Horsemen of Folly
|"A foolish man is always doing, yet much remains to be done."|| The run takes place in the late Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Hon'eth Arcade
The rain continues to fall outside. Happily, the butlers have built up the fires in Tahiti, and people gather in the tea room. Those who are more familiar with this new "wetness" stat explain it to the others. It seems to be (according to Xiao Fa) some sort of physical corruption, but maybe not a spiritual corruption. It is also a defense against fire, and sorcerous fire in particular. It is raining much more heavily in the Shrouded Isle than on the coast, and while it is raining across the Empire, the wetness is not Empire-wide. The rain has elements of both water, and wind, in a semi – sorcerous fashion, but that's weird, because wind/air isn't an element. Master Zhou's theory is Whale and Thunderbird are doing something together. Takanata notes that the Jasmine says the effect is surprisingly springlike, with the ferocity of Tiger, the perseverance of Tortoise and mischief of You Know Who - but she doesn't think it is actually those three Cycle spirits doing it.
Also in briefings, last run rolled a 7, which means politics happened, and then another war turn happened. The exact rolls that other houses made are not known, but the war seems to have generally gone well. However, Cai Wen still thinks that the Obsidian Warlord is going to do something in the final turn that involves all of the Arcade House military forces. Will that be "the Empire wins and the Arcade loses" in the mechanic? It could be; the mechanics are more orthogonal than you would expect.
The House of Exuberant Interference has lost the second point of military that they got from the House of Gainful Protection, because they were killed in the war (indicating that Gainful Protection failed their roll again). Cai Wen wonders if they are likely to replenish that, or if they have defaulted on their bargain? Well, they're not likely to give Exuberant Interference another point. But, legally, they can probably claim that this is like having given money to someone as part of a contract, and then the money was stolen by other parties. In this case, the soldiers who were assigned to Exuberant Interference were killed by the Northerners, and that isn't Gainful Protection's fault or responsibility. On the other hand, that means that if Exuberant Interference defaults on their side of the bargain, there's nothing that Gainful Protection can do about it, other than maybe complain to the King. Hooray! The party can start encouraging banditry in the Tanzhe Plain! As long as it doesn't interfere with trade, since that is covered by the bargain with the House of Judicious Increase. So, they can encourage bandits to prey upon the locals. Maybe being able to default on the contract isn't such a great deal after all.
So, what is up with the spirit points that aren't Wolf and Magpie in the Winter Scoreboard? Cai Wen says he thought about it some, and it's not a simple voting tally - and is also obfuscated. Do the horse and wolf points have to do with Xian's plot to do... something... with horse and wolf? She thinks her plot is only tangentially related. Xian also points out that she can ask for info on the mechanic but doesn't want to fritter away this ability on questions that will not affect what they do one way or the other. The party seems to be solving the plots as they see fit, and not deliberately trying to solve them in a way that is explicitly pro-Wolf or pro-Magpie. On the other hand, knowing what the ramifications are might mean that people will shade their behavior a little one way or the other.
Xian ponders: what is the effect of other spirits getting points in the mechanic? She receives three answers:
- It will bind them more closely into the social fabric and force them to take their responsibilities towards the defense of the Empire seriously.
- It will allow/force them to take a side in the battle between Magpie and the Enemy
- It will dilute the purity of the outcome, enabling both them and you to exert a more flexible influence on what is to come.
Interesting. Those answers sound like they come from Dog, Magpie, and Crane, respectively. That probably isn't too surprising. And maybe point 1 means they can get Yama to get rid of Shen Dai Han?
- "If we're still stalling before going to get a mission, let's visit the Steppes and ask what the score is there." -Takanata
Okay, maybe that's enough stalling. To the Moderately Obscure Benevolent Headquarters! Xian arrives in the stables, but everyone else is shown in via a rain-proof airlock into a waiting room with a fire. There are many more guards than there were on the last visit. And the party visitors can go in, but they have to leave their weapons. People ask the guard if there has been more trouble, but he says that he can't comment. Well, that's an invitation for everyone to practice their social wiles on him, and he admits that there were some things. A bunch of infiltrations, an assassination attempt, some espionage in the map room, and other things that he is not cleared to know about.
