Testing, One Two Three
|"Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Crane in the Month of the Fox in the tenth Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the military HQ of the Tanzhe Plain
People are in the military headquarters of the Tanzhe one evening, when the butler lets the group know that a messenger has arrived to inform Cai Wen that he has a meeting with the Lord of Benevolent Oversight in the morning.
Willow also shows up, to make "observations and impressions of Xiao Fa", on behalf of the King of the Precincts. She notes that tomorrow and the two days after that are likely to be Full Mechanic days, so everyone gets a good night of sleep, and resets their Exhaustion Points to zero.
In the morning, Xiao Fa goes to meditate, and finds the Blue Dragon already there, meditating. The Blue Dragon bows - he is here on behalf of the Lord Dragon, and the time has come for Him to test His instruments. For various reasons, Xiao Fa shall be tested first. Three messengers will be sent to conduct the tests, and the Blue Dragon is the first: the test of Yin. The Blue Dragon has prepared a smooth stretch of sand, and hands Xiao Fa a stick to draw prophetic art on the sand.
(Xiao Fa asks Dragon if this is for real, and receives a "Good luck, my child" in response. Guess so.)
Willow provides a bit more of a briefing to Xiao Fa - she is a Watcher, not a Tester. There are three days, and each day will have a tester from each of three sets of tests (one set from Phoenix, one from the Great Houses, and one from Dragon), and a watcher. Willow notes that Cai Wen is providing the watchers, so he probably shouldn't try to keep her here beyond Day One.
Other guests arrive - an emissary from the House of Resplendent Decoration, and Eto Tansho. Yanyu meets with the emissary, while Min Feng and Kuan-Xi talk to Tansho and Wei Han prowls around looking for uninvited guests.
Resplendent Decoration's emissary apologizes for the delay in his arrival, but lets Yanyu know that Lord Myo is even now traveling here to take tea with Xiao Fa of the House of Quiet Concordance, to discuss matters of great import in a setting appropriate to the gravity of the situation. He will be here in late afternoon, and expects to have a tea "appropriate to he who would be governor".
Tansho is here on a Grave and Terrible Mission: Lady Phoenix has decreed that it is time to test... him... because of her. She is in charge of the Test of Power, but it has not been made clear to her what the details are, and she had to rush to get here in time - perhaps they should all use wands and blast Xiao Fa and see if he has the power to withstand the magic? Min Feng thinks that underspecified tests are unfortunate, and they should research what it should be before doing anything hasty.
Cai Wen borrows Kuan-Xi's carriage to reach the House of Benevolent Oversight, where the King praises Exuberant Interference cleverness in seeking to appoint a governor from a different house (though he does know about their close ties with Xiao Fa), and that on the Random House Table, the third house to do the testing was chosen to be the House of Exuberant Interference. So Cai Wen should design a test, but not let Xiao Fa know what it is until the third day, and he should also not assist Xiao Fa in passing the test.
Yanyu starts event planning for the tea. Right now the military HQ has all the ambience of a picnic table in the middle of a field, which is entirely insufficient. Kuan-Xi scouts out venues in nearby towns, but they decide on having a fancy silk tent instead, and instantiate Bian Mei-Ling to help with that. Wei Han summons reinforcements for an honor guard and spends a karma to keep them for the rest of the run, but they should really have livery for Quiet Concordance instead of the Dragon Army.
Xiao Fa finishes his art. The Blue Dragon deducts a few points for declarative words, but it seems to pass.
Yanyu heads off to get tea from Madame Tealeaf - she speaks the gesture-language, so she can explain clearly what she wants. Madame Tealeaf sells her some grand and dignified tea, but in order to succeed, the person brewing the tea must get as many successes in Tea Ceremonies or other tea preparation skills as the drinker has status. Yanyu buys enough tea for twelve cups, so they can practice a bit. (She guesses that Myo has about twelve status, though he might have clothes of extra status, especially since he's from Resplendent Decoration.)
Bian Mei-Ling provides silk in sage and grey colors, both for the new tea tent and the honor guard livery, and Kuan-Xi and Mei-Ling go to the uniform tailor that the party recently met in the Steppes. After an insane tip, she calls all her workers in, cancels their breaks, and generates a speedy order of silk accented uniforms for the honor guard.
