The Party Throws a Party
|"When you run alone, you run fast. When you run together, you run far."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Serpent in the Month of the Bear in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly in the Gate of Shen, finishing in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, both in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Odds and Ends
Before anything new occurs, the party catches up on their pending business and briefs each other about interesting things they've found out.
Takanata talks to Horse (via Merit's horse), and trades information about Wolf being interested in joining the Cycle, in exchange for clarification that Spider cannot track the use of Horse points (at least, not any more so than any Great Spirit can notice other spirits doing things if they are paying attention or it takes place directly in their jurisdiction). Horse is impressed that Takanata is playing the field so widely, and there is some additional discussion about being allies versus making deals. Horse notes that because of audits, it works a lot better to make deals unless Takanata is his guy, but Takanata isn't interested in the job. He's a little surprised that Horse doesn't have a guy, but Horse says he's looking.
Merit sends one of the enchanted keys to the Hidden City Pewter district into the shop for examination.
Takanata points out to everyone that Ezokin has the Magpie Talisman now. There is some amount of "Ah, that explains the Gate of Shen!" but Merit notes that Ezokin started his scheme in the Gate of Shen before the party lost the Talisman. On the other hand, the Gate has been doing particularly well recently.
Speaking of the Gate of Shen, Merit says that they should really head there and check it out - he might be hosting a big party for Cai Wen at his house sometime soon, and needs to go over the suitability of the site.
Takanata wonders whether Wei Han can tell where Tokai Won, a relative of his in the Dragon Army in the Steppes, is stationed on the Wall. Wei Han notes that he knows where units are in general, but he doesn't know the names of all the soldiers, and Takanata doesn't know precisely which unit he's in.
Gate of Shen
The party sets off to the Gate of Shen, and encounters nothing perilous along the way. Approaching from the west, they're sent around to enter from the east, but Merit can jump the line as a town councillor. He tries to explain the "buying side" and the "selling side" to people, and there is much complaint that you can't have selling without buying, but people are told to not think about it too hard.
Those who have visited before think the city has grown quite a bit since the last visit - there are a number of new buildings, perhaps not built for the ages but well put together.
- "Perhaps you would like to inspect the premises, Mr. Zhu." -Merit
Merit heads to his house (picking up some bodyguard thugs along the way), and finds that his factor is fending off various construction and cleaning crew. Merit claims that someone has jumped the gun in sending this crew before Merit was there, and he wants to take a look at the premises first. The factor is concerned, though, that the house does need some spiffying up before a grand party is held there.
Merit notes to the party that the last time he was in his house, he found the clues left for him by Magpie, so perhaps people can check to see if there's anything else? Shuyan, newly trained in finding things, searches around and finds, hidden in a bedroom wall, the diary of a young girl writing about her love for the future lord of this land, who returns her love but cannot marry her...
- "Well, I'm engrossed. I don't come back." -Shuyan
Merit finally pries Shuyan away from the diary, which she enthuses about for a while.
Grasshopper, bored, draws a picture. Is it a guy offering pizza to someone? No, those are coins, and a magpie on his shoulder, so probably Ezokin. Grasshopper is the only one who can tell that the guy on the left is Grasshopper himself. Everyone lectures Grasshopper to not take any money from Ezokin.
Merit allows the party-preppers to start to work, and the house is soon a whirlwind of activity. He receives two notes by messenger - one from Gao Lin noting a little snarkily that it's good to see that Merit is actually taking an interest, and one from Gao Le trying to smooth over her sister's crankiness. Takanata starts hinting about why he hasn't received an invitation, not to mention who is on the guest list, anyway? Wei Han frets, wondering if Commander Yao has been invited with enough time to allow him to get here.
Cai Wen goes off to find out more details about what's going on, and encounters a messenger with a catering bill. He puts his chop on it without really paying attention to the numbers.
- " Who's been making the arrangements?" -Cai Wen
- "You have, sir."
- "I'm taking odds on whether he frags himself during the run." -Shen-Ji
Soon enough, a messenger arrives with a finely embossed invitation to Tokai Takanata, and a second inviting Shen-Ji, with an enclosed note from Zhao Wu, a fellow horseman who thinks he might find the party of interest. Shuyan gets a blank invitation, with a note from Precious Jade that she might also find the party of interest.
