|"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data."|| The run begins shortly after the first day of spring, the Day of the Early Tiger in the month of the Tiger in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place in the Butterfly Kingdom
Interviews with Bosses
The next morning, in the aftermath of the attack, while people are recovering from the zombie-pocalypse that was narrowly avoided, Merit notes that the first thing that needs to be done is to search the northern ship... wait, it's underwater? How did it get underwater? Why did no one tell him that it burned to the waterline? Takanata and Xiao Fa must placate Merit to keep him from stomping off again in grumpiness, but then he starts considering how one might raise a sunken ruin of a ship - perhaps some of the abalone divers that are common on the eastern shore could be of help.
Takanata notes that while they are contemplating things to do, they should also put on the list "talk to the King about the Prince having assigned a Dragon Soldier to the Kingdom," which may have mystical repercussions. The other two investigators assign Takanata to arrange an audience with the King and Queen, so he requests an audience with His Majesty at His Majesty's convenience.
Ringmaster Te gives everyone the standard spiel about Her Majesty asking the circus to delay its departure for slightly more auspicious omens, and Merit is summoned to a secret meeting.
M (Merit's boss) wants to know everything Merit knows about yesterday's zombie attack - since Merit is in close with the I Ching master and other weird experts, as well as his own skills, he's best placed to figure out the details. What will he need for the investigation? Merit says he'll need to raise the boat, so that divers don't get eaten by underwater zombies. Maybe divers to attach ropes, and a crane of some sort... or a water sorcerer with clearance. M doesn't have any water sorcerers on staff, but tells him to talk to the Court Steward about getting divers or a crane. M has arranged for Merit to be able to request sometime today five minutes with each of:
- The King
- The Queen
- The Prince
- Privy Councillor Tokai Takanata
- High Treasurer/Steward Kai Kei
- Court Archivist Ota Kobu
- Foreign Minister Zhang Wei
- Master of Perfected Distinction Katsuo Narina
- The Captain of the Royal Guard
Merit should use these appointments when he needs them.
Meanwhile, Takanata is already meeting with His Majesty Ti Lao. Takanata briefs the king that he thinks the "zombie apocalypse" was the Northerners' second plan - their first plan was to separate the chi of the Butterfly Kingdom from the chi of the Empire, to make it more Northern. It's not clear how any of the political agreements being proposed would have done that, so Takanata wants to investigate the boat to try to figure out more of their original plans. But, the boat is at the secret port - can he bring his companions? The king thinks that Takanata's investigation would be an appropriate thing to do at this time; Takanata should bring those he trusts, but try to keep the location from being generally known.
Takanata contemplates inviting Ti Jun - he probably would be interested in the investigation, and might well be good at swimming. However, the Prince is not immediately findable, so he officially recruits Xiao Fa to the investigation instead.
Captain of the Guard
The investigators decide to start with the guest palace (where the Northerners were staying), because it's not underwater.
- "How retired are you, anyway?" -Xiao Fa
- "Um... technically, not so much any more. I asked for combat pay for that previous thing..." -Merit
Merit uses his five minutes with the Captain of the Guard, and brings Xiao Fa and Takanata. He explains that he is assisting Takanata in the lord's investigation, and is handling logistics.
- "You should totally use the five minutes with me, to see if it gives me another use of my shticks." -Takanata
The captain notes that he will have to inform the Prince that his soldier is doing well already - Merit and the others are completely befuddled by this apparent non sequitur. Merit clarifies that their investigation is about the undead attack, not Wei Han. The captain shifts gears and notes that in that case, he should be able to find a smokehouse for them. Merit is still baffled, and asks about getting permission to examine the guest palace. The captain nods - that's easy enough to arrange. Merit cautiously asks - what about the smokehouse? The captain says, if he's planning to raise things from the ship, he might need to dry them out...? Merit agrees - yes, smokehouses, good to see the captain is on top of these things...
Takanata is pretty sure that the captain of the guard just spent a free shtick use of something on that smokehouse idea, but doesn’t follow up. Anyhow, the captain agrees to assign them a guard to go with them to the palace, and that they'll have clearance to poke around. Merit, emboldened, demands extra guards, as protection for Lord Tokai in case there are zombies! The captain says there are guards in the guest palace already - just make sure to not take the lord off the beaten path.
