Whatever Happened to Deng Lumang?
|"A gentleman is simply a patient wolf."|| The run takes place on the Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Crane in the Year of the Dog of the Fourth Treaty of Houses|
The run takes place in various places around the Golden Coast, particularly the northernmost cities.
After another break, Takanata, Deng, and Yanyu look up from their relaxation at Tahiti, and Deng wonders how his cousin Lumang is doing. He was in the House of Gainful Protection before the war started, but there's been a lot of changes due to the Fourth Treaty of Houses, and who knows where he might be now?
Everyone takes a moment to remember: the house formerly known as Gainful Protection is now called the House of Valor, and the party met a Lord Colonel Ming from that house at the Gate of Shen. The Lord of Valor survived the war, and the house did not try to take over during the Treaty of Houses, so they're... maybe on the less bad side for the moment.
Asking at the headquarters of the House of Valor might lead to something, especially if Lumang is dead or persona non grata. Though, the party did invade it twice last chapter, so there might be some hard feelings even if the House of Valor is behaving itself.
Well, perhaps Lord Colonel Ming knows, and he seems willing to be on speaking terms with the party.
Gate of Shen
The party rides north. The borders between individual House lands (most notably into the Valor lands) are starting to have checkpoints, but they are not particularly troublesome to pass through. Yanyu reminds everyone, once they get to the northern part of the country, that the road signs are wrong because the Gate of Shen has moved to the actual border with the Steppes.
When they arrive, the Gate of Shen looks like an actual real town, in the real world and everything. The art industry isn't as booming as it used to be, but trade is through the roof.
In the Town Hall, there's a sign on the town council doors:
There is shouting from inside about something not making any sense, and the party poke their heads in and take some seats in the chairs to the side.
Lord Colonel Ming looks red-faced as if he has just finished shouting, while Ezokin tries to explain that it is important that the Gate be on the border'". The Lord Colonel thinks that they should be maybe trying to annex the part of the town that is in the other country; the House of Valor doesn't like losing half a town.
The impasse seems to be founded in very different worldviews and they agree to table it for the moment, as the party's arrival seems likely to indicate an impending disaster. Ezokin loses the coin flip, and comes over to talk to them. He shakes his head at Lord Ming's foolishness - the international chi is the whole point.
Takanata wonders if the First Servant might have an opinion on annexation - Ezokin says they invited him to send someone to the town council but there has been no response as yet.
But as it turns out, the party actually wanted to talk to Lord Colonel Ming, so Ezokin brings them over. Lord Colonel Ming recognizes Takanata and Deng, and offers his gratitude again for recovering the town, but does wish they hadn't moved it. Ezokin rolls his eyes and wanders off.
- "Sometimes, these things just happen." -Deng
Deng introduces Yanyu, and she contemplates him with a matchmaker's eye and concludes that it's astonishing that he is so eligible (a lord, military rank, honorable, wealthy, and good-looking) but is somehow middle-aged without being married. How has he not accidentally stumbled into a marriage, if nothing else? His aspect is Dog, and the most important person he is connected to is the Lord of Valor.
Master Deng asks the Lord Colonel if he knows where his cousin Lumang is. Lord Colonel Ming apologizes, as he doesn't know where everyone in the House is, but suggests that he would have been remanded to headquarters in order to swear to the new house. He gives them a letter of introduction to use at house headquarters in order to get higher-priority assistance.
Takanata reminds Yanyu of Lord Colonel Ming's I Ching.
- "If you don't mind me asking a personal question, why is a man of your quality unmarried?" -Yanyu
Ming coughs suddenly, blaming the dry air off the plains, and says that he supposes the time has never been right. He looks somewhat unsettled as he regards Yanyu.
Yanyu notes that she happens to be a matchmaker, provoking another coughing fit. As a courtesy, she says, she could look into the matter. Lord Colonel Ming protests - he's sure that he could not afford her services (she offers them for no charge) and then that he is not sure it would be entirely appropriate for her to offer free services on behalf of her house at this time.
- "I do love a challenge." -Yanyu
- "I had not realized the case was so dire as that, but it would be ungracious to decline." -Lord Colonel Ming, conceding
- "Excellent." -Yanyu
She asks about his date and place of birth and his requirements in a wife.
- "Um, the usual...?"
- "Ah, so you wish beauty, intelligence, and wisdom?"
- "As do all men...?"
