Truth and Beauty
|"When you have only two zhu left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tortoise in the month of the Bear in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place in the Butterfly Kingdom.
As people go about their business in the Butterfly Kingdom, Her Majesty summons those party members who are easily available (Hiro, Cai Wen, and Kasumi). She thanks them for their service of delivering the message to Prince Ti Jun, and the added service of getting him home again safely. In thanks for their deeds, she again has gifts for them, and people have their choice of:
- Courier Baton: This identifies the bearer as an official courier of the Butterfly Kingdom. Travel costs are borne by the Butterfly Kingdom, and particular transport can sometimes be borrowed.
- Honeyvine Seeds: A small packet of honeyvine seeds, taken from flowering vines growing in the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation. Where these are planted, butterflies will come, and some say the place itself is touched by the Great Butterfly Spirit.
- Lacquered Egg: Who knows what is inside, but it's probably lucky.
Also, there are a few individual items:
- Mysterious Key: A fancily carved key. What it opens is unknown. (taken by Hiro)
- Thread: A very, very, very long spool of very fine thread. (taken by Kasumi)
Meanwhile, Takanata finds Yoshi, and lets him know that, first, a number of people (Shen-Ji, Anto, Wei Han, Zhi-Hao, and Min Feng) have not returned from their (puttering) reconnaissance mission to the other side of the water gate. They left behind one of Min Feng's communication scrolls, but it doesn't say anything. Takanata himself will not be able to deal with this, as he has only a few hours to put his affairs in order before he goes into seclusion at the Court of Distinction to judge the competition for the new Master of Perfected Distinction. Yoshi writes on the scroll "WHAT HAPPENED TODAY:" but no one writes an answer for him.
Then, Takanata finds Cai Wen, and the two of them head to the Dojo of Yellow Silk where Master Zhou has been training and discussing the theory of Kung Fu with Master Long. Here, Takanata briefs the two of them about the artistic contest. The previous Master of Perfected Distinction, Abe Geiju, has passed away, and as the week of mourning has concluded, it is now time to select a new Master, essentially the highest honored of the artists in residence at the Court of Distinction. Takanata and the other two judges will be in seclusion so that their judgement will be just based on the works themselves.
Meanwhile, Hiro, who is bored, sends a message to Ti Jun trying to invite him out fishing. Unfortunately for Hiro, Ti Jun is in buckle-down-and-study mode after having played hooky for several months, so Hiro gets dragged to a history lecture instead, and only late in the afternoon do they break for fishing. Ti Jun, as it turns out, thinks that sitting on the bank with a fishing rod with nothing happening is kind of boring, so the two catch some fish with nets instead, which are eventually given to Yoshi for danger chef practice (though Hiro contemplates the possibility of using them for a plan involving talking fish). Hiro tries to find out from Ti Jun what the mysterious key opens - he doesn't know, and says that his mother is kind of all about the mysterious random items. He talks Hiro out of trying to find a lock in the palace that it opens.
Yoshi starts to put together a rescue mission, and finds Kuan-Xi, who wants to come along as well. Additionally, Long Yue-Mei, who has been serving tea to those in the Yellow Silk Dojo, would be honored to assist in the matter. Yoshi acquires some castle guards, and passes the scroll to Ti Jun for emergencies, since the prince is not allowed to leave the country without permission, and it is thought that the water portal does indeed leave the country.
The rescue group heads out towards the mine where the water gate is. Along the way, people hear some harsh cawing, and note what seems to be a swarm of attack seagulls coming straight for the group.
- "Huh, we should have brought the fish."
Cai Wen, who has a box of fireworks, launches a rocket in their direction, which disperses them. Yue-Mei notes that there have been a lot of strange animal attacks recently - dogs attacked the dojo, there were cats clawing at people in the marketplace. The guards note that they hadn't heard of a plague of violent animals, but will look into it when they return.
