window in any way.
Kuan-Xi and Anto sneak off to raid the sweet dumplings that the inn has on hand for breakfast; she tells him a bit about being embarassed about Takanata and Yanyu trying to direct her, and a bit about the House of Harmony.
Shuyan has a talk in the baths with a woman who turns out to be Precious Jade. Jade gives Shuyan some skin-care tips (and a small container of skin cream from her stash) and thinks that the adorable snake is indeed adorable.
That covers all the people invited to the will reading, except for Fu Li - he might also be staying at the inn, but if so, he's not in any of the common areas to be seen.
Since there are spies here, the party thinks perhaps Machan Li is also around. Lijuan tells the urchins at the Rats' Nest that she'll give 10 zhu to the first one who can find her a black horse with a white fetlock. They dash off to search, and Lijuan heads over to the tea house to install improvised wind-chimes as burglar detectors.
A Will is Read... Sort Of
In the morning, the thief's brother comes to fix the window. Xiao Fa removes all the non-harmonious wind-chimes. Then, everyone confers over breakfast and fills each other in on what they've learned. In particular, since someone was hired to put hallucinogens in the jasmine tea, they should watch to see who doesn't drink it.
Inspector Ando knocks at the door, wondering if the tea house is open. Much to his dismay, he has been ordered by his superiors to attend, all day for three days. The "three days" part is news to the others, who had been planning on a one-day private opening. Ando confirms that Fu Lo Sui is the courtesan spy known as Precious Jade. The party briefs him on the list of the Fu family - he notes that Fu Li is a bureaucrat spy, and Fu Sen is a merchant spy. And, of course, Ando is an Imperial spy, which is not really like the others. The group wants to know what his goals are here. He says he'll be happy just to survive, and possibly learn how they manipulated his bosses into sending him into the trap. Officially, the Si Fan is illegal (in the way that every country's spy organization is illegal in the many countries it spies on). The Imperial Chancellory has been hunting them - people wonder whether that means "hunting" in the "letting them alone" sense, but no, Ando's mentor spent most of his career hunting the Si Fan, but they are very evasive.
Solicitor Chan is next to arrive, noting that his secretary has gone absent, so things are in a bit of disorder. Chao-Li dimples - oh, did he need her? Oops. Ando fades into the background, and Hana supervises tea-making in the kitchen. Cai Wen asks Solicitor Chan if there are provisions in the will for expenses for things like tea - Solicitor Chan says there is a provision in the will for the noodle house - not expenses, exactly, but appropriate compensation. Cai Wen is suddenly nervous, suspecting that to mean some sort of painful just deserts.
Some workmen show up with a large box; Solicitor Chan directs them to the private room upstairs. Then, Merchant Fu Sen and his servants arrive. They note that their master finds it wise to be early, so as to not miss anything. Fu Sen appears to be in his forties, wearing silks and gold.
As the arrivals continue, there's a pounding on the door - an urchin is looking for Lijuan, because he found a black horse with a white fetlock! Anto and Lijuan rush off immediately, to a stable at one of the less fine inns - sure enough, there's a big black horse with one white fetlock. Lijuan checks its hooves, and tries to backtrace the tracks - it seems to have come from out of town relatively recently. They ask the innkeeper whose horse it is, professing interest in buying it - the innkeeper says it belongs to Merchant Ko. Lijuan befriends the horse, and Anto heads back to the tea house to tell everyone, leaving Lijuan to watch for "Merchant Ko" to emerge.
Unfortunately, not long after Anto leaves, another urchin shows up for Lijuan - he's found a better black horse with a white fetlock. Lijuan writes a note: "ANUTHER HORS", and tells Ho to take it to Cai Wen. Ho dashes off. The urchin takes Lijuan to a farmhouse a little ways out of town, where there's another big horse with a white fetlock; this one has fluffier feathers than the first horse, and Lijuan could probably tell them apart again later if she tried. She confirms that it's a farm horse by annoying it a lot - if it had been a spy horse, it would have kicked her, she concludes. Back at the first horse, Anto returns to meet Lijuan, only to find a third urchin, who has yet another horse to see.
Meanwhile, at the tea house, Fu Li arrives, precisely at noon. He wears silk but no gold, and is in his fifties. He nods to Cai Wen, who opens the door.
