Fox in Socks
|"I could not, would not, with a fox.
I could not, would not, in a box."
| The run begins on the Day of the Late Monkey, in the Month of the Crane, in the third Year of the Spider since the burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place mostly in the City of Spires in the Jade Taiga.
The run picks up on the Taiga side of the New Rivers, a little while after the war has been ended by the Dragon Army. Li Merit sends the elemental marker off to the shop to be looked at, and Takanata wakes from a very odd and confusing dream of metal buildings in the sky and men shooting fireworks at each other. When he wakes, he is still filled with odd and confusing images, and he puts some of them to paper.
Takanata glares at the "poems", as they are certainly not proper. Still, there seems to be some sort of danger to foxes. Maybe someone is trying to kidnap Xian? Xian seems to be sleeping very late, but is not missing. No one has a particular plan on where to be, but there don't seem to be any evident foxes right here, either. Merit says that if nobody else has a destination in mind (other than the Butterfly Kingdom eventually), they should stop by the City of Spires to catch a boat home, as he wants to meet a potential shtick source named Prefect Xing and also visit the Golden Spire. Zhi-Hao says he would like to visit the Golden Spire as well, so this seems like a Plan.
The party heads to the City of Spires, sticking to the Taiga side of the border, as the Dragon Army is busy over on the Savanna side putting its foot down. Once they reach the city, Takanata arranges for rooms at a nice inn, and others break up on their own business.
- "Someone is going to be locked in a box! Let's split up!" -Merit
Hana goes to a local tea house, and looks ornamental while drinking tea. She picks up some rumors indicating the populace is unhappy about the way the war ended, since they didn't really gain anything. While Takanata writes letters to some of his friends in the city, Shuyan goes to the common room of the inn to practice being charming, and makes the acquaintance of a Mysterious Businessman who is in town on mysterious business (like being a bounty hunter, which Shuyan charms out of him). He does, regretfully have business that he needs to deal with, but suggests that they get together for dinner later? (Some of the party have already met Snow Wolf, but Shuyan has only seen the back of his head.)
Merit and Zhi-Hao head over to Prefect Xing's house, and as they're approaching, Zhi-Hao notices someone sneaking away from the house on the other side of a hedge. He leaps into action, confronting the mysterious person with hand on sword hilt, and demanding to know their business at Prefect Xing's. The person says that she's here on private business, but Zhi-Hao scoffs - what sort of private business would she have in a hedge? She protests that she was trying to depart discreetly. Merit recognizes the figure as Chochiro, and steps in to calm things down. Chochiro says she does still have business to attend to, but Merit suggests that they meet for a beer later.
Chochiro heads off, and Merit and Zhi-Hao knock at Prefect Xing's door, and it is quickly answered by a lovely young woman. By her dress, Merit gauges that she is the "trophy wife" that his briefing on Prefect Xing mentioned. She invites the pair in, and serves tea as they wait for Prefect Xing. The prefect finally arrives, and nods to Merit in recognition.
- "I heard you were retired." -Prefect Xing
- "Yeah, me too." -Merit
- "You gotta make those exit clauses explicit."
Merit and Xing chat. Xing says that he does make it his business to know who is around, but, what with being retired, he does try to avoid hearing a lot about other people's troubles. Of course, the talk about the troubles of the Butterfly Kingdom were kind of unavoidable. Merit mentions that his problems even transcend country troubles, which Xing is surprised by. Merit mentions war, the turning of wheels, and so on. Anyhow, he is hoping for any wisdom that Prefect Xing might provide, if he can prove himself worthy of it.
Prefect Xing reminds him that some troubles are in fact unavoidable. However, there is a particular thing that he might find useful, and if Merit can give a good showing there, he might be willing to talk in more detail about preparing Merit for the things to come. He goes through a little song and dance with his wife, asking for Blue Jasmine tea, which they do not have, and convincing her to go out to the market to get some more; once she has gone, he says they can speak in confidence. He met his wife at a Flower House some years ago, before he retired, and she still has some fondness for flower houses in general. Now, a different institution here in the city is having some sort of difficulty - he has taken pains to not hear about it, and as his wife thinks she is being very secretive, he does not want to disabuse her of her illusions. If Merit can resolve whatever the trouble with the House of Peony's Grace is, quietly, then Prefect Xing would be grateful.