Through the Water Gate
The mine seems deserted, though the normally-locked gate has been left open (presumably by the scouting mission). The pool of water at the bottom has magical symbols drawn on the water, without the big X over it. Kuan-Xi notes that Anto, at least, walked into the mine, talked to people for a little while, and then jumped into the pool.
Kasumi stealthily jumps into the pool, and jumps out at the other side, though as she's quite stealthy no one is quite sure that she's gone. Everyone else gets ready to jump through - the guards are suddenly somewhat iffy. They aren't really authorized to act against people in another country without more authorization than what they have currently (which was more about rescuing people from a cave), as it could be construed as an act of invasion, depending on where they show up. The party tells them that they should be back in an hour or so - if they don't return, they should contact Master Long at the Yellow Silk dojo, to send the third-wave rescue mission.
On the other side, Kasumi does a quick reconnaissance. Much like the mine, there is a cave with a pool of water in it; access to the rest of the cave from the pool room is blocked by a metal grate with a barred door in it. There are four stone pillars around the pool, though one of them is missing half of its height. On the other side of the grate are several bowmen, though they don't look too alert, and haven't seen Kasumi yet. Lying on the floor, unarmed and tied up, are Zhi-Hao, Wei Han, and Anto. Kasumi overhears the guards talking. Apparently, the fighters were left here, while the dangerous ones, the mage and the spy are off being prepared for interrogation in the storage room.
Master Zhou sneaks through after that, and can't get as close to the grate as Kasumi; he's followed shortly by everyone else, who splash around enough that the guards notice. Kasumi dramatically stabs a guard through the grate, as the others start untying and waking the downed party members. Kuan-Xi has brought a spare kusarigama for Anto, while Master Zhou has Zhi-Hao's spare sword that Zhi-Hao gave him during the initial attack against Ti Lao, and returns it.
Wei Han, with a great feat of strength, wrenches the gate open, which cuts down on the archers' advantage quite a lot.
- "Now tear their arms off!" -Cai Wen
A big fight starts - there is a set of mooks (foot soldiers of the Hidden Hand), and four named guys (Enforcers of the Hidden Hand), including a fighter, a leader, a healer, and a water sorcerer. There is much chopping, and everyone is very valiant; some highlights follow.
Cai Wen shows off his exploding walking stick, declaring in an ominous voice that "there will be no survivors." The water mage summons poisonous gas out of the pool of water, making the teleportation room somewhat dangerous. Yoshi notes that the Enforcers are motivated by wanting to be promoted to Fists of the Hidden Hand.
Squeaky the ferret squishes some small unseen thing - Cai Wen examines the area, and there is a nest of cave rats there, and Squeaky seems to have squished a spider near them. Hmm.
Wei Han and the Hidden Hand fighter take turns grabbing each other and throwing each other into the poison gas. Master Zhou shackles the leader with the Shackles of Silence, cutting down on his ability to give people orders. Anto manages to pull Wei Han out of the gas, but then the fighter finishes pummeling him into unconsciousness - and then brandishes his body, declaring himself invincible.
However, while the fighter is doing not so badly, most of the mooks have fallen, as has the water mage. Yoshi calls upon the leader to surrender, declaring that the Hidden Hand will not treat them as well as Yoshi will, given that they have failed. (His plan is to use Kibo to eat their criminal tendencies). The leader surrenders, as do the other two.
The rest of the cave is fairly limited - there is a storage room, and another room in which Shen-Ji and Min Feng are, both unconscious and difficult to wake. Yue-Mei thinks that they are poisoned, not just injured, and should be taken back to the Butterfly Kingdom quickly.
The entrance to the cave leads to what looks like the coast of the Arcade, with an entrance which is likely impassible at high tide. In the storage room is the equipment taken off the initial group, plus two boxes of opium, 20 li, and a copy which has been made of the Hunter's Map (as it appeared to be a map to a treasure somewhere in the Butterfly Kingdom). This narrows down the location of the cave as the southern coast near the border with the Illuminated Precincts. The named League bad guys also have some loot, which is confiscated:
- Staff of Healing: 1/scene, you may use a healing shtick on the same person twice. (This does not give you the ability to use the shtick more than you already can, it just lets it stack).