Merit and Grasshopper plot together about how to have Grasshopper take out Ezokin at the party. Cai Wen, overhearing, says please do not start a fight at his party.
Merit heads to the council meeting at Captain Shan's house. Captain Shan is very pleased with Merit's party - it's an excellent idea!
- "He's getting all the credit. If I had done more work myself, I'd feel a little put out about that." -Cai Wen
However, Captain Shan does wonder why Merit invited so many military people and not as many wealthy merchants? For an up and coming mercantile city like Gate of Shen, they can use the contacts. Merit notes that the goal of the party is the defense of the northern Arcade. Captain Shan hopes that Merit doesn't mind adding people to the guest list, though? The only wealthy people on the list right now are people from a couple of Arcade houses and Kinoze, the Gate's economic advisor. Merit waffles about adding new people - he's not sure who would be appropriate. Captain Shan says he's sure Kinoze could come up with some. Merit waffles some more, and asks who in town is particularly important right now. It seems like it's a general increase in prosperity - there's a much larger merchant class, but no real upper class in the making yet. Merit emphasizes to the others that the town reinvest sustainably, just in case the boom passes, but things like building and infrastructure are more or less what they're already doing, and they think he sounds "just like Kinoze".
Merit goes over the city books - there are various zoning changes due to the expansion, but they seem reasonable, and he can pretty much spot when the Magpie talisman started to have an effect, on the Day of the Bear. He wonders if that means Kinoze is here all the time, and Captain Shan says he does stop by more every few days, but he is very busy.
Grasshopper checks out the Gate of Shen urchins. They're actually doing pretty well - they seem to have turned into junior guides for new merchant visitors, showing them where to go and how to sell or buy. They're probably the wealthiest urchins Grasshopper has ever seen.
Shen-Ji prowls around the town, looking for where the power is going, and determines that the old gate is being used as the battery. Looking at the Gate itself, after his recent magical studies, he realizes that it's holding a vast pile of non-sorcerous magic - the closest he can think is that it's what sorcery might have been like if Phoenix wasn't in charge of it. He tries to see if he can tap into it - it isn't quite right for what he does, but his "Create Coinage" shtick does give him an in, and he can pull out some of the power onto himself. His "wear metal armor" shtick temporarily shifts to "wear expensive armor", and his wall of metal becomes "wall of asset protection", as well as his create coinage becoming quite a bit more powerful. Ka-Pow, his phoenix familiar, on the other hand, is not happy with him.
Merit has indicated that Liu Sun (the wife of the Steppes Minister of the Arts) is in town, so he looks for her to chat. She wonders if Takanata is planning to head to the Harbor for the Festival? He says he's here for the party, and it becomes clear that he doesn't know what festival she means. She suggests they travel together to the festival - all of the "notable" artists of the Arcade right now will be presenting. Takanata, hearing the quote marks, notes that the last artistic event Takanata went to was a little... broad... for his taste. She nods in understanding, and agrees. For example, one of the up and coming artists is Chen Hsin, noted for her pictures of dogs playing mah-jongg. Takanata does find the whole thing rather curious. Anyhow, Liu Sun is heading to the Harbor not to officially investigate, but her husband does not find the trend encouraging. Perhaps with a representative from the Steppes and a representative from the Court of Distinction, they can apply some leverage. Takanata also chats about the artists he visited in the Hidden City, and Liu Sun nods approvingly. It is important in times of war not to forget what makes things worth saving.
When he gets back to the group, he paints a new watercolor, and is particularly cross about the fine print at the bottom. He glares at Merit, who investigates the painting.
- "Look, most artists have to do this to make a living. You're just lucky that you're independently wealthy." -Merit
Grasshopper draws a picture of dogs playing mah-jongg, which he sells to Shen-Ji, proving someone's point.
Hana wanders by the ancestor shrine for the Shan house, and talks to Lord Shan. He says that the ancestor spirits have been working on the problem of northern-corrupted ancestors bureaucratically, and they've done pretty well with those with notable ancestors whose shrines are well maintained. Ancestors of little note and those whose shrines have fallen into disrepair are having more trouble, and he encourages Hana to smite those people who have let their ancestor shrines languish. Hana says that she's not so much a smiting ghost, but will do what she can.
