5913/Flowers and Secrets

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Flowers and Secrets
Date of Scene: 19 June 2018
Location: An-Teng, Exalted-9999
Synopsis: Chasing rumors about demon-pirates and monster-hunters leads to the discovery of a plan of attack.
Cast of Characters: Empty Tidings, 1134, 513, 6384, Wandering Dog

Empty Tidings has posed:
ADORNED WITH WISDOM AS A SAPPHIRE (or just 'Sapphire' for short) is a city in the southwestern province of An-Teng, a Realm satrapy renowned for its expensive silks, precious gems, and almost infuriatingly polite deference towards the powerful. The city itself is old, featuring enduring stone architecture and more canals than roads, largely thanks to its position on the River of Queens, and a great number of academies and schools, largely thanks to its sheer age. A natural Warpgate a short ways up the river makes getting here pretty easy from the outside, too.

It's a lovely day, but the mood in Sapphire is a touch on the darker side. Rumors of the Lintha demon-pirates moving up-river abound, and the large population of students is abuzz with the possibility of hostilities while An-Teng's blind eye towards the pirates (everyone knows it; almost nobody talks about it) remains unseeing. The Realm has half a legion downriver to the west of here, much closer to the sea, so there's no way they should be able to get this far inland... right?

On top of that, it seems like a bunch of rabble-rousers calling themselves the Golden Brothers have been roaming around town, recruiting the brave to 'take back the night' from the 'forces of darkness.' While most Tengese simply dismiss them for foreign fools, a few adventurous souls have signed on with them, and have been roaming town trying to find friends to do the same. They don't sound like they like the Lintha much, either...

A GREAT STONE PLAZA bearing an old statue of some great, golden figure is accessible by land from the north side of the city. Porters lug goods overland from the canals to shops and businesses in this section of town, and foot traffic is fairly brisk. A trio of young men in buff coats and bits of hard leather armor, each bearing spears, rest at the foot of the statue. Meanwhile, a pair of robed students speak animatedly about something they're clearly trying to keep quiet and are failing miserably at not too far away.

The city is open to you -- so long as you're polite. Where to go? What to do?

Mei Hatsume (1134) has posed:
     Try as she might, Mei is not one to pass up the chance to investigate new locales with all sorts of new technology and impressively shiny stuff to get her grubby mitts on. Granted, she's not the sort to try and STOP herself from said mitt grubbing, but she does at least need to keep up some appearances every now and then.

     Thus, her goal today is not to seek out the nearest workshop, but to find those Golden Brothers. Local heroes would be a good group to fall in with, and Mei's quite willing to do some snooping around to find them! The method: Loitering near those robed students and trying to figure out their deal. Using her ZOOM quirk, she observes them from a rather long distance away, watching them at first while slowly making her way around to get into hearing range.

Finna (513) has posed:
    As An-Teng is a very established Realm satrapy (however an odd one) where Dynasts frequent, Finna is being extra-cautious in her goings-about. Can she handle an uppity Dragon-Blooded or two? Sure, probably. Does she want to deal with the consequences of a city on Anathema alert? Oh definitely not.

    And that's why she's currently taking the form of a male oriole, a black-feathered bird with a magnificent orange-colored chest.

    One problem will solve the other, she figures, and so Finna's swooping around the streets and particularly the plaza.. and has quickly spotted the goings-on at the plaza.

    She swoops in for a rest-perch on the golden statue, and sharpens her ears to listen in on the conversations...

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     On the other hand, Orchid is much more interested in learning not just about the local technology, but also the fashion and style. Of course, as a spotter, she's always got at least one eye out for trouble-a-brewing, so as she wanders, she pauses by the statue; she looks like she's fiddling with her bags, but she is actually listening to what her spiders, hidden about the square, are able to hear. Rumors of trouble on the wind... And with luck, none of her spiders will be stepped on.

