A Marvelous Party
|"A drop of water shall be returned with a burst of spring."|| The run begins on the day of the Early Spider in the month of Spider Rising in the first Year of the Spider since the Butterfly King was Poisoned.|
The run takes place in the Jade Taiga.
The last thing anyone remembers is dawn on the Day of the Spider, and being "scattered through the world" by Aku, the Great Spirit of the Spider. As everyone tumbles through the void, they hear Aku's great voice threaten: "Now that your friends are scattered, you can suffer my personal ministrations... Wait... what?" As they puzzle at what to make of that, Zhi-Hao, Cai Wen, and Hana fall out into more interesting circumstances: Zhi-Hao lands in a dark and stuffy room, full of various hanging cloths and silks. Cai Wen lands in a very quiet, dark, smelly room. Hana lands in a brightly lit noisy room full of people shouting about pork buns.
Hana manages to exit the kitchen gracefully, because she has skill in that. Zhi-Hao manages to escape through a door, but the servants outside are quite surprised to find him emerging from the coat closet, and shout for security. Cai Wen escapes the garderobe.
Zhi-Hao's guards start taking him to the exit; to his annoyance, they prove unwilling to give him much of a briefing on where he is and who is in charge. However, the old man at the entrance who is comparing names to a list says that Zhi-Hao is on the list, and gives him an invitation, signed "Mu". Interesting. Zhi-Hao peeks out the window - it looks like the City of Spires, with a view possibly from the Royal Spire. He asks the butler about "Mu" and is told that Sagacious Mu will definitely be at the party. However, does the esteemed sir really want to go to the party dressed like that? Hmm, perhaps not. He is escorted to a small room that has clothing in his size, and he picks out some, before joining the party.
Cai Wen, emboldened by Zhi-Hao's experience, heads to the butler at the door and asks if there's an invitation for him - why, yes, there is. How about Teng Hanako? Yes, but he doesn't get to take it. Again, the butler asks if he really wants to be dressed like that for the party, and another servant (named Fen-Si) escorts him to a room with some clothes in his size. She seems interested in continuing to be helpful, so Cai Wen happily escorts her to the party to listen to her advice.
Meanwhile, Hana circulates in the main ballroom. Since the party has not officially started yet, there is no spending of Urbanity. The buzz is that most of the Great Houses will be represented, but the King himself may or may not come. Zhi-Hao enters and spots Hana - he heads over to her to let her know that she also probably has an invitation.
Cai Wen asks Fen-Si about Sagacious Mu, who has done him the honor of inviting him to the party. Apparently, Sagacious Mu is one of the court's seers; she keeps the social schedule. Fen-Si asks if there was anything Cai Wen was specifically hoping for from the party, and he says he is looking for some of his friends. She summons a page to go and check on the other two - the page says Master Deng is over there, but that Teng Hanako has not yet arrived at the party (since she hasn't picked up her invitation). This is close enough, and the party is reunited! Cai Wen suggests Hana pick up her invitation. She does so, and also gets escorted to a changing room to make herself fabulous.
What news? Things are quite calm in the city right now - some of the Dragon Army has pulled out to head down to the Jasmine River, but there has not been a lot of trouble in the wake of their leaving. People are happy and ready to celebrate the opening of the New Year. And, the buffet has the yummy pork buns that Hana saw earlier in the kitchen.
Once the party begins, the Urbanity rules become more clear.
- "This is perhaps an odd thing to ask, or else it goes without saying, I'm not sure which..." -Hana
Hana is worried about getting into a social situation that might reflect badly on her family, and asks the others to watch her back. They assure her that this is in the "goes without saying" category.
In the initial buffing phase, people ask each other to get drinks, all around the party, to get a few more urbanity. As a "favor" to Zhi-Hao and Cai Wen, Hana starts looking around for Sagacious Mu and Zhao Feiyan. Both are at the party. Hana talks to Sagacious Mu, introducing herself and thanking the sage for inviting them. Sagacious Mu notes that if they were going to be here (and she had Seen that they would be, and would be behaving themselves), it seemed appropriate to have them be here invited, rather than uninvited. Hana asks her what she sees for the upcoming year? She thinks that it will be a prosperous year for the Taiga, since most of the troubles are farther to the east. Does she have specific portents about the Forest of Chin? Oh, these are just her opinions - her sight doesn't work that way. She can say who will be somewhere she is, with some hint of what they will do, but is not a general purpose teller of the future.