About the Test of Power - nobody recalls any official Phoenix Tests of the Dragon Emperor that can be cited here, so they settle on blasting Xiao Fa with magic now that Kuan-Xi is out of the way. Yanyu hits Xiao Fa with Wrath of the Phoenix, but he sweeps it into the ground. Tansho's firebolt (from a wand of firebolts borrowed from the party) hits him, and he starts draining her tao. Min Feng breaks a phoenix feather at him, and Xiao Fa blocks that with a chi barrier. Yanyu has to fall back to normal arrows, and Min Feng to flaming arrows, but these are a little less scary, and Xiao Fa alternates between dodging and taking the damage. The last firebolt, Xiao Fa redirects back at Tansho. The turn over, Tansho declares the test a success, and that it was awesome (though painful for her). Xiao Fa heals her up again.
Cai Wen heads off to find the people he needs for his test on Day Three.
Lord Myo arrives, and tea is served. Myo is indeed impressed at the dignity and ambience of the tea tent, and the tea. However, when Liet storms in (leaving the honor guard on the ground outside), some of the weighty discussion degenerates into squabbling. The prophecy of three tea cups is fulfilled, and Myo seems satisfied with the test.
The group breaks for dinner, and does not have to spend any late night time executing plans, so everyone gets a good night's sleep again.
In the morning, there are more visitors. An emissary from the House of Gainful Protection, Minoru Tama and a tall man dressed in blue and yellow with a trident.
- "God, it's him again." -Xiao Fa
Also, Zhenzhen has arrived, as a watcher on behalf of the First Servant of the Steppes.
Yanyu and Wei Han meet with the House of Gainful Protection messenger. She is there to let them know, just as a courtesy, that there has been an error - one of their emergency action teams has been dispatched to Tiger's Landing, with mistaken orders that the mayor and town council are possessed by demons and should be executed. Unfortunately, the orders were from a protocols test, so the authentication was legitimate, and even more unfortunately, the original code books have been lost, so the orders can't be countermanded. Anyhow, this is just to let them know, as a courtesy.
Min Feng chats with Tamu - she will be administering the Test of Life, and it is very very very important that Xiao Fa pass this. Min Feng suspects that this will be a healing test, and Xiao Fa will be all over it, so she reassures Tamu that it will all be fine.
Kuan-Xi goes to talk to the guy with the trident - as Xiao Fa expects, it is the "Warden of the Southern Seas" (one of Lucky Chang's titles). He greets Kuan-Xi formally (and recognizes her as the Princess of the Northern Seas) and says he is here to administer the test of Yang on behalf of Lord Dragon: a small group of Southern pirates has been allowed past the Southern border, and is encamped on the coast of the Southern Arcade. It would be appropriate if they were removed from the Empire before dawn.
Xiao Fa goes to talk to Minoru Tama. Like Tansho, she has come on behalf of the Lady of Fire, in order to test Xiao Fa. Is he worthy, or does he decline the test? He states himself worthy. Tama takes a vial from her pocket, declares it to be the Terrible Oil of Wasting Death, and suddenly drinks it. Well, then. Xiao Fa pats her down for an antidote, which she finds a bit rude, but she does not have one. He thinks about how to proceed - a simple healing roll will not do, as the Terrible Oil requires a Great Cure such as the Tincture of Pure Respite.
The most important thing to worry about (unless you're Tama) is the upcoming massacre in Tiger's Landing. Shanxi says that this sort of strike team would generally be five people (compared to the four person Tinker/Tailor/Soldier/Spy teams favored by the Dragon Army and the Beautiful Spy Service). Instead of a Tinker, they have a second Soldier and a talker.
One potential solution is to disguise five of the party as the Mayor and the Town Council, and stash the actual politicians in the carriage. First, though, Xiao Fa makes sure that they aren't actually possessed by demons (they aren't). Wei Han explains to them that the House of Gainful Protection has accidentally sent assassins - the Mayor and company would definitely like to be protected from that, and are willing to go with the disguises plan.
Places are swapped, and the "town council" has lunch, and announces that their normal Second Afternoon meeting will be held in First Afternoon instead. Unfortunately, the Gainful Protection surveillance has already determined that the meeting is in Second Afternoon, so First Afternoon is pretty boring. The group starts drawing demonic sigils on the floor to try to lure out any assassins, but to no avail until Second Afternoon.
