Stirring up Trouble
|"All people are your relatives, therefore expect only trouble from them."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Butterfly in the Month of the Tiger in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Port of Propitious Voyage in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Bad News is Delivered
The circus is unloading from the unlucky ship that took it to the Port of Propitious Voyage. Kasumi and Lijuan wander around the harbor remarking about kraken, just in case it lures one into attacking the waterfront, but that trick apparently only works on the water.
Kasumi checks the monkey cart for interesting items, and draws out a white silk banner. It's clearly magical, and Shen-Ji notes that while it is currently blank, what it displays depends on where the banner is raised. He can't tell what it used to say, but he thinks it had not been blank for a long time before now.
Zhi-Hao notices a dangerous man observing the circus unloading - he is armed with a pair of swords and a bunch of knives, at least. Zhi-Hao wanders over to say hello, and the guy says that he has a message for Shen Wei Han. Zhi-Hao calls Wei Han over, and the man gives a bag with some money to Wei Han, and says that Old Tsung would like him to investigate why all the northern tongs are suddenly no longer at war with each other, then report back. Then the man disappears back into the shadows.
Zhi-Hao thinks about this question - the most prominent northern tong is the League of the Hidden Hand, but the Claw of the Raven also has a presence in the north, and the Circle of Spite has been making inroads to the north. There are also a number of smaller tongs that would be local to the Port of Propitious Voyage, but Old Tsung might not care about those.
Another messenger arrives - it's a Dragon Army courier, looking for Ringmaster Te. Wei Han introduces him to Ringmaster Zhu instead. The courier bows, and says that Commander Yao has instructed him to invite the Silken Wings circus to perform for the recently released reserve Dragon Army troops who were victorious in the north. Commander Yao will be giving a farewell speech to the reserves at that time, and the performance should boost their morale after he tells them the bad news. Hmm - what bad news would that be? Well... it turns out that they won't be getting severance pay, which will make them somewhat unhappy.
Then, two horses ride up to the circus - one of them has a rider who several people think is vaguely familiar, and the other has Yang Tsi-Ya slumped across the horse's neck, riddled with arrows. Shuyan and Lijuan leap to healing the rider and the horses, respectively. The rider says that they were ambushed a little ways back on the road - dark figures came out of the trees and filled his bodyguard with arrows! Ahah, this guy is someone that Tsi-Ya has escorted before - he's the representative from the House of Judicious Increase. When he describes the ambush, though he is sure it was aimed at him, Wei Han and Zhi-Hao think that unless Tsi-Ya is really good at absorbing damage aimed at her charge, it was more likely that the attackers were targeting Tsi-Ya herself.
Eventually, the healers bring Tsi-Ya around, and ask her questions about the ambush. She's a bit more tactically savvy than her charge, and notes that her intercept shticks didn't actually require any leaping to get in the way of the attacks. She says she took down two of the attackers, but didn't stay to fight, and got her and her charge away towards the tents, which she saw in the distance.
Xian and Cai Wen talk to Tsi-Ya further while the fighters head back towards the ambush spot to investigate. She doesn't think she has any enemy enemies - maybe people who she's thwarted, or made to look stupid, but any bodyguard has those. Her charge was the only person who knew that they were taking that particular path, though. Is there a house war between Gainful Protection and Judicious Increase that would cause her charge to have betrayed her like that? She doesn't think so - and it's foolhardy to get into a house war with Gainful Protection, as they totally crushed their enemies last time that happened.
At the ambush site, there are two bodies - one has a tattoo of the Hidden Hand, another has the spiky circle of the Circle of Spite. Well, that supports Wei Han's message about the tongs working together. And one of the bodies has a scrawled map indicating the time and place for the ambush. The tracks indicate that the attackers headed to the Port of Propitious Voyage after the targets fled. The group questions the Judicious Increase agent a bit more strongly - why was he heading this way? He says he had been travelling to the Harbor, but his factor in Daizhou sent him a message saying there was a business opportunity to be had, at the Tea House of Seven Honesties, or something like that.
Wei Han accidentally talks the client into thinking that since Tsi-Ya hasn't finished escorting him to the Harbor, he shouldn't have to pay her, but Shuyan leaps in and talks him into paying extra for combat duty instead.
