|"Think about the sun, Xian
Think about her golden glance
How she lights the world up
Well, now it's your chance."
| The run begins on the Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Serpent in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in a number of locations on the eastern seaboard of the Empire.
Sign and Uncountersign
The circus plans to make a final loop down the coast to the Illuminated Precincts, then across to the Shrouded Isle, then home to the Isle of Beauty. There is some brief confusion as to whether exactly the Shrouded Isle is nowadays, and Wei Han notes that the North Wall now extends to the north port in the Isle of Beauty.
A town crier wanders by, calling out the news that a local kindling warehouse has burned down. Min Feng and Shuyan think that's... some sort of code phrase, and Min Feng vaguely recalls it from a briefing once. She's... supposed to do something. Kuan-Xi, rolling for 9s with no spycraft, also thinks it's a code phrase.
So... should they go to the kindling warehouse and watch the fire? Xian protests - there's not an actual kindling warehouse. That makes no sense. Wei Han asks around on the street, and though everyone has heard about the kindling warehouse fire, nobody is really sure where it is or why there is a kindling warehouse. Well, Xian is probably right, then. It would be a weird contact protocol if you had to set a warehouse on fire each time.
Min Feng asks around about the Song of the Phoenix, and the only thing she can figure out is that the crier is probably relevant somehow. She decides to try the bold approach.
- "I forgot what I'm supposed to say back to you. Mistress Helena would chastise me." -Min Feng
- "I'm sure I wouldn't be involved with anything like that. I am just a lowly messenger."
The crier looks kind of nervous, especially after Kuan-Xi introduces herself as well. He really wasn't told what to do in this case. However, they persuade him into telling them that they're supposed to go to the Inn of the Burning Torch in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, and meet there at sunset. And not tell anyone that he told them that without the counterphrase.
The circus heads south, and about halfway to the Harbor, they see a little dust cloud off to the south, approaching quickly. Shuyan gets everyone to implement the Li Merit protocols of getting out of the way but having tea and performers ready. The courier has a Dragon Army flag and appears to be planning to ride past, but Wei Han gallops up alongside him to ask if they can help. He pulls up and asks for some water for his horse, and Shuyan brings him some tea. He frowns suspiciously, but drinks it. Wei Han asks the circus hands bringing water if the horse will be able to make it to the North Wall now - they think so, now that it's had some water.
- "What drives your haste?"
- "Important dispatches for the Capital."
- "Not the North Wall?"
- "No, just to the, what is that thing they call the city now?"
Wei Han thinks that, by regulations, he should already have switched horses. He could probably have commandeered a horse from the circus, except that the passing protocol involves getting most things off the highway. And he probably won't at this point, since they've been nice. But Wei Han offers to trade horses with him, asking that his horse be sent back to the circus, and volunteering to take the courier's horse to the Dragon army post in the Harbor.
The party clamors to know why the courier didn't switch horses at the last post. Is there something they should know about? The courier says that he didn't have time, as the horses at the last stable were ill. Xian says it is Very Unusual that all the horses would be sick at once - in an occurrence of such unusual import, is there anything else that they could possibly do? Could someone want to prevent his dispatch from going through? The courier doesn't think this is very likely - all loyal Empire citizens should want the army dispatches to go through, though who knows about people like Southron sorcerers. The party leaps on this - what about Southern sorcerers? What should they be wary of? What do they need to know? The courier assures them that the Southern Wall is unbreachable.
- "All the Southern sorcerers I've seen on this side of the wall are dead now, because I saw them die." -Xian
The party continues to offer any help they can think of. They're really good at dealing with Southern sorcerers. Well, if they really want to help, they could provide an escort to the Dragon's Throne. Oh, no, they don't want to help that much.
Off the courier goes.
When the circus reaches the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, the advance team comes out to meet them, to direct them to a field outside the city. There's some sort of political issue preventing them from using the Plaza of Deliberate Celebration, where the circus often sets up, but the field should be fine. People can stay with the circus, or rooms also have been acquired in several of the moderately good inns in the city. Kuan-Xi gets a suite in the best inn, with rooms for herself, Min Feng, and her new lady in waiting, and another room for Wei Han as her bodyguard.
- "Wait, you actually have a lady in waiting? I thought that was a euphemism." -Zhou
Shuyan, Master Zhou, and Xian stay in the circus tents. Shen-Ji goes to one of the inns, in case there's someone who wants to kidnap solo party members - he ends up staying at the Burning Torch.
Wei Han returns the courier's horse to the Dragon Army post. They're a bit suspicious at first - how did he end up with the horse? He is suspicious right back at them - why couldn't the courier get a fresh horse here? What's wrong with the horses? His single success of intimidation does not convince them to confess any horse-related shenanigans - apparently it was a minor supply hiccup. Wei Han takes Corporal Wang's name down, sure there is something up.
- "I heard you retired, anyway."
- "One never truly retires from the Dragon Army." -Wei Han
- "Man, I hope that's not true."