Shuyan finishes reading the diary - there's an exciting lack of conclusion. The girl writing the diary is about to go meet her love (she finds the name Shan Jianjun for the boy) and they'll run away together, but there's no "what happened after". Merit helps Shuyan analyze it for secret messages, but there really aren't any. However, it seems clear to Merit that the author did intend to return, not permanently run away - but she didn't. Shuyan, intrigued by the mystery and romance, goes to find Hana to tell her the plot, but Hana is more worried about the ancestor shrines.
Merit chats with Cai Wen - he thinks the House of Judicious Increase is the one that should get invited and hasn't been. It's nearly a blatant snub. Did Cai Wen or his moll have a plan for that? Cai Wen, wondering about that himself, goes to look for his moll. He finds Zhao Wu at the best inn in town, and they discuss horses, but doesn't find Zhao Feiyan, who he suspects is his moll.
Grasshopper, in disguise as an urchin, looks for Ezokin, but he's not in his office. He waits until he's hungry, gets some pork buns, and then returns to stake out the office again.
Hana finds she is very very late for an appointment across town, and starts towards Captain Shan's house. When she gets there, she can snap out of it - Master Hirayasu is at the ancestor shrine, calling forth troubled ghosts at Takanata’s prompting. He does pull in some straggly ghosts who are bound by the north, and some others that aren't, and he breaks them free of their northern compulsions and sends them on to the World After. Hana suspects he's not really getting any large ghosts out there, though - he pulled her in, but she was close and she was able to resist once she saw what it was. She skulks nearby, trying to watch how Master Hirayasu does it, but it's hard to really learn without being able to practice the hand motions, and that might look suspicious.
Wei Han thinks that there's something anti-necromantic going on, though he's not nearly so targetted as Hana when she's being summoned. He wanders to the gate, and finds Master Hirayasu, but doesn't bother him until he's done with his summonings and prayers. Wei Han thanks Master Hirayasu for dealing with the ghosts, and Hana, pleased that Wei Han is there to keep Master Hirayasu from smiting her, wanders up as well. She notes that the problem that he is trying to address does still persist, and is more easily solved by a multitude than one. That's true, but there is not a multitude of him. She suggests that maintenance of various ancestor shrines would help, and he certainly agrees, but she says she has no authority to make such a thing happen, and thinks he might be more successful. He notes that everyone has the authority and the obligation to encourage people to do what is right, and encourages Hana to prevail upon her friends to work on the people who run the Gate of Shen, and perhaps set up a meeting between the town council and him.
- " It is a sad truth that wherever people are found, neglectful people can also be found." -Master Hirayasu
- "I didn't think that necromancers were usually so widespread..." -Hana
- "Only in these recent times." -Master Hirayasu
- "That is probably because of the Northern invasion." -Wei Han
- "...Well, yes." -Master Hirayasu
Cai Wen hangs out at the local tea house, and receives three blank invitations and an appointment with a tailor by messenger. Conferring with Merit, they invite Fu Li, Inspector Ando, and Lord Matsu of the House of Judicious Increase.
Grasshopper, worried about having been neglecting his ancestors, asks Takanata where his are likely to be. Takanata thinks that the proper shrine to the Bear Emperors would be in the Hidden City, but thinks that old rich households often have an offset shrine to the Emperor with their ancestor shrine. It's kind of fallen out of fashion now that there's no Emperor, though, and the Shan house shrine doesn't have one (possibly because it fell into disrepair in the past before Captain Shan rebuilt things). Wei Han, also contemplating his ancestors, if he has any, tries praying at the ancestor shrine, and spends a chi. Hana prays too. Ancestors for everyone!
- "You don't usually pray to ancestors that you don't know. The cynical might think the afterlife bureaucracy charged him a chi to do a record search." -Hana
Now that Hana is done with more serious matters, Shuyan prevails upon her to go and visit the field where the diary girl was going to meet her paramour. Once they're there, Shuyan starts flipping through the diary again, and Hana thinks something is happening, so she convinces Shuyan to come away again. It seems likely to Hana that there was some sort of resonance going on - the idealistic romantic girl holding the diary of the idealistic romantic girl, at the place where she was murdered or abandoned or something. Not really haunting, quite, but something similar.
Finally, after the group has accomplished most of the puttering around the Gate of Shen that they can think of, it is time for the party to begin!
Taiga Party in the Arcade
Someone seems to be using a shtick to make everyone late to the party, but Takanata uses his Auspicious Arrival shtick to arrive on time anyway. The party is in two big rooms on the first floor of Merit's house, and Takanata thinks that the chi involved suggests that there are two separate parties going on at the same time. He's not sure what to make of that.
