One for Sorrow
|"Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults"|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Spider in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Hon'eth Arcade
Zhuai stops by to speak to Xiao Fa. He'd like to try to retrieve Lijuan from her camp in the woods, but there are certain shticks he would rather not invoke at this time. If Xiao Fa can deal with tracking Lijuan down, then Zhuai can arrange for panda containment once they get to the Arcade. Shuyan volunteers that their panda adventure finished up in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, so that might be where to start. But maybe someone else knows better where she is? Zhuai notes that Takanata has received a note saying where she is. There might be people who might have illicitly read that mail, but Zhuai wouldn’t say he knows who those might be.
- "I will turn my back and perhaps the information will appear." -Xiao Fa
- "I'll go find someone." -Zhuai
<ten minutes later>
- "I have found someone who has read Takanata's mail, and determined where Lijuan is. They have been Dealt With." -Zhuai
The party, plus Zhuai, heads off in Kuan-Xi's carriage to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. Zhuai heads off to get a panda wagon, and Xiao Fa leaves a message with the House of Gainful Protection, where Lijuan has said messages can be left for her: "Your spouse misses you. We're here in the harbor. If you're not comfortable coming back into town, give us a rendezvous location." Shen-Ji leaves a note for his sister as well.
Master Zhou heads to the House of Enticing Vintage to speak to Liet. She says that things have been going reasonably well - she is in the middle of negotiations with the House of Judicious Increase. (Master Zhou is surprised to hear that she is the one in negotiations). She says that her intention is much like what Master Zhou and his friends have been doing with the House of Benevolent Oversight and their unofficial investment in their tea house. Master Zhou doesn't quite take the bait, and notes that there is a lot of fuss in general about the House of Benevolent Oversight. Liet agrees, but notes that there always is. But that makes it a business opportunity. So... how is Myo doing? Liet frowns. He is... also looking at the current situation as a business opportunity. She doesn't seem to want to discuss that further, so Master Zhou asks about her training. She has not found an acceptable new teacher, but she is keeping up her practice.
Wei Han goes out for a drink to listen for rumors of marauding pandas. He hears that the House of Gainful Protection is recruiting warriors on pandaback, and they're probably going to overthrow or destroy the kingdom. The House of Judicious Increase, on the other hand, is recruiting a Panda Queen, and the House of Benevolent Oversight is denying all panda rumors. That's all kind of odd, but doesn't tell him where Lijuan is.
Shuyan wanders around outside to look for urchins. She gets a basket of pork buns and wanders harmlessly in the direction of some urchins. She says she's a friend of Lijuan's, so they offer to take her excess pork buns off her hands without even charging her, and they'll tell Lijuan that Shuyan is around if they happen to see her.
Min Feng asks around after general news. It sounds like the House of Judicious Increase and the House of Benevolent Oversight are in something of a bidding war to get stronger alliances with other houses. The House of Enticing Vintage is supporting the House of Judicious Increase, and the House of Resplendent Decoration is supporting the House of Benevolent Oversight. Judicious Increase has the support of House Foon, which is interesting, and Benevolent Oversight has invested in the Cup of Five Virtues, a popular gathering place in the Port of Propitious Voyage. But it's not uniform - different lords from the houses each have their own investments, and there's something of an internal competition to see whose do better.
Everyone meets up for dinner (at the second best inn) and sharing information. Zhuai has acquired a heavy cage on a wagon for panda containment.
Lijuan sneaks into the city late at night, with Kawaii, to pick up her messages and then to try to figure out where the second best inn is. She offends the best inn by asking if they are the second best, and then spooks the doorman of the second best inn when he thinks the inn is being attacked by pandas, but when the party hears the commotion, they head for the entrance and calm things down (though Wei Han gets bitten in the process).
Lijuan shows the group the picture she has drawn - a... ritual... with some sort of lion-slug thing? Is that a dragon? It must be! They must go find it!
- "But we only have one of these cages..." -Master Zhou
Apparently "scold Lijuan" is also on the agenda, though she gets to have dinner first.
- "So... House Foon is supporting the House of Judicious Increase?" -Kuan-Xi
- "Well, I didn't have three tael." -Lijuan
- "Take as much scolding as you want, and when you get tired of it, let me know and I'll deal with it." -Zhuai to Lijuan
Lijuan tells Zhuai about her adventures in miniruns. He suggests that next time she has to hide, she should go to her own manor house. So, where should that be? Lijuan thinks it should be in the Forest of Chin, near a river.
- "It is agreed. The Forest of Chin is the country we will take, that is, build a manor house in." -Zhuai
He says he'll work on it, though it will probably take a few runs to get things set up.
So... where should they go to look for a dragon? Beastmaster Ze might know. Asking around, the Cavalcade of Wonder has passed through, and Lijuan spots some cranes flying north. The group starts heading north up the Imperial Highway, though now that they have a panda wagon, this is at normal speed instead of super-fast carriage speed. Consequently, they spot the Dragon Army on the highway - a bunch of infantry, marching north and taking up most of the road. Wei Han thinks that some are recent recruits (they don't seem to have the hang of marching or of wearing their uniforms) as well as some transfers no longer needed in naval support down south.
