|"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give a man a talking fish and get far out of the way."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Spider in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Hon'eth Arcade and the Shrouded Isle
Order is Important
Fin, the "matchmaking apprentice" jointly appropriated by Lijuan and Yanyu, pokes his head into Tahiti. He spots Shuyan, and asks that she let him know when the princess arrives. Shuyan wonders which princess, and he is taken aback - there's more than one? He goes off to find out which princess he’s actually looking for.
Next, the cook shows up to talk to Merit. Has he heard of the Jade Chefs? Yes, of course he has. She says they'll be doing their competition in the capital, and she wanted to go to see them, if she could have some time off. Of course, if Merit wanted to spend a lot of money, she could actually enter the competition rather than just watching. The trick is that each competitor has to provide their own exotic ingredients. So... did Lord Takanata leave any ice wyrm steaks around? Merit thinks he actually has a bit of ice wyrm blood left over. She'll also need sous chefs, but Xiao Fa is a darned good cook. (Xiao Fa, comparing notes with the cook, realizes that he has Cooking skill and she has "Cooking" skill.)
Meilin wanders by, wondering if anyone has seen Fin. Yes, but he went off to find out which princess. She grumbles and runs off again.
A heretofore-unknown kid shows up, looking for Princess Kuan-Xi, the Mystery Shopper, but Meilin quickly dashes in and drags him away, warning that it's too early.
The junior butler informs Merit that someone on the proscribed list - Master Renyu - is at the door. Merit allows as it is all right to show him in, though not to one of the good rooms.
- "It has come to my attention that now would be an appropriate time - " -Renyu
- "Too early!" -Meilin, interrupting from nearby
- "Were you visited by a series of children today?" -Renyu
Merit wonders if this is another of those times that the Great Spirits are using children as proxies. Meilin shouts "not yet!", so Renyu says that he'll wait.
Merit goes back to trying to recall details about the Jade Chef competition. It began about a Great Cycle ago, and was originally a battle between the lords of the House of Continuing Sustenance and the House of Enticing Vintage (though it has since been subsumed into a more general competition in the ensuing years). In the first competition, the Emperor was passing through the city in disguise, and appeared as a Mystery Judge, so the tradition of having a Mystery Judge persists. There are three Jade Chefs, and a grand competition is held when one of them passes away. The cook explains further: the competition happens over the course of a week, so someone could jump in at the very end. But the trick is that you have to have your food eaten by the Mystery Judge, and you don't know who that is. So cooking more food for longer gives you a better chance.
Shen-Ji notes that poison will probably be involved, so the party should start figuring out a good poison, or good ways to prevent it.
Merit wonders who is in town (the Tahiti area) relative to the Jade Chef plot. Well... the cook, the party, Meilin, Fin, the urchin, Renyu, and Kiri.
Fin comes back, and is promptly cornered by Merit and the rest of the party.
- "You just missed Meilin. She said to tell us everything." -Merit
- "She said there are a number of princesses and most of them don't matter and I should talk to Kuan-Xi." -Fin
Well, that seems easy enough. Fin tells Kuan-Xi that she has to go and talk to the Songstress, but she needs to make sure that Meilin brings her. Wait, why? Fin runs off before he says too much.
Ingredient brainstorming commences. Shen-Ji notes that the circus has some baby mammoths that could be repurposed for mammoth steak, but is roundly shouted down by everyone else. Well, maybe they can get some really perishable ingredients from Bear Mountain via water gate, that nobody else can get without them going bad. Bear Mountain isn't really known for perishable delicacies. But wait! Perusal of the herb list finds Gotkotha, also known as "ghost celery".
As it turns out, it is exactly 90 days after midsummer! Well, ghost celery it is, then. From Bear Mountain. Another option is volcano blossoms - like a subtly flavored hot pepper - which bloom on the inside slopes of the volcanoes of the Shrouded Isle.