Circus act rehearsals are scheduled for tomorrow; performances will begin the next day.
Kuan-Xi, Min Feng, and Wei Han head to the Burning Torch, and Wei Han joins Shen-Ji at the bar. Kuan-Xi and Min Feng sit at a table that has three candles on it, and three women in hoods.
One of the women cheerily exclaims that it's excellent that they're here, but where is their third? Min Feng says they're just a dyad today, but they'll brief their third when she comes back. The second woman dramatically unhoods herself, and the third woman rolls her eyes a bit at all the dramatics.
They introduce themselves: Shidehara Setsuko (the cheerful one), Eto Tansho (the dramatic one), and Minoru Tama (the exasperated one).
- "How are things going?" -Setsuko
- "There has been some forward progress." -Kuan-Xi
- "We noticed! That was great!"
Setsuko starts the briefing. They have just come from... the place that they come from. They are the second (she whispers the next word) triad, to leave the island in many years. And they have a mission to give to the other triad.
- "Did this mission come with any artifacts?" -Min Feng
Tansho continues, flipping her hood back again.
- "We are here to provide you with some instruction, and set you on a path that will change the very fate of the Island. You may not realize it - few people do - but many years ago a terrible curse was laid upon the island that changed its very name..." -Tansho
- "We know all about that."
- "You're not supposed to know about that! How do you know about that?"
- "All the countries got renamed a while ago, we know about that."
- "One more just got renamed recently - that was you, right?"
Anyway. Leaving aside the question of who knows about what, Tansho has been devising a great working to rename the island. There's a plan for it and everything.
- "Can we just do the plan? Because then we could be done by tomorrow." -Tansho
- "You know they're not going to do the plan." -Setsuko
- "They would do the plan if they were loyal." -Tama
They squabble a bit, until Setsuko calms everyone down again.
Tansho explains her plan - it is a combination of Rebirth and Home, for the name "Phoenix Hearth", so it is about returning home and being reborn. So, for example, Suzuki Kuan-Xi would return home, penitent, and then in a ritual be raised up as Fire Lady...
- "Yeah, that's not going to happen." -Kuan-Xi
- "Do you have another plan?" -Min Feng
- "Always have another plan." -Tama
Meanwhile, Wei Han scans the room, and notes a guy drinking near the door, who seems to be keeping something of an eye on the table. Wei Han buys a bottle from the bar, and brings it over to the table, pouring a cup each and keeping both cups full. He tries to talk to the guy to be distracting, as well as find out what he's up to - about all he can find out is that he's there to talk to Wei Han.
Tansho says if they're unwilling to do the plan, then yes, there is a second plan: to find Kuan-Xi's aunt, who left the Shrouded Isle and never returned.
- "And throw her under the bus instead. Check."
Many years ago, Suzuki Tamiyo left the island and never returned. A homecoming and rebirth ritual could work for her, though Minoru Katsuo might be less interested in marrying her - they could probably work something out instead.
Kuan-Xi contemplates the missing aunt, with as much family history as she can remember - this might explain why her mother is always quite so annoyed at Kuan-Xi having run away. Her sister was supposed to become head of the house, but she decided to travel the world instead (or something like that), and no one has heard from her since. This all happened around the time Kuan-Xi was born, or when she was very very young, so she doesn't know all the details.
- "I have a lot of sympathy for her." -Min Feng
- "Especially when you find out she was eaten by an Ice Wyrm." -Xian
Tama says there is one detail that might prove useful - the night she left, she had a big argument with Kuan-Xi's mother. She said she would return, and then she walked to the end of the farthest dock. A ship sailed out of the fog, and she boarded - and then the ship silently sailed the way it came in, as if the wind did not blow the fog, but moved only the ship.
- "Where is your guard dog? Oh, drinking. Don't lose him." -Tama
- "Oh, be nice." -Setsuko
They'll be around for a while in case Min Feng or Kuan-Xi need anything - good luck! Two of the three swoop off mysteriously, while the third simply vanishes when no one is looking.
Min Feng wonders where Tai Lung is, but she already used that shtick.
- "Ah, with Li the Wanderer, then." -Master Zhou
Wei Han wanders around the soldier bars, listening for news. There are apparently a lot of opportunities for extra cash moonlighting for the House of Gainful Protection, which has some manpower issues. Alternately, the House of Benevolent Oversight has some money and supply issues, so they're always looking for things that fell off of wagons and can be had cheaply. Wei Han isn't really interested in either of these, though.
Shen-Ji drops by to visit his sister, and invites her to the next circus performance - he'll make sure there's a ticket for her at the front. Then he and Jia-Jia and Tsi-Ya go to dinner. Shen-Ji preens a bit about the name change from Hidden City to Dragon's Throne. Tsi-Ya has also been doing well - the House of Gainful Protection is passing out the promotions as part of their big recruitment drive. Business is up, but they're still making up from their previous losses. On the other hand, some houses have been having even greater misfortune, and the collapse of the art market has shaken things up, so perhaps it's time to progress to the next level.
