|"The first favor is a favor, the second an obligation."|| The run begins on the day of the Late Tortoise in the month of the Dog in the eleventh year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place on the way up the eastern coast.
Leaving the City of Light
Having fled the Shrouded Isle at the end of the last run, the party puts its affairs in order, and wonders where it should be next. Happily, several pieces of mail arrive with suggestions.
- Xiao Fa receives a message from Master Tranh letting him know that the House of Quiet Concordance has a contract it needs to accomplish that Xiao Fa should be able to help with.
- Wei Han receives a message from Ringmaster Te saying that unsavory characters were poking around the circus asking after him, and were heading back to the City of Light, so he should possibly avoid that area.
- Min Feng receives a message from Hsu Verity, saying that she'd like to speak to Min Feng about the favor Min Feng owes the sorceress, the next time Min Feng is in the Port of Propitious Voyage.
- Cai Wen receives a message saying that one of the two chariots he's arranged to move north is ready to go in the Port of Auspicious Voyage, and he should escort it north.
Merit points out that the Port of Auspicious Voyage is where Cai Wen traditionally gets ambushed by ninjas, and also, the people looking for Wei Han are probably going to ambush him, so everyone should stay sharp. Anto says he can try to find the trouble instead of running away from it, but Wei Han says he doesn't want to run into the guy who sold his armor back to Cai Wen, if that's who it is. Cai Wen says he bought it back fair and square, so it shouldn't be a problem. There is some discussion about whether or not Thin Wu is still pissed at Wei Han, or not. It's somewhat puzzling.
Merit also says, if the group runs into Ezokin, try to not kill him until he gives Merit the information he owes him. Grasshopper points out that he's protecting Ezokin until he finishes helping with the Yoshi thing, though he's stringing that out.
The party (plus the Merit Trading Company wagons plus Merit's library wagon plus the monkey wagon) heads out on the road. At the edge of the city, a few Imperial customs agents ask the group where it's going, and Merit says to the Arcade and the Port of Auspicious Voyage. Min Feng thinks the guy asking is bored, but also has been bribed about something having to do with Wei Han. The inspector says it's the rainy season, so one of the north highways is washed out; Merit says they'll take the other north coast road. Then, when they actually get a ways out of town, the group cuts inland to take the Imperial Highway, so as to avoid anyone trying to follow them.
Grasshopper draws an item from the monkey cart:
Min Feng makes a copy, and confirms that the original doesn't appear to be a forgery, though it's hard to tell without knowing for sure what the handwriting is supposed to look like. That's somewhat disturbing, but without the outer envelope, it's hard to know who it was sent from and who it was meant for.
Still concerned about possibly being hunted by Thin Wu, the group checks to see what sort of poison antidotes they have on hand - Thin Wu had some poisoned knives the first time Wei Han encountered him. It was probably some sort of drift poison, and the group does have some drift poison antidotes. However, more could probably be made with an appropriate herbalism roll. The party heads off the Imperial Highway to travel closer to the ground, and ask around for local healers and herbalists.
In one small village, when they ask after the healer, they hear she is at Old Lin's house, for Old Lin was mauled by a terrible beast. That causes everyone to perk up in interest, and head in the indicated direction. (Min Feng notes that Tai Lung is in the mountains north of Mirror Lake, so it probably wasn't him.)
When the party troops to Old Lin's house, the healer is initially somewhat cranky about the invasion, but when several of the group volunteer their healing services, he is somewhat mollified.
Wei Han, Grasshopper, and Anto patrol around the village.
- "If a panda happens, don't you dare hit it!" -Grasshopper
They find some wolf tracks, but there seems to be just one wolf. Anto reminds everyone they aren't allowed to attack lone wolves, because of a treaty with the Large Wolf Spirit that Takanata made via Ni Cheng. A few others vaguely recall something about wolves and bargains, but Anto emphasizes - no attacking lone wolves.
Some "soldiers" (more like villagers with knives and sticks) go out to look for the dangerous wolf. The party doesn't want to accidentally attack the wolf, so they go out looking for herbs instead, wondering if there's a good way to avoid hitting either side in a fight.
Anto tries to concentrate on where there is trouble - he realizes he's needed in the woods over there, and also north near the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. The woods are closer, so the group charges that way, where they find three villagers faced off against a wounded wolf.
The group hastens to pull out meat and get in between the villagers and the wolf.
- "I'm a professional, I'll handle this. Hu-ah!" -Merit, going into a kung fu stance
- "Ooh! Do you know kung fu?"
