|"I know not how to tell thee who I am. My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself, because it is an enemy to thee."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Dog, in the eleventh Year of the Spider since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, in the Hon'eth Arcade.
On the Road
Wei Han makes plans to head south from the Port of Propitious Voyage, which he and Hiro have been visiting after their trip across the North Wall. A caravan for the House of Enticing Vintage offers to hire him temporarily as a guard for the caravan, heading to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. It seems that checkpoints around the Port are much more strict than they were previously and the caravan leader would really like a Dragon Army guy around to help cut through all the extra checkpoints. Wei Han does indeed prove worthy in this area, as the Dragon Army officers who wish to search the caravan just let it through on Wei Han's say so.
On the road, the caravan joins up with another smaller travelling party - one wagon and one white carriage, carrying a noblewoman from the Hidden City. Wei Han tries to find out from her guards who she is - they note that the majordomo of her estate called her "Rose" but they don't think that is her actual name.
Off at the other side of the empire, the rest of the party starts packing up, planning to head east to the coast and then north. Takanata puts together a bouquet of flowers while the others pack: two red flowers, two blue flowers, and four white roses.
As they camp for the night in the Forest of Chin, having tea, Hiro asks "How long is it going to take to get there?" Everyone finds that exceedingly suspicious, and begins to interrogate him about when he showed up and why he didn't tell them and who he is really. Okay, fine, the tengu admits, and wants to know which of them is actually Hiro - doesn't he travel with them? They tell him that Hiro isn't here at all - they're going to meet up with him later. He could come with them if he likes. The tengu finds this idea intriguing - but who would he be if he left the forest? He would want to be someone who commands great awe and respect! Various names are suggested and then discarded again - Ti Jun? The Obsidian Warlord? They settle on suggesting Hana. The tengu says he's going to go away and fetch Hana, and return in the morning. Before leaving he talks to Xian a bit and "puts a block on him" so that Xian's shticks won't burn out all of his Yin detecting the disguised tengu. Min Feng studies the tengu as it finally leaves.
Before heading to bed for the night, Master Zhou shows Takanata a brush stroke painting he has made of Master Jinghua teaching kung fu, and asks Takanata's advice on what it needs. Takanata studies it for a while, and approves of the sense of motion which the picture captures, but thinks that it needs some counterpoint - the student, or the opponent, or something.
In the morning, "Hana" shows up.
- "Hana! You're back! How did you get back?" -Merit
- "The forms must be observed, I see." -Master Zhou
"Hana" spins a tale about being kidnapped by the Great Monkey Spirit - but you know, monkeys, sometimes they forget things, so you get a chance to escape, so she escaped, and now she's here. Some people mock the tengu, as Hana has not in fact been kidnapped by the Great Monkey Spirit.
- "After a while, he begins to realize that he does not really command awe and respect." -Mike
It is a long road to walk, though the tengu is happy to continue embellishing his escape story as they go, but eventually the party reaches the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival.
The caravan arrives at the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. Just as they arrive, the white carriage and her guards peel off, as the lady requires that she enter through the West gate instead of the North gate. The guards bid farewell to Wei Han and proceed on their way, while Wei Han and the caravan enter the city and proceed to the bazaar.
On the west side, the party arrives at the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, and heads for the western gate to the city. Before them is a white carriage, and the guards snap to attention to salute it, before letting it in.
The city guards ask some questions of the party, like point of origin (Takanata says that he was born in the Butterfly Kingdom, and with his sixteen status, the guards can't give him too much of a hard time for being difficult) and purpose of the visit (meeting friends - and, also, trade, Merit adds in). The guards check people's luggage for contraband, but Min Feng has hidden all the interesting secret loot, and nothing suspicious is found.
One of Takanata's white flowers wilts, and everyone stares at it in alarm. Oh no! What happened? Why did the flower wilt? Takanata clarifies, with Interpret Omens - one of the parts of the prophecy has passed. An opportunity lost, perhaps? Maybe they should have tried to meet whoever was in the white carriage? The guards say that it was a high noble lady from the Hidden City, and someone mentioned an autumn rose. Hmm. Hana has flower arranging - does that mean the tengu "Hana" does too? They ask "Hana" if she knows what the wilted flower is. The tengu is fascinated by the idea that the I Ching has sent Takanata flowers, but confirms that the white flowers are autumn roses.