- Bracers of Blunting Steel: Provides one levels of Blunt against metal blades only.
- Puncturable Potion Pouch: A reusable pouch that you can put a potion in, turning it into a thrown projectile that affects the target.
- Coded Notes: A little black book in some sort of code. Cai Wen thinks that it's a Ledger, that you really need a Bookkeeper to get full value from.
- Parrot Feather Amulet: 1/run, screams before the wearer is attacked (including in a surprise round)
The Hidden Hand guys note that the two prisoners who seemed dangerous (the sorcerer and the spy) got given "poisonous truth serum", and also say that the teleport return is easy to fix - just put the other half column back.
The group fixes the water gate, and heads back through to the Butterfly Kingdom. They draw the "mystic sigil of negation" through the water gate on the Butterfly side, closing it once more, and head back to the city. Yoshi instructs Kibo to try to nibble away the criminal tendencies of the leader; the healer will wait until puttering. Those who are injured can arrange to get healed by the Court's healers, and the prisoners are turned over to the court for justice.
Lady in Red
As they return to the city, a young page runs up, looking for Cai Wen. He's wanted at the Court of Distinction! Everyone else trails after Cai Wen, as this seems likely to be Plot and they are led to a room where a number of artists are painting/sculpting/etc a woman in a red dress. She crooks her finger at Cai Wen.
- "Shh! You are late!"
- "My regrets." -Cai Wen
- "I think you've missed twenty percent of the plot already."
- "My friends were in danger, it couldn't be helped."
- "Did you talk your friends out of danger then?"
- "Not so much, but I provided moral support."
The artists are not happy that she's talking to someone and moving her pose, but she frowns at them and they subside. The woman tells Cai Wen that they're nearly done here, so he can wait for her if he likes - she directs a page to arrange for a private room, which is immediately provided. Hiro, on the lookout for other possibilities, notes that Yue-Mei is a "babe", though she is quite eclipsed by the woman in red.
The party retires to the private room, and Cai Wen briefs the group on the competition for the new Master of Perfected Distinction. Everyone else is more curious about the woman in red.
- "Who is she?" -Kasumi
- "She's the model for this particular phase of the competition." -Cai Wen
- "No, but how does she know you?"
- "No clue. This sort of thing does happen sometimes."
Discussing background rumors, Yue-Mei tells Hiro that there's currently a bit of a fuss, in that one of the artists, one of the non-locals, is said to be planning to leave town after he wins - not stay on at the Court of Distinction - and that's getting a lot of people quite riled up.
The woman in red finally joins the party in the private waiting room, as the session has ended for the day, and Cai Wen introduces the various party members.
- "Ah, Master Zhou of Bear Mountain, I have heard of. You (inclining her head towards Anto) I am not yet supposed to talk to."
Most people look puzzled, but Master Zhou looks rather spooked.
- "It is an honor to meet you." -Master Zhou
- "Yes, it is."
Cai Wen asks if he might have the honor of her name - Master Zhou flinches, but she says that they can call her Sakushi. Hiro says that he would be delighted to hear Sakushi's opinions on the various artists and contests. She looks to Cai Wen, whose lead she is taking (for unclear reasons), but then says that there are three themes left to go - art from life (depicting her), and the best previous work, are both completed.
The artists (in part from a briefing from Sakushi, in part from some Gather Information rolls later) are:
- Ren Nitu, a sculptor in clay from the Hon'eth Arcade. He's said to be quite well-to-do, and he's said to be the one that plans to leave if he wins (and is sure he will win).
- Juran, once a monk of the Spiral Path, a painter in watercolors of blossoms.
- Chi Xiangya, an ivory carver.
- Uchihira Shoni, a master of origami.
- Katsuo Narina, silk painter and arranger. She's somewhat young.
- Myeon Kyu, a wood carver originally from the Forest of Chin. He's said to be very versatile.
