Framing the Party
|"To violate the law is the same crime in the emperor as in the subject."|| It is the Day of the Monkey in the Month of the Monkey in the third Year of the Magpie since the burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place in the Jade Taiga near the Bridge of Moonlight.
Visitors and Messages
A messenger arrives with an invitation for Shuyan. She frowns on reading it - apparently Ando has invited her to a party in the City of Spires, as his date. He's clearly up to something.
Cai Wen checks with the circus hands to see where the next stop is. They report that as soon as Merit gets back, they're going to move out, and also not cross the Bridge of Moonlight unless Takanata is there. Hmm. That's a little confusing - Takanata is here, but Merit isn't. Does that mean they should wait for Merit, or leave and cross the Bridge? Yes! No! Both! (Takanata reminds everyone that the Son of the Moon is dangerous and possibly guarding the Bridge, though he might not be supposed to chop Takanata at the moment).
Another circus hand reports to Xiao Fa that there's someone there to see him, followed shortly by Johnny Tong, who castigates the hand that Xiao Fa is going to lay the smackdown on him for not letting him in before.
- "Yoshi has sent me to aid you in an awesome team-up of awesomeness!" -Johnny Tong
Xiao Fa notes that there is a corner of a letter sticking out of Johnny's pocket, and confiscates it. Sure enough, it's from Yoshi - apparently there has been a lot of interest in being able to learn shticks from the Shadow minions, so he and Reiko are working on redeeming them, but that leaves less time for Johnny. Can Xiao Fa take over his re-education for a little while? Johnny is enthusiastic about the awesome team-up, and asks what their first mission is. Takanata suggests meditation, but Xiao Fa says it's time for clothes shopping. Johnny helpfully clears the way to the edge of the circus for Xiao Fa. Shuyan has already headed for Flowering Resolution to go shopping; Xiao Fa and Johnny follow after.
Cai Wen declares that the circus is Not Going Anywhere Yet, and spends some time wandering around the circus, asking about what Li Merit told them. After a lot of detective work, he decides that the instructions fell into two different categories: check with Takanata about crossing the Bridge of Moonlight, and wait around here and get ready for a command performance because Cai Wen told Merit there was a VIP coming. Okay, Cai Wen really doesn't remember telling Merit about a VIP, so that second Merit seems likely to have been fraudulent.
A messenger delivers a box for Min Feng, ostensibly from Shuyan, but Min Feng thinks it's a trap of some sort.
- "Okay, let's poke the things that we've been told to poke." -Cai Wen
- "What kind of instincts are those? Are you a fool?" -Bao, from outside the tea tent
Apparently Bao has come to see a circus performance, the way Cai Wen suggested she should. Hmm. Is she the VIP? Well, she is a bandit queen. So... maybe?
Yet another messenger arrives - he has been sent to pick up the tickets for his master. A great confusion arises - who is his master? Wait, who is Cai Wen? But what tickets? Why are there no tickets? It would not be good if things do not go smoothly. Who promised his master tickets? Arrangements were made with the secretary.
- "What time should I tell the Inspector to show up?"
- "eeeeeeeeeugh" -everyone
Cai Wen wonders if there is some sort of secrecy shrouding the Inspector's visit. No, not per se, but the assistant thinks that prying into Inspector Fu's business is not usually a good idea. Apparently, the secretary spoke with Li Merit, who issued the invitation and a waiver and all sorts of documentation.
- "Was that the standard waiver or a special waiver?" -Cai Wen
According to the messenger, Merit and Shen-Ji approached Inspector Fu while he was on an investigation, and gave him some writs suspending him from his current investigation in order that he could take several days of vacation at the circus before starting a new investigation.
- "I wouldn't put it past Shen-Ji to betray us, but not like this!" -Takanata
- "Yeah, it's too much work." -Min Feng
Takanata writes a poem. It's in a very odd handwriting (Takanata thinks it's somewhat reminiscent of sorcerous symbols) and the lines are numbered, which he usually doesn't do.
A blade, thrown, spins through the air
Caught, hefted, thrown back again,
With each rebound, gaining weight and edge,
A dangerous game.