So... what was that about the Prince's soldier? The captain says that the Prince recently appointed Sergeant Shen Wei Han - he tried to appoint him as the head of the Butterfly Kingdom garrison, but His Majesty the King overruled him, and he's actually the Dragon Army liaison to the Butterfly Kingdom instead. When Merit said that Takanata was investigating the big mess yesterday, he thought that was what he meant. Merit mentions the increased number of soldiers on vacation in the Butterfly Kingdom. The captain thinks there are often vacationing soldiers here, because they don't ever get posted to the island, but if there's been an increase over time, that's something the Archivist might have numbers on.
Merit asks if Wei Han's appointment adds any paperwork for the captain. He says that he was following standard procedure by blowing Wei Han off for the past few months, but now that the Prince has officially assigned him, it should be okay. Hopefully he won't bring too many friends. Merit suggests that Wei Han will be leaving again in a week or so, and the captain looks unofficially relieved, but notes that Wei Han is a good egg.
Takanata wonders to himself - would naming Wei Han an "official" Butterfly soldier have made it harder to Northernify the Butterfly Kingdom? Quite possibly. The Northern Wall protects the Northern countries against the North - it doesn't generally protect the South. So... adding someone tied to the North Wall might do something protective.
Merit says maybe he should ask the Steward about the smokehouse... Takanata overrules him - if the captain can find him a smokehouse, they would be most grateful. Then, the trio take their leave to head to the Guest Palace.
- "That's a classic Butterfly/Magpie interaction. "Nah, it'll be fine." "But we might need MORE STUFF from him."" -Xiao Fa
- "Yeah, butterflies do stuff, we pick up the mess." -Merit
As the group leaves, there is a servant waiting with sugared dumplings for Takanata, but as they approach, a newcomer in very fancy clothing takes one himself. Merit identifies his dress as that of a fairly high-ranking Imperial Bureaucrat. The group quickly leaves, wondering what the bureaucrat is doing with the captain, but not wanting to get entangled in bureaucracy themselves.
Once the group reaches the Guest Palace, Merit starts interviewing guards. The ambassador (who they think was from one of the northern countries, probably the Qin Chao Steppes) was housed in the higher-security wing where careful track is kept of the guests, rather than the wing where guests are well-pampered. During the attack there were some undead here, but it wasn't nearly as bad as at the Court of Distinction, where the guards pretty much were all killed or turned into zombies. While the guards did their best to keep an eye on the ambassador, he did have a knack for vanishing. Sometimes he would go into a room, shut the door, and then turn up elsewhere later, which was starting to be quite worrisome. One of the guest palace guards was killed by undead, and another one went AWOL during the night watch before the combat. He hasn't turned up yet, but rumor has it he has a mistress, so they're disapproving rather than worried. He was in a general rotation around the grounds.
Merit starts poking around with detective skill before the two Tao masters start "going all whoozhy". He does find some notes in Torghut in the ambassador's quarters, detailing their trade proposals:
- Cultural: the Butterfly Kingdom will receive many cool things like art and furs, in exchange for the un-needed corpses of their ancestors.
- Legal: the Butterfly Kingdom will deliver troops and technical advisors and mages; the ambassador's clan will provide undead armies, and together they will destroy the Qin Chao Steppes.
- Blood: the Butterfly Kingdom and the ambassador's clan will exchange noble daughters and noble sons in numerous cross-marriages.
Merit notes that these are probably the public notes, expected to be searched.
Would doing one of these have automatically changed the Butterfly Kingdom's chi to be northern? Xiao Fa thinks that it's possible that the sheer weight of all three changes together might have done it, but it seems more likely to him that one of them would provide a lever for some sort of ritual. Merit wonders why they didn't propose something more reasonable. They couldn't really have expected to get the bodies of their ancestors, right? Takanata notes that three dents in the wall are not the same as one hole.
- "The master is wise to use the metaphor of the wall..."
Xiao Fa concentrates on the chi of the area - there are some residual perturbations, but nothing strong going on. He prowls around outside, focusing on the missing guard's route, in the areas where he was unobserved, and finds one place where the chi is more strongly disturbed.
Merit finds a secret pocket in some of the furs in the ambassador's room, with some mouse bones in it. Takanata thinks the bones are not undead, but they've been charged with nasty Yin-like effects - they're foci or anchors for something.