When the group returns to the circus, Wei Han gets Tsi-Ya to write a report for the local Gainful Protection chapter house, so that the guy can get a new bodyguard. Meanwhile, Kasumi finds a note in her pocket - "meet me on top of the big tent", and when she climbs to the top, she encounters an ambush, in which a handful of shuriken come flying at her. She dodges all of them, and Ayuki sulks - couldn't she have at least let one of them hit, after Ayuki went to the trouble of setting up this great ambush and everything? Kasumi doesn't see how Ayuki's lack of a successful ambush is her problem. Ayuki wants to know - is Kasumi in town for the big contract-fest? There's a lot of money to be made in the Port right now, and she's been getting a lot of fees to deliver threatening notes. Pretty much every tong in town is hiring.
- "I don't suppose Cai Wen came, not that I care... if he's busy, I shouldn't bother him." -Ayuki
- "Well, some girl is always bothering him." -Kasumi
Kasumi invites her to the circus performance the next day, just in case there's a big fight, and asks which of the tongs is paying the best. Well, the guys from the League of the Hidden Hand have the most money, but there's a rumor that there's some sort of representative from the Shadow, the "Dark Sorceress" who is rolling in cash too. So Kasumi should tell Cai Wen he had better watch his step!
Shen-Ji, Kasumi, and Lijuan stay with Tsi-Ya while everyone else goes with the Judicious Increase representative to the Cup of Five Virtues. Wei Han notices some shady guys watching the group pass - then they nod to each other and head out. Zhi-Hao doesn't think they are very armed, so he doesn't worry about it much. Everyone else notices a lot of shady guys generally hanging out on street corner.
Cai Wen checks in with Chashui - she says that business is booming right now, due to a lot of clandestine meetings. Cai Wen warns her that things may be getting hotter - perhaps she should lay in a lot of specially breakable crockery. And if there are going to be a lot of un-bonused veterans in town, perhaps she can hire some of them to guard the tea house?
The group breaks up a bit - Shuyan leaves a note for the Si Fan to find suggesting a meetup; Zhi-Hao and Wei Han and the Judicious Increase guy look for his contact; Cai Wen and Xian hang out in the VIP section of the tea house. A little kid comes in and looks around, but leaves again - perhaps he was looking for Lijuan. A messenger arrives for the Low Minister from the House of Judicious Increase - it says that the expected business opportunity fell through due to the general unrest, and the factor will meet him in the Harbor instead. It does look like the message was sent by the same person as wrote the first note, but that doesn't mean it was actually written by the Daizhou factor.
A spy from the Si Fan contacts Shuyan. She is curious what is currently going on in town, and he suggests that she move along quickly - there are likely to be riots in the streets soon, between disgruntled combat veterans, gangs, and the House of Gainful Protection. It turns out that Gainful Protection is in the middle of a tong war, but nobody has told them that yet. Shuyan decides maybe the circus needs a defensive strategy.
Cai Wen hears a shout outside the tea house - an officer in a spiffy uniform seems to have run over Shuyan's Si Fan friend as he was leaving. The officer introduces himself as Commodore Li, and scolds the guy for running in front of horses. Cai Wen recognizes the man as Inspector Ando (in a mild disguise), and the "Commodore" remarks to Cai Wen that these seem to be very exciting times. Cai Wen asks what the deal with the no combat bonuses for the veterans is. Ando says it seems to have been a bureaucratic snafu. As far as fixing it, it's probably an easy job to fix one guy's pay, but fixing all many thousand of them will be tougher.
Zhi-Hao and Wei Han escort the Low Minister to the House of Gainful Protection. There are a number of "interested parties" lurking outside paying careful attention to who goes in and out, and sending runners off with notes. On hearing that the Low Minister needs a new bodyguard, he is told to stand in a fairly long line - all sorts of people need new bodyguards this morning. So... what did the House of Gainful Protection do to piss off all the tongs? They have no idea! Wei Han suggests that maybe the house can hire all the North Wall veterans as new bodyguards - they'll look into that, though they probably won't be able to hire all six thousand of them. On the way out, Wei Han intimidates some of the watchers into writing down that he didn't join the House of Gainful Protection.
Zhi-Hao asks around at the Cup of Five Virtues about the Dark Sorceress. Rumors abound. Some people think she's a minion of the Shadow, others think she's a new Tong leader. Still others think that she's organizing the underworld separately from either the Shadow or the Tongs.
