Chochiro's List Part II
|"Under the overturned nest, can there be unbroken eggs?"|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Monkey in the Month of the Monkey in the twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in a number of places around the Empire
Layers of Distraction
Lijuan, Xiao Fa, Wei Han, Master Zhou, Min Feng, and Cai Wen are all puzzling over Chochiro’s list. Their deliberations are not helped by Cai Wen’s inability to believe that ‘Steppes’ refers to a country. Eventually, Xiao Fa can no longer stand his prattling on about ‘Who is this First Servant, and why are we doing him a favor?’. He turns his Discerning Eye for the Bad Chi Guy upon Cai Wen and finds (starting in the gooey inside and proceeding outward):
- A cartogramancy curse anchored on someone other than the Cartogramancer (Autumn Rose, we figure).
- A subtle chi effect flaking bits of his chi off and repurposing them for something. We wonder if this is Mistress Mai’s alteration, but Xiao Fa thinks it’s more familiar than that.
- Something horrible involving Emergency Defensive Blindness
- Something Serpent-related (Xiao Fa has run out of successes, so no details, though it seems likely this is the Serpent Sight that Da Xie gave him)
Dealing with the cartogramancy curse would be very difficult without dealing with the outer layers first. Besides which, this layer of chi being flaked off is alarming and new.
We pause to consider Lijuan’s latest work of art. Omens are interpreted. Cai Wen thinks that the woman and man are Autumn Rose and the Bureaucrat, and that they both have to do with Chochiro’s list and with an opportunity to sever Autumn Rose from the Marked. Others note that everyone in the painting is looking at the map and the two people, and ignoring who’s behind them.
Master Zhou takes Cai Wen out to the practice field to train. They find a young girl there, who remarks that she was hoping they would both come at once. They eventually recognize her as Kai, one of the children from Fruit Fight, who were touched by demons. Her demon is Tarmorkh, the demon of dark truths.
- "Many of us who are looking for you cannot find you. It is hard to see those who are the tools of the Hand of Fate, but now that you’ve shed your protection, I can bring my humble petition. There are doubtlessly legions of us waiting in the wings, but I got here first." -Kai
Master Zhou asks what her troubles are. She says she’s too young to bear her burden, and there are limitations she would like to escape. Limitations of your youth, he asks? Yes. In exchange, she can offer dark truths; she has already offered one as a sign of good will. How could we help? She can think of three ways: we could age her into her power; or she could wrestle with her demons more effectively “with a point of demon essence, which I believe you call spirit essence”. Or we could emancipate her under the law. The first of these would be the most effective, and the last one the least effective. She cautions that this opportunity will not last, as Fate does not wish her to approach us.
Master Zhou asks if she has accomplished the task that he set for her. She is a bit cross -- yes she has! She has traveled the land, and seen many things, and reported back, but Master Zhou did not reveal what she needed to know. Zhou recalls now that the things that she needed to know needed to be shown to her, not told.
Master Zhou and Cai Wen bring her into the House so that others can wrestle with the question while they train. Cai Wen notes that Speedy might actually be able to age her into her power if the House of Exuberant Interference takes a small hit for the out-of-sequence House action.
- "Should we try to un-demon you?" -Lijuan
- "Tearing away part of my soul is not the answer ... though some think otherwise." -Kai, turning to Xiao Fa
Kai says that she can offer dark truths in payment for our help. She thinks that dark truths are usually useful, though they usually don’t make you happy. The group thinks about how to legally emancipate her. A favor or a bunch of paperwork could do it.
Out in the practice yard, Master Zhou begins to sense the mysterious layer of Cai Wen’s chi. Cai Wen is weirded out by Master Zhou looking so sympathetic at him; that’s a terrible sign. Zhou explains that Cai Wen’s chi is being affected by Yanyu’s destiny, which is not well-focused, but it seems to find Cai Wen’s molls to be useful. It’s nothing that Yanyu has control over; it’s just her destiny grabbing at Cai Wen’s relationships with interesting women who are (mostly) unmarried and therefore presumably eligible for matchmaking. Cai Wen throws up his hands. “Inconceivable!” Inside, people can tell that this is not going well…
People are mostly reluctant to commit resources to help Kai; maybe just a bureaucracy roll to emancipate her. She reminds the party that the opportunity to make deals will probably be brief. Xiao Fa asks if she will be able to find us later.
- "Once you’re pawns again, I won’t be able to find you, and you might be able to find me, but if I’d tell you a truth that the Hand of Fate doesn’t want you to know, there’s no way you’ll find me."