Shuyan goes to check in with the House of Benevolent Oversight to let them know that the circus has arrived, to send a message to the King to invite him to a command performance, and to see if she can find out why it isn't possible to use the Plaza of Deliberate Celebration. The staff seem to think that it is slightly unfortunate that all the circus's permits are in order, so they can have the performance, but the Plaza is not available. A small bribe later, the letter will be delivered in a timely fashion.
Kiri arrives at the circus, looking for Ringmaster Zhu, and finds it quite unlikely that he isn't there, and is annoyed that he only sent his flunkies to find her. Min Feng says she's the one looking for Kiri, not Cai Wen. Kiri narrows her eyes - she has begun to notice that Cai Wen visits a lot of people all over, but never seems to remember to visit her. Min Feng and Kuan-Xi are very sympathetic, and assure Kiri that they will take Cai Wen to task for it.
At the moment, though, they're looking for someone who was on the Moon's First Daughter twenty years ago. Kiri boggles - she hasn't been on the ship for twenty years herself, so she certainly doesn't know. Kuan-Xi makes sad eyes - it's her aunt. Well... for family... she can try to set up a meeting with the captain, especially if there is some business they can do. Min Feng allows as they might need to arrange secret passage to the Shrouded Isle some time. But the ship won't be in port until the next fog comes in, and as it's late summer, there's not much fog.
While the circus performers rehearse, Kuan-Xi heads out to do some shopping, escorted by Wei Han. As she's looking through some stylish defensive trinkets, Wei Han leaps in the way of an incoming arrow, and a cloaked figure on a roof ducks back down again. Kuan-Xi seems perfectly happy to keep shopping, but Wei Han decides that shopping under fire is unacceptable, and escorts her back to the party. Min Feng, like Kuan-Xi, seems strangely unconcerned about a potential assassin (the assassin doesn't seem to have tried very hard), but heads out to see if the word on the street mentions any assassin contracts. She learns of a few places where one could hire such people, so they may be the likely suspects.
The arrow in Wei Han's shield has some sort of goop on it - poison? Or knockout drug? Perhaps it is the other triad trying to kidnap Kuan-Xi to do their first plan after all? Shuyan doesn't recognize the goop as poison, and Xian speculates that it's actually love potion, because that would be fun.
Min Feng and Master Zhou head to one of the potential thugs-for-hire places, and speak to a shopkeeper in a somewhat shady store. Maybe they could pay someone to not shoot at them? Maybe, but maybe not, it depends on who. She gives him a handful of li, and he examines the arrow, and concludes that the goop on it isn't poison. ("Smells like tea"). He says his guys would use something better than that, so it's probably not them. It doesn't smell like any sort of reputable tea, according to the tea experts, so Min Feng and Master Zhou acquire Shuyan and head for an herbalist. He identifies the mixture as having a lot of black orchid pollen - it's something that everyone is allergic to, like poison ivy. It could cause hives, or wheezing...
- "The plot grows... stranger." -Master Zhou
Black orchids are known to be grown in a few places such as the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation, and the Jade Garden, but mostly just by collectors who breed orchids. He can work on an antidote - they pay him 15 li and will be back to pick it up in the morning.
The party meets in the tea tent to discuss goings on so far. Then, there is a muffled scream from outside. Nearly everyone runs outside, except Xian, who proceeds a bit more cautiously.
- "Sauntering out would seem inappropriate - someone is screaming. I follow. Emotionally neutral "follow"." -Xian
One of the circus hands is on the ground, clutching his head, and a man with a club is ducking around another tent. As people (mostly) run in that direction, Wei Han spots two archers in trees loosing arrows. He jumps in front of the arrow aimed at Kuan-Xi, and Xian is hit, for eight points of damage. Kuan-Xi helps Xian back into the tea tent.
- "It does seem to be... a plot." -Zhou
Wei Han and Shen-Ji charge the archers, who rappel out of their trees and flee through the general crowd trying to blend in. Shen-Ji launches into the air on his metal disc, and shoots both of them with iron arrows as they get on their horses. Then he shoots them again, and they both fall over. The crowd screams and flees. One archer is dead; Wei Han manages to get several healing potions into one of them, who wakes briefly before dying.
- "He's our only lead!" -Wei Han
- "Only because you wouldn't let me buy necromancy!" -Shen-Ji
Wei Han gets one question, and asks who paid him. The archer replies "Bolo Feng, the Dark..." and dies.
The crowd continues to flee, screaming about the circus killing people. Master Zhou catches up to the other fighters, and he and Wei Han go through the pockets of the dead bodies (finding some vials), and then put them on their horses and bring them back to the tea tent. Xian's arm is starting to get puffy and red.
Min Feng thinks "Bolo Feng" is the competitor of the guy she spoke to, not his boss.
- "I do not believe that anyone in the history of the world has ever had such itchy eyes." -Xian
- "Probably not." -Shuyan
- "We could put you in the hoop." -Shen-Ji
The guy who was hit with a club comes into the tea tent, looking unhappy.
