Alike in Dignity
|"If you wait long enough by the river, the bodies of your enemies will float by."||It is the Day of the Late Bear in the month of the Tiger, in the third Year of the Fox since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
On the Road Again
Xiao Fa shows Master Zhou a tree that he believes to be a good site for meditation and cleansing the chi. Zhou tries to do his meditation training there, but it isn't quite right; the chi seems not quite so calm and clear as it was in the Pavilion of Selfless Design.
That evening, Ringmaster Te asks Cai-Wen (as the highest-status person he can find) if there is any reason he knows of to not leave in the morning, since the investigations have all been wrapped up. Given how far behind schedule the circus is, Te suggests skipping the Port of Propitious Voyage, and all of the small cities in between, and heading south all the way to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival (the capital of the Hon'eth Arcade, about halfway down the coast) before the next show. It'll stretch the budget thin to go that far without performing, but he thinks he can manage. Cai-Wen suggests, instead, that they do divert to the Port of Propitious Voyage, since he wants to ask around about blockade runners. Ringmaster Te says that'll add a day or two to the schedule, and begins to arrange it. When Cai-Wen realizes that the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival is also a port, he decides that this is probably sufficient for his investigation, and tells the Ringmaster that going straight down is fine. Of course, by this time, Te has already modified his plan to stop at the Port, so he has to go re-juggle the numbers a third time when the side trip is canceled.
- "I will break him of the habit of asking me for instructions." -Cai-Wen
The circus is gathered together and informed of the plan: pack up now, and move out first thing in the morning for a straight run south to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. Te checks with the "new hires" to see how their acts are coming along. Kasumi has been working on her acrobatic running.
- "Can you do that on a wire?" -Ringmaster Te
- "Over rotating blades and fires?" -Tom
- "Grr. I hear you grab noses." -Meg
As the only circus pro with any experience currently not busy with offscreen tasks, Ringmaster Te asks Shuyan to take all the newbies under her wing to get their acts into shape. Shuyan is a little intimidated.
- "But they're all older than me!"
- "They're still all scrubs."
Cai-Wen suggests that Master Zhou train people (such as Xiao Fa) on stage for his act, but Zhou glowers that "training is not for entertainment" and Xiao Fa protests that if he were to play a bumbling student, he might not actually bumble all that well.
Xian thinks about putting together a stage magic act, and looks through the storage tents for some interesting props. He finds the Sphere of Harmony, in a plain wooden box which clearly contains something of great value. Hmm. It might be better to put it back in the fancy box if it's going to advertise like that. Xian puts it in a different box with a false bottom, and decides it's appropriately shabby, at least for the moment.
Then, it is morning, and the circus breaks camp and heads south. The initial days of travel, to the main highway and then along it, are fairly uneventful. As the circus approaches the spur going from the main north/south highway to the Port of Propitious Voyage, they have to halt for a column of soldiers, heading from inland towards the coast. While the soldiers march across, a few of them drift up the line of the circus, checking things out. Mindful of Li Merit's Fast Passing Rules, everyone breaks into their acts. Shuyan demonstrates snake dancing, and Wei Han flings Kasumi up in the air to land acrobatically on the roof of a wagon. Satisfied with the performances, the soldiers do not insist on searching anything, and the army finishes crossing.
Cai-Wen asks where they're going, and receives the not-very-reassuring answer that "it's only a minor disturbance, don't worry about it, sir." After the army finishes passing, Kiri takes her leave of the party and heads towards the Port of Propitious Voyage, with the other travelers straggling after the army.
A Broken Wheel
A couple more days of travel go by with no incident. Then, some distance off the highway on a small local road, a few people spot what appears to be an overturned mule-cart full of cabbages, and a horse-drawn carriage with curtained windows, which appear to have collided. The party heads over to assist and investigate. The carriage's passenger is a young woman in a yellow silk dress, with long white hair, who is reassuring the cart driver, who is very concerned about his cabbages. Xian, Wei-Han, and Cai-Wen all start to think that they have seen this guy before.