Yoshi wonders why Sakushi does what she does, and is briefly dazzled as he stares; people are handing him water and drinks by the time he comes back to himself.
Master Zhou speculates that something about the competition is being planned to weaken the country's connection with the Butterfly, though it is not clear yet how. Interrupting, Sakushi asks a question:
- "When you have these little strategy meetings, do you like to save the combats for after, or do you like them during?" -Sakushi
- "Well, we are all here now, so we might as well have the fight." -Master Zhou
Suddenly, a pack of cats runs into the room, clawing and biting; the party engages with them, and everyone is hurt a bit. Yue-Mei (even while being protected by Hiro) takes more damage than the others, and Sakushi takes none.
- "Were you holding back all the cats, or did you detect the spider?" -Yoshi
- "If I didn't notice the spider, I wouldn't have bothered to hold back the cats." -Sakushi
Sakushi says that she has every confidence that Cai Wen will figure out what's up with the spider, and so doesn't explain. At the party's request, she agrees to hold the animal attacks off until later, so as to not interfere with the competition or the artists. She says she can arrange the timing.
- "It seems likely that she's the Great Butterfly Spirit taken human form." -Master Zhou
- "That must be why she's so perfect." -Yoshi
- "Wait, why is this anyone's theory?" -Hiro
Anto looks in his book about spirits, and notes that Great Spirits do occasionally show up in human form, usually when they want to have children. When they do so, they are under more limitations than in their normal guise, and Anto thinks that the way to know for sure would be to make a deal with her where her telling the truth was her side of the deal.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group contemplates the list of artists. Ren Nitu is the one who is annoying people - does that mean he's the bad guy? He's awfully obvious, if he is. Some more behind-the-scenes manipulation seems likely.
Zhi-Hao, distracted by the other plot, goes off in search of the "head spymaster" of the Butterfly Kingdom, but doesn't actually know who that is. He does manage to check in with the royal guards - they don't know anything about a plague of animal attacks - not that they doubt Zhi-Hao saying there have been some, but they certainly haven't been common.
The group decides that the next step is to go and observe the art and the artists - maybe the Forces of the Spider are planning to replace the art with some other, subtly different art that is... bad, somehow? They head back to the studio.
- "This area is not open to the public at this time." -guard
- "It's all right, I'm not the public. I'm Zhu Cai Wen."
They're let in, but instructed to not talk to anyone, just watch quietly. Wei Han does his best to memorize the art in case it changes when he's not looking, and Hiro notes that the ivory statuette of Sakushi makes her look rather elfin, with large eyes and pointed ears. Yoshi looks at the artists for their motivation, and notes that Ren Nitu wants to "crush his enemies and take their loots back home"; Katsuo Narina is quite insecure; Uchira Shoni is rather airy and not paying a lot of attention to anything but his work; and the rest really want to win and be proclaimed the best.
The group returns to the private room, and confers with Sakushi. Are there receptions or parties that the artists can be found at? There are dinners - VIPs tend to be invited to them, and many of the artists attend. Sakushi declares that she will take Cai Wen to the party - would he like to sit with the Queen, or down with the artists? She snaps her fingers, and a page procures invitations for the dinner, to sit down amongst with the artists.
While they wait for the dinner, people question Yue-Mei about why the animals (or spiders biting them) seem to particularly have it in for her. Sakushi drops a couple of hints about acts of sacrifice, until Yue-Mei remembers that time she was running around with Merit and Min Feng, and got stuck with a silver needle instead of Kuan-Xi. Ahah! That... well, it doesn't really explain it, but it explains something. Everyone asks Kuan-Xi why she might be causing Yue-Mei to be hunted by animals. She really doesn't know either.