A gentleman who introduces himself as Ro Wu-Lun approaches Zhi-Hao, and asks for the story about the "escapade with the elephant". Zhi-Hao haggles - he would be happy to tell him the tale, once he knows of the gentleman's interest in it. Two tales later, Ro Wu-Lun knows about the Night of Gates and has Pir Pir's name as someone particularly responsible, and Zhi-Hao knows that Wu-Lun is in the service of Duke Huang and is always looking for things to embarrass his master's enemies. There turns out to be less malice in the story than he was hoping for, but it's still interesting and possibly useful for him.
Hana reminds everyone of the four most powerful Dukes in the Taiga:
- Fire Dukes (the party doesn't like them so much)
- Duke Huang, the "Yellow Duke", who put scaffolding on the Golden Spire
- Duke Hong, the "Red Duke", who took advantage when the Serpent ring was put on Duke Lan
- Water Dukes (the party likes them better)
- Duke Lan, the "Blue Duke", who was thought dead because of the Serpent ring
- Duke Lu, the "Green Duke", who has not yet been met.
Zhao Feiyan, also known as the Pearl of the Taiga, (who Hana notes is wearing a lovely silver circlet) seems to be playing the game of granting the favor of letting her admirers bring her drinks and tidbits to eat. Nice trick. Next, Hana looks around for forlorn-looking people, and spots So Ren, a functionary in the court of Duke Lan, who seems to look particularly unhappy. She asks after the Duke; he says that things have been reasonably calm in Harmonious Endeavor, so the Duke is doing well. He hints for Hana to spend some urbanity to ask him for more information, and ends up telling her the log of the Book of Five Rings run, and the story of Duke Lan's daughter running off with a now-retired bandit king. There is apparently now a new Bandit Queen, who is less volatile than the previous Bandit King, so the banditry is a bit more controlled now. So Ren also notes that among the other Dukes, Duke Huang has a virtual hold on the politics in the capital, while Duke Lu is engaged with border issues - "he has his own Harmonious Contemplation". There are bandit troubles coming across the borders from Iron Mountain and the Roof of the World, and chaos in the Roof of the World in particular. He spends an urbanity back to ask her to listen for anything that might be of use to him against Ro Wu-Lun, Duke Huang's overseer who apparently has some sort of hold over him. He fiddles nervously with his sapphire chain of office.
- "I sense a jewelry plot coming on." -Andrea
Zhi-Hao looks around the party for someone who has nice weapons. He finds someone with a finely crafted sword, who introduces himself as Tren-So. As Zhi-Hao admires the sword, Tren-So says that the sword was made by the great Master Hanso himself (a master swordsmith fifty years ago, Zhi-Hao recognizes). Tren-So allows Zhi-Hao to see the sword - it is a x4 blade. Ooooh. The sword was granted to him by Duke Lu, for gallantry in battle; Tren-So is the head of Duke Lu's personal guard, and he both leads and trains the guard. He used to specialize in mounted combat, and now is more about guarding others. Zhi-Hao chats about serving in the court of the Butterfly King, and the two commiserate about no longer being in the field. Then, he hooks his sword back to his emerald belt clip. With an offer of a few urbanity, he agrees to look for someone who can teach Zhi-Hao a shtick in multi-strike.
Cai Wen asks Fen-Si how to leverage news of the Butterfly King being healed into urbanity - she suggests that he drift around saying "I have news of the Butterfly King, but it is surely tedious and I wouldn't want to bore you" so that they will spend urbanity to ask. In fact, this gambit works fairly well, and Ambassador Mato Shorini, the ambassador from the Butterfly Court, pays several urbanity for the news, and then another urbanity for Cai Wen to not mention it to anyone else for a while. He waves good-bye, his citrine butterfly ring glinting in the candlelight.