Beware that no one whispers your name to the blade
In the language of steel.
Cai Wen contemplates what the Hidden Opportunities are, and decides that there aren't any good opportunities for coming out ahead, but maybe "point him at someone else" is worthwhile. Maybe they can send him after the Obsidian Warlord flagrantly crossing the Southern Wall with his fleet.
- "Did you say Inspector Fu? Here? Why are we not fleeing? There's piles of contraband all over the place! You need to get rid of them!" -Bao
Apparently, the fake Li Merit has stashed a lot of contraband all over the circus and in the Trading Company stores.
- "I feel like there's more than two Li Merits involved here." -Takanata
One of the Merits arranged for Inspector Fu to show up, and another one warned them about that. And maybe the third Li Merit (the one that said to wait for him to come back) was fake too, on general principles.
Wei Han comes in and reports - Merit's guards seem to be impersonating the Dragon Army, and he would appreciate it if Cai Wen would get them to stop that right now. They claim to be doing this on the orders of Merit and Master Deng as part of some obscure secret plan to guard the caravan goods from bandits. Wei Han told them to take the uniforms off, of course, but impersonating Army personnel is a serious offense.
- "Please don't make me have to kill Merit's guards, sir." -Wei Han
Cai Wen tells the guards to return the uniforms to where they came from, so they start to go and put them in Master Deng's tent. Wait, no, that's not right, don't do that!
Min Feng and Wei Han and Xiao Fa and Johnny Tong go to a nearby town, where they rent a room so Min Feng can open her trapped box. (Presumably on the theory that if the box is going to destroy everyone in the vicinity, it should destroy a random town rather than the circus). Wei Han and Johnny Tong wait outside to keep people from "bothering the boss while he's with his lady".
The box turns out to contain a bundle of papers stamped "Secret" and "Confidential", wrapped up with green ribbon, with a note:
Min Feng, please hold onto these for me, I'll pick them up later.
Min Feng thinks that it's some sort of case file, though it's pretty large and she doesn't have time to go through it right now, so she finds a courier and mails the whole thing to Mistress Litona.
Takanata's best guess is that the line numbers in his poem stand for the Bureaucrat, and the font indicates the Alchemist.
- "So, if it's the Alchemist, then it's mirror demons and bureaucracy..." -Takanata
He spends a Yin, and there is a shriek behind him.
- "Mirror demons? You think mirror demons could have done this? This is artistry!"
- "Hello, Pir-Pir." -Takanata
Pir-Pir's explanation leaves something to be desired, but he appears to be again helping out the Alchemist, possibly due to being in debt to the Alchemist for some questionable loyalty during Midwinter. Of course, he's being kind of similarly questionable now by warning them. He really can't say what things he shouldn't be blamed for, in their list of potential issues. Takanata guesses that the more he warns them, the more the Alchemist might notice. Pir-Pir says that even when the Alchemist doesn't have mystic mojo telling him something, he's scary smart, so he figures things out. And there's the whole "can destroy Pir-Pir" thing.
So... where is Hiro, anyway? Takanata says he's south of the Wall, much to Pir-Pir's distress.
Min Feng and Wei Han start prowling around the circus, looking for things that shouldn't be there - the big thing is that there's contraband all over the place.
Pir-Pir says that he can't give any clues because he's not responsible, but, unlike last time, he did not steal their elephants. Ah. Perhaps looking for things that should be there but aren't is important too. Especially elephants.
The elephant handlers say that Xian and Shuyan took the elephants a few hours ago, heading towards Dutiful Serenity. Xiao Fa and Johnny Tong head in that direction.
Wei Han recalls that there's the box of Dragon Army uniforms around somewhere. Did the circus hands put it in Master Deng's tent? No, they protest - Ringmaster Zhu told them not to do that, so they put it in his tent. Min Feng issues instructions to the costume mistress on how to alter them so that they look like costumes resembling uniforms, not like actual fake uniforms. There will clearly be some sort of Dragon Army Versus the Tongs circus performance!
Takanata goes through the receipts and books of the circus and the Merit Trading Company, at least those that are available, looking for obvious disasters. Something in the Trading Company records bugs him, but he can't quite put his finger on it.
