Bear for Sale
|"Money can buy a lot that is not even for sale."|| The run begins on the Day of the Serpent in the Month of the Serpent in the two hundred and fifty-ninth Year of the Magpie since the opening of the Exalted Library.|
The run takes place in the City of Light in the Illuminated Precincts
The crowds for the circus performances are not as thin as they were in the Arcade, but they're still not as crowded as they have been in the past.
Takanata sketches out some art, which he regards somewhat dubiously, and Lijuan draws some art as well.
Zhi-Hao takes a look at the art, and notes that it's probably about the book in the library for becoming Emperor. Takanata crosses out one of the question marks above the tiger-crane's head, but more metaphorical question marks appear above his own.
During the performances, there are several very similar-looking people amongst the crowd. One is staring closely at Lijuan, and when Lijuan points him out, Takanata senses the connection between them: he's here to deliver a message. Xian spots another one talking to Zhuai, and several others seeking out people in the crowd. Merit spots one talking to Ando, and wanders over afterwards to note the "identical twins", and remarks that Southern agents have been identical looking in the past.
- "They aren't supposed to be Southern, but if they're infiltrated by Southerners... that would actually explain very little but that would be bad." -Ando
Merit asks if Ando wants help with whatever it is. Ando is a little dubious - is this the sort of help where the party does Ando's quest and then the prize wanders off with someone covered in snakes? Merit says that he doesn't think the Si Fan are involved yet, but if Ando can tell him more, he can give a better answer. Ando says that there's some information in town that the higher-ups want him to acquire, but it sounds like it's going to go on the open market, and his budget isn't up to that. Maybe some sort of helpful philanthropist will buy it, or maybe after someone else buys it Ando can arrange to buy a copy. It would be ideal if he was the only one who knows the information, but he doesn't think he'll be able to manage that. The auction will be two nights from now, on Brackwater Island, and... includes important information that could affect the Imperial Succession.
Zhi-Hao considers whether the messengers are enemies of the Dragon Empire. The answer is definitely yes or no, but which one isn't clear yet. And the messengers are magical, but not sorcery. (This sends things into a digression of "there is magic that isn't sorcery?" that Shen-Ji has given lectures on, but he's not there to give them).
A messenger asks Lijuan for a moment of her time, but she refuses to speak privately with him. He tells her that there will be an auction on Brackwater Island in two nights, and that she is enjoined to not disrupt it. The item being auctioned is the full lineage of the current scion of the Foon Dynasty.
Merit checks who is in town relevant to the auction, and gets the longest list ever:
- Xuetu (Takanata recalls that he works for the Cryptomancer)
- Moy Fung
- Tong Guifan
- Autumn Rose
- Jianbua Chin-Chih
- Huang Qinshu (someone recalls that that is the Regent from Bear Mountain)
- Gwok Ki-Nam
- Lady Sung (Lijuan's old patron)
- Inspector Ando
- Lord Yuen
- Lok Mo
- Chiu Suyin
Merit is deeply disturbed by the fact that his memory of the conversation has the word "[redacted]" in it.
The question arises whether Lijuan has any cousins. Takanata thinks there's only one Foon heir right now, but if something happens to her, there will end up having been another one.
- "Wasn't there one and a half?" -Lijuan
- "Yes." -Takanata
- "Are you going to tell me who it is?"
Xian wonders if this could be a way to launder some of the Imperial Job money, but Merit shushes her. Never talk about the Imperial Job money!
Lijuan asks Zhuai what he got approached about, and he reassures her that she doesn't have to worry about it, he'll take care of it.
- "No, no, don't bid against Li Merit!" -Lijuan
Zhuai was clearly not expecting Lijuan to also have been told about the auction, but Lijuan sends him to confer with Li Merit.
- "I've been offered the chance to purchase the lineage of my ancient enemies, so as to destroy them." -Zhuai
- "Well, here's a list of fifteen other people who have been made the same offer." -Merit
Zhuai takes the list, and heads out to do some investigation.
Merit gives Ando the list too. He's curious why Merit's archer is interested.
- "Maybe I'll give you that as a consolation prize." -Merit
Anyway, the breadth of the list suggests that the price will go reasonably high - maybe as high as five tael. Ando is dubious that Merit actually thinks that's too much money, having read the dossiers on the Merit Trading Company, but he clearly doesn't understand the Merit Philosophy that has been enforced on the party - that it doesn't matter how much money you have, once you have to spend it, it's too expensive.