The unknown urchin (who admits that he may have been called Chen in the past) returns, looking for the Mystery Shopper. He is empowered to offer her a job, for a lot of money. A friend of his wants her to shop for some very expensive foodstuffs. Kuan-Xi thinks she'd rather not work for mysterious patrons, and demurs.
- "You know, Ezokin doesn't really oppose any of our major goals - we just thwart him out of habit." -Min Feng
Chen, somewhat hopefully, says that if Kuan-Xi changes her mind, she should let him know. They stash him in a guest room, with snacks, in case she does.
It seems to be time for Renyu to explain his mission, as well. Whale is calling in his second marker, and has a plan to tag the Arcade. The party should enter a contestant in the Jade Chef competition, using fish from the Whale's Sea as special ingredients, and win. Renyu is also able to provide several different kinds of plausible deniability, if they don't want to personally cause any shenanigans. He and Kiri will handle the rest of the tag. So... why couldn't he tell them that earlier? Renyu shrugs - the Master has his reasons. He gives Merit a barnacle, to get to the Whale's Sea, and takes his leave.
Meilin pops in again - if Renyu and Chen are gone, everyone should go see the Songstress. But - don't tell the Songstress anything about the last couple of runs.
- "That would make a big mess and I'd have to clean it up and and everyone would be mad at me." -Meilin
- "Should we not mention the explosives?"
- "Especially don't mention the explosives!"
Everyone heads to the water gate, and Meilin frowns at it. It probably won't hurt too much. They jump through, and Kuan-Xi's move drops, as if she had just constructed the gate. Huh.
Not the Yet Yet
The group heads to the headquarters for the Song of the Phoenix. There's a bit of grumbling amongst the younger members of such a huge group traipsing in and demanding to see the boss, but the Songstress herself is glad they could come. The plan she had been discussing with Kuan-Xi and Yanyu is ready: In a few weeks time, there will be be a competition of chefs in the Honeth Arcade. In preparation for that, they'll have to find someone to enter into the competition, and the Song will arrange it so that they can pay off their debt to Whale by tagging the arcade for him. (They'll arrange for him to "come up with the idea".) What the party will have to do is, well, betray him. Whale will get them to the Whale's Sea to fish, but while they're there, they will need to steal (memorize) the Whalesong and bring it back to the Shrouded Isle, where it can be used in the name-changing working. Anyway, there's still some time to work out the details, so the party should do some basic investigation about the contest, while the Song of the Phoenix finishes the details of the working.
- "I believe the competition is this week. That's what my chef has been telling me." -Merit
The Songstress peers at Merit, puzzled. That's not what her sources have told her. But if it is this week, they'll have to get a move on, and she's not sure how much additional assistance they will be able to give. Merit notes that Renyu has already contacted them, as well, as a way to pay off their debt. The Songstress is even more taken aback - she didn't think Renyu was smart enough to have figured it all out this soon. But that will make things easier, as they won't have to lead him into thinking of it. Min Feng mentions another twist - Magpie is also trying to enter someone in the competition. Well, that's odd.
- "Presumably Magpie doesn't want Whale tagging the Arcade."
- "Well, just don't let him win." -the Songstress
Does she have any intelligence on the judge - how are they chosen, or who they are? She thinks the current Jade Chefs are the ones most likely to know those details. One is named Morimoto, and originally hailed from the Shrouded Isle, and the other just goes by the sobriquet of "the Szechuan".
They ask the Songstress to get some volcano blossom for them as well, though she isn't sure how much can be harvested by tomorrow. Well... maybe she can just harvest whatever she can, for the next couple of weeks? She's puzzled again - if the competition is actually this week, how does that help?
- "What day is it?" -Kuan-Xi
- "She's not going to know, the calendar is terrible!" -everyone
- "It's the Day of the Late Serpent in the Month of the Fox" -the Songstress
- "Oh. Um. Okay."
So... maybe she could just research everything about the Whale's Sea for a while anyway, and give it to them... later? Or tell them who she might have asked to do the research, if there had been more time?