Merit and Zhi-Hao take their leave, and head to the Golden Spire, where they meet up with Shuyan as well. There are a pair of royal guardsmen at the entrance, who take their names but do not interfere.
- "I was thinking I should not give my name, because there are people who are after me. But they're really after you, so it's okay, but I'm walking next to you!" -Merit to Zhi-Hao
Zhi-Hao meditates on the Crane, wondering what he needs to know. He sees an image of himself, shooting away at tong members with his bow. People leap up in front of them, and he mows them down. Eventually, one of them raises his hand to the others, and they confer out of his range. Then, they carefully go around him, beyond his bow range, and chop the people behind him to bits. Zhi-Hao asks Merit to interpret, and Merit thinks it means the tongs will continue to send people after Zhi-Hao for a while, but eventually they'll get tired of losing, and attack the things and people that he cares about instead. They wonder what the options are - buy them off? Defeat them utterly? Zhi-Hao likes the "defeat them utterly" plan, but Merit thinks that even if you defeat one set of criminals, others will take their place. And, Merit adds somewhat cautiously - the League of the Hidden Hand did take care to not kill Zhi-Hao's father. It wasn't personal then.
Shuyan stands on the Serpent, wondering what she should be doing with her life. After some misty meditation, she sees an image of the Great Serpent Spirit, which tells her that the thing that would make the Serpent proudest would be "to find - or create - a great and abiding secret that you entrust to our line." She mulls that over.
Finally, Merit stands on the Magpie, wearing the Magpie talisman, and spends seven karma. He asks the Magpie: "What do you want, and what do I get for it?" The Magpie is intrigued by Merit's presumption, and makes him an offer.
- "I will provide you with three - well, there are rules, but we can work with them - three hints to the three keys to the Dragon's Hoard. You can pay yourself before you give them to me." -Magpie
- "Done!" -Merit
Meanwhile Hana's continued tea house investigation into the dissatisfaction of the populace with the war uncovers further interesting rumors. In general, the local populace is somewhat disappointed by the results of the war with the Savanna - the Taiga didn't really get anything out of it. There are some bitter recriminations flying around; the Dukes are blaming each other, while the people are (very carefully not out loud) blaming the King.
Hana then decides to head to a local flower house and see if there's anything she can learn there, or at least bring them the regards of her flower house back in the Arcade. Prowling around the city for a likely target, she finds herself in the House of Peony's Grace. It's an establishment with very high quality employees, but strangely little reputation and status. She finds the contrast intriguing and decides to report it to the party. She spends the rest of the afternoon pumping them for political information and rumors.
Takanata talks to Xian about his prophetic art, now that Xian is awake. They should make sure he isn't... kidnapped by people with boxes, or something. Wei Han does his best to make sure that both of them are under guard at all time.
Everyone meets up back at the inn, after their various adventures and investigations.
Merit explains that a plot has knocked on his door - well, okay, he knocked on its door, but maybe that counts, in the Butterfly sort of way. Anyway, the House of the Peony's Grace is having some sort of unspecified trouble, and he'd like to solve it, on the theory that that will get him a shtick source. Hana, surprised, says that she was just there - there wasn't any sort of overt trouble, but probably they were just too graceful to show it. It seemed to be a very good house for the status they had, though no one is quite sure how to interpret that.
Hana also says the geisha at the Peony's Grace think that the two feuding dukes (the Water Duke Duke Lan and the Fire Duke Duke Hong) show signs of their feud breaking out into actual fighting. However, their allied Dukes are starting to get fed up with the whole feuding thing, and may be thinking of smacking their friends down.
Shuyan says she met this bounty hunter guy, and set up a date. Merit recognizes the description as Snow Wolf, and says to make sure not to take all the monkeys on the date - one of them was originally his.
- "I can't believe I'm saying this, but you should go and talk to him some more and find out what he's up to." -Merit
There is some hope that the problem that the flower house is having is only "it's not popular enough" and the group needs to help it be properly appreciated. Most agree that this would be a "stupid and easily solved" problem, but it would be nice to have to solve one of those once in a while.
