Smooth as Silk
|"Change shield and spear for jade and silk."|| The run takes place in the Month of the Descending Bear in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place in the Dragon's Throne
Takanata, Yanyu, Xiao Fa, and Cai Wen have showed up as part of the cultural exchange with the Winter Academy. Mistress Bian Li Ming drops by and apologizes - she was going to give them an in depth summary of Winter Academy Combat Training, but she finds that she has been summoned to a family emergency in the Dragon's Throne and must depart. She says she'll send some of her students to the White Pagoda, and the philosophical aspects will have to wait until later.
Hey, is she related to Bian Meiling? She admits that she is either the more or less exiled of the two sisters. Cai Wen persuades her to let the party help her with whatever the issue is, and she concedes as far as letting them travel with her to the Dragon's Throne.
People chat with her along the way, about things like what her combat specialty is. She knows some kung fu, but she hopes to found an unarmed combat style based on Winter. She has some various shticks but they aren't melded together properly, and she seems frustrated that something isn't working or she's being thwarted somehow, but she doesn't actually talk about it in detail so Cai Wen has to read between the lines. After Cai Wen confers with Xiao Fa, the latter reminds Cai Wen that Xiao Fa has previously been able to help with chi unblocking people to help with their learning issues.
Speaking of people with learning issues, how is Huan Ken doing? Takanata admits he hasn't talked to him since they brought him back kind of broken, but Xian was supposed to be working with him to get him to feel better, so no doubt he's fine now. Or trying to destroy the world. One never knows, after therapeutic conversations with Xian.
After an uneventful trip, the group arrives at the Dragon's Throne, and a bureaucrat meets them at the gate with a set of keys - where would Mistress Bian like to go? She nods to him - to the Ivory District, of course. The bureaucrat swoops them all the way up to Ivory. The group deduces that there are two separate things going on. First, those are the Bian Family Keys, and second, Li Ming has a shtick in "Key to the City", which is what caused the bureaucrat to meet her upon her arrival. Everyone boggles at that.
The Bian estates are small but opulent, surrounding a central courtyard. When Li Ming enters, assuming a sort of aura of nobility, the servants are clearly shocked to see her but hide it about 14 well, so most people don't notice. Everyone is assigned a guest room, though the majordomo hints discreetly that operations of the house are a little discombobulated, and asks if any of the guests are themselves keyholders. Nobody has any ivory keys, so he requests that if they leave, they ask the door servants to get ivory passes. (Making that request clearly bothers him; Yanyu thinks it pains him to the core to be giving the minimum, rather than the appropriate level of hospitality.)
Takanata asks the servants - if Bian Meiling arrives, can they let her know that Takanata is here? They agree to, though she has not visited the city in some time and is not expected.
Through the walls, people hear Li Ming beginning to lose her temper. They brought her here for a party? (The Bian estate is somewhat Manhattan-esque - luxurious but space is at a premium, so it is hard to have too much physical separation for a private argument.)
Cai Wen does manage to gather some information, despite the tight-lipped demeanor of the servants. Lord and Lady Bian have recalled both of their daughters, to settle a serious social issue between the Ivory House of Silk and the House of Resplendent Decoration, in order to attempt to avert a trade war that would likely destroy the house. The lord and lady, who gave the original offense, cannot fix it themselves, as Resplendent Decoration has Declined to see them. The servants don't know exactly what it was that caused offense, but it had to do with the (sigh) "recent issues", which seems to refer to the chaos that Cai Wen and Zhuai caused in order to get the Regency Council to have to meet outside the city. It was dreadful.
- "That's a bummer." -Cai Wen, smirking inordinately
As Takanata expected, Bian Meiling arrives.
- "What are you - oh, yes. To what do we owe the honor of this visit?" -Meiling
- "I arrived with your sister." -Takanata
Meiling is even more taken aback - she had not realized that her sister was even in the Dragon's Throne, or that she knew Takanata.
- "She is an instructor at Wei Han's school." -Takanata
- "You would think the entire Empire would be large enough." -Meiling
So.. is there anything she needs to know? Takanata admits that it seems highly likely, but he hasn't figured out what yet. They chat about recent and longer-ago events in the Butterfly Meadows, and at first Meiling is clearly trying to double-parse what secret information Takanata is subtexting, but he really isn't, he's just making conversation.