Wei Han talks to the commander for a while and then gets to to make a lane for the party to pass by assisting with their training. Many shouts of “double time” and “quick march” later the party is passed and heads on up the highway.
Once they reach the Port of Propitious Voyage, the group heads to the Cup of Five Virtues. It looks surprisingly spiffy, with a new coat of paint, and a new hitching rail outside. There's a plaque being added:
The group heads in, and looks for Chashui. She says that business is good, but if they see Cai Wen, could they ask him to stop by to discuss business matters? Hmm - does this have to do with the House of Benevolent Oversight? Yes, one of the lords from that house.
- "The evil one!" -Master Zhou
- "I am not taking any official position against anyone in the royal house." -Chashui
Since Cai Wen isn't here right now, is there anything the party could do to help? No, it's not a matter of needing help. The tea house has a new patron, who has offered to buy an ownership stake, and she doesn't want to offend him, but she also has used Cai Wen not being here as a reason to not agree. But he has been quite... benevolent. On the Night of the Magpie, Lord Nikoze buys a round of tea for everyone, and he has donated several other valuable things to the tea house. Wei Han says that there is some history between Lord Nikoze and Cai Wen, and that the lord might be able to magically influence people. Xiao Fa suggests that she decline the donations until Cai Wen can confer with her.
Xiao Fa wonders if Dragon advises to focus on Ezokin or Beastmaster Ze's Cavalcade of Wonder. Dragon thinks ignoring the cavalcade is the way to go.
Lijuan, Kawaii, and Zhuai head into the forest to look for dragon tracks, but Lijuan doesn't really know what those look like, and can't find any.
On returning, Zhuai wants to know what, exactly, they are looking for? Dragons? People doing magical rituals? Shen-Ji notes that the Elemental Braid meets in the tea house, and they're always doing rituals of one form or another. Hsu Verity is around, and says that Lord Nikoze has joined some of their conversations, and often has interesting advice on sorcery. He did make a bad joke about capturing all the dragons and phoenixes and using their power, though.
Min Feng wonders where Ezokin is - two and a half miles west of the Port, in the woods. Well, hmm. Shen-Ji convinces Hsu Verity that Lord Nikoze is the same person as Ezokin, and that she should help put together a strike team to Get Him later.
Master Zhou notes, looking at Lijuan's prophetic art, that it's probably a trap.
People discuss various ways to hurt Ezokin without spending money. The consensus seems to be that you can't. Grabbing him might be okay. Social damage might be okay. Stealing his stuff is definitely not okay. Unfortunately, Ezokin has not been so kind as to give the party a careful briefing on his defenses.
Shuyan sneaks around the forest towards where Min Feng thinks Ezokin is, and finds an area where it gets quite dense. She and Lijuan circle around the dense area, and find one path in, and a number of tracks seem to have gone in and out. (No obvious dragon tracks, not that anyone knows what those look like).
Master Zhou asks Zhuai if he has any advice on this sort of trap. Zhuai suggests that if one must spring a trap, to bring a bigger trap with them. And that from what it sounds like, they should either bring lots of their money or none of it. He can hold onto the party's money, but they might need it.
Enlightened Melina auspiciously sends Mondo to find the party with a message: "It's a trap!" Well, yes, they had figured that out. They brief him on the rest of what they know (or think they know).
Mondo thinks that this is a combat of Ezokin's choosing, rather than previous combats of their choosing. So he has probably adjusted his shticks to account for who is coming, or more likely, the handful of those who he thinks are the most powerful, and they may be neutralized. For example, Master Deng will probably not be able to just slay all the mooks.
- "You should be asking yourself the question "why is there a combat"?" -Mondo
- "He's trying to get all the dragons and phoenixes!"
- "That's not true." -Mondo
- "He's trying to get back the Magpie Talisman." -Master Zhou
- "If so, you can use that as leverage. And if he talked about capturing dragons so publicly, in a place that you are known to listen, then that is probably the bait, rather than his secret plan." -Mondo
The group checks with the Elemental Braid - what does Lord Nikoze do at their meetings? Well, he has a lot of theoretical knowledge - they hadn't thought he was a sorcerer. He does seem to know about spirits and magic rituals, though. But he doesn't seem to have told them anything particular esoteric indicating what his secret plan is.
Shen-Ji still has a shtick in getting a hint about Ezokin's ritual, and decides that it's more or less just "summon PCs".
- "So... should we not bring the item he wants?"
- "If you do not bring it, he is less likely to acquire it from you." -Mondo
Master Zhou gives the Magpie Talisman to Zhuai, and Mondo gets to hold the Butterfly Talisman. Mondo reads the item card again and decides that it explains a lot.
Springing the Trap
Shuyan sneaks along the path into the dense section of wood Ezokin is thought to be in - it’s fairly dark and creepy. She reaches a clearing, and notes (before entering) that the quality of light in the clearing is very revealing. It seems like a bad idea to go in, so she doesn't do so (and consequently doesn't get to see what the rest of the clearing holds.)