- "I see you have remodeled again. I will have the spicy noodles." -Fu Li
As it turns out, Cai Wen has arranged for a day of a noodle cook, and Xiao Fa supervises. Fu Li suggests that they begin, but Solicitor Chan notes that the group is not yet complete. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, another carriage arrives, with a number of burly servants and the Precious Jade, who is so terribly sorry she is late - there are so many demands upon her time.
- "We would not have started until you arrived, of course." -Cai Wen
- "Aren't you the dearest thing?" -Precious Jade
Chao-Li glowers at this flirtation, and the Precious Jade dismissively classes her as a servant. As people settle in, Shuyan fetches tea for Precious Jade.
- "It's a pleasure to see you again." -Precious Jade
- "Of course it is." -Shuyan
- "Getting better!" -Precious Jade
Solicitor Chan begins. There are several pages of bequests, that have been made to:
- The current proprietor of the Fu Bar (cover page)
- Solicitor Chan, in an adminstrative capacity (page 0)
- Fu Li, number one son of Fu Manchu (page 1)
- Fu Sen, number two of Fu Manchu (page 2)
- Fu Lo Sui (cough), daughter of Fu Manchu (page 3)
- Inspector Ando of the Imperial Chancellory (page 4)
All the Fus turn and stare at Ando. He gives a little wave: "Present."
Each page is one of a set, except for the cover page, which contains legalisms and a single bequest, and cannot be changed. The current status of the pages is: 0E, 1A, 2A, 3A, and 4A. Each page will be shown to the beneficiary in question alone. Solicitor Chan also says, firmly, that only those successes acquired inside the noodle house will count. Exploits outside will mean nothing.
The cover sheet concerns the tea house. The deceased, Fu Manchu, remembered his first enterprise fondly, and he places his blessing upon it. He gives this great portrait of himself to be hung in the main room; let all who see it and are seen by it receive his blessing. (Any others who wish to grant blessings upon the house may also do so, by the wondrous properties of the painting.) Wei Han notices that the two karma he has previously spent on letting the tea house summon Dragon Army soldiers, are caught up by the painting and integrated, so now the tea house is protected by the Dragon Army when it needs it.
Page 0 is Solicitor Chan's reimbursement, which need not be detailed further. Fu Li looks at page 1(a), and is outraged! Solicitor Chan reassures him that there will be time for changes later. Fu Sen looks at page 2(a), and, after asking for help understanding the legal details, finds it similarly offensive. Precious Jade looks at page 3(a) - she also needs help interpreting, and, as expected, finds it entirely unacceptable. Inspector Ando is able to read his own bureacratese on page 4(a), and nearly draws his sword in fury. Solicitor Chan reassures them all that there are three days to make changes, and then an imperial bureaucrat will arrive at the end of the third day to certify things. (Chao-Li explains to the party that none of the pages will be read aloud until the will is finalized.)
- "I assume we will be able to examine the other pages?" -Fu Sen
- "I don't know - will you be able to?" -Solicitor Chen
- "What will we need to do?"
- "I am not permitted to tell you, but I expect you will do what comes naturally."
Meanwhile, at the third horse across town, the urchins proudly present a large black horse, its right foreleg recently painted.
- "I couldn't find one, so I made one for you."
- "I want my zhu back." -Lijuan
Lijuan takes the opportunity to turn this into a Teaching Moment, and notes that when people ask for something like this, it's because they want a specific thing that they're too lazy to find themselves. While the city does seem to be unfortunately thick with black horses now, real and fraudulent, Anto and Lijuan figure that the first horse has the best chance of belonging to Machan Li, so Anto climbs up the side of the inn to look in the window at "Merchant Ko". He's in the room, packing various things into boxes. At about half past noon, the merchant leaves the inn with his boxes, and puts them in the saddlebags of his horse. Anto peers at him, wondering how he is Bound - the answer is that he is bound by contract, having signed many papers to that effect. He must make the best deal he can - if he makes a good deal, he will become rich. Otherwise, he will merely remain wealthy. Lijuan calls out to admire his horse, and he tosses her a zhu, and then rides off - towards the tea house! Anto and Lijuan follow.
Of course, since he's on a horse, Merchant Ko beats his followers to the tea house. He parks his horse and knocks on the door, but Cai Wen (who doesn't yet know he's suspected of being Machan Li) tells him the tea house isn't open yet - the grand opening is tomorrow. Merchant Ko is a bit puzzled, but apologizes and says that he must have gotten the date wrong. He says he'll come by tomorrow, and leaves again.