- "No, I know acting."
Grasshopper convinces the wolf to sit down at his feet, while everyone else convinces the villagers it's no longer a danger. Anto tells them to go back and report to the village that they'll be taking the wolf away with them.
At this point, since Anto is worrying about getting to the Harbor and everyone else is worrying about the possible ambush of Wei Han, the group proceeds to the Port of Auspicious Voyage as quickly as possible, taking advantage of courier horseshoes to travel more quickly. Ho and the wolf are left behind with Merit's trade caravan, to make their own way; Merit's guards are not pleased by this, but agree to not hurt the wolf unless it tries to kill them.
On the way into the port, people watch for ambushes - ninja and otherwise. Merit spots a rooftop overlooking what would make a good ambush site, but Min Feng is pretty sure there's no one there.
- "It seems a shame to waste a good ambush spot, so we could take possession of it and ambush whoever comes next." -Anto
Cai Wen starts writing up a taunting message for the House of the Night Blade, in case he has some extra time. However, when he checks in with the House of Judicious Increase, it sounds like the chariot going northwards will be leaving in about five hours, so there may not be time for a proper ninja feud.
Min Feng asks around about general house news, and finds out:
- The House of Quiet Concordance is officially the smallest of the Great Houses in the Arcade now.
- The House of Continuing Sustenance and the House of Gainful Protection are having great tensions.
- The House of Enticing Vintage is in the middle of an internal power struggle of some sort.
Merit investigates who is in town with respect to the letter of apology. There are several minor nobles in the House of Continuing Sustenance, and several mercenary captains from the House of Gainful Protection, and a minor courier from the house of Beneficent Travel and a monkey.
The group discusses various options of what to do with the letter, ranging from the "be as random as possible" to "try to prevent the house war". Maybe they should give the original message back to the courier, and putpocket the duplicate letter on another courier going somewhere else, just to add apologies to the world? Min Feng notes that the courier seems likely to be the one who's going back and forth between the House of Beneficent Travel and the House of Gainful Protection.
- "That's probably the wrong courier." -Merit
- "Who cares?" -Grasshopper
- "The fake letter is for fun chaos, but the real letter is for averting inter-house warfare." -Anto
- "Ah.... Xian." -Xiao Fa
Merit dresses up like a sorcerer, and strides up to the courier, foisting the message on him.
- "You have mislaid this, fool!"
Then he stalks off again, leaving the courier puzzled. Min Feng follows the courier as he heads to the House of Gainful Protection, and comes out looking a bit annoyed. Then he heads to the House of Beneficial Travel and checks in with them, as Min Feng attempts to eavesdrop.
- "I don't know, I'm telling you it was a sorcerer. So I delivered it to the guy, and now we're done, right?"
- "A letter from their house just arrived now with attack orders, so you need to deliver that to the guy as well."
Min Feng follows the courier back out again, and manages to swap the copy of the apology letter for the new letter he's carrying. The courier heads to the House of Gainful Protection, and then from there to a local tavern. Min Feng examines the orders she's grabbed.
- "Ooh. We should disguise ourselves as Ezokin and claim the money!"
Well... either sending the notes will work, or it won't; there's not much else to be done. So, what's up with the political infighting in the House of Enticing Vintage? Further information-gathering indicates that the main battle is going on in the Harbor, and there's just ripples down here.
As the group plans to meet up with the carts coming in later, Merit remembers that Shiny is back with the monkey cart - so he's probably not the monkey who is in town who is related to this plot. This baffles everyone. Is there another monkey? Is it supervising the monkey cart plots? A quick gather information indicates that there's not a really obvious monkey in town, certainly not one staying in inns and ordering drinks or anything like that. Merit declares that this is clearly a red monkey, and can be disregarded.
Wei Han asks around to find out if there's anyone looking for him, but since the group has gone extra-fast to get to the Port of Auspicious Voyage, there isn't.
Art and Money
The group sets off north, with Cai Wen's Army Chariot, and Merit's merchant caravan catches up to the party just at the city gate. The caravan guards let everyone know that one, there were some unsavory characters looking for Wei Han, and they said when he came back, they should give him the message that the boss wants to talk to him. Which boss? Well, they seemed to think that he would know. Also, this incredibly creepy woman with white hair showed up, but when she found there wasn't anyone she wanted to talk to there, she said she'd be back later.
