The Castle of Doctor Wu
|"Half-truth is more dangerous than falsehood."|| It is the day of the Late Bear 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 City of Spires and the surrounding Taiga
The circus is still in the City of Spires, and people are starting to notice that Shuyan has been missing for a few days now.
Xiao Fa and Lijuan pay a visit to the spire of Li Kao. They cool their heels for a little while, until Li Kao shows Willow out. She says she'll see them around later, though she's busy right now. Li Kao welcomes the pair, and asks if Xiao Fa would be willing to arrange for one of Li Kao's people to interview his brother? The severing from a powerful Shadow spirit is something that Li Kao is very interested in hearing about. Xiao Fa says he'll contact his brother and get back in touch with Li Kao. Lijuan asks Li Kao if he got her picture (of Lijuan and the panda),
and offers to paint a different one if he wants that. He advises her to paint pictures that she wants rather than pictures that other people want. Xiao Fa asks Li Kao to start working on "foxy renaming" working for the Taiga.
Takanata paints a picture, and puts it in a really nice frame. Is that Fu Manchu? Isn't he dead? What could that mean?
Elsewhere, Shuyan wakes up in a nice soft bed. She sits up, and notes, first, that she's fully dressed. Second, she appears to be shackled to the guy next to her. Third, the guy next to her is Ando.
- "Ando, what the heck?" -Shuyan
- "Glah!" -Ando
- "Did you do this?" -Shuyan, simultaneously with Ando
- "What the heck have you done?" -Ando, simultaneously with Shuyan
Shuyan checks her pockets for a key to the shackles, and does find several papers that she doesn't recognize. (So does Ando). There's also a note on the table:
Shuyan writhes sinuously trying to get out of the handcuffs.
- "Stop that!" -Ando
Ando suggests that they head back to his "base", where they can take care of this sort of thing. Shuyan decides that it's probably too embarrassing to explain this to the party, so grudgingly agrees. They head to an Imperial Customs House on the river docks, and Ando "escorts" Shuyan into an interrogation room and asks to send Chifi in.
- "I suppose I'm wondering why you called me here." -Ando
- "This would not have been my first choice. Or my second, or my third, or even my Nth choice." -Shuyan
While they're waiting for Chifi, they try to figure out what the other person found in their pocket, and end up showing each other their item cards.
- Letter of Introductiion: A letter introductin the bearer ti the King's Archivist and asking that he or she be extended the courtesy of the archives.
- Inviitation: A formal invitation to the ball thrown by the Yellow Duke. Admit two.
- Old Map of the Eastern Taiga: About 100 years old. Do not remove from the archives!
- List of names: An incomplete list of names of relatives of the current dukes from approximately two generations ago.
Chifi comes in, with bolt cutters. However, the bolt cutters break when trying to cut through the chain of the shackles. They summon another agent, who smells the chain, and declares that it smells of metal sorcery. Well, that probably means Shen-Ji can deal with it. Ando thinks it's very convenient that Shuyan happens to have a metal sorcerer on hand, but Shuyan protests. It's totally not convenient, everyone will see them together, and that's gross.
They head back to the outskirts of the circus and Shuyan sends in a circus hand to ask Shen-Ji to come out, but since he's napping, the hand mentions to other people that Shuyan is hiding in the trees outside. The whole party troops out to find her, and finds her and Ando, lurking suspiciously.
Takanata says he's glad to see Ando - he's been looking to find someone that Ando suspects of being a smuggler to the south but that Ando couldn't ever prove. Wei Han thinks discussion of smugglers is much too dangerous to have out in the open, and herds everyone to the tea tent.
Kuan-Xi, noting Shuyan and Ando walking arm in arm (chains hidden by his cloak), rolls her eyes, asks "Seriously?" to the world at large, and then heads away in her little carriage, looking cross.
