|"Far more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion."||It is the Day of the Late Dog in the month of the Monkey, in the two hundred and fifty-ninth Year of the Fox since the opening of the Exalted Library.|
Orphans at the Show
Ringmaster Te gets together with Shen-Ji, Hana, Xian, and Cai Wen (the higher-status party members), to run his plan by them. The circus performances are still pretty popular in the City of Light, and the next stage of the journey - south and then across, close to the Wall - has a lot fewer cities in it. So he thinks staying here for another week will let them get a good reserve before making the less-profitable run across the south Savanna to the Strand. Ringmaster Te reminds everyone to work on their acts.
Cai Wen gives a brief rundown on recent events. The Butterfly Prince is here. The blockade is theoretically ending even now. There's a tribute ship heading upriver to the Savanna. There's Takanata's I Ching readings about people secretly behind the Butterfly/Savanna conflict, and Ando, an Imperial spy watching the circus. Also, be on the lookout for ninja trying to kidnap Cai Wen. ("Inform Wei Han at once.")
Xian discovers that his box of magic supplies (the most recent location for the Sphere of Harmony) has been completely repainted and gilded by bored circus hands trying to keep busy.
The evening's circus performances go well. Ti Jun has returned to see the show; also in VIP seats are several Illuminated Precincts sages, and a new friend of Cai Wen's named Willow. The Ringmaster makes a special point to welcome the children from the House of the Hopeful Dawn - this is a group of mostly younger children, with two older kids flanking and herding them.
- "Are these the same kids that Xiao Fa met?"
- "No, this is an entirely new bus load of orphans."
Shen-Ji notes that Willow keeps whispering into the ear of one of the sages (and winks at Cai Wen occasionally). Hana notes that the two older kids are twins. Xian notices a couple of guys watching Shen Wei-Han toss acrobats around with a bit too much interest. They don't do anything other than tip him though, so he doesn't take any action.
The acts go reasonably well, and the audience is pleased with the show. Wei Han, (throwing various junior acrobats) gets twelve zhu in tips, mostly from the guys Xian is watching. Xian thinks this is entirely more money than seems reasonable for Wei Han's part in the show, and is suspicious. The twins, "Melody and Harmony," also get some tips, as do Shen-Ji and Anto, but Xian flubs his own sleight of hand roll for his magic act and people are unimpressed. The orphans try to charge the stage at the end, but the two older kids successfully herd them away. The circus ends with the now traditional Monkey Pandemonium!
Hana asks Ringmaster Te who invited the orphans. He says he did! He had been asking around the city for good groups of kids to give tickets to, after he noticed that one of the other new circus hires was building up support with the local youth population, and thought that was a good idea.
- "Who?" -Xian
- "You know, the one with the bow, who's all 'woooooooo'" -Ringmaster Te
- "Lijuan." -Xian
Willow shows up later to meet Cai Wen. She says she thinks something is going to happen soon, but says she doesn't have details, and doesn't know yet which game it'll be in. Not without actually seeing the move, at least.
Xian wanders by to ask Wei Han if he would mind swapping the zhu he got in tips for others of Xian's zhu, in case there are mystic traps laced in the zhu or something.
- "This is a good con, I know how it goes. You trade zhu, and then you trade again, and after a few rounds, he has all the money." -Cai Wen
- "Yes, of course, it is tempting to steal a trivial amount of money from a large, easily angered fighter." -Xian
Wei Han is willing, but puzzled - why bother? Xian says that the guys watching Wei Han weren't interested in anyone else's act, just him. And his act just isn't that good. They swap coins, but as far as Xian can tell, the coins in question are just zhu.
Meanwhile, a strange guy in a overcloak steps out of the shadows near Shen-Ji and Xiao Fa. He says, "Psst!" When the curious pair approach, he opens his cloak and asks if they want to buy a chakram. "Round and deadly." They can't meet his price though, so he wanders off. Shen-Ji identifies chakram as traditional ancient weapons from the southern Strand, but they've mostly fallen out of use. Why this guy was selling one at the circus is anyone's guess.