Grasshopper examines the wolf - its hit points have recovered, but it still seems to be "wounded" in some weird way. Xiao Fa examines it, and notes that someone has come by and fixed it, but there's a chi effect defining it as “wounded” until the bandages come off. After some argument, Grasshopper removes the bandages, and the wolf runs off.
Merit makes a list of things to worry about in the Harbor.
- Liet's House's Internal Struggle
- The Mystery Apology
- People Hunting Wei Han
- Master Tranh
- Steadfast Heart Peril
Favor For Hsu Verity(it turns out she's one city north, in the Port of Propitious Voyage)
- Ni Cheng, the Wolf Witch
- Cai Wen's Army
Grasshopper draws some prophetic art.
- "That has so nothing to do with anything that I am disturbed. That looks like... a bunch of panda whales eating fishermen."
Min Feng notes that Renyu is somewhere in the ocean just outside the harbor, and that Ezokin is somewhere around the Harbor (though on land) as well.
Xiao Fa heads off to visit Master Tranh; Min Feng comes along. Master Tranh is curious to meet another of Xiao Fa's students, but this one seems to be a little better behaved than the last one. Master Tranh lets Xiao Fa know that a lord of the House of Judicious Increase has asked for the House of Quiet Concordance to rearrange the feng shui in the studio of a local artist, in order to make it... more conducive to commerce. The artist, one Zi Kone, thinks his art of sufficient quality, but that it does not sell as well as he would like it to. Master Tranh instructs Xiao Fa to go and do the House proud.
While Xiao Fa heads to Zi Kone's studio, Min Feng decides she doesn't need to help rearrange the feng shui, and she and Cai Wen visit Malkoha. Cai Wen lays out the matter of the Mystery Apology stolen by monkeys, explaining that he has "information and a mess and no time to deal." They no longer have the letter of apology, but they do have the letter with the attack orders. The original letter, as well as a second copy, was delivered to the same house in the wrong city. Well... she might be able to do something about that, she'll see what she can manage.
Zi Kone is most pleased to see Xiao Fa.
- "It is you! Thank the gold!" -Zi Kone
He explains that Xiao Fa simply must make his studio more commercial - Master Tranh said Xiao Fa would be able to take care of things to perfection, and Zi Kone has perfect faith in the house. Xiao Fa enquires what the nature of Zi Kone's complaint is, and the artist explains - right now, it has the chi of an artist's studio, which is to be expected. Giving it the chi of a profit center would take it away from being artistic, but something in between, in the "commercial art" area, would make it more accessible to the common man.
Zi Kone also indicates that while he is fatigued from painting all morning (there is an easel with a painting of a white stripe), that Xiao Fa should have "that lad Grasshopper" come by when he is done. Xiao Fa does his best to rearrange the studio to make the feng shui more commercial while not making it less artistic, and knocks it out of the park with a huge roll.
Min Feng heads into the city to see what else she can find out about goings on. The big news is that the House of Continuing Sustenance has been attacked by troops from the House of Gainful Protection - troops rolled into their house and smote everyone. The head of the House of Gainful Protection has basically said that they had it coming, but not commented further than that. In other news, members of the House of Enticing Vintage are out and about the city, trying to gather information about each other as part of their power struggle. And there's a big ongoing art festival, with some of the art selling for quite obscene prices.
Meanwhile, everyone who has not been running a previous errand heads to the little branch of the Temple of the Steadfast Heart that's in the Harbor. Just as they arrive, the monks are dashing off to the coast, and call to Anto to come along with them. Grasshopper sends an urchin to Master Tranh's house to let him know the plan, though at that point Xiao Fa has already left for the studio.
The group proceeds quickly to the north coast, where a little ship flying the Dragon Army's flags is on fire and sinking. Additionally, there are panda whales circling the ship, going after anyone who jumps from the ship to try to get to shore.
Grasshopper, Wei Han (sans armor), and Anto jump into the water, while Merit and his guys run back to the Harbor to try and get other boats to come and help. As the swimmers approach the ship, they spot Renyu on the deck of the ship, fighting soldiers and throwing them into the water.
Grasshopper swims up to one of the panda whales, and convinces it that she's the pack leader. She and her panda whale go off to find a fool human to get - they quickly find a swimmer, but the panda whale defers to Grasshopper to get him first.
As Renyu heads below decks, searching for something, Anto and Wei Han climb aboard and follow after him. Below decks is tilting and smoky and hard to navigate, so the pair split up. Wei Han has to deal with some boxes that have fallen on a soldier, while Anto finds Renyu going through the cargo and not finding what he is looking for. Anto asks Renyu what he's doing, and Renyu says that it is not Anto's concern.
