|"Charisma is the fragrance of soul."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Butterfly in the Month of the Tiger 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, capital of the Illuminated Precincts.
A River Plan
The group that went to Jabon for the horse race on the Day of the Tiger return to the circus, where Shuyan has been left in charge. She lets everyone know that she's been keeping on top of things - there are performances scheduled for tonight, and another one in a couple of days. And, she wants to introduce her new boyfriend, Tan, to Min Feng.
- "He's just great!" -Shuyan
- "What's the catch?" -Min Feng
Takanata considers the deepest connection between Shuyan and Tan, and determines that it is "girlfriend of the week". He warns Min Feng of this, though Min Feng's sense motive indicates that the guy does sincerely like Shuyan.
Tan chats with Lijuan for a bit - she talks about training Pho, and horses, and the Butterfly Kingdom, which she then remembers that she should call the Isle of Beauty. He nods and agrees that she should, but then convinces her to go and get the horses ready rather than continue to explain things to him.
- "Can I make a roll?" -Heidi
- "Sure, but there's no need to actually count them." -Mike
Takanata and Cai Wen go have a private chat about the curse Takanata has recently placed on him. Cai Wen is not terribly put out.
One of the circus hands notes to Merit that he needs an advance to get some rafts and floats and things for the performance. Wait, rafts and floats and whats? For the river performance - it's Shuyan's idea. Merit goes off to find Shuyan, who is in the middle of making lists of who can swim and who can't. Merit asks, suspiciously, why they need circus rafts. Oh, Tan had this great idea about putting on a performance on a river.
- "It's generally not circus policy for new boyfriends to set circus policy." -Merit
Merit is a bit worried that bouncing up and down on rafts will make everyone (including the elephant handlers) have to roll for 9s, which they aren't necessarily up for. But the flyers have already been posted, advertising a fabulous river performance - with pictures of an elephant standing on one foot on a raft floating on the water. The advertised performance is in two days. Shuyan tries to push the planning back to the normal circus planners like Merit, but he thinks it's her problem to deal with, as it was (in theory) her idea.
Takanata draws a picture of a number of guys with an elephant, on the back of his prized Ochi poem. He thinks that the pattern on the elephant looks like the chi map of the Empire that was part of the chi audit produced by the Sages.
Lijuan draws a picture as well, of someone on top of a pedestal, with people around it shaking it. The meaning of this isn't any more immediately clear than the elephant picture.
Shuyan offers to introduce Tan to Ringmaster Zhu; he ducks into Shuyan's tent to spiff up his clothes, and comes out with one more status than Cai Wen. He praises the Ringmaster and the circus - they are an amazing and commendable endeavor.
- "I understand you've been making suggestions?" -Cai Wen
- "Oh, it was just a small thought I had, but Shuyan just picked it up and ran with it." -Tan
Tan thinks the picture of the elephant on one foot was just for the posters, and he agrees with Cai Wen that of course no one wants to endanger anyone else. Cai Wen complains that it is traditional to rehearse an act before advertising it, but Tan notes that Shuyan has been rehearsing everyone, most diligently. Not to mention, surely the posters look awesome! People will be lining the shores to watch!
- "But the riot, if they are disappointed!" -Cai Wen
Tan is sure that the guests will not be disappointed, and that Shuyan has everything under control, though he will also be happy to give any assistance he can.
Cai Wen gives Shuyan until the evening to demonstrate to him that the whole elephants-on-the-river thing will be fine, and Tan helps by getting her to roll for 6s. Merit and Wei Han start planning to put pilings in the river to "float" the rafts on, if Wei Han can borrow Takanata's water-breathing ring.
Willow comes to check in with Cai Wen (though he's a little too distracted to pay proper attention to her). Her patron, Shentu Guan, does actually want a favor, that he would be willing to trade for her assisting with a plan to take out the Hidden City bribery mechanic. One of the other Revered Sages, Qiangdu Lihua, has been acting a little ... odd, lately. He's more enthusiastic during the votes, and he may have something in the works. If the party could figure out what it is, and tell her, then Willow will be set to help the party with their own project.
River Side Effects
Merit gives Shuyan a quick lecture on not being someone else's moll, and then goes down to the riverbank to make sure that everything is in order for the performance. A minor bureaucrat from the Council of Sages shows up with Merit's permit - just make sure that the performance does not spread anywhere else on the waterway. And, for the duration of of the performance, all the noisy and unpleasant businesses on this riverbank will be closed - a forge, a slaughterhouse, things like that. Merit worries - that could be expensive! Is the circus paying for that? No, though the people who did pay for it may be grumpy if the performance doesn't happen.