The carriage has a broken wheel; the mule-cart just needs righting. Master Zhou asks if either of them need assistance; the cabbage merchant asks for assistance righting the cart, which Cai-Wen supervises. For some reason, Anto finds it very easy to right the cart, (he's strangely rolling for 5's), though he still needs the assistance of Shen Wei-han. Cai-Wen asks if the cabbage merchant is all right, but he is too disturbed by the plight of his cabbages to be coherent, until Xian asks him whether he has had trouble with red grubs. Discussing cabbage farming perks him right up, and he notes that he was heading to the Port of Propitious Voyage with his cabbages.
The young woman, who introduces herself as Kuan-Xi, thanks Anto profusely for his assistance, and Cai-Wen less so. She was heading to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, but was taking the slow road rather than the highway, as she is not in a hurry.
While Kuan-Xi is distracted by chatting with the others, Kasumi sneaks into her carriage. It is very well furnished - the yellow silk she's wearing now is probably the shabbiest thing she owns. Kasumi also finds a locked box that probably has her money in it, but doesn't try to open it.
Cai-Wen tries to figure out if she's telling the truth about not being in a hurry, and thinks she isn't in a hurry now. She tries to get a brief introduction from everyone, starting with Anto and still somewhat focused on him. She says she's from the east of here, and talks about her trip through the Arcade but kind of avoids details about where she's actually from.
Xian notes to her that her wheel is broken, and apologizes that if he fixed it, it would probably only get about five or ten feet before breaking again. He also thinks that according to his Sense Motive roll, things seem to be going according to her plan. ("Wait, since when? Before or after the accident?")
Master Zhou is very suspicious, but according to his Sense Motive roll, doesn't think she means active harm. Wei Han suggests getting a wheel from stores, since Li Merit packed a whole bunch of extra wheels. Master Zhou sends Xiao Fa back to get one; Xiao Fa returns with a wheel and someone who knows something about changing them.
Cai-Wen (with his Sense Motive roll) notes that she does an excellent job (well, clearly not that excellent, since half the party has Sense Motive) of hiding the fact that she's only interested in Anto. Xian interrogates the cabbage merchant, to try to get the details of the crash, to figure out if she seemed to have caused it deliberately. Xian also reminds the cabbage merchant that they were there for a previous crash.
- "Am I really that generic looking?" -Xian
The cabbage merchant does suddenly recall that the last time he crashed his cart, these people were there as well! He regards them all with new suspicion, wondering whether they are part of some wagon-crashing cult, or perhaps are cart insurance salesmen.
Xiao Fa takes the opportunity to check out Kuan-Xi's chi, and notes that her Tao is as great as his own. Also, she seemed to be projecting chi energy directly at Anto for most of the encounter. Nothing harmful, he thinks, just specifically directed at Anto.
The circus roustabout finishes changing the carriage wheel. Kuan-Xi offers him her grateful thanks, and also gives him three li as a reward. She is pleased to hear that the circus is traveling to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival as well, and promises to come see them when she gets there. Anto suggests (much to Master Zhou's displeasure) that she travel with the circus for safety. She thinks that Anto is just the sweetest thing to offer, but she has to make a stop to see one of her sisters first. But Anto is welcome to come with her on her side trip, and then they can catch up to the circus after. Xiao Fa makes wide throat-cutting motions to Anto, behind Kuan-Xi, and Anto, after a resolve roll, declines.
Xian continues to talk to the cabbage merchant, trying to figure out exactly how the accident was caused, but he seems to have kind of forgotten the part in the middle between first seeing her carriage approach and the accident. Kasumi asks the roustabout how he would expect the wheel got broken - he thinks it's most likely that it must have hit a big rock. (The party bemoans their lack of Cart Forensics skill). Does he think it's possible that it happened from hitting another cart? He thinks it's possible, but not so likely. Shuyan notices that these cabbages are probably the best she's ever seen, and buys a couple for dinner later.
As the group takes their leave of Kuan-Xi and heads back to the circus, the roustabout mentions putting the two li in the circus general stores, but Cai-Wen refuses to let him pocket the other li. Xiao Fa tries to explain to Anto that Kuan-Xi had a lot of Tao, and was definitely using it on him, but Anto thinks she seemed nice.