- "Does that remind you of anything?" -Cai Wen
- "Not really..." -Kuan-Xi
- "Answer the man's question, dear." -Sakushi
- "It's probably because of my secret society..." -Kuan-Xi
Wei Han goes back to the art room and kills all the hapless spiders up in the corners, and Master Zhou examines the ivory carving. Hmm, maybe those are fox ears? There is a sudden panic - is this part of a plan to turn the Butterfly Kingdom into the Fox Kingdom by editing the art? Is the Hon'eth Arcade the Fox's country? (No, that's the Jade Taiga, Cai Wen points out.) Oh, wait, maybe Sakushi isn't actually the Great Butterfly Spirit after all. Okay, that makes some more sense.
Meeting the Artists
Then, it is time for the dinner party. Cai Wen alternates with others double-teaming the artists to chat them up. Ren Nitu comes under a lot of suspicion for being someone's agent, but he doesn't show any obvious signs of that. He's not sure why everyone knows about his plan to leave - he hadn't announced that or anything, and he's a little cross that it's leaked. With brutal self-confidence, he claims that the Butterfly Kingdom has to face the fact that the tide of art has turned, and the Hon'eth Arcade is now pre-eminent - and that's what he plans to demonstrate.
Yoshi chimes in when the time comes to talk to Juran - he's related to Takanata, who Juran greatly admires for his narrow focus in watercolor and poetry. Of all the artists, he seems to have the least ego invested in his work, but he does have trouble when he has to try and depict something unrelated to flowers. He had to draw "some woman" today, and put some red flowers around her.
- "A beautiful woman is like a flower herself, wouldn't you say?" -Yoshi
- "Why couldn't you have said that before?" -Juran
Then, they talk to Chi Xiangya. She says she has no problem focusing on things - that seems to be her virtue, in that it allows her to create in ivory very precise and perceptive representations of that which she depicts. But ivory is very slow to work in, compared to paint or clay, so she is very tired. Master Zhou asks her what she saw today - she says "a beautiful woman, strongly touched by the essence of the Fox, trying to bend the world to her will around her." She has to bend the ivory to that same essence to truly represent it. Yoshi follows up - does she find the form within the element, or in the world itself? He has heard that for artists, they find the form hidden within the material, and have to bring it out. She doesn't agree with that - the form being depicted is in the world, and it must be impressed upon the material.
What does she see when she looks at the other artists with her insight? She has not done much of that, except to Nitu, that arrogant boor. She finds it surprising that he became so skilled - usually the scions of the very rich don't put that much effort into becoming excellent. People wonder when his artistic career really took off - within the last year, she thinks. He's quite lucky, she thinks, to be blessed with so much money and talent.
People try to get the artists who are here to critique the other artists. Uchihara Shoni is not considered to be serious enough. Katsuo Narina is better than she thinks she is, but doesn't have enough confidence to win. Myeon Kyu is probably the one to beat - he's very good at just about every subject. Since the competitions are kept a surprise, his versatility is dangerous. Everyone except Nitu thinks that Kyu is the one most likely to win. The judges are all in seclusion, both to make sure they judge based just on the work, and to make it easier to keep their contests secret.
During the mingling section of the party, people chat with Ti Jun as well, and tell him about the odd animal attacks. He says that the guards had mentioned a plague of animal attacks, but he didn't believe it, as they seemed to be the only ones that thought that. The party clarifies - it's just animals attacking near Yue-Mei. He nods to Yue-Mei unenthusiastically, and she nods to him formally. Everything thinks that's fascinating, and Hiro pulls Ti Jun aside later to ask what's up between him and Yue-Mei. He says he doesn't dislike her, he certainly understands what it's like to be in the shadow of your great father, but she is so annoyingly earnest about it. Yue-Mei, on the other hand, when asked about Ti Jun, says she imagines that someday he will learn his place.
Sneaking About in the Night, Tromping Around in the Day
That night, people try to decide where to guard. Wei Han wants to be inside the room with the art in it, but the guards posted outside are unwilling to let him in. He goes to talk to Ti Jun - remember the Great Treasures? - and Ti Jun tries to arrange it with the Queen, but Ti Wren only posts some of Ti Jun's guards inside and says that she won't stop Wei Han from being outside. Kasumi decides to sneak into the wing of the palace to watch Myeon Kyu (on the theory that they're the highest seeded artist who nobody knows anything about yet).