Cai Wen tries to get Shuyan to tell him about the epic swath they were cutting through the party last run, but mostly he's trying to figure out if Shuyan knows what he's talking about. She doesn't really. Well, she could be a mirror demon or Pir-Pir or who knows what! However, she does seem pretty well informed about the things that Shuyan would know about from longer ago, like the circus and people in it. And Ando claims to remember having met the circus for the first time when they were trying to smuggle elephants back across the Northern Wall. So Shuyan and Ando are probably the real thing, they've just forgotten some recent events - about a week.
Well, that seems most likely to be Li the Wanderer. Takanata puts on his tinfoil hat, and contemplates whether there should be another figure on the left side of his painting, but he doesn't think that's right - it's more metaphorical than that.
Kasumi puts the Monkey Talisman in a bag, and passes it to Shuyan, who can then escape the shackles. However, they start heating up at that point, so they have to let Ando escape too lest his wrist be charred off. Lijuan covers the melted shackles with a bucket labeled "For Shen-Ji", and Cai Wen is quite impressed that she's moved up to that level of trap-setting.
Willow drops by to visit with Cai Wen - she has several days off, and if Cai Wen can arrange for bad weather, a few days more than that.
Wei Han organizes an investigation of the inn where Shuyan and Ando woke up, and shoo the cleaning woman away from the room. The inn itself is one of the nicer ones in the City of Spires, reputed to be the favorite of the Pearl. Takanata tries to do "echoes of the past" on the room, but discovers that his shtick has already been used. He isn't able to memorize Li's pattern, though, as "bounce off someone's defenses" isn't enough of a "they directly act against you". However, Takanata does spot the "apologies for the inconvenience" note on the table.
Shuyan heads downstairs to ask the clerk for details on who checked in with her. They promise to be very discreet, but that wasn't quite what she meant, and she bribes him to tell her more. Apparently, they checked in under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Fu. Further interrogation of the clerk mostly reveals that he's somewhat confused - he thinks that Ando and Shuyan ... carried each other upstairs? It was something like that. There were just the two of them, he's pretty sure. Everyone else assumes he just forgot the third person.
Shuyan sends an urchin to fetch Lijuan, who asks Urchin-Net about the inn, but there don't seem to have been urchins actively surveilling it. It's the inn that you go when you don't want people to talk about you.
Shuyan and Ando show everyone the papers they found in their pockets - "Wo Fat" and "Chun Li" are scribbled on the back of the list of names (in Ando's handwriting, and something like "the glade" is on the back of the map (in Shuyan's handwriting). Ando guesses that the poorly forged "letter of introductiion" was part of a fast talk roll, not anything more serious.
Hmm. The group looks through the fancy atlas for glades in the Taiga - are there any new glades that aren't on the old map? Or glades that have gone missing between the old map and the new map? No, it doesn't look like it.
Xiao Fa and Wei Han go to visit Li Kao to complain about his brother and see if he will help them sort things out, but Li Kao says that he has already meddled in this plot overly much, and would not like to appear to take sides further than that. Oh. Hmm. Xiao Fa thanks him for the extent to which he has already taken sides, and the pair take their leave. As Li Kao's servant hands back their cloaks, the servant comments that one should not judge a book only by its pages.
- "Oh! That's a metaphor! It means Ando is a really nice guy and you should fall in love with him!" -Lijuan to Shuyan
Ando checks the papers for "spy notes" but thinks that all the information is overt rather than covert. Lijuan draws some art about a building on top of another building in a swamp, and sets out to ask urchins if they know about ruined castles in the swamp, but it turns out that there aren't any swamps in the City of Light so the urchins are a little unclear. She tries to get them to tell her ghost stories about swamp castles, and has to teach the head urchin storytelling before he can tell a not-bad story, but it's still not very informative. Interpret Omens suggests that a new house is being rebuilt on top of an old house. Kasumi looks at Takanata's painting again, and thinks that the scrolls are "real" (not metaphorical), and that the frame is much nicer than the painting, though everyone is ignoring the frame. Hmm.