- "Walk it off." -Master Zhou
He leaves again, but Kuan-Xi chases after him and patches him up with some first aid.
Another circus hand pokes his head in, to say that one, they asked a local weather sage and there should be clear sky for weeks, and two, there are a bunch of city guards outside demanding to speak to the Ringmaster.
The city guards come in, and there is a great clamor of explaining what happened. The crowd of bystanders are obviously all unreliable witnesses, being civilians; the small gash on Xian's arm indicates the diabolical assassin nature of the archers; there was also a second assassination attempt earlier in the day, though there was no injury and no one reported it to the guard; and the hundred points of damage done to the men as they were trying to flee was entirely in self-defense to protect Kuan-Xi.
The guards are not entirely convinced, and want to bring everyone involved (Shen-Ji, Wei Han, Xian, and Kuan-Xi) to come down to the station, and for Xian to be examined by a doctor. Kuan-Xi throws in a bunch of status and persuasion, so they finally agree to take just Shen-Ji and Xian, and the circus guy who got hit on the head, for questioning.
When the doctor examines Xian, he pronounces her to be suffering principally from hay fever, and that the scratch on her arm is in no way life-threatening. Xian points out the confiscated vial of black orchid pollen, which proves quite allergenic to the doctor as well.
- "So... now that I've given someone the sneezles, are you going to kill me for it?" -City guard
In any event, Xian is free to go, but they're keeping Shen-Ji until morning, and then the magistrate will decide what to do with him. Xian protests! There were guys with arrows! And clubs! And look at how sick she is! They can't just lock Shen-Ji up! Oh, but they can. The guards take down Xian's statement again, and he'll speak to the magistrate in the morning, but he's not just letting Shen-Ji go after killing two guys to avenge a scratch on Xian's arm. And if her hay fever doesn't go away in a few days, he suggests that she consult a competent herbalist. Xian grumbles away again, and Shen-Ji allows himself to be put in jail, declining to set the city on fire at this time.
That night's circus performance is pretty much the worst-attended ever. Kiri shows up, as does Tsi-Ya, but everyone else is staying away due to the rapidly spreading rumors of rampaging circus performers killing people.
Kiri says that the Moon's First Daughter isn't likely to be here for another few weeks, what with the weather, but Min Feng says they can arrange for fog.
Tsi-Ya, on the other hand, wants to know where her brother is. They explain about the assassins. She's heard of Bolo Feng, but says he doesn't usually leave his lair. This could mean it's time to put some more pressure on the House of Benevolent Oversight for this clear miscarriage of justice - she'll show up at the magistrate's in the morning.
As Shen-Ji languishes in jail, there's a clanging on the door. A mysterious figure wants to know where Shen-Ji's partner is, but Shen-Ji says that they didn't want to hold him.
- "So he's still walking around a free man? We'll see about that."
Shen-Ji wants to know what the guy knows about Feng. The guy wants to know what Shen-Ji knows about Feng. Shen-Ji thinks that Feng arranged all of this, and the guy admits that Feng sent him to see if Shen Wei Han was here. Shen-Ji offers to pass a message to him.
Old Cold Trail
The party (sans Shen-Ji) heads down to the docks with Kiri, and Kuan-Xi summons fog. Shortly after that, the Moon's First Daughter pulls up silently alongside the dock. Kiri boards, and waves everyone else on board.
The party buys passage to the Shrouded Isle, usable some time later, for ten people who can provide their own fog. The captain gives Min Feng an ivory token, and tells her to throw it into the harbor when it is foggy, and that will call the Moon's First Daughter.
With the business deal out of the way, Kuan-Xi explains that she is looking for information about her aunt, Suzuki Tamiyo, who left the Shrouded Isle about twenty years ago. The captain notes that he brought her to this very dock. Her plan was to spend about a month in the Harbor, and she disembarked with Han Hsu, an actor in an opera company. (Master Zhou recognizes the name as the manager of the Monkey King Opera Company).
- "Was she fleeing the island, or afraid for her safety?" -Master Zhou
- "No, that type is never "afraid for her safety"."
What type is that? The captain looks at Kuan-Xi meaningfully, and then back to Master Zhou.
- "That type."
But no, he did not get the impression that she was fleeing - but they only had the one dinner together, so he did not come to know her very well.
Then, the ship is ready to head out, so the party disembarks, and the ship vanishes into the fog.
New Hot Trial
Everyone proceeds to the magistrate's courtroom in the morning. Kuan-Xi puts on her formal robes, hoping to get Shen-Ji off through sheer force of status, but when the magistrate sits on his judge's throne, under the banner of the House of Benevolent Oversight, his status doubles with his position.
The guards give a fairly clean account of what happened - they seem to have actually investigated, and determined that the archers were hired thugs allegedly working for Bolo Feng, and confirmed another arrow shot earlier in the day. However, their account doesn't support the "obviously self-defense against a life-threatening attacker" either, as the only injury is Xian's scratch. Is there any other testimony?