Hana and Hiro decide to go visit the House of the Hopeful Dawn orphanage to see how things work there.
- "If you don't care about protecting me, that's a great reason to wander around in the street at night." -Hana
The orphanage is about a half hour's walk towards the outskirts of the city. When they arrive they meet Ling and Lung. The pair of twins was raised in the orphanage, but stayed on to run things as the "adults on the premises." once they grew up. Their patron pays for things, his family has supported the orphanage for many years, but doesn't seem interested in getting involved directly, so he lets them pretty much manage it as they see fit. In any case the two pairs of twins settle in for an evening's conversation.
- "I am particularly polite and charming" -Hiro
- "Really?" -Mike
Ling (the girl) is excited to meet other twins, while Lung (the boy) is more suspicious. The twins seem to have developed more tricks than Hana and Hiro have, though they don't have the shtick in indistinguishably dressing as each other. Lung does point out to Hiro that there have been some weird guys in the marketplaces lately looking for a pair of twins. Hiro and Hana might want to avoid them, but no one's actually come to bother them, so perhaps it's nothing. Talking further, the pairs seem willing to swap shticks, and agree to meet the next day, as it is getting towards bedtime for the younger kids. Hana and Hiro each leave 20 zhu in the donation box as they depart.
Meanwhile, Xian, Wei Han, and Cai Wen try to figure out who the people watching Wei Han might be, whether it ties into something Min Feng noticed regarding people watching Cai Wen recently, whether it ties in to the mysterious guy who hired the Keepers of the Hoard, whether the mysterious guy went back to the Butterfly Kingdom, and other subjects similarly suited to late night conversation.
Xiao Fa wanders over, to see if anyone there has been approached by someone trying to sell a chakram. Back at the other end of the circus camp, the guy returns, to try to sell Shen-Ji a chakram, and pays him a few zhu for a tip on where Xiao Fa is. Then, he vanishes back into the shadows, saying "Tell Xiao Fa I am Tag, friend of Li." However, when Shen-Ji reports the incident to Xiao Fa, he neglects to give him the message.
After Hana and Hiro return to the circus, Hana makes tea for those who are still up, and Hiro serves, still being strangely charming and polite to Xiao Fa in particular. They mention the people asking around about twins, and Hiro gets given the one shot "Squawk before being attacked" amulet. Cai Wen explains about Willow's idea that "something is about to happen," and there is much speculation about whether Willow knows and isn't telling, or just doesn't know. Anto and Shen-Ji mention the chakram salesman - maybe "Round and Deadly" is a secret pass phrase, and he's trying to get someone to give the counterphrase? Could he be a minion of "that one"? Nobody is sure, and it's also not clear if he is still lurking around the circus tents.
Hana insists that tea be finished before the party fans out to search the camp for "Tag, friend of Li." Xian notes that he mostly approaches people by themselves, and declares that he's going to wander around looking like he is by himself. Anto sneaks after him, causing Xian to have to spend a yin to notice him. The chakram salesman ducks his head in the tea tent, looking for Xiao Fa, but he's already left.
- "It's Myo and Liet all over again." -Anto
Xian does manage to run into the salesman, and suspects that in addition to looking for Xiao Fa, he's kind of having fun messing with people by being sneaky. Xian can't tell at all if he really wants to sell the chakram, though. The guy says again "Tell Xiao Fa that Tag, a friend of Li, is looking for him." Xian still suspects that he's looking for someone to give a counterphrase, and tries a fast-talk roll to look like he has it on the tip of his tongue, throwing out words and getting the guy to confirm. He ends up getting Tag to coach him through a counterphrase of "The priest has a desire to talk to me," before Tag leaves, more confused than he started. Xian reports all this to Xiao Fa, including (eventually), the "Tag, friend of Li" part, which doesn't ring a bell to Xiao Fa. On the other hand, it is pointed out, practically every third person in the world is named Li; it would be a great name to use if you wanted to make someone think you had a mutual friend. The circus even has one!