The Songstress would probably have asked Suzuki Jiro, but she is definitely starting to give them suspicious looks at this point. Well, okay, never mind, they'll just be going now.
As they are heading back to House Suzuki, Merit sends off a message to compile a dossier on Morimoto, and an urchin wanders up. Would anyone like to make a donation to the Birthday Party Fund? Min Feng gives him a handful of coins, and he thanks her. His name is Seven!
Huh. So that's why Seven acted like he knew Min Feng last run. Along those lines, Merit stops by the docks and tells his old buddy that he's thinking of getting back in the game, and may be sending some shipments here.
(Meanwhile, the Songstress is thinking "Well, that was all very odd. I should probably go to the Smoked Glass some time soon and see what's going on.")
- "Wait! This was the cancelled run! That's why it's in the past!" -Jennifer
Merit is entranced by the idea of two free weeks to get things done in the past, and doesn't want to go home again. Should they arrange to make Xiao Fa the judge? Unfortunately, the conflict of interest in declaring your buddies the winner is a little non-Dragony.
The other question is, why didn't the... powers that be... just tell them all this two weeks ago? Why the time shenanigans? Well, maybe this way Renyu (or Whale) doesn't magically sense that he's going to be betrayed? He might have particular detections for that by now.
The group checks back in with Meilin, who is waiting at House Suzuki, with some questions. Do they have to go home the short way, or can they see some sights? Meilin thinks they can probably do some sightseeing, as long as they are really really careful to not make a mess.
Well, one thing they can do is research the Whale's Sea and the Whalesong. Merit thinks about it - "Whale's Sea" sounds like "Magpie's Bazaar" or the "Serpent's Coil", a realm of a Great Spirit, but Whale is not a great spirit so he doesn't have a realm. All the normal books that talked about Whale's realm would have been rewritten when the world changed, unless they were masterworks of some sort - and if they were, they have probably been refiled as fiction. Sea serpents might know about whalesongs, though.
Merit thinks they should head to the Tortoise's Library for research (though that could be difficult). Or they could talk to Suzuki Jiro. Or Lord Suzuki, Kuan-Xi points out. Her dad is into history. In fact, she had some books that she got him for a present but hadn't given him when Autumn Rose de-familied her. In fact... one of them is about the Ocean Between the Worlds. That's providential.
Merit and Kuan-Xi read the book. The Whale's Sea isn't mentioned, but whalesong is - whalesong is how whales manipulate water. ("Water" has at least three different meanings in the book). True whalesong is a three-part harmony, and Merit deduces that the Whalesong is probably what is keeping Three Piers stable - someone there is singing it.
Well, they probably don't have to go do library research, now that Kuan-Xi has rediscovered such a nice book. Maybe someone could teach them all to fish in the intervening time! Merit finds an old fishing buddy on the Shrouded Isle, who can do so, and several people become quite expert in fishing. Others (like Merit) become expert in KS: Fish, though after having asked his buddy to teach him fishing, said buddy does browbeat him into learning some actual fishing skill. Theoretical knowledge is insufficient.
Merit sends a strike team to pick ghost celery fruit. (This is only mildly insulting, in that it turns out to be harder than they think it is.)
Well, perhaps it is time to stop trying to poke the yet and come home. Back through the water gate! Kuan-Xi feels much better - her move has returned, and she's rather bouncing off the walls.
A Fishing Charter
Merit tells the cook that if they never return, to tell Cai Wen to rescue them, and then the party heads out (in the little carriage) to where Three Piers would be if it were there. They throw the barnacle in the water, where it bubbles and then sinks to the bottom. Fog rolls in, and then the sails of the Moon's First Daughter appear in the fog.
The captain welcomes them to their fishing charter, and the group realizes that maybe they should have gotten some fishing equipment. Merit can supply-cache up some standard nets and rods, but perhaps they can get some locale-specific fishing advice from the residents of Three Piers. Ah, did they bring trade goods in exchange for favors? Er, not really. What do the locals need? Almost everything except cash (and fish).