More Guests Arrive
Precious Jade remarks to Shuyan that if she is expected to behave naturally, she presumes that attractive and wealthy gentlemen may be stopping by for tea. Can Shuyan make sure that they get good seats? Shuyan notes that the tea house isn't really open, except for the private party. Precious Jade expects that the party will be increasing soon. Fu Li, on the other hand, chats to Xiao Fa. He is pleased to see a priest - someone no doubt concerned with order. If Xiao Fa could ensure that those who are in need of his services - law, permits, bureaucracy - are directed into the tea house, he would greatly appreciate it. Should he find himself adequately compensated, then in justice, the tea house will receive his blessing.
Fu Sen looks around, but doesn't see anyone to conduct business with. Cai Wen admits that someone who looked like a merchant tried to drop by, but was turned away. Fu Sen is most disappointed - could they get him back? Cai Wen says he'll be returning tomorrow - surely that will be sufficient. Hana tries to soothe Fu Sen's ruffled feathers, and tries to charm out of him what his page bequeaths to him. Apparently, it leaves him all of his father's debts, but none of his assets.
Kasumi asks Ando what was on his page - he puts his hand on his sword, still furious, and says that he will be told the location where his mentor is being tortured to death. Do what comes naturally? Well, the natural thing, he thinks, is to start stabbing people. Wei Han wishes he would not, as that would put him (Wei Han) in a rather awkward position. Could he try to Investigate, instead? That ought to be natural for him. Unfortunately, he's not quite ready to be logical yet.
Shuyan asks Precious Jade about her page - it seems to involve a marriage that she is entirely uninterested in. Precious Jade notes that if there is anything Shuyan can do to assist, Precious Jade would be grateful. And if she does receive useful help, she will leave her blessing on the teahouse.
Chao-Li notes to the party that she's seen the mechanic now - do they have any questions? Foremost on people's minds is whether the cover sheet can be changed. She says that the mechanic will not take the portrait away from them - but if they don't want it, they could always sell it afterwards, assuming they don't want the blessings. There won't be a legal injunction that says it has to hang in the tea house. People wonder whether they can see the other pages. Well, they can try, but her father does keep them on him.
Each of the heirs has their own thing that they need to do - Inspector Ando is supposed to uncover the secrets of the Fu family; Precious Jade has to seduce secrets out of men; Fu Sen has to make a profit and learn secrets from people he bargains with; Fu Li - well, Chao-Li's bureaucracy isn't up to the task of quite understanding what he's doing. Based on how many successes they get, they can upgrade their pages - 20 successes for page B, or 40 successes more (60 total) for page C. Only someone who reaches a page C can actually inherit true leadership of the Si Fan.
Wei Han tells Ando about the "secrets of the Si Fan" goal. He still looks like he would prefer stabbing people, but manages to buckle down to trying to find secrets, on the theory that maybe that will let him rescue his mentor. Lijuan convinces Ando to hire her to find out secrets for 5 zhu each. He bargains her down to 2 zhu up front, 2 later, on general principles, and Lijuan starts hiding in corners to overhear things. Shuyan starts herding interesting men towards Precious Jade. People look over the new customers - they all seem like high-class people, but none of them are exceptionally interesting-looking - except Merchant Ko, Cai Wen recalls, who looked like a very impressive merchant.
Chao-Li admits that her father gets demoted a page every time there's non-mechanic chicanery, like people forging pages of the will. She hopes that doesn't happen, and it would certainly cause him to be upset and take steps.
Hana shmoozes around. One thing she finds is that there is a shortage of jasmine tea, as that's the only thing that Fu Li drinks. She brings him a cup; he mostly looks right through her and thanks her for the tea, and continues his conversation. She tries to start a conversation more insistently, and gets his attention. He asks if she's licensed to practice in this city. Startled she says that no, she's just here socially. Ah - does she wants a permit to found a Flower House here? No, she's just visiting. Fu Li is puzzled at what she wants from him.
- "Talk to me when you understand what you wish." -Fu Li
- "Really, all I wanted to know is why his brother doesn't like noodles." -Hana
Kasumi goes to break into Precious Jade's rooms at the hotel. She turns up lots of vials of things - some which smell nice, others less so. She also finds a note, telling Precious Jade that Cho Shan Ji will be in town tomorrow, and to be sure to not miss him. When Kasumi checks Fu Sen's rooms, he has a note in a similar hand, suggesting that he meet Merchant Ko today.