Anto follows him when he leaves; after a while, he starts behaving as if he's trying to shake off a tail, though he doesn't actually seem to see Anto. Anto eventually stops following him and heads back to the tea tent. There seems little left to do at this point, so people head to bed. Xiao Fa's tent has a piece of paper stuck to the tent pole with a knife, saying "Xiao Fa. Tag will return."
That night Hana and Hiro have a bad dream. In their dream, a bunch of southerners build a large house, and throw Hana and Hiro inside, but then can't get in themselves. They huff and puff but can't get in. So they build a second house and throw the twins from the orphanage inside. Sadly, this second house is badly made, and the roof leaks, and it's mostly falling over. So after getting in and poking around, they abandon the second house and burn it down. Hana and Hiro awake to the sound of twins screaming in the fire...
A Transfer, and a Kidnapping
In the morning, Willow notes to Cai Wen that it is "round one": Cai Wen's opponents have taken their turn, and now it's his turn. She still doesn't know what the game is, though, until a Dragon Army courier shows up in the circus camp looking for Corporal Shen Wei Han, with a form for him. Wei Han reads it impassively, and notes "I've been reassigned."
Day of the Late Crane in the month of the Monkey in the thirteenth Year of the Fox since the Regency Council Corporal Shen Wei Han: You are relieved of any current and pending duties, and promoted to Sergeant as of your receipt of these orders. You are forthwith assigned to the Bearers of Swift Response, Fen Jui, South Wall, Third Battalion, under Commander Huang Fan. This assignment effective as of the end of the Day of the Late Tiger in the month of the Monkey in the thirteenth Year of the Fox since the Regency Council. Office of Gang Zhen Lieutenant-Adjutant Dragon Army Garrison, IP
Willow notes that the new orders are Lucky Chang's move (having heard about Cai Wen's game with Lucky Chang during the previous puttering). Cai Wen is intrigued - can she tell what other games are going on, and who is playing them? She points out that she only has so much Yin a run.
Then, the circus erupts into confusion: "Remember that combat you were in, with monkeys everywhere? It's like that, but with orphans." The orphans from the House of the Hopeful Dawn have discovered that Ling and Lung are missing, and have leaped to the conclusion that they have run away to join the circus (because really, who wouldn't?) Hana and Hiro say that Ling and Lung aren't here right now, but don't go into details about what might have happened to them. The orphans are given tea and breakfast in the tea tent, and Hiro declares that there is a RESCUE to be done! The evil southerners, who originally kidnapped Hiro and Hana have kidnapped a new set of twins! Xiao Fa and Hana feed the orphans breakfast and keep them contained in the tea tent, while Hiro gathers the rest of the party. Tag, friend of Li, makes a brief appearance at this time, but decides that there is too much going on to try to make contact now, and vanishes again.
Willow examines Wei Han's transfer, and notes that it comes from the Lieutenant-Adjutant's office, not the Lieutenant-Adjutant himself. Which means that the best way to countermand it will be through the Major-Adjutant's office. Of course, either of those officers would themselves be able to cut Wei Han some new orders, but Willow surmises that if you actually engage the officers themselves, they'll think about it and actually decide something. She isn't convinced that a Dragon Army officer will think that protecting a random gambler as he wanders around with a circus is worth an army escort, so it's probably best not to bring the question to their attention at all. Thus, the trick will be getting his office to issue new orders, which can be done with the appropriate mechanic.
