|"Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable!"|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Butterfly in the first Year of the Bear since the crowning of the Viridian Queen|
The run takes place on a journey, much of it in the Strand
An Unexpected Guest
Master Zhou awakes at Tahiti, refreshed and ready to visit the Gentle Admonishers of Disquiet and the Daughter of the Sun with Xian and Wei Han. He reminds them of his being framed by Spider for the deaths of the monks of the Steadfast Heart, who were guarding the White Pagoda for him, and he hopes to have the Sun prove his innocence (with a boon from the Sun, obtained from Min Feng). However, since it has been two books since the murders were discovered, Inspector Fu has finished his investigation and sent in a final report, so the Inspector's belief may not be germane any longer. However, perhaps the Sun can prove his innocence to the order of the Steadfast Heart instead, so it is still worth trying.
The junior butler coughs outside the door, and lets the party know that there is a visitor. Might he interrupt their discussion? Wei Han says to give them three more minutes, which Master Zhou uses to finish explaining Inspector Fu's report.
Then, the butler introduces Master Zhou, Xian, and Wei Han as "guests of Master Li" and presents a young woman in a novice's smock, who introduces herself.
- "I am Unexpected Orchid, your new novice, sent by Eldest Sister to learn from your counsel." -Unexpected Orchid
- "Last time Eldest Sister sent me something, she sent a dream first. So this is probably part of my training too." -Xian, aside
- "I am in fact honored but I am also baffled." -Xian, to Unexpected Orchid
- "Perhaps... confounded...?" -Wei Han
- "Let's not get out of hand!" -Xian
Unexpected Orchid (special guest Marleigh) is enthusiastic to learn what Xian can show her - perhaps one of her gentleman friends would consent to be admonished?
- "Any artificial setup for admonishment will fall short of the educational value of the real thing." -Xian
- "I shall wait most impatiently then. " -Unexpected Orchid
Xian says that they can start her education by heading back home again. Unexpected Orchid was hoping for a more interesting adventure than that, but perhaps there will be lessons along the way! Elder Sister would be most disappointed were she to arrive back home without learning anything. Xian expects that Elder Sister would be more disappointed in Xian, since she is the one with the responsibility to teach.
- "Would you like to spar while they work this out?" -Wei Han to Master Zhou
- "Men seem to like to punch each other a lot. So when there's nothing going on for a while, they take the opportunity to do so." -Xian
- "Are we supposed to observe them and swoon in maidenly...?" -Unexpected Orchid
- "No. But we should still observe them." -Xian
Master Zhou wonders if Unexpected Orchid wants to learn kung fu. She thinks she was supposed to learn gentle admonishment not direct admonishment, and says she will watch, with Xian.
Wei Han practices his new Soft Touch shtick, which is really not in his nature.
- "Of the things I would describe Shen Wei Han as, soft is very far down on the list. In fact, it is not on the list." -Xian
Xian is, however, impressed at the idea of Wei Han investing in not killing people. She explains to Unexpected Orchid - Wei Han is very good at beating things up; learning to do so in a way that takes account of the welfare of total strangers goes beyond that. That is something that distinguishes him from a "total thug", in Xian's opinion. Master Zhou, then, is trying to provoke Wei Han into losing his temper and get him to lash out. He isn't trying to beat Wei Han, he's trying to teach him.
- "How is Master Zhou provoking him without speaking?" -Unexpected Orchid
- "If your idea of yourself is being able to beat the crap out of someone, then failing at that can be challenging." -Xian
Unexpected Orchid thinks that Xian could cause stress to the situation as well, with words rather than blows. Wei Han probably isn't immune to words. Still, Xian thinks Master Zhou is the right person for provoking.
- "I have a hard time thinking of anyone in the Empire who would be better at teaching this particular lesson. He has to be good for something." -Xian
- "Don't make me crush your little head." -Master Zhou
- "<Marleigh makes a tally mark>"
- "Hey, she has a mechanic! " -Tom
- "It's not my problem. It probably will be, but I don't know about it yet." -Cael
- "Ah, the defense of Wilful Ignorance." -Tom
- "Are you indeed finding this provoking?" -Unexpected Orchid
- "I'm concentrating, ma'am." -Wei Han
Having spent about as much time not leaving as one can possibly manage in a minirun, the group sets off for the ex-Ice Pagoda. The butler brings in a set of bento boxes for the road, "just in case". Oddly, he brings five, though there are only four travellers. Everyone eyes the extra bento box suspiciously, but nobody is willing to ask the butler.