After leaving their weapons, the group is escorted in further to see the Prince. Also in the room are a number of guards, and a young lady, who is introduced as Lady Jin of the House of Beneficent Travel. Cai Wen doesn't quite remember who she is, but she clearly has heard of the party, and is impressed to meet them. Everyone is very suspicious of this new person, who is inserting herself into their rightful mechanic.
Takanata uses his "cheat at minigames" shtick to roll a red die and a blue die, and choose whether the red die is positive or negative. He promptly rolls two 1s, giving him the option of a two or a zero. Zero sounds overly alarming, as it doesn't seem to be on the scoreboard at all, so they go with the two.
- ""Defend the Horsemen of Wealth from the Horsemen of Folly.""
Lady Jin doesn't seem surprised to see the prince do this blue-and-blue-eyed prophecy thing, but she also doesn't look like she has seen it before. Takanata, paying more attention to Jin than the Prince, thinks she was using multiple sense modes.
- "That's a fine way to Yoshi yourself. I wonder if she knows how not to do that." -Takanata
Cai Wen asks about using the map room, but luckily squeaks by and doesn't accidentally request a second mission, and the party retreats. Lady Jin says that it has been nice to meet them, and Cai Wen tries to bow as if to say "we are still evaluating each other" but since he doesn't have expressive gestures, it comes through more like "bowing dubiously."
People contemplate the mission with Interpret Omens, since it really doesn't seem obvious. Is Ezokin the Horsemen of Wealth? No, Ezokin is not plural.
- "Is there a House of Ill Considered Projects?" -Xian
- "That's us."
Are the "horsemen" Great Houses? At least one of them is, but Wealth is not Judicious Increase. Is Folly Exuberant Interference? No.
Kasumi decides that all of this guessing and being told no isn't much fun, and uses her "what the heck?" ring on it. She is reminded that there are two main "horse houses" - the House of Beneficent Travel and the House of the South Wind. Nobody seems to remember the latter, but they were the house that sold the Thousand Li Horse to the House of Quiet Concordance (at the great urging of the party). Politically, the House of the South Wind has been pretty lucky, and has made no enemies. They tend to stay out of things, other than selling horses. They certainly don't have a reputation for folly.
Maybe Lady Jin knows more about them? The group writes a note to ask her to come talk to them in the map room (the guards approve of writing notes rather than skulking around the headquarters trying to find people and gathering information). Lady Jin happily comes to see them, and Xiao Fa checks her for mystic anomalies. Her Wetness is zero, she has bounced an attempted Yoshi-ing, and she has at least one "great consort" destiny that seems to be active.
Lady Jin sweeps the maps out of the way and offers them tea, which everyone considers with deep suspicion. Xian thinks she knew the maps were important, but was not trying to deliberately see which maps they were looking at, nor was she trying to hide any of them.
She notes that she was surprised that the instructions were so cryptic, and she is impressed they have done so well so far.
- " I suppose spirits will do as spirits do."
Xian, still suspicious, wonders why she thinks they have "done well" so far. She looks surprised - she knows that they've been accomplishing a lot for the war, almost as much as her own house. Xian, stung, professes to not know what the big picture is (or the exact numbers, for that matter.)
- "Oh! If no one has bothered to tell you, you have done quite well. The Arcade is in your debt!"
She knows, for example, that the House of Gainful Protection has not contributed anything substantial to the effort despite being kept on point for both turns. Her own House rolled a six, which got them 18 Arcade Points plus a special bonus, and she believes that the House of Exuberant Interference has been keeping pace via their special missions.
(She confirms that the score is Mil successes * 3, with a bonus if you roll equal to your stat).
Both war turns have been won soundly (by 10 points or more). Had the House of Beneficent Travel not rolled well, it would have been in doubt, and so similarly, without the House of Exuberant Interference's work, so would it as well.
Lady Jin says she certainly hopes that Beneficent Travel is not the house of folly, though she does believe that they are horsemen. Kasumi's best guess is that the House of the South Wind is the Horsemen of Wealth, but the other horsemen are something else.
Lady Jin is pleased that she can help here - she has excellent contacts in the House of the South Wind. (Takanata thinks she is trying to impress them so they will speak well of her to the Prince, and Xian thinks she was laughing at some internal joke when she said she had excellent contacts.)