Lijuan asks Zhuai for advice; he would go for the truths, because you always want to know stuff that your boss doesn’t want you to know, but our relationship with Butterfly doesn’t seem to work that way. There is some general angst about damaging the party’s relationship with Butterfly by getting access to Dark Truths. The House of Exuberant Interference can attempt to use Speedy’s power to age Kai, though this will suppress the House’s chi stat for a while. The decision is to do this, but instead of taking delivery of Dark Truths now, we want them some time in the future if she can find us (figuring that Butterfly will let her through if Butterfly wants to). Master Zhou notes that this confuses Kai, but her Wisdom stat goes up by one (she’s been shown something she needs to know!)
The party brings Kai to the Speedy shrine, and the House rolls well (3 out of 5 on a roll with no skill). Speedy wraps her up in his whoojy embrace and they vanish. Kai comes back a little bit later, as a woman in her early twenties. Cai Wen is tempted to ask her out to dinner and discuss all of the subtleties of being a full-grown woman (she could be a moll), but is worried about ties with Butterfly, so decides not to. (Master Zhou sees her wisdom stat pop up again.) Kai asks for a room and some time to meditate, as she has just become aware of a lot more truths than she had previously realized existed. As a Good Faith Truth (but without decanting all of her truths, because we agreed not to do that), she says that there will be more people showing up with distracting opportunities in the near future, e.g. probably 2 distractions next run.
The party heads to the Dragon’s Throne to see if it’s possible to fill out a form to guarantee a favor from the Lord Mayor in exchange for reversing or delaying the Illuminated Precincts policy about modifying the chi of the Empire. The party goes in disguised, and Min Feng works up a set of false credentials under the name “Li Dan”, which the party uses for all transactions. She buys a Copper key and some passes, so the party can get to the Dulcet Harp, where Fen-xi (the party’s go-to bureaucrat) was often to be found in the past. On the way through Pewter, the party notices an urchin trying to get Lijuan’s attention. She pauses to talk with him. He says that the passes were great! (Zhuai distributed passes to urchins a while back as a means of causing some chaos in Dragon’s Throne, to make it easier for the party to operate) But they need more money or training or something, so they can get their stats up and move up to a higher ring. She says she’ll think about it.
At the Dulcet Harp, the party asks about Fen-xi, but finds that he has been promoted to Bureaucrat of the Fourth Rank, and now lives in the Silver district. The party finds itself short on Silver Keys, so Li Dan buys one of those as well. In the Silver District, the party (still disguised well enough for Silver) arrives at Fen-xi’s house and inquires about hiring his services. A Bureaucrat of the Fourth Rank (he explains with a boilerplate speech) may be hired for 16 li per day.
The party inquires -- can they file forms to get a favor from the Lord Mayor in exchange for services rendered? Fen-xi thinks they could just meet with him, but the party doesn’t seem to want to do that. Fen-xi thinks that if the service is indeed worth the favor, it should work. He can write up that contract himself. However, he offers an additional option -- an indemnified contract which shields the signatory from legal retaliation if the service rendered is deemed unworthy of a favor. He cannot do this himself, but he could arrange for a Bureaucrat of the Fifth Rank to see to it. This doesn’t actually get the party a favor if the Lord Mayor decides the service is not worth it, but does mean he can’t level charges of Aggravated Impertinence.
The party decides to go for an indemnified favor contract, and stays the night at the Dulcet Harp while Fen-xi makes the arrangements. In the morning he delivers the contract: 1 (one) favor, in exchange for reversing the Illuminated Precincts Imperial Chi Modification policy, or delaying it into ineffectiveness.
The party hires Fen-xi for another day for consulting on how one deals with Bureaucracy Storms. He thinks it should be straightforward to get a distinct entity (a person or organization) immunity from the storm -- he would need a name, and the forms would have to be notarized by a City Councillor. This would require negotiating with one of them; the party notes that the Municipal Sorceror is one of those Councillors. The party asks what it would take to actually end the storm. Once again, the easiest way would be to persuade the Lord Mayor. The Foreign Minister could do it on his own, but there’s no reason why he would do it without the Lord Mayor’s approval. His next suggestion (moving with effortless grace into the Political Shenanigans category) would be to arrange for the current Foreign Minister to be promoted; there would be a Foreign Minister Pro Tem, who would run the office while a new Foreign Minister was being chosen, and she or he might be more easily persuaded to simply sign orders to end the Bureaucracy Storm. With really good timing, the Minister Pro Tem might sign the documents and the new Foreign Minister might be installed before the Lord Mayor took vengeance. Selecting a Minister Pro Tem would be a brief bureaucratic battle while the main event (selection of a new Minister) was playing out. Other options for displacing the Foreign Minister might be to pension him out or take him down by scandal. The current Foreign Minister is named Gao Tse-Tong. The party asks if the Regency Council could do it. Fen-xi says they could, and he could get it onto the agenda if the party thinks it has the votes. (Seems unlikely at the moment.)