Merit also considers (using his new shtick) who's in town related to the Northern plot. Much of the party has already left on their minirun-vacations; the members of the Court are here. An Imperial Bureaucrat is in town from the Hidden City. There's a junior assistant archivist in town, just hired (who Merit immediately decides is a spy). Wei Han is not in town, which also seems relevant.
Then, Takanata putters around trying to make the rooms look more like they held an ambassador from the Qin Chao Steppes; he removes the particularly northern-barbarian things, and arranges things in a way more reminiscent of the Steppes. Merit's detective skills flinch at faking evidence, but his spy skills are impressed.
Tracking reveals that there is some sort of secret door in the wall around the guest palace - at least, there are faint tracks going to and from the wall there. But Merit is completely unable to actually find a door there. Maybe it's something magical? It's in the area where the chi is disturbed and the guard vanished.
Following the chi downhill, Xiao Fa walks to the wall, exactly where Merit says the door is. Xiao Fa says that this is a chi road, not a door. Hmm.
- "I bet the Prince could find the secret door..." -Takanata
Court of Distinction
Merit declares (as he still doesn't want to deal with underwater zombies) that the next stop should be the Court of Distinction, where the main attack on the Queen was.
There are a lot of workmen, cleaning up the damage and icky goo that is all over the place. Merit asks if there is reason to believe that there were a lot of dead bodies buried in the Court where the zombies rose. Nobody thinks that the Court of Distinction was secretly built on an ancient cemetery, at least, not as far as they know. Some of the slain "lifedeath" zombies are still here to examine, so Xiao Fa takes a look.
The bones are very old, as if they were buried long ago, but the flesh on the bones seems to be much more recently dead. So - a skeleton that turned into a zombie before climbing out? Takanata thinks to necromantically turn a random skeleton into a walking around skeleton, you need to add some amount of life. (This is different than the undead one sees more often in the Empire, which tend to be naturally occurring due to the circumstances of death or unquietude, rather than due to necromantic action.) Xiao Fa declares that the most important thing for them is to give them good funeral services to make sure they are properly laid to rest. The bodies will be sent to the graveyard that Hana and others visited during the run - Xiao Fa goes along to see that they are properly laid to rest.
Merit pokes around and determines that some of the zombies came up from underneath paving stones, so if there were bodies buried, they would have been buried before the paving stones were laid. Asking a gardener when the paving stones were laid only determines that it was before his time - the flower beds are often changed and moved with the season, but not the paving stones. He suggests asking the Archivist or the Master of Perfected Distinction for dates.
In addition to the waves of zombies in the palaces, there were also zombies who rose from graveyards farther away - Xiao Fa's investigation there indicates that they are in more normal stages of decay, and appear to be the bodies of the people buried there.
Merit can find no more excuses to procrastinate, and it is time to visit the Northern ship. As they head that way, Xiao Fa notes that this has put them back on the chi road from the guest palace - it runs between the guest palace and the secret cove. Once the group reaches the cove, Xiao Fa notes that the chi road goes to the "terminal" now under water at the dock.
The guards there are those who were stationed there the night before, and say they saw the ship catch fire. It caught all at once, and the foreign sailors / guards who were on board caught fire and burnt as well. None of them jumped overboard - they just stood there burning and died quickly, according to the guards, who are somewhat creeped out by that.
The guards describe the supplies that the ship took on - some food, a bit of local clothing and souvenirs. The people on the ship wore necklaces with small flat metal bits on them, and mostly appeared to be good fighters. They were armed with curved swords with sawteeth. Merit asks if they seemed like experienced sailors. One of the guards says yes; another says they only looked experienced to the first guard because he has no sailing experience.
- "There's a bunch of books down there that we need to get out for the smokehouse." -Takanata
Still procrastinating from jumping in the water, Merit wonders what the bureaucrat will be able to tell. Takanata assumes he'll be able to figure out all the favors they cash, and then realizes that he'll probably try but won't be able to get everything. Thinking about it bureaucratically, he will probably figure out when shticks were involved, but not what the results were. More mundane things in the person's specialty, he'll be able to figure out, but probably not the things that are out of their purview - like the captain of the guard arranging for the smokehouse rather than the steward.
Impatient, Xiao Fa starts stripping to go in the water. Merit protests that there might be undead down there, but Xiao Fa says he can't tell from up here if that's true. Before he goes down, though, Merit pays one of the guards to catch a fish, which he gets a drop of blood from to use with the monocle. Fastening a line through the fish's gills, they tie the unhappy fish to Xiao Fa, and he dives down to the burnt ship.