The party rules seem to be Urbanity rules - those are traditional for Taiga parties, but since the Pearl of the Taiga appears to be throwing the party on Cai Wen's behalf (he's spent karma to get a particularly good moll to take care of the invitations), the party is running on her rules.
- Zhao Feiyan (The Pearl of the Taiga)
- Zhao Wu (Master of Horse of the Taiga)
- Yue Ping (First daughter of the First Servant of the Steppes)
- Yuan Shao (husband of the Minister of Levies)
- Liu Sun (wife of the Minister of Arts)
- Captain Tsu Lin-San (head of the new Steppes cavalry unit)
- Lieutenant Liu Zuxiang (a popular Steppes cavalry hero)
- Corporal Fa Mulan
- Captain Shan
- The Gao twins
- Master Lin
- Master Hirayasu
- Lord Yingting (from the House of Gainful Protection)
- Lady Xiaolei (from the House of Benevolent Oversight)
- Fu Li (the bureaucratic Si Fan spy)
- Inspector Ando
- Lord Matsu (from the House of Judicious Increase)
- Commander Yao
- his XO
As Cai Wen and the others come in, the Pearl gives him a kiss on each cheek, and welcomes the group. Favors begin to flow!
- Merit asks for Hana's help for looking after Shuyan, as he thinks Hana may be a bit wiser in the ways of the world than Shuyan.
- Wei Han asks Shen-Ji's help for getting his armor back.
- Liu Sun asks Takanata to escort her to the Festival of the Arts in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival in several days' time.
- Lord Matsu from House of Judicious Increase asks Merit (somewhat gauchely) to open some accounts with the House of Judicious Increase.
- Merit asks for guidance from Lord Matsu about what happens when the Gate of Shen bubble bursts.
- Grasshopper and Hana, trying to stay on target, offers the military people several urbanity to talk to each other, but Cai Wen worries that this isn't sufficient to solve the plot.
- Captain Shan keeps trying to throw Merit and Kinoze together for an economic summit, but Merit is deeply dubious of Kinoze.
- Cai Wen persuades the Pearl to tell him what unusual mechanics are going on at the party. She laughs at him for spoiling her surprise, but says that if she, Cai Wen, and her husband are all in the same room of the party, then it will end. And, as far as his goals go, what Cai Wen should arrange to have happen is for people to drop 15+ urbanity on each of Commander Yao, Lord Yingting and Yuan Shao, asking each of them to deal with coordinating with the others.
Commander Yao's XO comes in with a report that there have been some bandit attacks north of the city.
- "Bandit attacks?" -Commander Yao
- "That's what they said, sir." -XO
Commander Yao gives her some directions on who to send to deal with it, and she makes it so.
Merit finally does talk to Kinoze at Captain Shan's repeated request. Kinoze is a bit suspicious - why has Merit called him and all these other people here today? And why is Merit messing with his ritual? Is he trying to bring the whole thing down? Merit says that he is worried that the whole town will fall apart when Kinoze's scheme crumbles, as they always seem to. Kinoze points out that his schemes mostly only fall apart when Master Deng stabs him in the head. Perhaps Merit can talk to him and get him to lay off? That would no doubt be good for everyone as far as the Gate of Shen is concerned. Merit accepts that, somewhat dubiously.
- Ando and Fu Li mutually destroy each others' urbanity.
- Takanata drops some coordination urbanity on Yuan Shao, and remarks to Mulan that he hasn't seen her since before his trip to the Hidden City. Her eyes light up, as when he told her I Ching, he told her not to go until after the party had gone.
- Merit asks Kinoze to get him the bluesheet on the Game of Houses in the Arcade.
- Commander Yao requests that Wei Han please stop coming into the command tent at all hours without going through his underlings. There is a procedure. His XO keeps a straight face.
- On the Wei Han etiquette bandwagon, Cai Wen requests that Wei Han please never again call him Sir in that tone of voice that says "you're an idiot".
