|"If you understand, things are just as they are.
If you do not understand, things are just as they are."
| The run begins on the Day of the Early Spider in the Month of the Phoenix in the Tenth Year of the Bear since the since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in Tahiti
- "When last we saw our heroes..." -Mike
- "We're going to have to start putting quotes around that word." -Xian
When last we saw our heroes, the House of Exuberant Interference had invaded the Tanzhe Plain, and sorted out some loose ends afterwards. Cai Wen and much of the military staff, as well as the senior butler, are in the command HQ keeping an eye on things, and Takanata is at the Temple of Eternal Dream apologizing for having failed egregiously at the "sort out the bandits without violence" mission, so Merit is in charge of the folks left at Tahiti. People give him a brief rundown on how the invasion went, and mention that Cai Wen refused all the tribute offered. That could be an issue going forward.
The junior butler appears to mention that there is a delegation from the House of Benevolent Oversight waiting in the antechamber, led by Lord Nikoze. Oh! That reminds those who have read the logs to warn Merit that there's some sort of... thing... with numbers... that Ezokin did, that could be dangerous. No one is really confident of the details, so they suggest that he talk to Kui Daishu, the new accountant.
Dashu starts to explain to Merit that there have been a number of irregularities in the accounts.
- "Can we go over those very quickly?" -Merit
- "No. There were many irregularities, but in consultation with your playwright and... your personal chef, they have been expunged." -Daishu
- ""Playwright" and "Personal Chef" are working titles." -Merit
Merit tries to summon the Cook and Hayato. Hayato turns out to be in a different meeting - the butler says, with a patron interested in commissioning a play. The butler is instructed to tell Hayato that Merit has gone to talk to the undercover moneymancer. The cook does arrive, though.
- "So... a magical ritual was averted?" -Merit
- "You'd have to talk to Hayato, but "averted" might be overstating the peril." -Cook
She thinks that it was more like a step along the path towards a ritual than an actual ritual either in progress or impending. At this point, Hayato arrives, having ducked out of his meeting with the death plague guy.
Meetings With Visitors
Everyone is rather taken aback to hear that there is a death plague guy in the house, but Hayto restates a bit more clearly - a deaf play guy. There is someone who wants to commission a play for the deaf. Ah. That's a little less scary. Hayato mentions that he also needs to talk to Merit and Yanyu, but he is told to wait until later.
Having stalled for enough briefing as Merit feels capable of absorbing, the party (without Yanyu or Deng, who might be seen as mortal enemies of Ezokin) head in to meet the delegation. Lord Nikoze introduces the two other envoys from the House of Benevolent Oversight, the two from the House of Judicious Increase, and the two from the House of Gainful Protection. And Lord Nikoze's assistant.
Lord Nikoze is also interested in talking to Merit about a side issue, but Merit is much more interested in hearing the official messages being conveyed. Well, the House of Benevolent Oversight sends official congratulations on the victory, and condolences on those losses suffered by the House forces. The King wishes them to know that they have his utmost confidence as to the administration of the area and he sends a general "well done". Merit, in return, asks that his thanks be conveyed to the King for his support, and that Merit hopes that they can work together for the good of the administered region with profit for all. (The HBO envoys look interested in talking about the "good of the administered region", and the HJI is interested in the "with profit for all" part.)
Does the House of Gainful Protection have any messages to convey? They give a generally positive but nearly content-free congratulatory commendation, though Xian notices the hint of a smirk when casualties are mentioned. Merit gives them a quick high level overview about what forces went where, as they don't seem to be from the "invade the Tanzhe" branch of the HGP, and buddies up to them to make it seem like it's a big confidential deal.
- "A little bit of theater never hurt anyone." -Merit
- "... um, no, that's really not true." -Xian
The House of Benevolent Oversight is more interested in the question of the unilateral abandonment of the tribute. Basically, the way the Tanzhe Plain works (at least when the Arcade controls it) is that it provides +2 resources to the ruling house, while the houses delegated to control it get +1 resources. Right now, they're all getting +0 resources, because Cai Wen sent the tribute back in order to build credit with the religious orders of the plain.