Visitors to the Circus
A few days of travel more, the circus reaches the spur of highway heading towards the Harbor, turns, and exits the Highway at the city limits. The advance men have prepared the city for the circus's arrival, and there is much cheering by various people lining the local road. A clear field has been prepared, loaned by the House of Benevolent Oversight (the Royal House). Tents start to go up; Cai-Wen donates Wei-Han's services to rope-pulling and pole-hoisting, remaining himself in an advisory capacity. A few hours in, Cai-Wen spots someone who looks somewhat familiar to him - a guy somewhat resembling Xiao Fa but with long hair in a braid, who he had an unfortunate encounter with some years in the past. This guy seems to be part of a line of circus roustabouts carrying boxes. Cai-Wen heads after them, only to catch up to the group minus one person. The box sits to the side, discarded and empty. (No, it wasn't the box with the Sphere of Harmony in it, just (apparently) a box of tent pegs).
Investigation of the Mysterious Box which may or may not have contained tent pegs commences. Maybe he was carrying an empty box as a diversion? Maybe he stole the tent pegs? Maybe the box had opium instead of tent pegs and he picked up the opium? To the best of anyone's ability to determine (which is, unfortunately, not so great), the box used to contain tent pegs, no longer does, and is not otherwise of any note.
A gentleman wearing opulent robes and a thick gold chain catches the attention of Master Zhou. He asks after Qin Yanyu, who he has heard is travelling with the circus. Master Zhou says she is not currently available; the gentleman asks him to please tell her that Tso of the House of Beneficent Travel would like to engage her matchmaking services.
A young woman wanders by, apparently searching for someone named Myo, but she doesn't seem to be finding him.
A different young woman, named Ayuki, turns up to say hello to Kasumi. (Kasumi took Ayuki's place at ninja school, and Ayuki is only now catching up). Ayuki wonders whether the whole circus is secretly ninja in disguise, and asks to be introduced to Cai-Wen, who she thinks is cute.
A tent says "Psst" to Xiao Fa, and a hand under the tent flap beckons him in. It appears to be a guy who looks somewhat like him, but is buffer and has more hair. He questions Xiao Fa about where he's been all the years, and wonders what's up with the crazy monk disguise. Xiao Fa claims to not know what the mysterious stranger is talking about. The stranger presses saying Xiao Fa should cut him in for a piece of the action for old times sake. Xiao Fa apologizes once more and then the stranger suddenly remembers something. Since Xiao Fa is back, and hasn't died, he must have abandoned him. So, he should probably get thrashed for that. He proceeds to thrash Xiao Fa within an inch of his life and departs.
Xiao Fa eventually wakes and moans from the tent, causing various people converge on him to offer concern and assistance.
- "I'm all right..." -Xiao Fa
- "Did he say "I'm all right"? Woah, that's no good." -Master Zhou
A handsome young man pokes his head into the tent, looking for Liet, but then keeps going.
Xiao Fa briefs the group about his encounter: "This one does not recall him, but he does seem to know this one." The mysterious semi-stranger beat him up in punishment for abandoning him, years ago. Also, Xiao Fa thinks that he was looking for a score in the empty box - he was not expecting tent pegs.
Again, the girl comes by looking for Myo. Master Zhou catches up to her before she leaves, and demands to know who she is and what's going on. Shuyan, a bit warmer, asks the girl (who says her name is Liet) if this is a Secret Romantic Meeting like in the stories. Yes, it is! Myo is her betrothed, and they are going to run away together. She wonders who you ask about running away with the circus? Nobody is sure who is in charge of that, though Master Zhou suggest that she pick a tent and stay in it rather than wander around randomly, and as she flounces away, he notes that she has some kung fu skill.
Xian goes back to looking for clues on the tent peg box - maybe there was some sort of label that would identify it as the one that has smuggled goods in it?
- "Make a Detective skill roll to look at the outside of the box." -Mike
- "Unfortunately, I was using Concealment, which is not as useful on the outside of the box." -Cael
- "Wait, were we done asking Xiao Fa prying questions about how he got this way?" -Kasumi
- "You wandered off to play with the love plot!" -Xiao Fa
- "Did you just tell a perfect stranger to go into our tents?" -Xian
- "Well, she was doing that anyway."
Ringmaster Te announces first call for the opening act: twenty minutes!