Cai Wen wonders what other games are going on - what does she think is up with the guy looking for Xiao Fa? She thinks that's unrelated - that's a cleanup move in a much larger game. How about the southerners Hiro is talking about? Willow winces, looking at Hiro - that's a very big game. Whatever Hiro did, he thwarted them last night: they tried to take a turn and it failed. Whatever that means. The orphans are the fallout from the opposition failing their move. Willow thinks that Hiro and Hana used to be pawns in that game, but now they're also players. Hiro explains about his dream - that they're trying to use others but they can't, they can only use Hiro and Hana.
Anto decides the quickest way to find the missing twins is to look for people in trouble. Unfortunately, starting from the circus leads him to Cai Wen.
- "Tell me about this bodyguarding thing." -Anto to Wei Han
- "You have two days to learn." -Wei Han
Hiro tries to find out if Wei Han actually wants to be transferred, but Wei Han doesn't think it's appropriate to have that sort of opinion. Hiro shrugs.
- "Well, if he's ordered to the South Wall..." -Hiro
- "By the machinations of the guy who's trying to kill me!" -Cai Wen
- "Oh. I guess we should thwart that on general principles." -Hiro
Ringmaster Te rounds up some friendly circus folk to watch over the orphans while the party heads off to look for the missing twins. Willow notes that she isn't really so much a combat person, and says she'll go work out the transfer mechanic, and meet Cai Wen later.
The party splits up - Xiao Fa, Shen-Ji, Anto, and Hiro head to the orphanage (taking the map that shows where Cai Wen is with them), while Wei Han, Cai Wen, Xian, and Hana (dressed as Hiro) decide to ask around the city for swarthy people asking about twins.
The second group learns that the bad guys had a reasonable amount of money they were offering for information, so the next step is to ask around at the higher-class lodging houses. They learn that there were two possibly-southerners who were staying until the previous night, when they checked out and headed north (in the direction of the orphanage). Cai Wen tips the concierge a zhu for the information, which even the people in zhu realize is a little substandard, so the information flow stops until Xian gives him twelve zhu. Since that's most of Xian's money, the concierge lets them search the room. Cai Wen's ferret finds a map that has the location of the orphanage marked on it, and a circled area in the nearby woods.
At this point, the group gives in to the hints and joins the first half of the party, which has been investigating the massacre near the orphanage.
Meanwhile those at the orphanage find the place in disarray, and definite signs of a struggle in the twins' room. Apparently, they were taken out the window and down the side of the building while the orphans slept, and dragged off into the woods. Tracking leads this half of the party through the woods where the signs become harder to follow, but Hiro manages. At last, they break into a clearing where the remains of a ritual gone horribly awry are all over.
There are some animal cages, holding a tiger and a dog as well as an empty cage that used to be holding a monkey. (There's also a wicker basket later determined to contain a cobra.) The monkey is out of its cage and apparently trying to open the lock on the tiger cage. Elsewhere, there are several dead men, a mage with a dagger in his back, an armored heavy fighter with a dagger through his armor, and a ritual master with a small staff. Upon closer examination, it appears this last one isn't dead yet. Xiao Fa and Anto try to keep him alive for questioning, while Hiro deals with the monkey, preventing him from releasing the tiger.
The group then discovers the remains of a bonfire, with several bodies in it, and a small pile of metal, later identified as silver "boats" (small linkable pieces of silver) totalling 50 li worth of loot.
The other half of the party arrives on the scene, and is told by Shen-Ji to not touch anything. Hiro starts digging graves for the murdered twins. Shen-Ji explains what appears to have been going on - a ritual with "substandard components", followed by the Bitter Recriminations phase. Meanwhile Hana has wandered off and apparently started talking to a tree at the edge of the clearing.
Hearing Shen-Ji's explanation, Hana reveals she's been talking to the ghosts of the twins, and says it's a little more complicated than that. Apparently, the original ritual had seven people doing it, but after the ritual went awry, an eighth guy appeared out of nowhere, and began to backstab the ritualists. Since there are three bodies here, there are four who escaped plus the assassin. While the assassin stopped to poison the ritual leader, the other four ran. (Xiao Fa thinks poisoning him after stabbing him was overkill, and identifies the poison as one intended to bring painful death, rather than swift death.)