As it turns out, Myeon Kyu doesn't do anything interesting during the night, but Kasumi does spot someone who slips into the artist's wing wearing a cloak and hood, and who taps on the door of Shoni's room. Kasumi sneaks up to the door in time to hear the tail end of a conversation - "you do what you want. I'm just saying - here you go." The hooded guy gives Shoni a piece of paper, and then slips back out of the room, followed by Kasumi again. The hooded guy heads back through the palace to another wing, where he goes around an area with an honor guard and finds an unguarded side passage, into what appears to be the judges' quarters. Kasumi follows him long enough to see him take off his cloak, so she can identify him now, before she leaves.
Also that evening, Sakushi makes a stab at recruiting Hiro to the side of the Fox, claiming that Hiro could be doing much better for himself. Hiro finds it odd that Great Spirits keep trying to poach him, but says he's happy as he is.
- "A tengu? Really?" -Sakushi
Cai Wen and Wei Han contemplate possible plans - maybe the thing to do is to put it about that he's investigating, and then see who looks nervous.
Master Zhou spars with Yue-Mei, and learns that she honors her father and is devoted to him, but she is learning to not trust him, and this is the source of a great conflict in her. Plus, there is the whole issue of being a Tiger who is learning a very Butterfly kung fu, which is its own conflict.
In the morning, the next topic is announced by Her Majesty: a meditation upon the sea. The thing which the suspicious eyes of the party notice is that Shoni does not appear quite as surprised as the others (and is well stocked with blue paper). Xiangya thinks that she will carve a white whale; Kyu suggests going down to the sea for inspiration, and in his walk on the beach, finds a perfect piece of driftwood to use.
The artists split up to work, followed by the party. Kasumi and Master Zhou follow Kyu; Yoshi follows Narina; Anto follows Xiangya; Cai Wen and Wei Han follow Juran, and Hiro follows Nitu.
Nitu gets some clay from the shore, adds it to his clay, and begins to work. Juran paints a flower drifting over the sea, but isn't very inspired. Xiangya does in fact start carving a white whale. Shoni starts his blue paper creation, Kyu starts to carve his driftwood, and Narina fusses with her silks. Nobody appears to be doing anything crazy or evil - especially not while watched.
Narani does, however, vent a bit to Yoshi. She doesn't know what she's doing here - she doesn't have the right stuff to be a great artist. She has a good eye, but she doesn't have the soul.
- "When you began making it, did you expect it to be a success?" -Yoshi
- "Sigh. No, you're right." -Narani
Unable to take this any longer, he soliloquizes to her inspiringly, and she starts working more enthusiastically.
That afternoon, Cai Wen searches out the betting pool. Nitu started out as the odds-on favorite, but he's dropped a bit when the rumor came out about his leaving, and everyone else started trying extra-hard to beat him. Shoni is doing a bit better than his preliminary odds might have suggested. Narina is something of a dark horse candidate - she's young, and not expected to win, but has the potential to pull off something amazing.
The party asks if Sakushi can ensure that the other three artists come to dinner tonight. Oh, certainly, she can do that - and when she invites them to dinner, they all accept. People then ask Sakushi if she knows anything about the Great Whale Spirit. She is amused - man, do they speculate! Why do they think there was a Great Whale Spirit? The answer turns out to be "Because they think the Spider has taken the Dragon's place," which really doesn't answer the question at all, but she finds it intriguing nonetheless.
Sakushi says that she expects that Cai Wen can trick her into answering three yes/no questions.
- Was there ever a Great Whale Spirit?
- Yes. (She adds that it is very tricky of Cai Wen to ask that while Wei Han was out of the room.)
- Do the other non-Spider spirits think they understand the Spider's plan?
- Yeah, it's pretty straightforward.
- Do all the other Cycle spirits oppose the Spider's plan?
- No. Some of them are waiting to see, some of them are bound to not interfere... it depends.