Wandering Dog has posed:
Wandering Dog's been in the West a bit, but his other favorite region of Creation is absolutely the South. Sun, sand, grilled meat, and it sounds like /adventure/! Luckily, Wandering Dog was a Dragon-Blooded, so he could travel freely, even if he was also a filthy outcast.

Having heard about the Golden Brothers, he wanted to know more. Dressed in his white silk tunic and with a black jade bracer with a statue of a hawk on it on his right wrist, he approached the men with spears, moving to speak to them with a grin. "Yo. Nice to meet you, name's Wandering Dog. You look like the type of gentlemen to know about the Golden Brothers. Any chance of knowing where I could find them?"

Finna (513) has posed:
    And with Wandering Dog somehow arriving at the exact same time she does, the bird makes a quiet throaty warble and begins preening its feathers in a manner that's almost irritated.

Empty Tidings has posed:
The students are trying to speak quietly, talking with their hands quite a lot. Mei can pick out that one of them has some kind of flyer, and it looks like he's trying to convince the other to go along with him to... somewhere. Her telescopic vision makes it pretty easy to see: it looks like a map of part of the city with a particular back-alley building circled, with the upper half of the page dominated by the silhouette of a smiling woman's face. Through spiders or snooping, snippets of their conversation come through, though:

"...it's a bad idea."

"It's not a bad idea! Come on, you're always dragging me to that lame teahouse by the school to see some girl --"

"-- which isn't /dangerous/, is it? You just want to see if they have neomah and --"

"And who wouldn't? C'mon, if there's trouble, we'll leave straight away. It's not far --" The more excitable of the pair points behind him, towards the western part of the district. The other one rolls his eyes and gets back to debate. It seems like the kind of lively argument friends have all the time.

Meanwhile, the trio at the statue look up. They squint, trying to look tough but instead just looking kind of nearsighted. One of them immediately perks up when Wandering Dog introduces himself, and he scrambles to his feet. "/The/ Wandering Dog? Like in 'Wandering Dog and the Tale of the River-Striders?' Did you really beat a rogue elemental into submission with a fistful of stagnant water?"

The others get up, a touch more slowly, and bow politely. "Hello, sir. No, sir. Well --" The two less-talkative of them exchange glances. "-- maybe. Due Giang said he was looking into some rumors of..." He lowers his voice. "...demons, being summoned in the city."

"Demons get summoned in the city all the time," the third mutters. "Just not usually for tea."

The exciteable one frowns, scratching his head. "Yeah. We don't know exactly where he went, but it sounded like some shady teahouse he'd sniffed out with that nose of his. But, usually one of the Golden Brothers comes here at sundown --" It's still the middle of the day. "-- so we thought we'd just wait to see when we're leaving."

Finna (513) has posed:
    It does sound like a fairly normal conversation, apart from the casual mention of NEOMAH. Finna-bird doesn't show any recognition of the talk going on below beyond the earlier fuss, just listening....

    Oh Finna knows of the Neomah. Many Creation-born have heard of them - they are nearly as ubiquitous to sorcerers as blood apes!

    But the way Wandering Dog's received by these people has her taken aback. They're AMAZED by him. Positive reaction! She wasn't expecting that. It may prove to be a handy aid in her quest to investigate.

Mei Hatsume (1134) has posed:
     A map? How curious! With her own investigation more or less complete, the pink-haired inventor slides her goggles down over her eyes while taking a rounadabout path to get to the back-alley in question. Luckily, she doesn't have to fumble with which way that actually is thanks to the westward pointing, and she pauses briefly to watch the spearmen conversing with a martial artist.

     Note to self: Research telescopic hearing. That way, she'd probably be able to pick up more clues about whether or not she's even on the right trail! Still, a lead is a lead, and she's not about to ignore it. Time to go traipsing around in suspicious alleys!

     Good thing she's got her harness on. Worst case scenario, she's prepared to hurl goop in someone's face.