Meanwhile, back at the circus, someone dressed as a circus hand brings in tea for everyone who was left behind with Tsi-Ya. Shen-Ji thinks that their tea ceremonies are not up to snuff, and goes to get some properly made tea, but Lijuan drinks hers. As Lijuan suddenly begins to get sleepy, Shen-Ji triggers the combat, and as the attackers aren't very scary, most are killed and one is captured.
Kasumi and Lijuan send up some kites - Li Merit acquired these long ago to use as emergency signals, but neither the GMs nor the other players remember this, and nobody returns in response to the kite-flying. They grumble - the one time they're responsible and it doesn't work.
When the rest of the party finally does return, Zhi-Hao checks over the bodies - they seem to be the lowest level of hired thugs. Xian talks to the surviving prisoner - he confesses that he and his friends were hoping to take out someone on "the list" and become made men in someone's tong.
The party tries to figure out what is going on. Maybe Reiko / the Shadow has a plan to get all the Tongs wiped out by the disgruntled veterans, with the Gainful Protection guys as backup? The guy doesn't know a lot, but he promises to give them a lead on finding "the list" if they let him go. Feeling vaguely conflicted about letting a bad guy go, but also not wanting to personally execute him at this point, the party defers to Tsi-Ya, who is fine with turning him over to the city guard but also fine with trading him for something useful, like a lead. The party agrees to let him go, and gets some hints towards where to get the list (sufficient to roll for 6s on an investigation roll).
That night, Cai Wen has a visit from a ninja, and Xian has an interesting dream.
High on a hill is a fortified castle, with thick stone walls and defensible arrow slits and drawbridges. A small and tricksy mouse slips into the castle. The mouse scouts around, and finds the great hall, which is covered with little piles of dirt. The mouse shakes her head sadly, goes outside, and finds a broken broom. She chitters at the broom, and it sweeps into the castle, sweeping up the piles of dirt. Then, when the mouse isn’t looking, the broom sweeps into a shadowed corner of the room, and when it sweeps out, it is dark and shadowy and beginning to split into more brooms. The shadowy brooms proliferate, sweeping harder and harder, until the whole castle is swept away.
Sorting Things Out
In the morning, Cai Wen goes to find some of the northern Arcade landowners that he negotiated with for moving the Arcade troops, if any of them have homes in the city. A few do, and they agree to see what aid they can provide.
Zhi-Hao's cousin Lumang drops by the circus to visit. He says that he's been getting away from the underground fighting business, and has found honorable work - he signed up as a bodyguard with the House of Gainful Protection this morning. Master Deng says that there will definitely be some action coming up, and Lumang thinks that must be why he got a decent starting salary. He'll be escorting some guy from the House of Judicious Increase to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, right after the circus performance. When Zhi-Hao asks after his uncle, he learns that he's a merchant in the Gate of Shen now.
Ringmaster Zhu and the others consider whether there are any appropriate tweaks that can be done to the circus performance in order to placate the soldiers more. Wei Han suggests that he and Kar Lo juggle the "northern barbarians" in a pseudo-fight, but Broken Sword is having none of that, and the northern barbarian act is shelved for this particular performance.
A servant claiming to have some bureaucratic experience shows up to talk to Cai Wen - he says he has performed a great deal of work in a principally advisory capacity for Cai Wen’s friends in the Arcade houses, and they’ve asked him to come make a roll or two on Cai Wen’s behalf. Cai Wen is very impressed by his credentials, though Shen-Ji is less sure - he might just be talking a good game.
Xian heads to the seedy section of the city, and gets "the list". It appears to include pretty much everyone who is part of the House of Gainful Protection in the Port of Propitious Voyage as of this morning, so it includes Deng Lumang, as well as the lords of the house. However, rumor says that anyone intending to put a hit on someone on the list should hurry, because the tong representatives are meeting tonight, and the Arbiter or the Adjudicator or some other of the Shadow's people will be there, so things might change by tomorrow. Xian manages to hear that the meeting will be happening at the Blue Tin Cup, a private bar.
Zhi-Hao suggests going to the House of Gainful Protection and offering the party's help in going after the tongs. However, the house is definitely under surveillance, so it will be tough for them to do anything in great force without being noticed. So only Xian, Wei Han, and Zhi-Hao call upon the House of Gainful Protection, followed sneakily by Kasumi. Kasumi thinks that Zhi-Hao's group is being followed, and she also gets the feeling that she is being watched, which disturbs her, as she has the Monkey Talisman. With sufficient buffing of Zhi-Hao's status, and his claim to be a representative of the court of the Isle of Beauty, the group gets to speak to the lord in charge of this chapter house. Zhi-Hao makes his offer - they'll attack the meeting of the tongs, with soldiers from Gainful Protection. The lord thinks that the House will be unable to move in force against the meeting tonight - they would be noticed and the meeting would just move somewhere else. However, he can provide them with a small strike team. And if Zhi-Hao's team can sabotage the negotiations, the House will owe him and his a favor.
