Boys' Night Out
|"Beauty is the wisdom of women. Wisdom is the beauty of men."|| 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 Throne of the Warlord, in the Forest of Chin.
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, Xiao Fa, Anto, and Hiro fall out of darkness into... rather pleasant surroundings.
Anto, badly wounded, falls into a very comfortable bed, and promptly snuggles into the comforters to sleep. Xiao Fa falls thud onto something hard, but is surrounded by brightly colored silks, with slats of light shining in at him from the dawn. He peers through the open slats, and sees an impeccably dressed woman talking to a shape in a bed: "No, no, dear, don't get up. I'll tell everyone to not come in. You stay there, I'll go tell the guards that you're not feeling well." Hiro lands on a comfy bed, amongst cushions, and sees a panel in the wall slide aside and a blue-masked ninja coming through the opening.
- "Wait, I don't know our ninja policy. Are they good or bad?" -Hiro
Hiro excuses himself. Two swords appear in the ninja's hands, and she pauses.
- "Yes, pausing is good. Do you have any tea? I can make us tea." -Hiro
- "Why are you here?" -Ninja
- "That's a long conversation."
- "Are you here to kill me?"
- "No. Should I be?"
- "No. You should leave."
- "One of us certainly should."
There is a quiet knock on the door, and a voice in the hall: "Lady An Ming, is everything prepared?" The ninja says "Yes, yes, I'll be out in a minute," and makes frantic gestures to Hiro to get under the bed. He does so, and she rapidly changes into more ladylike clothes. The voice in the hall says the morning bed check will be soon.
Back in the room Xiao Fa is in, someone is about to come in to check on Lady Lin Lin, but another voice says that she's ill, and not to disturb her. Xiao Fa sneaks out of his closet, and finds himself in a very pleasant room. There are lumps under the covers in the bed, but they don't seem to be moving or talking.
Hiro comes back out from under the bed, and the woman in his room is appalled - he's not a eunuch, or even dressed as one! This could be really bad!
- "Indeed. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?" -Hiro
- "You don't even know? What were you expecting when you snuck into the harem of High Warlord Ze?"
The commotion has to do with getting ready for the morning visit of the High Warlord. Lady An Ming asks if Hiro can disguise himself as a eunuch, and quickly. He says if she has a spare dress, he can probably do better with that. She slips down the hall to Lady Tsi-Shen's room to get a set of female servant's robes, where she finds Anto asleep - he is promptly thumped onto the floor and shoved under the bed as well, as Lady An-Ming explains to a voice in the hallway that she needs better robes for her servants - hers are looking so drab these days!
Lady An Ming goes back to her room, and complains to Hiro - there are more of them! His friend is under the bed in Lady Tsi-Shen's room, and she's going to be back there momentarily! But since she has the dress, Hiro quickly dresses as Hana. Hiro opines that Anto might disguise up better as a eunuch. Hiro and An Ming rush back to the room with Anto in it, and An Ming gives him some first aid - on the way there, Xiao Fa peeks out the door, and Hiro waves at him to get back in.
Then, from the entrance to the harem, comes a loud thudding sound on the heavy door. One of the eunuchs asks, in a formal tone, "Who knocks?" The answer, in a deep voice, is that the residents should prepare themselves for the coming of the High Warlord Ze, their lord and master. The eunuch calls out to the various ladies, "Two minutes!".
An Ming dashes to Xiao Fa's room, and tells him that there is no time - get in the bed and pretend to be sick! He gets under the covers, surprised to discover a bunch of pillows there instead of a person.
Then, An Ming drags Hiro (dressed as a servant) and Anto (dressed as a eunuch) out into the hallway for the Ritual of Entry. Everyone bows very very low; the well-dressed ladies are up to four, plus servants and eunuchs. The Warlord enters, and notes that there are only four there - where is Lin Lin? A particularly beautiful and sweet voiced woman, Lady Xiulan, says that she is ill. The Warlord decides to visit his sick wife, despite several protests - Xiao Fa makes a quick attempt with herbalism to create the "delicate miasma of ill health". He isn't very persuasive as an actor, but the Warlord backs away again and insists he will send for a physician.
Lady Tai, the last of the ladies not yet introduced, seems to be worried about something; the Warlord says that it is a good thing that they are getting married tomorrow. As he leaves, Lady Tai says, unhappily, that she's doomed, and runs into her room. Why is she doomed, An Ming wonders aloud?