- "Let's take a turn around the circus to see if there's anything else we should know about that we can't do anything about but should worry about." -Cai-Wen to Wei-Han
The tent Liet was in now seems to have Myo. Kasumi, wondering if this is some sort of shapeshifting body-swapping thing going on, hides in the tent to watch, but he keeps looking over his shoulder in her direction. Cai-Wen suggests to Ringmaster Te that he call the two lovebirds up on stage, so they can finally find each other. Te wonders if they will be good on stage. ("Probably not, sir." -Wei Han). Well, if they're lost, he can call their names for the lost and found at the end.
Master Zhou realizes that the two lovers must be in warring families, so it probably isn't a good idea to call them to the stage together. Unfortunately, by this time, Ringmaster Te is nowhere to be seen, having gone off to start the show.
The circus performance starts, and the acts are received with much cheering. Cai-Wen spends his time chasing after Ringmaster Te, always arriving a little too late. Then, for the finale, the Mighty Kar Lo announces that he will juggle three people! Ringmaster Te asks Cai-Wen to point out the volunteers - he chooses three completely nondescript people, none of them Myo or Liet. Then, as Te starts to announce the lost and found, Zhou manages to gesture him to not mention Liet or Myo. Disaster possibly averted.
Plaza of Deliberate Celebration
Afterwards, Ringmaster Te says that there will be a party thrown by the Royal house, at the Plaza of Deliberate Celebration. He needs eight more people to come with him, and is grabbing the people on hand (that is, the people in the run). They should be sure to make a good impression - enjoy themselves, and make sure that other people enjoy themselves too.
Ayuki reappears to pester Kasumi into introducing her to Cai-Wen, and gets to join the group as Cai-Wen's date. As she works for the House of Judicious Increase, he expects she may know something about the other guests and the party mechanic. Xiao Fa and Kasumi loot the costume tent for good party wear, and then the group proceeds to the party.
It is not immediately evident what the goals of the party are (or even who has them), but the basics turn out to be:
- There are five areas in which a party guest can excel: Dancing, Drinking, Seduction, Charming, and Erudition
- Actions are taken by rolling Status (with a +1 for people who participated in the circus acts) for speed.
- Representatives of the six Houses can exert a claim on a particular guest, by handing the player a numbered token, each color indicating their particular House. Tokens can be turned over (usable once) for successes equal to half the number on their face.
- In addition to the party and House representatives, there are a number of other guests. Almost anyone who one might want to meet is here, if you look for them. (Kuan-Xi, for example)
- Interesting mechanics happen in Drift: Drinking (teleport to a bar), Dancing (either Ladies' Choice or Gentlemen's Choice, in which one can whisk a partner to dance with), and Seduction (also either Ladies' Choice or Gentlemen's Choice, in which one can whisk a partner to the corner.)
- At the end of the party, the person in the lead for each category scores for the House that they hold the greatest value of tokens for.
- Each high scorer ends up owed a favor by the House that they scored for.
Our heroes take their first steps into the mechanic, with Anto getting on the board first with four successes of Charming. Kasumi asks someone to dance, and takes the lead there. Anto experiments to see if being less charming helps - his three subsequent successes don't seem to do anything. Ayuki briefs Cai-Wen a bit about how the mechanic works. Anto gets on the board with Seduction as he offers to buy Kuan-Xi a drink (though there isn't actually any buying of anything at the party, she appreciates the gesture). Kuan-Xi is therefore first on the board for Drinking, and Master Zhou gets on the board for Erudition for expounding about Kung Fu.
Wei Han takes the lead early in Drinking to take it away from Kuan-Xi, and continues to hold it all the way through the party as he garners more tokens and spends them to increase his lead.
In the "Seduction" drift phase, Anto whisks Kuan-Xi to the corner, followed immediately by Master Zhou with a woman from the House of Benevolent Oversight. Master Zhou glowers at Anto and Kuan-Xi, sure that she is Up To No Good, and then grabs Anto and drags him several hexes away. Xian tries to find someone to talk to about chariot races, but with 0 successes on a Tao roll, finds someone who is an expert on nearly everything else in the world (and who will end up topping the Erudition category).