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     Between one thing and another, Orchid gets the idea that the place she should check out is the back-alley tea-house. After spending enough time looking at the map with her spiders, and just looking around to get an idea of how to get from here to there, Orchid sends a few of her spiders to scout the way. She takes a more direct route there than Mei does, but she's aware that her fellow Paladin is there.

Wandering Dog has posed:
As the one guy recognizes him, Wandering Dog honestly doesn't recall what story he's talking about or if it's real or not. Three centuries is a long time to remember everything you've ever done. However, he grins confidently, and at the least, his Western features help with his identity. "Of course I'm /the/ Wandering Dog! And of course I did. With a punch like this..." Moving towards the open space of the plaza, Wandering Dog suddenly jabs out. His motions are super fluid, stretching out into a punch and back like it was nothing, with pure muscle memory. If these guys don't know much about martial arts, it's probably nothing special, though.

"Demons. Well, that's no good. While I could wait until sundown, think it'd be better to be a little proactive in my search. If I get to punch some demons in the process, well, they'll be writing another story about me! Have a good evening." And then, Wandering Dog looks around the plaza, searching for someone who might be willing to direct foreigners. Once he finds them, well, he has plenty of money to use to try and bribe his way to the more illicit stuff, looking for the shadiest teahouse he can find.

Empty Tidings has posed:
Suspicious alleys are definitely the best way to get places. Definitely.

After Wandering Dog impresses the youths (and two of the three definitely are impressed; the third picks up on the amazement a second later) and pays off a somewhat sleazy-looking local for directions, all the various foreign parties are well on their way to the place of ill repute. The route is somewhat tricky to navigate; it looks like the path abruptly turns into a canal, cutting off that part of town with the waterways that dot the city. The actual entrance that is pointed out is on the water, with stone steps leading up from the water to a sturdy pier made of interlocking stone slabs. A man in a conical straw hat sits in a boat down by the stairs, snoring away. It looks like he might be waiting for people to need a lift away from there.

The establishment is, based on the small, subtle sign, the House of Drowned Lilies. The front door is a curtain of red and gold silk, edged in azure, which nonetheless effectively keeps the low murmur of chatter inside from drifting out. The teahouse is laid out with round tables evenly spaced around the outer perimeter of the room, with more of those curtains hanging down between tables, giving an illusion of privacy that seems fairly effective. The middle of the room is dominated by a rock garden, of all things, with intricate patterns raked in sand and arranged with stones. Another pair of curtained doorways are visible on the far side of the room, one on the left side and the other on the right.

Most of the tables are filled. Several women dressed as servants roam the room, quietly addressing the occupants, bringing and pouring tea and spirits, and providing pipes and other such luxuries to the customers. They are uniformly lovely, with long, blue-tinted black hair, porcelain skin, and big, dark eyes. They look like they must be sisters.

A tall man with thick black hair pulled back into a tail stands by the edge of the garden, arms folded. He's dressed in loose-fitting black trousers and a dark red coat that drapes off his wide shoulders, covering most of his body. A spear wrapped tightly and fully in brown cloth is slung across his back. His face bears a look of tension, and a finger-width burn scar runs under his left eye. He doesn't seem to be there with anyone.

One of the servers waits at the door, and greets each of you in turn with a polite bow, a smile, and a silent gesture towards one of the open tables. She doesn't say anything, and doesn't meet your eyes.

Mei Hatsume (1134) has posed:
     Mei adjusts her backpack as she scoots along, taking in more of the sights and coming ever closer to getting distracted by even more shiny things away from her task of investigating someone more nebulously shiny. Her indirect path does make it easier for her to finally realize that Orchid is there, but the hero-in-training doesn't greet her directly.

     ... Or at all. How rude. She does glance at the spiders from a distance, however, furrowing her brow as some gears start to click and a wide grin crosses her face.

     A wider grin, anyway. Said grin only grows wider when she spots the waterway, taking the opportunity to show off and skimming the surface of the water with creative use of her hover boots along with wires launched from her harness to help pull her along rapidly.

