Travelling with the Butterfly Prince: Part II
|"Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep."|| The run begins on the day of the Late Butterfly in the month of the Magpie in the third Year of the Spider since the burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place in the Forest of Chin, heading vaguely towards the Butterfly Kingdom from the City of Spires.
As people finish up their puttering in the City of Spires, Ti Jun (who is still in disguise as Hiro) suggests that people get ready to move out, unless there is any business left to attend to in the city.
- "I've puttered the daylights out of this city." -Cai Wen
The Prince is amenable to letting the party pick a new destination; Hana and Hiro suggest stopping by their family estates in the Forest of Chin, so the group sets out northwards.
Takanata scribbles a brief poem: "Hide Outside." Hmm. Does that mean something he should do, or something that will happen? Possibly both. As the group heads through the forest northwards, several people begin to get the impression that they are being watched.
- "Is it Yoshi?" -Takanata
- "I wouldn't expect him to be doing it sneakily..." -Hana
Cai Wen shouts "hello!" to the unseen observer, and invites them for tea, but no one makes themselves known. Hana makes tea, just in case, while Hiro wanders off alone, on the theory that if the stealthy person plans to kidnap someone, it's best to trigger that early and then Hana can see through his eyes to tell what's going on. After some time during which no kidnapping happens, Hiro makes some tengu noises, and produces a reaction.
- "Who's that?" -Mysterious voice in the tree
- "It's you!" -Hiro
- "I didn't take them this time!"
- "But who did?"
Hiro invites Tek-Tek (for it is he) to have tea.
- "My sister's making it."
- "How does she feel about elephants?"
Tek-Tek and Hiro head back to the rest of the group, but things do not seem to become clearer, at least not immediately.
- "Well, I appear to be captured. You can interrogate me all you like, but I didn't take them." -Tek-Tek
- "What didn't you take?" -Zhi-Hao
- "What are you missing?"
As the confusing conversation continues, Tek-Tek notes that they seem to be in a lot of danger. He nonchalantly pulls a short thread from his pocket and... ties up Ti Jun with it, announcing that he has caught the infiltrator! This sets off the Prince's men, who attack Tek-Tek. Tek-Tek protests that he already surrendered - they have to protect him! Shuyan, realizing (well, Tek-Tek is very persuasive) that this is true, throws a distracting snake at one of the prince's men (which turns into a 60-foot python), and things look like they're about to be bloody. However, Hana convinces Tek-Tek to let the prince go, and Ti Jun shouts at his men to stop as they chop Shuyan. Hiro explains that the prince is just disguised as Hiro, but they know who he is.
Once things seem calm again, Hiro serves more tea and cookies - but he doesn't give any cookies to the guards, who he is cross at. Cai Wen and Hana surreptitiously sneak cookies to the guards, as their actions don't seem to have been too unreasonable. Tek-Tek complains that he was just sitting in a tree when the party started stalking him. He tried to evade them, but then Hiro lured him into a fiendish trap! It takes a little while to sort out the different parts of the complaint, but it does sound like Tek-Tek also thought he was being watched, and then Hiro did imitate another tengu.
- "Okay, that could have been a trap. Our apologies." -Takanata
Everyone goes back to the tea, looking around again for whoever is watching them. Tek-Tek suggests that Zhi-Hao climb a nearby tree to look around. When he does so, the tree turns out to be very tall - he can see the fighting in the Tanzhe heating up, fighting in New Rivers, boats crossing the Jasmine... but none of the armies seem to be watching Zhi-Hao in particular.
Hana points out that Cai Wen owes her an apology, as there does seem to be conflict brewing between the Taiga and the Savanna. Shen-Ji is confused - did Cai Wen start the war? No, no, he just didn't believe Hana's rumors about the war.