Kuan-Xi notes that she has been attacked twice since coming to the city, and while it is unfortunate that the attackers died so swiftly, it was clearly self-defense.
Tsi-Ya asserts that the rampant thuggery is an example of the lack of control shown by the House of Benevolent Oversight, and the crime everywhere.
Wei Han clarifies that the second archer didn't miss, his arrow was blocked. The magistrate notes with asperity that there is no question as to whether or not the archers shot at Xian and/or Kuan-Xi; the question is whether gratuitiously excessive force was used minutes later as they were fleeing. Wei Han notes that if they had been permitted to escape, they would no doubt have shot more arrows again later.
The magistrate ponders for some time, and then expounds on his judgement.
- "The proper response to successfully fighting off an assassination attempt is to inform the city guards, in order to prevent a second attempt. The proper response to successfully fighting off a second assassination attempt is to inform the city guards, in order to prevent a third attempt. The authority of the law may not be abrogated - the right of high justice is not vested in any individual who is attacked, that they may summarily execute anyone who strikes at them."
As the attackers do seem to have been up to some form of no good (though if they were assassins, they were the world's worst), Shen-Ji will not be sentenced to the dungeons, but in order to uphold the authority of the city, a punitive fine will be assessed. A letter has been received with sworn testimony from Lord Nikoze saying that Kuan-Xi is a princess of great worth and means, so a substantial fine for her underling will be assessed: two tael. Shen-Ji takes two tael coins from his pocket and throws them at the magistrate, and stalks out of the courtroom. Well, they won't make that mistake again.
(Min Feng notes that Ezokin is three buildings away).
- "Next time, pretend that it's hard to pay the fine. Next time, shoot the horses." -Wei Han
- "I'm not shooting the horses!" -Shen-Ji
- "Next time, shoot the witnesses? No, I wasn't serious!" -Xian
Tsi-Ya says that the House of Gainful Protection owes them a favor, because of their fine work in undermining the reputation of the House of Benevolent Oversight. So... what is going on with the politics here? Tsi-Ya explains that the House of Benevolent Oversight took a bunch of hits in the Game of Houses, so many people think they're vulnerable. Gainful Protection is also down, after the events of Stirring up Trouble, so they can't really throw a coup themselves right now. So both Gainful Protection and Benevolent Oversight are playing whack-a-mole against other house alliances (mostly being built up by Judicious Increase), while also trying to gain an edge over each other.
Min Feng starts implicating Lord Nikoze in the fall of the House of Benevolent Oversight - it costs her 25 li to spread the rumors, which is unusual. Xian discovers that there is an antidote to her "hay fever", and within twenty minutes is feeling better. They order four more doses, just in case.
The next circus performance needs a lot more advertising, given that they're currently being suspected of randomly killing patrons. Min Feng works on quashing those rumors, while Master Zhou hires some out of work artists to draw posters.
The Monkey King
The group heads to the Monkey King Opera House, arriving at the same time as a delivery guy carrying a large box of glass vials. They follow him in, as he gingerly puts the vials on the stage, and pepper him with questions. What are those? What are they for? He says that they're props, and not to touch them. He heads upstairs to the manager's office, followed by Min Feng and some others. Xian examines the vials, and thinks they look a lot like Yanyu's potions.
Han Hsu, in the manager's office, pays the messenger with a bag of silver. He claims it wasn't easy to get them all, and leaves.
- "Who are you?" -Han Hsu
- "My name is Min Feng."
- "Are you a patron of the arts?"
- "Then come in."
- "You may know my grandfather, Lord Tokai Takanata."
The opera currently in progress is tentatively titled Phoenix Dreams, or perhaps Dream of the Night of the Phoenix - it will be a groundbreaking work, and will shatter the whole understanding of what opera is! It is both a deep romance and a satirical comedy - perhaps one could call it a comedic romance - and he predicts that it will lead to a resurgence in the arts.
For a very reasonable donation, he can guarantee them a private box - for her and her grandfather and their guests. And a credit in the program. Min Feng donates 150 li in Takanata's name.
Now that Han Hsu has been warmed up, Min Feng asks him about when he first came to the Arcade. He launches into a dramatic retelling: that was twenty years ago, and he began work for this very company. Though it was not called the Monkey King company then - that comes from an epic series of performances eight years ago, telling the adventures of the Monkey King.
Min Feng asks if he recalls Lady Suzuki, who came on board the ship with him. Han Hsu looks a bit suspicious at this question - why would she want to know that? He doesn't want to get his poor opera company involved in the battle between the Great Houses. Min Feng assures him, there are no such politics involved, as she is a noble of the Shrouded Isle. He admits to remembering her, and remembering the adventures that followed through the city.
- "Her niece is looking for her."
- "Ah, this has nothing to do with the Lord of Benevolent Oversight, then? Or his wife?"
- "She's his wife now?"