Everyone but Takanata heads off to meet Chochiro for the promised beer. She's a little surprised to find the whole group there. Merit says they wander where the winds take them, and she can understand that. There is some cagey discussion about what she is doing here - well, she followed some leads here, to do a big favor for one of the spirits, which led her to her client, who asked her to make some private and discreet inquiries on her behalf. Merit says he also has some interest in the Peony's Grace - Chochiro is impressed, as she totally didn't say the name. Perhaps they could compare notes. Chochiro is briefly a little suspicious - is Merit interested in the Peony's Grace in a good way or a bad way? Oh, a good way. Chochiro is happy with that. They can work together.
Chochiro's plan was to try to watch the place tonight, to see if she spots any bad guys. Merit tries to get some more details about what the actual problem is. Well, Chochiro's unnamed client is not allowed to interfere directly in these things, but Chochiro says that she's worried that the place will be stolen. She's not sure how you can steal a Flower House, but that does seem to be the worry. Also maybe a kidnapping.
Merit says Chochiro should give him a zhu and declare him to be a subcontractor, and then she can brief him. She's persuaded to do so, but is still a little light on details. Her client has learned that the place may be getting stolen, and one of the residents is going to be kidnapped. "Stolen" is apparently really bad, and one resident kidnapped can lead to "stolen" as well, which is bad. So she was going to lurk around and watch for kidnappers. Oh, and also - don't tell any of this to her client's husband!
Merit and Chochiro set up some meeting times later, and Merit warns Chochiro that the kidnappers might be some bounty hunters called Snow Wolf and Snow Leopard. Does Chochiro know who will be getting kidnapped? That varies, she thinks. Maybe according to who is doing well? The party speculates that it has to do with which geisha meets who. Merit comes up with some pre-set disguise features so that Chochiro will know who they are even if they're in disguise - particular flowers to be worn, that sort of hting.
Then the party goes back to brief Takanata. Takanata notes that the Fox's Locks make the Fox's Box move, so the Flower House is definitely able to move, and potentially able to be stolen. Merit examines the poem with an eye to its omens, and thinks that the Sneaks in "Sneaks with Traps come" is the same sneaks as in "Sneaks seek locks on box's fox, sir". For what that's worth.
Hana thinks she can probably manage to have a more straightforward conversation with the geisha about the house's problems without being impolite, but it will be hard for her to infiltrate quickly. "Getting a job" is a slow process; "temporarily staying over" would generally have been arranged between the head of this house and the head of Hana's old house. (No, pretending the letters of introduction were lost in the mail will probably not work).
It's time for Shuyan's date with Snow Wolf now - Merit thinks she should have some clandestine backup, in case it goes awry, or Snow Wolf tries to kidnap her.
- "You do subtle better than Wei Han does." -Merit to Zhi-Hao
- "Only by degree." -Zhi-Hao
Takanata suggest Xian as someone who is both subtle and perceptive. So, Merit wears the monocle with a drop of blood from Shuyan's adorable snake, and Xian and Zhi-Hao have dinner together at the same place. As Shuyan dresses for her date, Merit is appalled - is she using Look At Me to choose clothes for her date? Shuyan protests that her circus clothes are actually more immodest, and Hana gives some fashion advice.
Snow Wolf, on the other hand, is wearing the same thing he was before, but more rumpled - as if he was in a hurry, and decided to be on time rather than tidy. He talks with Shuyan over dinner - she focuses on animals and snakes, on the theory that that will warm him up, and he is in fact quite pleased to have a pretty girl interested in both animals and him. He is exceedingly knowledgeable about animals, and quite admires the Adorable Snake. The snake likes him too. He seems a little off his game due to being rushed, and he admits that his sister will be really mad if he says anything secret, but she's already mad because of the fiasco this afternoon. After dinner, he is sad to say that he really does have to go off and repair some of the damage from this afternoon. Shuyan suggests meeting for dinner tomorrow, and he happily accepts.
- "This monocle is very frustrating. I need to get lip-reading." -Merit
Wei Han suggests giving Snow Wolf the snake next time, to spy on him, but Shuyan is pretty sure that Snow Wolf is popular enough with her snake that she might not get it back again, and it's a nice snake.