- "Don't cast aspersions on other people's rumors!" -Tek-Tek
Takanata suspects, due to his poem, that hiding is the solution to figuring out what's going on, so Hiro and Tek-Tek wander a ways away and hide at the top of a (very short) tree, with Tek-Tek hiding in Hiro's pocket. As it turns out, Hiro isn't very good at hiding, so they switch again, with Hiro in Tek-Tek's pocket instead. That works a little bit better, and a "giant" monkey emerges from the forest to look for them. After a little searching, the monkey spots Tek-Tek, and then vanishes into hiding again.
Takanata starts drawing a circle of monkeys on a tree, and Shen-Ji declares that he is bored - they should just let the monkey ambush them, and fight it! Unfortunately, the monkey does not seem inclined to ambush them, and the only thing that leaps out of the forest is Yoshi, running late again.
- "Cousin Yoshi, did you know you sound just like a giant monkey when you walk?" -Hiro
- "I get that all the time." -Yoshi
Takanata suggests that Hana hides inside a tree, where the monkey won't be able to find her. Sure enough, when she does so, it comes out to look for her, circling around and around the tree. Yoshi starts feeding it pieces of fruit, which it takes, but it's still more interested in finding Hana than anything else. Takanata, still stage-directing, suggests that Shuyan go and "find" Hana now.
- "Make a roll with animal handling and stealth." -Mike
- "I don't have stealth." -Adina
- "What sort of Serpent doesn't have stealth?" -Charles
- "The sort of serpent with a lot of "Look at me!"
Shuyan goes up to the tree, and knocks on the bark. Hana steps out, "found". The monkey happily leaps into Shuyan's arms. Success!
As the group continues through the forest, they see up ahead what appears to be a somewhat tense meeting between two groups (Red and Black counters) on opposite sides of the trail. Takanata's quick poem ("Tong throng") suggests that the two groups may be up to no good. However, before anyone can decide what to do to start with, some of the people on one side recognize Zhi-Hao, and shout "Treachery!"
- "As long as I go in 1, I might as well run up and try to convince them that it's a misunderstanding." -Yoshi
Yoshi puts his hand on Zhi-Hao's katana, trying to convince the people objecting that it's all a misunderstanding and that they're not on anyone's side. Sadly, the Red leader is pretty sure Zhi-Hao is against his side, and shouts out "It's Master Deng! Get him!" Red team appears to be people from the League of the Hidden Hand.
Chaos erupts. Hana starts making the area spooky, and sending whispers into people's ears saying "The forest is coming for you! Run!". Zhi-Hao lays into the "get him!" side, chopping Red-team people left and right. When he takes down the Red leader, the remaining red lieutenants decry the treachery of the Black team assassins, and go after the Black leader; much of the rest of Red converges on Zhi-Hao and Yoshi, who riposte wildly.
Cai Wen attempts to confuse and distract the enemy - they want to know who paid him. He claims that they weren't paid, and as travellers here, they have no part of the fight. Well, that doesn't seem true, given the number of people Zhi-Hao has already killed. Once most of Red is down, either dead or prisoners, Zhi-Hao searches the bodies. He finds a note written by "The Hand" saying that "what these messengers agree to is agreed to by me", and a map of the Forest of Chin, divided up. He also finds an uninteresting number of zhu.
It seems a toss-up - fight the other group, or drop it? The other group seems to be from another Tong, but Shen-Ji can't remember the name - the Mean Circle? Circle of Death? Something like that. Yoshi tries to figure out why they do what they do - they were here to negotiate a peace, but wiping out the opposition is good too.
- "Once the Hand sees the ease with which we eliminated his delegation, he will concede!"
Hiro decides that the best thing for him to do is bring some criminal prisoners when he shows up at home, to impress his father that he's doing Sensible Leaderly Things. And, in that case, it would be best to have prisoners from both sides of the conflict. Thus, the combat starts up again. The surviving Black lieutenant calls out to Yoshi for help, as he seemed to be about the not-fighting originally - if Yoshi will stop the fight and let them go, they will tell him where the stash of the Hand is. They give Yoshi an action, but he refuses to be swayed by bribery. He promises to treat them fairly if they surrender (though by the law of the land, that's probably "be hanged").
