Two months later, we resume our tale.
- Hum Lae (Max) got work with the Footprinter Clan of Charikot. He was assigned to Ekkre, their Keeper of the Old Ways, to serve as a resource when he had questions about humans and their foibles. The dwarves provided him with fine metal armor and a shortsword printed with runes identifying him as servant of the Keeper of the Old Ways.
- Xiao Xiao (Jeremy) and Ping continued working for Nyandak of Jade Shadows providing a safe working environment in the seraglio and tending to any needs she may have. In order to be popular, Xiao Xiao took to living considerably beyond his means, and he now owes money to some impatient and dangerous people in Charikot as a consequence.
- Gazo (Lu) also continued working for Nyandak of Jade Shadows.
- Tu (Ted) also continued working for Nyandak of Jade Shadows.
- Lightcrash the Silver Eye (Patrick) got a great offer from Nyandak, transmitted through the sluggish magically to reach him in Kwantoom, to bring his theater company to the valley to perform!
- Huan (Tyler) naturally got dragged along as part of that theater troupe.
The Night Before
On the eve of the Festival of Shivering Petals, the Jade Shadows seraglio was doing brisk business before leaving for the celebration. Outside was pouring rain, but inside was alive with meeting patrons’ various needs, including gambling and romance.
Lightcrash and Huan showed up with the Eun clan of snailish; the snailish were banished to the barn (which they were cool with) and the humans allowed inside. (Xiao Xiao and Ping were minding the door instead of helping divas pack.)
Hum Lae was surprised to see them, but they quickly caught up on things over food and drink, and got involved in a complex gambling game invented by sluggish millennia ago. Gazo ended up on guard duty while Xiao Xiao got in on the game (everyone demanded he play, as he was sometimes a spectacular and lucrative loser.) Tu also got in on it, and the tables were thrumming with pleasant vice.
Lightcrash headed for the high stakes gold table to play with the sluggish wizards, and while they turned him down at first because of his association with filthy snailish, he bragged about abusing them to the point where the sluggish relented and let him play.
Shen the Yakkish
Three yakkish showed up, and while they were not normally allowed, they strongly reminded Gazo of the Herald of the Void, so she let them in. They joined the gambling, and Gazo reported to the Mistress, who came out to watch them and intervene if need be. If things got out of hand. Yakkish tend to be bad for business.
Sure enough, Lightcrash had a good round and was exuberant in spite of himself, and Shen recognized him; apparently Lightcrash owed Shen a good deal of money. Shen took his table winnings, but Lightcrash wasn’t going to put up with that. He fired some flashpowder surprise up Shen’s nose, grabbed his winnings, and scrabbled for the exit.
Shen snatched up a table and swatted him with it, and as Lightcrash tumbled through the air, he grabbed a chair and enchanted it so he could ride it; the chair whizzed up into the air with him aboard, and in the general chaos the other two yakkish stayed low and out of it. The sluggish cast a spell protecting their table with a magic bubble. Xiao Xiao snatched as much of the winnings from his table as he could and made a run for it.
Shen rushed to the door to keep Lightcrash from escaping, but Huan delved into his own chaos magic and fired out a spell of chaotic energy that pulled Shen down, restraining him against his will. Hum Lae piled on, adding his muscle and chaos energies to the spell to keep the yakkish down.
Lightcrash decided to exit, and zoomed up towards an air vent. He smashed against the wall, but concentrated all the flying energy into one leg of the busted chair so it could pull him up through the air vent and out into the night. Birds from his magic act, advertising leaflets, and other pocket contents swirled down. He almost made it, but instead of getting stuck, his greasepot burst, slicking him up and ruining his outfit (as well as showreing grease on the room below (and he soared away free, yelling that rehearsal was cancelled for the night.)
There was a general melee between Gazo and the bouncers and the indignant gamblers chasing Xiao Xiao that others participated in, taking the energy out of the group (and Xiao Xiao slunk off to not provoke them with his thieving presence.) Gazo later demanded a cut of the table-grabbed winnings for helping out with that.
Shen was sent out into the night when the magic wore off, for being disruptive. He sullenly left. (Lightcrash hid in an attic until morning, so as not to cross his path. He got one scrubbing when he got to town, and found himself in need of another.)
The Festival of Shivering Petals
The Vale of Flowers lies between the Charikot and Bharatput city states, and it is home to the Jade Baths run by Jal and her triplet sons Dilip, Hari, and Laxanan. For the Festival, the rulers of both states attend, along with a number of nobles. The noble chooses a cherry tree that is losing petals, and tells a story involving love and/or ghosts. If the story lines up aesthetically with the pattern of petal loss during the telling, that grants good fortune to a coming venture.
Also, there was a competition planned between Jade Shadows and Crimson Shade, where both seraglios put on a show and the one that the ruler of Bharatput, Lord Zhang Dong, chooses, wins bragging rights.
Before the show, Slick caught up to Hum Lae and resumed their tempestuous and sticky romance.
At dusk, the festival began with enchanted fireworks making a burning cherry tree losing petals in the sky. Then they began with the show.
Crimson Shade led off with a dancing dragon full of ladies, and Jade Shadow shot back with snailish sphereplay and drone pipes. By the time they reached the evening’s last round, Lightcrash narrated a tale of a maiden lured to the underworld, who returned like springtime, and he used magic to add light effects and cause the plants around the stage to grow through two years’ cycles. They won handily, and Lord Dong spent the night with the Jade Shadows.
Lions and Blood
Meanwhile, a mercenary company from Charikot was there protecting them, and Bharatput had their own forces too. Hum Lae thought he recognized one of the mercenaries as a member of the Thousand Throat he met on the road, but couldn’t be sure. He mostly attended to Ekkre, Keeper of the Old Ways.
Ekkre told him the dwarves did the jadework carvings for the humans, as a condition securing the neutrality of the site. He told Hum Lae that Jal and her sons were sorcerers, key to defending the valley, and he said something about how blood should not be spilled here. Dwarves are cryptic. They also got the solid-walled collapsible yurt set up, complete with a big compartment for Hum Lae and differently shaped area for Ekkre. They even brought fishtanks; bait fish for Hum Lae to enjoy before feeding them to the expensive fish Ekkre brought along.
They celebrated until late and planned to sleep in.
Xiao Xiao was woken early by a nervous guard. Jal and her sons had been kidnapped in the night. Xiao Xiao immediately woke his Mistress, finding her drowsing by a pile of exhausted people, nude and adorned with shimmering green runic tattoos. She touched one to clothe herself in a black robe, and blew her hunting horn to rouse the camp, immediately alarmed by the news.
The Thousand Throats bandit army attacked the tent city! As the snailish oozed to safety over the bath house walls, taking Lightcrash and Huan with them, the others headed for the main gate to the bathhouse (as a tent city is a terrible place for melee.)
The attackers in the rush to the gate were led by a big man with a topknot helm and hammer, and Xiao Xiao shot him with a crossbow to weaken him so Gazo could shove through the melee and kill him in the face.
Troops from Bharatput, Charikot, and the Thousand Throat swirled in battle, but Hum Lae skirted the fight to see a robed figure with paired athame slaughtering people, and he took her head off.
The Thousand Throats withdrew, and only then did the news reach the monks; the bandit army had mounted this attack as a feint. The Lord of Charikot was their prisoner!