Could someone be trying to rebuild a fallen house? Wasn't there something about that? With... Lijuan and Takanata and maybe some others? Nobody can quite remember.
Takanata checks to see if he recognizes the names on the list as current nobility in the Taiga. Some of them look like grandparents of the current dukes, but the two handwritten names don't match. Lijuan checks around near the Yellow Duke's palace asking about Shuyan and people with her, and manages to get a description of Shuyan in a fancy dress, and another guy who is presumably Ando.
There is this letter of introduction to the City of Spires archivist - so maybe there's something that can be found out in the archives. Takanata burns his reputation to get the group in.
- "Oh! Doctor Wu! I did not know you were travelling with Lord Tokai Takanata." -Archivist
- "Psst! Shuyan! That's you!"
The archivist says that he was not there for Doctor Wu's previous visits, but he is at their disposal now. Shuyan asks if there are any "recently fallen houses" around, and he notes that that wasn't part of their previous investigation, but he will look into it. But the answer is no - no major noble houses have fallen in the Taiga recently. Takanata notes that the list of names that he has been given is incomplete - why, there are two missing names written on the back!
A young boy ("a very very well dressed urchin") is the archivist's assistant, and asks if Shuyan found it yet. He sighs - he's been helping her look for it for three days! Happily, he can brief her on what she did - they looked through a bunch of names, and then they went and talked to the Dukes to find out information about the missing names. Whatever they found out let them figure out from the court records where the land was, and they went off. The urchin is disappointed - what did they miss in the research? Do they have to do it again? Shuyan says they still have the missing names, but they need to know where the glade is. The kid doesn't know anything about a glade.
The party asks the kid to research Chun Li and Wo Fat, members of the Yellow Duke's household. After a while, he reports that Chun Li is in fact a member, but Wo Fat isn't. Chun Li is mentioned in lots of the court records - it isn't possible to figure out which one they cared about without more to cross-reference against, and just the name Wo Fat isn't sufficient without knowing more about him.
Squeaky finds a book of maps that appears to match the torn-out map that Ando has.
The assistant wonders - are they going to have another party, or talk to the Dukes, to find out what they found out before? The party insists, no, that would be too much trouble. All the answers must be in the archives!
Can the assistant look for Wo Fat in the Black Duke's family? He's not there. The assistant asks if he should try the other new Duke as well.
Wait. Other new Duke?
- "When did there start being a Purple Duke?" -Takanata
- "Which time?"
Chio Yasha is the Purple Duke - about a month ago, he was declared to be a lost heir of the Chio house, which died out about four generations ago. He reclaimed his birthright and has been rebuilding the house. Again, this sounds kind of familiar - wait, it's the plot from TPK! But Wo Fat doesn't seem to have been a member of House Chio either. Searching the entire archives for the name Wo Fat would probably take a few days.
Willow, who is bored, tries to speed things along, and helps cross-reference a registry of properties that the Purple Duke has been granted with the map page they have now. There's a lot of overlap, but one location of interest is the seat of the house, in the Glad Swamp, which the old map lists as the Glade of Gladness.
Apparently, when House Chio fell, it fell hard - it ran out of descendants and the house sunk into the swamp. The Glade of Gladness was renamed to be the Glad Swamp. Eighty years ago, the swamp was the site of a tense legal battle between Wo Fat (a retainer of the Green Duke) and Chun Li (a retainer of the Yellow Duke), who both claimed that land. Their differences were mediated by Fu Manchu, who ended up with the actual land in question. In theory, the house was owned by him, but it was under the swamp.
Interestingly, the house was not disposed of by Fu Manchu's will, so possibly his first son could make a claim on it, despite having been mostly disinherited by the will mechanic.
Cai Wen checks the score. Game over! Prize A has been claimed, but prize B remains unclaimed. Willow thinks she'll have a better idea about the prizes if she gets closer to the mechanic.