As it was a large boat, there is still some amount of structure remaining; he reaches the new top of the boat, and swims through an opening. There is a hall with several doors off of it. Then, he goes up for air, and dives again. The first door leads to what appear to be crew quarters - there is a dead body floating, entangled with a hammock; Merit notices (through the fish's eyes) a coin purse on the man's belt. Xiao Fa heads to the room across the hall, which has a weapons rack (half-empty) and a wooden box full of bones. He heads back up, but he's been overly ambitious, and is quite exhausted and out of breath when he gets to the surface.
Takanata starts taking his robes off, getting ready to swim, but Xiao Fa is appalled - no, Lord Takanata should not be going swimming down with zombies, this one will go! Merit acquires a boathook, and Xiao Fa goes back down with it, hooking the corpse to bring up, and then getting the box of bones. The bones prove to be small human bones - finger bones, foot bones, that sort of thing, nicely cleaned and polished with two runes carved in each. The money pouch has a handful of strips of copper and silver, apparently Northern money.
Merit examines the bones and wonders if they are for "casting the bones" - probably not, as the ten bones are all very similar to each other. The group also contemplates the weapons rack - there were spaces for about twenty sawtooth swords, and only ten were there. The dead body has a non-sawtooth blade, but the undead abominations had sawtooth swords. The dock guards say that there were about ten northerners who left the ship, some of whom had swords - with six abominations, maybe there are four unaccounted for?
On Xiao Fa's next dive, he finds the galley - and a room full of coffins! He flees back up to the surface again. Finally, the last door is locked and has some Torghut writing on it - this is the only door to have a label so far.
Takanata wonders why he hasn't come up with any prophetic art, and realizes that the answer is "because Merit hasn't asked for any yet." Merit tries to convince Takanata to draw some prophetic art without burning the five minute interview that M allotted, but that doesn't actually work.
- "Lord Takanata, could I have a few minutes of your time? I'm investigating the Northern ship, is there any advice you could give me...?" -Merit
On thinking about it, Merit decides that the thing he wants advice on is how to safely investigate the ship and the Northern plot. Using his Crossroads shtick, Takanata thinks the safest thing to do requires talking to the Steward after the bureaucrat has already spoken to him.
- "He didn't seem to really want the prophetic art." -Mike
- "So... the safest thing to do right now is to get a beer and wait?" -Merit
Xiao Fa goes back down to look at the locked door more closely - it has a keyhole, so maybe the key is in the pile of goo that used to be the ambassador? The trio heads back to the Court of Distinction to check.
Artist, Archivist, and Foreign Minister
The workmen have been talking about dumping the goo in the ocean, which Merit is aghast at. He does successfully fish out the key, and one of the sawtooth swords, using a magnet. Takanata thinks that the sword isn't magical, but that it's culturally relevant/important.
Takanata summons the new Junior Assistant Archivist, who turns out to be Jin, the old assistant to the Cryptomancer that Takanata had talked into leaving his service. Takanata contemplates the deepest connection between Jin and Li Merit, on the theory that if Jin is a spy, that should show something, but it appears that the deepest connection is actually that Jin is an acquaintance of one of Li Merit's many pawns.
- "I have pawns? Why was I not informed?" -Merit
Jin explains that his girlfriend is pretty into art, and while "assistant archivist" isn't quite the research gig he used to have, he finds it interesting to research in the archives rather than the world sometimes. Hey, since Jin isn't one of the main players in the interview mechanic, maybe the bureaucrat won't learn about anything he does.
Takanata is briefly confused - why does the Butterfly Court have an archivist, anyway? (Well, pretty much every court has some sort of archives...) From what he can recall, the archivist is the only person in Merit's list who has no shticks and no aspect - he was a true peasant, raised to his position by the King. Merit assumes that must means he has all the (skill-buffing) shticks Merit is in search of, and from there commences a brief digression on peasants and not having shticks and so on.
Once back on target, Takanata wonders if Jin actually has time to help them. Well, the Archivist told him to file some papers, and he's done that, so he's happy to assist with any researches they're doing.
- "This job... pays reasonably well..." -Jin
The investigators also cash in their five minutes with Katsuo Narina, the Master of Perfected Distinction. She is quite upset by the... recent troubles, and asks after Master Yoshinosuke.
