|"If you neglect your art for one day, it will neglect you for two"|| The run begins on the the Day of the Early Monkey in the Month of the Bear in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place starting in the Tanzhe Plain, and also visiting the northwest and southeast corners of the Empire
Our heroes gather in the Pavilion of Abundant Tea, immediately to the west of the Silken Palace of Wisdom in the Tanzhe Plain. Messengers arrive, and the Butler begins his rounds in earnest.
He finds Min Feng, which is good, as there is a letter addressed to her, from Lord Yu in the Iron Fortress.
Lady Min Feng
Both we and Lord Hawk of the Cranesflight Heights find ourselves weary of the battalion of the Dragon Army that sits upon our border, ready to crush anything that they think resembles warmongering. When they find none, they look harder; they harass travelers, hamper trade, and heighten the very tensions they would claim to be guarding Against.
We direct you: find a way to put an end to this, and make it so. Have them be somewhere else – I hear the North has less imaginary enemies. We have contemplated several options: to formally declare peace with the Heights, to carve out another pass to use for travel, to rattle our swords at the Taiga, where the border cannot be blocked so easily. Perhaps there are other plans which are better.
We direct you again: consider the ramifications and choose. Appropriate resources shall be placed at your disposal.
Min Feng thinks that chewing on this would be a good Emperor Test, so she hands it to Xiao Fa for consideration.
The Butler pokes his head into the Pavilion another time, and laments that Lord Takanata seems nowhere to be seen. Deng makes an attempt to separate the letter from the Butler, but he is not quite quick enough of tongue to do it, so the Butler escapes.
Willow arrives, looking for Cai Wen. She notes that he’s 2 for 3 right now. Or maybe 1 for 3. She worries that she has perhaps arrived at the wrong time. Cai Wen assures her that there’s never a bad time for her to arrive, and they go off to lunch to discuss things.
In the Tea Pavilion, little noticed, Xiao Fa begins to behave rather oddly, becoming rather quite concerned about a dead snake that he found in a corner.
The Butler makes another pass looking for Takanata, and Min Feng manages to convince him that she, as Takanata’s granddaughter, can be safely entrusted with the message. This, she also reads to the party:
My lord Takanata –
I have considered further our conversation, and I had another thought to offer.
My husband, as you know, has frequently been tasked by his superiors to relocate the Bridge of Moonlight. For reasons that you no doubt understand, he has found the difficulties in doing so to be insurmountable.
In recent time, this project has declined in priority, and in the commensurate resources dedicated to carrying it out, yet nevertheless it is held as a mark against him that it is not done.
It is my belief that the decline in priority is because the importance of the move is not what it once was. Nevertheless, a goal once resolved upon cannot be abandoned, and so it continues to hang as a shadow.
Perhaps this may be of interest.
Cai Wen returns to the tea tent after lunch, and thinks that these letters are pointing the party at means to lift our Persona Non Grata status with the Dragon Army -- to do this, they need three commanders (one each of North, South, and other) to temporarily lift the status in pursuit of some goal; that is, they must be in position to help them in a way that requires the party to be temporarily allowed to interact with the Army. Willow chimes in that she has arranged the third favor -- she has made arrangements for a Policy Salon in the Illuminated Precincts, at which it will be proposed to move the Southeast Dragon Army Command to a rather undesirable part of the city. The party should be able to finagle that into a temporary un-banning by Commander Sun.
An Unusually Sassy Salon
The party considers a few different ways to finesse this, and conclude that the best and simplest plan is to arrange the Salon on an evening when Commander Sun is usually to be found at home, and arrive soon before the Salon with news of the policy debate, and an invitation-plus-one in hand, which he could use, if only its holder were not Officially Undesirable.
The party also learns that the topics of the Salon will be something about the King, something about the Library, and something about the Army. In addition to six scholars, Master Tranh and Katsuo Narina will be there.
Nothing goes wrong before the beginning of the party…
At the Salon, the party sees:
- Master Tranh
- Katsuo Narina
- Yuwen Fire-eye
- Elder Brother Sakong
- Some penny-gems (party-goers of opportunity!)
- A couple of mysterious people off to the side
It all starts innocently enough.