The other tong members try to flee, declaring that Zhi-Hao has now made an enemy of the Circle of Spite. One manages to escape, but Hiro grapples one and the other is knocked out. However, now that they've been captured, they seem less willing to confess where the stash of the Hand is. Yoshi says there will be no torturing, but "tell us and we won't let you go" is less of a good deal for them. Yoshi tries to find out why they're bandits - the prisoner protests that he is not a "bandit" or a thug: he is a member of a brotherhood that prizes loyalty above all else. He offers to tell them where the stash is if they let him live. No deal, everyone says. Zhi-Hao suggests that if he tells them where the stash is, it will thwart the Hand, his enemy - that, with some persuasion, proves a more convincing line of argument, and he tells them the location, a few days' travel to the northeast.
As the group reaches the Teng lands, Tek-Tek takes his leave, and notes that if Hiro wants to find him again - just call Pir-Pir.
Yoshi remembers that he has another companion - a young woman named Feather who used to be a less-than-legitimate courier in the northern Taiga. He asks her about the two tongs - she says the Hidden Hand are based principally in the northern Arcade, and deal in opium; the Circle of Spite is based in the southern Arcade and concerns itself more with urban crimes and extortion. The two clash in the middle.
The party continues on, with prisoners, until they turn off the traveling road and are met at the borders of the Teng lands by several house soldiers. They are confused by the presence of two Hiros, until Ti Jun finally gets rid of his disguise; Yoshi they recognize as well. A messenger is sent to run ahead to the keep, and by the time the party arrives, Lord and Lady Teng have made their Emergency Event Planning roll and preparations for a feast for the prince are underway.
Before the feast, the Tengs chat with their children, the Butterfly Prince, and everyone else who troops along. They ask if His Highness is planning to visit High Warlord Ze? Alas, no (it would be too far out of the way), and while he is happy to discuss matters of mutual interest with them now, he's only here to escort the Teng Heir and his sister. The Tengs offer him (and everyone else) the hospitality of the keep, and there are Baths to be had.
Hiro remembers the prisoners before everyone vanishes into bathtubs, and mentions the tong battle and the prisoners. Lord Teng is pleased that Hiro is taking initiative like this, and says that it would be appropriate to place him in charge of the household guard now, to deal with patrols in the area over the next couple of months, to eliminate any further problems. Hiro leaps in - no, he won't be staying. Lord Teng is not entirely pleased by this, but Hiro has a clever ruse - Hana has been getting along so well with Ti Jun, that it seemed a shame to separate them now, and of course Hiro has to escort her.
- "So, you just throw Hana to the wolves?" -Mike
- "Sure, yeah." -Marleigh
- "You see how far I had deviated from my training, that [marrying the Prince] hadn't even occurred to me." -Andrea
This idea is something of a surprise to Lord Teng, but he is again impressed at Hiro's initiative in looking after the welfare of his sister. He says that Lady Teng and a small delegation will head to the Butterfly Kingdom soon to discuss these matters, then. Lady Teng takes the opportunity to summon Hana for a serious and immediate wardrobe upgrade.
Hiro also attempts to brief his father on the various Evil Plots afoot. He's already heard Yoshi's report about the Southerners (and he's very concerned about that); the story of the Evil Conspiracy to Change the Country Names is new to him, and he finds it both implausible and a really bad idea to talk about. He attempts to convey to Hiro that you really can't go around saying that the Obsidian Warlord is a bad guy. Or that the Spider is a bad guy. Sure, there are probably people working together to increase their own power, and it's probably even the case that those touched by the Spider are particularly likely to do so - but that's how things are, that's not a Terrible Secret Conspiracy that Has to be Stopped. In particular, he thinks it's not Hiro's plot, and that it's crazily dangerous for Hiro to crusade against people like the Obsidian Warlord. Yoshi does his best to convince Lord Teng (with 8 successes), but he's not very much of a convert.