Meanwhile, Lijuan arranges with the Cup of Five Virtues to pay for as much tea as the urchins in the Rat's Nest can drink, and brings them food. Then, she tells them they are to STAY INSIDE and not go out in the streets and get killed. When bribed with food and promises of tea, they agree.
The Blue Tin Cup is a large building, with a number of people drinking in it. The party (including sixteen soldiers from the House of Gainful Protection) surround the building, and then crash in through all the windows and doors, enacting a plan of approximately "kill them all, except maybe not the Shadow's guy" (especially once it's clear that everyone there is a tong member). There is some initial concern about whether Lijuan's panda will kill people who have surrendered, but Lijuan points out crossly that she didn't want the "kill them all" plan, she wanted something Yoshi would have approved of. Lijuan then puts the panda in perspective for the tong thugs by shouting that it has gotten loose and she can't stop it - also panicking the soldiers on her side.
The first casualty is one of the Gainful Protection soldiers, but then the party begins to wreak its traditional havoc among the tong mooks, and the sorcerers who are also in the common area drinking. When the tong water sorcerer falls, he curses Shen-Ji (who took him down): at every drift, he will take a small amount of drowning damage, forever and ever until the end of time.
It takes a while for the outer mooks to be whittled down, and then the fortified door to the inner rooms is taken out. Inside are the three tong leaders, their three enforcers, and the Adjudicator. The Adjudicator nods, and says "The challenge has been found worthy. Prove your worth." Cai Wen finally figures out the overall strategic goal - one of the three leaders has to be taken down in order to permanently disrupt the negotiations.
At the end of the first combat turn, Xian and the Adjudicator are whooshed away into the private mid-combat confounding discussion. Xian wants to know where The Dark Sorceress is, and the Adjudicator wants to know what Xian will do if he finds her. They talk past each other for a while, but eventually Xian accidentally convinces the Adjudicator that he will kill the Dark Sorceress, so receives a magical shadowy dagger from the Adjudicator. Then, combat continues.
Kasumi leaps back to menace the leaders while their enforcers menace everyone else, and the leaders start getting the mooks to attack with coordination. Shen-Ji yells at Kasumi to "get out of there", and when she does, he seals in all three leaders and two enforcers with a wall of iron, so the party can finish mopping up the outer foes before starting on the others.
The remaining enforcer is taken down, after a bitter fight, and the few surviving mooks surrender.
- "Know that you have taken the field, but perhaps you will not be pleased with what occurred." -the Adjudicator
Then, he starts walking away. Nobody raises a weapon to him.
- "So... this isn't really relevant, but I don't suppose you're an art aficionado? Because I have an original unsigned painting by Zi Kone." -Xian
- "Speak to the Quartermaster." -The Adjudicator
Zhi-Hao thinks that the Adjudicator is the greatest source of danger still in the building, and Shen-Ji thinks that his staff is very powerful, while he has some minor power of his own as well. Then, the Adjudicator rounds the corner of the bar and spots the panda, still rampaging about, and decides to vanish into a smoke cloud that Cai Wen has dropped.
When Shen-Ji takes down the wall of iron, the room on the other side holds only escape smoke, and the tong leaders are gone.
In the morning, both the tongs and the House of Gainful Protection escalate their forces into a serious street war; Cai Wen and his helpful bureaucrat manage to get most of the soldier's pension issues dealt with keeping the Dragon Army veterans out of the fight.
Wei Han calls in some of the soldiers to help protect the circus, reducing the number in the "disgruntled and riot-prone" category to fairly small, and thus it comes to pass that the three Tong factions and the local chapter house of the House of Gainful Protection mostly mutually explode at each other. In the future, the Tongs will be much reduced in the north, but the House of Gainful Protection doesn't have any real presence remaining in the Port of Propitious Voyage either.
- River Ford stops by.
- Takanata visits Ti Lao.
- Takanata visits Lord and Lady Teng, which raises some issues