- "Can you resolve this in a way that allows the people to live?" -Anto
- "The people are irrelevant as long as they stop what they're doing." -Renyu
- "Well, right now what they're doing is being eaten by panda whales." -Anto
Renyu clarifies - he cares nothing about the people per se, but they're hunting the Moon's First Daughter, and he must find the item they are using to track it. Anto asks, if he can find it for him, will Renyu call off the pandas?
Grasshopper tries to grab the swimmer near him, but is a very poor swimmer, and they mutually pull each other under. He manages to extricate himself and get back to the surface, but only by pushing the other swimmer down to drown. Then he and his panda whale go in search of another "fool" swimmer.
- "Your cover as a panda whale might be blown if you start drowning." -Anto
Merit's fishing boat pulls a swimmer out of the water - the soldier gasps that they need to set off a blue firework. Happily, that's the sort of thing that Merit tends to carry, so he sets one off, and Wei Han senses that a really big reinforcement shtick has just gone off. That seems to cause the panda whales to switch into patrol mode, though, so no more swimmers get eaten.
Wei Han finds a room below decks where there are several crewmen trapped on the other side of the fire, trying to put it out with the water leaking into the room. He manages to break a hole in the wall, letting them all escape through the hole.
- "You get a new fool. What do you do with him?" -Mike
- "I help... um... hmm." -Grasshopper
On the sinking ship, Anto decides that an important mystical item won't be in the cargo hold, so he ranges farther looking for it. He gets to the ship's wheel, and sees an unconscious guy lying in the water, and a shiny crystal attached to the wheel. He decides the unconscious guy is more pressing, and chain-pulls him out of the water and tries to get him breathing again.
Wei Han runs into Renyu in the hallway, but they mostly talk past each other, as Renyu assumes Wei Han should know the explanation he gave to Anto, and Wei Han is upset about attacking the Dragon Army ship.
The blue firework proves to have summoned a horizon full of Dragon Army navy ships, some of which close with the sinking ship, and various soldiers leap onto the deck. Others finish fishing swimmers out of the water. Renyu beats up the soldier trying to arrest him and leaps into the water, but other soldiers are quick to wrap up the crystal from the ship's wheel. Anto gets the credit for saving the captain's life, so he and Wei Han are told to wait to meet the Sea Lord.
The panda whales all submerge and leave, presumably following Renyu, and Merit and his fishing boat start edging towards shore away from the naval vessels.
- "Is the Sea Lord a bad guy?" -Anto, whispering to Wei Han
- "No, the Sea Lord is not a bad guy." -Wei Han, not bothering to whisper back
The Sea Lord takes both Anto and Wei Han's name, and says that they will be rewarded for their service. Right now he has to deal with the disaster, but he will contact them later for a more formal recognition.
The rescuing party returns to Master Tranh's house, to find Grasshopper's urchin waiting for Xiao Fa to return, and eating tea and sandwiches. Xiao Fa also returns at about this time, and the urchin gives him the message that he is needed at the shore. Grasshopper is not impressed by the speedy message-delivery, and lectures the urchin about using Gather Information to find the recipient of a message when they're not in the place they were sent.
Xiao Fa explains about the project he's just finished for Master Tranh, and notes that Takanata would probably have disapproved, as the Arcade is in the throes of choosing between Pure Art and Commercial Art, where Ezokin is pushing for Commercial Art. Merit approves, as he thinks that Takanata doesn't appreciate the commercial art side of things, not being a Magpie.
- "So we can set fire to his studio now?" -Min Feng
- "Er... I'd kind of like the House of Quiet Concordance to get credit for it." -Xiao Fa
- "I suspect Ezokin is doing something to make this evil, but until we know what it is..." -Merit
In return, Anto explains the Renyu plot.
- "There's this bit of crystal that the Sea Lord has..." -Anto
- "You want to unbind it?" -Grasshopper
- "You don't have to free all objects!" -Merit
Wei Han has some qualms about helping someone who is so willing to kill so many Dragon Army soldiers. But Anto doesn't really want to help Renyu, just to save the Moon's First Daughter from the Army ships. Merit points out that Cai Wen should wag his finger at Kiri and the Moon's First Daughter about people getting killed on their behalf. Cai Wen says wagging his finger for something someone else is doing is not helpful, as they probably didn't ask Renyu to start killing people.