An Ming gets Xiao Fa dressed as a eunuch as well, so nobody is in any immediate danger of being executed. Hiro thanks her for her help, and then asks how they can get out again. An Ming says that if they can wait until nightfall, they can sneak out again, but it isn't clear that everyone is good at sneaking. Hmm. She suggests, then, that when everyone goes out for the wedding, they can go along, and then slip away during the ceremony. Will that work?
From behind the group comes the stern voice of Lady Tsi-Shen: "No, no, that won't work at all."
Lady Tsi-Shen, in the doorway, asks if Lady An Ming has anything she would like to say. No, no, she doesn't. How about Lady Xiulan, who Lady Tsi-Shen is now roping into the conversation as well? She does not have anything to volunteer either.
Apparently, Lady Lin Lin has "escaped".
- "Oh, so it is a simple matter to get out!" -Hiro
A chart is made of the five ladies, to alleviate some of the confusion:
- Tsi-Shen - Current First Wife. She has the largest room, with all the clothes. Generally in charge.
- Lin Lin - apparently missing
- An Ming - secretly a ninja
- Xiulan - the one talking to the empty bed. The sweetest and prettiest.
- Tai - getting married soon
Xiulan says that she didn't want anyone to get in trouble for Lin Lin being missing, which is why she was covering.
Xiao Fa explains how they arrived here - there was something of a ritual endeavor in the Butterfly Kingdom which went awry, so that they were flung through space and ended up here.
Lady Tsi-Shen suggests a compromise - presumably the three intruders don't want to be executed, and the harem inhabitants don't want to be punished for some recent troubles. Perhaps they can reach an Arrangement. They have two problems. First, the lady Lin Lin slipped out last night - she has never been particularly happy here, but if she had come to Tsi-Shen with her troubles, something could have been arranged. It is easier to get her banished than she might have imagined, but actually fleeing is treason and will just get her and possibly her family killed instead.
Second, Lady Tai is getting married tomorrow. For an engagement present, she was given a stunning ruby necklace, which she lost last night at the dinner party. So, if Anto can get the ruby back, and Xiao Fa can get Lady Lin Lin back... nobody needs to be executed! (She seems to have missed that Hiro is not actually one of An Ming's serving girls).
Perhaps An Ming's servant girl (i.e. Hiro) could pretend to be Lin Lin and be carried to the infirmary by the "eunuchs"? Lady Tsi-Shen and Xiulan will go along with them, to prevent anyone from looking too closely, and Lady Tsi-Shen says she will handle making sure that the physician doesn't tell anyone that it isn't Lin Lin.
A Rescue Mission
The "eunuchs" carry "Lin Lin" to the infirmary, and Lady Tsi-Shen goes out to deal with the physicians. Lady Xiulan takes the opportunity to make a more compassionate plea for help - she says she knows Tsi-Shen is stern, but that she does mean well, and that Xiulan herself would very much appreciate any help that they can provide. She lowers her eyes in appeal, and both Xiao Fa and Anto are somewhat smitten. Hiro, who is not such a direct target, can appreciate her skill - she can see in Xiulan's grace and manner that which Hana aspires to.
Anto asks about Lin Lin - why might she be so unhappy? Rumor has it that one of the warriors in her father's household (her father is Warlord Yi) was her favorite, but then the High Warlord breezed through on an inspection tour, saw her, and married her. Xiulan thinks that Lin Lin probably ran off to find him (his name is Yuan), but really, everyone knows who she is, so she'll just get killed. But where might she have actually gone to start with? Xiulan thinks she probably won't have gotten out of the city yet - perhaps checking the stables, where she might be trying to arrange passage?
Xiulan will cover for the next two hours, while the party scouts around. Tsi-Shen returns with some clothes - guard uniforms swiped from the laundry. As far as the pendant goes, where was it last seen? Tai wore it to the party last night - Tsi-Shen and Xiulan think she wore it back to the harem, but they aren't sure. Unfortunately, while they do have costumes, Anto's and Hiro's weapons are still hidden under the bed in the harem.
- "Master Zhou said I should learn martial arts in case I lose my weapons..." -Anto
- "You should learn aikido!" -Hiro
Being disguised as guards gives them reasonable leeway to walk through the non-secret sections of the palace on their way out. Apparently being High Warlord is a pretty nice lifestyle. As the group discusses who to be suspicious of as far as stealing the brooch goes, Hiro (still disguised as Hana) points out that An Ming is actually secretly a ninja. But, she's done right by them so far - so she might not be a suspect, but she is still somewhat suspicious.