Ayuki starts asking around about what's going on politically, and Ringmaster Te finds a fireworks expert to chat with - perhaps there will be a new act. Xian gets the scholar to talk about the state of mathematics, Xiao Fa steals Kuan-Xi away from Anto to dance with her, and Anto takes the lead in dancing with someone else, in the hopes of making Kuan-Xi jealous.
Cai-Wen tries to get a bidding war started (since he seems to be doing pretty well with the Seduction category) between two houses, trying to get tokens out of both of them. Ayuki returns to brief Cai-Wen: the House of Enticing Vintage and the House of Resplendent Decoration have been rivals for a while, but there seems to be someone else (probably the House of Gainful Protection) trying to turn their long-running dispute into an actual hot war - these are very uncommon.
Cai-Wen briefs the people he can reach about the house war, and goes looking for a woman named Malkoha, previously mentioned to him as a retired gambling master in the area. She turns out to be at the party, and demonstrates a shtick of hers by declaring Cai-Wen her moll and banishing Ayuki to the far corner. Xiao Fa talks to Kuan-Xi about chi mastery - he thinks she knows something of the subject too, but now she knows he knows... Xian also chats with Kuan-Xi about sorcery, dropping truths and obvious fallacies in his claims, to see if she corrects him. She says she has spent some time studying the five elements and the interplay between them, but does not admit to being an actual sorceress.
As the party starts to wrap up, Anto thinks about burning the rest of his tokens to take the lead in Charm, but the representative from the House of Judicious Increase, which has been giving him a lot of tokens, hints "not yet" to him. They may have some sort of a plan having to do with Kuan-Xi, which of course puts them on Master Zhou's list of bad guys.
Master Zhou makes a brave attempt to drag Anto bodily out of the party (since it's gauche to go back in). However, both the house rep Anto is currently speaking with, and Anto himself, resist, and Master Zhou doesn't quite get him to the door. Master Zhou shouts at Anto: "Do not spend chits! They have a plan they are in on with her, and she does not have your best interest in mind!" Since the party is pretty much not on Kuan-Xi's side at this point, she can give Anto an action (and he can roll for 5s while doing so), so he takes the action and grabs the lead in Charming, burning his tokens.
- "You're not the boss of me!" -Anto to Master Zhou
At the last drift action of the party, it's Men's Choice for Seduction, and they can whisk their choices to an exit and make a seduction roll. Cai-Wen whisks Malkoha, followed by Wei Han with a woman from the House of Gainful Protection, and the four head to a Flower House to enjoy the rest of the evening.
Xiao Fa whisks Kuan-Xi to an exit, much to Anto's dismay, and succeeds in his seduction roll, much to Xiao Fa's own surprise.
In the last round, Scholar Turtle holds forth upon opera, to a sufficient extent as to give anyone still in the room one free skill in it.
The winners are:
- Charm: Ringmaster Te and the House of Resplendent Decoration
- Erudition: Scholar Turtle and the House of Benevolent Oversight
- Seduction: Cai-Wen and the House of Beneficent Travel
- Drinking: Wei-Han and the House of Beneficent Travel
- Dancing: Anto and the House of Gainful Protection
As people are leaving the Plaza, they hear an argument going on outside:
- "If anything happens to Lord Myo, it will be war!" - someone from the House of Resplendent Decoration
- "If you do not return Lady Liet, you will die!" - someone from the House of Enticing Vintage
Xian wonders whether the group was victorious at the party, or not.
- "Does anyone know... what we just did? Do we have any idea what we were doing?" -Xian
(As far as anyone knows, the houses which supported winning people gained some status in their overall mechanic, and the winning people are owed favors from the houses that supported them.)
Ringmaster Te has been making arrangements and calling in his favor, so he has a great plan for the opening night in the next city. Because everyone did so well at the party, he gives them the day off - they don't have to be back at the circus until evening.
Xiao Fa has awoken with a definite feeling that Kuan-Xi is not actually bad, and tries to convince the rest of the party. They are not so convinced, though Anto wants to know if Xiao Fa got her number. Xian is particularly concerned - does Xiao Fa actually remember anything from the previous night? Did she persuade him she wasn't bad by anything she said, or just mind control him into thinking that? Xiao Fa refuses to talk about what happened, but blushes quite a bit.