- Grasshopper, taking advantage of Kinoze standing RIGHT THERE, notes sadly that there is a very wise and well-respected member of their company, who has sadly been afflicted by cursed silk, and might Kinoze have any advice at all? Kinoze looks a little sheepish. He feels kind of bad about that, it was supposed to be for Mister Head-Stabby. After all, that artist was shopping around for silk to make enchanted armor for the greatest swordsman on the Isle of Beauty, it seemed like a great opportunity. So what's with Mister Head-Stabby not being the greatest swordsman any more? Anyway, he doesn't have the silk-cursing shticks swapped in right now, but he can meet Grasshopper later at the art festival. On the other hand, he's still kind of concerned about, well, head-stabbing. Grasshopper offers to protect Kinoze while he's helping uncurse Yoshi, and Kinoze says, “it's a deal.”
- Various people drop urbanity on the three military people. Wei Han spends the required fifteen on Commander Yao, who remarks that he has been trying to make overtures to the Steppes, but the Minister of Levies keeps sending her husband, which is no use at all.
People note that the XO is keeping Mulan from "bothering" Commander Yao with something, it isn't clear what.
- Kinoze offers to support the Gao sisters in having two votes on the town council if they'll support him to be on the council.
- The various cavalry people get whisked together into a corner. Zhao Wu asks for principal purchase rights from Shen-Ji's horse farm in the Savanna, Tsu Lin-San gets a lot of pointers from Zhao Wu about cavalry, and Shen-Ji gets access to stud rights from Zhao Wu's herds.
- Takanata requests an opportunity to speak with Commander Yao at a later date about the misalignment of the Chi that is causing problems for the Northern defenses.
- Cai Wen laments to Lord Yingting that there may have been crossed purposes in the selection of Commander Yao, that resulted in Arcade units being pulled south - might he help with that?
- Captain Shan asks Merit to support Kinoze for the town council, but Merit declines.
- Kinoze notes to Merit that when his more insane friends aren't around, he thinks they can work together, as they both want the town to prosper. He drops fourteen urbanity on asking Merit for his support, but Merit declines again, tanking both their Urbanity scores.
- "At least Grasshopper is reasonable." -Ezokin
- "That's the first time anyone has ever said that." -Grasshopper
Cai Wen, concerned about Merit's rapidly plummeting negative urbanity, asks the Pearl to assist him, and she rolls her eyes at Cai Wen, but then walks over and asks Merit for a tour of the town later, in a tone of voice that suggests that it would be a great personal favor. His urbanity problems vanish instantly.
Wei Han asks Mulan what she wanted to talk to Commander Yao about. She says she and her friends would like to be assigned somewhere with more action - right now they're guarding supply stores, rather than actually being posted on the Wall where the action is.
- Hana chats with Master Hirayasu. She has been tasked by the Great Phoenix Spirit to lay the Northern Undead to rest. This is very difficult, because learning such abilities is difficult, and she would really love if someone could assist in her quest. She only has three urbanity to spend on it, though, so he suggests that she come and talk to him during puttering.
- Takanata notes to Commander Yao that this young soldier (Mulan) was resolute under his predecessor in calling the bandits undead; she was called to the Hidden City at one point to address this issue and it would make Takanata most happy if that entire incident could be forgotten. He spends 25 urbanity on it, and hopes that may take the whole Inspector Fu affair off the list of active cases.
Shen-Ji ostentatiously flips a tael up and down in the doorway, taunting Ezokin as he's trying to leave, and manages to lure him back for a conversation. Shen-Ji notes that he doesn't believe that they have met, and Ezokin notes that Shen-Ji has something of his. Shen-Ji asks what he's offered for it, and Ezokin offers him 50 li. Shen-Ji declines - he's having too much fun with the weird moneymancy powers.
- Grasshopper asks Shen-Ji to not make Ezokin mad at them before he helps with their mutual friend.
At this point, all three military people have had sufficient urbanity piled on them that they head off to conference about coordination. In total urbanity, Commander Yao has 60, Yingting has 56, and Yue Peng has 35, so the Dragon Army HQ will be the official joint command location for the Northeast.
Wei Han suggests to the XO that she bring Mulan north to go deal with the bandits, but she says it's already being dealt with. Wei Han suggests that it would be good it Commander Yao went off to fight them in person, so that everyone can see that he thinks actual undead are undead. Unfortunately, Commander Yao has left for the coordination meeting, and nobody previously thought to ask that of him as a favor. Wei Han tries to convince the XO to put it on his agenda for later through sheer willpower, but the XO is really good at keeping unplanned stuff off her commander's agenda, so that doesn't go anywhere.