Min Feng also arrives, with Bian Meiling, as it turns out. She and the rest of the party compare notes, and Min Feng lets them know that there will be a party at the Golden Duke's tomorrow.
A chime sounds, summoning everyone to dinner. The table is elegantly laid, with Lord and Lady Bian at either end. Meiling is on one side, with Min Feng, and Li Ming on the other with Takanata; everyone else is evenly distributed. Thanks and welcome are given back and forth. Takanata has an appropriate artistic gift for his hosts, and Cai Wen notes that in the "Mei Ling v Li Ming" scoreboard, Li Ming just got a point. (There are some other scoreboards going on, but they aren't clear yet.) The group silently contemplates whether they care who wins in this particular contest - maybe they want a tie? Cai Wen thinks he could easily switch from having Li Ming's side to Meiling's side without offense, given that he's still technically the ringmaster.
The elder Bians ask, very delicately, how Takanata came to be traveling with Li Ming (he says he was visiting the Winter Academy when she had to leave) and how Min Feng came to be traveling with Meiling (she says she came to visit her grandfather). Hmm. The conversation as a whole has an interesting dynamic - any conversational gambit that allows one of the daughters to distinguish themselves eventually comes back around to give a similar opportunity to the other one. However, neither daughter takes great advantage of this. There is an overall cumulative score in the Bian Family Minigame, in which Meiling is a little ahead; if Li Ming wins this round, she might be tied. The parents are being scrupulously fair in running the minigame, though possibly they are a little disgruntled that the daughters aren't playing it.
The conversation comes around to some nearer events - both Meiling and Li Ming have a family obligation tomorrow, but the elder Bians would be happy to provide their guests with various city passes, or entertain them here.
Cai Wen asks if there are any parties that he might attend - they mention the Golden Duke's party, and a party in the Silver District being hosted by the House of Butler, which is intriguing, as the House of Butler doesn't usually do that.
Yanyu drops the hint that she is a super-spiffy matchmaker. The parents take note with interest, while the daughters glare. Meiling tries to wave her off, but it is too late. The two daughters start to squabble about matchmaking, and whose companions have thrown who under the bus, and who is making things all about her, until Min Feng puts up her hand to try and get back to the actual problem.
Both Li Ming and Meiling have to find suitable escorts to the Golden Duke's party, where they will have the Opportunity to meet the House of Resplendent Decoration. The source of the original problem is that, due to the disruptions in the city, there were a lot of promises made to the House of Resplendent Decoration, which the Bians basically completely failed to fulfill. The shipments not only didn't arrive, but they were clearly never sent in the first place. To add insult to injury, Resplendent Decoration seems to have some sort of an inside information source. So, the two main goals are to calm the guy from Resplendent Decoration down, and to find out who the mole is.
People try to get more details about what happened with the missing shipments, but it seems to have been both complicated and cloaked in confusion. The shipments were in fact sent later, but they were sent back with snide notes. That does seem odd - is that a normal reaction? The Bians think it is certainly more hard-line than is necessary, but it is not completely outside of rationality for a complete breach of contract. And if just throwing money at the problem would solve it, it would already be solved.
After dinner, Meiling briefs Li Ming on the party and the House of Exuberant Interference, and Cai Wen notices that the score is tied again. Yanyu notes that they are both the heir to House Bian. People think that when they are fighting with each other, it is much clearer that the two of them are twins, while otherwise they're sufficiently different in manner that they don't look alike.
For the Golden Duke's party, Takanata escorts Li Ming, and Cai Wen escorts Meiling. Xiao Fa and Takanata determine that there is some sort of odd twins-y effect that is causing trouble for their chi. They do not each have a Key to the City shtick - they have a shtick that they can each use. In some ways, they are each half a person, though there are other ways in which they are separate people.
That night, Min Feng wakes up to hear house guards quietly patrolling, and Cai Wen awakens to hear a couple of guards muttering to each other: "Dah. We almost got it tonight." It isn't entirely clear what is going on, so they go back to sleep.
In the morning, Takanata declares that the calendar is confusing, and the party at the House of Butler is tomorrow night, not tonight.
Cai Wen Wonders whether the house's problems are entirely due to his and Zhuai's machinations in the Dragon's Throne. Maybe, though it is unlikely that everything would have come together sufficiently to target the Bians without it being assisted along by someone who knew what was coming.