Cai Wen also quizzes Fen-xi about the details of the bureaucracy storm, in case Willow might be able to use the information. He thinks he has several successes on a helper roll for Willow if she tries to build a mechanic to break the storm. (But that mechanic would need to be in the Dragon’s Throne.)
The party departs the Dragon’s Throne. In the Pewter district, Lijuan runs into her urchin archer again, and says she’ll think about how to get them more stuff so they can move up. (They are in Illumineaucracy.)
The party heads back to Tahiti, where they find that Kai has finished her meditations for the moment, and departed. They take the Water Gate to the Three Pagodas. Asking around about Autumn Rose, they find that she has been active on the border with Roof Of The World, and seems to spend nights in the Reflected City, where she is one of the Steward's advisors. We head for the border. Just north of the Inn which she favors there the party finds a large Dragon Army contingent, watching the border. The Warlord is, alas, not right here. Min Feng checks -- Tai Lung is near the Pass of Five Elements, and the Warlord is in the City of Spires.
The Dragon Army soldiers advise the party of the rules in the Roof of the World -- no Kung Fu, don’t attack anyone, even if they’re banished, don’t parry even if attacked. Dodging is fine. The sight of the Lake is not just line of sight, so hiding behind a building to fight someone isn’t safe.
The party heads to the Reflected City and splits up, with Min Feng walking along the lake shore hoping to run into Autumn Rose, and with the rest going to visit Kar Fai. At Kar Fai’s house they find him guarded by the Nefarious Ting Ting, who has fallen into darkness, and cackles creepily while carrying out her evil plans. (It seems she must have gotten into a fight and been banished…) Kar Fai tells Xiao Fa that there’s a stalemate -- Hawk and Lord Du are stymied by lack of mystical backers, and the Steward has Autumn Rose. Hawk was expecting help from Shen-ji, and Du was expecting help from the Cartogramancer. Xiao Fa informs Kar Fai that Autumn Rose is now among the Marked. Is she?? Well then, Kar Fai supposes, it’s time to get banished! The party protests...we have a plan, we’re hoping to get her to the City of Spires, where can sever her from the Marked in the presence of the Warlord. Ting Ting cackles some more. Shall she deliver Autumn Rose to the City of Spires? Wei Han cautions that this is premature; the party thinks she’ll go there of her own volition.
Meanwhile, Min Feng is walking down by the Lake, and sees a woman drawing characters in the sand -- Autumn Rose. An obfuscatory exchange ensues:
- "You return. Daring..." -Autumn Rose
- "I have promises to fulfill…" -Min Feng
- "Best not to discuss them in the open, as the Lake has ears. Are your promises nearly complete?" -Autumn Rose
- "They require the proper people to be in proper places at the right time" -Min Feng
- "...and getting the wrong people not to appear?" -Autumn Rose
- "...Sometimes the wrong people are needed. And my obligations also require me to go to the City of Spires." -Min Feng
- "When are you required to get there?" -Autumn Rose
- "I’ll be sailing down the Jasmine." -Min Feng
- "The area around the Bridge of Moonlight is troublesome; you might want to pass it quickly. I’m sure it will be resolved soon. If you’re going to be in the City of Spires in a couple of days, I’ll let you get to it..." -Autumn Rose
Later on, Xiao Fa asks Min Feng about the characters Autumn Rose was drawing in the sand. He thinks that she may be setting up for something like a country-rename working, except that the country is already named the way the Marked want it.
Lijuan tries to get the accursed Ting Ting to come with the party. She creepily assures Lijuan that “...I will be with you, oh yes…” Nobody knows what that means, but it sure does sound foreboding.
The party goes down river by barge. At the Bridge of Moonlight, there seem to be work crews north and south of the bridge, as if they’re trying to rejig the chi to cross the bridge diagonally. Xiao Fa desperately wants to stop and figure out what is happening, but the party has a tight schedule, so he studies as much as he can while the barge zooshes by. He thinks that the current construction work is not the Marked plan; more like the work of a new party trying to modify things. Reluctantly the party chooses not to get off the barge and interfere.
The barge pulls into the City of Spires, and Min Feng heads out to gather information. There are parties coming up, but none of them are notable enough to be likely to attract the Warlord, who is having high-level meetings with the King of the Taiga, discussing how the Taiga might assist the Dragon Army in cutting off supplies to Bear Mountain and the Roof Of The World in case the situation goes hot. The Sea Lord is also in town.
