July 2, 2011
Players: John (Hiaomien), Steve (Xain), Emily (Do Xian) and Cindy (Do Xian’s assistant)
Scene 1: The Tea House of Resplendent Joys
It is the evening of a long day of an even longer week. It was only six days ago that the Imperial City erupted in lights, fireworks, parades, and streets flooded with people from near and far celebrating the coming of the new year. The new year brings hope for many, particularly those that are eager to leave behind the worries and trials of the past. For others there is a sense of foreboding, a fear of the unknown. And then there are those who call it just another day of work, no different from every other day (except the streets are clogged, making it even more difficult and annoying to get your work done).
At the end of such days our not-really-heroes wander to the local tea house to relax, enjoy the company of friends, and forget about the worries of the day. Their tea house of choice is the Tea House of Resplendent Joys. It is located in the Empyrean Bazaar, but back in the allies off the main drag. It’s location makes the tea house perfect for discrete meetings outside the watchful eye of the Black Helms. Customers range from frequent locals to those passing through but know this is the place to conduct business that best not be done on the main street. Sometimes others wander in, but in general it is a local secret.
From the outside it is not much to look at: a multistory building with faded wood paneling, humble but welcoming. They enter and are caught up with a noise and bustle that is antithetical to the quiet of the street. The tea house is lively with customers talking and laughing, girls running about to deliver orders, and in the center is a giant stove with three cooks tending it. There is water boiling, tea steeping and delicious bites cooking—the mix of aromas draws you in for a long sit. The center of the building is open, above the popping and steaming stove, the steam rising through the building to heat the upper floors.
The bottom floor is bustling with activity; the second floor and third floors are successively quieter, the tables surrounding the open center more connected to the activity, while those closer to the outside walls are more out of the way. The fourth floor is much more exclusive and private, with many screens and dimmed lighting.
As you enter, you are greeted by Madame Xiao, the proprietor.
“Master Xain, Master Hiaomien, Mistress Do Xian! Welcome to my humble tea house! We are so glad you have come to visit us! Come in, come in.”
Mdm. Xiao leads them to your usual table, asking after Xain’s latest cases and if Hiaomien still has that beautiful hearthstone amulet in his shop. After Mdm. Xiao leaves to welcome the next customers, a young gal comes to take their order. None of the party recognize her as they are pretty familiar with who works at this tea house.
Mdm. Xiao comes to the table and discretely whispers in Xain’s ear: a body has been found in the back alley. Perhaps Mr. Xian would want to come and take a look at it before the Black Helm is summoned. She is quite concerned that this death is not tied to his tea house, as she does not want to discourage any of his customers. Many of her customers have secrets, and Mdm. Xiao is very good at turning her head and keeping what happens in these walls inside these walls, but she will have nothing to do with murder. Her reputation is invaluable for the success of his establishment.
Xain inspects the body, now placed in a back storage room. The body was found in the back alley by one of the kitchen boys, taking out the trash. When the boy opened the back door, the light from the tea house shown on a man hunched over a body. He looked up when the door opened, then ran off. Xain notices the following:
• Less than 20 years old
• dark hair
• thin and wiry
• Skin weathered
• nondescript street clothes (loose pants and a tunic) with a heavy winter coat. They appear to be well-worn and in need of cleaning (as does the man)
• His clothes, however, have been pulled or ripped open, boots pulled off and were found laying next to the body; he has obviously been gone over by someone. There is nothing to be found in his pockets.
• The wound is from the back, a puncture that is torn around the opening.
• Death within the hour
Xain goes back upstairs and shares his findings with Haomien and Do Xian; the latter goes down and has her own look—she discovers a yellow crystal sewn into the lining of the heavy winter coat. It is about the size of her palm, and when she (or anyone) looks into it they see a swirling fog, sometimes forming into a vague face. Anyone who touches it hears whispering sounds.
Do Xian brings the crystal back to her companions. She recognizes it (the knowledge from a source she does not cite) as the Yasal Crystal. It has powerful magic and is used to trap a ghost and use its powers. The party decides they should not touch it with their bare hands again.
Xain notices a man in a dark cloak amidst the crowd at the tea house, eyeing them. Upon being noticed, the man runs through the crowd to the stairs and begins to descend. Xain, in an attempt to head him off, leaps over the balustrade. He catches the wooden barrier on the second floor, but it breaks off and Xain continues to fall to the first floor. Unable to intercept him, Xain chases the man out into the night and looses him.
The party decides to return to their homes and move forward with this mystery the next day. Do Xian takes the crystal and hides it under her pillow.
Do Xian is awakened in the night by a dark figure going through her things in her room. She gets into a scuffle with the man, waking Hiaomien in the next room. The man escapes from both of them and Do Xian follows him out into the street and around the corner. There the man pulls a knife and stabs Do Xian severely, fleeing. Do Xian is able to make it back to the gem shop and Hiaomien helps her back upstairs to her bed. Hiaomien summons Xain; they attempt to bind up Do Xian’s wounds, then go through the shop—things have been moved about as if someone was looking for something, but nothing has been removed.
Not long after dawn three soldiers come calling to the gem shop. They are aware that the party has found a crystal. Their master, Lord Tsing, would be greatly appreciative if they would accompany them to his home, with the crystal, and they will be rewarded handsomely for returning it to him. After a bit of negotiation (and pleading Do Xian’s case that she need to remain behind to heal), Xain and Hiaomien go with the guards.