- "I did not say that! I did not say those words, nor are they true! She may have played some small role in his introduction to his wife, but that is a totally unconfirmed rumor."
- "Is she still here, then?"
- "No, no, goodness no. She was only here about a month -- though what a month it was -- and then she moved on."
When she left, she was going to track down some original manuscripts of operas they had worked on (such as Throne of Blood) so she was heading to the Exalted Library. Of course, she decided after the Horrible Misunderstanding, that traveling incognito might be better, so she changed her name and was going by the name Sogato Rei.
A Horrible Misunderstanding? What kind of horrible misunderstanding? Han Hsu really wishes to avoid speaking of it; Suzuki Tamiyo was entirely blameless, and had nothing to do with any of those events. Min Feng leans harder - what exactly is the story here? He insists that she promise not to spread any further rumors, and then tells her a tale.
When the Lord of the House of Benevolent Oversight was merely the heir - and he ascended shortly after the events of this story - Lady Suzuki was at a command performance of the opera. At that time, she introduced the Lord to another, who was at that time in the company of someone from another house whose name he does not recall. There was a quick courtship, and then their engagement was announced. The heir's cousin - who eventually paid for the insult with his life, though that is another story - started a rumor that his cousin was having an illicit affair with a mysterious princess from afar. It was totally untrue, but nevertheless nearly led to his fall from power. Fearing retribution from the heir or his cousin, she changed her name, and used her talent in personal obfuscation that she learned in the opera, to change her identity. She headed south for the Exalted Library, and never again did she return.
Downstairs, the actors arrive, and start passing out the "props", rather casually. Xian leaps in to warn them - do they know that these are REAL love potions? They find that unlikely - Han Hsu wouldn't do that, would he?
- "The good news is, they wear off." -Xian
The actors troop up to Han Hsu's office, followed by the rest of the party.
- "The Silken Wings Circus is here."
- "I already said, I'm not looking for auditions."
The actors demand to know what is going on with the love potions, but Han Hsu explains dramatically about the Taking It To The Next Level, and adding extra verisimilitude - though they will still have to act, of course - and the actors depart again, surprisingly mollified. Apparently Han Hsu has both a high charisma and a lot of skill in actor management.
Master Zhou asks if there are local nobles who are supporters of the arts. Han Hsu is reluctant to come out with a flat "no", but Benevolent Oversight (and Lord Nikoze in particular) pulled out about a month ago, and other houses have withdrawn their support more recently.
Xian asks for an autographed copy of the script, and then starts a long and involved conversation. She is most impressed by his actor management skills, which leads to him retelling the story of his arrival and starring as the Monkey King and then becoming the opera manager.
- "Perhaps we could arrange a ticket swap?" -Han Hsu
- "That would be a good deal if I weren't terrified of what happens when you sprinkle love potions on your cast." -Xian
- "They called us mad when we used live swords, but... well, now it's illegal."
- "So... you accidentally stabbed your fellow actors?"
- "There was nothing accidental about it! If he hadn't missed his mark, he wouldn't have been stabbed!"
Xian pries further, trying to figure out his hidden agenda. He retells his origin story, though this time the embellishments include coming from the Isle of Beauty.
- "They have a more liberal view here - there is no Court of Distinction, sitting in judgement over what art is acceptable."
- "You might need to tone that down if you wish to keep the patronage of Tokai Takanata"
- "I have the greatest respect for Lord Takanata - his watercolors are to weep for. But he would probably be averse to painting a battle scene with actual blood. There are some artistic lines you do not cross on the Isle of Beauty, but it was not the life for me. If you were to agree to act as another patron, would you..."
- "Only if you agree to throw no performances while I am within a hundred miles."
If Xian prefers, her patronage could be for an empty private box, to ensure that she is never at the performance. Or she could be a mysterious donor, and not associate her name with the Monkey King Opera Company at all.
Xian attempts again to get more details about the Horrible Misunderstanding, and declares that the story as Han Hsu has told it doesn't make sense.
- "The one you need to understand is not Suzuki Tamiyo but Sagato Rei. She was quiet and mousy and not flamboyant -- in all ways a commoner, as Suzuki Tamiyo was in all ways a princess." -Han Hsu
- "But this doesn't make sense! Why would you join the first opera country you run across as a bookkeeper, and commit scandal by introducing heirs to each other, and why is that a scandal anyway, and this is just a stupid story. There is something missing and you know what it is." -Xian
- "No, no, until the Lord of Benevolent Oversight has passed, I cannot write that script. There are lines you cannot cross on the Isle of Beauty, and there are entirely different lines you cannot cross here." -Han Hsu
- "Wait, you will stab people and douse people with love potions, and you won't tell me a little story?" -Xian
- "By the Cycle, you're right. For 250 li and I will produce the Hubris of Kings, and I will bring down this kingdom." -Han Hsu
- "Allow me to remind you that I am personally terrified of you." -Xian
This digresses into an argument about art, feelings, money, and scripts. Han Hsu really cannot write the script without funding, and he also cannot write the entire thing tonight, as he has rehearsals.