Xiao Fa visits Li Kao’s spire. The great sage is busy, so Xiao Fa leaves a note asking to discuss the situation at the Bridge of Moonlight at the sage’s convenience.
Min Feng goes to visit her brother, the Black Duke. First she asks about the Purple Duke. Her brother rolls his eyes -- nobody has good relations with him, but he seems to have some hold on the other dukes. (He has not been a duke long enough to have juicy blackmail material yet.) Min Feng asks if it would be a problem for him if the party thwarted the Purple Duke. Well, it would be difficult for him if they did it *openly*, but if it’s not linked back to him, he’s fine with it. The Purple Duke is trying to elevate himself to a Team without actually having allies, which is annoying.
She also asks about the Black Spire. Well, he plans to renovate it, build it back up, and then he’ll have a Spire, which none of the other Dukes have, so it would be great! She asks about other news. Well, he’s not in great shape financially as expenses have been up. Min Feng asks where the idea for the Black Spire came from. Her blunt question slides through his bad defense roll; he talks around the idea a lot, but in the end Min Feng decides that he thinks it was his idea, but it really wasn’t, and it’s not clear where it came from. He hopes Min Feng can send Li Merit around to help deal with the financial situation.
Cai Wen visits Zhao Feiyan, the Pearl of the Taiga. When she sees the sorry state of Cai Wen’s moll shtick, she shakes her head sadly, and gently teases him. She can arrange a meeting with the King so we can arrange a promise of a favor in return for destroying the blackmail notes. As for arranging a party to get Autumn Rose and the Warlord in the same room, she thinks that will be tougher, but the Black Duke has yet to throw his social debut yet, and that would be a pretty good start, since he is new, enigmatic, and mysterious.
Wei Han goes to the Dragon Army barracks to find out the Warlord’s itinerary. He’s going back and forth between garrison HQ and the Royal Spire each day, and has a staff meeting after dinner each evening. He gets frequent reports from the Northwest Command.
Cai Wen heads off with Xiao Fa and Min Feng to a private dinner with the King -- it seems she can arrange private dinner with the King any time she wants to. Also present is Qiu Mei-shio (aka Blushing Rose), the Pearl’s protege. Mei-shio puts up a good front even though Cai Wen is clearly off his game. After dinner, business is discussed. Cai Wen wanders off with the King, and mentions the Purple Duke and his notes (getting an eye-roll at “Purple Duke”) The King says it would set his mind at ease if those notes would just disappear. (Ka-ching!) Cai Wen asks if His Majesty has any other concerns, as he realizes he needs another favor for permission to build a Spire. The King suggests that it would set his mind at ease if the Warlord would leave the Taiga out of this mess with Bear Mountain and the Roof of the World. (That seems harder.) At the end of the evening, couples depart to do such things as they shall find appropriate.
In the morning, Min Feng informs her brother that it’s time for a debut party, and begins planning it. Min Feng cashes a favor with the Sea Lord to get his boss to come to the party. Cai Wen goes to seek out the House of Night’s Promise to engage them to steal the Purple Duke’s notes. Alas, they come back later that day to return his money and inform him that there can be no stealing from the Purple Duke, as he is protected by a Horse statue. Not for the first time, Cai Wen is hoist upon his own petard.
The party calls on Melina for advice on how to deal with the repercussions when Min Feng severs Autumn Rose. The blowback will depend on which Marked is there; if it’s the Warlord, she thinks there will be some severe chopping involved, with extra Spidery badness of some kind. Choppery at a party will probably be bad for the Warlord, and we might be able to leverage that. Cai Wen warns the Pearl of that, and asks her to get the Black Duke out of the room for the chopping (“When you see Xiao Fa dancing with Autumn Rose”). The plan is to induce the mayhem after second drift of the party, when Cai Wen declares Ladies’ Choice Dancing.
The Shortest Social Debut In Recent Taiga Memory
The party begins! Cai Wen (using “Civil Behavior”) reminds everyone that chopping people is against the rules of the party, so they’ll incur a +2 difficulty if they do so.
- The Warlord talks with the Blue Duke
- Xiao Fa offers Autumn Rose 3 urbanity for a dance later, which she accepts
- Cai Wen offers Mei-shio 3 urbanity to throw a drink in his face and leave at the same time as the Pearl leaves with the Black Duke. She warns that it’s not good for his reputation. “This is not for my reputation.”
- The Green Duke offers Min Feng 7 urbanity to arrange secret meetings with Lord Yu and the Steward. Accepted.