Shen-Ji makes a spiffy driftwood sculpture. Merit asks the locals what they could use - blacksmithing supplies are the most useful. Merit fishes around in his pockets and finds a hammer, but Shen-Ji happens to have a set of masterwork metalcrafting tools. Yay! The party also donates some bandages of healing, some medicinal herbs, and a magical firelighter. They feel like they have scored points in a somewhat unclear mechanic.
Min Feng overhears two locals discussing swapping their turns at singing - one has hurt his foot, so walking on the beach will be troublesome for him. Asking around about fishing spots gets some advice - some areas do have better fish, but it can be dangerous. How about people good at cooking fish? The locals recommend the Salty Dog.
Off to fish! Merit's best guess as to where a nearby beach might be is to the north, so they suggest that the Moon's First Daughter take them fishing northwards. The ship will not be getting very close to rocks or whirlpools or fishing holes (unless there is an emergency), but they have two sloops (5 people each maximum), and Shen-Ji has a hopboat. The crew notes that spinefish are said to lurk at the bottom of whirlpools.
Kuan-Xi, Min Feng, and Yanyu get into one sloop; Merit, Shuyan, and Xiao Fa take the second, and Shen-Ji takes his hopboat.
The triad's sloop starts around the circuit of fishing holes in the beachward direction, and the other sloop in the opposite direction. In addition to fish of various sorts, perils of the fishing holes include tentacles (which make boating more difficult), kraken (which must be fought or placated with fish), and sea serpents (which must be charmed or placated with fish).
A talking fish jumps into the Triad boat, and Kuan-Xi tries to remember the rules she has heard about talking fish. Something about "talking fish can't lie"? There were some other rules that were more important, but she can't remember what they were. Kuan-Xi asks Yanyu if she remembers, using the secret language of the Triad. Yanyu reminds her that "don't talk to talking fish" is another.
- "That's more of a guideline!" -The talking fish, in the triad language
The Triad boat sneaks beachward (with the talking fish providing commentary and offering help), and Kuan-Xi tries to throw him back in the water.
- "Here you go!"
She throws him in, and he goes, to here, where she is, back in the boat.
Meanwhile, the non-triad boat is encountering sea serpents, and is plagued by tentacles. Shen-Ji jumps in a whirlpool, swimming to the bottom with his ring of water breathing on. The spinefish swim at him, and he dodges most of them, but one stabs him and he catches it. Then he decides that getting stabbed by all of them is quicker, and they take him down. His body floats to the surface, and the spinefish get ready to start eating him.
The Moon's First Daughter sails in to haul Shen-Ji aboard, passing through one of the fishing spots and dispersing the fish.
This distracts the crew on the Moon's First Daughter enough that the triad lands their boat on the beach, and listens for sounds of singing. As it turns out, "overhear" is good for listening for singing too, so they find the entrance to a cave where the singers are. Kuan-Xi memorizes the melody; Yanyu memorizes the harmony, and Min Feng memorizes the third line.
In the meantime, the talking fish has brought their sloop back to the Moon's First Daughter. The other boat finishes battling their tentacles and fishes the last of the fish, before they also head back to the ship.
Merit recalls some more of the rules of talking fish:
- Do not talk to the talking fish.
- If you talk to the talking fish, be careful about what you say.
- Do not talk to the talking fish
- Talking fish can't lie.
Talking fish can be useful, though. The sea serpent made a deal with a talking fish and turned human. Yoshi made a deal with a talking fish and it distracted Spider for a chapter. So there could be a bargain to be made. Merit contemplates what profit might be made from a talking fish, if carefully handled.
Whereupon Kuan-Xi puddle-gates from the beach to the ocean beside the ship, and throws the talking fish back in the water. She quickly navigates the sloop back to the beach and picks up the other two, leaving the Moon's First Daughter crew that this was all just dealing with talking fish issues, and not sneaking around on the land.