Master Zhou is very disappointed in both his students, and drags both Xiao Fa and Anto off for an hour of exercise.
- "Come! We will train!" -Master Zhou
- "Is this going to help...?" -Xian
While those three are off training, Ayuki shows up, decloaking just behind Kasumi. Wei-Han tries to chop her, but she manages to dodge. She has heard that both the House of Enticing Vintage and the House of Resplendent Decoration have received ransom notes. (Xian is crestfallen - he had wanted to do that!) Each House is blaming the other one, and war seems more imminent. The group is split as to whether the lovers have been kidnapped by the House of Gainful Protection, or have written the ransom notes themselves (Kasumi and Shuyan favor this theory as more romantic).
Xian wanders around asking the circus roustabouts about Liet and Myo - did anyone see them leaving? Just about everyone saw them wandering around ineptly looking for each other, but eventually someone recalls seeing them heading out the east gate together (east being roughly in the direction of the city).
Elsewhere, Master Zhou has been putting Xiao Fa through his paces, making him do exercises while hitting him with a stick and shouting questions at him. Anto watches, interested. After the hour's training, Master Zhou concludes: "Your mind has been influenced - but subtly, because it is to believe something that is probably true," and Xiao Fa apologizes to Anto.
- "Does that mean if she comes back, you don't mind if I talk to her?" -Anto
- "If she comes back I wish to speak to her!" -Master Zhou
- "Well, so do I!" -Anto
The three monks return to the rest of the party, and Master Zhou explains his conclusions. The others explain about the ransom notes. Luckily, Anto has learned the "Nose for Trouble" shtick from the brothers of the Steadfast Heart Sect, so he can head towards the walled field where the two groups of House warriors have drawn up battle lines. The leaders of both groups are the ones who were at the party last night, and each of them has a sack of 1000 li; they have been instructed to throw the money in the well if they ever want to see Liet or Myo again.
- "And we have showed up just in time to collect it. We are so awesome!" -Xian
Xiao Fa examines the chi of the area. He thinks the well is not actually a well any longer, though it used to be one. The two house leaders demand to know what the party knows about what's going on.
- "We're from the circus, we're here to help." -Anto.
Both sides claim that they came to pay the ransom, and found the other group here, thus proving that they must have had something to do with the kidnapping. Cai-Wen tries to suggest that both sides have been tricked by their competitors, but both sides also think that their competitors are right here too, and also, Liet and Myo are in fact missing.
Anto drops a torch down the well - it lands on the ground, and then a short while later, goes out. But it seems pretty deep. The two ninjas search the outside of the walled field, but don't find anything of note. Wei Han intimidates both sides into sending people to get rope. The House of Enticing Vintage guy brings back a better rope, which nearly starts the brawl all over again.
The party starts climbing down one rope; Wei Han stays up at the top, to lower down the non-climbing experts like Cai-Wen and Xian, on the second rope. Shuyan and Kasumi are the first to reach the bottom of the well, and discover that there's an actual tunnel that goes from the bottom of the well off a ways and then turns. There's a rustling noise around the corner. Kasumi sneaks towards the rustling - it's a guy in black with a sword, but he doesn't see her, and another person in black behind.
Xian starts doing magic tricks for the "audience", to try to distract the two mobs of soldiers from fighting each other. The unarmed foe karate-chops Shuyan, and the sword-wielder accidentally runs into Kasumi, and chops her instead of Shuyan. Other party members reach the floor of the dry well, and try to get forward into the combat.
Xian starts a long plan of action, suggesting to both leaders that if a fight does break out, they don't want to lose their money, so they should have someone obvious and helpless hold it. The soldiers are somewhat skeptical, and try to get him to explain the thing about the money again, but at least they aren't advancing on each other for a round or two. Xian suggests fake bags of loot, with clinking rocks; the leaders can come up with some lame imitations of money, that go clank and thud instead. Xian is not impressed at their trickery skills.
Zhou grabs the black mask of the guy without the sword, and pulls it off - it is in fact Liet, and with the traditional "when your mask comes off everyone is somewhat smitten" effect, the guys in the party are briefly stunned by her beauty.