Ando recognizes Lord Yuen as a noble from Bear Mountain, and Jianbua Chin-Chih as the Peach Duchess, a minor duchy in the Taiga. As for the documents, getting a copy beforehand might be plausible as a mission, but he doesn't know enough yet. The Home Office just told him that he would be contacted in a public place, and the circus seemed like the best bet.
Zhuai returns, looking tired, and says that only eight of the people on the list actually received invitations - the others are extra.
- "And the auctioneer is [redacted]." -Zhuai
- "Did you mean the Cryptomancer?" -Merit
- "That's what I just said." -Zhuai
Zhuai is pretty confident that Lijuan, the Bear Regent, Lady Sung, and Moy Fung are four of the actual eight invitees. Plus Zhuai, of course. So... the rest of the people on Merit's list are working for or with the auctioneer, or for or with another bidder, or simply crashing the auction.
Merit heads to the Exalted Library, with Master Deng, and everyone who wasn't involved in casing the place. Xian spots a flash of green around the side of the library, and heads that way, to find a seahorse tethered in a canal. She recognizes the livery of Silver Foam, the personal mount of Golden Flame.
Merit tells the librarians that he wants to do some reading into the Imperial Succession, and the mechanics of designating an heir. They are most dreadfully sorry, but the principal resources are in use; could he come back tomorrow? Merit asks them to look into some other books, including the Tome of Light against the Darkness (which Li Kao suggested that he read)
Then, the group leaves to see what happened to Xian. On having the seahorse pointed out to them, they ask the librarians to send a message to Golden Flame that Lord Tokai and Master Deng are there, and would be pleased to speak to her, at her convenience. Golden Flame comes out, looking nervous. How did they know she was there? Well, she did leave her seahorse out back. No, how did they know she was in the Illuminated Precincts at all? They're just here with the circus. She finds this a little unbelievable.
- "Butterfly." -Merit
Golden Flame isn't interested in talking about why she's there on the street with them, but Merit invites her to dinner at his restaurant. She agrees to come, if they're not planning to talk to anyone else about it.
- "How much longer are you going to be with the books?" -Xian
- "We'll be done today. You can read them tomorrow." -Golden Flame
Meanwhile, Shuyan and Kuan-Xi go shopping, and find an interesting store with a very old proprietor (said to only be in town for a limited time), where they run into Autumn Rose making some purchases. The proprietor tells her that the things she is asking for are very dangerous if not used in the proper hands, and she reassures him that she is just passing them on.
- "Be very careful. Some things were not meant to be. The more you use, the worse it gets."
She pays him with a bag of coins, and then greets the two women. She is in town on some errands for her father and also some personal business - do say hello to the others. Then Autumn Rose gives them her local contact information and leaves. Shuyan tell the ancient shopkeeper that she is looking for knives, and the shopkeeper takes one of her knives. He returns with another knife from the back, explaining that if she carves her name into it, it will return to her.
- "These two knives would cost 75 li."
- "But that one is already mine."
- "I am charging for what you will receive, not what you have."
- "This store makes no sense!"
Since Shuyan isn't interested in having her own knife sold back to her, the shopkeeper turns to Kuan-Xi. She heard that this was the store for a discerning sorcerer. Indeed it is - so what did she bring? Ah, this is for enhancements? Indeed it is. Kuan-Xi mostly has a lot of fancy clothing, so she combines her status and charisma robes for five tael (she has to borrow three and a half from Shuyan). The shopkeeper asks where she will be at sunset tomorrow - in the tea tent at the circus - and he says the clothes will be there.
Shuyan arranges to merge one of her knives and her poisoned snake for a tael and a half. Two days hence at sunrise, she will be in her tent at the circus. Shuyan also ponders the animals that he has in cages, but he has no snakes.
Everyone meets back up at the tea tent, and then heads to dinner at Merit's restaurant. One of the waiters appears to be Ando, but Merit chews him out for having a disgraceful shirt, and tells him that the seller is the Cryptomancer. Ando says he investigated the island - it's one of the very low-lying delta islands, pretty much covered in mud. There's a man and a woman there now (Xuetu and Tungmei), setting up a stage, but they write on each piece of wood before nailing it in. Merit says he knows who six of the eight invited buyers are, and Ando says he'll investigate Moy Fung, one of the unknowns.
