Upon entering the Watery Rat and spying their target, the toothsome Kitsune, seated and evidently expecting someone, our heroes immediately split up. Shì Dāwéi makes for the hookah and exchanges pleasantries with the gentlemen there. Captine Jaquline, with her usual aplomb and flair, makes her way through the crowd, leaving a trail of outrageous stories and stunned expressions in her wake. Hernandez and Uncle, not at their ease among these curious civilized folks, decide the right thing to do is to fit in inconspicuously, and try to get jobs in the place. They fail. Meanwhile, Itsuki finds a comfortable viewing position—on the roof.
Dāwéi puffs on the hookah and passes the mouthpiece over to his neighbor.
“So, how’s business? Say, what kind of business are you in, anyway?”
The neighbor introduces himself as Figaro. He seems a little put off by the Imperial merchant’s bluff manner but shrugs.
“I run a construction company. We do okay. What’s that?”
Figaro points at the folds of paper Dāwéi is rolling into his tobacco.
“Just a trick I learned, travelling about. Uh, it saves on tobacco.”
Dāwéi does not tell Figaro that these papers were stolen from the White Phoenix Clan and are known to go up in a tremendous burst of flame. But he is very careful to store the finished cigar separately from the others he carries. The stout Imperial looks up as a dark-haired, good-looking fellow comes in and sits down next to Kitsune.
“Ah, that’s Captain Dragonfly. Hear tell he and that there lady have an arrangement, if you know what I mean. Whoa. Hey, look, that big guy’s getting thrown out. Geez, the boss lady’s got a mean temper.”
Poor Hernandez only wanted a job, but he’s always being misunderstood. Whatever it was he said he’s not entirely sure, but now the little old lady who runs the place is shrieking and hollering and he just leaves, enormous shoulders slumping.
At first he thinks it’s friends. But when he looks up he sees the evil fellows who already beat him up so badly earlier. They’re about to descend on him with bats and bricks when a sudden explosion of smoke erupts around the big islander.
“Get him! No, wait, the others are inside. Ouch, who stepped on my foot?”
Smoke bombs always leave confusion in their wake. Itsuki, having dropped the smoke bomb, gets Hernandez clear of the melee and the goons, unaware of their quarry’s disappearance, charge into the bar.
Uncle sees the incoming goons and grabs a massive spit with a slab of trike leg roasting away on it, and charges right at them, slippery hot grease flying in all directions.
Captain Jacquline draws her rapier and leans just enough to let the goon’s first attack slip past her. He doesn’t even see her riposte and so only leans forward as he crumples over her blade, dead.
Figaro scrambles aside as another screaming goon comes charging at Dāwéi, but the stout little fellow stands firm, drawing a pistol and pointing it.
The construction magnate shrieks as the goon’s head explodes into a gory mess. Dāwéi, giving no indication of any concerns, lights up a cigar.
And then hurriedly checks to make sure the cigar isn’t the one stuffed full of flash paper.
Itsuko, having secured Hernandez safely outside, clambers up on the roof and hurls a lamp into the main hall. As it erupts into flame, the graceful ninja composes an elegant haiku.
Punches are thrown and blades crossed, and the woman Kitsune disappears along with her date in all the excitement—although it did seem like maybe she wasn’t so surprised to see the goons coming in.
The prisoner (yes, there was a prisoner) lies on the floor, one leg severely damaged by the Captain’s keen blade. Dāwéi studies the man’s injuries, strokes his face and then mutters, “Well, we can probably salvage the skin for leather…”
“What? My skin? Look, honestly, I don’t know where Stenfahl is. No idea. Please don’t hurt me.”
The others shrug.
“Okay. Off you go, then. Dāwéi was just kidding about the leather thing.”
The next morning, our heroes were graced with the presence of Tang Li, Bessala Day’s right-hand man. While impressed with their handling of Stenfahl’s punks (and Itsuki’s impeccable tea service), Li is clear that unless the party can produce Captain Stenfahl, they will be held responsible (and more importantly, liable) for the destruction of the Stormy Blossom.
Captain Jaquline befriends some of the local street punks and sets them searching for Stenfahl. Meanwhile, Hernandez and Uncle find their way to the Market—the exchange where shares in piratical ventures are bought and sold. They don’t understand a lot of what they see, but it is certainly very impressive.
Jacquline’s diminutive friends tell her that Stenfahl is apparently entering and leaving the city via the shipyards of Bessala Day, but that can only mean he is living out in the swamps to the west of the city. Surely not! Only madmen and monsters live there!
Upon their return, Hernandez and Uncle find that Itsuki has acquired a dinosaur egg – reputedly of an ankylosaur. Hernandez is thrilled and more than happy to restore to Itsuki that little puzzle box Hernandez had acquired through an unintentional mix-up way back when. Itsuki’s sigh of relief goes unnoticed by the ecstatic native, who couldn’t be more pleased with his new acquisition.
While he’s being pleased, the place erupts in flame. FLAME.
Dāwéi and Itsuki manage to get the fire out while Hernandez confronts the redhead who apparently set the fire
- with FIRE MAGIC, it would appear - and just as they put out the blaze without any serious damage to the room, Uncle and Captain Jack upend a massive RAIN BARREL in the window, engulfing the room in brackish water and ruining Itsuki’s robes.
Hernandez pursues the redheaded pyromaniac, but to no avail as she disappears in the streets of Chang Lao.
Itsuki changes and then rushes from the house alone. He travels through the streets, clutching the puzzle box.
The entrance to the Emerald Spirit clan house here in Chang Lao is an unassuming door in an unassuming street with only a sign saying “Emerald Spirit” over the lintel. It could be a shop, for all anyone can tell from the outside.
Inside, it is an elegant hall set with the swords and sigils of the clan. The local clan master sits in conversation with another senior official, but they bow at the young ninja’s approach.
“My lords, I return to my clan that which I lost. Please accept from my humble hands the box that was entrusted to me. I apologize for the dishonour my actions have caused.”
“Young Itsuki. This will not restore your honour in the eyes of the clan, but if you have truly restored to us the treasure this box contains, perhaps the path to redemption shall open before you.”
The clan master takes the box. Shielding his movements, he taps, slides and twists and the box opens. With a frown, he turns the open box to Itsuki.
“I can only hope this is not your idea of a joke.”
The box is empty.