As the party breaks up, Cai Wen bows in gratitude as the Pearl heads to Li Merit to ask him for the "tour" - she smiles at Cai Wen as if to say she's taking one for the team. Merit tries to backpedal - she doesn't have to go with him, she can go back to her date. She looks hurt - he promised her a tour! - and Merit feels quite the cad.
- "In the secret gambling halls of the Strand there are these high society parties where people bet shticks and eps and even more valuable things, and one of the most prized winnings at these affairs is a night with the Pearl of the Taiga - and you find out why." -Mike to Merit
Kinoze heads out, noting that he'll see them all in the Harbor in a few days.
- "We let him leave. We don't have crazy chop-him-in-the-head guy." -Takanata
Shen-Ji, flush with a buffed "create coinage" shtick, finds a smith who will sell him some low-end (10 resistance) Great Armor. He gets measured for the armor and pays in advance, but it will have to be picked up later.
Hana goes back to Shuyan's field, but doesn't think it's haunted at all without the diary. She goes to talk to Lord Shan about Shan Jianjun - it turns out that the boy was Lord Shan's son. Lord Shan says that he had some troubles in his youth, which made him a hard man, but he was loyal and honorable. Hana asks for more details - Jianjun foolishly fell in love with a local girl named Meifeng, who wrapped him around her finger and then left him and broke his heart.
- "She left him standing there alone in a field, and he went dark and hard. He was a good man, but he had no joy after that." -Lord Shan
Merit thinks the family that had his house before he bought it was named Guanli, so that would be Guanli Meifeng, then. Hana goes to try to find any particularly old grandfathers in the town who can be asked about old stories - she doesn't get many details about Guanli Meifeng (that was almost two hundred years ago), but she does hear that the Guanli family mostly died out after the Shan/Guanli feud, that came about because of some sort of marriage slight.
There's a town council meeting where Captain Shan proposes putting Kinoze on the council, but Merit vetoes it.
Shuyan ponders whether to try to get possessed, and finally decides to go for it.
- "I'm stupid, and I have stealth." -Shuyan
Hana has been keeping a close eye on her, but she manages to sneak out from the bathroom and head to the field. When Hana catches up to her ten minutes later, she's asleep in the field, having a dream about her true love. Hana, suspicious, tries to communicate with the book, but it's not a ghost. Hmm. Maybe Shuyan is possessed? She wakes and says she feels fine. Hana suggests talking to Master Hirayasu, but Shuyan really would rather not.
Hana drags Shuyan back to town, and finds Merit and Master Hirayasu. She explains that her friend may be having a ghost problem - the ghost may have possessed her rather than moving on.
- "I laugh." -Merit
- "I scowl as if to say 'I didn't have to bring her here, I'm doing this for you.'" -Hana
Master Hirayasu puts his hand on Shuyan's head, then pulls it back. He thinks that's definitely a problem and needs to be dealt with. Shuyan thinks that going to a temple is a bad idea (and there isn't one in the Gate of Shen, anyway) and that going to the meadow should sort things out. Master Hirayasu, Merit, Hana, and Shuyan all head to the meadow, and Merit sends his thugs to tell everyone else they've gone there. The thugs do their best.
- "He said they'd gone to the meadow." -Thug
- "... Which meadow?"
- "He didn't tell us."
Takanata auspiciously chances upon the meadow, but everyone else is at a loss and goes back to Merit's house.
Master Hirayasu says that Shuyan needs an exorcism, and suggests that the others restrain Shuyan. Shuyan starts running. Nobody in the meadow thinks of themselves as a chaser or grabber of people, so she runs off.
- "Huh." -Merit
Takanata starts trying to memorize her I Ching as she runs, but he doesn't beat her Tao. However, Shuyan doesn't really have anywhere in the Gate of Shen to go, so she heads back to Merit's house too.
Wei Han asks to read the diary, as a stalling tactic - it's the most boring thing he's ever read, there's no real informational content at all.
Merit and Takanata and Master Hirayatsu catch back up at Merit's house; Hana stays behind in the meadow. Merit says they should do the exorcism anyway, but Shuyan protests.
- "No no no! It's wrong, and stupid!" -Shuyan
- "Those are really poor arguments. I thought I taught you better than that." -Merit
Cai Wen chats with Shuyan, trying to analyze her psychologically. He doesn't think it's not Shuyan, or that her personality is very different, but she is protective of the diary.