- "Who?" -Takanata
- "What do you mean, who? You are the only person who calls him that!" -Laura
Anyhow, they have not seen Yoshi for a few days, as he is off on a different mini-run. Narina asks if their sergeant approved of the armor? The Prince commissioned it and asked her to oversee the aesthetic details, within the restrictions of specific ideas about the theme, the Butterfly united with the Dragon. So, she designed the Butterfly Dragon Armor, it was constructed by local armorsmiths, and is now worn by Wei Han. In fact, she can give a detailed description of the aesthetics, as if she has just given it recently and it is at the top of her head. Aside from the armor, she was asking after Yoshi's schedule so that the piece for him would be ready before he leaves. Takanata is surprised - did Yoshi request something from her? No, it was... to be a surprise. Takanata gossips with her about the bureaucrat. Apparently, he arrived to investigate the niggly details about Wei Han's posting, but then found the ... recent troubles ... to investigate as well.
Leaving Narina again and focusing back on Jin, Takanata checks if he reads Torghut. Somewhat, he says. Takanata gives him the Torghut poem, but instructs him to not discuss it with others.
Merit heads off to talk to M, and confirms that there are secret doors in the guest palace, but they aren't at that place in the wall. Also - who has the imperial bureaucrat been talking to?
He started with the Captain of the Guard, then went to the Master of Perfected Distinction. Then he spent a long time with the Prince. Now he's talking to the Steward. Apparently, he's a bureaucrat in the Dragon Army Planning Office, and recently a bunch of paperwork was filed which required his presence to oversee it. According to M, he spoke to the Prince yesterday as well, and then changed all his plans to stay for another day, and then the undead attacked and he has been investigating that. Well, that timing is certainly curious. M thinks he is unlikely to speak to the King or the Queen. He hasn't yet talked to Takanata, or the Foreign Minister, or the Archivist, though he stops by the Archives daily.
Takanata gets a message requesting five minutes of his time with the bureaucrat; before heading to that meeting, he considers how to keep their own five-minute meeting results from being learned. Maybe Narina can arrange for pearl/abalone divers? Merit thinks he can arrange for divers himself, using some of his contacts shticks. Also, Merit lays a false trail with the Foreign Minister - he asks for everything they know about previous political relationships with the Qin Chao Steppes up until now. The briefing gives Merit 4 levels of KS: Qin Chao Steppes, usable once, but the real answer is that they really don't have a lot of interaction with it. The Circus is probably one of the larger points of contact, as it turns out - the Foreign Minister is a great supporter of the Silken Wings Circus. The Butterfly Kingdom's imperial regent probably has more dealings with the Steppes’ regent than the countries themselves.
Takanata grants the bureaucrat his audience; the bureaucrat attempts to get Takanata to use his connection shtick, but it doesn't actually work quite the way he thinks. He presents a list of facts and a question:
The Prince wished to appoint Shen Wei Han as Dragon Army Garrison Commander. The king said that didn't seem like a good idea at the time; the bureaucrat suggested the "liaison" position, and both the Prince and the King agreed to that. That was done, the armor was commissioned and presented by the Prince's hand. That should have settled things, but it did not. Why did that not settle things?
Takanata's prophetic art writes a short poem indicating that the answer is "because Shen Wei Han is immune to corruption in both directions - he cannot be corrupted, nor can he corrupt." The bureaucrat finds that unexpected, but enlightening.
The bureaucrat is now done with the investigation of Wei Han's position, though he's still finishing up his investigating of the zombie apocalypse, having changed his purview to cover that as well. (Takanata notes that he is clearly a very high level bureaucrat, as he is keeping very close track of his time in his logbook.)
Looting the Ship
Xiao Fa goes back to the Court of Distinction to lay the goo to rest more permanently. The workers are now putting it in casks, to be sealed and buried deep with warding symbols, after having been chastised for the idea of dumping it in the harbor. Xiao Fa hits the goo with "Restoring the Balance", which causes it to lose a lot of its cohesion; Xiao Fa thinks that's a good sign.
Jin returns with a translation -
A face that has never known joy can only grimace, not smile
A wasp is an enemy, yet do not strike the nest
The split blood united
The word "blood" there is more complicated than it appears - it's also similar to Tao or Chi or Blood and Life and Death. Takanata explains about the different Tao of the northern lands, and Jin finds this greatly intriguing, and hurries off "to do an experiment."