Flower House Visit
Takanata, Wei Han (bodyguard), and Hana (well dressed geisha-trained niece) head to the Flower House for a visit. Merit heads over separately, in disguise and wearing the monocle. Takanata (with entourage) receives a very warm reception, combining as he does a ridiculously high status and a reputation. Merit receives a warm welcome, though not quite so over the top. The monkeys are left in their cage back at the inn, since no one wants to bring them.
- "I'm not taking four monkeys into a Flower House!" -Merit
The house seems to be busy - Merit thinks that they are subtly moving things back into place after an also-subtle ransacking, but nobody else has sufficient perception to realize that. Merit (since he isn't ostensibly part of Takanata's party) takes on the persona of an Extra Tacky Guy, poking at things, picking them up and asking about how expensive they are, to mask a detective roll. He concludes that the girls are ruffled, but are covering it well. Something bad has happened, but it's mostly under control now. They're not so much "concerned" as "flustered". He also realizes that they aren't specifically concerned about money, but they are looking for a particular right client. Merit decides he has to know who owns the place, if they're rich enough to not care about money. Takanata's party is quickly moved to a different room so as to take them away from the tacky guy.
Hana observes in awe as they conversationally interrogate Takanata, but he dodges quite a bit - they do find out that he is not married but not looking, which disappoints them a bit. She also concludes that they are looking for the right sort of client, which Takanata very much is. He has a marvellous time, and arranges for a meeting with the Flower House's proprietor. He wonders if there is any sort of assistance that they might need, which he could assist with. He has, for example, spent some time making a study of various sorts of divination - this place is under some form of attack which he does not understand. The woman concedes that "Sir is most wise" but does not wish to spoil his enjoyment of the evening. Hana casts an obvious Significant Look to Takanata, hoping that he will suggest that she help instead, but Takanata blithely ignores that.
Takanata goes into a bit more detail - he thinks there are multiple dangers, some to the young ladies directly and some to the house more indirectly. Again, the proprietor hopes that he needn't trouble himself over that. It's true that one of the girls did go missing this afternoon, but they expect her back soon, as they protect their girls quite well. There have been some disturbing...incidents, and she is embarrassed that they noticed the disarray when they arrived. She doesn't think that common thieves are capable of causing them much inconvenience. Hana thinks that she's serious about not being too worried about the kidnapped girl, which is quite remarkable. Takanata offers - if it would not be too troublesome, he could read her I Ching. The proprietress notes that that is a fascinating offer and in other circumstances she might be willing to take him up on it, but one cannot possibly have a guest work while he is a guest.
Hana wonders if she is conspiring to make the trouble happen - but no, it seems like no, she's trying to hide it because she thinks this sort of trouble should be hidden. She does seem to be quite overconfident about the trouble, but she probably isn't behind it. Anyhow, by the time they head back to the main room, everything is running smoothly and there is no sign of any fluster or disarray.
- "Forgive me, uncle, but I thought part of the point was to make an offer that we do not seem to have made." -Hana
Takanata admits that he is worried that their confidence is a mystical rather than a political guarantee, and he's not sure he wants to leave Hana here if the whole building is about to disappear - Hana might disappear with it, or not be protected in the same way. Hana points out that they are already meddling with the Flower House affairs, so there will likely be someone from the party here if it vanishes, or if there isn't, it's because they've already failed.
At this point, there is a shriek outside, followed by a different shriek. Both Merit (who is tacky) and Wei Han (who is guardy) rush out. Apparently a young woman was heading into the house through the service entrance, when she startled another young woman hiding in the bushes watching the place. The latter woman (Chochiro) is full of apologies for having startled her.
- "Oh, ignore those geisha groupies" -Merit, to the returning girl
The girl who has just returned is rather more flustered still, but Merit makes an effort to convince her to come and talk to him when she has put herself back in order. In the meantime, one geisha (immediately nicknamed "the tacky girl") seems willing to show more interest in Merit, who does appear to be wealthy, if not high-status. Merit increases his tackiness level and purports to only be happy if he's talking to unhappy people about their problems. Thus, when the returned-girl comes back in, he gloms up to her to try to find out what happened. She was apparently tied up and taken away by a very strident woman and a man, but once they weren't paying attention, she left again. Merit is amazed - those were surely professionals! How did she escape? While he is persuasive, she can't actually tell him how she got away.