Takanata looks suspicious. Why do the businesses need to be shut down?
- "I think we're the distraction for the real plot." -Merit
Maybe Shuyan should try to get some more information out of him with her spycraft lessons? She and Min Feng and Tan were about to go off to dinner, but Cai Wen intercepts to talk to Tan first. Cai Wen wants to know where Tan is from. He says he's principally a traveller, a man of the world - at this point one could nearly say he's from "everywhere".
- "Sometimes you put your youth behind you, and say 'I am the road now.'"
Cai Wen continues to press, and he admits to having been raised in the Taiga. Min Feng leaps in - where exactly in the Taiga? Whose lands were they? He says he was born right outside the city - they would have been the King's lands. So... does he have any outside interests leading him to be either for or against the circus? Tan says he is very pro-circus. Min Feng leans on him with some conversational interrogation, but he's very charming and she comes away with the understanding that he just wants to see Shuyan succeed.
- "You have just been through the 'father interrogates the boyfriend' scene, and you lost. But you're not really her dad, so you didn't actually take any parental damage." -Mike
Min Feng suggests dressing circus performers in a big elephant suit, as an alternative to betting on acrobatic elephants. Merit sets up a tippy platform to pretend to be a raft, for Shuyan to practice the elephants on, and then swims (with Takanata's ring) to the bottom of the river to look for where to sink the pilings. He finds a clay pipe sucking up water, though not anything like enough water to drain the river. It seems harmless, if Exceedingly Suspicious. He tries to send a stick tied to a rope up the pipe, and it gets blocked, perhaps by a grate, at about five feet in. Asking around, it appears that the pipe provides water for cooling and quenching to the things like the nearby forge.
At dinner, Min Feng uses some of her conversational shticks on Tan, and goes against half his defenses. She gets a success through, and thinks that he might have some sort of ulterior motive after all. Tan is quite impressed. Another single-success conversational interrogation learns that "Tan Tan" is just his nickname.
Merit notes that the people in town on the circus-on-the-river plot are:
- Tan Tan
- Pai the smith
- Council assistant Chen
- Farmer Tsi
- Recent new addition Min Feng
Tan tries to get Min Feng and Shuyan to work together, perhaps under a theory that he can lase their dice together, but Shuyan thinks that makes no sense and resists adding Min Feng to her act - she is just as charismatic and much better with elephants!
Merit finds out that Farmer Tsi is expected to arrive tomorrow, and will be bringing his horde of pigs with him. Min Feng finds out that Council assistant Chen has been taking bribes in order to stamp some forms without the permission of the full Council. That's probably how Tan pulled all his strings.
- "I could just get a bunch of thugs to beat him up and drop him in the river." -Merit
It's time for the test on the river-raft simulator. Tan encourages Shuyan, and she gets ten extra skill, but the elephant misses its final step and falls off the platform, injuring itself. Shuyan is distraught, and heals the elephant, though her snakes think it was hilarious and suggest doing it again.
We Two Are Men
Tan and Cai Wen discuss elephant possibilities. Tan thinks Min Feng's clever idea about acrobats in an elephant suit is a good one, but Cai Wen demurs. He doesn't want to sully the circus's reputation with a poor unrehearsed performance, so he might have to pull the plug on the river entirely. Tan agrees that unrehearsed elephants are no good, so actors it must be. It could be a formative moment for Shuyan - she's spent so long planning it - but of course it is Cai Wen's circus, so it's his right to crush Shuyan if he wants to.
- "We two are men, and you're playing us, yes?" -Cai Wen
- "Not in any way anyone would care about." -Tan
- "Come, sir, we two are men." -Cai Wen
- "We've... been over this ground." -Tan
- "I am considering your plan, but can we agree that if we regret it, then there will be nowhere in the Empire that you can hide?" -Cai Wen
- "Indeed? Just between us, since we two are men, is that usually your opening gambit?" -Tan
- "No, not usually." -Cai Wen
- "Well, then, I am honored. I take it you have been having a hard time lately?" -Tan
- "No, no, I feel good about things. You just must decide if you are burning your bridges, you see." -Cai Wen
- "I prefer to build bridges rather than burn them. And, agreeing that we two are men, you will at some point have to decide whether it's elephants or guys in elephant suits." -Tan
As Tan leaves Cai Wen, Wei Han veers over to intercept the gentleman, and attempts to grab him by the throat.