The group spots Wei Han, by his caravan, and waves. How did their trip go?
- "I was travelling with Hiro. There were no substantial troubles."
Merit hands a money pouch to Wei Han, with his share of the profits from their spice-smuggling venture, and the caravan master nods knowingly at the exchange. Merit also meets one of his contacts; the Cane of Free Action returns (along with a knock-off), and Merit sends off the Bracers of Blunting Steel to be looked at. Finally, Merit also asks around the bazaar for news - the main item of gossip is that the House of Enticing Vintage sent a lot of its guard north to deal with a caravan, and while they were gone, the daughter of the heir was kidnapped. Wait, is this Liet? Didn't she fake her kidnapping once before already?
"Hana" goes off with Hiro, followed by Min Feng. While the pair of them quickly lose her, she does hear several young men in house livery from the House of Enticing Vintage and the House of Resplendent Decoration declaring terms to each other:
- "I will meet you at dawn, for this terrible insult to our honor."
- "We will not stand for your shenanigans any longer, and we will face you on the field to avenge this slight."
They seem oddly uninspired, though - maybe even rehearsed.
Merit finally realizes that Wei Han was guarding this mysterious "Rose" woman in the white coach, but Wei Han steadfastly refuses to have any opinion about her. In other plots, Merit has been trying to track down the location for the Great Amulet of the Magpie, and thinks it may be in the center of the mosaic in the Great Bazaar. However, Shen-Ji is pretty sure that there is no powerful magic items below the center of the mosaic. There are magic items for sale around the bazaar, in stalls, but that's not what Merit is looking for. He's sure that the chi of the area is such that it would be a good place for it. Takanata also admires the mosaic, and the chi of the area - artistically, it's the focal point of the bazaar, and a great tourist attraction (which is also good for the bazaar) and is part of what makes the Great Bazaar named, as opposed to being just some really big marketplace. But he doesn't think it's empowering the area mystically, as far as he can tell.
(Master Zhou decides at this point that Rose must be Cartogramancer's lover, based on totally unclear evidence).
Wei Han and Merit head off to look for what happened to the white carriage. They do find the two guards that traveled down with the carriage, who grouse a bit about having been fired in favor of a more serious bodyguard from the House of Gainful Protection. She did give them a nice bonus, but then she sent them packing, so it's more about the insult than anything else. Since a disgruntled ex-employee is the best source of information ever, Merit questions them further - she was very attractive, though not flirty with the guards, of course. She had very particular ideas about which routes to take. Interesting. Merit asks if she cast stones or did some other sort of divination as she went, but they didn't see anything like that. Oh, one odd thing was, she didn't want to know their names.
- "Stay mooks!" -Master Zhou
Speaking of names, it was Yang Tsi-Ya that she hired as her new bodyguard. She's reputed to be quite good, and the lady requested her by name. At this point, Merit is convinced that the mysterious woman is trying to meet them - she arranged to travel with Wei Han, she hired Shen-Ji's sister, and so on.
Meanwhile, Xian and Shuyan have been wandering around the bazaar. As they head back to the party's baggage wagon, they spot some street kids looking through their things. Hey! Most of the kids run off, but Shuyan manages to catch one and wrap the poor kid up in snakes. Xian breaks him and gets him to spill their little plan. The local kids gang was apparently hired by an important lady to steal a map of some sort, but as Min Feng hid everything, they weren't able to find it. People grouse that a bunch of kids got hired to rob them. Surely, they're better than that.
Elsewhere, Min Feng asks around, trying to find out more about Liet going missing. Her house has sworn vengeance, of course. It sounds like Myo has also been missing for a day or two, though his house isn't making it as public.
Everyone gets back together to swap stories, and try and figure out how many of the plots are related. At least one of the plots seems very familiar.
- "If they're doing that same thing, that's really annoying." -Xian
However, Xian and Shuyan are particularly keen to get everyone to get to the kids' secret lair before they escape, as they still have a kid prisoner.
- "Wait, you have a guy wrapped up in a snake with you? Why didn't any of us notice him?"
The party heads off to the edge of the bazaar, where there's a little shack. There's scraps of this and that, and various things apparently dropped in a hurry, as if everyone has recently run off, but nothing of serious import. Takanata picks up a couple of rags, in case Ho shows up later without Lijuan and wants to do some tracking. Merit searches the place, and concludes that it's the flophouse of a bunch of homeless kids. Min Feng manages to find 7 zhu, which belong to Shuyan's prisoner. He says he works for Clips (the boss kid), and that a lady hired him, but he really doesn't seem to know more than this.