- "And by the way, it's Hiro." -Hiro
- "Oh, really?" -Anto, astounded
They escape the palace into the city outside, with a brief digression as one of the guards at the gate chews Anto out for being in a somewhat sloppy uniform. Has he no pride? Once out, it's time to change again - Anto thinks there are several questions that people won't answer for the Warlord's guards, including "Have you seen the Warlord's wife who is trying to hide from him?" Though keeping Hiro as a serving girl might be okay - she could be delivering some sort of message.
Of their two hours, the first fifteen minutes is spent getting into the city. The next fifteen is spent clothes shopping (and Xiao Fa buys a satchel for good measure). In the third fifteen minutes, the group heads to the stables, but Anto short-cuts the complicated trail of clues by using his shtick in finding someone who needs help, and the group heads off into one of the narrower alleys.
The fourth fifteen minutes are spent fighting with several thugs with knives, who are attempting to mug a ladylike young woman for "the rock" that she has. Hiro mostly keeps the leader grabbed while Anto and Xiao Fa pummel him; once he falls, the other two flee.
In the fifth fifteen minutes, Lady Lin Lin thanks everyone for their assistance and tries to leave, but Hiro says that they're not done saving her yet.
- "Really, Lin Lin, you need help. We should go somewhere safer." -Anto
- "Gasp! How do you know who I am?"
Anto tries to convince Lin Lin that he's really here to help, and he's fairly persuasive. They pocket the daggers from the thug ("x3 weapons again, hooray!") and the 10 zhu he had on hand.
While Lin Lin is eventually convinced that her rescuers mean well, she doesn't have the gem on her.
- "This one is afraid more helping is in store." -Xiao Fa
- "It is actually helpful help, though." -Hiro
They explain that Lady Tai would be less doomed if she had her necklace back, and that they're here to extend an offer from Lady Tsi-Shen - if she comes back, she can arrange to have her banished. And then the party can wait for her at the edge of town, and escort her to where she needs to go. This is way better, they claim, than having her and her boyfriend executed.
She explains what happened to the jewel - she went to a carter, and tried to trade the jewel for passage, but then he tried to take it from her, but he got stabbed by his partner, and she ran, and ended up on a complicated escapade around the city including hiding the brooch, but then Anto skipped to the end, so there's no need to go into further detail there.
In the sixth fifteen minutes, the party recovers the brooch, and in the seventh, they change their clothes again and return to the infirmary as guards with their girlfriends. Bad luck for Anto - one of the guards is the one that chewed him out before, and gives him even more of a hard time for not having cleaned his uniform, but Xiao Fa manages to convince the guard that Anto's spare uniform is inside the palace, and he's going to go change now. "No one will see it unless you make a big fuss now."
Once back in the infirmary, Xiulan takes over reassuring Lin Lin that everything will be fine, and thanks the party for solving both plots in one plot's time! But maybe they should just tell Lady Tsi-Shen that they recovered the jewel and not the details about how or where.
Then, it's time to go back to the harem. Hiro wonders, at the risk of derailing the plot even more, why they need to go back, but the answer is that they need to be the eunuch guards to escort Lady Lin Lin (now recovered from her illness) back inside.
That night, Lady Tsi-Shen takes charge of the sleeping arrangements, declaring that Lin Lin will stay with her tonight (with no more vanishing!) and the two "eunuchs" will stay in Lin Lin's room. An Ming's servant will of course stay with her, since Tsi-Shen hasn't figured out that Hiro is an imposter yet. Anto glares at Hiro, and An Ming is not pleased, but nobody blows Hiro's cover.
An Ming notes that she could sneak the three out tonight, but Anto notes that that would blow her cover as a sneaky ninja type, and they don't want to do that. Oh, good point. Well, leaving from the wedding tomorrow is probably the way to go, then.
An argument ensues about where Hiro is sleeping, but Hiro diverts it by saying he wants to come along sneaking with An Ming. What is she doing, anyway? Important things, she says.
- "We mostly have the win in the bag, but we have this opportunity for shenanigans!" -Hiro
- "Well, she's your babe, I don't screw with other people's games." -Anto
- "..." -Xiao Fa
An Ming and Hiro sneak out through An Ming's secret passage, to ninja around over the roofs. (Hiro thinks it's a good secret passage in the dark, but trying to go through it during the day, you'd be spotted by guards.) An Ming says that Warlord Ze's men are concerned with assassins from the Savannah, so they're going to slip about and discreetly protect him. Hiro watches until he gets bored, and then tries to strike up a conversation.
- "So... how long have you been a ninja?"
She admits that she was originally sent to kill Warlord Ze, but fell in love with him instead. He told her to give up ninja-ing, so she doesn't tell him now, and wears the mask. She sighs - he's insufferable sometimes.