The group heads to the water gate, where they take their horses in the Speedy-shrunk manner, to Bear Mountain.
- "Do you always travel this way? How exciting!" -Unexpected Orchid
- "Once I jumped in a volcano instead." -Xian
- "I miss home, but the world is very interesting." -Unexpected Orchid
Master Zhou catches up with Yanzi, and then the group checks the map to see where the temple of the Admonishers is, relative to Bear Mountain. Unexpected Orchid briefly sets off people's alarm bells by not being quite sure of where things are. Master Zhou and Wei Han are both suspicious, but Xian is sure that it was just a misunderstanding.
Xian and Unexpected Orchid ride in Xian's chariot, so they are a little more protected from the saparilla bushes, and after several hours of travel towards the Pagoda, the group passes through the small village of Shrouded Pond. As they pass, the locals all look with great suspicion at the travellers.
- "Unlike the bento boxes, I am inclined to stop and see what is going on." -Xian
- "Oooh! Are we having a teaching moment?" -Unexpected Orchid
Xian suggests that they stay in the village for the night, and as there are hints of a plot here, Master Zhou and Wei Han agree. Xian and Unexpected Orchid head for the small inn - Xian strides confidently, avoiding any hint of nonchalance. The door to the inn is unexpectedly locked, and Xian knocks.
- "Might we stay for the night?" -Xian
- "Do you have money?"
- "Is it your money?"
- "Yes... these are unusual questions."
- "These are unusual times."
- "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
- "An inn."
Xian asks if there have been problems with non-paying customers? In fact, there have been un-paying customers - someone will stay, and then after they leave the money vanishes, or pots and pans, or other items.
- "Everyone in town seems nervous."
- "Everyone in town likes their stuff."
- "I like my stuff. My stuff is my favorite stuff."
- "Well, you might want to keep your stuff locked up at night. No reason."
- "That's not true."
- "Well, okay, that's not true. But it's still good general advice."
Wei Han and Master Zhou are feeling somewhat left out of the interminable conversation in the inn, so they hand off their horses to the inn's stableboy. Wei Han gives him a zhu, which he carefully stashes in his sock.
Back in the interrogation, Xian is somewhat confused, because it is a very odd crime spree that no one is willing to talk about. The group sets out to detect, but diverts into detecting at Unexpected Orchid first.
- "Have you been to this village before?"
- "I have not."
- "Have you been to the Strand before?"
- "I have not."
- "Wait, what?"
- "No, wait, I have! Home is in the Strand! Sorry!"
Okay, this is a little more inexperience than one expects in even a novice. Xian tells Unexpected Orchid that she should train with Master Zhou. As it turns out, she is not very good at kung fu.
- "Try to keep her conscious for the hour." -Xian
Master Zhou learns a bit more about Unexpected Orchid's nature. Xian, curious, asks Unexpected Orchid what she has learned. She thinks that she has learned that Master Zhou is better at fighting, and Xian is better at talking. Xian nods.
- "Should I..." -Unexpected Orchid, gesturing
- "Should you hit me? No." -Xian
Xian notes that the things that Unexpected Orchid learned were "things about individual people". Otherwise known as "facts". Facts are good, Xian says, but they aren't necessarily helpful in applying to other people. General principles are often more important than facts.
- "Also, good work on doing something when you had no idea why." -Xian
Dinner is ready at the inn. Wei Han takes the opportunity to ask the innkeeper about the thefts. Well, things disappear in the night. No one knows who is doing it, and everyone is pointing at everyone else unless there are strangers to point at, in which case everyone points at the strangers.
- "Are you sure it's not a spirit?"
- "The village is cursed? Oh no!"
It does seem to the party that there is an awful lot of bonus suspicion along with the general problem of the thefts. If someone is trying to get the villagers to suspect each other, then they're more vulnerable to outsiders. Ripe for... something. It's not clear what someone would be trying to do to the village.