Second Afternoon opens with a speed roll, and combat is on! One of the assassins appears harmless (and un-attackable), but then has a deadly backstab when someone give up and turns their back on him. Kasumi grabs noses, and Yanyu sets someone on fire - between that and the drawings on the floor, it seems pretty clear that the rumors of demonic possession are well grounded.
- "I know what you think you're doing here, and your organization has sent you here wrongfully. Cease this aggression and we can talk about this sensibly. There are no demons here." -Xiao Fa, rather unconvincingly
After a bunch of chopping, Xiao Fa identifies that two of the Gainful Protection guys are only standing at this point due to their combat drugs. They manage to coordinate a strike on Wei Han, and then Kasumi backstabs one of them - she's the only one doing major fatal damage, and he would be dead except that Xiao Fa stabilizes him in the last speed call of the combat, before his extra hit points wear off.
The unconscious strike team is shipped home, courtesy of the House of Beneficent Travel, and the party has dinner with the Mayor and Town Council. (Kuan-Xi makes sure the floor is clean of demonic sigils again).
Tama is somewhat concerned about the lack of progress in the Test of Life, but Kasumi points out that Xiao Fa will probably save her even if he fails the test by not curing her before dawn. That's reassuring. However, since Xiao Fa does actually want to pass the test, Kuan-Xi and Cai Wen, using the carriage, go to negotiate with Master Hsi in Nine Terraces. It is rather late at night, but they convince Reishi that it is an emergency, and he goes to wake Master Hsi.
Master Hsi does in fact have one Tincture on hand, but it is his emergency vial - it will take weeks to replace it, so he is loth to be rid of it if it is not a true emergency. Kuan-Xi assures him that it is a true emergency. Master Hsi does not recall Kuan-Xi, but he has met Cai Wen, and notes that last time, he was paid with one of the great treasures of the Butterfly Kingdom. What does Cai Wen offer this time? Kuan-Xi offers him a water portal to a location of his choice. Well, that is tempting. He suggests the Garden of Benevolent Tranquility. That might be hard to arrange, but a counteroffer of somewhere else in Jade, Ivory, or Obsidian, as well as a Jade Key, is accepted.
As the water gate cannot be constructed immediately, Master Hsi wishes a guarantee that the promised payment will be made. Who serves as the guarantor? That would be Lo Xiao Fa. Except that Lo Xiao Fa is not here, so that is not so useful. Kuan-Xi will swear on his behalf, so he gives her a potion of The Bargain Sealed, which she must promise to have Xiao Fa drink to agree to the bargain, and she must drink another such potion herself in order to seal that promise.
Cai Wen finds the concept of this new potion quite intriguing, and asks about it. Master Hsi says it can be made for two tael and a drop of Cai Wen's blood (the potion is specific for the person whose blood is in it). He will think about that.
The rest of the group heads off to fight pirates, and Yanyu brings along the Son of the Moon; with the particularly high density of fighters, they best the pirates without very much difficulty. The main loot of interest is a hammer dedicated to Kali, which is empowered to do extra damage against "holy" and other spiritual items, and a potion of Yama, which, when drunk, prevents death for twelve hours.
The party regroups back in the Tanzhe; Kuan-Xi makes Xiao Fa drink his potion, and Tama is cured with the Tincture of Pure Respite. Then everyone falls into bed.
On the exhaustion meter, Kuan-Xi and Cai Wen are down a die for their late night excursions, while everyone else is down two for the even later night pirate fight.
Another set of guests show up. Shidehara Setsuko says that Xiao Fa has until dawn tomorrow to pass the Test of Passion for the Phoenix. Everyone looks at Xiao Fa and Min Feng and thinks awkward thoughts, but Setsuko notes that things like "rouse the people of a town to march to war" also counts.
Cai Wen briefs Yanyu that some petitioners will show up asking for justice from the Governor, and will need to be responded to, as the test for the House of Exuberant Interference.
Hideko Koiso arrives, as a watcher on behalf of the Butterfly Meadows.
And Lucky Chang (with the Hands of Peace up) is outside the gates and wants to talk to Xiao Fa. (Cai Wen reminds Min Feng to not accidentally marry any of the Blue Dragon, the Warden of the Southern Seas, or Lucky Chang). Lucky Chang is here to administer the Test of Chi - to negotiate with Xiao Fa over various items of contention. He has scheduled their negotiation for First Afternoon, so that everyone can come up with ways to buff Xiao Fa against him in the meantime.