- "If you hurt her, there is nowhere in the Empire you can hide." -Wei Han
- "Seriously? Do you all use the same threat? That's kind of hilarious." -Tan
By the time Tan finds Shuyan, she is quite upset that the elephant got hurt, and the bloom appears to be off the new relationship. Tan is a bit surprised - who has been talking to Shuyan and rolling persuasion dice against him? She wants to scrub the whole thing - nobody wants to see injured elephants, the elephants should just get taken out of the performance entirely. Shuyan's sense motive suggests that Tan doesn't actually personally care all that much about the elephants, but he does care about Shuyan, who cares about the elephants, so he doesn't want the elephants hurt either. Shuyan doesn't think that this second-hand caring about elephants is sufficient, and continues to be sad.
As Tan has been occupied with the elephant test and its fallout, Min Feng takes advantage of when he will definitely not be in his rooms. She disguises herself as Yanyu, just in case she's caught, and goes with Kuan-Xi to break into Tan's room (at the best inn in the city) and look around. She finds a lot of nice clothes, and a bunch of cash. There is a collection of duck feathers, laid out on the table, and a poem, which she copies. There's also a large rock sitting on the desk, probably magical.
Asking around the inn staff, Tan is apparently the best guest in years. He's polite and charming, he tips well, and he's generally well regarded. He tends to mostly be out, though. Min Feng uses her new Blend In shtick to become one of the servants and wander around, until Tan returns to the inn. He changes out of his talking-to-Cai-Wen clothes, and she is astonished to find that he's close to a 20 status without the special clothes - he was apparently dressing down. Then, he puts on a hooded grey cloak and slips out again, followed by Min Feng. Tan heads to a tavern, where he buys people drinks, is generally charming, and gets people singing some rousing drinking songs. Everyone joins in on the singing, and soon the tavern patrons have taken to the streets, and up to the riverbank area, where they have a particularly loud and enthusiastic street party. Once the street party is well in place, Tan slips off again, still followed by Min Feng; she manages to memorize him in his full high-status guise before heading back to the group.
Willow stops by to see Cai Wen again. How have they been doing at investigating the other sage? Um... wait, was that a plot? They've been thinking about this whole riverbank thing. Does Willow know who had the Council of Sages close off the river? She is pretty sure that the council itself didn't issue the order - probably someone used the council's seal. She could start the shenanigans mechanic to try to get that sorted in a week. But... about that other plot? There's an emergency council meeting tomorrow morning, if they want to investigate Qiangdu Lihua while he's busy. Um, yeah, maybe they'll do that. But ANNOYING CHARISMATIC GUY! Willow wanders off again.
The party examines the poem Min Feng copied - it's by Ochi, a famous poet of antiquity. Min Feng's copy isn't actually hundreds of years old (the original might have been), and the poem itself isn't anachronistic.
Takanata arrives at the riverbank party, and then camps down by the water's edge to talk to the Jasmine. Lijuan shows up to guard him, complete with dog and panda. When the river spirit shows up, she's rather dubious about the panda, but she says she has no objections to sinking pilings into the river - half the islands around here have piers with that sort of thing. Takanata agrees to bring her a book, in exchange for her blessing that "nobody falls in" to the river performance. She also confirms that the pipe goes up to the smithy, but it isn't really "river" by the time it gets there, so she doesn't know any more about it.
In the morning, Merit goes down to the riverbank, recruiting some thugs to help him carry rafts and poles around. A kid comes down and bows deeply to Merit.
- "Oh great sir, my master wishes to know what it is that occurs out here."
His master is Pai the smith, and she is apparently quite busy. Merit asks - has the council mentioned a possible closing of business? Indeed it has, and she is most wroth about it. Merit apologizes - it really wasn't his idea. He hopes that putting up the non-floating rafts will not interfere with her work. Lijuan wants to know if the kid and his master will be going to the circus? The kid says he will, but his master, as mentioned, is very busy. Merit apologizes some more, and asks that the kid tell the smith that they really don't want to disrupt anything until the actual performance. Perhaps she can use the performance as advertisement for her smithy? The kid doesn't think that she wants any advertising (Merit boggles at the idea), but he'll pass along that Merit wants to talk to her. Merit offers that the circus could help her make up lost time somehow.