- "If the mysterious enemy is trying to sow distrust, then you have to fight them with trust." -Xian
- "Meaning no disrespect, but are you suggesting that we fight the thief by leaving our valuables outside? " -Innkeeper
- "No, no. You have the information you need to figure it out. You just have to talk to each other. " -Xian
Well, the innkeeper can arrange for a town meeting. Tomorrow, though. Nobody wants to meet at night.
The group squabbles over setting watches. Rumor says that the thief most often strikes in the dark of the night, so everyone wants second watch. Also, having gotten two rooms, it would be tactically poor if one room was on watch and one room was sleeping. But two different rooms of an awake person watching a sleeping person also seems weird.
Xian starts rearranging things in the room she and Unexpected Orchid have, and after some work she has caused the room to look much more like a storage closet, in which people can hide. Everyone camps out in the "storage closet", with the two Admonishers on first watch.
- "They put us in a storage closet! We should demand our money back!" -Master Zhou
Unexpected Orchid spots it first.
- "Sister Xian, did you see that? The bento boxes are only four now!"
- "The butler is very wise. I recommend we don't spend more than five nights here." -Master Zhou
Wei Han awakens and notes that he sensed that one of the others in the room was going to steal his stuff, but decided not to out of fear.
- "Did you sense that, or is that your default position in life?" -Xian
The rest of the night passes with some squabbling, but no further thefts.
- "The easiest way to double your success rate is to double your failure rate. Try more things!" -Xian
- "This is fun!" -Unexpected Orchid
In the morning, they discuss possibilities. Bento boxes are an unusual first thing to steal, given the rather expensive magic items the party carries. Xian is starting to suspect small supernatural beings (like tengu) rather than large supernatural beings, given that whatever it was was deterred by Wei Han.
- "Tengu are an adequate explanation for any trouble."
Some shouting erupts from outside - Xian's chariot is missing. The stableboy and the innkeeper are each accusing the other of having stolen it, and Xian thinks neither is lying when they protest their innocence. The stable is also an interesting locked room puzzle, with no wheel tracks.
Wei Han finds an experienced tracker in Shadowed Pond, with his dog, to assist in following any more subtle tracks that might have been left; he and Unexpected Orchid and the tracker head out to search, while Master Zhou and Xian confer.
The searchers finally happen upon "the old caves", and as they approach, something shouts in glubby incomprehensibility from behind a boulder. Wei Han shoves the boulder aside, and there is an unhappy-looking tengu, emptying a skin of water into his mouth. Apparently the bento box was very spicy. Behind him is an eclectic pile of stuff, including Xian's chariot.
Wei Han drags the tengu back to the village, where Master Zhou tells the tengu that if he wants any water, he should promise to leave and never come back. When he accepts the deal, the others decide that this is too light a bargain, and start asking for more information. The tengu is still pretty fixated on his burning mouth, but Xian does coax something out of him along the lines of "the queen didn't tell me about this".
Unexpected Orchid thinks the tengu is not the real problem - the stuff has been found, and admonishing the person who sent the tengu is more important. But why would the Viridian Queen send a tengu to... annoy a random village?
With a bit more intimidation and offers of water, the group learns that the Queen of Night was the one who sent the tengu - she was angry at the village because the Queen of Mystery was hiding out here while putting together her plan to support the Queen of Secrets.
This does not make a great deal of sense to anyone, but the villagers can explain that the Festival of Three Queens just finished, and the Queen of Secrets won, after the Queen of Mystery threw in behind her.
Apparently after the Queen of Night lost, she set the tengu to wreak some fairly minor vengeance on a number of villages around the Strand that supported her rivals.
- "This is probably that thing Chochiro was doing."
There is a bit more argument about the circumstances under which tengu can steal from people, versus people stealing from tengu or tengu stealing from tengu. If it was tengu stealing from tengu, there would apparently be more rules.
- "If you see Pir Pir, tell him 'ha ha'" -Xian
The mystery is solved, just in time for the Town Meeting that they asked to be called, and the group explains. The village is a little taken aback - they took in the Queen of Mysteries because the Countess asked them to, but they didn't know there would be repercussions!
Xian emphasizes a few more points to Unexpected Orchid: they didn't have to investigate the bento boxes.