The party has a "bag of holding" that vanishes stuff in it - can they dispose of all the contraband that way? Well, not while it's still in crates. They open the crates - there are Northern furs, Dragon Army weapons, things that would be smuggled more than explicitly illegal. Nothing like opium. There might be a theme to it all, but it's not obvious.
Takanata (NB - I think this was actually someone else, but don't remember who - Charles) notes that anything they throw in the Jasmine they can probably make disappear, so Wei Han starts carrying crates to the Jasmine, and stacking them on the riverbank behind a temporary fence.
Cai Wen tallies up the List of Doom:
- Crates of contraband
- Dragon Army uniforms
- Case files (mailed to Mistress Litona)
- Bandit Queen
- Obvious Tong Member
- Elephants in Dutiful Serenity
Inspector Fu Arrives
On the way to Dutiful Serenity, Xiao Fa and Johnny Tong spot a group of riders heading in his direction. They quickly reach him, and Xiao Fa recognizes the most well dressed of the riders with a sinking sensation.
Inspector Fu is intrigued to see Xiao Fa - what brings him this way? Xiao Fa says he's just out for a stroll, to make sure that everything is ready for the command performance. He's just strolling this way, not in the direction of the circus at all, as part of that. Inspector Fu does not interrogate him further, and his party continues on towards the circus.
Johnny Tong re-emerges from his hiding place - he appears to be able to vanish quite impressively - and Xiao Fa tells him to run, to get to the circus faster than Inspector Fu and warn everyone, while he continues on to Dutiful Serenity.
When he reaches Dutiful Serenity, the elephants are trampling people's gardens. Master Deng warns Xiao Fa that they're not done yet. Suddenly Master Deng looks suspicious. He asks Xiao Fa what's the color of the day? Xiao Fa guesses "cerulean". Master Deng draws his sword.
- "You will see what happens to those who defy the circus!" -"Master Deng"
- "Imposter! You wear the clothing of Master Deng, but you are not he! I am from the circus and you have stolen our elephants! These people do not deserve to have their gardens trampled in this fiendish way! Give us back our elephants!" -Xiao Fa
- "Ha! You claim I am the imposter, but you do not have the license of circusing!"
Master Deng shows Xiao Fa a paper - it's a very convincing circus license. Xiao Fa finds it way too plausible, but the townsfolk are certainly convinced.
- "The cleverness of your foul documents just proves... if we actually had those, it would be very useful. But we don't! That's a foul infiltrator trick! You must be a foul infiltrator! Besides which, Master Deng would have hit me by now!"
Inexplicably, Master Deng doesn't seem to be willing to just chop Xiao Fa to pieces, though he does have a convincing document indicating that he's a master swordsman. In the end, Deng orders Xiao Fa to take the elephants back to the circus, now that their nefarious work is done, and heads off.
Xiao Fa, apologetically, offers reparations to the villagers whose gardens and fences were trampled. As he is not at all competent at bribery, he ends up giving them a tael to split between them, and becomes an instant hero. He suggests that everyone come to the circus that night.
Meanwhile, by the time Johnny arrives, breathless, at the circus, Wei Han has gotten about 2/3 of the crates of contraband moved, and the rest are covered with not-at-all-suspicious-looking tarps. Min Feng orders tea and snacks for the tea tent, and a go board, and heads in the direction that Inspector Fu will be coming from. Cai Wen makes sure that the path between there and the tea tent is clear of suspicious items and people.
Takanata finally finds what he was looking for in the Merit Trading Company records - there are a bunch of permits, which look to have been filed by Shen-Ji, for illegal goods transport. That can't be right. It's like someone spent a bunch of bureaucracy successes on making something legitimate into something illegal. Takanata pulls the permits out of the records, but there will be holes later. (Min Feng will spend some time later making it more clear that the permits are forgeries, adding extra smudges and the like.)
Xiao Fa returns with the elephants. Cai Wen designs a circus act involving Dragon Army acrobats victorious over Tong acrobats. Wei Han finishes piling all the contraband he can find by the river, behind a little fence. Bao helps make a second pass to find some of the better hidden stuff. Okay, so the circus mostly seems clean now, except for the fenced-in area by the river, which seems kind of suspicious, and Shen-Ji's illicit necromancy toys, which are quickly hidden.