Cai Wen cleans himself up to higher-status, and then visits Qiangdu Lihua's house, while the sage is known to be out at the meeting. He makes a distraction of himself, demanding to see the Sage who isn't there, while Min Feng sneaks in the back and searches around. After a lot of searching, Min Feng turns up a small box underneath the stairs, which has a bunch of Southern-looking daggers, and overhears that the mistress will be having a meeting of her conversational society that evening.
Meanwhile, Takanata goes to intercept Tan, who is wandering around the circus making everyone roll for 6s in their circus preparation, and invites him into the tea tent. Takanata notes that he makes things go so smoothly - does he have any kind of performance background? Tan demurs - he doesn't make a career of performance, but he has the skills of a properly brought up gentleman. Nowadays, some might call him between careers, but he likes to think that he makes life his career - seeing what needs to be done and who needs to do it. Takanata, suspecting that he might be Gou, asks if he has been to the Shrouded Isle recently. Not very recently, he says, though he has been there on numerous occasions. Takanata says that there were a set of gentlemen on the Shrouded Isle, who were doing what could be done, who recently have been taken from the world. Tan agrees that this is a shame. Was Takanata planning to eulogize them? Takanata asks Tan's advice - what might be a proper memorial? Tan gives a lot of very good advice about how to write a good eulogy, though Takanata thinks he doesn't seem to secretly know who Takanata is referring to (the Bandits of the Double Caldera).
Takanata notes that Tan has some interest in particular events of the next few days - would he like an I Ching reading? Tan, amused, thanks Takanata, but says he is not worthy of his skills. But perhaps Takanata's efforts should be better targeted towards the more great and famous? He suggests quite persuasively that Takanata should go and offer Pai Zhi-Zhao an I Ching reading.
- "Is she on a pedestal with a horde of peasants surrounding her?" -Takanata
- "We can only hope." -Tan
(However, when Takanata assumes that this means "he totally thinks Pai the Smith is smacking the little people, and needs taking down," he realizes that that's wrong.)
The group decides that this guy doesn't actually seem to have the same method as Gou did, so he's probably someone different.
Merit, thinking that maybe someone should be worrying about the other plot, notes that the people in town related to the Sages plot are
- Councilor Shentu Guan
- Councilor Qiangdu Lihua
- Qiangdu Xiaosha
- the Precincts Regent
- the Society of Joyous Rain
Cai Wen meets Willow for lunch, and reports that they have actually done some work on her plot - the councilor has a box of wavy Southern daggers! She pockets one. But there weren't any southerners on the people in town list... so maybe there's going to be an assassination that will be framing the South? They aren't sure. Willow says please let her know before any assassinations happen.
Then, Cai Wen checks in with Merit, who is back on the riverbank setting up the platforms, when a tall woman with a hammer over her shoulder strides up. She introduces herself as Pai the smith.
- "My apprentice says you have decided to make me an offer to compensate me for the time I am about to lose?" -Pai
- "Er, no, that would be a mis-statement." -Merit
Merit clarifies - he was hoping that they could help with her work, to make the shutdown less painful. Pai grumbles - her big issue is that Merit has had the council shut her down for a day when her work is at a particularly delicate stage. She could lose months! Merit doesn't see why that should be the case - can she tell them more about her work? She says that it's a smithing thing - she has to keep the metal at a fixed high temperature for a long time, and cooling will ruin the whole process. Cai Wen asks more persuasively if she could please tell them more about her work? She says huffily that it's confidential, and there is no reason for that sort of tone in their perfectly civil conversation. Wait, what? Cai Wen thinks that she's thinking more or less "things were going fine until some smooth talking guy sweeps in and starts throwing his charisma around, just talking without making anything better".
- "Um, I'd better go." -Cai Wen
Merit decides to negotiate with her without using any Charisma. He hates it, but he eventually gets out of her what her project is, though he promises not to spread it around. Sadly, he does think it will probably be ruined if she has to shut down for a day. But he promises to go do some research in his amazing library to see if he can find a way around that.
Lijuan, intrigued by the personality conflict, spends a karma to draw another piece of prophetic art. Takanata thinks that it has an aspect of "Bugs Bunny has come back again".