Golden Flame arrives with two figures in the Traditional Grey Cloaks of Anonymity, and Merit excuses himself.
Ti Jun demands to know what Merit is doing there; Regent Ishii is the other figure, and he looks particularly unhappy or nervous. Merit protests that this really is part of the circus's normal schedule.
- "So the city is not about to fall or something?" -Ti Jun
Takanata tries to figure out if it's safe to talk in front of the Prince, or if he's being fake grumpy the way he is when he thinks Spider might be listening. In this case it's a little odd - he actually ignored Takanata, and was just fake-grumpy at Merit, so he's definitely projecting grumpiness, but there's something behind it that's more genuinely nervous / cold / angry / something. Takanata starts frowning back at Ti Jun.
Ti Jun notes that if there's not actually anything interesting and city-falling going on, and it's just a circus tour, then Merit might as well file his report with Ti Jun now, and not bother sending it back to the Isle of Beauty. Merit says he really doesn't have much to report, but Ti Jun thinks that in that case it's particularly pointless to report back to the Home Office.
- "The King and the Queen have pressing and disturbing issues they are wrestling with, and I don't want any unfortunate distractions to wrest them away from the problems of the realm. Just see that they have what they need to get things done without bothering them." -Ti Jun
Lijuan introduces her imaginary hamster Boo to the prince. Golden Flame is puzzled, but Ti Jun nods as if he has met Boo before.
Master Deng asks if he can help with Ti Jun's plan, and Takanata glowers further; the Prince says that isn't necessary, he's just here to get a briefing. Takanata warns the Prince that Chang is ahead of him on the briefings.
- "Well, he certainly was, but it's not clear he's listening any more." -Ti Jun
- "He still has the same goal." -Takanata
Ti Jun looks thoughtful, Regent Ishii looks puzzled, and Golden Flame looks almost as impassive as Wei Han. Merit wants to know if he can help, but Ti Jun declines - it would take Merit away from his other important duties.
Ti Jun and his party depart, and Takanata explains why there was quite so much glowering going on.
- "The Regent and the Prince are trying to set the Prince up as Emperor. I ratted them out to His Majesty, and His Majesty said he would Have Words with the Regent. His Majesty thinks that His Highness has his own job to do." -Takanata
- "Wait, why is the Regent on the 'make my nephew Emperor' plot?"
- "Who wouldn't be?"
The group spends another few minutes pondering Takanata's art. The Prince and the Regent are clearly the spider-turtle-butterflies. And the lucky cat with the turtle-shell is Lucky Chang. But who is the rabbit? Someone trying to do the mechanic too fast? Maybe that's Merit, who does not have the patience to do anything with a book if he can't speed read it.
The next morning, Merit, Xian and Deng go to the library again. There are no seahorses outside. Merit is shown into a private reading room; on one table are a number of books that he requested, including Light Against the Darkness, and on the other table is the book comprising half of the succession mechanic.
This mechanic is paired with the book in the archives of the Hidden City. It requires several hundred successes, which can be accumulated once per run or puttering. The Librarians here are barred from assisting, the way the bureaucrats are barred from assisting in the Hidden City. Merit thinks that having memorized the book, he can roll for increasing difficulties before he has to visit the actual book again. The Hidden City's records are about different people's roles and where their descendants went; the Library's records are about people's ancestors. The trick is to make the connection between a descendant of the last Emperor, and a current-day person. So the successes in the Archives are general, but the successes here are to research a particular person. Master Deng and Xian start working in that book, while Merit spends the day reading Light Against the Darkness and the other books.
Lijuan is interested in finding Lady Sung, but the method of "ask the urchins if they have seen her old House Sung bodyguard" doesn't turn anything up.