     It's all done with all the expected whooping and hollering of someone showing off their gadgets, of course. Why wouldn't she take the the opportunity to draw some attention her way?

     Once inside, Mei takes a moment to absorb the sights of the unnaturally pretty servers and the out-of-place-yet-sort-of-not man, and then she takes a seat at an empty table. She doesn't say anything just yet, trying to blend in as best she can after that brief bout of showboating on the way in.

     Maybe her hair will help her fit in, at least.

Wandering Dog has posed:
Waterways? Please, Wandering Dog's a Water Aspect. The essence that flows through his body allows him to run across the surface of the canals, dashing across the water as if it was solid land. He can see Mei while he does so, and pegs her as a Multiversal pretty much immediately, though he doesn't say anything to her except grin in her direction once he reaches the pier. Instead, he scans the House of the Drowned Lilies, looking at the boatman and the tables, as well as the lovely servers...but his eyes drift to the man with the spear most of all. They linger on him for several moments, as well as that spear, until Wandering Dog is seated in the table. Once there, he talks to the others present...

"Yo. Name's Wandering Dog. It's a pleasure. ...Wait, we've met, haven't we? Yeah, yeah. I recognize you and your gear now. Good to see you...uh, what was your name? Sorry, forgot." Wandering Dog just laughs, not actually embarassed. When the servers come around, he'll order whatever looks most 'unique'.

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     A few times Orchid takes shortcuts by jumping over the canals, as such is her style. While, yes, she is drawing attention to herself, she is also keeping quiet eyes on the alleys around her. She'll play bait, if there is any petty trouble today.

    So just how identical are these sisters? Such is Orchid's question, as she enters the tea-house. Here in a strange land, she'll try to be polite, but her eyes are around the building, one spider sneaking onto the rowboat outside. She takes a seat, keeping her eyes open. "Hello Mei... And you're Wandering Dog, I believe," she says to the man. Her spies also notice a bird that seems to be following them. Chance? Maybe, but Orchid likes to keep all her eyes open.

Finna (513) has posed:
    The Oriole, staying quiet, tails along Wandering Dog all the way to the teahouse... but the sudden SCREAMING and whooping that's tailing everyone means that the bird takes a SWIFT swing around--...

    But rather than accost Mei for whatever reason, the bird swoops about - and, almost instantly, melds like quicksilver from a male oriole to a female red-tailed hawk...

    And quietly DIVEBOMBS one of the spiders in the alley, aiming to pin it to the ground and corner it for a better look.

    Which entails whacking it a few times with heavy pecks and SWIFTLY EXAMINING IT from every angle.. assuming it can pin the thing!

Empty Tidings has posed:
There's definitely people pointing and gasping, but nobody tries to stop the rather superhuman methods of trailblazing. Good thing, too. That'd just be inconvenient.

The chairs are wooden, but comfortably-shaped. One of the servers comes over, bows, and awaits an order -- which Wandering Dog provides. She recommends some sort of wine that 'tastes like dreams.' A weird turn of phrase, but that sure seems to be the order of the day in here. Closer inspection during the closer encounter finds that she's... pretty much identical to the others. They look like they must be twin sisters, or however many they are. They don't look artificial, though; there are natural blemishes that are covered with makeup, but discernable through careful observation. None of them make eye contact.

She disappears behind the lefthand curtain, and returns shortly after with a tray, a bottle, and a number of cups. The woman places them in front of each person, and unless indicated otherwise, pours pale wine into each one, then leaves the bottle in the middle of the table. She bows, and retreats, leaving the group to their privacy.

The man in the center of the room turns his head to look at the group. He stares for a moment or two, then turns away. He's watching the righthand curtain, apparently waiting for someone. While he's idle, he reaches above his head and takes a long, narrow-headed rake from an overhead rack, and begins carefully modifying the whirls in the garden.

The spider in the boat finds a great place to listen to a snoring sailor.