Merit goes to study in his library cart, declaring his Book of Esoteric Knowledge to have a lot of info about “aluminum”. He pores over the book, trying to understand what Pai is doing, and then there is a knock on the door, interrupting his train of thought. It's Tan, who wants to talk to Merit about Shuyan. He says she's kind of down because of the elephant being injured, and asks whether maybe there should be some early confidence-boosting dinner so she's more sure of herself for the river performance? Merit says that's fine, and Tan wanders off again. Merit starts reading again, and Tan knocks on the door again. Is there a particular time that they should be back by? Merit says Tan should talk to the ringmaster - he's just the props master. Tan goes away again, and Merit starts reading again. Tan can't bring himself to interrupt Merit a third time, since he really doesn't understand why it should be relevant, and Merit finishes studying up on aluminum. While he understands now about slow crystallization at high heat, and why cooling in the middle will mess things up, it does not suggest to him a solution. Mostly, now he knows why Pai is angry, rather than being able to solve her quandary.
When he tries to explain to the party, he is also thwarted by having promised to not tell anyone else what actual project she's working on. But the basic problem is that when the metal cools, she will have lost a lot of work, and she's unwilling to break the law by defying the Council order, even if it was an inappropriate one. Lijuan starts daydreaming about setting Shen-Ji up with the smith. He likes metal, she likes metal - it's a match made in the World Above!
Takanata, wondering about that "again" he was seeing in Lijuan's art, wants to know if Merit knows why Tan wants to thwart her, and how many times he's thwarted her already? Merit doesn't know.
Cai Wen goes to talk to Tan - first, it's okay if Tan and Shuyan go out for a confidence boosting dinner before the performance.
- "But, I want to know the answer to a question that might set my mind at ease." -Cai Wen
- "Fine, ask your question and then I will make you feel at ease." -Tan
- "What happened on the night the Black Spire burnt down?"
- "... You're good. I don't know how that will make you feel better, but I'll go with honesty. I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. Hopefully that'll push you through and you'll feel better about whatever it is, because I have no idea what the hell you're talking about."
Cai Wen finally settles on "Tell me something I really want to know, and if you do that, I'll make the whole elephant thing happen." Tan thinks that sounds reasonable, and puts Cai Wen through a conversational interrogation wringer to figure out what he's likely to really want to know.
- "The thing I think you want to know is that - and I'm trusting you here! I'm going out on a limb! - is that Pai Zhi-Zhao the smith forged the Great Talisman of the Spider." -Tan
- "Okay. I think we're done here." -Merit
- "Now let's go get these elephants drunk!" -Cai Wen
- "Do we have ways of finding out if that's true?"
- "I was just going to believe him." -Lijuan
Takanata, Merit and Wei Han go to call on Pai the Smith. Her apprentice says she's not taking visitors, but Merit says he has returned with some good news and some bad news that she wants. The apprentice sighs, and goes back to tell Pai. There is the sound of some shouting, and then Pai comes out to meet the group. Merit introduces Takanata, "who might be able to help by telling you your I Ching." Pai rolls her eyes - did Ochi send him? Merit says no, not at all. And he thinks it could be helpful.
- "Wait, Ochi is the talky guy? He'll probably put the kibosh on most of what we can come up with."
- "He does excel at that." -Pai
Takanata starts casting Pai's I Ching, and (much like when he tried to cast Wei Han's) gets somewhat stuck in an infinite loop. Meanwhile, Merit and Pai step back a bit to discuss Tan and aluminum. Merit thinks that maybe this particular attempt at the project is doomed, but maybe next time it will work out. Pai says he's been messing with her for the past couple of months, thwarting her because he's an idiot. What is it with people with Charisma dice? However, it's been a long time since she had the chance to really talk shop with someone... and three hours later, Merit suggests that she open up multiple forges, and he could invest in it. She's kind of dubious about this (and starting to look askance at Merit as a possible Charismatic), but they can talk later.
Wait... Takanata has been casting the I Ching for three hours? Whoops. They break his concentration. Takanata explains to Pai - it's not so much that he wishes to prevent her from finishing whatever she's currently working on, it's that he feels she has turned her back on creating things for the world, to focus on creating things to advance her understanding of your art. Pai snorts - he thinks that because she told him that! Takanata continues - and Tan thinks that it's a waste of her time and her talents.
- "Your desire to isolate yourself from the world is one which will never truly be fulfilled. You will never be yourself alone; there will always be others connected to you." -Takanata
He burns his reputation on being taken seriously, but though she accepts his warning, Pai says that even if the whole world be against her, she still must do what she must do.