Merit spends some time in his new library wagon, and comes back with the answer that it sounds like a traditional form of scrying - a magic item that you anoint with the blood of your enemy and do a ritual over, and then it lets you find the enemy. The crystal is probably not unique, but capturing moonlight is a hard ritual and would probably take both time (a month) and resources to do again. So stealing the crystal would buy the Moon's First Daughter at least a month.
- "Maybe we could swap the moonlight with the blood of a kraken?"
- "We've all got Monkey hangovers." -Anto
The group tries to figure out what the Sea Lord would be doing with an important magical spy-tool after his spy-ship has sunk. Merit thinks he would put it on the flagship and keep it with the fleet; Wei Han optimistically thinks it might be stored in a warehouse until it's needed later. The official policy is probably something like, if it's no longer needed, it would be put in a quartermaster's stores to track, but if it's still needed, it's likely to be somewhere more relevant.
Min Feng asks around to try to find out what the ship was doing when it got attacked by the panda whales. What she principally finds out is that asking prying questions about the Dragon Army's secret plans is considered espionage, but she can quickly prove her innocence and get out. However, she does learn that the plan is being changed from a single ship to a trio of ships for the future.
Cai Wen spends a karma to run into Kiri in a tavern, and warns her that the Dragon Army is looking for the Moon's First Daughter, using a crystal with moonlight in it. She thinks that's no good, but is shocked to hear that Renyu sunk the boat and sent panda whales after it.
- "I'm not sure why the Dragon Army is looking for you..." -Cai Wen
- "The Dragon Army is always looking for us. Normally we just sail away into the fog..." -Kiri
Kiri says that one of the thwarts is cracked, and they need the rib bone of a whale to repair it. They have been waiting for one to die - if you hunt whales, you piss Whale off, which they really don't want to do. Getting the crystal could buy them a month, which would help, but just knowing will help as well. Kiri checks in with her contacts, and says that the three ships have already left the harbor, but they'll have friends keep an eye out for them. And, when warned about the blue firework, she says that's also useful to know, and she'll see what they can do.
The caravan guards start to shout about a wolf attack. Sure enough, there's a growling wolf. Grasshopper convinces it he's the boss wolf, and the guards throw meat at it in a panic. The party manages to lure the wolf away from the caravan by dropping more meat, but then it runs back and attacks a guard. The guard slashes at it with his sword - once wounded, it promptly falls to the ground. Xiao Fa instructs Grasshopper to not heal the wolf this time, and an uneasy truce is reached between man and wolf.
Merit briefs his guards, that it's this thing with a witch - the wolf needs to be wounded, Merit doesn't understand why. The guards are kind of nervous about leaving a dangerous wolf lying around, but are willing to follow Merit's orders.
Merit checks over his list. Master Tranh is dealt with, the Steadfast Heart is dealt with, and the Mystery Apology went all kinds of wrong. Liet's house seems the biggest next plot that can be approached.
The party contemplates - can they help put Liet in charge? Should they? Is the party pro-Liet or anti-Liet? At the moment, it seems to be inclined towards pro-Liet. The group troops over to the House of Enticing Vintage, and ask to talk to Liet. A servant says Mistress Liet is very busy, and that they can take a message. Cai Wen throws his status around, and the servant is very apologetic - they can send a runner to try to find her, but she simply is not in the house right now. Cai Wen asks to have a runner sent letting Liet know that they are in town and hoping to be of assistance.
People in town on the Liet plot are:
- Liet's father (the head of the House of Enticing Vintage)
- Liet's father's mistress
- Liet's mother
- Other house members.
Anto explains the returning of Liet's father's ring, stolen by monkeys. That seems to have triggered an actual struggle for control.
Since Liet isn't at Liet's house, the group heads to Myo's house instead. And, in fact, that turns out to be Liet's secret base, and she is quite pleased to see the party. The group says they heard there was trouble, and they were hoping to help. Liet says it's not actually trouble, just house politics, but she's going to get out from her father's hand for once and for all. Upon more questions, it seems that she doesn't really want to run the house, she just wants some more freedom, and to be the power behind the throne when she actually has things she wants. Everyone else thinks that sounds like a good deal.
Liet says she used the ring as blackmail to activate the mechanic, and she currently has 40 points. She's beating her dad, but she didn't expect her mom to start playing too.