Hiro notes that the people running went in two directions - two back towards the city, two towards the Wall. The assassin seems to have pursued the ones heading towards the city.
Shen-Ji makes sure all the bodies are searched. The large guy has 4-def star scale armor, but it has a large hole in it; Wei Han takes it anyway. Several have the curved southern swords. Shen-Ji verifies that most of the stuff is non-magic, just symbolic. The silver is probably easily convertible into cash, however.
Xiao Fa manages to wake up the poisoned cultist, and Xian talks to him to try to get some information out of him. He keeps babbling about "Her arm! It comes!". Xian notes that he has been betrayed; he says he has been punished, which is no more than they deserve. Xian suggests that they could have another go at it, and gets that the assassin is a "thuggee" and "the Arm of Kali."
The guy continues on - they failed because they were unworthy. They hoped it would succeed, but it did not. Xian persuades the guy that he is a sympathizer - what should he do? He must capture the twins and deliver them to the Wall. What will happen then? "Then the yuga will end, the wheel will turn, and civilization will be reborn." Finally, he calls out "Her Arm, it comes!" again, and dies. Cai Wen, who knows the most Senatali, thinks that the "yuga" is a southern word for the "calendar".
Hiro finishes burying the two twins' bodies. The ghost of Ling tells Hana that she will lead them to her murderers if Hana makes sure the orphans are taken care of. The ghost of Lung says he will lead her to his murderers if he is granted vengeance. The party thinks that "killed as bait for the assassin" counts as acceptable vengeance, and sets off in the non-city direction, on the theory that it is too late to catch up to the assassin going after the other two. Xian grabs some of the wavy-bladed daggers that were stuck in the dead bodies.
There is a brief argument between Xian and Wei Han as to whether it is worse to be a non-southerner murderer of orphans, or a non-murderer southerner.
- "I would be more upset at the orphan-murderer." -Xian
- "But I would kill the southerner first." -Wei Han
Lung's ghost leads them a ways further through the woods - Xian takes point, as he can manage to see the ghost, and thinks that Hiro and Hana shouldn't be seen by the cultists unless they have to be. They come upon a flat plain with a wide stream; two people (the archer and the artist from the ritual) have taken refuge on a small island in the middle of the stream, and one is shooting at the treeline opposite where the party is.
Xian shouts in Senatali "Peace, we have her arm, it's dead!" and waves the wavy dagger and a head-sized bag. The two on the island are surprised, but then a red arrow comes out of the opposite trees and hits their tree. "You lie!" shouts the archer, and the artist draws something in the ground near the tree. Xian thinks the thuggee is definitely cheating somehow, having gotten to town and then to here already, but they did lose some time in the interrogations. Xian gets shot a couple of times, before Hana drags him back into the trees so Xiao Fa can first aid him.
Wei Han charges; Hiro advances, shooting at the artist. A puff of dirt intercepts the arrow, leaping up from where the artist has been drawing.
Xian apologizes for his terrible Senatali, and tries to explain: "I apologize for my terrible Senatali. I didn't mean we had killed him, I meant we want him dead." The thuggee shouts to not help the ritualists, that they are already dead, but the guys on the island are willing to take a deal - work together against the thuggee assassin, and not attack each other.
Wei Han and Anto close with the thuggee, taking several arrows in the process. Hiro follows after them. Anto gets the thuggee wrapped up in his kusarigama chain; he and Wei Han manage to pull him out of the cover of the trees, where the archer can hit him. The rest of this part of the combat mostly involves the thuggee stabbing Wei Han and Anto, but being immobilized well enough for the archer to hit him.
The thuggee takes Wei Han down, leaving Anto feeling rather vulnerable. Xian runs out to try to draw more fire away from Anto.