- "Two and a half tael to ransack a kingdom is a bargain, but I'm not sure I want to do it." -Xian
- "I will tell you one word and nothing more. Suzuki Tamiyo did not have an affair with the heir of Benevolent Oversight... but I know who did." -Han Hsu
Han Hsu seems to have detonated a smoke grenade to add extra drama to his final pronouncement, which particularly impresses Xian. She finally agrees to give him half the amount, as "seed capital", and flees.
Shen-Ji skims the Phoenix Dreams script, looking for signs of magic rituals. It doesn't seem like it, unless you count "sprinkling magic love potions on people while they pretend to sleep" as a ritual.
So, having ... dealt with ... the opera, is it time to deal with the criminal mastermind?
Min Feng has previously determined where Bolo Feng hangs out, so the group proceeds there, with a plan of "Talk to him, or Get him, or Figure It Out As We Go".
There's a guy with a bolo coiled around his arm standing outside the doorway in the alley. Wei Han says that he's here to meet with Bolo Feng, as he hears that Feng wants to speak to him. The guy goes in, and returns shortly, saying that Bolo Feng doesn't need to speak to him.
- "That's not what he said to Shen-Ji." -Wei Han
- "Hah. He doesn't talk to people."
- "He needs to talk to me about four assassins."
- "As all the city knows, Bolo Fang is a legitimate businessman. He talks to people about business. If you have business to conduct, then show your coin, and perhaps there can be business done."
They leave again, showing no coin and doing no business.
- "Okay, so... burn the place to the ground?"
- "How many people can we get arrested in one run?" -Kuan-Xi
The group contemplates what to do next, and decides that a better frontal assault might be good, but they should wait for night to avoid being more arrested.
That night, Min Feng returns to the alleyway - the guy isn't in front of the door any longer. She sneaks around the outside of the building, which doesn't have too much going on inside, and overhears two guys talking.
- "You're sure I should leave you here?"
- "The boss says yeah - don't leave any guards, they'll just kill them. If they're reasonable, they'll buy information from me, but if they're not reasonable, they'll kill me and then the scry enhancer tells the city guard who committed the murder."
Hmm. So Bolo Feng probably isn't there after all. Min Feng sneaks in, and waves to the guy sitting at a desk.
- "Don't worry, I'm not a ninja."
- "Then, what can I do for you?"
The guy is willing to discuss rumors that the boss might have heard, for a price. She says she'd need to see the boss to be sure about the information, but the guy says that's not going to happen. But the boss, should he exist, has provided them with extensive background information on the client. Min Feng wonders if the price has to be money. One use of one of her shticks (Prove Innocence) would be a fine price, but Min Feng decides she'd rather just pay 100 li.
- "Or the production of a play!" -Kuan-Xi
The guy gives Min Feng a dossier on Lo Fong, the son of Commander Lo Ping. The instructions were to attack Wei Han's charge, then later attack Wei Han's charge and another innocent, and then later get Wei Han to break out of jail. The client has since declared themselves satisfied, which is odd, because he didn't break out of jail, but that's not the guy's problem.
- "The client is very peculiar."
So, it is off to the Exalted Library, in Kuan-Xi's little carriage. Min Feng becomes a Patron of the Library, though the librarians are sad to confess that they can no longer guarantee the results to any special research question she might have, the way they once did.
She says she actually has a historical question - about twenty years ago, there was a visitor to the library named Sogato Rei, who would have been looking up the Throne of Blood. The librarian is a little disconcerted - they may not have any records pertaining to a day visitor - but will see what he can find out. He takes the name of the hotel where they will be staying, and says he will send someone over with anything they find out.
However, as Min Feng is leaving, she overhears the librarian speaking to his boss, who recognizes the name as his old apprentice, twenty years ago. She had beautiful handwriting, and he brings out an illuminated copy of Throne of Blood that she copied from the original. (Min Feng makes a quick copy of ten pages of it).
The old librarian says that a scribe of her talent could have gone far, and he urged her to stay, but she said she had only budgeted for a month, and could not be dissuaded. When she left, she took ship, to the Isle of Beauty - she had read Air, Water, and Rain here in the Library and was going to investigate the Court of Distinction and the gardens there.
- "If you find her, tell her the Master of the Library wishes her well."
Kuan-Xi's little carriage proves equally adept at crossing the ocean to the Isle of Beauty, and they head to the Garden of Harmonious Contemplation. The group wanders around, until the spot a particularly venerable gardener, slowly pruning.
- "That is goddamn harmonious." -Xian
They ask the gardener if he recalls Sogato Rei, who came here twenty years ago from the Illuminated Precincts to spend a month in the gardens? He does not remember, but he will make inquiries. He says he will speak to the Head Gardener, and totters off.
The group waits for about forty-five minutes, until Wei Han realizes that they are surrounded by armed men.