Min Feng sends word to Precious Jade that she is visiting the city, and receives a lunch invitation. Then people go out to try and gather information in various directions.
Min Feng starts by trying to figure out what the Resplendent Decoration people are up to. She learns that they don't have a monopoly here the way they're used to in the Arcade, so they're a little off their game. They might be planning to buy some of the smaller silk houses here, but they are also not used to having to roll for 14 successes for everything. They might like it if Bian went down so they could pick up the pieces.
Yanyu goes to Silver to find out about the Butler party. It turns out that it is actually tomorrow! It is an event for the purpose of making an announcement about a new alliance with someone or another. Well, that's particularly odd. The House of Butler specializes in being unaffiliated, which makes everyone keen to hire them.
- "That's something to be exuberantly interfered with." -Cai Wen
Xiao Fa stays back at the house, acting as a buffer between family members. The twins do eventually have to go out and shop, so he comes with them, as he also has shopping to do.
Precious Jade tells Min Feng she can arrange for another invitation to the Golden Duke's party, if Min Feng needs one. She also tells Min Feng that it's definitely Myo who is in town. Min Feng briefs her on the details of what happened at chapter end in the Foxruns.
Cai Wen talks to the Invisible Gates - can they find out who betrayed the Bian silk shipment? They Investigate, and find out that it wasn't actually a betrayal, it was direct action. Foreign enemies, apparently. An honest to goodness ninja, albeit a strangely economically astute one.
Takanata goes to see Fen Xi and the Black Pearl. The Black Pearl has heard from her husband that the Lord Vice Mayor (Wang Xiaofang, as of Vice Mayor) is even now attempting to track Takanata down, for something. Well, Takanata thinks that they're on good terms, so he figures he might as well be tracked down. He heads to a flower house until the Vice Mayor shows up. Lord Vice Mayor Wang wants to know why Takanata is in town. Ah, well, he is planning to attend the Golden Duke's party.
- "Given what happened at the last Gold Duke's party, do you think it will go so poorly?" -Wang Xiaofeng
Takanata smiles and says that he does not think so.
The group gets back together, and pools their information. Takanata thinks about economic ninjas. He doesn't know of a ninja house like that - almost as if there is a tacit agreement, maybe to prevent there being a ninja monopoly.
Then, it is time for the party. People begin to head in, and both Myo and Liet are there. Yanyu notices that the aspect of the Crane is on the gathering, and replaces it with Butterfly. People begin to mingle, and challenge each other to duels of minor color skills.
Cai Wen challenges a water merchant to a memory challenge, and Takanata chats with Millicent. Xiao Fa challenges Liet to musical composition. He wins, but agrees to take some messages home for her, because she hasn't been there for weeks.
- "Why have you been away for so long, and is it Myo?" -Xiao Fa
- "Well, don't tell him that." -Liet
Min Feng talks to Myo. He is polite, and chats about the silk trade. He is afraid that Bian is not likely to be in business much longer - they are not reliable. Min Feng hints that she would be sad if that were to happen. Myo allows as he might be able to protect her from the fallout, if she has entanglements. She says they aren't financial entanglements - she's a friend of one of the daughters of the family. Myo is surprised - he didn't think the daughters were even involved in the family business. Min Feng nods knowingly - children have duties even when they aren't into it. That's kind of on the nose for Myo, as it turns out.
Millicent challenges Li Ming to a coin-skipping contest, and wins (by using a li instead of a zhu, if that's relevant, which Takanata isn't sure). She sends Li Ming to get her a drink, and remarks to Takanata - now that the NPCs are gone, is there a move you want to make? She finds herself at free ends.
Precious Jade chats with Yanyu.
- "Don't get any funny ideas, I'm good." -Precious Jade
- "Cai Wen keeps saying the same thing." -Yanyu
The Butterfly aspect on the party shifts and becomes the Tortoise. Huh. Takanata turns on the eyes of the I Ching, and notices that an otherwise unnoticed guy standing nearby is actually the Imperial Alchemist. The Alchemist nods at him, and Takanata nods back.