As the rest of the party rushes around tidying, Min Feng invites Inspector Fu to play a game of go. He's better than she is, but he doesn't seem to be trying to crush her, just chatting benignly while they play. That seems a little odd, though eventually his conversation works around to a point.
- "What brings the circus to this area?" -Inspector Fu
- "Well, we have regular rounds. Sometimes to the north, sometimes to the south." -Min Feng
- "But you do plan to go home eventually?"
- "Yes, but sometimes opportunities present themselves."
- "Indeed? Such as?"
- "Oh, invitations to command performances, that sort of thing."
- "How long do you think it'll be before you return to the Isle of Beauty?"
- "Perhaps a month or two."
- "And where do you think it will be at that point?"
- "As far as I know personally, the island will be where it is now."
- "But you are working on changing that?"
- "Me, personally? No."
- "But someone else is? Would you care to speculate who?"
Since it's a conversation, though, Min Feng gets to question him in return. She wonders what he was working on when someone felt the need to divert Inspector Fu towards the circus. He admits that he was investigating the changes in the chi flow around the Empire. Was he summoned by Li Merit? Indeed, and Master Yang. Min Feng says there have been quite a few Li Merits around the circus, though only one Master Yang recently, and that one behaving somewhat suspiciously.
Min Feng also notes that if Inspector Fu goes back to his investigation, it may be diverted back towards the circus. Inspector Fu notes mildly, that perhaps the circus will be a less interesting target once he finds someone guilty of something. Min Feng thinks that the validity of this approach depends on how much the Inspector cares about who is altering the chi flow of the Empire. Well... as it turns out, altering the chi flow of the Empire is not illegal. There were a few crimes committed in the course of doing so, but the goals are not something that concerns Inspector Fu.
- "There are things that are legal, yet wrong." -Min Feng
- "And yet, it is also not illegal to move countries around." -Inspector Fu
- "That... was kind of accidental."
- "Indeed? How did it come to pass?"
- "As an inadvertent side effect of securing the Empire against invasion."
Inspector Fu believes that the chi-changing makes the chi of the Empire more amenable to having an Emperor, but he does not believe this to be a threat. Min Feng darkly notes that that depends on who the Emperor is. So... how do they plan to move the islands back? Min Feng admits she has no experience in any of that. Ah, but Lord Takanata does? Well, she's sure he has some ideas.
- "And once it is all done, I will investigate moving the islands again, and file another report, and then get back to my proper agendas." -Inspector Fu
- "Have you ever been outside the Empire?" -Min Feng
- "Of course not. Have you?"
- "Nope." -Min Fen, lying
- "I... see. Why do you ask?"
- "I hear there are things one cannot understand unless one is outside the Empire."
- "Indeed? Who told you this?"
- "I'm not sure."
Min Feng also warns him about "the guy who makes you forget meeting him", who Inspector Fu still Does Not Like. The Inspector rises, looks around at the signs of cleanup, and notes that he would be pleased to have a tour after the performance.
Performance and Aftermath
Xiao Fa writes a play in three parts to have the circus put on, to provide an excuse to have Dragon Army costumes.
- "Let's do some bad!" -Johnny Tong
- "You cannot imagine how much you owe me for this." -Bao
- "I appreciate your verisimilitude." -Cai Wen
Meanwhile, Takanata takes a nap, downstream of the piles of contraband in crates. He speaks with the Jasmine about washing away all the boxes, and she agrees, though as Takanata doesn't want to use his once/book shtick in the first run of the book, she agrees to be owed a favor instead, which (as she rarely needs much) she can trade to someone who has more of an agenda. However, she will make sure to only trade it to someone who she believes Takanata would not object to doing a favor for. Also, if Takanata arranges to have her daughter speak to her (in a non-compulsory way), she would count that as a favor.
The circus performance involves some exciting panda wrestling (in which the panda tries to attack someone who looks like Lijuan, who manages to flee before being jumped). Wei Han manages to get the panda cage back on top of the panda before any real carnage happens.