Yanyu says that she’ll work on it, and Lord Colonel Ming bows, and then retreats.
Well, the next step is clearly to head to the headquarters of the House of Valor. They decide that they will not use the letter of introduction, as that may cause political problems for the Lord Colonel if he is tied to people who keep invading the House. On the other hand, Takanata thinks this may instead just be a job for bureaucracy, which the party is pretty good at.
They ride south to the headquarters - there seems to be a line of people looking for information on missing people. When the group gets to the head of the line, a House administrator asks who they are looking for, and whether they have name/rank/service location. Deng gives his cousin's information, and the guy says that he will put in a request to the records office. It seems likely that he could just go in now and look it up, but wants to avoid that. Yanyu gives him a small bribe, and this serves to grease the wheels, so he heads in to look up Lumang.
When he returns, he is a little puzzled. Unfortunately, he cannot give the group a precise location - when summoned back to swear his oaths of loyalty to the new house/lord, Lumang declined and asked to muster out. His record was evaluated and then he received his benefits and was honorably released from service, and his things were delivered to a message box in Daizhou. As for his record, he was being promoted adequately well until about a week into the war, and then he transferred to the front, where he made a notable name for himself until the end of the war, when he mustered out. It was an unusual trajectory.
The group rides North once more, to Daizhou. Things have changed since the last time they were there - there is no ritual combat at the gates nor is anyone asking whether people entering have a soul. There's a lot of construction such as repairing walls.
The group heads to the address where Lumang is receiving messages, and it is a large hostel, filled with refugees and transients. Deng asks after his cousin Lumang, and the hostel-keeper nods. He says he hears that Lumang has many cousins, ducks into a back room, and returns with a slip of paper with an address where the "family reunion" will be happening tonight.
Those familiar with Daizhou recognize the address as the park that the Grand Council of Necromancers used to hold midnight meetings at. How odd. Those familiar with Deng recognize that he does NOT have a large family and there are not many cousins. Deng suspects that this is a trap on the part of the hostel-keeper to mug them, but that springing that sort of trap is always fun. Takanata decides that there are better ways to meet Lumang, and Hand On the Patterns him to come by just as the group exits the hostel.
(When Yanyu sees Lumang, it all clicks: Clearly war has been good for him. He’s matured well. He’s definitely a Deng, worthy of respect, honor, deference, and so on. Thoughts of Lord Ming's problem fly from her head, as here is a man who needs a proper mate. If she wasn't already married and with child... oh well.)
Lumang invites everyone to have tea at a nearby tavern, and even Deng and Takanata note that he seems to be standing taller than he used to. He orders a spread of food and beer and tea, and says that he hears that Master Deng and his friends are to thank for much of the situation in the city? (Yanyu notes in passing that Lumang is aspect Tiger.)
- "You guys did a great job shaking up the country. But the House of Valor is still too regimented. So I came to Daizhou, which is a City of Possibilities."
Lumang is a little vague about his precise plans, but is sure that in such an exciting city, something will come up.
(Yanyu is pretty sure that he knows what he’s about. Plans within plans, that one. But, she probably shouldn’t just out him here. Who knows who might be listening in.)
Is Zhi-Hao still with his old house? No, not really, though he's still working with the same people - just not the house. Lumang nods in approval at not being tied down by house rules. .
So... when they enquired at the hostel, they said there would be a family reunion late tonight. What's up with that? Lumang shrugs - it was probably a misunderstanding. He left that address for packages, but they get confused. He claims there's lots of confusion around right now - and Yanyu agrees. He suggests that he meet them for dinner tomorrow for a longer talk. Lumang recommends a nice inn one street over, not too far away, and says he'll stop by at the inn and pick them up. But now he has to run.
- "Anything they want, just put it on my tab." -Lumang to the tavernkeeper as he goes
When the party arrives at the inn, the innkeeper seems to be expecting them. It's a nicer place than the hostel, and there are already rooms prepared. Once the group is alone together, Yanyu starts a conversation in Senatali, in case anyone is listening. She is sure that Lumang has a plan, but he also might have been worried about people listening in.
So is the gathering tonight a trap? Or is it something more like, his smuggler-organization secret meeting? It sounds like he doesn't want them involved in whatever is happening tonight, whether they want to surveill or charge in. Which means surveilling rather than charging in, since ignoring the plot is not on the table.