- "If your work is coming close to an uninterruptible point, could you hide that fact by taking on another commission in the middle?" -Wei Han
- "You can't hide the fact that your work is uninterruptable by interrupting it!" -Pai
Wei Han clarifies - take on another commission but don't actually work on it until later. She grumbles - the last thing she wants to stoop to doing is to use charisma dice to lie to people. Why does it always come down to what people say, not what they do?
Back at the circus, Min Feng throws some more shticks into trying to interrogate Tan, but it still doesn't get very much through.
- "Why are you so intent on thwarting that smith?" -Min Feng
- "It's such a waste! She's just such - ooh, that was good." -Tan
- "When you're done here, are you going to go see the Azure Blade?" -Min Feng
- "I really hope not." -Tan
Tan seems to think that Min Feng’s excessive use of charisma dice against him is flirting, but he says he's sticking to Shuyan for now - he will see Min Feng next time.
There is a meeting called in the tea tent. Has anyone investigated Farmer Tsi? Is he immortal too? When are his pigs arriving?
- "Wavy daggers! Wavy daggers!" -Cai Wen, noting that it’s after 5PM and the A plot is really running behind.
Tan and Lijuan and Merit continue to argue about the pig problem, and Tan grudgingly agrees that they can stop by to visit the pigs on the way to the dinner out.
Merit ponders five known facts:
- Qiandu has wavy daggers in his house.
- There is an important meeting of Qiandu's conversational society tonight.
- Qiandu seems more confident at meetings recently.
- There was an emergency council meeting this morning.
- Qiandu was on the "chi audit" committee.
Where should Merit investigate to find out "Who is the target?" and decides that the answer is "At the meeting of the conversational society."
Lijuan goes to the pig slaughterhouse, and hears that a herd of pigs has arrived, but can't be slaughtered because the slaughterhouse has to close. Lijuan buys them a bunch of pig food, on the theory that fed pigs won't go exploring Pai's smithy for food and cause trouble.
Tan and Shuyan go out to dinner. Tan says (using a lot of charisma to make it not sting) that he'll be travelling on again, while Shuyan is presumably staying with the circus. There aren't any hard feelings, though? And if they run into each other, perhaps they can be helpful to each other again?
The rest of the group lurks at Merit's new pork bun restaurant, while Min Feng goes to sneak into the Sage's house, blending in with the servants for long enough to hear about the security procedures. There will be some extra guests, so leave the back hallway empty. And the meeting is private, so set up all the food beforehand and leave it. Min Feng helps set up the food, and then hides under the table until the conversational society comes in. The first set of people who come in are (from Min Feng's view of their feet) dressed normally, but then there are a bunch of people in red robes. The group goes over the last of the details.
This is the last meeting before things go down, so they'll have to get everything prepared. Clinking things (probably the daggers) are passed out, but luckily there are a few extra, so Min Feng's theft goes unnoticed. Does everyone remember their lines? They go through "Yes, Lord Regent, we will do whatever you say!" a number of times in Senatali - Min Feng can understand Senatali because Yanyu does, and she thinks they're working on their accents. So how is the schedule? The Regent will see the King and the Sages tomorrow morning at the second meeting. Right after that, he'll be travelling to the estate they have set aside. They've arranged for some of the council guards to bring him the message just after noon, and they can get their people into position just before then. Is everyone set? Nobody should return here until after the job is done. Good luck, everyone - they'll start working on phase two, and there will hopefully be a new Regent soon.
The group leaves, and Min Feng sneaks back out to report to the party. They're going to kill the Regent! Wait, no, maybe they're going to kill someone else and frame the Regent! Wait, no, maybe they're not going to kill anyone? It's rather confusing.
Willow gets brought in again to the briefing - she tries to figure out how it's tied to the chi assay, which was what this morning's meeting was about. Merit speculates that this is probably targeting the Regent with a smear campaign, and Willow agrees - Min Feng's description of the meeting sounds more like actors at a dress rehearsal, not assassins planning a hit. Cai Wen worries - what if real Southern assassins show up in the confusion? Southerners are infiltrating the southern Empire - perhaps they have infiltrated this plot?