- "These guys are a dead end." -Merit
- "A second flower wilts." -Mike
- "Hey! I can un-give-up! This is the worst prophecy ever!" -Merit
- "You saying it was a dead end made it a dead end. So stop talking!" -Xian
Wei Han picks the kid up, who kicks and wiggles and shouts at Wei Han to not eat him. Wei Han makes a few intimidating faces at him, but in the end, decides he really doesn't know anything more, and lets him flee.
Not Ruling Out Anything
The group decides to head for the rich terraces, to see if the white carriage is anywhere to be found. Merit makes sure to stash the Hunter's Map in his secret pocket.
- "She's going to be REALLY EASY TO FIND." -Xian, talking into the flowers
On the other hand, they're not entirely sure yet why they want to talk to her.
- "Oh, maybe we only need to avoid her four times. In which case, I'm right again." -Merit
Takanata declares that the woman is searching them out on behalf of the Cartogramancer - but then realizes that that's false. Interesting. Master Zhou speculates that the white roses are a plot, and the red and blue flowers are a different plot - maybe that's "RedMyo and BlueLiet". So maybe they should investigate the kidnapping instead, on the theory that the mysterious lady has two white roses left to find them.
The group starts heading towards the House of Enticing Vintage, with Xian in the lead, based on the theory that he's already helped them out twice (in Alike in Dignity and Zen Sinker Tour). Xian spots a ninja (in disguise as a normal person) walking away from the house, and turns to follow him, not saying anything. Everyone else turns to follow Xian, very unclear on what's going on. Min Feng figures out who Xian is following, and manages to start following him herself, just as he turns a corner and loses Xian by climbing to the roof of the next building. Min Feng climbs up after him, then decides she had better keep the party in the loop, since nobody seems to have noticed that. She writes "Roof" on a note, and gives it to Tofu, sending him towards the others. Xian keeps walking, figuring that the ninja is watching him, and does a circuit around the block back to the House of Enticing Vintage; when they get back to the estate gates, it becomes clear that Min Feng is missing.
- "She didn't say anything, and just walked away? Who would do that?" -Xian
- "Min Feng must still be following the ninja, because no more flowers have wilted." -Merit
Tofu swaps the note with Wei Han's commission, which he doesn't notice. Then, swaps Wei Han's commission with Takanata's poem, and so on. Eventually, he takes the Shackles of Silence from Master Zhou, and swaps them for Merit's wrist knife, which results in Merit's rant being cut off mid-word, and people finally start to notice the substitutions, and Min Feng's note. (Tofu then returns to Min Feng and proudly presents her with a new spring-loaded wrist knife.
Master Zhou climbs onto a roof, and looks around for Min Feng - eventually, he spots her returning, as she has finished tracking the ninja to his lair.
Merit makes sure to declare to the flowers that they are not ruling out investigating the ninja at some later time, before the group heads back to the House of Enticing Vintage.
The group knocks at the Enticing Vintage estate, and the butler is sent to tell the masters of the house that Xian is here. Surprisingly (to the butler), they are quickly invited in. Does Xian have news for them? Er, no, he doesn't yet, but he would be happy to assist. Liet's uncle (the head of the house) explains that there has been a ransom demand, to pay 500 li, tomorrow at dawn at the Gorge of the Split Rock, outside of the city. The ransom demand arrived some few minutes before Xian did. Everyone notes that he sounds oddly unconvinced, as he explains about the kidnapping, and also oddly unconvinced as he mentions that there is a duel in the bazaar tomorrow - the duel was scheduled before they received the ransom note.
Xian nudges him into agreeing that, in fact, he is required by the honor of his house to... to defend the honor of the foolish girl who has quite probably just run off again.
- "So... someone stupid kidnapped her?"
Master Zhou asks exactly what happened when Liet disappeared. She was doing her daily routine "with her usual despondency", but failed to appear for breakfast, and was found to be abducted from her bedroom. The window was open, and there were signs of a struggle, just like last time. Did they clean things up? No, they preserved the "crime scene".
- "Now, let's see how crimey it is."
- "Yes, let's."