After the panda wrestling, Xiao Fa’s play is performed staring Bao as the evil bandit lady and her son Johnny Tong, the tong member. They have some quick adventures before the dragon army comes to arrest them, but fail too many of their vanity roles, so can not actually let themselves get defeated by the dragon army actors. Instead, the dragon army gets all beat up and the play ends with Bao and Johnny victorious. Everyone is confused until Cai Wen steps in and proclaims the moral of the night's event is the importance of filial piety! There is much applause.
Once the circus is over, Inspector Fu's almost pleasant demeanor changes to his more glacial expression that people are familiar with. He comments to his secretary that they are back on duty, and then demands to see the Ringmaster. Cai Wen escorts him to the tea tent, and Wei Han posts himself outside. Xiao Fa brings Inspector Fu some tea; the Inspector takes it and neglects to drink it, but Xiao Fa keeps replacing his cup with hot tea over the course of the interrogation.
Inspector Fu asks if Cai Wen wants to deal in chronological order, or in order of importance? Cai Wen chooses the latter. Well, then, what does he know about the movement of the Isle of Beauty.
- "I know that I've been personally blamed for it." -Cai Wen
- "Is it your fault, then?" -Inspector Fu
- "Well, I had no idea it was going to happen, but some things I was involved in certainly fed into it happening."
- "Such as?"
- "The association of elements of the Northern wall with the Isle of Beauty, and elements of the Southern Wall with the Shrouded Isle."
- "And what would an "element of the Northern Wall" be?"
- "... sort of like a guardian spirit."
- "What are your plans to rectify the matter?"
- "I don't remember the details, but associating the spirits with the correct islands is part of it."
- "What do you offer these spirits?"
- "Unusually for spirits, we usually find that our goals are in common."
Inspector Fu asks how the criminal Bao fits into this plan (she doesn't), and what her association with the circus is (she doesn't have a permanent association). Well, what is her temporary association? After all, he does have five hundred witnesses that a known criminal was involved in the circus performance. At this, Inspector Fu's secretary whispers something in his ear that makes him rather cross. The secretary protests - nobody saw anything! Or, at least, nobody who attended the circus is willing to say anything. (This is probably the result of Xiao Fa's tael bribe).
Inspector Fu's next investigation is the stack of crates, which prove to have all washed away in a mysterious flash flood. Cai Wen says he's not sure what was inside, so Inspector Fu asks Wei Han. Wei Han claims it was all stuff that needed to be destroyed. Well, did he destroy it? No. Wei Han thinks the river destroyed it.
As that doesn't seem to have gone anywhere useful, the Inspector heads to investigate the Merit Trading Company documents, and Min Feng helpfully points out all the forged permits, which the Inspector confiscates.
Cai Wen takes the opportunity to complain about the Obsidian Warlord taking soldiers south to land them south of the Wall, showing him the letter from Chien-Po about Mulan going. Cai Wen thinks that all the troops being taken are expendable and are going to be left behind. Inspector Fu notes that it is illegal to cross the Wall, and illegal to return from crossing the Wall, but that may not be the same as meaning that ordering someone to cross the Wall is illegal. However, it is illegal to report secret Dragon Army missions to civilians, but dealing with that will go on his list well below his investigation of the islands moving.
So... the moving of the islands involves the Spirits of the Walls, being summoned but not coerced, to associate with the wrong islands? Cai Wen clarifies - they weren't summoned, they just... chose to associate with the wrong islands, through being assigned responsibility by the governments of those islands. Inspector Fu raises an eyebrow. The kings of these islands have assigned spirits to... guard their gardens? Cai Wen says that they look like people, rather than spirits. Indeed? Which people are they impersonating? No, they're not impersonating people, that's just the way they look.
- "Do you know the identities of these people?" -Inspector Fu
- "It would be improper to reveal their identities without their permission." -Cai Wen
- "Are they guilty of any crimes?"
- "In conjunction with this investigation?"
- "Well, then no!"