After the parental conversations, Hiro pulls Hana aside to see how the idea of a romance with Ti Jun is being received.
- "I have no reason to believe His Highness is interested in me." -Hana
- "That isn't the question I asked." -Hiro
Meanwhile, as yet unaware of his impending romance, Ti Jun wanders around the keep talking to people. Those with the skill themselves recognize Gather Information being rolled. Hana intercepts the prince, to show him around in a more hostessly (though non-seductive) manner, and Ti Jun takes the opportunity to ask about the whole Being Kidnapped thing. Having heard more about that, he is curious to see the Shadow of the Wall where the first ritual took place. However, he is willing to be persuaded that it is a better idea to go and loot the stash of the Hidden Hand first.
Loot of the Hand
Much to everyone's disappointment, the stash of the Hidden Hand turns out to be opium, rather than money, and it is quickly burnt (and people stay out of the smoke). Shen-Ji and the others look around for another water-pool teleport, but don't find one. However, Shen-Ji does notice some sort of Seeking clairvoyance, observing what they're doing. While people are searching, a crumpled piece of paper falls out of the prince's pocket, and Takanata pockets it.
Grumpy over the non-profitable diversion, the party heads back south again.
As the party heads south, Takanata writes another mini-poem: "*Other* Brother". Interesting. Does anyone else have any mysteriously missing siblings, or evil twins? Nobody admits to having any. Then, up ahead, there's the sounds of fighting. It appears to be a group of armed men fighting against a rich-looking guy and an armed woman. Cai Wen thinks the woman looks kind of familiar. Yoshi checks why the group is doing this - he thinks it is a mission, rather than a robbery - for the honor of their nation.
- "What's going on here?" -Yoshi
- "This does not concern you, pilgrim. Move on."
- "Six on two doesn't seem like a fair fight. (Then, I look over my shoulder at my entourage.)"
- "Entourage?" -Everyone else
Zhi-Hao tries to get answers as well, giving one of the fighters an action. The attackers continue to claim that this is none of their concern, and that they should move on or be hurt. The merchant shouts for help, claiming that they have just been attacked.
As far as anyone can tell from here, no one is wearing any sort of livery or identifying banners or sigils. Yoshi keeps trying to talk the attackers down, but includes some chopping as well. The merchant offers to pay anyone who helps save him from these fiends. Shen-Ji makes the brigand leader's sword too heavy to hold. Yoshi and Zhi-Hao continue to chop the brigands, and draw some attacks of their own. Hiro wonders how good a case to make that these are his lands (it's not true, but they're close enough for it to be a plausible thing to say anyway).
Hana calls out to the merchant, trying to get the other side of the story.
- "So what about you? Would you like to convince us why you're the good guys?" -Hana
Eventually, the brigands are forced into revealing themselves - for the Savanna! - in order to unleash more of their shticks in the hopes of winning this combat. The merchant shouts that they're invaders. Shen-Ji thinks that they're from the Sonwu (royal) clan, and they really shouldn't be here on their own. He reveals himself as a member of the Swift Tiger warband, and demands that they stop. Being a member of another clan's warband doesn't really authorize him to give them orders, but it does cause some confusion, both with the brigands and with the party.
- "Fool! Why is your clan getting involved in this? Tell our clan we did our duty!" -Sonwu leader
Seeing that the battle has turned against them for good and not wishing to give the enemy any prisoners, four of the Sonwu fighters quaff poison from their belts; the last two attack, taking down the bodyguard in a final effort to complete their mission. Zhi-Hao manages to smash one of the two remaining poison flasks, and Yoshi smashes the other, so these two have no choice now. Hana whispers dread whispers of the Wrath of the Forest into the ears of those two fighters. Seeing no escape, they try to stab themselves, but aren't wounded enough to kill themselves quickly. Instead, they finally manage to finish taking down the merchant, who was closer to falling then everyone realized. Then they fall beneath the party's assault.