The thuggee points at Anto, points at Wei Han, glowers, and shoots at the archer. Anto doesn't bow to the mimed threat, and grabs him again with his chain. This time, it takes an extra round for him to escape, and he takes another arrow from the archer, and one from Hiro, who takes him to zero. Anto pulls two actions to go immediately, and hits the thuggee again, taking him down.
The party is rather scattered about; Hiro think that they should get closer to the archer before turning on him, but the archer is really quite nervous.
- "Praised be! You leave now, we go our separate ways, all in peace!"
- "Not so fast, bub. You owe us a lot of answers for saving your lives." -Cai-Wen
Cai Wen and Xian manage to persuade the archer that they owe them some answers, but are unwilling to promise to leave again afterwards.
- "I will give you five answers, then you leave. You swear to this?"
While Cai Wen stalls the archer, people try to heal Wei Han and the other injured party members, but Wei Han is too far down to wake back up. However, the archer warns that if anyone tries to come any closer, he'll start shooting again.
Shen-Ji searches the thuggee - he is wearing red silk, but also, his skin below the neck is red and tough. He has a bandolier of the curvy daggers, a red silk strangling cord, and a red bow and arrows (all of which Shen-Ji picks up).
- What are the other two cultists good at? They were the academic and the spy (standing in for Tortoise and Spider in the ritual).
- Who is your boss? The guy with the staff, the one poisoned by the thuggee.
- What is your next ritual step, assuming you survive and go back to your effort? Their sect is going to be extinguished by Kali's enforcers; the other sect will go back to kidnapping the party's twins.
- Do you really think you deserve to die? If so, why did you run? We were hired and tricked! We should get to live! Our leader was flawed.
- Are you part of the same outfit as the thuggee? We are part of one of two competing sects; the thuggees are the religious enforcers over all of them.
That's about as long as they can be stalled before they realize that the party isn't actually going to let them leave, so combat breaks out again when the archer tries to shoot Anto (who dodges).
Hana comes screaming out of the forest (dressed as Hiro), shouting that the angry dead will have their vengeance.
- "Now you've done it." -Cai Wen
That spooks the archer enough to shoot Hana a couple of times; Hiro still doesn't really care about protecting Hana, and hits the archer himself with a few arrows.
The talkers continue to muddy the waters:
- "We could fake your deaths, and you could escape!" -Xian
- "What he's offering is probably better than being betrayed by me again!" -Cai Wen
Anto reaches the archer's tree and starts climbing it - that draws the archer's attention back to him again, and he gets shot some more. Shen-Ji, on his flying disk, finally also reaches the tree, and he chops the archer with his sword.
- "If you only had a sharp round flying disk to stand on. Round and deadly..."
Xiao Fa bandages the angry dead (Hana), and the fighters finish taking down the archer. The artist, having no attacks and seeing which way things are going, drinks a vial of poison. Shen-Ji loots the bodies, but there's not much interesting other than the archer's bow and arrows (well made, but normal). He also examines the markings on the ground - to his best guess, they're something like "art, simulating Earth sorcery", but he's not quite sure how it works.
The thuggee is down but not dying. Xiao Fa's herbalism doesn't have anything that will keep him unconscious without healing or waking or dying for days, and everyone is leery of healing him enough to interrogate him, or giving him to the authorities if he has strange movement powers.
Anto suggests killing him with the archer's bow, to throw off any weird magical tracking based on weapons. Hiro does so.
- "I wanted to kill your boss, but strangely I don't any more, so I will settle for you." -Hiro
The group heads back to town, carrying Wei Han and stopping by the site of the massacre. The monkey is lying in the monkey cage where they left it earlier; after Anto pulled Hiro's arrow out earlier, it seems to have bled into unconsciousness. Xiao Fa and Anto bandage it, and Xiao Fa concludes that if it were a person, it would need some nutritious broth. A monkey that can pick locks and obeys orders could be useful, but it doesn't seem to be so good at the latter yet. Maybe Min Su can train it.