Mei Hatsume (1134) has posed:
     It's that martial artist again! It's... "... Wandering Dog? Oh, from the... Last time!" Where was it again? Details, details. Mei smiles broadly as she pushes her goggles up and pats her chest in greeting. "Mei Hatsume, at your service! You've been..."

     Wait. This was an investigation, not an attention-drawing spree. She glances around briefly, then lowers her voice while nodding towards Orchid in greeting. "That's right. So what's the scoop on this place, anyway? Have you heard anything... Strange?"

     Subtle. Spotting the wine, Mei furrows her brow without saying anything to the server before glancing towards the two in turn. "... Did they check for ID?"

     It's a legitimate question for a minor! As she asks, however, she keeps an eye on the unidentified man, and she gestures towards him with her head while reaching for one of the cups. "Very interesting... Smell to this. Is it safe?"

Orchid (6384) has posed:
    The good news is that the spider was watching the bird, and so has enough warning to try and get out of the way. The bad news is that it doesn't get far enough away. So back in the 'tea' house, Orchid is putting a hand over her face, groaning a little. "Do either of you know a shapeshifer? Someone's assaulting one of my spider-drones," she mutters. "As far as local troubles, I've heard some things about pirates, and about demons, both of which lead here." She doesn't look much at the wine yet, even if it is a little rude to do so, she's got other things on her mind. "As far as safe goes, I'm not sure, which makes it more interesting."

Wandering Dog has posed:
"Yep, that's the name." Wandering Dog replies to Orchid, not feeling odd about it. He's famous everywhere, or so he likes to believe. As Mei lowers her voice, he laughs again slightly, but plays along, lowering his own. "Oh, have I heard a lot. Apparently demons might have been summoned here. That man," Wandering Dog glances at the spearman, noticing Mei keeping an eye on him, "is a demon-hunter. Guessing he's Due Giang of the Golden Brothers. Probably their boss." Since they're investigating, Wandering Dog assumes the others have heard of the Golden Brothers.

Wandering Dog also takes up the alcohol to sniff it, before taking a drink. It better taste like dreams, otherwise it's a waste of money! "Check for ID? What? Why would they do that?" It's Orchid that gets Wandering Dog scrunching his face, with the mention of shapeshifter. "Only shapeshifters I know of are part of the Anathema. Lunars. Degnerates and tricksters, the lot of them. Why, did you encounter one?"

Finna (513) has posed:
    The Lunar's quick to scan over the drone, rapidly determining that it has no symbols to identify its origins, and smells FAR too clean to have been lurking in the dank and strange places of An-Teng for terribly long.

    And it's probably not even OF Creation. It looks closer to some of Staren's toys.

    The bird then displays uncanny situational awareness. As more drones round the corner in the alley... it INSTANTLY SPRINGS into the sky, jumping a full ten feet without even spreading its wings. Claws slam into the wall and it SPRINGS off the building, only to then take wing and dive towards the teahouse!

    Of course, a hawk doesn't go soaring into the teahouse.

    Instead, a white-furred young cat with light blue eyes, perhaps two or three years old, conspicuously darts its way into the place, and begins to clean itself under a nearby, unoccupied table.

Empty Tidings has posed:
Despite the open conversation, it doesn't seem like the man in question -- likely Due Giang, as surmised -- hears them. Discretion seems to be part of the services offered, at least between the curtains that flank the tables. The wine, meanwhile, smells very faintly sweet and not like alcohol at all. It tastes the same, with a gentle and pleasant flavor, but hardly a taste 'like dreams' -- until it's down, anyway, and then it creates a warm feeling in the belly, and a euphoric, drifting sensation exactly like you were having a dream. It's the sort of sensation associated with curling up in a warm bed on a cold night and having /exactly/ the right pillow, and not quite being asleep yet but feeling just so comfortable at the edge of it...

Worth whatever price you're going to pay, certainly.