- "Apparently, Mom has had enough of both of us, and she's kicking our butts." -Liet
Dad's mistress can't take over the house, she's not a House member, so Liet doesn't think she's a significant player, but Merit and the others are suspicious - she is surely up to something.
The current score is
- Dad 30
- Liet 40
- Mom 60
If two sides surrender to the third, the game is over, and the game is also over if the reputation of the House sinks to zero (it keeps sinking the longer the game is played). The game involves collecting dirt on the other players, with Gather Information and other spycraft. Cai Wen goes over her plan and spends a Yin to find the first place that it will go awry. He notes that as she has not played this mechanic before, she doesn't know about the surprise at the end.
Wei Han suggests Myo ask his dad about the surprise at the end, but Myo shakes his head.
- "I really can't go to Dad and say 'So, Dad, how does the taking over the house mechanic work? I was just wondering.' That's just not going to happen."
Anyway, the next turn of information gathering is tonight, if the party wants to help.
Merit asks for a dossier on Liet's mother, and determines that she's the niece of the past leader of the House of Enticing Vintage. Her husband took over the house using this mechanic, and while she is a more skilled trader than her husband, she's a less skilled political manipulator. So it's surprising that she's winning this mechanic. Her secret headquarters is probably down in the brewer's district, as she has more contacts with the bulk lower-quality beer producers, while her husband deals with the high-end wine merchants.
As the group wanders throughout the city gathering information, Kiri returns, and says that things are taken care of - and Cai Wen and his friends are out of the doghouse with the Moon's First Daughter. Then, Ni Cheng finally catches up to Merit back at his library cart, and says that they need to speak. Everyone heads out into the woods to talk to her (including Kiri, intrigued).
- "This very roundabout way of bringing this information to you is because the Master is not here now. I have two things for you - one which Wolf thinks you will find interesting, and one which you may ask for."
First, she says, at Midwinter, the death of Mola Ram gave Kali temporary access to the location that Mola Ram's body was, as she ate his soul. And then Kali had a long talk with Phoenix before she returned to the South. The Master does not know what they spoke about, however.
Second, what do they wish to know that Wolf can answer? After some consideration, and shushing of Grasshopper, the group asks what surprises the Northerners have left.
- "The leader of the pack leaders in the North was surprised to be doing so well. It was possible that his pack would move into new lands. That outcome has become less likely now. While a defeat will be unfortunate, it was not unplanned. When his loss comes, it is all the smaller pack leaders who will die - so next winter, there will be but one pack leader rather than numerous competing ones, and the North will be coordinated."
Well, that information should definitely be passed along to Commander Yao. Maybe they can warn him to let go any Northern commanders he catches?
But also, is there a better way for Ni Cheng to find them than using this wounded-wolf sort of thing? She says she doesn't think any of the rest of them have anyone who can make a spiritual link to Wolf - essentially, the wolves everywhere were looking for Grasshopper, and the one that became wounded was where he was. Hmm. Well, could she use a dog instead? She is dubious about this, but says if Grasshopper was willing to take Ho from Dog and give him to Wolf, that would work. Grasshopper isn't interested in that, and tries to throw Anto's dog under the bus instead, but Anto's dog is probably back with the circus, as Anto never remembers he has a dog. Well, how about a wolf pup? They could keep one with them. Ni Cheng continues to be dubious - would they raise it as a wolf, rather than as a tame creature? Well... probably not.
Min Feng memorizes her, and says she can find her again later. Well, that's fine - if the party wants to come find the witch every so often, that will work, and she doesn't have to worry about it. Merit tries to explain how to find couriers, and ask them to find Merit. He gives her twelve li and tells her to give three li to a courier she meets on the road. Or, she can have the wolves all howl. She says it would have to be really urgent to get all the wolves in the Empire to howl, as that's the sort of thing that starts omens.
Then, she takes her leave and vanishes back into the night.
- "And, it has started to rain." -Mike
- "That's weird. It never rains that we notice." -Merit
Merit briefs Liet on what he's learned - Mom continues to be better than he would expect, and the last phase is the assassination phase.
- "That's optional, right?" -Liet
Merit doesn't think her parents are likely to go for that option, but he warns that others might. Maybe Dad's mistress will try to assassinate Mom, to take her place? So... what does Liet think about her mom's approach to house politics, anyway? Do they see eye to eye? Liet says they agree about a lot of house stuff, but they disagree about Liet-stuff, like her running around with Myo.