Takanata says he's not a master stealther, so will wait in the inn and show up if he is needed.
As Deng and Yanyu start getting ready to leave, Yanyu finds a note slipped under her door:
- "New plan." -Yanyu
Yanyu suggests that maybe this is a werewolf plot? She can't think of any reason that Lumang would want a surreptitious matchmaker.
So Yanyu goes to the park openly, and Deng goes sneakily, and Takanata waits at the inn. Yanyu spots Lumang with a small handful of others; Lumang points at Yanyu, and someone gives her a cloak to wear. The cloak is cut very cleverly, and disguises Yanyu's pregnancy.
On the other side of the park, another group is walking in. They have a few more people, maybe half a dozen, and are wearing cloaks of a different cut. Two of them head towards the center of the park, while Lumang and Yanyu also head into the center, leaving the others behind.
(Yanyu gets a temporary shtick: “Standing with the Alpha: +5 dice to all Body and Reflexes rolls.”)
Deng does his best to listen in, but it's a meeting location designed to prevent eavesdroppers.
Lumang says there is more than enough territory, and he doesn't see why he has to concede any. Langrin says Lumang is an upstart trying to grab things that aren't his. Yanyu notes that the woman next to Langren is glaring daggers at her, but Yanyu is unimpressed. She also notices that the conversation is clearly not going the way Langren thought it would - Lumang is making a stronger showing, has more people with him, and is taking a harder line. Langren clearly doesn't know what to make of it, but in some way that Yanyu can't pin down, his improved standing is because Yanyu is just better than Mulang (Langren's companion).
As the two men talk, neither side is conceding anything and it looks like it may come to a physical fight. Then there are some whistles, beyond the side of the park, and that seems to be a signal to break up as Daizhou guards start to arrive.
- "This isn't over - we'll finish this tomorrow night." -Langren
Lumang's group is very pleased with how things have gone, except for the other woman in the party, who is also glaring daggers at Yanyu but with even less effect than Mulang. Lumang says that they'll need to deal with distracting the guards for tomorrow night, and Yanyu, pondering the situation from a matchmaker point of view, thinks that what Lumang needs is a werewolf wife who can Bring It.
The next morning, the inn serves the party breakfast in their rooms, and they discuss the situation further. Takanata contemplates whether the plusses that Yanyu noticed are related to the effect in the Steppes from the Great Dog Spirit that gives bonuses to your partner. He thinks about it for a while, but decides that isn't isn't explicitly related to that. In particular, Dog and Wolf are not the same, but they are a bit related, in that it is a rule for people which is coming from the Spirits that affect them. The fact that it is specifically split on a male / female line is likely due to the Moon.
The group splits up to gather information around the city. Takanata looks into the political factions that used to be all the rage in Daizhou, and discovers that they have gone the way of all revolutionary groups that win - they have become the people in charge. They still squabble about things, but it is now more about regulation than liberation. They are worrying about gangs and getting guards in place and so on.
Yanyu asks around about Lumang and Langrin, and gets better answers than her rolls would have expected. The area around the inn where she starts is Lumang's territory, and people like him. Most of the rest of the city is Langren, and he's a bit more of an arm-breaker. She also finds that she doesn't have to pay for anything.
Deng does some general information-gathering, and determines that the city is still working on the logistics of what "Daizhou is under everyone's law" means. Obviously they don't have to follow the orders of all the houses at once, but one effect that is already in place is that House nobility are Daizhou nobility, no matter what house you are from.
The trio regroups and thinks about how to back Lumang's play, but decides that this can be discussed at dinner, now that the werewolf genre is out in the open. Lumang picks them up from the inn for dinner, and among the waiters at the restaurant he chooses is one of the group Yanyu recognizes from last night.
The waiter brings in a crate, which he presents to Lumang. Lumang thanks Yanyu for last night's assistance, and offers her the crate. He is very appreciative, and sorry things didn't get resolved last night - he would be deeply grateful if she could stay a little longer. Yanyu agrees - he is Master Deng's cousin and so of course they will all do what they can to support him. Looking in the crate, it contains a variety of clothing that all seems to have the clever cut of last night’s cloak - until Yanyu gives birth, she has a shtick in only looking as pregnant as she wants to, while wearing clothes from the box.
So... how can they help? Lumang admits that the problem is more the long term than the short term. Yanyu can make an impression, but he assumes she is not willing to stay for months. Yanyu nods - she thinks Lumang needs a partner who can give the necessary support he needs.