Another woman, the only one who doesn't look like the something-tuplets serving patrons, steps out of the righthand curtain. She's dressed in black silks covered in a muted lily pattern, with long, black hair and out-of-place gloves of some kind of reddish leather that extend up under her sleeves. She smiles. "Due Giang. Welcome to my establishment. Do you find everything to your liking?"

"No," the man says. He doesn't look up from the garden. "I don't like your idea of servants."

Her smile fades very slightly. "Then it's best if you do not linger, isn't it. Are you interested in dealing with our mutual problem?"

"The Lintha?" Due Giang finishes his modification. He lifts the rake to his shoulder. "I suppose. Your message said they have an enclave not far from the city, right? If they're on the water, that won't be easy to deal with..." He sucks his teeth, deliberately provocatively.

She doesn't take the bait. "Negotiating price? I thought you were demon-hunters, not mercenaries." That smile fades away. "You want an entrance into the City of Dead Flowers. I can provide the necessary workings to safely traverse the shadowland. Your less enlightened brethren should be safe from the things without teeth."

Due Giang nods, grunting. "It'll have to do." He looks down at the garden, then finally looks her in the eye. "You know I'm going to shut you down when we're through there, don't you, Tidings?"

Empty Tidings smiles serenely. "I know you're going to try."

She inclines her head. "The enclave is two days' ride west, along the south bank of the river. Bring me records of their transactions or proof of where they're coming from on the coast, and you'll have your wards."

Due Giang nods, scowls, and then turns on a heel and stalks out of the building.

Mei Hatsume (1134) has posed:
     "Shapeshifter? Hmm... None I know of!" Mei replies cheerfully, shuffling around in her seat before finally leaning back and relaxing. Coincidentally, that's when Wandering Dog gives her a potential identity for the spearman. It's a logical conclusion, further bolstered by the fact that said spearman is even addressed by that same name soon thereafter!

     And then that's followed by several other names being dropped all at once. City of Dead Flowers? Lintha? Tidings? Teethless monsters? A potential spat between Due Giang and this Tidings person? Mei resists the urge to take visible notes as she eavesdrops on all of that, doing some mental gymnastics to try and srot it all out while taking small sips from her cup.

     Hopefully, nobody'll notice. She waits for Due Giang to make his exit before leaning forward on the table again and glancing towards the assembled group. "... west, right? Hmm... Have you packed any travel gear? There might be a bit of a hike to keep up~"

     She sounds excited, at least.

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     Orchid turns in her chair to watch the cat enter. The shapeshifter let her spider go, so she's inclined to not take any overt action yet... But she'll keep an eye on the other would-be spy. She turns again, listening to the woman and the man with the spear talking. She'll look up the terms later, but given how steeped in magic this place is, the databases will likely yield little assistance. "To the West, yes. Two days ride... I could cover that in a few hours, if need be."

Wandering Dog has posed:
Well, that's certainly a conversation. Wandering Dog knows who Empty Tidings is, and wasn't expecting her to be the owner of this establishment and the potential demon-trafficking within. As they listen, Dog continues to drink from his cup. Absolutely worth the price. "Don't worry about the bill, I'll handle it." A raise of his cup back to his lips with that. Once Mei speaks up again...

"I've always got what I need to travel. Sounds like an adventure, certainly." Even if the Lintha will have their uses in the coming times, Wandering Dog can't pass up a chance to maybe punch them in the teeth. For now, he'll wait til the drink's empty to leave.

Finna (513) has posed:
    As soon as the cat is done licking its paws and otherwise grooming itself, it moseys around this way and that like any cat would in a fairly quiet place. This includes rubbing the side of its head against a chair or two.

    The cat eventually pitter-prance-moseys towards Wandering Dog's party and maneuvers to rub its head against first his leg, then Mei's, and finally Orchid's.

    Assuming it isn't interrupted, it'll continue to go along on its business, which involves dashing over to one of the teahouse curtains and batting at it with a paw when it sways in a breeze.