Sima comes over to Xian, and opines that since the party is here, this little improvised Salon must be more exciting than he thought -- what’s going on?
But then, things get weird. Xiao Fa, over by the tea table, knocks over Scholar Turtle’s tea, spilling some on him. This sends a tremor through the party.
Sima to Xian -- “Is that the guy who’s running for Emperor?”
Xiao Fa, finding the whole situation unsatisfactory, shoos away the Tea Table staff and takes it over. Deng, finding Xiao Fa’s behavior increasingly worrisome, slips behind the Tea Table, draws his sword, and chops away all the influences on Xiao Fa. Xiao Fa’s face clears some, though this is little noticed as many principals are busy commenting on the unsuitability of swords as a means of erudition, and either backing up slowly (most) or charging in and demanding answers (Scholar Tiger).
Min Feng calms Xiao Fa down, and Xiao Fa, rather aghast at the situation, apologizes to Scholar Turtle. Deng puts his sword away and apologizes to Shentu Guan, offering to withdraw from the Salon in penance for his swording. Shentu Guan thinks it would be best if Deng withdraws until next turn.
There now begins a trickle, nay, a veritable flood of partygoers to the outer hallway of the Salon venue; first it is Xiao Fa and Deng, but Katsuo Narina follows, as she is worried about Xiao Fa. Scholar Monkey thinks it’s certain to be interesting, so he goes as well. Seeing that questions will be asked and answers might be forthcoming, Sage Sima follows as well. Master Tranh, finding Xiao Fa’s behavior at odds with Quiet Contemplation, also follows.
Meanwhile, out in the main hall, policy is debated. As he is unsure that the party will survive long without something exploding it, Cai Wen ensures that the Army’s least favorite policy proposal comes up quickly, so he can defeat it. Scholar Fox takes the position that the Imperial Offices should be centralized in a location downwind of the Tannery, while Scholar Crane takes the position that the Imperial Offices should be spread throughout the city (as they are now) as the adversity of maintaining communication will make them stronger.
Cai Wen loses focus for a moment, noticing that one of the mysterious watchers is probably one of his molls. He looks more closely and decides it’s Sho Fi. He concludes that the other one must be Ford, and they are presumably Up To Something. He sees them maneuvering scholars toward another table--apparently they have another policy debate that they’re interested in.
Out in the hallway, Sima urges everyone to brief him on what’s going on, and Scholar Monkey persuasively urges that everyone should brief doubly. Xiao Fa is regretfully obliged to report that he doesn’t really understand what’s going on, and needs to meditate. Thereupon begins a tense standoff in which Scholar Monkey is desperately curious, and must continually make will rolls not to poke Xiao Fa as he contemplates the self, the universe, and why he is suddenly undergoing a full-scale collapse of mental faculties.
At the table with Fox and Crane, Xian intervenes, making herself a Scholar -- Scholar Coyote to be precise. She tries to help Crane, and succeeds, though at the same time, she confuses and rearranges the arguments -- Fox is now arguing that the Imperial Offices should be centralized near the Tannery because the adversity will make then stronger, while Crane is arguing that keeping them spread out throughout the city is the way to Show Them.
The second topic of the Salon is whether the Library should be made more open to all, or whether it should remain closely guarded. Cai Wen watches closely as Ford and Sho Fi begin helping opposite sides in that debate. Willow thinks they’re getting something from just running up the score in the debate.
Cai Wen approaches a penny-gem and finds that it is the Regent for the Precincts. He asks the Regent what favors he might want done; the Regent asks Cai Wen to pontificate (in the normal Salon-y way) about Xiao Fa. Cai Wen talks about Xiao Fa going out and investigating / puttering in various corners of the Tanzhe.
Min Feng, finding the Penalty Hallway insufficiently crowded, finds Master Kwan among the penny-gems and brings him out to the hallway to help diagnose Xiao Fa.
At the top of the next turn, Deng pokes his head into the party to urge Scholar Crane to go now, as Crane is behind in the standings. Sima glares at him, but technically, he was only banned for the rest of that turn.
The party asks Yuwen Fire-eye to pontificate about her current project. She’s experimenting with the interaction of fire and air, in all sorts of ways that sound potentially spectacular.