Meanwhile, Takanata goes to have lunch with the Path of Knowledge, and apologizes for the delay in returning the bracers. (Elsewhere, Li Merit grumbles.) The Path of Knowledge says that Takanata and his friends have been cleared from the implication that they took his friend's item - it was located in the place that they suggested. He will pass this along to his friend, but the item has not yet been recovered. The Path of Knowledge notes that there are momentous things afoot - he is trying to decide whether to proceed next to the Realms Above or the Realms of Dreams. Takanata allows as which to visit depends on which things he wants to investigate. The Path of Knowledge says that he has been informed by reliable sources that a time of change is coming, and a Regency Council will no longer be needed. Takanata says that he knows some of the people that are interested in pursuing that change, and he thinks they are too scary to visit in dreams, having been warned many times to not dream about things which one cannot withstand in real life. The Path of Knowledge is interested to learn that Takanata knows specific people who might have a plan - he will verify and pursue learning the plan, then. Takanata name-drops the Obsidian Warlord and Lucky Chang. The Path of Knowledge thinks that the Obsidian Warlord was an obvious candidate, but he hadn't heard of this Chang Wuyong guy. Takanata says that Chang carved the destiny of "become emperor" into his fate himself, which the Path of Knowledge agrees seems impressive.
Takanata stops by the mysterious sorcery shop, and gives the shopkeeper three tael to merge his crystals of storing Yin, Yang, and Chi into "something interesting." He agrees to be back at the shop at sunset tomorrow. Lijuan combines the funnel and the disappearing rocks, and the shopkeeper says his son will contact her. He offers a small refund if he could examine the amulets worn by Takanata and the others, but Takanata says that he can't agree without getting agreement from his friends. He will show up before sunset if that is amenable.
Next, Takanata finds out where Lady Sung is staying - it turns out that she's not actually incognito. (The changes from the most recent Night of Gates have helped with that). Takanata and Lijuan call upon her.
She says that she plans to be at the auction tomorrow - the information is something she already knows, but it is coming with documentation, which she doesn't have. It is far better that the information not be lost again.
Lijuan explains that while she doesn't know why Lady Sung wants this information, she's worried about Lady Sung.
- "We know the truth, but that is different than trying to persuade others when the time comes." -Lady Sung
Does Lady Sung know who the other people invited are? She wasn't given a list of attendees, so she can't help there. However, she's willing to combine resources with Lijuan as far as bidding on the information. However, recent circumstances aside, she thinks she would be able to provide for the security of the documents until they were needed, and is not sure that Lijuan's present circumstances permit that.
Takanata offers to read Lady Sung's I Ching:
Takanata is disturbed by the "Lady Siew" part, and tells Lady Sung that the I Ching says that Lijuan's assistance is something she should be seeking, if she wishes to succeed. Lady Sung looks pained, and says that the lady has already been too generous with their faults.
Xian and Deng continue their library research, but neither of them is very good at it. Deng searches for his own name, and with two successes, discovers his father in the book. Xian searches for Chochiro, and finds her lineage, and also finds that she is not the first person to be looking Chochiro up in this mechanic.
At sunset, in the tea tent, Kuan-Xi finds herself wearing the fancy clothes that she ordered, as Ando stumbles in, looking thrashed. He says that Moy Fung is an agent of Lucky Chang, and then falls over. The group heals him enough to get him conscious again, but he's been poisoned with drift poison, so he's still in trouble. They walk him over to the customs house, where his supplies are. Merit suggests a coalition of bidders: the party, Ando, and Lady Sung. Ando is willing to do it this way.
Takanata examines the connection between Lijuan and Zhuai - what's with the "Lady Siew" thing in the I Ching? The connection seems to be oscillating between "Siew" and "Foon", and hasn't stabilized yet. Zhuai notes that he's okay with joining forces, but he's puzzled why they're going to spend a lot of money on something they already know, if other people are going to get the information too. Merit thinks the documentation might be mystically helpful somehow. Takanata notes that Lucky Chang wants it, so it might be useful in the Emperor mechanic, but suddenly realizes that "Lucky Chang wants it" isn't true. Hmm, that's interesting.
Kuan-Xi takes the group on a quick trip to the Shrouded Isle (Merit stays behind, just in case), so Takanata can talk to Jin. (Jin avoids the City of Light, because his old master the Cryptomancer is there.) Jin notes that the construction of the dais, with writing on the pieces of wood, suggests that the Cryptomancer will be there personally. He's quite dangerous in person, and can redact your shticks, especially if you attack him. Jin is also familiar with the "redact my name in information-gathering shticks" technique. Jin knows Xuetu, but isn't familiar with Tungmei. Jin says that most of the things the Cryptomancer learns are commissioned, but if he gets a piece of information that wasn't commissioned, he will often use cryptomancy to determine a buyer list, and auction it off. Takanata gives him the list of names, and he'll see what he can do to figure out which of them were officially invited. They'll come back in the morning.