- "It's the socks." -Wei Han
Merit hints that those things which protect Flower Houses work in mysterious ways - maybe by sending strange visitors like him! The girl is amused, but doesn't think that Merit works for "her". Merit hints darkly that her kidnappers were professional bounty hunters, and will surely return. That puzzles her - bounty hunters? She's done nothing wrong! Well, okay, the line between "bounty hunter" and "kidnapper for hire" is a kind of fuzzy one. The girl says that the bounty hunters should just show up and visit - they'd have a much better time.
At the tail end of the evening, Takanata asks to speak to the lady of the house again. He says that he will likely be returning tomorrow, but in the meantime - his niece has had some training in the Hon'eth Arcade, but he fears it was interrupted. She was curious if it would be possible to remain for the next day or so to brush up on her skills. The proprietor says that Hana is welcome to stay for a couple of days, but she is unable to offer a longer-term arrangement. That's fine, as neither Takanata nor Hana was looking for something longer-term.
Merit comes up with an obscure tea ceremony to use as a favorite, presumably to serve as authentication if he returns without his disguise.
Through the Night
Everyone but Hana heads back to the inn. Wei Han tries to convince Hana that he should get to stay, but she is adamant that that would be Inappropriate, and thinks that he is confusing Flower Houses with those establishments which call themselves flower houses as a euphemism. (People do sometimes spend the night at a flower house in the "up all night talking" sense, or the "had too much to drink and passed out" unfortunate sense, but one does not pay to spend the night with a geisha in the better class Flower Houses.)
The group speculates about exactly what has happened already. According to Shuyan, Snow Leopard and Snow Wolf think they screwed up, but whatever it was that Snow Wolf had to run off to do, it wasn't an attack later that evening. The bounty hunters are probably not the same people who subtly searched the place, as they don't seem to be quite that subtle - unless they have another monkey. Also, the whole thing about the geishas trying to get married is somewhat unusual - maybe whatever has buffed the flower house to be extra-spiffy is temporary and has to be... renewed with a marriage, somehow?
At the Flower House itself, Hana thinks they are graceful and charming but not completely comfortable with her there - they are happy to teach her, but they are also waiting for her to go to sleep. Eventually, she goes to sleep, and drinks her chamomile tea (which is sleepy-making, but not drugged). She pretends to sleep, and listens more - it sounds like they are more relaxed once they are talking just to each other. There are several half-heard comments through the walls about finally being able to relax and take their socks off.
Zhi-Hao and Merit ask around on the street - the House of Peony's Grace isn't particularly infamous or important to the local streetwise types. Rumor has it that the Circle of Spite has a few people in town, but it's not clear what they're doing. Zhi-Hao notes that the western part of the Empire tends to have lots of little tongs/triads, not single large ones the way the east does - that's how Yoshi can get away with "running" a tiny tong in a random little village. Merit notes that Prefect Xing almost certainly knows who from the Circle of Spite is in town, but would rather not ask him unless he can't find that out some other way.
Li Merit heads to the government spires and tries to look into the flower house's permits and finances and other such bureaucratic stuff to figure out of someone is make a move on them. Sadly, the government doesn't seem to have any record at all of a flower house at 17 1/2 Foxglove lane. Indeed, there isn't supposed to be a 17 1/2 Foxglove lane at all! Well, this just gets curiouser and curiouser.
Takanata notes that the denizens of the flower house think that it's in trouble somehow, if someone doesn't get married off. People look at the prophecy again, and realize that the "sneaks with tricks, etc" lines are chronological, not descriptive. First the sneaks with tricks came - presumably the people who searched the place. Then the sneaks with traps came - the kidnapping. Next, all heck is going to break loose as sneaks with slips and slaps and tracks come. Perhaps everyone is going to attack all at once!
There is some contemplation of throwing someone at the girls to give them someone to marry (Xiao Fa's name is floated), but Takanata wants to know more about why they have to get married. Are they going to end up living under a porch eating rats and thinking they're living a good life? Merit thinks if it's like the normal stories, a fox spirit might have to get married without the person they're marrying knowing they're a fox spirit. Wei Han gets permission to pick up Takanata and take him away if he seems inclined to get married.