So... why was Liet particularly despondent? She was unhappy about not living the adventurous outlaw life with Myo, apparently. Merit pokes around, and finds that she has a runaway kit packed, but still in her closet. And the signs of a struggle do appear to have been a kung fu battle, where a master fought a not-yet master. Wei Han notes, below the window, several sets of footprints in the garden - when they check, one set does appear deeper than the others, as if that one was carrying someone else.
Merit informs the head of house that Liet really was kidnapped. What, really? Really? Well, for the honor of their house, the people who took Liet will pay! This time, he actually sounds angry about it.
- "Go! Find out what has happened!"
- "We ask for nothing more!" -Merit
- "A blue flower wilts." -Mike
- "Wait! I didn't mean it!" -Merit
- "Best art ever." -Takanata
- "Just for the record, I hate everything about this." -Merit
There is a brief digression about flowers - maybe there are two different plots going on in the house? One is the kidnapping, and one is some other plot that the other flower indicates. Maybe the second plot has to do with the ninja - which they are not ruling out investigating at some point in the future.
The group heads to the House of Resplendent Decoration, and Shuyan and Master Zhou squabble along the way. Shuyan still thinks the Liet and Myo story is totally romantic, but Master Zhou doesn't think they're actually in love or anything, and doesn't really believe in romantic.
Again, Xian gets to be point man. They thank him for his help with Kinoze again, and Xian offers his assistance in this trying time. Like the previous house, they seem a little unimpressed by their trying time
- "We have the situation under control, and will take what action is deserved."
- "I don't doubt that." -Xian
- "Or maybe not!" -Merit
- "Shh! Shh!" -Master Zhou
The House members are somewhat confused by the byplay. However, Xian convinces them to let them look at Myo's room. He doesn't have a runaway pack, but there is a lot of blood, and a knife, that has been covered over with a blanket. Evidence is that there was a swordfight, between a blademaster and a skilled blademan. The knife is not Myo's knife, according to his relatives. They are unenthusiastically declaring their vengeance against the House of Enticing Vintage. The party suggests that it might not have been them.
- "Surely you don't think there is only one house which might mean you harm?"
- "Look, no, you were here last time, right?"
The party explains, once again, that this time the kidnapping seems to be legitimate. At the House of Enticing Vintage too.
- "So... we're actually going to kill each other tomorrow at dawn.?"
Their house received a ransom note yesterday, telling them to bring 500 li to the Gorge of the Split Rock, tomorrow at sunset. Comparing the notes, the handwriting seems to be the same - but doesn't match Myo's handwriting, or Liet's (as found on some love notes hidden in his room). Xian does his best to convince the house that there is an actual third party, responsible for both kidnappings.
Very well, then - they will hold the duel "exactly as planned." A red flower wilts, but now the group thinks that's okay; they've done this section of the plot. On to the next!
House of the Black Spot
The group heads back to the building that Min Feng trailed the ninja to. The door has a black circle on it - Merit identifies it as the lair of the Messengers of the Black Spot. They specialize in infiltration - leaving notes, death threats, horse heads, things like that. As they close in on the building, they see a white carriage turning the corner as it leaves. Interesting! They should follow!
- "But we know where this location is, so we might have the intention of quite possibly coming back here again." -Merit
- "Best Art Ever." -Xian
The group flags down rickshaws, charging them to follow that carriage! Shen-Ji hops on a flying disk to follow. The carriage is heading to the nicer part of town - the rickshaw drivers ask for more money, but they're still being paid in zhu, so it's all good. The carriage pulls onto the White Peony Terrace, into one of the better manor houses, with a private drive. The rickshaw driver doesn't know who owns the house, but asking around gets the answer that the house belongs to one of the scions of the House of Benevolent Oversight.
Min Feng goes to talk to the gate attendent. The High Lady Autumn Rose is in residence while conducting business, but was not expecting to receive visitors. Takanata writes a letter of introduction to send in ("I have a Reputation shtick and a 16 status!"), asking to call on her later, such as at dinner.