House in the Swamp
The group heads out to the Glad Swamp, and lurks in the forest nearby. People seem to be constructing a manor house - there are workers with logs, workers with barrels of hay being put down over the swamp, and... some of the workers are swimming? That doesn't seem right.
- "I put on my tinfoil hat and my ring of water breathing." -Takanata
Xiao Fa thinks that there are a lot of nodules of sorcerous energy all around, mostly water and earth, but a little bit of wood. A lot of the workers are... surrounded with invisible sorcerous armor? Or possibly something more horrible than that is going on.
Two people seem to be in charge, directing things around, and Takanata does a connections reading indicating that one of the people-in-charge is the liege lord of one of the workers. Nobody seems to have noticed the group skulking in the woods yet.
- "You want I should announce you, boss?" -Johnny Tong
Takanata turns on Eyes of the I Ching, and announces that half of the workers are human, and half of them are swamp monsters. And sometimes they switch, sinking into the swamp and appearing somewhere else. The lines of chi go to the non-liege boss.
- "Does anyone feel better now?" -Cai Wen
Maybe swamp monsters are very cheap workers? Are swamp monsters evil? No one is sure. They're certainly creepy. The group argues the relative advantages of walking up to ask if the Duke knows about the swamp monsters, or just attacking everyone.
- "If a combat breaks out in front of the Duke, we're better off in most cases if we were talking to him first." -Cai Wen
Lijuan suggests that the plan should be: ask for permission to search the basement, if he says no, mention the swamp monsters, and then someone will attack them, clarifying the situation.
Takanata tries a Crossroads: will they be happier if they ride in and try to talk to the Purple Duke, or if they ride in and attack the sorcerer? After spending a karma, he concludes that they will be happier if they start the fight by trying to talk to the Duke. Well, that's interesting.
Kasumi, Lijuan, and Shuyan hide on one side of the clearing, while Takanata, Cai Wen, Wei Han, and all the NPCs ride up. Takanata announces himself, and the Duke starts to climb down from the under-construction house, when he spots Ando.
- "My lord! You are fooled! They are playing with your memory! Men, get Doctor Wu's assistant!" -Duke Chio, pointing at Ando
The various workers/soldiers start running for Ando. Takanata looks at Ando, and looks surprised, hoping to support the "we're fooled, not bad" premise.
- "Is your Grace's memory impaired so that you do not recognize the swamp monsters you are working with?" -Takanata
Wei Han grabs one of the "swamp monsters", and promptly sinks into the swamp. The Purple Duke takes this as evidence that Takanata's bodyguard is secretly in the employ of Doctor Wu, and tries to get Takanata away. Zhuai runs past Ando, punching him in the face, and shouts at the guards to protect Takanata, placing himself squarely in the "good guy" camp as far as the Duke is concerned.
Willow declares that the current mechanic is to search the house, so she and Cai Wen head for the house on their unexpectedly buoyant horse.
The "swamp mage" calls upon the swamp to reveal those who are skulking around, and Lijuan is uncovered (though not "Doctor Wu" or Kasumi, who are better hidden). He calls to the Duke that there are flankers at the back of the house. The soldiers attack Ando and Wei Han, and Lijuan and Kasumi attack the mage, taking him down hard.
- "Nooo! My brother! Kill them all!" -Chio Yasha
- "Permission to lay hands on the Duke, sir?" -Wei Han
Kasumi leaps to the mage and pours a healing potion down his throat. The Duke tries to chop Wei Han, but that never works. The panda starts to rampage through Duke Chio's soldiers, and Xiao Fa runs for the mage to keep him from dying.
- "You might be able to save him now, but if you don't stop fighting now I'll make sure you can't!" -Lijuan
Cai Wen and Shuyan start searching the house, while the battle rages outside somewhat haphazardly, and Ando starts to get surrounded by people trying to kill him. Takanata and Zhuai riff together on how confusing this all is and how they have been taken advantage of by Doctor Wu.