Because of the conversation, they don't see the other ninja until he's nearly through the window of another building. An Ming throws a grapple to the roof of the other building, then loops a scarf over the rope and slides down it, telling Hiro to follow her. He does follow, without killing himself or screaming too much, though she thinks he's still too noisy.
- "That was more... exciting... than I was expecting."
Unfortunately, this has alerted the guards in the courtyard, who shout "Ninja!" and charge into the building. An Ming runs after the original intruder, followed by Hiro, and they find the ninja in the middle of poisoning a barrel full of ale. The two ninja fight, going into a sort of super-fast ninja fight that Hiro can barely follow let alone help with. Hiro finds them both astonishingly good. Ninja seem to have multiple actions per round in this sort of fight cutscene, and Hiro doesn't dare get involved - instead, he knocks the poisoned ale all over the floor, so there will be no drinking it tomorrow.
The rest of the palace has gone on alert, waking Xiao Fa and Anto.
- "Should we put on our guard uniforms and wander out disheveled?" -Xiao Fa
- "From the harem? That's no good." -Anto
Looking for a way to make himself look as little like a ninja as possible, Hiro dashes across the hall, where there are kitchens. He puts on an apron, then runs out when the guards start to approach and point down the hall to claim that "they went that way". The guards head off in that direction, but by the time Hiro returns to the store room, both ninja are gone.
Escaping the palace again will be difficult - he doesn't have the guard uniform to pass the main gate. With nothing else to do, he starts peeling garlic and chopping vegetables, wishing that he had thought to buy a level of Danger Chef when Yoshi demonstrated it. He isn't a very convincing chef, but when confronted, switches to fast talk: "I know, I'm terrible, I've been here all night working on this roux, and my master will beat me if I can't get it right."
Back at the harem, a blue-masked ninja tries to sneak into An Ming's room. Anto tries to Get her, wrapping her up in his chain.
- "It is possible to catch a ninja off guard. But apparently, there's a difference between a ninja and a master ninja, and then suddenly you are tied up in your own chain." -Mike
Unmasking herself as An Ming, she tells Anto to get out of her room. But wait, where is Hiro?
- "Did you just leave him out there?" -Xiao Fa
- "There was another ninja! And guards!" -An Ming
- "I work alone! I'm not used to worrying about a partner!"
- "All right, fine, I'll go rescue him."
- "I learned the look from Master Zhou." -Eon
- "It's one of the basic katas of kung fu." -Marleigh
Back in the kitchen, the guard keeps trying to get Hiro to tell him more about the ninja, but Hiro mostly just says confusing things. Eventually, the guard leaves, and the blue-masked ninja on the ceiling says "psst!". She gets Hiro back up the rope and back through the secret passage into the harem, ending the shenanigans for the night.
- "I think we have been underestimating our colleague here. Her form is most exquisite." -Hiro
- "I stopped underestimating her half an hour ago." -Anto
(Anto notices that Lin Lin's bed, in which he and Xiao Fa have been waiting, does not have the same shticks in being comfortable as Tsi-Shen's bed did. It's good to be the First Wife.)
Hiro thanks An Ming for bringing him along - it was an honor to watch her fight. An Ming is not so impolite as to say it out loud, but she does seem to be a little surprised at how non-spiffy Hiro was, given that Hiro snuck into the harem past all the guards and such without even using her secret passage. Hiro tells her about the magical battle between worlds, and being scattered about. Oh, that would explain it. She does sympathize with those whose path has been made harder through service to their King - if there's anything she can covertly do, secretly send word to her. Hiro also tells her about the Evil Plot to the South.
- "If you ever need a master ninja who can't get more than half a night's journey from this palace, let me know."
- "Hmm... I wonder how... ah, the obvious way to get a message to her is to wait around on the palace roof somewhere until there's a sword at your throat."
Lady Tsi-Shen similarly tells the men that she is in their debt, and if there is something that she can do, to send word to her. Lady An Ming will also arrange to sneak their weapons out, the next night.
The next morning, the same morning routine happens, but then all the wives leave the harem (in order of precedence), escorted by servants and eunuchs. Lady Tai is married, and a great toast is made - and nobody falls over from poison. Yay! Anto looks around for people who look surprised that nobody is poisoned - he thinks that the people who didn't drink the toast are all members of the household of Lady Lin Lin's secret boyfriend; this may or may not be Evidence.Sneaking out during the wedding is in fact not hard; the three wait around in the city for a few days until Lady Tsi-Shen arranges for Lady Lin Lin to be banished, and then they head out, to escort her back to her family on the way home to the Butterfly Kingdom.