In the end, everyone is down except the party, and Shuyan and Hana start doing first aid on people. Takanata notes that the merchant, by his dress and status, is some sort of important personage from the House of Judicious Increase - this could be a plan to draw the Arcade into the war against the Forest of Chin. This guy does seem important enough that his death, if played correctly, could be used to do something like that.
The merchant's condition is stabilized, though he is still down. The bodyguard is also stabilized, and everyone but Shen-Ji thinks she looks quite a lot like him. Takanata notes that her sword is that of a blademaster - not a magical weapon, but it indicates that the wielder has at least ten levels of sword skill. Zhi-Hao wonders whether he can yoink it as loot. However, the clansmen seem to be the bad guys here, so their swords are looted, but the bodyguard and the merchant are left be.
The fallen people are separated, and awoken separately. The bodyguard is awoken first, and questioned. Who are they? She claims she and her charge are travelers - she is Yang Tsi-Ya, hired to accompany this gentleman as he travels through the forest. She doesn't know why they were attacked - this was a secret trip, and no one should have known that they were here at all. She works for the House of Gainful Protection; her charge is from the House of Judicious Increase, which hired her.
Hiro goes off to summon some Teng house guards, and Yoshi manages to awaken the merchant (since his magical healing stacks with Shuyan's).
Shen-Ji tries to talk to the bodyguard alone - she glowers at him and says that his traitorous countrymen will suffer for what they have done. He wonders where she was originally from - the Butterfly Kingdom.
- "Were you born there?" -Shen-Ji
- "Well, so I was told." -Tsi-Ya
She says she was orphaned very young, but was raised by the Butterfly Court's old swordsmaster - the one who retired to the Hon'eth Arcade leaving a space for Zhi-Hao to take over. Neither she nor Shen-Ji sees any resemblance to the other, but everyone else thinks it's pretty clear.
Others interrogate the merchant - he says he was traveling through the Forest of Chin to the City of Spires on house business. Yoshi tries to cajole out of him why the Savanna would have it in for him in particular, but he doesn't want to discuss internal house affairs. However, he does offer them a reward for saving him - money, or a favor from the House of Judicious Increase. They take the favor. The merchant is trying to avoid giving his name, though when Cai Wen thinks about it with KS: Hon'eth Arcade, he figures out who he is likely to be, a high confidant of the head of the house.
Hiro returns with reinforcements, and an offer of hospitality from the Teng keep. The question is - what to do with the prisoners? If this is an attempt to stir up trouble between the Forest and the Arcade, then making the whole thing public might stir up trouble between the Savanna and the Arcade instead. Most people think that keeping the Arcade out of it is probably a better idea, but what will accomplish that? The political fallout will likely be worse for the Royal clan in particular - it probably isn't sufficient all by itself to start a new Savanna/Arcade war, but it's the sort of thing that could add up, if there were more incidents.
Shen-Ji talks to the Savanna soldiers, and tells them that they can only get out of this if they trust him. They say all they need from him is something to let them kill themselves, but he isn't willing to help with that. Then, the party has a Secret Meeting away from all the NPCs, and confers. Different people have different opinions, obviously:
- "This is dirty tricks against my country, and I don't like that." -Hana
- "In general, a banking house will try hard to be neutral, so this merchant will not necessarily push hard for war. But he does know what happened, if his hand is forced." -Takanata
- "I want less war in general, but people should take responsibility for their actions." -Zhi-Hao
- "Me too." -Yoshi
- "There were two paths in my I Ching reading for the Queen of the Strand. The path that led to strife was the one that did not lead to the return of the Dragon. Limiting strife is good." -Takanata
- "If this isn't exposed, will they try again?" -Cai Wen
- "Crack the whole plot open, and send the prisoners to my father. They might try it again!" -Hiro
- "Can we use this as leverage against the Royal clan in order to limit how much they try again?" -Shen-Ji
The idea of keeping the prisoners secret and using them as leverage is seized upon - Lord Teng will know about them, as will the banker, but they won't be made public unless further dirty tricks crop up.