Takanata checks the connection between Lijuan and Jin's girlfriend - Lijuan's destiny is stuck to her cryptomantically, but it has mostly faded now. Wait, what? Cryptomantically? Takanata growls some more in annoyance.
On the way out, Kuan-Xi notes that her carriage seems to have been spotted by House Suzuki agents.
On the way back in the scryproof carriage, Takanata briefs everyone. The half-Foon that Takanata knew about was Jin's girlfriend. She's no longer a half-Foon, and the cryptomancy that caused her to be one is fading. But that means that the Cryptomancer is more involved in this plot than Takanata knew before.
Merit meets with Lady Sung, proposing the three-way alliance with her, Ando, and the party. She can bring up to eight tael, though she notes that if she can get by with under half of that, that would be a bonus for her donors. Lijuan (who Merit will allow to wear the Magpie Talisman) will be the bidder for their team; Merit will read the documents first but Lady Sung will get to keep them in trust. And, so as to not appear to be in cahoots, Lady Sung should bid some early, but let Lijuan outbid her.
Merit begs that Lady Sung accept Lijuan's offer of using the High Warlord's boon towards restoring her house. She is finally persuaded to do so - the boon that would be most useful would be for the High Warlord to grant House Sung title to their ancestral keep again.
In the morning, Takanata and Kuan-Xi go back to the Shrouded Isle to see what Jin has discovered. He says that "Tong Guifan" is fake, but invited. Not just a fake name, a name for a fake person. Or something like that. "Chiu Suyin" is also fake.
There is a circus performance in the afternoon, and then in the evening, Takanata goes to the shop to pick up his gemstone (the shop vanishes at sunset, just as he arrives, and the gem remains behind in the empty lot), while everyone else goes to Brackwater Island for the auction.
The Cryptomancer introduces himself, and says that he is offering reliable, verifiable information about the lineage of the scion of the Foon dynasty. There will be one round of open bidding immediately after which information will be exchanged for money. There are to be no disruptions on the island; once everyone leaves, he is not responsible for who attempts to kill who.
The bidding begins; Lady Sung, Tong Guifan, Lijuan, and Autumn Rose all bid. Lady Sung drops out when the price gets to about four tael, and the Peach Duchess starts poking her. She bids again, but shushes the Duchess after that.
Tong Guifan bids "six and half", which is particularly suspicious as some of the more accomplished linguists in the party have started to think that his accent is fine, but his word order is a little Northern. Deng notes that Lok Mo is the most dangerous of the people here, but there are secret weapons all over the place.
Bidding continues; Tong Guifan bids eight tael, and Lijuan bids eight and a half.
Xian heads over to Tong Guifan, standing as close as possible to him. When very close ("in ZOC"), he spends a Yin to realize that he's a different person. Tong Guifan, Lok Mo, and Chiu Suyin try to confer together, but Xian keeps following them and standing close.
- "Stand away, we must strategize." -Tong Guifan
- "You might wish to reconsider your strategy." -Xian, in Torghut
- "Plan B." -Tong Guifan
- "I get out of ZOC." -Xian
Tong Guifan doesn't bid any further, and Lijuan wins for 8.5 tael. Xian notices that two of the Northerners look ready, while Tong Guifan is concentrating. Lijuan hands the Cryptomancer the money, and gets a packet of papers, which she gives to Merit. Merit opens them, and speed reads them aloud, nearly incomprehensibly.
- "I thought the information was guaranteed sacrosanct!" -Merit
- "Why did you read it aloud?" -Cryptomancer
- "I did not intend to." -Merit
- "Rrrr." -Cryptomancer
Tong Guifan starts to sweat blood, and everyone else starts talking about the information and what it means. Several of them implicate Lijuan.
- "I can't believe it was Lijuan the whole time!" -Ando
Tong Guifan passes out, and the other two cry to attack. Chiu Suyin starts to raise the dead of the Brackwater, and Lok Mo throws a dagger at Lijuan.