The investigators head back to the secret dock, and Merit arranges for divers who can bring up the contents of the ship. The first rooms have nothing particularly interesting - the room full of coffins is more worrisome.
In the first coffin is the missing guard from the guest palace, and a Northerner, stabbed together with an iron spear. The chi masters think that this is forging a direct connection between the comrades of one and the comrades of the other - maybe that's what drove the conversion of guards into undead?
The next coffin has a Northerner and a guard from the Court of Distinction, similarly stabbed together. Then, there are three empty coffins. Finally, another heavy coffin - with a Northerner who stands up and tries to attack the group, but between the dock guards and Merit's thugs, it is dispatched with only some trouble. Xiao Fa notes that the magic sustaining it will keep bringing it back again, though weaker and weaker over time. (It's probably good that they didn't open the box until today). Takanata thinks that there isn't much information to be gleaned from it now - there might have been, before it got up, but now it's just a monster. Xiao Fa hits it with Restoring the Balance, and it stops trying to get up.
The divers copy down what the Torghut on the door says, and the group goes off in search of Jin for a translation. He has finished his experiment at this point, and explains that he wanted to translate Yin, Yang, and Chi into Torghut, but found it very difficult. Yin means "defending/death" and Yang means "attacking/life" and Chi hardly means anything at all. As for the door, it reads "High Lord of Life and Death" (as distinct from Blood, Takanata clarifies). Jin thinks it's a formal title, rather than a precise technical description.
Then, the investigators head back to the boat. Xiao Fa takes the key that Merit retrieved from the goo, and heads down with the divers, this time with Takanata as well. The key unlocks the locked door, and inside, there are a lot of pages floating around. Touching the paper risks destroying it, but Merit figures out that the trick is to put a box around the paper in the water, and then bring the box out again. After all the paper is retrieved, in boxes, Takanata goes down one more time and looks around with Eyes of the I Ching. The most obvious thing is that the ship itself is wrong - it just shouldn't be in these waters at all. There is also a small magical effect in the headboard of the bed, in what will turn out to be a secret compartment when the furniture is brought up - it has two small bones, similar to the ones in the box of ten.
Merit tips the divers and thugs heavily, and persuades them that if they tell the story of the battle against the undead, they should move it to take place in the Harbor of Shining Reflections, and it should have happened during the zombie apocalypse.
One bone is given to Q branch, and one to Jin to investigate. The iron spikes are also sent to Q branch. The bodies of the two guards are returned to their families, and the other dead are interred.
Merit has a quick meeting with the steward, and asks about the doings of the ambassador - the main thing is he seemed to appear and disappear when no one was watching, which was becoming a security concern. Merit also commends the flower arranger to him.
The papers are moved to the smokehouse, and a quick check with M reports that the bureacrat is wrapping up. He has his last meeting, with the Archivist, and then he departs. Yay, now it is safe to talk to the Archivist. They talk about the paper drying in the smokehouse (Merit picks up a one-shot level of KS: Paper), while Takanata asks about what reports the bureaucrat filed.
He filed a copy of his reports with the archives here, and his reports mostly seemed to cover:
- Sergeant Shen Wei Han is immune to corruption, which he finds remarkable, but does not appear to be planned.
- As far as he can tell, a bunch of undead attacked during private negotiations between the Butterfly Kingdom and the Qin Chao Steppes, and he really thinks finding out WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT is important.
Jin comes back, wondering if Takanata knows what a corruption point is. And, yup, he has one now. Breaking the fingerbone heals 3d10, but gives you a corruption point. Takanata wonders if having a corruption point will let people see the name changes. On the other hand, Wei Han doesn't get corruption points, but did get the zooming-out effect and can see name changes. So maybe they're different. But both have to do with not being as strongly tied to the chi of the Empire, so maybe it's related? Hard to say.
Merit checks - is anyone from the circus retiring to the Butterfly Kingdom instead of heading back out this season? Yes, one person is. Ahah! He can listen for name changes and tell the Prince in an emergency.
Jin is detailed to translate the papers, once they're dry (and Takanata gets 5 levels of Torghut, usable once). Much of the paper is destroyed and illegible, but he does learn:
- It's clear that the ambassador was making notes several times a day, despite having never "returned to the boat" visibly.