The petitioners arrive!
The first petition is a woman, accompanied by a guy in a large cloak. She introduces herself as Gong Yan, a woman of the Tanzhe. Her lover, Dae Yeh, was a Plains soldier. When the Plains was withdrawing its troops, Yeh stayed to protect her from the invaders. He didn't attack them, he simply tried to block them from invading her house, and they killed him. The cloaked guy uncloaks himself - it is the annoying bard from Tiger's Landing. He sings a mocking song about the aggressive cruelty of the invaders.
- "Is this guy with you?" -Xiao Fa, disbelieving
- "He was assigned as my advocate before your court, my lord." -Gong Yan
Xiao Fa thinks about this, and asks her more questions (no, they weren't married. They had been together for about four months. She buried him and burned money for him with the priests, but the funeral was not expensive. No, he did not change his uniform - though she protests that this would have been punished differently. No, the soldiers did not say that they were going to loot her house or anything else, they said they were looking for enemy soldiers, but she knows how invasions go...)
Meanwhile, Min Feng spots that one of the Exuberant Interference guards is wearing what seems like an invisible cloak. Kuan-Xi hits him with "Appropriately Dressed", and now he's wearing a grey cloak with Lucky Chang's "pair of dice" insignia. Wei Han escorts him into another tent to intimidate. The guy admits to watching things on behalf of Chang but refuses to confess to anything more nefarious.
Xiao Fa rules that he cannot specifically fault the action of the soldiers in this case. They might have been overzealous, but they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. He is not blind to her loss, and he apologizes, but an apology is all she gets. (Yanyu suggests having a matchmaker find a new boyfriend for her, but Xiao Fa does not think that will help matters.)
Min Feng spots a magpie paying attention to the proceedings, but Ezokin is off in the northern Arcade, so it's a little unclear what's going on. Kuan-Xi notes that the magpie is covered in money-magic, so it's clearly Ezokin's familiar, but without Ezokin it doesn't make much sense. Min Feng has her phoenix chase the magpie away, which both entertains and disrupts the court proceedings for a bit.
The next petitioners are Hsu Lin-wei and Hsu On, who claim somewhat incoherently that their nephew, Fin, was kidnapped by a Forest lord who is keeping the kid in the dog kennels and is probably going to do further horrible things to him like hunt him like a dog! You can never trust Forest lords! Some lady convinced him to run away by bribing him with pork buns. The annoying bard is also accompanying them, and plays a mocking tune about how the government hates it when he tells them the truth. Xiao Fa tries to pry some more details out of the couple - the nephew had only recently come to stay with them, after his mother was killed in the invasion, but after the previous case, they're not asking for justice for that. They just want their nephew unkidnapped from the evil Lord Siew. How do they know where he is? He wrote them a letter saying. But they were angry so they burned it. This seems a little suspicious. They also didn't bring any documentation proving that they were related to Fin, or his mother. Nobody told them to...
Various suggestions are made - maybe they could visit their nephew and see how he's doing? They don't trust Evil Forest Lords enough to go visit them. Well, what if he likes it there? They are dubious. Can you just steal people's kids, er, nephews like that, even if they like being stolen?
Xiao Fa tells them to go back to their town and he will begin an investigation into how the boy is doing, and he tells Yanyu to go and check.
The third petitioner sees which way the wind is blowing with this "petition the Governor but get told that it's probably all okay while everyone glares at you for having the annoying bard" plot, and flees without raising his petition.
After lunch, Lucky Chang returns (again with the Hands of Peace), and says that he is here for Xiao Fa's test of Chi - a negotiation with him. Xiao Fa has carefully dressed in his high-status clothes, and Kuan-Xi tweaks her Phoenix shtick to get him to roll for 5s, and Yanyu gives him a makeover to double his Charisma, so he is loaded for bear against the terrifying Chang.
Lucky Chang opens with the statement that this book, or perhaps the next, is when the knives are going to really come out.
- "Those of us on Team Dragon should not be at each other's throats when the spiders come for us. So, as an opening proposition, I offer a mutual peace agreement for the duration of the battle with Spider."