Having been outmaneuvered by Cai Wen, all that remains is for the Inspector to interview Lord Takanata. Xiao Fa finds him napping by the river, and Takanata makes sure to dress in his extra-spiffy clothes, bringing him up to 29 status.
Inspector Fu clarifies that while there may be nothing illegal about moving islands around, it is nevertheless the subject of an active investigation. Could Takanata explain the method by which it is done? Takanata admits that he is not totally clear on the method in detail, but what happened last time is that the walls reached out to protect the opposite islands from attack (that is, the Southern wall protected the Shrouded Isle against a Southern attack, and the Northern wall protected the Isle of Beauty against a Northern attack), and the combination of the protection plus the attacks moved them both. To fix things, the walls wish to return their protections to the "right" countries. Is Takanata, or other members of the court of the Isle of Beauty, assisting in this? Takanata says he is assisting, to the limited best of his abilities, and making arrangements that the Southern Wall re-attach herself to the Isle of Beauty, and the Northern Wall reattach himself to the Shrouded Isle. He has asked that the wall ask His Majesty for a position in court. Inspector Fu does find this all a bit implausible sounding, but Takanata seems sincere. Does Takanata know the assumed identity of the southern wall? Yes, but it's generally considered a secret.
Okay, this whole thing is perhaps not illegal, but it's darned strange.
Moving on, would Takanata care to clarify why he travels with the Silken Wings Circus? Takanata considers this for a moment, then replies. He initially associated with the circus at the request of Her Majesty when His Majesty was ill, to travel to acquire a cure for His Majesty.
- "Since then, I'm not sure I have a good reason - it simply seems the thing to do." -Takanata
Inspector Fu closes his notebook. He says he understands what is going on, to the extent that he needs to. He would like to respectfully advise Takanata that if two groups of high nobles of the realm have differing ideas about the chi of the Empire or where exactly its countries should be situated, that the Imperial Inspectorship is not the tool to be using to settle their differences. He was investigating the allegations that a conspiracy was altering the chi. He has done so, and thinks that there is indeed such a conspiracy, and that these changes are making the Empire more amenable to having an Emperor again, which is in itself neither highly illegal nor treasonous. He was pulled off of that investigation and put on investigating the changes in the locations of the two island kingdoms. He has done so, and thinks that he will not find it illegal nor treasonous should he find the Isle of Beauty in the southern ocean at some point in the future.
- "These are not objectionable or illegal, and I must take care not to overstep my authority. I have no evidence of illegality in this particular matter. But it is not appropriate to use the Inspectorship to settle disputes between conspiracies of chi-altering nobility." -Inspector Fu
- "And so. Do you have any official comment on your Ringmaster's suggestions that I investigate the Imperial Warlord for ordering thousands of troops over the wall?" -Inspector Fu
- "No." -Takanata
As Inspector Fu gets ready to go, Xiao Fa swoops in with a small ceramic jug of very well-made tea, begging the Inspector to please try some. The secretary takes the tea, thanking Xiao Fa politely.
Inspector Fu and the secretary start to head off towards the Bridge of Moonlight. The party looks at each other, and considers jointly clearing their throats.
Oh. Um. Wait. Um.
Xiao Fa explains that... it is possible that... they had heard, possibly, that there was a possibility that it might not be a good idea to cross the bridge without Lord Takanata. So... the circus was going to cross the bridge with Lord Takanata tomorrow. Would Inspector Fu like to stay until tomorrow?
Inspector Fu is curious where this information came from - the answer appears to be "one of the many Li Merits".
Xiao Fa says he'll go and test the bridge for safety, so he heads that way and meditates for a while. Well, the chi flow of the Empire is definitely making a jog to go over the bridge, and there's also a tiny link from the center of the bridge, up to the moon.
Takanata explains that one of yesterday's imposters warned them that the bridge should not be crossed without Takanata okaying it, and that one of the children of the Moon is tasked with making sure the bridge isn't moved, and that the bridge's current location is in the Moon's favor.
Inspector Fu is really starting to be tired about hearing about chi flows, and imposters of the circus are very low on his list to investigate, so he doesn't ask any further questions. Takanata, Wei Han, and Inspector Fu ride across, and nothing seems to happen. Off the Inspector goes.