Looking at the poem some more, "locks" does appear to mean multiple things - oh, wait, there's a picture of a ball and chain! It does mean marriage too. So... marrying makes the Flower House move? Merit realizes that Prefect Xing's wife was "from a different flower house, years ago" - ahah! It was the same flower house, before it moved! They do seem happy, if a little unusual in the secrets-keeping department. Thus it seems like marrying one of the girls isn't a bad thing. It seems like the main issue is that they're being picky about who one of them should marry, in that they would like a good husband, but are starting to get desperate and a bad one will do.
So... the bounty hunters are trying to kidnap someone, and the tong is trying to... do who knows what. It's hard to thwart a plan that the party doesn't understand, but maybe the idea should just be "hang around and thwart any attempts at "Get 'em!". Merit also remembers to meet with Chochiro and brief her on the theory that both the Circle of Spite and the two bounty hunters will be attacking somehow tonight, and should be Thwarted.
Shuyan goes off on her latest date with the bounty hunter. As they charm and conversationally interrogate one another, Shuyan mentions that she'll be heading to a flower house after the date. Snow wolf indicates that this is a bad night to be heading to a flower house, trying to warn her off. Sadly, his mysterious business for the evening prevents him from showing Shuyan a better time than visiting a flower house would, plus he probably has to attend some crazy pitchfork wedding in the morning, but after that, his bounty will be safely in his sister's hands, so perhaps Shuyan and he should have a nice lunch date, followed by an evening on the town tomorrow? Shuyan agrees, but then excuses herself to report all of this to the party.
- "All lack of plans devolve to 'beat them up'" -Zhi-Hao
- "Well, they are criminals." -Xian
Off at the House of Peony's Grace, Hana has a somewhat elliptical conversation with the other girls. She doesn't get a lot of details, but does manage to confirm that all the girls tend to wear socks all the time, that the kidnapped girl escaped from the bounty hunter by taking her socks off, and that they're all pretty convinced that everything will be fine if only they can get one of them married off soon. She heads out to talk to the party, and meets them as they're on their way to the Flower House. Hana notes that the mistress of the house says that it is not possible to harm the house without harming her, and that she is always in the house and surrounded by people - so she's a point to defend if there's an attack.
Xian suggests that they forge a deed claiming to own the house, because the fact that there isn't one is creepy, and what if someone else shows up with one? Most everyone else feels like this is a little presumptuous or possibly creepy, but in the end Merit forges a somewhat lame deed to the house, only to be used in defensive bureaucratic combat.
Once the group arrives at the Peony's Grace, Xian realizes that all the young women are fox spirits wearing socks. (Why didn't he find this out days earlier? Because he was always shadowing Shuyan on her dates and never investigating the flower house.) He burns out his "Secret vision" on all of the fox spirits. His understanding is that fox spirits are the sort of the spirits who most often get married - foxes like people. Often, though, if their husbands find out, they have to flee. Well, the party is safe from marriage in that case, because they all realize they're fox spirits at this point.
The party that evening is very enjoyable, though people with sufficient social perception realize that there is a feeling of a "last bash" to it all. Maybe the deadline is tonight for someone to get married? Takanata introduces Xian to the lady of the house, and Xian wonders if this is the last party in this house in this location or the last party in this house ever? He also notes that someone seeks to sabotage or hijack the house, using their need to get married quickly.
- "The clock seems to be ticking, I can hear it." -Xian
- "I thought it was just me!" -Mistress of the house
At this point, Chochiro leaps in through a window, two swords drawn. Everyone boggles. She says that Merit said to come in when the combat started. Everyone stares at her some more. She notes, somewhat confused that there are ninja all over the place. Well, that causes the ninja, who are indeed all over the place, to decloak, and five tong enforcers to burst in through the back window. People begin to flee from the ninja.
Takanata turns his Eyes of the I Ching on, and thinks that the smaller foxes are connected to the mistress, and she connects to the house. The ninja are less about "death" and more about "terror" in this case. Wei Han summons reinforcements. Hana runs out of the main room to warn the Mistress and Xian of the nina attack, which causes the Mistress to start instantiating doors and moving around the house, bringing Xian with her. Not realizing this (and being low on actions), Hana hangs about spookifying the corridor outside the room where the Mistress and Xian used to be.