Are her excellent contacts because her House buys a lot of horses from their House? Yes, though they've been trying to diversify their travel methods to include more sea travel. Xian commiserates with her that the recent weather cannot be helping with that, and Master Zhou wonders whether their ships have been having trouble in the recent storms. Yes, in fact, travel to the Shrouded Isle is nearly impossible without the best ships and the best sailors.
Speaking of sea travel, does she know where the sea lord is? He wasn't in his office the last time they visited. She does not, but she offers to investigate, if they are interested. People think that she is definitely trying to score favors. Someone asks if she knows that Butterfly Meadows has a sea horse cavalry? Yes, in fact, she does - she was given a showing of the sea horses by His Highness.
- "Oh no!" -Xiao Fa
So, if they are going to go and pay a call on the House of the South Wind, Lady Jin offers to introduce them. Cai Wen suggests that she send a letter instead, but she scoffs - she would be most pleased to introduce them personally. This is perceived as more evidence of nefarity, or at least of favor-mongering. How did she get her hooks into the Magpie Prince, anyway? People think that about 40% of the guards think she is someone to be protected, rather than a potential threat (the whole party is classed as "potential threat", in comparison), and Cai Wen doesn't think she is a potential moll.
The Young Master
Lady Jin offers her carriage for use in heading to the House of the South Wind, so Xian arrives early, in the House's stables. Within minutes of her arrival, though, the stablehands have noticed that there is an extra horse in residence that no one can account for. A kerfuffle ensues, and eventually a supervisor is summoned. One of the stable boys is in trouble, for not having taken account of whose horse it is. By the time he has reached full kerfuffle, though, the rest of the party has arrived, and the horse is determined to belong to these important new visitors. The stable boy is still in trouble, though.
The majordomo tells Lady Jin that it is always a pleasure to see her, and the others note that he says this as if he has said it many times before, but he is not actually sincere about it being a pleasure. But, alas, the young Master is out. Cai Wen presses him as to where the young master is - the majordomo admits that he doesn't actually know, but he isn't here. Master Hunyin will be informed that the party is looking for him, and the majordomo will send a note to their inn, when his son returns.
- "Alas, Lady Jin is no use, Benevolent Oversight is going to have to find help elsewhere." -Xian, loudly
The majordomo enquires - if the matter is indeed very urgent, might he be able to help? Takanata says they will go settle in at an inn and discuss matters, and Xian looks terribly pained.
Once settled in at the end, with Lady Jin in the room next door, Takanata says they need to figure out if Jin can be trusted before continuing to keep her in their confidence. Is her house the aggressor against South Wind? It's certainly not the other way around. Xian thinks she has seduced the young master and the majordomo thinks she is an enemy of the house. Was the prophecy super cryptic because she was standing right there and it was trying to keep her from figuring it out? Cai Wen thinks she is embedded in the overall war mechanic and he doesn't want to default to hostility against her.
Master Zhou thinks over what he knows about the Arcade nobility, and notes that Lady Jin isn't the heir, but has recently debuted on the social scene and is considered to be the most eligible daughter of her house. The group speculates that she is one of the plots that has happened to the House of the South Wind in the past, and whatever is going on with the young Master is the new plot because nobody rolled a 2 before. Takanata declares her No Good. Actually, since nobody has rolled a 2 before that suggests that there are three problems going on. Fun.
Min Feng heads out to see what the gossip is about Lady Jin, and learns that she is Rumored to have broken the heart of Hunyin, the youngest son of Lord Ma, Lord of the House of the South Wind, and that he is inconsolable.
Cai Wen ponders:
- Is punting her from the Prince's mechanic a good thing?
- Is that an available plot via this die roll?
He concludes that while there are ways to score Arcade points while reducing her influence on this roll, they are not straightforward (and because of that can conclude that punting her is not the Plot of this particular roll).
Lady Jin knocks at the door, and lets them know that she has been unable to find out where Hunyin is, but she is at their disposal if they have any questions. Having decided she is a bad guy, they tell her to be sure to stay here in case Hunyin returns, since the majordomo knows where they are here. Does she have any insight into Master Hunyin's character? She contemplates this, and says that he is a fine young man, although perhaps a bit too naive and emotional. Anyhow, she says that she will be informed when Hunyin surfaces and will let them know immediately.