Then, it's back to the ninjas. Min Feng sneaks in, bringing Monko and the Searching Monkey; Master Zhou watches through the monocle and the monkey's eyes. There's someone sitting at a desk - he hears the door click, looks up, but doesn't spot Min Feng, and then goes back to work. This seems to be an entry hall - there's another door behind the secretary, but no other exits. Min Feng settles in to watch and wait. After a while, the far door clicks, and a ninja decloaks in front of the secretary. The secretary nods, and gives him a scroll - "Take this to the bazaar, find the merchant named Li Merit, and make sure he gets this message." The ninja leaves. Merit contemplates meeting him outside the ninja dojo, but decides that will blow Min Feng's cover. Still hidden inside, Min Feng walks through the back wall into the room behind - there are several ninja, training. Master Zhou, observing, thinks that this is basically a 6-success dojo, so Min Feng will need to stay at least 6 successes hidden. There are several other doors in the training room, but only one of them is seriously locked, and probably goes to a stairwell. Hoping to find prisoners, she sneaks to the door (at a cost of two karma) and gets Monko to unlock it. Then, into the basement!
As it turns out, there are no prisoners - what there is, is a bunch of treasure! There are various antique weapons, a pile of 40 new-minted li, from the Hidden City mint. Nothing that looks like the Magpie Talisman, though. There are three sheets of magical parchment, and then a large white scroll on the wall - a large black dot in the center, with characters up and down the sides, telling of the charter, history, and honor of the Messengers of the Black Spot.
- "That's the thing they would all die to get back, if you want a Hunted."
Min Feng gestures for people to give her advice, via her set of magic papers. People write various notes to her on their side of the paper.
- "Theft even from ninja is not honorable." -Takanata
- "It's only justifiable in a greater cause, like... whatever we're doing now, I don't remember." -Xian
- "Look for the money that came before the money from the Hidden City - that might pay for the previous message."
- "Take it all." -Shen-Ji
- "No." -Wei Han, crossing out "Take it all"
- "We need leverage for negotiation." -Xian
Min Feng holds a note up to the monkey to read: "Dear ninjas. I have your charter. - Xian"
- "I do not think you have thought this plan through. Sir." -Shen Wei Han
- "I hardly ever do." -Xian
Maybe they can steal a non-crucial item? As a warning shot?
- "Choose wisely and come back. We have other things to do." -Master Zhou
There is a click from the door upstairs, and then some more noise. Min Feng grabs 5 li, and a fancy dagger, and leaves a note where the dagger was: "This is my application for employment and/or training." Then, she heads up the stairs, and through the wall into one of the rooms she hasn't seen yet.
As it turns out, this is the office of the grandmaster of the order, and he is disciplining one of his underlings. Luckily, she's still staying hidden, and she sneaks out a different door into the grandmaster's bedroom. She rifles through it - a katana, his ninja suit, some poetry, his personal purse... She takes his ninja suit and one of the poems (quickly copying the rest), and goes out the window into the garden, and manages to get over the wall before anyone spots her.
- "We will have to discuss the exact details of your actions, granddaughter." -Takanata
Is there anything significant about the li?
- "Can you do magical detection on the li? Wait, you're just going to keep them, aren't you?" -Min Feng to Shen-Ji
- "You do have to give them to me before I can check." -Shen-Ji
Shen-Ji confirms that they're recently minted - probably magically. The Imperial Mint does do magical minting, which is necessary for tael - it was probably one of the mint apprentices, minting in silver for the practice. So whoever had these li had access to the highest levels of Hidden City society.
Takanata does a Connections reading, which suggests that Autumn Rose is not likely to betray them to the Marked.
The group heads to the bazaar, to meet up with the ninja expected to be carrying the message. Xian, Takanata, and Shuyan start browsing through the stalls, while Merit and the others wait together. After a few minutes, a woman screams for help nearby. Wei Han asks Merit for permission, and then heads that way - someone seems to have been hit on the head. Merit holds his hand out, and the ninja decloaks with a knife to his throat, and places a scroll in his hand. The scroll reads:
One of the white flowers wilts - they have one flower of each color now.
- "These flowers suck!" -Merit
Additionally, Takanata receives a reply to his invitation - Autumn Rose would be most happy to receive him and discuss matters of mutual interest, over dinner. Merit asks one of his old friends to see if he can get a dossier on Autumn Rose, but that will take some time.
Master Zhou shows Takanata his new version of a painting.
- "Are you studying Butterfly kung fu?" -Takanata
Shen-Ji takes a look at Min Feng's loot. The knife is a dagger of silent kill - the victim cannot intentionally make any sound as he dies. It's very very old, old enough to probably quadruple its nominal value. The magic papers will cloak a message - you write one message on the paper, and say a name. The message will vanish, and you can write a different message. Everyone will see the second message, except for the named person, who will see the first message.