- "That would be my guess being right." -Charles
The captain of the palace guard requires their weapons, by order of His Majesty Ti Lao. Grumbling, those with weapons relinquish them, and the King enters the garden.
- "Where is Lord Takanata?" -Ti Lao
- "He's in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival."
- "Then what brings you here?"
- "We are seeking to track down the aunt of Suzuki Kuan-Xi, who we have been led to believe visited the isle many years ago." -Master Zhou
- "That is not what I was told." -Ti Lao
- "She was using the name Sogato Rei."
Master Zhou explains that they tracked her from the Shrouded Isle to the Harbor to the Precincts to here. Ti Lao needs a moment to take this in.
- "You are telling me that someone you call Sogato Rei is also Kuan-Xi's aunt?" -Ti Lao
- "Yes, Suzuki Tamiyo."
- "Would I be correct in believing that she would outrank your mother?"
- "Yes." -Kuan-Xi
The thing that Ti Lao can say is that the woman that they speak of is dead. Definitively, Master Zhou asks? Yes, definitively. He enjoins them to never speak of this matter to anyone until he has considered it.
- "We will require your words on this." -Ti Lao
- "...Can we say she is dead?"
- "If that would end the enquiry, then yes. If it will raise further questions, then it cannot be allowed."
Kuan-Xi explains that she started this quest in order to fix the curse upon her homeland. It does not seem possible to do so now, but she would still like an explanation.
- "Your claim to the information cannot be easily ignored, but it is necessary that it be kept secret. Her Majesty has informed me that secrets cannot be kept among you, so I would have your words that you will speak of it to no one outside your group, and I will discuss the matter with Lord Takanata and see where the limits must and should be drawn."
- "There are others who may have a similar claim to this information. I would not want to break my word, having it given to you, but I would not wish to deny them either." -Master Zhou
- "There are others with a better claim who must never find out. Keep it among yourselves until we have discussed the possibilities, but you must abide by my judgement at that time." -Ti Lao
- "Can we just tell them to come here and make their own claim to the information?" -Wei Han
- "No." -Ti Lao
The party swears to secrecy and Ti Lao says he will show them. They head into the city, with the city guard clearing a large perimeter, until they reach the cemetery of the Harbor of Shining Reflections. There's a reconstructed area where the undead rose a few years ago, but beyond that is an older area. In the older area is a stone, exquisitely carved with flowers, but with no name.
- "This is Sogato Rei's grave. No one had any idea that she had another name, and certainly not one so exalted as yours. She died in childbirth. The child is safe..." -Ti Lao
Master Zhou frowns, as "safe" may not be quite the right word there.
- "In addition to any other legacy she may hold from her secret past, she is also the daughter of my Imperial Regent." -Ti Lao
- "Also known as Long Yue-Mei." -Master Zhou
Master Zhou says that they are all aware of what would happen if Regent Ishii finds out - Takanata's description is that if the Regent discovers he is betrayed, his fury will shake the heavens and earth. Ti Lao explains that when his brother-in-law was appointed Regent, it was the solemn law that no one who went to the Hidden City could ever return to the Isle of Beauty. He went before the pregnancy was known, and when it was discovered, Her Majesty knew he would immediately return. So the child was well taken care of, and given all opportunities, but not revealed.
In attempting to remove the curse on the Shrouded Isle, Master Zhou theorizes that Yue-Mei could stand place of her mother. Would telling her of her heritage be something that should not be done? Ti Lao says that is something that he will also consider.
Ti Lao wants to know who knew her under both names. Was there really just the one person they found out from?
- "You're not just going to have him rubbed out, are you?" -Xian
- "I will do no more than is necessary." -Ti Lao
The party names Han Hsu, but assures Ti Lao that he doesn't talk about her because of the scandals and misunderstandings. Except this time.
- "Lifting the curse is an important linchpin in the whole mysterious Butterfly work thing." -Xian
- "I realize that the work is important, but I must consider if it is possible to give her this knowledge without the rest of it." -Ti Lao
Master Zhou notes that Yue-Mei already knows about her father - Yanyu told her. Ti Lao looks more perturbed, and says that he will consider that as well.
- "Kuan-Xi, this could displace you and your mother from leadership of your House. Is that something you are willing to accept?" -Ti Lao
- "Perhaps." -Kuan-Xi
Anyhow, the King will consider this all deeply and ponder the ramifications. In the meantime, he has each of their words to not speak of this outside the party, and they are free to go. But have Lord Takanata come and see him. He leaves, and the guard returns the party's weapons.
- "This is probably the one thing I could do that would make my mother even more mad." -Kuan-Xi
- "Ooh, since Yue-Mei is a Northern Barbarian now, maybe this counts as a Northern attack on the Shrouded isle!" -Charles
- The party briefs Takanata. Takanata asks Zhuai if he can figure out what the Black Orchid Archers plot is intended to accomplish; he thinks about all of it, and looks at the dossier on Lo Fong, and declares that the dossier is falsified evidence.