The party disperses, to see if they can find out where Hunyin is before Lady Jin does. Xian suggests doing so clandestinely so their investigations don't get back to Lady Jin, but Min Feng is hopeful that the Crane Talisman will keep anyone from noticing her, and goes to find out where he hangs out. She learns that recently he has been going to lower and lower houses of ill repute in which to drink, but in the last few days, no one has seen him at all.
Cai Wen wonders if maybe Master Hunyin is the Horseman of Folly, and he's off doing something foolish.
Perhaps it is time to go and interrogate the majordomo without Lady Jin listening? The group heads back.
- "Our apologies for showing up in the company of Lady Jin earlier. There's a saying - keep your friends close and your enemies closer. " -Xian
The majordomo nods noncommittally to this declaration of enmity with Lady Jin, and welcomes them again.
- "I suppose you have not needed to trifle Lord Ma with the exact location of every member of the house....?" -Xian
- "Mock us, do you?" -the majordomo
- "I just want to get the point quickly. There may be more at stake than you realize." -Xian
- "You know full well that the lord's three sons are missing, then."
- "That's three weeks of plots..." -Master Zhou
Xian explains that the House of Benevolent Oversight has in fact sent them, because the affair has import beyond the House of the South Wind, and they share the same goals. Then... they are here to find Lord Ma's sons? Perhaps, Xian suggests, the majordomo could just explain everything? He does so.
- About two weeks ago, Lord Daizheng, the heir, vanished, taking with him a significant number of the house's best horses.
- Early last week, Lord Tao disappeared, taking a number of key members of the house military.
- As of yesterday, Lord Hunyin disappeared, and took several markers from his father's office for favors from other minor houses.
Lord Ma is beside himself, but cannot expose that the House's resources, military, and influence are all depressed.
When Daizheng vanished, Hunyin thought perhaps he was running from the fall of the Arcade, but Tao thought he was off to do something glorious. But before either brother could be proved correct, Tao vanished. Hunyin was upset by his brothers vanishing, and then his heart was broken by Lady Jin. And then he vanished.
People ask for details. Is the heir engaged? No, Lord Ma considers that marrying the heir to someone inside the Arcade would lead to entanglement, so he has been seeking to arrange a marriage outside, but nothing is arranged yet. He had been introduced to the daughters of some clans in the Plains of Honor, but nothing came of it. The horses that went missing were transferred to a faraway farm outside the city, then were all taken from that farm at the same time. Descriptions of the missing horses are given.
People wonder whether Xian's horse powers can tell where the missing horses are. No... she isn't the Great Spirit of Horses, she's just a horse.
- "Not a horse." -Master Zhou
So probably Lady Jin broke it off with Lord Hunyin when she met the Prince (either Magpie or Butterfly).
Since all of this seems rather horse-related, the party summons Murase Minako to help, and Cai Wen looks for Ayuki, which leads to him being unavailable for the rest of the afternoon. Then, everyone (well, not Lady Jin or Cai Wen) heads to the horse farm, with a letter from the South Wind majordomo. Xian tries to compete with Murase Minako in finding out information from the horses, which confuses the horsemistress, but the latter has brought her Gather Information Horse, which is both implausible and useful.
Anyhow, the horses at the farm report that a lot of new horses showed up, and then they were gathered into pickets by three or four men, and the top hundred twenty horses were taken away to the southwest. (Several of the horses here are bitter because they were bumped from the top hundred by "ringer horses".)
The horses describe one of the humans involved as "not humaning very well" because they used the wrong tack, though the description they give is, according to Minako, used by riders in the Plains of Honor.
Well, southwest of the farm is the Tanzhe Plain. The group rides off in that direction to see if anyone saw anything. With Minako with them, they make good time, but people herding a hundred horses would probably stop for the night in Blood Hill. In fact, the innkeeper remembers that there was a big caravan of horses heading west a week or two ago. He is enthusiastic to recognize Xiao Fa, and wants to know if he is here to replace the mayor? Sadly, he is not. He suggests that the innkeeper come to his headquarters at the Tent City and talk to him later. The group leading the caravan seemed like a team of young adventurers, as far as the inkeeper could tell. They didn't hire anyone new here, though there was a little bit of discussion about it. Anyhow, it sounded as if they were going to stop at Leaves in Spring on the way to Buzhen Port.
The group wonders if Tao and then Hunyin came through after Daiouzeng, but when they ask around, it doesn't sound like anyone noticed any inconsolable third sons, or mysterious second sons, passing through.