Since she gave away a little more, she says they should give away a little more and asks what is Hiro's weak point? Hana, the group agrees. Sakushi thinks that's interesting - she wishes she had known that back when Hana belonged to her. Wei Han asks Sakushi if they should be concentrating on the artists or the art, but she's already been "tricked" out of her three questions. She notes that she hasn't seen Wei Han in a long time - he's coming back from a boring phase, it looks like. They chat for a bit about that, and how sometimes he dramatically leads armies across the plains, and other such things more to her liking.
Then, it's time for dinner again where the party can check up on today's results (at least in the minds of the onlookers). The commentators are impressed by Narina's work this time - she seems to have found her stride. Again, Kyu and Shoni were quite good; Nitu's wasn't quite as good as the previous couple.
Deciding it's time to get something rolling, Cai Wen starts telling people that he's Figured It All Out. He knows what's up, and he's going to blow the whole thing wide open tomorrow morning. Hopefully, someone will attack him, thus revealing the bad guys' hands. Hiro tries to convince Narina she's great, adding to Yoshi's confidence-building.
Master Zhou wanders around the city, looking for a black horse with a white fetlock. At the best inn in town, he hears that there was a horse like that, but it left a few days ago. Zhou summons Cai Wen and the others, and Cai Wen spreads some bribes around gathering information to find out who the horse's owner (someone named Yasumasa Saigo) talked to. Apparently, one of the judges for the Court of Distinction is traditionally chosen from the common folk, and by amazing coincidence, this person was picked from this very inn and Saigo was his drinking buddy. Additionally, Saigo was the source of the rumor that Ren Nitu would be leaving town after winning.
That night, Kasumi watches the secret exit from the judges' quarters, though not sufficiently stealthily. The door opens, and then shuts again - and then after a little while, some guards come by, searching the hallway for intruders. Apparently, someone heard someone sneaking around, but by this time, Kasumi is better hidden and the guards don't spot her. Eventually, the guards leave and the mysterious guy sneaks out again, heading to the inn where Cai Wen is staying. Everyone else is hidden around, ready to pounce as soon as the guy gives them an opportunity.
The cloaked guy raps on Cai Wen's door. Cai Wen opens the door, and declares that the jig is truly up! All the fighters converge on the guy, and push him into the room - which was where he wanted to go anyway.
- "I assure you, this was all entirely unnecessary. We're reasonable men. You are well known as a man with prospects. But it occurs to me that you're only in li. How many tael is it going to take to make this whole business go away?"
- "I regret to say that there just aren't enough." -Cai Wen
The guy says his employer was quite generous - is Cai Wen sure? There is surely enough to go around. Yoshi declares that there are some things that are more important than money!
- "We seem to have two options. One, we make this go away. Two, you spend tomorrow exposing the great Butterfly art competition for the sham it is."
- "I'm sure they have something in place for if one of the judges dies of natural causes." -Wei Han
That rattles the guy a bit - he wasn't really expecting to be threatened with murder. Master Zhou contemplates the non-violent possibility inherent in the Second Way (a Fox kung fu style he has been learning). The important thing is to have one of the local Butterfly artists win, but without cheating or scandal.
Cai Wen suggests to the judge that he recuse himself from further voting, as well as refrain from further interference, and they won't kill him. He says that could be an acceptable bargain providing the party also does not expose him so he can escape. Sakushi notes quietly that she can make such deals binding if the party wishes to bargain.
The agreement settled upon is:
- The bent judge will recuse himself from further voting, will in no way interfere the rest of the competition, and will take no action to besmirch the reputation of the competition. Oh, and he should tell them what other cheating he has done previously.
- The party won't take any action against him and will not say anything about the matter to anyone. Oh, and even if they by some fluke lose the competition, they just eat the loss, i.e. they still don't say anything to anyone.
He agrees and tell the party that the cheating he has done so far is: he told Shoni about the next contest being the sea; he arranged to have Xiangya's best work freed from the museum where it was; and he convinced Narina that she couldn't win without cheating, but he hadn't yet convinced her to cheat.