Hiro writes a letter to his father explaining the plan; the guards head back to Teng Keep with the prisoners, as well as the banker and Yang Tsi-Ya. Then, everyone starts heading south again.
As the group travels, Hana increases her attentiveness to Ti Jun, though she takes care to stay on the polite and friendly side of the line. Takanata writes his next mini-poem: "Fated Hated." Ominous. As he ponders the meaning of this, he notices that on the Hunter's Map, the X for Cai Wen seems to be jumping around - at one moment close by Takanata, at the next moment farther away.
- "Do you also have a secret sister?" -Hana
Since they have a handy map to the X in question, the party heads in that direction. They get reasonably close before the other X starts running. In case the other X can detect Cai Wen (or the map), Hana and Cai Wen stop for tea, watching the map, while everyone else follows it (Hiro watching through Hana's eyes for directions). The chasing group chases down the fleeing guy in a forest clearing; he tries to convince them that he doesn't want any trouble, and they should stay back. Zhi-Hao claims that they just want to talk, but he is suspicious - why were they chasing him just to talk?
- "So, it's the weirdest thing - we have a map with an X on it, pointing to you, and we're trying to figure out why."
There is some back and forth argument; it's not clear whether "Why do you have a map pointing to me?" or "Why do we have a map pointing to you?" is a better question, but neither side seems to have an answer. However, the guy also seems a bit jittery - he doesn't want to give his name, and says he's just passing through, and isn't really supposed to be here. Since he only seems to have been running because he was being chased, Hana and Cai Wen start heading for the advance party.
Hiro claims that since they told him about the map, he has to tell them something. Like his name. He says they can call him "Broken Sword", and that he's from the Namgung clan in the Savanna. But he doesn't want to cause any trouble with the Forest of Chin. Yoshi notes that Broken Sword's general plan seems to be to rain terrible wrath and vengeance on someone not in the party.
Once Cai Wen and Hana show up, Takanata turns on his Eyes of the I Ching, and notes that Cai Wen's chi and Broken Sword's chi are fighting over the map somehow. Other than that, though, their chi is not very similar. Cai Wen's is very smooth and silky; Broken Sword is more jagged and impulsive. In the hopes of triggering something interesting, people introduce Cai Wen to Broken Sword. Sure enough, something is triggered...
- "Ah, you're from the Namgung clan? I don't suppose you were around for when Lucky Chang..." -Cai Wen
- "Lucky Chang?!? Argh!" -Broken Sword
Broken Sword throws a handful of shuriken at everyone, and flees. Since the party has proved that they can catch him once, it seems likely to be a quick fight, until Cai Wen shouts:
- "Don't be a fool, he's trying to kill me too!"
- "Wait, what?"
As he turns in confusion, the party surrounds him. Yoshi realizes that the Vast and Terrible Revenge is probably to be inflicted upon Lucky Chang - and maybe the map is a map of people who threaten Lucky Chang? The party demonstrates the map. Broken Sword finds this intriguing, and suggests that he and Cai Wen should team up to Get Lucky Chang. Takanata notes that Lucky Chang is probably a master gambler, so if Broken Sword is neither a ninja nor a gambler, he's going to have trouble. Hmm, this could be a problem.
Broken Sword says that Lucky Chang stole the Namgung clan's honor, and he has forsworn his name until he has killed Lucky Chang. A relative of his in a different clan consulted the auguries, and said that Lucky Chang's greatest weakness is in the Hidden City, so Broken Sword was going there. Cai Wen notes that the Hidden City is very dangerous - the person who made the map is there. Takanata notes that Lucky Chang was last seen at Iron Mountain, though that was in the company of a powerful martial artist ally, so that may also be a problem. Bah! Too many powerful allies! Cai Wen counsels patience.