Meanwhile, Ayuki and Cai Wen have been having a lovely time, and then start riding for the Tanzhe to catch up with the party. When he briefs her on the plot, she mentions that while she can't tell him anything about the older two, she saw Hunyin yesterday. Apparently, he came to hire the House of the Laughing Shadow to kill a woman in a noble house. They didn't take the job due to insufficient payment, so she doesn't know the details. But she suspects that if Hunyin were hard up to find ninjas to contract out to, he would go to the House of the Night Blade.
Cai Wen decides that this sounds more urgent than chasing the hundred horses, and they turn back to the Port of Propitious Voyage to pick up the Danger Squad and deal with the House of the Night Blade. Ayuki promises to send a message to Kasumi letting her know.
Not long later, an arrow falls out of the sky, landing in front of Kasumi's horse. There's a note tied to the shaft.
The larger group continues on to Leaves in Spring ("Hooray! The Government is here!"). Madame Zheng also confirms that the caravan of a hundred horses came through, headed to Buzhen Port, a week ago.
Next stop, Buzhen Port. It is confirmed that the horses were put on a barge and taken across the river to Gangmul. A faster boat is rented and arrives in Gangmul shortly (though Xian skips the boat and meets them there). Once there, they hear that the horses left for Jabon only this morning!
A short hard ride later, with Minako's help, they catch up. Multiple strings of horses are being led along. Takanata asks the rider at the tail end of the caravan where Lord Ma Daizheng is, and is told that he's at the front.
- "Yes?" -Daizheng
- "Your father is distressed that you left without explanation." -Takanata
- "Speed rolls!" -Cael
Daizheng says that his father won't be distressed soon, and a long argument ensues. Daizheng seems convinced that when his mission finishes, they will return in glory. They are bringing the finest cavalry horses (not used, because South Wind has a very small Mil and is not fighting) to experienced cavalry soldiers, to form the First South Wind Cavalry regiment, which can sweep in and defeat the Northerners.
Takanata checks the deepest connection between Daizheng and the Plainsman - it's not as terrible as "scammer and dupe" but is closer to "white pawn and black knight". They aren't on the same side, and Daizheng is clearly underpowered. (The Plainsman appears to be from Tongbang).
As the argument continues, the Plainsman grows impatient.
- "Daylight is wasting."
- "These people are from my father."
- "Send him your regards and let's hit the road."
Daizheng argues that his father doesn't have the vision to understand the plan, but Takanata insists that this is a betrayal of his father. Master Zhou rounds on the Plainsman.
- "Did you put him up to this?" -Zhou
- "We have men and training and wealth."
- "This isn't going to work..." -Kasumi
- "You are unaware that your younger brother removed all the commanders from your military. This will not work without them." -Takanata
Takanata hits Daizheng with Voice of the Master. Rolling 62 dice, he gets only 24 successes. Xian is appalled and considers assigning Takanata homework.
Fine, fine, he'll go home again. The Tongbang plainsman looks as if he might be contemplating starting a fight, but he's the only Plainsman here, and he doesn't like the odds.
The group put Minako in charge of getting Daizheng, his guys, and the troop of horses home more quickly. Min Feng and Kasumi, riding Xian, keep going in the direction that the Plainsman went, in the hopes of overhearing something. He grumbles to himself - he had just one day more to get the horses to Jabon. He had the perfect guy on the line, their cavalry was going to go and be glorious against the North (and then maybe they could retreat through the Tanzhe on the way home).
Once they start heading back, the question arises: how to find Son Number Two. Xian and Takanata decide to try dreamwalking, so they stop at an inn for the night, and Xian dreamwalks towards Tao while Takanata tries to find one of the military advisors.
The two dreamers set off in different directions, but they find themselves in the same dream - it's a fading dream house, as if the dreamers are no longer sleeping. It seems to be a small hunting lodge, and on a table there's a map of a manor on the outskirts of the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. From the fact that the dream is fading, and it seems to be concerned with this place as a target, they conclude that the reason the dreamers aren't here is because they are awake and on their way even now.
Xian and Takanata jolt awake again, and warn everyone that they have to get there now to stop them.