Cai Wen challenges Liet to a magic ritual roll of extemporaneous spellcasting - Cai Wen juggles some li, and Liet does wine-improving. The li lands in the wine, and it changes color. Hmm. Cai Wen's scoreboard shifts, and now he seems to be seeing how much money people have, rather than how many points. The Magpie Regent is really rich, but the Alchemist is richest. Lots of people, including both Bians, have wealth shticks. Millicent has "30 li but why would you need more."
Xiao Fa introduces himself to Master Teng, the Imperial Historian, and Min Feng introduces herself to the Captain of the Phoenix guard and chats about the day of Shenanigans. The captain thinks it is a little insulting, actually, that the Regency Council left. Unlike many, he wasn't planning to be at the Butler party, but now that it has been delayed he might go. He isn't technically on duty, but was asked to watch for disruptions. He also doesn't deal much with the House of Butler, but thinks their neutrality is valuable. As far as watching for disruptions, he has been keeping a particular eye on Xiao Fa, who was involved with the previous disastrous Gold Duke party.
The Alchemist puts a lot more effort into the blessing this time, as his next attempt is very inefficient, and ends up with the aspect of the Whale on the party. Yanyu counters with Bear.
Cai Wen brings Meiling to talk to Myo, and Min Feng swoops Liet over to talk to Meiling. Now it's an awkward quartet. Everyone talks vaguely about business. Meiling admits she doesn't really do business, which confuses Myo as to why Cai Wen brought her in the first place.
Xiao Fa challenges the historian to a drinking contest, and chats about history. It turns out he's an authority on the Bear Emperors. Xiao Fa asks him what was up about Lo Si and Lo Tan dying on the same day. Now that the historian is drunk, he admits that probably one of the doctors was in on it. Maybe they caused some sort of susceptibility to poison - otherwise it would be hard to get one of the Foons with poison, let alone both.
Takanata (with Li Ming) flutters around, guided by the Butterfly, and ends up at the hat check stand. He looks at visions from the hat check guy's past, and learns that he was tipped very well by Liet to take good care of her cloak.
Cai Wen explains to Myo, in extra broad parable, about Liet setting up the Bians.
- "And the whole thing is making my head hurt and I might have to rip it to shreds." -Cai Wen
Yanyu and Precious Jade chat about the Bian sisters. Yanyu admits she doesn't have plans, yet. Yanyu also wonders why the Alchemist is whammying the party. Precious Jade notes that Yanyu could ask him.
- " 50% chance he would simply tell you, 50% chance something would go terribly wrong with your pregnancy." -Precious Jade
Yanyu and the Alchemist cycle through another two spirits - Tiger, then Fox.
- "So... why did we come to the coat check?" -Li Ming
- "Well, there's also a cloak with a powerful artifact in the pocket." -Takanata
In fact, the cloak is radiating the animus of death. What the heck?
Crane aspect swaps in, and then Horse.
Yanyu takes this as an excuse to talk to the Alchemist.
- "Horse?" -Yanyu
- "You say that as if you and yours are not the ones who chose him." -Alchemist
- "I'm just surprised that someone else would invoke him."
- "Oh, I don't often say this, but you overestimate my ability. Merely for this round of the party, it is much more comfortable to gather data in a limited area. Your choices were interesting."
- "Really? I thought them fairly straightforward."
- "Well, perhaps I'm the one who gained the insight, then."
Takanata asks if Li Ming can get whatever is in the cloaks' pocket.
- "My friend sent me. She left her... girl... thing... makeup purse." -Li Ming
Persuasion is not her strong suit, but then she gives the guy forty li and that does it.
Cai Wen exuberantly horses up a persuasion roll - it was all a MISCOMMUNICATION, that someone could just CLEAR right up, and then there would be a DEAL. Myo is willing to play along with the pretext that it was a terrible misunderstanding, and not declaring war, but he is curious what his house will get out of it. Cai Wen thinks they should just go through the original deal and it would all be fine. Hmm. So, is Cai Wen willing to back it up - the House of Exuberant Interference acts as the guarantor for the contract? Cai Wen agrees.
Takanata and Li Ming sneak out with the ninja mask Li Ming has acquired - after the party, they trade it back to Liet in exchange for her leaving the Bians alone. Meiling gets points for fixing things with Resplendent Decoration, and Li Ming gets points for clearing out the mole.
- "Tied. Of course they're tied." -Takanata