Hana, still curious about the Noodle Incident, goes to chat with Fu Sen. Is there anything she could fetch him instead of noodles? He would be happy with jasmine rice.
- "But what do you have against noodles?"
- "Let us leave it at that they remind me of my father."
Hana then chats with Precious Jade, attempting to find out more, but she is insufficiently persuasive, and only learns that "noodles can be used for more than eating."
Anto and Xiao Fa are cornered by Fu Li:
- "Brother monks, if I could impose upon you to spend some time examining the crowd and finding those who are in need of my services, I would of course compensate you appropriately."
He's looking for people who need permits, licenses, that sort of thing. They agree to work the crowd for him. Up in her hidey-hole, Lijuan overhears Precious Jade and one of the men, who confesses that he has been unfaithful to his wife more than just this once. She reports this all to Ando and gets paid her other two zhu. Cai Wen canvasses the crowd for merchant opportunities for Fu Sen, and finds a few, and Hana helps Precious Jade a bit.
At closing time for the tea house, Solicitor Chan provides an update. The only page to have changed is 3, which is 3(b) now - so Precious Jade has gone up one. She looks at her new page, and declares it much better, though her father could have been a bit more generous.
Kasumi follows Fu Li to a less fancy inn than everyone else is staying at, though she doesn't try to break in while he's in it.
Chao-Li Chan briefs the party - she's figured out a bit more of the mechanic. Shuyan and Hana now seem to count as being on Precious Jade's team - they roll for 6's for and against Precious Jade, but are rolling for 8's against Fu Li. Cai Wen and Wei Han are on Fu Sen's team, and roll for 8's against Precious Jade. Xiao Fa and Anto are on Fu Li's team, and roll for 8's against Fu Sen. Lijuan and Kasumi are orthogonal, and roll for 7's against everyone. For Ando, getting non-Fu secrets helps, but only half as much.
She also has the actual scores:
- Fu Li: 16
- Fu Sen: 15
- Precious Jade: 20
- Ando: 8
Cai Wen checks with Chashui - maybe they could invite more interesting people? Chashui notes that actually, most of the interesting locals seem to have been invited - she's quite impressed. The Port of Propitious Voyage is the smallest of the three main cities in the Arcade - maybe getting someone really impressive to come up from the Harbor would be a coup, but time is tight to arrange that.
Wei Han thinks the important thing is how to prevent Merchant Ko/Machan Li from showing up. Could they do something to him before he leaves his inn? Or play defense at the tea house and not let him in?
At this point, Ho starts barking, and Fin knocks on the tea house door, a bit miffed.
- "We need to talk. Someone has seriously misrepresented the caliber of clientele at this tea house." -Fin
- "Perhaps we have misrepresented the amount of trouble you could be in." -Wei Han
- "Oh, is that the way it's going to be?" -Fin
- "No, it's not, but Wei Han likes to have things on the table." -Cai Wen
- "Keep in mind that a bunch of screaming kids can really put a damper on a party." -Fin
Now that he's seen the impressive clientele, Fin thinks a handful of li, plus pork buns, would be a fair price for the urchins' helpfulness. Cai Wen thinks that's not very sustainable, and Lijuan warns Fin that Cai Wen can just buy the Rats' Nets and kick them all out. Cai Wen offers three li, and all the pork buns they can eat, but with an agreement that Fin and the urchins will also help with any... odd jobs that need doing over the next few days. Fin agrees.
Wei Han talks to the local Dragon Army quartermaster about stopping by to make some deals with Fu Sen, and arranges for some off duty guards to be security for the night. Then, he drops by to talk to Solicitor Chan, who is most unhappy that someone has rifled through his things. Wei Han talks him into coming back to the tea house to spend the night, "where there is more security", and gives him a bedroll.
Meanwhile, though, Ando has been talking to Kasumi, and has realized that the rules of the contest say that the successes have to be earned in the tea house - but not necessarily while it's open. So, if Kasumi can get a Fu or Chan back to the tea house in the middle of the night, they could search him. As it turns out, Wei Han has already arranged for this, all unknowing. Ando and Kasumi sneak past the Dragon Army guards on the outside, and into the room Solicitor Chan is sleeping in, and try to read some of the pages of the will. Kasumi doesn't speak enough legalese to understand 0D, but Ando does - it's "do a good job and earn 50 li." Ando also reads 2B - all of the merchant assets belonging to Fu Manchu will be used to cancel the debts, before they are passed to Fu Sen. These both count as secrets for Ando, and he sneaks out again.