Ling's ghost can no longer find her murderers - presumably either the spy hid them, or the thuggee killed them quickly before moving to the second two.
The animals (tiger, monkey, dog, and snake) are left behind for the moment, and the group returns to the circus.
Return to the Circus
Hana and Hiro discuss the fate of the orphanage - all the younger orphans would need a few years yet to catch up, so it might be necessary to find someone for a few years to run things, before any of them are ready to take over. The patron would need to hire someone, though it sounds like spending the money might not be a problem.
Willow is waiting at the circus for the returning group - she notes that keeping Wei Han unconscious so he can't transfer is brilliant. She has a set of forms that should cause the Major-Adjutant's office to issue a new set of orders, without actually having to decide anything.
Shen-Ji talks to Ringmaster Te about the animals - he sends an animal retrieval unit. The monkey is given to Min Su, the snake is put in Shuyan's snake cages, and the tiger is given to the elephant trainer (for lack of a better candidate). The dog seems to be a fairly normal dog. The dog looks around at the various party members and barks.
- "I give him some food." -Anto
- "He's your dog now!" -Mike
Hana and Hiro go to meet with the orphanage's patron who seems willing to go along with anything, so long as he doesn't have to get involved himself. It's a family thing that his line has been supporting for generations, but he himself is not really interested in it.
Cai Wen briefs the others on the paperwork that needs to be done for Shen Wei Han. The question is, what would Wei Han want his new orders to say? It is a strongly debated question whether or not he should be woken up to ask that question, especially as everyone agrees that he will likely claim that it is inappropriate to have an opinion.
- "If we wake him up early, he'll just waste his hit points." -Hiro
Outside the tent, a "pssst" is heard - it looks like Tag, Friend of Li, is trying to sell his chakram to a circus roustabout. The roustabout points out Xiao Fa when he pokes his head out of the tea tent.
A very confusing conversation ensues, in which Tag claims that Xiao Fa knows why he's there, and Xiao Fa denies all knowledge of it. Tag finally says never mind, this was clearly all a misunderstanding. Xiao Fa agrees that this must have been all a misunderstanding, as he has no idea what this is about. Tag starts to leave, muttering darkly about Li Merit sending him on wild goose chases. Xiao Fa says, er, wait, he suddenly realizes that he does want to talk to Tag after all. Indeed, he has asked Li Merit to find him and send him Xiao Fa's way for just this conversation.
The two of them (Xiao Fa and Tag) wander off for a chat. Xiao Fa asks about being a spider-aspected sort, and gets a spiel about watching the web and being ready at a moments notice, etc. It's mentioned that Xiao Fa is a chi manipulator, and Tag offers to try and teach him a shtick on the theory that lines of chi are somewhat like a web, so it just might work. They practice a little and Xiao Fa shows some natural talent. He uses a shtick in sensing traps from afar and determines that a piece of paper in Wei Han's possession is indeed a trap. Well, the party already knew that, but it seems to confirm the stuff works. However, at the last moment, Xiao Fa decides that there's something he's missing here, so decides to not purchase the shtick. Tag shrugs; it matters not to him. He had the talk and told Xiao Fa what he knows, so he expects Xiao Fa to put in a good word for him with Li Merit. Other than that, (well one more chakram offer is made and declined), he's off.
Meanwhile, Cai Wen declares that he is unwilling to not talk to Wei Han about rewriting his new orders. However, it will take a while to get the forms filled out, so they can start working on them now and talk to him before submitting the paperwork. Cai Wen starts passing out forms for people to help with - Xian gets the Transport Security Certification Form, Xiao Fa gets the Medical Clearance Certification Form, and Cai Wen will arrange to have the Prince sign the Military Transfer Request Form. These will all be assembled into the Transfer Order Confirmation Request Form and will have to be sealed and stamped by someone in the Major-Adjutant's office.