Min Feng and Shuyan both disguise themselves as ninjas, and the party (including Hsu Verity and Eternal Redoubt) charge into the clearing.
Lord Nikoze is near a setup of some elements, with... a strange stuffed blue dragon of some sort in the center. He's also wearing an odd golden beak on his face. A woman in white stands in the middle of the clearing, wearing a blindfold. A bunch of children are picnicking on pork buns at the far end of the clearing, and there are a bunch of well-armed guards. As the group enters, a magpie cries from behind them, and something falls out of a tree back along the path.
Master Zhou looks for unseen enemies, and thinks that neither the urchins nor the woman in white are enemies, but the rust elemental behind them is. Shuyan and Min Feng try to ninja into the clearing, looking ominous and sneaky, and Ezokin gasps and points at them in consternation. Shen-Ji shoots all the guards with iron arrows; two of them leap dramatically to protect the children. (Master Zhou thinks their combat style is thiefy). Wei Han chops Lord Nikoze's guard, who dramatically takes a lot of damage protecting his master. The woman in white observes everything impassively.
Lijuan starts herding the children into the woods, and Shen-Ji put up a wall of iron to keep them out of the combat.
Min Feng uses her trap analysis shtick - yup, the party has just charged in and started trying to kill people. The guards are hamming it up a bit in order to impress the woman in white. Now that the party has unambiguously demonstrated their mercilessness, the guards will feel free to chop back. Also, the trap is slightly more for Min Feng than anyone else, possibly because she has a Talisman.
Both the revealing light and the woman in white seem very Crane-y.
The guards start rifling Min Feng's pockets rather than trying to kill her, and Eternal Redoubt puts up an earth wall to block the rust elemental. It wasn't expecting stone walls, so it has to take some time to go through the woods.
- "It is as you have said, Lord Nikoze. I shall try to bring word to the King."
The woman in white begins to fly away, and everyone shouts at her to try to ameliorate some of the terrible first impression they have made.
- "Put in your report that he made it look like he was sacrificing the symbol of the Dragon Empire. And that we walled off the urchins to protect them. And he brought us here because we have something that he wants." -Wei Han
- "Lady in White! I know not what this man has told you, but we know this man as Ezokin the moneymancer. He has set this up to steal from us. He hired men from the Thieves' Guild. I say this as Master Zhou of the White Pagoda. " -Master Zhou
- "We have no quarrel with you. This was a trap set for us by an enemy who can change his chi. Our quarrel is only with this man and his minions." -Kuan-Xi
- "Don't stay! The king must know! Tell him of their perfidy! " -Ezokin
- "Ask him about the cursed cloth he was selling in the Port of Auspicious Voyage!" -Shuyan
The woman in white finishes flying off, and Hsu Verity sets Ezokin on fire. The guards start trying to pickpocket Min Feng. Lijuan shoots at the rust elemental, which isn't as able to counter her non-metal arrows. Master Zhou tells everyone to hit Ezokin, and tells Wei Han to double his dice. Lijuan goes into debt to Ezokin in order to attack him, and Wei Han ends up frozen for the next twelve drifts, but they finish chopping - well, they finish chopping his magpie familiar, as Ezokin vanishes in a flurry of feathers, leaving his golden beak of "You cannot afford my nose" behind.
The guards stop fighting and blink in confusion. What's going on? Kuan-Xi persuades them that they have been freed from their ensorcelment by the defeat of the evil sorcerer Nikoze, who the party has totally just defeated. Once the guards stop fighting, the rust elemental is easily dealt with.
The urchins explain that they were on a picnic. The nice magic man was going to enchant a dragon for them to be a lucky mascot for their orphanage, but he warned them that bad guys might come to attack the picnic. Well, the dragon is probably sufficiently enchanted now.
The party tries to convince the guards (the ones they haven't already killed) that they should go and complain to the House of Benevolent Oversight about being ensorcelled. Well, they'll talk to their bosses first. They can talk to Kuan-Xi when they've done so.
Shen-Ji pokes around the "Dragon enchanting" ritual, and thinks that it's particularly designed to show up as Ominous and Dramatic for someone like Takanata - it might have been a little less impressive for Lijuan, since it wasn't set up for her. And the rust elemental had the Alchemist's signature.
The party heads back to the second best inn, to discover Mondo waiting for them, but Zhuai long gone. He has left a note saying that he'll keep the debt to Ezokin from calling in the Talisman, and will be back later after a quick trip to the Forest of Chin. Don’t worry, he’ll bring the talisman back safe soon (at the start of the next run).
Later that evening, a representative from the Thieves' Guild shows up to talk to Kuan-Xi. As it turns out, no one was ensorcelled against their will - they had just all signed confidentiality agreements, so they stopped being able to recall the mission once it ended. That's an extra perk of some of their higher-end contracts, so they will not be complaining about being ensorcelled.
Min Feng burns five karma to prove the innocence of the party plus the two Elemental Braid members from their actions of the evening, so it seems unlikely that they will get in much trouble for their Merciless Ambush.
- Yanyu visits the Cup of Five Virtues.
- Shen-Ji briefs the Elemental Braid about Ezokin and his alternate identities.