The party heads to the White Peony terrace, and are announced at the Benevolent Oversight's manor. Everyone is offered tea and other higher-proof beverages. Then, Yang Tsi-Ya comes in, looks around to do a threat analysis, and nods. After that, one of Cai Wen's molls walks in. Except, it's not one that anyone has met before, so it's not clear why she's so obviously one of his molls. Her status is higher than anyone except Takanata, and her charisma is higher than everyone else's. She doesn't ask for their names.
Takanata chats with her over dinner - he's winning the status half of the conversation, and she's winning the charisma half. He thinks she knows about noble lady pastimes, and tons of high society, but no real art skills. Dinner is lovely, and so is dessert, and then after that, it is time to discuss business.
- "You have a map that I have some interest in. I would be pleased to make certain adjustments to the map that would make it safer for you - that would make it untraceable by the one who it is currently traceable by." -Autumn Rose
It's traceable by its creator? Yes. Takanata thinks that this adjustment would be an improvement. Would that limit its current functionality? It would continue to point to Zhu Cai Wen, she says.
- "Why would you do such a helpful thing?" -Xian
- "I am being properly compensated, you need not worry."
Min Feng does her best to detect lies on this - it seems more or less true. No one is compensating her, but she thinks getting to do this is compensation for her. She whispers this to Merit.
Shen-Ji asks about the technical details. She is proposing to remove the signature of the map's creator and replace it with her own. The replacement allows the functionality to remain. Ah, then she could find it?
- "It would be easier, yes, but it wasn't that hard for me to find it this time. It would be much harder for the one who can find it now, to find it afterwards - he would have no way of doing so."
Takanata says that he would not wish to offend her by offering her something else when she is compensated, but he would be happy to do her another favor by checking what the I Ching can tell her.
- "After that, we can train!" -Master Zhou
She requests that Takanata swear by his name to reveal what he learns only to her. He notes that he would know it himself, of course, and feels a thump at his chest where the Butterfly Talisman sits.
- "Well, either that was the Butterfly saying 'and the rest of the Band' or it wasn't." -Takanata
Xian says that they do not know enough about her, and is sad that he is so ignorant. He wants to believe! Could the party speak privately? She agrees, and leaves the dining room to let them confer. Min Feng thinks that she has not been lying, though Rose has been careful with her wording, and may have left things out. So, she was probably telling the truth about the Cartogramancer being able to track it. But if she won't tell them what she's up to, should they stomp off? Xian says getting up to leave is only to try to haggle for something better, not to call the deal off.
Shen-Ji says that they should ask for a listing of her shtick tree - then they'll be able to tell what sort of things she can do, and also, maybe she'll teach him! Everyone else boggles at this, and thinks that it's a bit implausible to ask for. Merit notes that she hired incompetent urchin thieves, and messenger ninjas for forty li. That was a message saying "I could have hired real ninjas and real thieves - I can get it if I really want to." Xian thinks it is not as good a deal as they can get; Takanata thinks it is a deal worth taking. These two things are probably both true, but do lead in different directions. Xian says he'll take point on talking to her, and they can see where it leads.
- "I hope we can reach an agreement... But, you see, there are powerful forces about which we know almost nothing." -Xian
- "I would like to call myself a powerful force about which you know almost nothing - but perhaps I'm not yet so much as all that." -Autumn Rose
- "Perhaps there is a way we could have ongoing dealings in the future?"
- "I would not be opposed to future dealings, should you acquire something else of value to me."
- "I would hope for some more familiarity - to know what you are getting out of this."
- "The signature of the maker of the map is... a powerful signature. Such things are my stock in trade."
- "You are a collector of names?" -Zhou
- "How do you employ them? Are you a collector or trader?"
- "I think you will find that all traders are, at their hearts, collectors."
- (Everyone looks at Li Merit.)
- "It sounds like you feel that our arrangement is not fair to you?"
- "Not at all. I think we may have an opportunity for even greater mutual benefit - I don't want to leave those on the table. "
- "Unfortunately, my time here in town is quite limited - I should be leaving very soon. Do you have some proposal to make now? Or just assurances of general good will for the future? You may have the latter, but I cannot make any long term commitments."
She agrees to make an additional concession - she had stipulated that her I Ching be kept to Takanata alone; she will allow him to share it with the rest of them.
- "That wasn't funny when I said it..." -Mike
- "As you collect the things that you desire - is it simply power you seek?"