And what is the clash between Councilor Qiangdu Lihua and the regent? Willow explains: after the chi audit of the Empire, Councilor Qiangdu decided that the chi of the Empire needed slowing down, so he devised a plan to put in toll booths on the Imperial Highways, slowing things down, and also altering the chi flow of the money. This would be something that would have to be implemented on an Empire level, not just in the Illuminated Precincts, but the Regent vetoed the idea of pursuing the plan. (The Regent from the Precincts is one of the Council of Sages). Willow's own patron thinks the plan is a little far-reaching, but didn't actually expend the political capital to veto it. It would definitely make the chi of the Empire more Tortoisey, though - ahah, maybe this is what Takanata's art is about.
Willow says there's another meeting tomorrow morning, which will be the second of three meetings about the chi audit. Technically, the proposal can be brought up three times, and has to be vetoed three times before it's permanently off the table. Though if the Regent appeared to be committing treason, that would probably trump the agenda for the meeting.
The party wonders - do the other Sages care about the chi audit? Willow thinks most people took it as a point of information, rather than a call for action. Nobody on the Council is particularly inclined to make the chi of the Empire more Tigery or more Dragony. It isn't clear to the Sages why the Empire went on a multi-year chi sculpting binge. Hmm. Maybe it's not the Council of Sages in the picture - Takanata thinks about it some more, and decides that the party kind of represents the Butterfly-chi person and the Dragon-chi person; the Sages have the Tortoise-chi person, but the Tiger-chi person is more like "and others".
Takanata confirms that there are no actual southerners involved, and there is no actual assassination planned. Well, that's reassuring.
- "On that other plot, I have come around to Cai Wen's position. Tan Tan has beaten us, good on him. Just minimize the damage." -Merit
- "Does this make you rethink how you've been treating your molls all this time?"
- "I just make people happy!" -Cai Wen
So... about this not-an-assassination by not-Southerners. Where is it likely to take place? Willow thinks there would need to be one or more Revered Sages who sees it happen, to provide the most importance. Perhaps the party should follow one of the Sages around? Takanata contemplates whether the group will be more successful by following Councilor Guan or Councilor Qiangdu - maybe Councilor Guan, ever so slightly more? Though that doesn't actually address how successful either of those options will be.
Min Feng asks around after the Society of Joyous Rain, and gets eight names. There are probably more in the group, though. Wei Han suggests that they just grab someone and beat them up and interrogate them. Can Willow protect them if they do that? She says she can't, especially not if whoever it is is important. Maybe Min Feng can study one of the society members tonight, and frame them for the scandal of trying to frame the Regent?
- "That plan is pretty Monkey, but without the cart they're kind of jonesing for it." -Mike
- "Monkey seems like a militant Butterfly - I'm going to go where the wind takes me, and so are you!" -Merit
The possible plans that the group comes up with include
- Follow a society member
- Follow a Councilor
- Jump someone and beat them up
- Crack a conspirator with Charisma
- Frame the society before they do anything
Merit tries to figure out how to find out in advance where the plan is going to happen, and thinks that the way to find out is from one of the conspirators. Shuyan and Lijuan case the houses of the eight society members that Min Feng found the names of, and come up with the list of the ones that look easiest to sneak into.
Late at night, Min Feng searches the first plausible house, and finds nothing of interest. (Presumably not all the society members are going to pretend to be Southerners). At the next house, she finds a red robe and a wavy dagger under the bed, and steals them.
The next morning, at the crack of dawn, the party heads to the house; Cai Wen and Wei Han bang on the front door, while Lijuan and Shuyan watch the back and front for people leaving, and Min Feng lurks nearby. A servant answers the door, and is informed that the Great Zhu Cai Wen wants to talk to his master. They are shown in to a sitting room (after Wei Han's weapons are taken), and a servant goes to inform the master. After a noticable delay, a pair of servants come down, and tell Cai Wen that the Master will be there shortly. Then, the servants head out the front door. Min Feng follows the servants until they split up. Neither looks very much like the guy in the bed, so she just picks one to follow. The servant goes to another of the houses on Min Feng's list, pounds on the door and is let in.
Back at the original house, another servant comes down. He is very sorry, but his master is indisposed and unable to see any visitors. Cai Wen sends up a message - "I know where his accoutrements are." The servant returns to say that his master doesn't know what Cai Wen is talking about.
- "It's treason, then." -Cai Wen
- "Whatever do you mean, sir?"
- "It is regrettable that your master is unavailable to discuss evidence of conspiring with Southern spies and sorcerers."