The first phase was the blackmail - that's how it started, with the ring the party gave Liet. Dad's mistress is a minor noble in the House of Transparent Purity, and definitely couldn't just step in and take over Enticing Vintage no matter who she assassinated. Merit still suspects her of wanting to get married to Dad, though.
The next day's information-gathering leaves Mom still one point behind, but Dad is catching up. Min Feng can't figure out where Mom is headquartered, but Cai Wen knows to ask for the brewer's daughter at one of the bigger breweries. They, plus Merit, go to talk to her.
- "We're here to make sure things don't get out of hand." -Merit
- "Well, then. Are you authorized to negotiate?" -Mom
- "No, but we can be go-betweens."
- "Offer her surrender terms - I can be generous."
Mom notes that it's true that with the eight of them standing right there helping Liet, she can win - but what happens when the party leaves? They won't be here forever.
- "The only thing she wants is the freedom to make her own poor choices."
- "Ah, so she is willing to surrender under certain terms...?"
- "But we're worried about step three."
- "She wouldn't go that far, surely."
- "Well, no. But we're worried about your faithless husband's mistress."
Mom doesn't seem so worried about the mistress, and proposes terms.
- "She surrenders to me, and I will agree that she gets to keep seeing that boy so long as neither of them leaves the confines of the city without clearing it with me. We can stipulate appropriate penalties should they violate this promise. But wandering off willy nilly to have adventures whenever they want... there is no free pass for that."
How about giving Myo some House responsibilities? Mom thinks that's out of the question without him officially joining the house.
- "An alliance is excellent. An alliance that has to be run by their elders, who hate each other, because they're gone on some wild lark, is useless."
Anyway, if the group can get Liet to accept these terms before sunset, then that should work out. Merit continues to fret - if Mom is assassinated, the mistress could be elevated to a position of power. Mom says that there will be no power for the mistress if Mom is killed, and after a few more rounds of back and forth, it becomes clear that Mom and Mistress have teamed up against Dad. And Mom assures them, if the other two surrender, there will be no assassination phase started by the two of them. Merit is a good listener, and learns that Mom and Mistress appear to have bonded over hatred for Dad, though he still suspects Mistress of trying to put one over on Mom.
Cai Wen suggests that on the off chance that she's wrong, and the mistress is actually going to assassinate her, what should they do? Well, the phase only lasts between the surrender and when the King makes the proclamation about the new head of the house. That's only a couple of days to guard her.
The trio heads back to take Mom's terms to Liet.
Meanwhile, Grasshopper and Xiao Fa go to visit Zi Kone. He is "painting", which mostly means putting on a dramatic show with switching brushes and concentrating. He gives Xiao Fa and Grasshopper a painting, done in gratitude for his work in the studio.
- "I call it 'Yoshi's Path'. Enjoy it, please. But I am fatigued. I go." -Zi Kone
Zi Kone retires, and a mousy assistant enters to ask if Xiao Fa is interested in buying the Master's latest work (a curvy line on a white field), an "unsigned original by Zi Kone," for a mere twenty li. Xiao Fa thinks it's nearly worth it, and definitely going to go up in price, but then he flees before he spends any money.
- "I might have fallen for it, had I not done the effect myself." -Xiao Fa
- "That really was a good picture. Do you think I should invest in art?" -Grasshopper
Also meanwhile, the unsavory characters who have been chasing Wei Han for days finally catch up to him, and let him know that he needs to talk to Old Tsung as soon as is possible.
- "He is unhappy because you said you would be with the Silken Wings Circus in the Isle of Beauty until their spring circuit and you were not even in that country."
Wei Han, worried now about having been evading these guys for several days, wonders about the fastest way to get back to the City of Light. He asks Kuan-Xi if she's willing to take him in her little carriage. She says she can do that - should she look for a driver, or does Wei Han want to drive? Wei Han seems willing to drive the carriage, but everyone else hints very strongly that he not do so if he wants to be in any fit condition to do anything when he gets there. Well, that will be the plan, as soon as the assassination phase is defended against.
Min Feng talks to Liet - her mother is not willing to surrender, but she is willing to concede some ground regarding Myo. Liet makes a counter offer - they can go to any of the three cities that the House has a presence in (i.e. the three main cities in the Arcade) without getting advanced permission, but they won't go anywhere else. Min Feng also says that the group is really suspicious about Dad's mistress. Liet offers to have her and Myo go and Get the mistress, but Min Feng quashes that idea.
The group returns to Mom and passes along the counter offer, which Mom accepts - probably having started with a higher opening offer than she actually cared about, to give Liet room to haggle.