Takanata, who still has the map, notes that as people keep convincing Broken Sword that he's doomed, his X-ness is starting to fade, and the map's X focuses more on Cai Wen. Hmm. Takanata explains that he was more of a danger to Lucky Chang before people started talking him out of it, so it does seem likely that he would have had some effect - what was his plan? Basically, find Lucky Chang's weakness, exploit it, and throw a lot of shuriken at him. Hmm. That doesn't seem like a very effective plan; it seems likely that the auguries weren't sufficiently clear as to whether or not he could take advantage of whatever this weakness was.
Takanata tasks Broken Sword with going and training with the three elemental masters (Masters Hwa, Fu, and Kangjon), and then consult the auguries on when an appropriate time to move would be. Broken Sword vows that if Cai Wen and Takanata swear to bring him along when they go to fight Lucky Chang, then he will go and train as Takanata suggests. As they swear, his X-ness strengthens again, but merges with Cai Wen's X, so now it's back to being one X where Cai Wen is.
Takanata's next mini-poem is "Girl Whirl", at which both Hiro and Cai Wen perk up their ears. Sure enough, there is soon a commotion up ahead, of many young women arguing with each other. As the party approaches, they can see a half-constructed structure - a wood frame, with scaffolding and rope and buckets and boards and the like - but it's no longer in progress, because the girls building it have stopped to argue. (There are seven of them, covering all ages from 12 to 18).
Hana tries to mingle with the group, spreading calm as best she can, but she finds that once she's blending in with them, she gets shouted at too, and finds herself tempted to shout and argue back. Hiro extracts the oldest of the girls, who introduces herself as Tsien So. Once she has Hiro's undivided attention, she seems very sweet and nice, and she says that she's sure everything will work out now that Hiro is here. She explains that they're building a barn, but that the others won't listen, and are being dreadfully exasperating. Hiro is somewhat dubious - do they actually know how to build a barn. She claims they do, though, and she at least seems to have more barn-building knowledge than Hiro does, which is none.
Shuyan tries to encourage the new monkey to go get involved, but it seems to think that this is too much pandemonium even for it, and hides. Hana tries to lead the other girls into agreement, but it appears that again just makes her a target for everyone else's arguing.
Finally, Takanata wanders into the middle and stands there, exuding silence and 14 status. Yoshi introduces him: Lord Tokai Takanata, a Judge in the Court of Distinction. They should be silent and present their claims, and Takanata-san will solve the problem. That, along with Yoshi hitting them with "be good!" seems to bring them to attention.
He asks what the difficulty is - they need to finish the construction. But why is that difficult? The answer seems to be "because everyone else won't pay attention", and that it is hard to keep things organized. Well, how do they normally solve that problem? Usually, someone else comes by and sorts it out. They smile charmingly. Hiro thinks that they need to come up with a plan, with a division of jobs that everyone can refer to. So suggests that Hiro make such a plan, but he doesn't know anything about carpentry, so he asks for her advice, and then declares that the plan is what she suggests. The other girls fidget grumpily in front of Takanata, who keeps shushing them, as Hiro proxies So's plan.
As it turns out, this is a fairly effective solution, and once the girls aren't arguing, the barn goes up in what appears to be record time, as they're all very competent, just highly prone to argue. Farmer Jiao (who the barn is being built for) pronounces it done, and pays the girls. They celebrate - one more dowry down, only five to go! Their father will be pleased.
- "I feel like they are tied to the monkeys - the seven daughters of the apocalypse."
In celebration of the barn being finished, there's a party that evening. Hana and Shuyan think it's dreadfully dull, as the girls mostly seem to argue with other girls, but everyone else enjoys themselves.
Then, it is off again on the road!
Big Boats, Little Boats
Takanata writes another mini-poem: "Sleight Fight", and as they finally make it to the Jasmine river, the party comes upon a pair of Dragon Army troop ships sailing upriver. There are some crowds gathered on the riverbank watching them pass. More disturbingly, there are a few hopboats approaching the troop convoy, apparently unnoticed. Shen-Ji mentions that he saw similar boats invading the Savanna recently. That group was defeated, but these do seem quite similar.