Kasumi can ride Xian, and Takanata can join them once they're there. Xiao Fa can go with Takanata. That leaves Min Feng and Master Zhou with no means of immediate travel. Min Feng can use karma to up her fire-teleport, and if Takanata uses Hand on the Pattern to force Master Zhou to be there shortly, she can bring him with her with no additional karma.
Kasumi and Xian show up in a field, with some horses around them. Master Zhou and Min Feng step out of a fireplace in a small building, much to the consternation of the people sitting at the fire. (Master Zhou suddenly realizes that traveling by being burnt into ashes and reconstituted is REALLY REALLY PAINFUL.) And then Takanata and Xiao Fa show up on the road into the lands.
As in other encounters in the recent past, the rain is keeping people from being able to see things clearly. Takanata heads vaguely onto the map, following a fluttering path, and walks around what looks like a guard, who doesn't quite see him in the rain.
Min Feng heads to a nearby desk and starts going through the papers, figuring out that the house belongs to Quiet Concordance, while Master Zhou confronts the people in the room, who look like they might be farm workers and are trying to grab the invaders-through-the-fireplace.
- "I am Master Zhou of the White Pagoda. Take me to Tao!"
- "There is no Tao here! Surrender and we will take you to the master of our house."
- "Xiao Fa will not be pleased with you if you grab me."
Kasumi runs for the house and enters through the basement door, pursued by a guard. One of the guards inside spots her and tries to chop her, while the other tries to nerve strike Master Zhou, making a quite credible attempt.
Xian, moving not nearly as fast as Kasumi on the way to the house, figures out an interesting factoid: The number of Arcade points you score will be reduced by the number of people on this map who get injured. The number of wolf points will increase based on the number of people who get injured. Magpie points seem to be out of your hands.
Based on that, she turns back into a human and starts playing her guzheng.
Meanwhile, Takanata has reached the Thousand-Li Horse (in the field where Kasumi and Xian started), as have Tao's team. Master Zhou escapes the house and joins them.
- "Master Tranh, I presume. Surrender the horse and no one will get hurt."
- "You have mistaken me. My name is Tokai Takanata. If you leave now, I will make sure they do not realize it was South Wind who tried to steal the horse. If you require Master Zhou to beat you unconscious, I will regard the revelation of your identity as something you have chosen for yourself."
The bad guys look a little spooked.
- "If you would be more convinced if Lord Ma told you, I could probably arrange for his arrival." -Takanata
Master Zhou punches two of the horse thieves across the field, and Xian, appalled, charges back towards the fray.
- "No more fighting! There is one enemy and they are NOT HERE." -Xian
There is a lot of confusion, but in the end, the power of the guzheng prevents any more fighting. The locals are demanding explanations, and the horse thieves still kind of want to take the horse, but can't really pull it off at this point. Master Zhou declares the area under the protection of the White Pagoda and Governor Lo, which confuses everyone, and Kasumi brings the thousand-li horse inside, just in case.
Xiao Fa gets the name of the monk (Dang Go) who was about to chi-block Master Zhou, and Kasumi gets a cookie for not stabbing anyone despite provocation.
Looking Into the Rain
Since Takanata has been checking things out with Eyes of the I Ching, he looks at the rain. There is a barely discernible glow in the sky - but that's more glow than there should be. Kasumi lets herself get wet, while Takanata looks. It doesn't seem to be a particularly strong effect, but it's not at all Imperial. Xian thinks Lijuan's eyes in her prophetic art look like phases of the moon, but they don't seem to correspond to the phases of the moon at the time that she drew them, so it's not clear if there is significance to that.
Master Zhou is still suffering the effects of having been burnt all to a crisp, and neither healing nor healing chi seem to help with that. However, standing in the rain does help a lot and by the time his wetness gets up to five, he feels okay. As Takanata watches that, he thinks that the rain is so effective because it is both anti-Phoenix and anti-Sorcery.
The Original Missing Son
Meanwhile, Cai Wen, Ayuki, and the Danger Squad have been discussing how to deal with Hunyin. Ayuki explains that Laughing Shadow and Night Blade are both minor houses, so they have (theoretically) city monopolies in the Port of Propitious Voyage and the Port of Auspicious Voyage, respectively. She suggests that they should hire the House of the Night Blade for something. Maybe they should take out a contract on Kasumi! It'll be fun!