At the fancy inn, Shuyan visits Precious Jade, and begins learning the secrets of charming in exchange for her continued assistance - then she stops by the hotel bar, and talks up the amazing tea house that she'll be at tomorrow.
Those staying at the tea house search the basement, and search for secret doors - they find quite a few, and also find the Secret Noodle Recipe of Fu Manchu.
Lijuan sleeps at the Rat's Nest, trying to figure out where Fin gets the pork buns. She follows him out in the early morning, where he goes to a bakery, and unlocks the back door with a key on a string around his neck; then he takes some pork buns and leaves. Lijuan realizes the fundamental truth of this city's urchin underground: "He who controls the key, controls the urchins."
Solicitor Chan is quite cross to discover that his papers have been rifled through again - the tea house is no better than the inn! Wei Han is very apologetic. However, since nothing has been changed, it doesn't actually count as shenanigans sufficient to drop his own page. Xiao Fa checks the herbs and teas - nothing untoward has crept in. The guards outside say that several "people of nefarity" approached, but kept walking upon seeing them.
Once the tea house has opened for the day, Kasumi goes to search Fu Li's hotel room. There is a note, similar to the other two, telling Fu Li that an Imperial Bureaucrat Second Class, who will be showing up on the third day, enjoys tea, and Fu Li might do well to speak to him before the time elapses. People contemplate the potential of hallucinogenic jasmine tea given to Imperial Bureaucrats. Cai Wen instructs the urchins of the Rats' Nest that if a man shows up on a black horse with a white fetlock, they should harass him and throw rocks at him. Lijuan warns them that he's very dangerous, so don't actually get close to him.
As today is the actual Grand Opening, Cai Wen gives a little speech about the Five Virtues embodied in the tea house - though there seems to be some confusion among the guests as to why there are so many noodles, if it's a tea house. Kasumi shows Ando the secret doors, and Fu Manchu's Noodle Recipe. Those count as Fu Family Secrets, certainly! Ando asks Xiao Fa to prepare the Noodles of Fu Manchu. Then, Precious Jade, spotting Xiao Fa in the kitchen, asks if he could make her a batch of noodles as well? She would be ever so grateful, especially if he could include these particular herbs (she gives him some herbs that he identifies as fairly standard for loosening the tongue).
Xiao Fa warns Cai Wen that there is a RUN on NOODLES, and to whisper about the herbs. Cai Wen goes to let Precious Jade know that they're running out of noodles, though after talking to her, he thinks that it will be hard to claim that they can't make any more noodles all day. He goes back to let Xiao Fa know he should make the drugged noodles eventually.
Hana scoops up secrets for Ando; Kasumi hides to overhear things, and Shuyan sends people to Precious Jade.
Then, there is a commotion outside. Merchant Ko, on his black horse, is being driven away from the tea house by urchins throwing rocks. He looks most put out. Everyone cheers.
Xiao Fa and Anto cook up the Noodles of Fu Manchu for Ando, and give it to him in a covered bowl. He goes off to spring the noodles on Fu Sen.
Later, Hana and Kuan-Xi are conferring, when Kuan-Xi suddenly looks astounded, staring over Hana's shoulder. A very attractive guy has just walked in - this would be Cho Shan-Ji, quickly nicknamed "Captain Dreamy" by Kuan-Xi, and who the party suspects of being Machan Li in a new disguise. Precious Jade starts making her way over to him, but Hana leaps to intercept, and manages to convince Precious Jade that the way to get him is to be aloof and mysterious. Kuan-Xi notes that this might work for a little while, but not forever - someone will have to throw themselves on the grenade. She is clearly psyching herself up for the task, but Hana says that this is her job.