The debates begin to wind down. Crane wins the debate with Fox -- Imperial institutions will remain distributed. Serpent wins the debate with Tiger -- the Library will remain closely guarded. Brother Sakong tries to get Scholar Turtle to debate Scholar Coyote, but nobody else wants that, so the party concludes.
Out in the hallway, Kwan and Tranh decide that punching Xiao Fa out of his chi is not the answer, so the party remains baffled about his not-so-slow descent into madness.
The Lost Battalion, Found
The party heads to the Iron Fortress to talk with Lord Yu. He explains that while the Dragon Army does have legitimate reasons for having camped on the border, he’d like them to move on. (He enumerates the reasons -- there were Bandits, there was Lord Du, there was Tai Lung, and then 2 of 3 of the Pagoda masters took part in a takeover of Craneslake Heights by King Hawk, so they could be forgiven for thinking that there might be continuing problems…) In any case, he thinks a peace treaty is a fine idea, but wants to be sure the Ramifications are good, which is why he’s brought Min Feng in.
The party starts heading up to the Reflected City to discuss King Hawk’s side of things, when Xiao Fa starts getting edgy again, thinking he’s stepped on a butterfly. The party looks around and concludes that there probably are more dead butterflies right here than they expect. The party stops in its tracks -- it’s time for this mystery to be demystified! Deng cuts away influences with his sword again; this reduces Xiao Fa’s stress, but he still thinks he stepped on a butterfly.
Xian considers the situation, and then reports that the Imperial Alchemist has a new apprentice, who has bound a couple of demons (maybe not demons, but two of something anyway) to mess with Xiao Fa. They’re not very powerful, but they will probably be back, and they’re not happy about being linked. Well, that might explain some things.
The party arrives in the Reflected City. Xiao Fa asks to see King Hawk as “friends of the King.” He gets an appointment the next day for just him, not him with entourage -- definitely a message that the party has overstepped or presumed in some way.
When Xiao Fa emerges from his meeting with the King, he reminds the party that they have done nothing about the fact that the Steward’s elder son was killed during the takeover, and as the Steward has remained loyal to him, our failure to make some kind of amends is his failure, and he’s not happy about that. However, he is willing to do a peace treaty, and he wants the Dragon Army off the border (and on the Northern Wall) as badly as Lord Yu does.
The party does not immediately hit upon a plan to leverage this obvious solution into a favor that only they can do for Commander Hsiao, the Northwest Army general. So they first dispatch Kasumi to raid the border battalion’s archives for details of the order that is keeping them in place. She doesn’t get the orders, though she does get some letters between the battalion commander and Commander Hsiao that suggest that they’d both be happy if the battalion could get out of there.
Min Feng puts her pet phoenix on patrol for demons. After some time, the phoenix squawks at Xian, saying “shoo! Shoo!” in Phoenix. It turns out that the phoenix has spotted a demon and a spirit that have been bound together, and are focusing on Xian, but somehow affecting Xiao Fa. This is very confusing.
After some kicking around options, and learning that Commander Hsiao cares about the image of the Army, the party settles on the plan of arranging a treaty between Bear Mountain and Craneslake Heights, to be signed at Northwest Dragon Army Headquarters, but with Min Feng appearing as Lord Yu’s representative, so she’ll need to be authorized by Commander Hsiao to enter the camp. This works.
The party proceeds to the Bridge of Moonlight. They see a couple of small guest houses on each side. There are no Dragon Army camps to be found; the effort has been well and truly given up. The houses belong to the Purple Duke. Xiao Fa thinks they are in significant places. Xiao Fa also sees something dead floating in the river, which is quite creepy, but whatever is going on, the party is On To It now, for whatever that’s worth.
Xiao Fa thinks that the bridge is the greatest crossroads of the Empire, being a mystical junction of the great rivers and the road network. The order to move the bridge would have tipped the balance toward the roads, and away from the rivers; they are in balance with the current location. He thinks the Purple Duke is probably managing to use his strategically placed summer houses for some mystical benefit.The party considers possible plans to relieve Commander Mushashi’s plight, but the easiest-sounding options (like filing paperwork to declare the project done) won’t work for him -- there’s definitely a strong sense that the project is unfinished, and that’s politically bad for him. So something more subtle will be required. But this will wait for another day...