- "Sometimes you can trust that your friends are well intentioned without having to investigate. " -Xian
- "I take your meaning." -Unexpected Orchid
They ask for more information about the Festival of Three Queens. Apparently, Chochiro was the Queen of Mystery, the Viridian Queen was the Queen of Secrets, and some time within the next month, they all have to answer a summons to the court at Nine Terraces (except for Master Zhou, who wasn't asking questions.)
Wei Han really doesn't want to go to court. People might notice that whole "enemy of the Empire" thing. Perhaps the Countess can help clear that up? But Xian doesn't want to visit the Countess any longer. Master Zhou still does, though. There is more squabbling.
- "At the very least, we should stop by the coil. Briefly, first." -Xian
- "No!" -Wei Han
Xian grudgingly agrees that they can go to the Pagoda, but with her chariot leading the way, somehow things get lost and they find themselves at the entrance to the Coil after all.
- "Oops." -Xian
Xian explains to Unexpected Orchid.
- "I was feeling derelict in my duties, so I thought I should be doing more. You have trained with Master Zhou, and you went off with Wei Han, and we've worked together, of course. So, this is going to be the first task where you're on your own for a bit. I want you to go in yourself. There will be some distracting things, and in general it is very interesting, but you must persevere and keep going. You will get to a place where you feel like you have made a wrong turn, but you haven't. There's a feel of being slightly lost, and you have to disregard it. Eventually, you will reach a room, with someone in it waiting for you, and you have to decide for yourself what to tell them." -Xian
Unexpected Orchid looks a little puzzled, but puts her chin up, and heads into the Coil.
She does not come out again.
- "I guess she wasn't worthy." -Xian
The group waits for several hours, but no one emerges from the prison. So they head to the Pagoda of the Gentle Admonishers of Disquiet. On the steps outside, Chantou is sweeping fiercely.
- "Oh, now you show up." -Chantou
- "Did I get you in trouble?" -Xian
- "You didn't get me out of trouble." -Chantou
Chantou admits that Chochiro did well, though. How about Xiao Fa? How did he do? Xian says that he did well too. And, anyway, they were supposed to be not anywhere near the Strand. Oh, fine, if Xian is going to pull the "good excuse" con.
Anyhow, the Countess is waiting to see them, so they head upstairs to her chambers. She greets Xian warmly, and Wei Han and Master Zhou with smiles and courtesy.
- "Everything went well, I trust?"
- "I don't know about everything, but many things went well."
Then, Xian explains her more recent adventure.
- "I got a novice!"
- "Did you? Where did you find her?"
- "She said that you had sent her. She showed up at Tahiti."
- "So, what did you teach her?"
- "I think I taught her a lot about how to be Coyote, but she knew a lot already."
- "If that's what you taught her, then what did she teach you?"
- "She... probably reinforced some of that. Maybe I responded precipitously to being manipulated. I may have overreacted. I sent her into the Coil."
- "... Not to question your decisions, but did she deserve to be in the Coil?"
- "I'm questioning them, so you should too. Hrm. It is not something I should have done. It was rash."
Master Zhou stomps about silently waving his arms.
- "It was apparently a training exercise for me, set by parties unknown."
- "Did you pass or fail this exercise?"
- "Yes. Definitely. A lot of both."
- "It sounds like you are not entirely clear on your motivation, or its results. Perhaps you should discuss it with your sister. Perhaps you can provide her with some assistance as well. She might provide some insight."
- "I'm hoping you mean Chantou."
Xian goes off to sweep and find some self-understanding, and Master Zhou brings up the reason for the visit. Would she be able to arrange to spend the boon from the Sun in order to show the monks of the Steadfast Heart the truth of what happened?
The Countess thinks that this is a tricky endeavor, but she can arrange a meeting between Master Zhou and the Sun. In exchange, she would like Master Zhou's assistance in another matter.
- "The nearby village of Shadowed Pond is having some difficulties, if you might see your way clear to investigate..."
Happily, that has already been dealt with!Wei Han also has a favor to ask. There is this summons to court... how might that be handled delicately? The Countess thinks that she can arrange to have the summonses revoked, but that would have to be contingent upon the party's looking no further into the events of the festival. Wei Han is not sure that he can promise that, but after some discussion, the group agrees, and the mysteries of the Strand will remain mysteries.