Fun as that might be, there is still a mission to accomplish. Maybe Cai Wen can intercept Hunyin before he hires the ninja house, possibly by disguising himself as them. Ayuki thinks this sounds like a great plan. But getting the actual Night Blades out of the way seems like it would be useful as well, lest Hunyin stumble across them first.
Cai Wen concludes that the best way to get them out of the way is to hire them himself to steal Sage Tuan's notes, and Ayuki puts the word out to them. That evening, as the two of them are eating dinner together, the candles begin to flicker and then go out.
- "Who summons the Blade of Night?"
- "Lord Zhu!"
Cai Wen explains the mission - he wants to learn what someone else’s plans are and he thinks they probably have notes that can be stolen. He also wants to add a couple of riders: no incidental collateral deaths, and an option to thwart the plans, to be negotiated based on what the plans turn out to be. Also, he wants an exclusive contract.
- "I need the full focus of the House of the Night Blade."
- "You give many conditions, but it can be done. Two hundred and fifty li."
- "Oh, also it's a rush job."
- "Three hundred li."
Cai Wen has another request - if they get a request from Ma Hunyin could it be forwarded to Cai Wen? No, that's definitely against the rules. However, the House of the Night Blade will set off on the requested mission, so that leaves the field open for Cai Wen to impersonate them, and Ayuki arranges to intercept Hunyin's request for a meeting and sets a location.
He disguises himself as a ninja, and Ayuki pretends to look scared.
- "Don't forget to be overly dramatic, or he won't buy it." -Ayuki
Hunyin comes in and sits down and waits, and Cai Wen decloaks.
- "Who seeks the services of the Night Blade?"
- "One who demands Vengeance!"
- "Vengeance for what?"
- "That is not your concern."
Hunyin offers the South Wind’s store of favors and blackmail on other houses of the Arcade (and the peanut gallery starts gesturing to take them!)
- "It will not be difficult. Even at this moment she is at an inn, unguarded."
- "Do you wish it done simply, or In Grand Style?"
- "I care not, so long as she dies."
- "If she resists, if there are guards around her, they shall be slaughtered. To the man!"
- "I believe she has no guards right now, but I wish the job done! I will leave the matter in your hands."
- "If that is what you want, then I will take your payment."
- "I will trust in the honor of the Night Blade to see her dead"
Apparently Hunyin does not have as much of a sense of the overdramatic, but Cai Wen takes the box of favors, and is told that his target is Lady Jin of the House of Beneficent Travel, staying at the expected inn.
Hunyin departs, followed clandestinely by Lin Fortune.
- "That was bold, I didn't expect you to take the contract. You probably haven't assassinated anyone before, but there's always a first." -Ayuki
- "It's the house of the Night Blade's honor on the line, not mine." -Cai Wen
One of the Danger Squad reports back that Hunyin has gone to a popular taproom and is drinking, making sure he is noticed. Cai Wen tells them to make sure he gets very drunk.
- "A perilous mission, but we can take it on."
The "get Hunyin drunk" mission proceeds without incident; the Danger Squad lugs Hunyin back to his house, and Cai Wen heads in to have a Word with Lord Ma. He is shown in, and Lord Ma proves to be a different sort of dramatic - he has a single glass, and a single candle, on his big desk.
Does Cai Wen bring news of Hunyin? Cai Wen explains that Hunyin has been shuttled off to his room, with too much to drink. But there are complications which must be worked out.
- "You wish payment for your service? Not unreasonable." -Lord Ma
Cai Wen puts the box on the desk, and Lord Ma gasps. Then, he looks surprised when he discovers that the contents are all there.
- "He is under the impression that he gave them to the House of the Night Blade for the assassination of the Lady Jin." -Cai Wen
- "Our house could not survive such folly." -Lord Ma
- "When he wakes up, he needs to never speak of this." -Cai Wen
Cai Wen suggests that Lord Ma may have to lock up his son for a bit, and offers to help with the lovelorn young man, but Lord Ma looks stern. Apparently hiring ninjas goes beyond simply lovelorn, and his father will deal with it.
Cai Wen also notes that his comrades are working mightily and exuberantly to retrieve Lord Ma's other two sons. Lord Ma can offer a favor, but it must come with stipulations that it not interfere with their present arrangement with the House of Judicious Increase.
Cai Wen nods, and takes his leave.
- "Nobody plays the game quite like you do. I love these dates." -Ayuki