- "Who of me and Kuan-Xi and Shuyan has the best chance of getting this guy?" -Hana
- "You forgot me!" -Lijuan
At the same time, Cai Wen (having been briefed on the plan) goes to distract Precious Jade, after Shuyan talks him up to her. At first he's not quite seductive enough, but then when he shows her his adorable little ferret, that puts him over the top. They are about to go off to spend some quality time together when Xiao Fa brings out the drugged noodles for Precious Jade, which she skillfully passes to Cai Wen. He uses his shtick in "cheat in minigames" to only spill stupid small secrets, but he will have Words with Xiao Fa later. Meanwhile, Hana has been trying to seduce Cho Shan-Ji without falling for him herself - as it turns out, each of them is more seductive than able to dodge seduction, so it's a mutual. Hana has the "No Impropriety" shtick, so they go off to gaze deeply and soulfully into each other's eyes.
Kuan-Xi, now a little worried, wonders if Hana needs rescuing, as she's just gone off alone with someone who might be Machan Li. Anto goes upstairs in the direction that Hana and Captain Dreamy went, looking for people who need help and specifically trying to tell if Hana needs help. He finds Kasumi (listening for secrets) on the other side of a secret door, so Kasumi suggests staging "we were having a tryst together when we just fell out of the secret door into your room." That sounds like a funnier plan than anything else, so they do this. Captain Dreamy has been professing his adoration for Hana, and his willingness to help her in anything she needs; Hana is about to reciprocate this promise, but they are interrupted by Kasumi and Anto. As the two fall into the room, Kasumi says "Ta-Dah!", trying to sound embarassed. Hana shrieks - artistically and not very loudly - and with this encouragement, Cho Shan-Ji/Captain Dreamy/Maybe Machan Li storms angrily out of the tea house.
The Dragon Army quartermaster shows up, and Wei Han introduces him to Fu Sen to talk about supply. Lijuan follows Fu Sen around, and he seems to be planning something for later, but it's not clear what.
When the tea house finally closes, everyone has reached page B, and Chao-Li later provides the full score:
- Fu Li: 26
- Fu Sen: 32
- Precious Jade: 45
- Ando: 32
Ando's page now says he will be informed of the location where his mentor's "comfy retirement home" has been fully paid for.
If nobody gets to page C, Chao-Li says that the Si Fan will likely fall into fighting between the three factions. Cai Wen thinks that getting more blessings (if they all hit C) is a goal to strive for. Lijuan thinks that Yoshi wouldn't approve of spies, and it would be better to thwart everyone. Besides, are they real blessings, Anto wonders? Isn't "May you live in interesting times" a curse? Cai Wen says that Takanata says it's both a blessing and a curse, and it showed up in his I Ching, so he thinks it's a good sign.
Another thing to do is to try to make sure that Machan Li is chased away again. If he's the Imperial Bureaucrat, though, they can't stop him from showing up at all, or the will won't be certified. Could they drug him with the hallucinogenic jasmine tea, so he doesn't do anything dangerous?
- "You know, the evidence of all three of these people being Machan Li is a lot to hang on one horse." -
- "Maybe we could have Cai Wen try to buy the Rats' Nest with him, and then people will have to rescue him, like Hana. But differently." -Lijuan
- "More paperwork, less groping." -Kasumi
Ando notes that an Imperial Bureaucrat wil have to follow his schedule - so that will help narrow down when he'll be where. Wei Han guesses that he'll want an army escort, so he heads to the garrison to ask if anyone has been assigned to escort an Imperial Bureaucrat Second Class? Yes, in fact. They're meeting him at the city gates at 3:55, escorting him to the tea house at 4:15, and then away again at 6:00. The plan is formed - have Lijuan and the urchins be a rabble in front of the tea house, so they have to bring him to the back entrance (Ando comes up with a "front/side entrance equivalency certification", but notes that it only has five successes, so don't let him look at it too closely). Then, everyone will ply him with tea and keep him distracted.
Wei Han convinces Solicitor Chan to stay in the tea house again, assuring him that this time Wei Han will personally keep his stuff safe. Kasumi hides in the room before he gets back from dinner - when he returns, he's thinking about staying in the expensive inn, because they have security too, but everyone assures him it's completely full up and there's no more room. He sighs and stays in the tea house.
There is still some disagreement on what ends to be pursuing. Three of the party (Lijuan, Wei Han, Kasumi) prefer to thwart everyone and turn the Si Fan towards civil war, while three others (Cai Wen, Xiao Fa, Shuyan) want to push all three of them to page C and get blessings for the tea house. Hana abstains, and Anto is off running errands due to the lateness of the hour. Hana notes that they're not really criminals like the Tongs, though they do deal with criminals; Cai Wen thinks that if the party is fighting the most powerful people in the world, they need friends more than enemies. Lijuan and Kasumi change their votes, and the party buckles down to planning to help everyone (though helping Ando most). There is some discussion as to whether Ando will get control of the Si Fan if he does best - Chao-Li thinks that possibility is by no means assured, and it depends on what Ando's own page C says.