- "Power is almost never simple. If you are asking what my end goal in my "grand plan" is - it is the same as all people who are starting out on a path. I do not know all of where it leads."
Min Feng tries to sense motive on that - she thinks it's about right. It's like asking someone in business "are you simply after money?" One answer is yes, but that's also because there are hopes and dreams that may be able to be achieved with more money... it's complicated.
- "Is she one of Cai Wen's molls because she has a Fox aspect?" -Xian
- "I could tell if you hit her." -Master Zhou
- "Does throwing a dinner roll at her count?" -Xian
- "Let's play good idea/bad idea." -Wei Han
- "But I'm not ruling it out!" -Merit
Shen-Ji notes that he would like to learn more of her craft. She notes that it is more of a vocation than a craft - a commitment rather than a hobby.
Agreement is mostly reached and so she spells out the terms one last time to be sure everyone is clear. "I will take the map, and remove the signature of its creator, replacing it with my own. I will then return the map to you and it will retain the ability to locate Zhu Cai Wen anywhere. You will also read my I Ching..."
She gets interrupted...
- "And any other functionality inherent in the map will remain the same?" -Master Zhou
She looks slightly chagrined. "At the moment, the map points to Zhu Cai Wen all the time - with some very few edge case exceptions that I am not capable of duplicating." Can she give an example of an edge case? She says that it is designed to be slightly more general - it locates the person who Zhu Cai Wen is, and she knows no reason that he would not remain that person indefinitely. However, if the one who commissioned the map finds another greatest nemesis, or, for example, if Zhu Cai Wen was dead, her new map would not be able to find the new nemesis. (And, the party remembers, that it has once, briefly, indicated Broken Sword.)
She eventually concedes that this is indeed another loss for the party so she offers some additional compensation.
- "I could supply you with a name."
- "And we would like this because?"
- "It would depend on whose name it was..."
- "Don't ask for a name that we won't remember!" -Xian
Can she give them a name in such a way that they can't forget it? In case there is some ability in play that will cause them to forget the name? She can't really be sure of such things, but says she'll do her best. She briefly leaves with the Hunter's Map, and returns it with a slight change.
Takanata reads her I Ching:
Everyone finds that interesting - and it's told her something interesting about the party.
What name do they seek? If she has it, she will tell them. If she does not have it, she will send a messenger when she gets it. Takanata specifies: "The person who clouded my memory in my last trip to the spirit world. He or she is a Spider, and is in contact or alliance with the maker of the map."
- "I was about to utter something so silly as 'I don't recall him having any acquaintances who could cloud my memory.'" -Autumn Rose
It would also be convenient if they could contact her, to apprise her of an approaching deadline. Hmm. If they need to speak to her, just deliver eight autumn roses to her address in the Hidden City. And with that, she declares their business concluded, and Takanata's last autumn rose wilts. Min Feng wonders if she is trying to thwart/supplant her dad. That probably wasn't originally her motive, but perhaps now she is re-evaluating.
It is reasonably late - what next? Try to steal the book that the ninja dojo's secretary uses, to see if it has a record of who sent the message? Or try to pull off a ritual of The Knife Returns? Wei Han thinks the ritual idea is better, because if he were a ninja, he wouldn't write down full names and addresses in the book. That seems plausible. On the other hand, doing the ritual is hard - last time, they had to have help from Yuwen Fire-Eye. They might be able to get one of the Great Houses to do it - but it also seems likely that if they hand the plot to one of the houses, it'll storm off in that direction with a bunch of troops.
With a bit of karma, and a lot of chi (and a little bit of cheating helped by Shen-Ji's phoenix familiar), they pull the ritual off, and the knife leads them to near the Gorge of the Split Rock, up the back way. There are some bandits around a campfire - Liet is asleep, and Myo is unconscious.
Takanata checks a Crossroads reading - will they be more successful by trying to take the bandits down, or trying to wake the victims up first? Probably more successful the former way.
In the surprise round, Shuyan lobs an ice chip of doom into the campfire, freezing many of the mook bandits, though the martial arts master (Tiger) leaps out of the way. Merit throws a sparkler in the air, shouting "Now! Everyone!" to sound like there's a larger force.
Tiger growls to Liet: "Join me now, and I will teach you the true power of Kung Fu." Liet, susceptible to social attack, says "Yes, Master!", and attacks Wei Han.