That mostly just causes the house guards to try to decide whether to attack them, but the majordomo makes shushing motions - Cai Wen is clearly too important to just make him disappear.
Min Feng follows the servant around to more houses, including one not on her list - it seems likely that all the red-robe conspirators have been warned at this point - and notes that a fire has been started in the fireplace of several of the houses on this unseasonably warm morning.
Hmm. This doesn't seem to have resulted in a confession from anyone. Willow notes that as all the evidence they have is in the party's possession and thus not really very connected to the conspirators any more, if they're going to tell someone, it should be someone who trusts them. So Lijuan remains watching the first house for a while, while Cai Wen, et al., go to check in with Commander Sun, and Min Feng follows Councilor Qiangdu until he goes to the council meeting, and then tries to quash the rumors about Southern conspiracies.
As the council meeting ends, Min Feng notes that Qiangdu Xiaosha is also hanging around outside. When the door opens, she rushes in as the Regent and several of his guards leave. Shortly after that, Councilor Guan, Councilor Qiangdu, and two more guards, head for the Regent's house. Merit runs ahead, recruiting some thugs to come and catch any red-robed guys running away. The two councilors argue about the highway chi plan until they reach the Regent's house, where they enter entirely without incident (though Councilor Qiangdu looks kind of like he was expecting an incident). They then deliver a message to the regent and leave without incident (though Councilor Qiangdu again looks like he was expecting an incident).
Cai Wen reports in to Commander Sun about a conspiracy of people pretending to be Southerners, trying to bring down an Imperial Regent, and the whole investigation having gotten somewhat muddly and confused. But, as far as Cai Wen can tell, this is to push for a plan to put toll gates on the Imperial Highway (something Commander Sun disapproves of). Commander Sun appears to only just have heard about the blockade being broken - a disaster, while he was out of town! It is clearly all the Sea Lord's fault. Cai Wen gives Commnander Sun the red robe and wavy dagger, though since he thinks Commander Sun shouldn't ask where it came from, it's evidence of rather questionable provenance. Cai Wen thinks the conspirators were spooked; Commander Sun will investigate, and that may inconvenience them, but there may not be anything that sticks.
Min Feng starts a rumor that the Qiangdu Xiaosha hired Southern assassins to assassinate the Regent. The Sages don't believe it, but the populace thinks it's an exciting story and finds it plausible, despite the lack of any Southerners appearing anywhere.
Takanata goes back to speak to Tan again, and notes that he read Pai's I Ching, and that Pai called him Ochi rather than Tan. When they are less busy, Takanata would really like to discuss poetry. He also mentions that the people he mentioned on the Shrouded Isle have a golden ocarina. Tan is surprised - Gou doesn't usually give those out to "people who matter". But he'll mention that to Gou the next time he sees him.
- "I must apologize. It would normally be appropriate to give you something like a golden quill at this time, but SOMEONE STOPPED MAKING THEM." -Tan
Takanata bursts out laughing.
Still worrying about the pig farmer, Merit checks on the slaughterhouse. He finds that the circus has donated enough pig food to take care of the day's delay.
The river performance involves an elephant standing on the "raft" platform on the river, with Shuyan doing an amazingly mesmerizing serpent dance on the elephant's back. Everyone is impressed.
Takanata does some bureaucratic work to be able to demonstrate that the permit closing the local businesses was forged by Council assistant Chen. He gets enough to be suggestive, though probably not enough to get him fired. Takanata pockets the evidence for later use.
Min Feng leans on Ochi to convince him to teach her a shtick, and again gets one success through. He says he'll talk to her in puttering.
Willow has official permission to investigate the Hidden City bribery mechanic, and will be going back to the Hidden City with the Regent.
Master Pai is grumpy about the derailment of her project, but that is rather to be expected.
Shuyan finds a sprig of perfect cherry blossoms in her tent, with a poem, but Tan is gone.
Takanata analyzes Pai's I Ching - she's a Magpie, a Smith, her highest skill is "Making", and she has a shtick which is "Immortality" which floats up to her level plus one.
Well, the day is saved... or something.
- Shen-Ji visits Master Pai.
- Cai Wen, Anto, Xian, Shuyan, Lijuan, Xiao Fa, Wei Han, and Takanata go off to the Shrouded Isle.
- Takanata panics about Long Yue-Mei having discovered who her actual father is, after she goes off on homework of Master Zhou's.
- Shen-Ji becomes engaged!