Hana looks for someone to ask her to dance.
- "It's inappropriate for me to ask you to dance. I am she who gets asked to dance. You have to have some standards.": -Andrea
Lord Hong Cheng, a younger cousin of Duke Hong, flirts with her and gets into a party competition in the Music arena, which he wins with not a lot of opposition. In another round of buffing, Zhi-Hao and Cai Wen ask each other for drinks and food; Cai Wen asks Hana to look for an afterparty that might have gambling; Hana asks Zhi-Hao to look for other people in the ducal factions.
A Slightly Nefarious Plot
The afterparty is not hard to find; Zhao Wu, the Master of Horse, is throwing such a party. For those looking for gambling, the Bone Dicer is the person to contact. Zhi-Hao looks for people with jewelry of colored stones, and finds someone wearing a yellow beryl, one of Duke Huang's men named Ro Wu-Shang. He is looking for his son, Ro Wu-Lun, and asks Zhi-Hao to keep an eye out for him and "let him know that it is time. He'll know what it means." Pressed with two urbanity, he admits that his son overheard So-Ren get a bit in his cups, and say a few unwise/insulting things about his Duke. If they spread it around at the right moment, they can throw disgrace upon both him and his house. And, they should try to do this before he can accrue the ten urbanity to stop them.
Zhi-Hao mentions this to Hana and Cai Wen, and gives Hana an urbanity to go help So-Ren out. Cai Wen throws in another, asking Hana to ask So-Ren to give his (Cai Wen's) regards to Duke Lan. With the doubling, that's four more for Hana to toss at So-Ren, which would double to eight for him. However, when she finds him, she notes that he doesn't look well, and though his urbanity is over 10, he seems to be under some sort of effect that reduces it again. Can she help him? He tries to spend urbanity on that, but some of it vanishes.
Hana notes with suspicion that he is now wearing a jade pendant of office which looks much like his previous sapphire pendant of office. She points this out to him, and he panics and runs off to... it's not clear what. Hana regroups with the others.
Hmm. If his jewelry is stolen, is there anyone who can find it? Maybe another seer? Ah, perhaps they can spend some urbanity to instantiate a Magpie Detective. In the meantime, Hana finds Ro Wu-Lun and gets him to ask her to dance, to distract him from his father's plan. He is quite pleased by this turn of events, and makes some Dancing/Seduction rolls, but she does not succumb to his wiles. And, in fact, in the dancing competition, Zhi-Hao takes the lead with a masterful sword dance, outbidding the hapless So-Ren, who was probably overly optimistic in thinking he could get six successes on his six dice.
Since Zhi-Hao is the new star of the party, Zhao Feiyan wanders nearby him, until he asks her to dance. Cai Wen talks to So Ren; using his ability to cheat in minigames, Cai-wen might be able to do the thing So Ren needs done instead. However, when So Ren tries to spend his urbanity for this favor, a lot of it vanishes, so that is less help.
Cai Wen does locate a Magpie detective: Master Chan, and asks for his assistance determining what is going on with the jewelry swapping. Unfortunately (as Fen-Si notes later), when you don't pay the urbanity points to find a skilled detective, you just get a random one, and sometimes randomness rolls a 1. Master Chan's version of investigating appears to be to go around and ask various people if they swapped the jewelry - this is not working so well.
On the more effective side of things, Hana convinces Ro Wu-Lun to explain his Nefarious Plan to her - when he or his father get five urbanity, they ask Renata the Thief to swap someone's jewelry for cursed jade, so they've been doing this to their enemies.
Zhi-Hao spends an urbanity to introduce Zhao Feiyan to Cai Wen. He is most honored and pleased to make her acquaintance, and spends two urbanity for a private conversation in an alcove. Zhi-Hao also looks for Tren-So - his belt clip has also been replaced with jade, and Zhi-Hao explains this to him.