Then, he takes his leave.
End of the Competition
In the morning, Cai Wen... blows open that the League of the Hidden Hand was smuggling opium. Six months or so ago. It's not a very exciting revelation, but given that Cai Wen can't actually disclose any of the actual plot, it will do. People around the court are unimpressed.
The party confers with Sakushi as to what they can do without it counting as "cheating." Guilting Shoni about cheating is probably okay; inspiring people is okay; trying to crush people's artistic ability so they make bad art is probably not okay.
The day's competition is "A tiny sliver of perfection from the Garden of Harmonious Contemplation." The group swings into action! Wei Han talks to Juran about the night the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation got really weird - but he's the flower artist, and these are gardens, so he's really pretty strongly in his element here. Yoshi talks to Narina again to inspire her, and then he and Hiro stage a conversation about honor and respect, tinged with a lot of Yoshi's "be good" skill, in front of Shoni.
- "His origami is spoiled by the drips of tears." -Mike
The next day's competition is "Something of the Butterfly Kingdom, captured in art". Cai Wen, with Yoshi and Hiro's help, starts to talk to Juran, trying to encourage him to broaden his vision, but Cai Wen begins to suspect that this would push him from being a perfect artist in a narrow art, to being a good artist in a broader art, and decides to not push him that extra bit.
Would convincing Ti Jun to model for silk clothes for Narina be cheating? If they pull the strings to get him to do so, probably. Narina doesn't seem to need any more inspiration, after the talks that Yoshi has been giving her, so things seem about as good as they're going to get.
- "Does that mean it's time for animal attacks?" -Sakushi
- "Could we have ten minutes? We should fortify!" -Hiro
Animals charge, but with everyone behind tactical fortifications that have been hastily put together, they are not too hard ... at first.
- "Tell me... what is your elephant mitigation plan?" -Mike
Wei Han throws Yue-Mei on top of the elephant, causing it some confusion, and then Kasumi leaps to the top of a nearby building and yoinks her to the top as well with her rope. That proves to thwart the elephant sufficiently that the elephant handlers from the circus can rein it in and take it back to the circus, which is good, because nobody wanted to have to kill one of the circus's elephants.
Sakushi says that since Yue-Mei took this curse as a sacrifice, Sakushi can't just clear it away - but she can move it to someone else. Hiro volunteers - you can't just leave the girl in peril like that! (Sakushi makes one last shot at recruiting Hiro - switch teams, and she'll find someone else to take the curse instead. But no, Hiro says he makes a better Monkey anyway.) So the deal is done, and Sakushi says that Hiro is now cursed to suffer frequent animal attacks instead. Yue-Mei is very appreciative.
Back at the Court of Distinction, the horns sound, and the judges announce their decision: Katsuo Narina is declared the new Master of Perfected Distinction. Hooray!
Sakushi, when pressed, clarifies that the Spider's plan was never about having the foreigners win - it was about having the locals win by cheating.
- "Do we think there's another separate step to rename the Dragon Empire?"
- "You don't think that yet - but you will." -Sakushi
- Yoshi goes shopping, accompanied by Lijuan and Hiro.
- Yoshi talks to the Hidden Hand prisoners.
- Cai Wen and Sakushi hang out; Yoshi makes them Dangerous Kitsune Udon, and she gives Yoshi a ribbon.
- Takanata and Master Zhou bring Master Kwan and Sensei Shien together to try to sort Yoshi out. They come up with a sort of walking meditation for him to do.
- Merit arranges to send a number of additional forms through the Imperial bureaucracy as a result of the artists' competition.
- Anto and Kuan-Xi wander around together.
- Merit takes Long Yue-Mei out for tea.
- Takanata and Min Feng visit Yue-Mei.
- Cai Wen gets into a bar brawl defending Sakushi's honor.
- Wei Han visits the Hidden Hand prisoners.
- The GMs forgot to mention this at the time, but the traditional Butterfly-enforced exception of "except to the rest of the party" applies here.