Cai Wen gets an audience with Ti Jun to one, explain why it's good that the circus gets to keep Wei Han, and two, ask what orders the prince thinks would be appropriate. The prince (who, we remind people, is thirteen) doesn't have a particularly strong agenda to assign Wei Han to, but thinks that this new idea of "protecting the calendar" is an intriguing one. He's willing to sign to request a set of orders that basically says "Wei Han should help with the secret mission as long as he's needed", though the exact wording still needs work. When Ti Jun hears that Wei Han is injured (in defense of the calendar!) he sends a healing potion back with Cai Wen, which is sufficient to get him up again.
The procedure is explained to Wei Han, who is appropriately scandalized at the idea of writing his own orders, but accepts the rephrasing of "writing a suggestion to his superiors". He contemplates who the best commander for "following secret orders" would be - a commander in the Hidden City might be most appropriate, but also might be more likely to notice that there's a new soldier in his command structure. They settle on transferring Wei Han to be under his one-command-previous commander, Chang Hu in the Jade Taiga.
Hana and Hiro confer with Willow about the orphanage. She volunteers that if Cai Wen doesn't need anything else she could probably spend her final chi for the run instantiating a mechanic to find the perfect orphanage manager. After a bunch of discussion and negotiation, they decide on a system of audience participation schemes at tonight's circus performance that will identify such a person. They head off to talk Ringmaster Te into it.
After their conversations, that night's circus involves a lot more audience participation, so people have to roll for 9s for their acts. The participation does end up focusing Hana and Hiro's attention on an old woman with a cane, Mother Virtue, who seems both competent and willing to be hired as a caretaker for the orphanage. She is presented with the keys to the orphanage and later introduced to the patron.
The next morning, Xian takes charge of convincing a military inspector that the circus is the safest place in the world for transporting people and important things, Xiao Fa examines Wei Han and pronounces him injured and fit only for light escort duty, and Ti Jun signs the "unspecified mission" document.
Medical Clearance Form Sergeant Shen Wei Han Severe joint/significant energy meridian damage, possibly due to barbarian combat techniques. Patient's injuries preclude extended active combat/wall duty. Intermittent weakness/slowness possible. Recommend escort or other low combat duty. Xiao Fa (Selfless Order Healer)
Transport Security Certification 1. Circus personnel are all familiar to one another. Appearance of unknown persons is quickly reported and reacted to. 2. Circus location organized expressly to be ready to move out at a moment's notice. 3. Presence of many large wild animals deters infiltration by unauthorized persons. 4. Multiple live action vulnerability exercises. Inspector Chun
Military Transfer Request Form To assist representatives of the Butterfly Court, and their associates, as defined by His Highness, Ti Jun, for such time as is needed. Ti Jun, His Royal Highness
Xian and Cai Wen go in to fast-talk (12 successes!) the Major-Adjutant's secretary, and get the orders signed and stamped without anyone ever reading them.
Xian relocates the Sphere of Harmony into a moderately scruffy looking box, labelled "Wooden Fish, Funeral Cymbals, Cremation Accessories, Pieces of String Too Short To Use."
- Hana plays with the silken strangling cord.
- Takanata arranges a Great Expedition to visit the island where the combat took place (with Yoshi, Xian, Anto, Wei Han, Zhi-Hao, and Shen-Ji).
- Wei Han reports to the local commander (Sun Jianjun) about the southron combat, and checks in with Prince Ti Jun to clarify his orders.
- Cai Wen also talks to Commander Sun about the southron attack/ritual.
- Wei Han issues an invitation to the Drunken Bear to celebrate his sergeant's stripe.
- Lijuan stops by the House of the Hopeful Dawn.
- Hana goes to talk to the Lost Ghosts.
- Cai Wen and Hana (+Wei Han) go to visit the Hidden Orchid in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival.
- Master Zhou and Xiao Fa visit a monastery of the Sect of Falling Leaves (Spiral Path), outside the city.