Cai Wen tells Feiyan about the cursed-jewelry plot, and warns her not to lose her circlet. It still appears to be silver rather than jade. She says she will bring this to her husband's attention. Also, Cai Wen says that he has an item of hers, which has been mislaid, and the only honorable thing to do is to return it (this is a favor for her favor, which he has gained in a Weird Gambling Party in the Strand some runs ago). She notes that she has never before had someone give her the gift of rejecting her; she is most flattered by the... lack of attention, as it were. She invites him to tea in the Autumn Gardens in a few days to speak at greater length.
Hana goes off to find So Ren again - is he still wearing his cursed jewelry? Unfortunately, as is often true of cursed items, it seems to confuse him enough that he can't quite wrap his brain about the idea of taking it off. He has to wear his sapphire chain of office! Sigh. She tells him to trust her, and close his eyes and think about the wisdom of the Tortoise spirit (his aspect) in trying to find the answer. He does so, and she tries to use sleight-of-hand to remove it, but he notices and panics again (apparently the curse also comes with some proof against being taken off by others).
Zhi-Hao finally finds Ro Wu-Lun, as he can't really put it off any longer after taking the urbanity for the favor. But he manages to get him to agree to go on an errand to the kitchen to ask the chefs for something special, before telling him to talk to his dad.
Fen-Si returns with Inspector Chan of the Royal Inspection Service, guaranteed to be a better detective than Master Chan the Unwise. They tell him about the cursed jewelry plot, mentioning both So Ren and Tren-So. Inspector Chan deduces that the person with tons of urbanity not doing anything in particular is Renata the Thief, so now they know who he is. But, what does the party wish to be done? Do they wish him arrested? Or simply thwarted? If he is swapping these items in exchange for urbanity, presumably if they offer him slightly more urbanity, he'd swap them back.
And, in fact, when Cai Wen goes to talk to Renata, this proves to be true. It will cost 5 urbanity to have him swap cursed jade for someone's jewelry, and 6 urbanity to swap back. Cai Wen burns 10 urbanity to get Renata to drop some cursed jade on both Ro Wu-Shang and Ro Wu-Lu; this will prevent them from hiring him to uncurse them, so it's a good first step. He says he will take care of this the very next moment that a distraction is provided. Ah, this must mean the party competitions. Cai Wen triggers a Public Speaking competition, and tells the elephant story for once and for all. His oratory is quite impressive, so Zhao Feiyan wanders by again to encounter him.
Ro Wu-Lun blows all his urbanity trying to seduce Hana, but his new jade ring is glaring in her eyes and she can reject him without a cost.
Having accrued quite a pile of urbanity now, Renata gets a really big favor from the King's Architect. Zhi-Hao confirms that both Wu-Lun and Wu-Shang have jade jewelry now. Cai Wen haggles Renata down to 15 urbanity total to switch back three pieces. So Ren's two pieces of jade and Tren-So's belt clip are replaced with the originals once more. Also, for another urbanity, he gets a way to contact Renata in the future. For a distraction for this swap, Cai Wen triggers a Conversation competition; he is outbid by Feiyan, who is then outbid by her husband. She teases him that that's cheating (as he is getting some sort of bonus from her).
So Ren finally manages to talk to Ro Wu-Shang and spend his ten urbanity; Ro Wu-Shang agrees to not tell any incriminating stories today. Renata chats with Zhao Feiyan. Zhi-Hao spends some urbanity so that Tren-So will put in a good word in for him on the multi-strike teacher that he will find during puttering.
Cai Wen arranges to get Hana invited to the afterparty as well, so now all three are going. Zhi-Hao finds a specialist in "gossip about Ro Wu-Lun", which turns out to be an ex-mistress of his; he introduces her to Hana, who gets some mildly incriminating dirt on Ro Wu-Lun, which she passes to So Ren (thus fulfilling the favor she promised him). Zhi-Hao also uses the excuse of the Elephant to talk to the King's Architect. The interesting news there is that neither the King nor his Dukes came to the party after all, because they were in a secret council all day.
- The three PCs attend the afterparty.
- Cai Wen has tea with the Pearl of the Taiga at the Autumn Garden, as per his invitation.
- Cai Wen visits the gambling den of the Bone Dicer.