Wei Han sleeps with Solicitor Chan's briefcase as a pillow, but even so Kasumi manages to get some papers out to look at. The 0A page is a 5 zhu payment; 2C is "all debts are cancelled, and Fu Sen gets his father's business contacts"; 3C is a contract as an Imperial Concubine (which is a surprisingly good job when there is no Emperor).
Xiao Fa looks for another dose of tongue-loosener in the local apothecary, but finds that it costs 15 li, which he can't afford. Lijuan starts teaching the urchins Leaping Flame and Turning Wave kung fu, to organize a tournament in front of the tea house at 4pm.
On the third day, Wei Han talks to Fu Li, asking for his advice in requisitioning heavier armor from the Dragon Army. Fu Li assures him that he can help Wei Han jump through the bureaucratic hoops. He has some various forms, including a requisition, some engagement reports, a personal biographical information form, a recent activities form... Wei Han fills them all out, but, gritting his teeth, does not put any actual secrets in the forms. Fu Li nods, and annotates the requestion and includes some other forms, that he says will help if they give him trouble about not having taken the right training classes.
When Fu Sen shows up, Lijuan starts following him again, but now he seems smug. Whatever he was planning, he seems to have done it now. Maybe he met Merchant Ko at night? But no, when people drop Merchant Ko's name, Fu Sen is quite cross that the merchant never showed up to talk to him.
Kasumi goes to look for pink vials, as described by Xiao Fa, in Precious Jade's room. She gets one vial of tongue-loosener, which she brings back for Xiao Fa.
Cai Wen talks to Fu Li - he's interested in getting a seal condemning the Rats' Nest building, to make it easier to buy for cheap. Fu Li assures Cai Wen that if Cai Wen helps push him over the top, he will bless the tea house to have whatever legal victories it needs.
Shuyan suggests that Ando be a cute guy for the cute girls who have come today and are failing to find Captain Dreamy. Ando isn't great at flirtation, but he'll give it his best. Xiao Fa gives Ando the tongue-loosener, and he uses it to spike Fu Li's drink; Fu Li starts telling Ando numerous family secrets, mostly related to old battles between Fu Manchu and Ando's mentor.
Wei Han goes to meet the Imperial Bureaucrat Second Class, with the other escorts, and Lijuan stages her martial arts tournament to block the front door. Cai Wen ushers the bureaucrat into the side door, and people fall over themselves bringing him tea and convincing him not to wander. He does remark several times that he ought to find Fu Li, but he is persuaded to not get around to it.
Then, the party is over, and Solicitor Chan declares the final results - these are quickly ratified by the Imperial Bureaucrat Second Class, who departs once that's accomplished.
- 0D: Solicitor Chan receives 50 li - some sort of shenanigans seem to have happened last night demoting him one page.
- 1B: Fu Li does not receive his father's papers, but his own name is expunged before they are published.
- 2C: Fu Sen gets his father's merchanting black book, and the estate's debts are cancelled.
- 3C: The Precious Jade is given a post as an Imperial Concubine, and inherits the leadership of the Si Fan.
- 4C: Ando's mentor is forgiven, because Ando is to take his place as the Great and Honored Enemy of the Si Fan.
Ando is not at all clear that this is as much of a reward as Fu Manchu seems to have believed it was, but it is done.
Solicitor Chan, the scions of the Si Fan, and Inspector Ando begin to take their leave. Before going, though, blessings are made upon the Cup of Five Virtues. They spring from people's shticks, but end up shifting somewhat to become place-appropriate.
- Wei Han
- This place is under the protection of the Dragon Army.
- No matter what plots happen here, may the secrets of the proprietors always be safe.
- Precious Jade
- May those who seek another find them here.
- Fu Sen
- May this place never be cheated in its business deals.
- May this be an easy place for those touched by the Phoenix to work.
- May there be no unwanted impropriety here.
- Cai Wen
- May this place be lucky for those inside.
- May the tea bring health and healing to those in need.
- Cai Wen chats with Precious Jade about Machan Li.