- "It does three points of damage, no defenses." -Mike
- "That's not so bad." -Heidi
- "No, that's awful." -Charles
Everyone piles on Chiu Suyin, starting with a terrifying snake, and her spell is disrupted. The Cryptomancer points at Lok Mo; at this point, each time he does something, one of his shticks gets redacted. Zhuai checks Lijuan for poison (she's clean). The Bear Regent leaps towards the northerners, Matrix-style, and calls on them to surrender. Deng chops both of them, and one of those riposte-riposte battles starts. Kuan-Xi waterblasts the necromancer around the map.
Lok Mo calls his dagger back to him, and pockets it.
The necromancer is not doing well, so she powers up "Strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine" and everyone else pounds on the battle mage (and Xian escapes dying due to her puppy dog eyes).
Takanata arrives, and asks Autumn Rose what he missed. He gives her an action, and she briefs him on the fight. A vision of Lok Mo's past shows him the trio of northerners bowing before the Great Khan, as they go off to get the blood of the great enemy, to forge the Spear of Victory. Eyes of the I Ching shows all the redaction that Lok Mo is suffering from, and also notices that Xian is not exempt from cryptomancy thackback if she attacks the Northerners, while everyone else present is. Oh, and the blood mage is awake.
Xian tells Tong Guifan that if he's lucky he'll get out of this having to howl in the wastes forever, and her "sap confidence" gets redacted.
Kuan-Xi uses a waterblast to wash Lok Mo's swords clean, though she isn't confident that she reached the knife in his pouch. Deng chops Tong Guifan with his new bushido ability, doing "mental damage" instead of "physical damage", and the Northerner stops fighting.
- "As you came here to steal our blood, so we steal the strength of your blood. No staying awake past negative hit points for you." -Takanata
Cursed, Lok Mo falls over stone dead, and everyone eyes Takanata with some alarm.
The Cryptomancer reasserts control, and the combat mostly ends. Who challenges his right to decide what happens to the two prisoners? Lijuan says she doesn't want them taking reports to the North, but Chiu Suyin shouldn't be killed.
The Cryptomancer starts writing letters in the air, and pulls the following from the prisoners using his cryptomancy:
- Imperial Blood
- Spear of Victory
- Great Khan
- Foon Lijuan
Deng says that if Tong Guifan is released, more damage will be done to his plan than if they kill or imprison him, but nobody else likes the idea of letting the Northerners go. In the end, they're turned over to Ando, who should get some credit for the whole thing, and Lijuan is given the Northern knife.
Regent Huang tells Lijuan that if she wishes to speak to him, she can contact him in the Throne.
Takanata does a Visions of the Future on Moy Fung. He's reporting to Lucky Chang - yup, it was total chaos, a complete debacle. Everyone knows now. It was just like Chang said it would be. Chang wants to know what Cai Wen did, but Moy Fung says he wasn't even there.
The Cryptomancer tries to redact Takanata's shtick, as everyone is still on the island, but he puts up a wall of fate to block it. There is some glaring, but he does not try again.
Searching the Northerners doesn't turn up too much. The blood mage has three tufts of hair wrapped in sinew, and the necromancer has a pouch of fingerbones and toebones. The battle mage's swords are x4. The question of where the Northerner's money has gone in the confusion is an interesting one.
Merit complains to the Cryptomancer that they were promised confidentiality and didn't get it. The Cryptomancer is also displeased by these events, but does not think that any further vengeance will make Merit happier (and he does not volunteer a refund).
Merit and Lijuan meet afterwards with Lady Sung, Jianbua Chin-Chih, and Lord Yuen. Chin-Chi appears to be the one in charge of the little group. They would have preferred if the information was a little less widely disseminated, but having the originals is good, and if more people know that Lijuan is the Imperial Heir, that's not a total lose from their point of view. They would be interested in speaking with Lady Foon at her convenience, but perhaps now is not the time.
- "But know that you have our loyalty."
Takanata chats briefly with Autumn Rose. She professes to have been surprised at the identity of the Foon scion, but she was also interested to see how many people weren't surprised. (She thinks that at least the Bear Regent and Ando were also surprised.)
A young boy runs up to deliver a parcel to Lijuan: a funnel that will make small items disappear in a mysterious order.