- "Xian, don't make me hurt her." -Wei Han
- "This is like the first combat this book I've gone in with physical instead of social!" -Xian
Master Zhou grabs Liet, and Shuyan throws a snake around her to hold her. Master Zhou is pretty sure that Tiger is the kind of master who just can't be defeated by a non-kung-fu person (or a ninja). It is again pointed out that disguising yourself as a ninja is not the same thing. Meanwhile, Tiger keeps exhorting Liet to greater power (and evil!).
- "Use your rage! Escape the snake!" -Tiger
Shen-Ji forces Crane to drop his sword, and Master Zhou nerve strikes him. Cranes's having a bad day. Shen-Ji starts dropping walls of iron around the battlefield - between the walls and the big ice block and the cliff down into the gorge, the combat is pretty split up.
- "Use your rage? What happened to skill, and finesse, like Master Zhou would teach?" -Merit to Liet
The red rose begins to wilt - oh, that's no good. Min Feng rushes towards Myo, and manages to postpone his dying until post-combat, for a start. Several bandits, with nobody to attack but Takanata, take him down. Master Zhou glares at Tiger, and tells him "You should not speak of that which you do not know!", and shackles him.
- "Adventure? Excitement? You expect to get that with murdering highwaymen? You know, we go on real adventures." -Xian to Liet
That nudges Liet back over to the good side. Merit, who has stashed a bunch of his Coins of Distraction around outside of the camp, starts them shouting, so it sounds like there's an angry mob coming. Wei Han tries to get the bandits to surrender - some of them do start to flee.
- "You do know, once he got the ransom, he was just going to kill both of you?" -Xian to Liet
Crane takes the sword from one of the mook bandits who are fleeing, and pushes him down the hill. Xian keeps talking to Liet, and thinks she's getting close to a watershed of morale. Crane stabs Merit and Xian, and Xian falls. Tiger goes for Master Zhou, who dodges - Tiger manages to make it look like Master Zhou is terrified of him to dodge out of the way, but due to the iron wall, Liet doesn't see it. Merit calls for help from Liet, throwing in charm and grovelling. Terrifying snakes leap at Crane, who flees.
Finally, a five-karma nerve strike by Master Zhou takes down the shackled Tiger, and permanently defeats him.
- "Are you trying to convince her or make her fall in love with you?" -Xian
Takanata notes that the last blue flower is starting to put roots into the water.
The last of the bandit mooks tries a mad plan.
- "Take the girl hostage, maybe they'll let us through."
- "Wait, am I "the girl?"" -Min Feng
They grab Min Feng, and shout that if the party lets them escape, and don't send the mob after them, they'll let the girl go. They give Takanata an action to agree, but threatening his granddaughter is not the way to motivate him.
- "If you harm my granddaughter, your spirits will drown in the Jasmine for the length of your deaths." -Takanata
Min Feng starts to glow blue and watery and menacing (kind of like Anto at the Pearl River, but nobody here was there for that.) The bandits, now even more freaked, surrender too. (Then the glow is extinguished.) Shuyan and the others make sure nobody is dying, and the combat is over.
Master Zhou tells Liet that she showed herself worthy - in the end. She thanks him, and bows.
Takanata's flowers have finished with one blue flower and one red flower, intertwined. The bandits are looted - Shuyan goes into li, and the rest goes into the treasury. Tiger is officially Defeated by Master Zhou, and the bandits are all turned over to the two houses. Master Zhou interrogates Tiger first, though. The plan to kidnap the two kids was all theirs. He would love to be able to blame it on someone else, and they did come up with the idea while a guy from the House of Gainful Protection was talking to them, but it really wasn't his idea. Master Zhou gets a description of the guy (named Konghua). Liet and Myo are informed, with many warnings to not start a war with the House of Gainful Protection, and Master Zhou tries to convince them that a fun plot would be "Thwart/Get Konghua, but don't tell your parents." They agree.
It seems likely that the bandits will all be hanged, including Tiger, unless Crane stages a daring rescue...
- Master Zhou goes to train Liet.
- Shen-Ji has tea with Tsi-Ya.
- Takanata visits Scholar Turtle and Master Tranh.
- Merit, Shen-Ji, Takanata, Xiao Fa, Xian, and Min Feng visit the House of the Master of Trade, in the Great Bazaar.
- Master Zhou visits Master Sheji, and Master Zhizhu.