Up above, Xian continues to try to convince both sides to hand him all the money, and surprisingly succeeds. He climbs down the well with it, plus a spare sack-that-goes-clunk.
Down below, Anto grabs Liet, telling her that "your families are going to kill each other!" She protests that her family doesn't care about her. Shuyan tries to convince them they do care - they brought the ransom, after all! Liet is surprised and pleased by that - hooray, they brought the ransom! Kasumi pulls off Myo's hood, producing another round of stun for the other half of the party.
Cai-Wen has finally reached the bottom of the well at this point, and tries his own bluff: "Foolish Children - put down your weapons and return to your houses, or the House of Gainful Protection will surely have you killed."
Liet makes a counter-offer: how about they split the ransom, and everyone runs down the tunnel and escapes? Master Zhou loses his temper and lectures them about how their parents are willing to kill and die for them - are they willing to let them die? But he doesn't have the right dice to make a persuasion roll, so he's not sufficiently convincing.
However, since Liet and Myo are pretty outnumbered, and the party is doing a pretty good job keeping them grabbed, they eventually surrender. Anto suggests that the story be "we saved them from the kidnappers" to get them in less trouble with their families.
Up above, the soldiers have gotten all the way to each other in the middle of the field. Shen Wei-Han manages to get them to not fight in the first round of engagement, but it won't last long.
The group below puts Liet in the rope loop, and Wei-Han pulls her up; Shuyan runs to the top of the well and announces that Myo is on his way up next. Myo is pulled up, and while Xian is sorely tempted to keep the 2000 li, he has spent too much time convincing the armies they know exactly who he is and where he's from (the circus) for that to be the right course of action, so he does come up as well.
Xiao Fa, Ayuki, and Kasumi remain below in the well to follow the tunnel to see where it goes. (A while later, they come out at the coast, where there's a rowboat tied.)
Back up in the field, the party browbeats Myo and Liet into admitting that they're in love, and Cai-Wen attempts a grand bluff:
- "Given those two facts, does anything else really matter?" -Cai-Wen
The Enticing Vintage guys seem swayed, and the Resplendent Decoration guys seem willing to pretend to be swayed, though they likely will be biding their time. Xian suggests a surprise alliance between the two.
- "I don't know anything about your politics, but I do know that surprise is half the battle." -Xian
In any event, the two houses will not be fighting today. Tomorrow may be another story.
- Wei Han stops by the local Dragon Army barracks to practice.
- Yanyu goes in search of Master Tso, and, separately, Kuan-Xi.
- Takanata visits the House of Benevolent Oversight to tell them Ti Lao isn't dead.
- Takanata visits Scholar Turtle to discuss art.
- Takanata attends the opera several times, and arranges for an invitation to a party of patrons of the arts. Malkoha and Cai Wen join him.
- Xiao Fa investigates the local feng shui and acquires some children.
- Xiao Fa assigns Akimoto the Astonishing some leg-strengthening exercises.
- Merit, Cai Wen, Anto, Wei Han, and Takanata (plus others?) head on a fact-finding expedition to look for blockade runners. They find a captain who seems willing to make a round trip run for passengers, or deliver letters next time he runs the blockade.
- Master Zhou visits the House of Enticing Vintage to speak to Liet.
- The Harbor of Fortunate Arrival celebrates the Cherry Blossom Festival on the Day of the Tortoise. Takanata, Hana, and Hiro wander around the festival, and visit the Gallery of Exquisite Ornamentation, where they meet Scholar Turtle.
- Min Feng, Hana, Hiro, Xiao-Fa, and Anto head off to explore the town, especially the markets.
- Xiao Fa searches for a sprig of plum blossoms for his collection.
- Xiao Fa returns to the House of Quiet Concordance during the Cherry Blossom Festival, visits the garden, and gets a job offer.
- Wei Han takes a quick trip back up to Daizhou to train.
- Cai Wen (followed by Wei Han) picks up a local girl named Petal and brings her by the circus. This turns into something of a confusing chase scene, with screaming.
- Xiao Fa escorts Takanata-san to the House of Quiet Concordance, to view their garden. After Takanata is coaxed to write a poem for Master Tranh, the latter agrees to teach Xiao Fa a feng shui shtick.