Wei Han points out intimidatingly that he hasn't attacked the Duke yet, only his men, but rather than take that as opportunity to surrender, the Duke instructs his men to coordinate against Wei Han. Wei Han is hard pressed to block all the incoming damage against both himself and Ando.
Takanata orders Wei Han to come over and stand down; Wei Han grabs Ando before doing so. The Duke shouts that everyone who does not throw down their weapons RIGHT NOW will be killed - everyone does so, though Kasumi dashes for the house after that.
- "Drop your weapons does not mean invade my house!" -Duke Chio
- "You should have been more specific!" -Kasumi
Everyone outside the house is deemed to be arrested, and Duke Chio sends half his men into the house to find the ninja and other intruders, while the other half pick up the weapons and point swords at the party.
Happily, this is when Shuyan finds the secret door, and slides down a chute into Fu Manchu's secret lair; Kasumi allows herself to be captured, but Cai Wen and Willow escape. The Duke heads for his brother; luckily for everyone (or maybe just for the Duke), Xiao Fa has stabilized him and he should recover soon.
- "So... I would like someone to explain to me why you all invaded my house and attacked my people, at the behest of this man, and if there is anything else I should know before I pass judgement." -Duke Chio
Takanata spins a tale: he has an interest in the history of the Taiga, and was approached by Doctor Wu and her assistant a day or so ago. They said they were also interested in the history of the Duke's family, and that in their investigations they discovered that the Duke was ensorcelled by a sorcerer using terrible swamp demons to force His Grace to behave in out-of-character ways. They came to see if there was any truth to that, and beheld on arriving at his mansion, there was a terrible sorcerer and swamp monsters walking all over the estate.
The Duke finds this all somewhat plausible - he had dealings with Doctor Wu and her assistant, who invaded his house just a few days before, led them a merry chase, and then vanished, leaving everyone very confused and forgetful of exactly what had happened. Takanata clarifies that Doctor Wu was travelling with them as well, but she seems to have hidden, and should be searched for. Who else is Doctor Wu's minion? Just Ando, Takanata thinks. Duke Chio is suspicious of Wei Han, but Takanata claims him. And why does Takanata have a ninja, anyway?
- "She has been... helpful... on occasion." -Takanata
Well... Xiao Fa has saved Duke Chio's brother's life, though one of his people was killed by the panda. But Doctor Wu's powers are vast, so he can't hold them too responsible. Duke Chio will keep the criminal Ando to see that justice is done, but everyone else is free to leave.
- "But why are you working with the evil swamp monsters?" -Lijuan
- "We prefer to call them mud golems." -Duke Chio
Takanata passes Kasumi a ninja escape smoke to smuggle to Ando - she does so with none of the Purple forces the wiser. Then, Takanata lays his hand on the pattern to declare that Ando will be in Jabon in two days, and then everyone leaves, except for Xiao Fa, who agrees to look after the Duke's brother for a time.
Meanwhile, underneath the house: Shuyan prowls through the Secret Lair of Fu Manchu, which looks somewhat infested with deathtraps. Luckily for her, many of them appear to have already been set off.
- "But she can't say 'why did it have to be snakes?'" -Heidi
She finds an ornate dining room, set up for dinner service for three. She notes that the spoon at the head plate is much shinier than the rest, but leaves everything as it is. The weapons room has a guillotine blade stuck in the floor at the entrance, but the weapons rack is mostly empty. She finds a hidden lever, and a holder for a single sword rises from the floor, but it's empty.
Fu Manchu's bedroom is sumptuous, and has a closet full of silk robes and moustache brushes, and a soft bed which appears to have "the side to sleep on" and "the side with spikes". Hmm. The kitchen has a shelf of exotic poisons and a shelf of exotic noodle spices; Shuyan picks up a noodle sauce for later.