The tally of fish is made. Surprisingly, the party has fished nearly monotonically increasing numbers of the more valuable fish. (The number of fish caught affects how many people can be fed.)
|Green sardines||6||6^2 * 1 = 36|
|Flaming sunfish||7||7^2 * 2 = 98|
|Screeching eels||9||9^2 * 3 = 243|
|Lounging purplefish||10||10^2 * 4 = 400|
|Deadly fugu||13||13^2 * 5 = 845|
|Ivory swordfish||12||12^2 * 6 = 864|
Well, ivory swordfish will get to be the Jade Chef dish; most of the rest of the fish are donated to the locals for a fish fry, and the Salty Dog cooks explain how to best cook ivory swordfish. After hearing that fugu can be made into deadly poison, the party surreptitiously puts ten of them aside to bring home for later.
Kuan-Xi does a quick round of water research, and then the Moon's First Daughter takes them back to the cove where the carriage was left.
- "Whale thanks you." -The captain
The cook sets to work preparing the ivory swordfish, with ghost celery jelly. She doesn't see how she can lose now. The dossier on Morimoto arrives. He grew up around the docks of the Shrouded Isle, and learned how to prepare fish from his father. He has an impeccable reputation for honesty, and is in a bitter feud with the Szechuan. The chef who passed generally was on Morimoto's side in the feud, so the next Jade Chef might shake up that dynamic.
The urchin who might be known as Chen shows up, to find out how things are going. He really needs Kuan-Xi the Mystery Shopper to come and shop for him, and he can offer 8.65 tael. Well, that precision of money can't be anyone but Ezokin, so Kuan-Xi turns him down.
He has a note for her that is only to be given to her if she says no. She confirms that she is saying no, so he gives Kuan-Xi the note and runs off agin.
Off to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, where the cook and her sous chefs are cooking the fish. She is showing off by throwing swordfish up in the air and chopping them on the way down. (Cooks do that.)
- "Come with me if you want to live." -Min Feng
A quick plan is put into effect - Merit is disguised as the cook, and the cook is disguised as a random sous chef. Merit summons some thugs, and the rest of the party lurks in the kitchen waiting for people to chop.
Some shouting begins to approach outside - there seem to be rival crowds supporting Morimoto and the Szechuan. It sounds as if there may be a riot. The thugs go out to keep the riot from spilling into the kitchen, and four assassins decloak from the rafters.
Red is wearing heavy armor; Green is wearing armor that looks like it is made of snakeskin. Blue looks a lot like Merit, with lots of pockets, and Yellow is clearly a talker.
Carnage ensues! Merit superleap-dodges, taking him out of the combat until next drift, and then declare that drift doesn't happen, so the assassins are at a bit of a loss. Xiao Fa and the cook try to get the not-yet-used swordfish and the spare knives out of the way.
Yanyu summons her husband, who ends up stabbed with a poisoned needle trying to protect her.
Yellow figures out that the cook is in disguise, but is thrown in the fireplace and then knocked down before he can tell anyone. Blue manages to escape, throwing his bladed hat at Merit, but the other three are defeated.
Shuyan gets poked by poisonous needles three times while searching Green, but there is no antidote for the poison that is still hitting the Son of the Moon. Xiao Fa can keep him stable while Shuyan, Merit, and he think about how it can be cured. The final clue for what the poison is, is that magical healing damages him. Ah - this is blood acid, a particularly dangerous poison used by assassins, because when the target is poisoned, the first thing the bodyguards do is try to heal them.
The poison can be neutralized with alkali, and he will recover the slow natural way, so it will take him a few days to wake up.
Green's armor is "Armor of the Serpent Society", and potentially interesting, but even more interesting is Red's armor, which provides no actual resistance, but confers a magical damage reduction effect. Alas, Yellow's good stuff was burnt up in the fireplace.Combat over, the cook finishes the swordfish, and her dish wins the Jade Chef competition. She is presented her award by the Mystery Judge, who turns out to be Lucky Chang.