Shuyan thinks that if it were a story, the way to resolve it would be for the boy to be there when the girl went looking. Well, that's a possibility, but there isn't another ghost, is there? Takanata asks Master Hirayasu if Shuyan's idea makes any sense. He grudgingly admits that yes, one of the ways to deal expediently with ghosts is to let them fulfill their desires. But their desires are not always beneficial, so his sect does not really approve of the expedient method. However, he's willing to allow them to pursue the foolishness if they must.
The group starts heading back to the meadow yet again, and Grasshopper runs ahead to ask Hana for help - he needs to disguise himself as the boyfriend. Hana notes that Grasshopper has no talent for acting, and isn't very good at disguise, so Hana decides to swap in instead.
- "I expect this won't work, but I know what his father looks like. Huh, you know what might be cleverer? No, but it's a bad idea." -Hana, talking to herself
Hana disguises herself as someone who vaguely looks like Lord Shan but is young, and Grasshopper hides. So when the party arrives in the meadow, there's... someone they don't recognize there.
- "Meifeng! There you are, at least!" -Hana
- "Um... who are you?" -Shuyan
Whatever was expected to happen doesn't seem to have, leaving everyone very confused. Wei Han gives Shuyan the diary back, but something still seems to be missing. Cai Wen remarks that if only Hiro were here, and Squeaky squeaks a bit. Hana doesn't see why that should help, but Cai Wen persuades her to switch to Hiro just in case. As Hana goes off to swap, Merit gets Shuyan to tell the details of the last chapter over and over. She does that - he thinks she's filling in details that aren't in the book, but it isn't clear whether she's making them up or remembering them or what.
Takanta reads Shuyan's I Ching, easier this time since she's not fleeing, and thinks that she definitely has an extra love plot that she didn't use to, but something is still missing. However, he's also worried that if she gets more strongly possessed, it could get her killed instead of just running off with her true love (not that that's really something the party wants to let Shuyan do either). He considers the crossroads - will they (not counting Shuyan) be happier with the resolution if they just have her exorcised, or if they find the missing bit? Probably the latter, he decides.
Merit goes back to Captain Shan's, to ask if he can borrow any heirloom belonging to Shan Jianjun, and returns with a jewel-hilted dagger. It was apparently presented by the King himself, in the days when they had Kings, on the battlefield. Merit had hoped for an heirloom of his courting days, but apparently Jianjun wasn't much the courting type. He gives the dagger to Hiro.
- "A dagger. Awesome." -Shuyan
Shuyan goes halfway back to town, to return to the meadow; as she's returning, Hiro falls over. Shuyan enters, and panics - oh no, what has happened to him? Takanata watches the whole thing like it's a theater performance, while Merit leaps in.
- "I think I'm going to ruin it now, because I don't want her to think he's dead and kill herself. 'Let me help! I'm a doctor!'" -Merit
Between Shuyan and Merit, they wake up Hiro, who seems to have fainted. Shuyan recognizes her true love, and there is a passionate kiss, and both Shuyan and Hiro come to their senses mid-embrace.
- "Well, that's embarrassing." -Hiro
Master Hirayasu says that Shuyan is fine, and Hiro is... no worse than he normally is.
It has gotten late, so the party heads quickly to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival (remembering to go with Liu Sun). The artists on display include:
- Zi Kone, an avant-garde artist, who angsts and paces before putting a single bold mark on the canvas and calling it done, and then retiring in emotional exhaustion. Takanata thinks that might be decent performance art... and Merit recruits one of his sycophants.
- Chen Hsin, who paints dogs playing mah-jong.
- Ren Nitu, who draws landscapes in four quadrants, each in a different single color.
- Lady Dark Eyes, who paints erotica and nudes. Takanata pronounces them technically skilled, but nobody is buying them for their artistic merit.
- Lord Wen Xu, the younger brother of the Regent from the Arcade. These are also landscapes in the classic mode, but with no particular style.
- Anto continues to hang out with the Steadfast Heart monks, patrolling the north.
- Grasshopper, Xiao Fa, and Takanata go to find Ezokin at the arts festival.
- Min Feng and Cai Wen go to negotiate for Wei Han's armor back from Thin Wu.
- Min Feng copies the House Sung documents, and Takanata drops them off, with a tael, with an account at the House of Judicious Increase.