When she reaches the office, Shuyan has a brief flash of memory - herself and Ando coming in through opposite doors, and leaping for the desk. A box rises from the desk and they both grab for it, and it goes flying - and someone else's hand grabs it. The memory fades again, and Shuyan finds the box, empty. Shrugging, she takes the box - a book is more than its pages, and people ignore the frame.
The rest of the office just has office stuff in it, and that is the last of the rooms, so she heads upstairs, and slips out just as Ando sets off his escape smoke.
Everyone meets up back at the circus (except Ando), and looks somewhat unimpressedly at Shuyan's empty box. But three karma later, she can search the box well enough to find the hidden panel, and inside it, a small collection of pre-addressed blackmail letters!
Cai Wen thinks that the current scoreboard gives Shuyan 1 and Ando -1.
Willow says she should be heading home soon, but wants to know if there's anything that they want to ask her about before that. The Sages (including her boss) talk to the Revered Master about current events and use her as a messenger. That’s why she was in town, but while it's been a nice vacation, the weather never got bad, so she should be returning soon or she will be missed.
Cai Wen wonders: can she figure out who won games a few days ago? Such as, who won the Pearl's mentee thing really? That is, whose secret team is Qiu Mei-shio on? Willow can't just contemplate it all from here - she'd need to meet Mei-shio or be in the place that the judgement happened or something. Cai Wen says that he can probably arrange for a dinner, though Willow notes that he had better not spend all his time ogling the Pearl or there will be trouble.
Then, Willow's head snaps up. What was that? She thinks several people (the ones with the Talismans) just got hit with an additional level of vulnerability. Wei Han (carrying the Magpie Talisman) only has one, but everyone else has two. People try various countermeasures, but whatever happened seems to have been explicitly not an attack, and not directly aimed at the people involved either. Willow's guess is that the best way to stop it is to smack whoever is putting them up - she could try to come up with a mechanic for that, but it would take the rest of the day. The party decides that "smacking people" is something they're sufficiently good at on their own, and decides she is better used investigating the Pearl's new protege.
That evening, Cai Wen and Willow are invited to dinner at the Pearl's. The Pearl is charming, and happy to see both of them, and she does introduce Mei-shio when she stops by. Willow thinks that there are mechanics all over the place which is pretty cool. The Pearl notes that she has detected some more watchers, along the lines of what she mentioned to Xian before. Cai Wen thinks it's building up. The Pearl says that they've been trying to do the same against her, but as long as you notice them, they spook. Her husband's guards seem to be able to spot them, rolling 12 dice with 12 skill. But... she does not leave the house very much any more, which is why it is nice to have visitors. Cai Wen asks how Mei-shio is coming along - the Pearl says she's still a bit crude, but that they're working on it.
After they leave, Willow notes that from what she could tell, Mei-shio won the competition herself, not as anyone's pawn. She did cheat, but her cheating was not beyond the bar of acceptability. She isn't anyone else's candidate. Willow also thinks that there's a lot of interesting stuff going on between the Pearl and her husband that she only got a glimpse of.
Takanata goes back to the archives one last time to sneak the map back into the book it was torn out from, and the archivist asks to convey his regards to Doctor Wu. Takanata hmms noncommittally. A spycraft roll on the blackmail letters indicates that they're "kind of like favors but perilous".
- Cai Wen goes to look for the House of Night's Promise.
- Kuan-Xi does not return. (Shuyan doesn't understand why she left - when was she into Ando? Takanata just grimaces.)
- Master Zhou visits Li Kao.
- Takanata visits Ando in Jabon.
- Takanata and Shen-Ji traipse around the Savanna investigating the last days of the Hand on the Sword of All the Clans.
- Takanata bedevils the Minister of Terracing and Irrigation (Western) of the Taiga, and sends Kasumi after him.
- Lijuan acquires a new house, and tries to figure out what to do with it.