Wei Han serves as a blocker for the enforcers in the hallway, and then Zhi-Hao shows off the shtick he learned one use of from Master Fa, attacking everyone next to Wei Han and pulling aggro like mad. He survives, with Wei Han's help, but loses his own sword to the guy he disarmed.
Takanata thinks about the Garden of Harmonious Contemplation and makes a persuasion roll to try to get the fox women to be calm. He calms many of them down, though one is already running outside, and Snow Leopard grabs her. The mistress hands Xian a map of the house and sends him through a door to the outside, while Snow Wolf comes in to try and charm one of the fox girls into leaving with him to somewhere safer. Zhi-Hao runs through the main room, grabbing a sword and spirit bottle from Merit on his mad sprint.
Merit attempts to convince the girl with Snow Wolf that he's up to no good, which the Dragon Army soldiers summoned by Wei Han also overhear. Snow Wolf is pretty charming, too, though. He makes some bird noises, and Xian notes that one of his birds is circling above the house, gathering bird-reinforcements from the local birds. Takanata notes that Snow Wolf's chi is tied to that of the bird - it's like he is a mage with way too many familiars.
(Another fox girl has fled into Hana's spooky corridor and asks "what shall we do?" Hana tells her to guard the Mistress, so the geisha (after telling Hana not to peek) disappears through the changing doors to join her Mistress.
Zhi-Hao shows the spirit bottle to the fox woman that Snow Leopard has grabbed, and she vanishes into the bottle, leaving Snow Leopard most cross.
Hana appears as the greatest fear of one of the ninjas - he shouts out "It's Hirasoto! Get out! Flee!" and the ninja do, in fact, all flee.
Xian, with an impressive job of fast-talking, manages to sell a marriage contract for one of the girls to Snow Leopard for only 20 li. He assures her that this will work - Xian wouldn't go to all this trouble if he didn't think so. Snow Leopard says if Xian can get her the girl as well, she'll double the price.
Takanata invokes Great Drama on Snow Leopard and Snow Wolf:
- "You and your sister have crossed our paths three times. The rule of three says that you can leave us once more - as long as the birds leave with you. Go now."
Snow Wolf is convinced. They decide to make the best of a messy business, and Snow Leopard buys the contract from Xian, convinced that she can show up later to collect the girl. The two Snows leave, and the good guys finish taking down the last of the tong enforcers.
Zhi-Hao starts to get the feeling that he is about to feel the wrath of the house fall upon him, until he remembers that he has a fox spirit in a bottle, and lets her go. After that, there is general celebration, as the day (night) is (sort of) saved! However, they are still missing a marriage.
The party contemplates whether they have any NPCs who might be interested in a sudden hurried marriage. Li Kao's majordomo probably has a high enough status, but might require some persuasion for a hasty marriage. Merit thinks he has a buddy who would be appropriate - an old friend, injured with a scar, but high status. He brings the buddy by the Flower House, as Hana looks up So Ren, the overseer for the Blue Duke. Xian tries to get someone from Mistress Litona, but doesn't manage at such short notice. However, two young ladies do decide to get married to the party's two candidates.
The mistress of the house says that with two weddings, they will become quite lost for a while. So while she does not expect to see any of them again, she is most grateful to them for their assistance (Chochiro is quite happy, scoring another spirit quest), and they will all keep the group in their thoughts.
She is willing to let Takanata read her I Ching at this point, and he notes that while she is correct about being lost for some time, she is incorrect and they will be seeing her again. Whether the circumstances are happy or sad will depend on whether their next meeting is in the World Above or Below.
Chochiro and Merit mutually agree to not tell any details to either of their clients, and Merit suggests that she look into quests at the Golden Spire. She's 2/3 done now!
Shuyan decides to break her date and does not meet Snow Wolf for lunch the next day. After all, his sister will probably try to kill Shuyan if she shows. So she stands him up.
- Master Zhou, Xiao Fa, and Lijuan continue to visit the Temple of the Hand of the Wind.
- Wei Han borrows the Butterfly Amulet and heads to a North Wall garrison to haggle for new armor.
- Cai Wen searches out a party that the Pearl of the Taiga is at, and arranges to meet her for tea the next day.
- Takanata and Min Feng visit the Golden Spire.
- Takanata arranges to be invited to a dinner party with the Xings in attendance.
- Anto goes to the Golden Spire to talk to the Phoenix again.