- Autumn Rose talks with the Black Duke
- Lijuan talks with the Yellow Duke, opining that Baron Guo’s majordomo is a really nice guy and it would be nice if his life turned around”, offering 4 urbanity. She has chosen the perfect person to ask--all that Noble Lady training must be paying off!
- Sagacious Mu enters the party and speaks with Master Zhou - it would be nice if the King understood the ramifications of the coming disturbance. He accepts.
- Autumn Rose and Black Duke talk more -- something about money.
- Master Zhou to Sagacious Mu - “I have concerns about an upcoming interview that I must participate in. I believe I have an idea for how to make it go in my favor, but if only I had more advice on how to steer that conversation.” Sagacious Mu recommends that Master Zhou have all his ducks in a row (such as travel plans to mysterious places to meet people who can exonerate him) before proposing it to said person, so that he could say “I have this plan. We go now.” and make it happen.
- Cai Wen pitches the Green Duke on his project to build a spire: Such a great thing, if only the King would smile on it. The Green Duke agrees to help. (Two Dukes will be needed to convince the King by this means.)
- The Yellow Duke comes up to Min Feng, asking her aid in persuading the Black Duke to join the Fire Dukes. He drops a lot (15 points) of urbanity on this request. Min Feng agonizes for a bit (turning down the request costs her the urbanity). She replies that it is not in her brother’s best interest. (Urbanity crash! Min Feng is at zero…)
- Wei Han, seeing Min Feng in trouble, swooshes over to ask her assistance in setting up his school.
- Xiao Fa, seeing that the Yellow Duke is pretty tapped out, pulls up next to him and implies that with the Black Spire being beautified, wouldn’t it be nice if other spire projects could be supported? The Yellow Duke, over a barrel because of urbanity spent on his gambit with Min Feng, grits his teeth and accepts. (Ding! Two Dukes should do it!)
Cai Wen declares Happy Hour, and most of the party heads for the bar.
- Master Zhou confers with Min Feng -- the Sun could perhaps prove his innocence to Inspector Fu. (She has a favor from the Sun.) She agrees to let Master Zhou use the favor.
- Lijuan asks Xiao Fa to help Kawaii recover. He accepts.
- Autumn Rose heads toward the Sea Lord.
- Lijuan goes to Master Zhou -- she has learned some new things, and could use more training.
- Cai Wen, concerned with the number of civilians entering the party, asks Master Tanuma to protect the innocents who his plan has placed in danger. She asks who is not innocent? “The party…” She accepts.
Cai Wen declares Ladies’ Choice dancing! Min Feng dances with Warlord, and Autumn Rose, sensing that she might need a meat shield, chooses the Sea Lord. The Pearl figures out that it’s time, so she drags the Black Duke off, and Mei-shio dances with Cai Wen, in preparation for drink-throwing and exit shortly thereafter. Sagacious Mu rescues the Red Duke from his unfortunate position very near Autumn Rose and the Warlord. Master Tanuma is on hold.
As soon as the Pearl and her protege are out of the room, Min Feng maneuvers the Warlord right next to Autumn Rose, and then, using a move she learned from her grandfather Takanata, she severs Autumn Rose’s connection with the Warlord. The two of them fly across the room, away from each other. The Warlord, in a voice not his own, booms “What have you done???”, and a sword appears in his hand. He marches over to Min Feng and Xiao Fa. Wei Han interposes himself in front of Min Feng, and Ting Ting appears from nowhere to protect Xiao Fa. Wei Han and Ting Ting feel the bite of the Sword of State. Dodging almost all of the strikes, both of them take status damage (Wei Han 7, Ting Ting 1), and both of them become Enemies of the Empire! In Xiao Fa’s head, he hears a dragony lament: “Nooooooo!!!!!”
The Warlord looks around, confused by the sudden mayhem, and then even more confused as Wei Han marches up, denounces him soundly (adjudging him to be an idiot, foolish, and many other things not to be lightly attached to one’s reputation). Before the Warlord can get his bearings, Xiao Fa does a "What Does He Need" on Wei Han, and understands that Wei Han needs to get out NOW. Xiao Fa points at Wei Han and says, "Enough! Get gone!" Wei Han says, "Yessir," then disappears in a puff of ninja smoke, along with Ting Ting.
Autumn Rose is replaced by someone who looks a little like Autumn Rose, maybe. Xiao Fa and Min Feng rush her off to another room. She asks “has the danger passed?”, and when the answer is affirmative, she turns back into Autumn Rose.
Lijuan has also disappeared, and has appeared on the banks of the Jasmine. She gives the Jasmine a picture of the party at Shen-ji’s place.
The rest of the Dukes are all hustled out of the party by their retainers, leading to a quick retirement by all.