He admits, sadly, that he thought he had such a person, but Langren lured her away. Yanyu frowns - if Langren can lure her, then she obviously lacks something. Lumang looks down - Langren is obviously more... er. This is the first time he looks less than perfectly confident, when he is forced to concede that Langren is a more... something... werewolf than he is.
Yanyu can get a bit more of the sense of the numbers - Lumang is power 10 and Langren is power 13, as werewolves measure their inherent worth. But Lumang is also obviously power 18.
Takanata thinks that Yanyu is having trouble because she is trying to see the mechanic from inside. That lets her see it, but since she is also affected by it, she has nowhere to stand for clarity. Evaluating Lumang's status using Gravitas, he thinks it is 8 or 9, but it is acting like something more like 15-17. Is Lumang wearing some sort of magic item or clothes of status? Lumang is puzzled. He also tries to explain about werewolf power, but he has the same problem Yanyu does and can't describe it clearly.
Lumang doesn't think that the party charging in and chopping Langren will solve his problem, but helping in less obvious ways could work. Deng has some status-buffing clothes, and Yanyu can double her charisma for the night's meeting, but the mechanics are still fuzzy.
So... what is Lumang's longer term plan, anyway? He says that there is a lot of disorder that needs to be addressed, and also opportunity. He's not looking to run the law, so much as provide a place that people can turn when they have real concerns. Deng is puzzled - are there not, er, places-that-people-can-turn around here? Lumang laughs - the tongs have been suffering for the past several years (he gestures at Deng). And the Invisible House is separate, and houses don't have the same concerns as people.
Once the sun goes down and the moon rises, Takanata suggests doing some research on Yanyu and Lumang and their connection and stat buffs and so on. People go in and out together, wearing different things, and Takanata makes a research roll.
He then buys some KS: Werewolves, examines his findings, and concludes:
- He's getting a +8 buff from her, she's getting a +5 from him.
- Last night she had a +5 body/reflex buff, and Lumang is getting a +8 buff to social/mind.
- Your werewolf power is your second highest Stat.
- You give half of that to your partner in the places where their stat is below their werewolf stat.
- If the Son of the Moon showed up, there would be instant combat, because Lumang and Yanyu are making eyes at each other in completely inappropriate ways.
- Lumang + Yanyu is 18, and Langren + Mulang is 18. That's why the conversation last night couldn't make any progress and would have turned into a fight.
- If Mulang went back to Lumang, together they'd beat Langren.
The group is somewhat focused on social, because they have better ways to buff social than anything else. Grace is a problem, though.
- "We're not giving him the Talisman of the Crane." -Takanata
- "Well, not long term." -Deng
- "Especially not long term, but also not tonight." -Takanata
Maybe they could prevent Mulang from showing up tonight by Hand On the Pattern to get her to do something on the other side of town? But getting at her might be tough - she's likely to be at her house or at Langren's.
If things came to a fight, would it be between Langren and Lumang, or between both packs? It seems like the answer is both. The fight that matters is between the alphas, but the packs will fight each other and do collateral damage while that is happening.
A plan is devised: Yanyu will give Lumang a makeover and then spend a karma to refresh the shtick. Then Takanata will tweak her shtick to affect Grace instead of Charisma and she will do it again. Deng will loan Lumang his status clothes. That should prove sufficient for tonight, and then Yanyu will talk to Mulang tomorrow night.
When Lumang stands up, buffed and with the fancy clothes, Yanyu has to fan herself with her seduction resistance shtick.
Near the park, a water tank has flooded a street and the city guards are headed off that way to deal, so they won’t be interfering it seems.
Lumang can clearly track where Deng is, even though he's quite sneaky, and everyone else is very impressed by Lumang's new power-21 level, while Langren is still just an 18. They negotiate, and Lumang lays down the law. He gives Langren some assignments at the other edge of town and sends him off.
After that meeting, Yanyu talks to Mulang, and suggests that she would do better off going back to Team Lumang. Mulang can't understand this as far as Yanyu's goal, but between Yanyu's new pack status and her 30 successes in matchmaking persuasion, Mulang agrees that it's in her best interest too.
In the morning, Lumang and Mulang come and see them off from their inn.
- "Innkeep, no charge for these fine folk."
- "Yes, wolf-father."