- There are several letters to and from his clan chief, expressing great concern over this mission; the clan chief does not want to lose his Master of Life and Death. On the other hand, there are potential vast benefits, and the clan might even impress the great Khan himself, if they can pull the mission off.
- It's really hard to sail from the north down - when you try to hit land, something terrible happens. They think the North Wall doesn't work so well against the southern kingdoms, though, so they sailed around the northern Empire and down to the south before docking at the Butterfly Kingdom. That seemed to work.
- They didn't really believe any of the offers would be accepted, but if they had been, that would have made things easier.
- A report from the Lord of Blood (a higher title than Master of Life and Death) around which they based this mission. They have examined carefully the blood of the Great Enemy, and determined that the Great Enemy is dying. Unfortunately, the Great Enemy does have one source of life remaining, that being what they call the Butterfly Kingdom. Could they pull it away from the Great Enemy, then it would die.
- The ambassador has ghost-walking abilities.
- Yesterday, it all went horribly awry; somehow, the power of the Northern Wall appeared, half their rituals crashed, and their plan seemed doomed to failure. So the ambassador decided to go to the emergency backup plan "kill everyone with zombies."
It seems clear that there was some sort of communication in real time going on, but it is not clear how. Merit thinks it wasn't instant - no real time conversations, but it was pretty fast. The paper itself seems normal, not like Min Feng's magic paper.
Takanata wonders: did he create the chi road, or did it appear there because he travelled it a lot? Xiao Fa thinks he built a direct connection from the ship to the guest palace, and, also, looking at the chi, he built a direct connection from the ship to several graveyards. Takanata is certain that these are Blood Roads, not Chi roads. There is another digression into philosophical distinctions.
- "If Yin plus Yang equals Chi, and Yin plus Yang plus Chi is Tao, then Tao is two Chi." -Merit
- "No." -Takanata
Looking around at those graveyards, they appear to be ones that had fewer undead rise from them - the farther away graveyards, not the ones nearer to the capital.
- "We're not done, are we?" -Merit
The group visits one of the graveyards at the end of the Chi/Blood road (which is, happily, fading), and Xiao Fa thinks this graveyard is ... less like a graveyard than others that he has seen. The essence of graveyardness has left it. As if they've tapped it for mana.
- "Oddly enough, this makes me madder than anything else they've done. They used people's ancestors for POWER." -Merit
Takanata does a Connections reading about the Master of Life and Death and his clan chief.
Then, the group meets with the King, and Merit gives him a full briefing on everything they've determined. He suggests that the ship be raised and burned and given funeral rites, just in case. The King says he has no opinion on this, so it shall be as Merit says. Hmm. Takanata wonders why that's neutral, rather than positive. Will it be more difficult for the Marked to rename the kingdom if the ship is left there? Probably not.
Takanata asks about the Dragon Army subplot, and the King explains. When Ti Jun proposed a garrison, he forbade it, because that was never a good idea. He was quite surprised when the suggested post of liaison appeared to be a good idea - the bit with lack of corruption explains why it was a good idea at the time, and he is pleased that this has resolved some niggling doubts that he has been harboring about Wei Han.
- "As far as we can tell, he is incorruptible. Annoying, but incorruptible. The two often go together." -Merit
Then, there is a meeting with the Prince. Takanata tells him that appointing Wei Han as his soldier did provide protection against the Northerners, but only his incorruptibility prevented the country's name from changing. Ti Jun is a bit dubious about this - one soldier would have changed the name? Chochiro told him that the Strand had its name changed because of the building of the Coil, and there were certainly Dragon Army soldiers there before that. Takanata shrugs - it was expected to do something, certainly. Ti Jun says that they should not assume that their enemies can only harm them in one way.Merit mentions the circus retiree, as another way to tell if the Butterfly Kingdom's name has changed. Ti Jun would be glad to have a method that doesn't rely on telling if his poetry is getting worse - the more he re-reads it, the worse it seems already. If the retiree sends him a message - say, something wishing him a happy whatever the most recent holiday was - then he will take that as a sign. (A message to him may be read, but it will probably not be utterly discarded without him seeing it). Also, Takanata mentions Jin and his corruption point - that might also let him detect name-changing. Ti Jun mentions the other people bitten by zombies - do any of them have corruption points? Once Takanata checks into that, it turns out that some of the people who weren't in the central battle have corruption points - the ones who were in Hiro/Hana's effect don't.