Wei Han drags in the guy in the cloak as evidence of Chang's perfidy. Chang gives a little salute - touche and well done. But what's with the cloak? Do they have enough prisoners that they have to costume them like this to tell them apart? He doesn't seem very ashamed of having been spying on them, as no truce has started yet. And surely no one is pretending that Xiao Fa doesn't have spies on his side, though Chang didn't think to bring any to the meeting.
Xiao Fa isn't keen on a general cease fire, as it seems unlikely that he and Chang will not be on opposite sides of the eventual battle for the Jade Throne. Well... does he have a counter offer? Xiao Fa suggests that they join forces.
- "What do you envision as the endgame of this? Lord Xiao Fa, Dragon Chancellor?" -Lucky Chang
- "I was thinking Emperor Xiao Fa and Lord Wuyong, with your name in the Imperial Rolls." -Xiao Fa
- "My name is already in the Imperial Rolls - as is yours, I know, more recently." -Lucky Chang
But Lucky Chang wasn't really expecting Xiao Fa to play for second, and he doesn't think Xiao Fa expects him to either. So what else is on the table?
- "Perhaps a lesser matter - are you interested in the red jade key?" -Lucky Chang
In exchange for the key, Xiao Fa is willing to offer that his team stops trying to kill Lucky Chang. Hmm, he was hoping for more than just nonaggression. Perhaps he can trade the key for the associated shticks?
Xiao Fa frowns - he's really not willing to give up that much for Chang's peace of mind. Chang laughs - it's not just his peace of mind they're talking about. Min Feng has shticks in "I'm the consort", but that is different than actually being the Imperial Consort. Lucky Chang has a bunch of "I'm the Emperor" shticks, which is also different than actually being the Emperor. If he's the Emperor, and he gives the red jade key to his choice of bride, that will make it difficult for Min Feng to actually be consort - and perhaps she would not wish to be. The point being, the key would be useful to Team Xiao Fa, even if that team has Min Feng on it already, and the key is still useful to Team Lucky Chang, even without Min Feng.
Lucky Chang thinks some more. If Xiao Fa doesn't want to start with a truce, and they can't agree on the sort of allies they can be, how about enemies?
- "The Marked are coming for us - I take care of two and you take care of two?" -Lucky Chang
Hmm. Dead Marked can be replaced, but defeated Marked might be better. Chang allows as that's just as good.
Xiao Fa confers with Cai Wen. Cai Wen says that he can't go along with a permanent alliance with Lucky Chang - he owes vengeance on behalf of others, and they won't believe that he's sincere, nor will Cai Wen feel right abandoning his vendetta entirely. But working together in the short term is something he can live with.
The party also doesn't want the Golden Prince on the list to kill. Chang admits that he was considering the Prince one of the easier targets.
- "Honestly, I think both the Prince and Tai Lung are liabilities for the Marked rather than assets." -Cai Wen
After some further bickering, the four targets that are deemed acceptable (and possible) are the Obsidian Warlord, the Bureaucrat, Tai Lung, and the New Guy. The party already has some ideas for the Obsidian Warlord, and Tai Lung is likely to cross Master Zhou eventually, so Xiao Fa and Lucky Chang agree to team up to take out the Bureaucrat. They'll both think about plans, and then come back to work out the final arrangements, and there will be a cease-fire in the meantime.
Wei Han brings up the Problem of Spies again. Will Lucky Chang stop spying on the party? He shrugs - will the party stop spying on him? Such as sending guys around to find out if he's in town working on a particular plot? Oh. Well, okay, maybe some reasonable spying is allowed. And if the other side's spies are caught, they'll be returned to sender rather than killed. Chang thinks that sounds reasonable.
So: No doing damage to each other intentionally (except in self-defense), or to each other's guys because they're the other team. Reasonable spying is allowed.
The question is raised as to whether "damage" should be defined more clearly, but everyone thinks that if you have to define it very carefully then it's not as strong an agreement, and Lucky Chang is probably better at loopholes anyway.
Chang says that they can discuss the consort issue later, but the Test of Chi has been passed. Then, he takes his leave.
Finally, Xiao Fa gives a speech to the Tanzhe militia, rousing them to demand that Xiao Fa be appointed governor. With a lot of buffing and stat cap breaking, he gets thirty-six succcesses, which passes the Test of Passion, and now that +1 MIL may be specifically loyal to Xiao Fa rather than the House of Exuberant Interference.