Once Liet and Mom are allied, Dad surrenders, and the party moves into guard mode. Myo gets to be disguised as a servant for the duration, though he doesn't get to be Liet's personal servant.
Xiao Fa goes to ask Master Tranh about this sort of house politics, and if it is possible to speed up the King's proclamation. Master Tranh says that's the sort of thing you could use a favor with the royal house on, but without a favor in hand already, it would probably take longer to get one than to just wait. Master Tranh also notes that the studio redesign went over very well - the House of Judicious Increase is backing lord Ni Koze, so that will smooth over the favor to move another chariot north.
Min Feng sends a message to Hsu Verity saying that she'll be in the Port of Propitious Voyage in three days, as that seems enough time to deal with the assassination phase and then travel.
With the alliance between Liet and Mom, no assassination attempts take place, and Liet's mom is confirmed as the head of the House of Enticing Vintage two days later.
Wei Han and Anto (plus Kuan-Xi) head south in Kuan-Xi's little carriage, as everyone else heads north. Since this plot is not put off until totally last, Old Tsung is not very cross with Wei Han. Wei Han says that he brought additional backup.
Old Tsung says that additional backup is not unwelcome, but it is important that such backup is made of serious people, who are willing to follow orders. Wei Han is pretty sure Anto is serious, but says he'll have to check on the other condition. Anto says that he's not willing to just follow any order he's given. Wei Han says he doesn't think Old Tsung is going to order anything reprehensible, but Anto is unwilling to make promises he won't be willing to keep if the unexpected happens. Well, no Anto for whatever the mission is, then.
Old Tsung gathers his people including Wei Han. He’s put together quite a serious crew of mages, seers, fighters, archers, thieves, and so on. Wei Han, with his huge stature and great armor, fits right in. Tsung tells them to all stand behind him looking serious. He’s going to get a single visitor. Do anything Tsung tells them to do while the visitor is here. Otherwise, if they are serious enough, the visitor won’t do anything. If they are not serious enough, the visitor might go berserk on them all. If that happens, try to protect Tsung long enough for him to escape.
Wei Han has some questions, but suddenly a messenger announces that the visitor is arriving, so everyone takes their places. A single hooded figure enters carrying a large staff. He walks to the center of the room and peers at Tsung and his serious group of serious people. He waves his staff at them all slowly, and then pauses to consider. He removes his hood. Wei Han thinks he looks oddly familiar.
- "I am the Adjudicator. Your petition has been heard. It is decided that you are a significant power, and you may commence the Tong Building mechanic. So speaks the Shadow."
Then, the Adjudicator walks out. Old Tsung lets out a deeply held breath, and everyone relaxes. He thanks them all (astonishing!) and sends everyone on their way.
Old Tsung declares Wei Han's debt paid. Wei Han acknowledges this, but says that if his teacher wishes to summon him back again for anything else, he may do so - but contacting him through the Merit Trading Company is more likely to work than the circus. Old Tsung agrees.
Up in the Port of Proptitious Voyage, Min Feng finds Hsu Verity. She says that she has a favor she'd like Min Feng to work on - though ideally if she can get the Wu Xing to help, that would be great. Her group has been investigating the idea of "city spirits", and would like her to go and make a bunch of Yin, Yang, and Chi rolls in places that one might think might have a spirit (like a big fountain) but don't.
Merit thinks that the current understanding of spirits and demons is that if one were to cause all the people in the world to no longer be there, spirits and demons can only manifest as things that are already there. But this theory is a bit iffy - there are demons of things like avarice, and there is not a lot of avarice in the natural world. The rules on "spirits are things, demons are concepts" is more or less true, but there may be exceptions.
(Once he returns and hears about it, this train of thought will lead Anto to worrying about whether Amikiri was actually a spirit, as they thought, or a demon - because "unbinder" is way more of a concept than a thing).
The group agrees to talk to Anto in puttering, and Merit gives them a ritual hint and point from research in his library wagon.
- Wei Han and Xiao Fa visit an army hospital.
- Takanata goes to meet with one of the Revered Sages.
- Cai Wen takes Master Zhou to the Cup of Five Virtues to show off his kung fu teaching.
- Grasshopper, Cai Wen, Takanata, and Zhi-Hao go to a "Friends of Bruno" meet-up, but spook the other side. Grasshopper stays behind to try to meet the Lady Sung by himself, and then goes missing. Takanata goes after Grasshopper, and does not return.