Hana whispers in the wind so that the boat officers can hear it: "Beware! Small boats are approaching!" Several people on the two troop ships start scanning the water, but for some reason, they don't seem to see the hopboats the party notices obviously paddling up to them. Yoshi asks Kibo to head into one of the troop ships and try to send someone a dream indicating the danger. He goes off to do this, but dreams do not turn out to be a high-speed sort of plan.
Cai Wen tries to warn a Dragon army soldier standing on the shore watching, but she too seems unable to see the hopboats.
Yoshi takes this opportunity to figure out why the hopboat pilots are doing what they are doing. They seem to be trying to make sure that the Dragon Army comes in on the correct side of the war, but further details are hard to see. Shuyan and other party members contemplate doing something obvious, like shooting arrows over the Dragon Army boats, stopping the threat, and then getting arrested, but no one seems willing to start the action.
No one, that is, except Shen-Ji, who rides his flying disk out past the Dragon Army ships, and then dive bombs into one of the hopboats, sinking it, and casting both Shen-Ji and the boat pilot into the river. The Dragon Army troops cry "man overboard!" and start attempting to rescue Shen-Ji. Sadly, he's wearing his heavy metal armor...
- "You've been drowning in armor once before, right?" -Mike
- "Yeah, I know how to do this." -Derrick
Hana keeps whispering to various Dragon Army types, but it becomes clear that they simply can't see their attackers.
While Shen-Ji tries hard to not drown, hold on to the boat pilot, and catch the rope from the Dragon Army, the other three hopboats manage to pull up alongside the troop ships undetected. They start attaching clay jugs to the side which Shen-Ji identifies as some sort of explosive. After several more attempts at drowning, Shen-Ji manages to drag the captured boat pilot up onto the Dragon Army ship. The troops can suddenly see him, now that he's unconscious. They take him into custody and attempt to take Shen-Ji into custody too, but he manages to get the Butterfly Prince to vouch for him from the shore.
Meanwhile, Yoshi has had enough of these shenanigans and calls upon his favor from Kawa Uso, the river otter spirit the party helped save on the Night of Gates. A wave suddenly washes along the the sides of the troop ship, capsizing the hopboats, sweeping their pilots away from the troop ships, and sweeping the explosives off the ships and underwater. Now that they are no longer screened by the Dragon Army troop ships, Hiro starts slaying the swimming invaders with a rain of arrows, and the three of them are soon drowned before they can cause any further trouble.
Shen-Ji manages to gather enough destroyed hopboat parts to make a fair hopboat repair kit, but there's no further evidence in the wreckage. Hana makes sure the soldiers understand that this almost unnoticed attack was perpetrated by people who were invisible to members of the Dragon Army, while Shen-Ji identifies rapidly fading magical sigils on the foreheads of the captured guy causing the effect.
The Dragon Army captain swears that he will get to the bottom of this, and the prisoner is taken below for later interrogation once they reach their headquarters in the City of Spires. The party thinks that there must have been some other part of the plan, as just making the troop ships burn and sink would not have framed anyone in particular, but if there were other confederates, they never showed themselves after their hopboat compatriots were dealt with.
Ti Jun declares that they are making remarkable time - everyone can rest for a few hours, before they set off on the road again.
- Ti Jun and Takanata send in reports on Wei Han to Commander Chang Hu.
- Hana vanishes.
- Shen-Ji visits the Myeong clan again.
- Master Zhou and Xiao Fa visit the dojo of Master Sheji.
- Zhi-Hao visits Captain Fa, the swordmaster on the Pearl River, and Eto the Wolf, his old swordsmaster.
- Cai Wen visits the dojo of Masters Fu/Hwa/Kangjon.
- Hiro goes back to the Golden Spire.
- Ti Jun and his guys, Wei Han, Hiro, Lijuan, Anto, Cai Wen, Yoshi, Min Feng, and a squad of Dragon Army borrowed by Wei Han, head to the Temple of the Eternal Dream.
- Takanata goes to visit the temple of his sister Kiyasa.