Merit explains that the House's plan is to take a longer view than usual. If the local population can be brought on board, then they will assist in defending the Tanzhe against other countries for years to come. (No one has briefed Merit on the part of Horse’s plan that involves losing it to the Plains of Honor in a year or so.) The House of Benevolent Oversight would be willing to accept a +1 instead of a +2 temporarily, if it leads to larger benefits in the end, but they are less sanguine about "Oh, we've just decided to not collect taxes there" as a general policy. Nailing down the exact mechanics that the House of Exuberant Interference is promising is important.
The butler comes in, looking for someone he can pass a message to, and is diverted to Shuyan. He tells her of yet another expected visitor. Wei Han is suspicious - Lord Nikoze's assistant may have been paying attention to that. Shuyan heads away from the main chamber, and spots Hayato heading down the hall with several people waving their arms around, and someone else who is clearly Ando in disguise.
Shuyan heads to confer with Deng and Yanyu, the other two people not in the main chamber, and warns them that Prince Ti Jun is on his way. Yanyu throws some emergency event planning into overdrive, while Shuyan hurries off to catch up to Hayato and Ando.
Ando and Hayato chat with Shuyan about the commissioning of a play. The two others accompanying Ando are deaf actors - Ando explains that they can wave their arms and it's like talking. (The actors face-palm at the oversimplification.) The "mainstream play establishment" is not interested in such an avant-garde demonstration, so they have come to talk to Hayato about commissioning such a work.
Meanwhile, Merit talks to the two envoys from the House of Judicious Increase more about his Plan For Long-Term Benefit. After some while, he begins to think that one of them is just generally agreeing, but isn't completely following the conversation, as if he is not a financial expert. The second envoy says he's more interested in the international relations aspects; Merit asks for a dossier on the reactions of the Forest of Chin and the Plains of Honor, and the envoy says he'll have one prepared for Merit.
The group gathers together to brief each other on the varied guests in the house. Merit is nonplussed to hear that Ando is wandering the house unsupervised. People fan out looking for wandering guests. Deng finds Hayato and several of the actors, and sneaks up behind them with a bell. When he rings the bell loudly, Hayato jumps and glares at Deng, but the actors don't appear to notice until Hayato jumps. Xian joins them, after losing Shuyan and failing to find Ando, so she asks the actors to teach her sign language.
Shuyan finds Ando looking under Merit's bed.
- "What did you guys do? Anyway, I'm here to help with your southern barbarian spy problem." -Ando
- "Do I need to search you?" -Shuyan, archly
- "If you must." -Ando
- "Seriously? In my bedroom?" -Merit
Merit sends the Judicious Increase envoys away with Yanyu and Master Deng. She waxes rhapsodic about Merit's financial genius, but doesn't actually know anything about finances herself. One of them seems to find this reasonable, and is (to a sense motive) deeply satisfied with the conversation, but the other one is quite cross - he doesn't seem to think that Yanyu blithering on is what he was really interested in. She notes that they are both Magpie-aspected, but her sigma goes up by one. Yanyu concentrates on trying to figure out what is up with the cranky one, and he starts getting kind of snide about Yanyu's credentials.
Finally, Lord Nikoze gets his moment alone with Merit. He understands that there has been some tension in the past between... his associates, and Merit's associates. Nikoze assures Merit that he and his associates have decided to back away from the sources of tension. He understands that Merit's associates have a grand devotion to Dragon. Nikoze's own associates got in with Spider to defend themselves against encroaching influences, but it spiraled out of control, and distracted them. Thus, he is backing away from Spider, and rededicating himself to the pure path of Magpie.
- "With that in mind, I am empowered with the ability to rid you of your current significant debt to Magpie. In exchange for this unique service, I ask merely a single key." -Lord Nikoze
- "You realize that if you have the key, then my associates will jump you to get it back." -Merit
Merit wonders if Nikoze is taking on the deal to steal the Dragon's Hoard himself? No, no, he has a completely different relationship with Magpie. Of course, if he had the key, then there might be interesting bargains to be made.
Merit says that he can't make that particular deal - is there anything else Nikoze would accept instead? Well, he'd happily take the Magpie Talisman, but he assumes that is not on the table. It is not.
Outside Tahiti, trumpets sound, as if the Butterfly Prince is arriving. Ti Jun and his entourage are shown in, to Yanyu's hasty but well-organized reception. Merit bows to the Prince, with the correct bow for an ex-employee who betrayed his ex-boss. The Prince bows back, with the correct bow for an ex-boss (and heir to the ex-liege) who was betrayed. Correctness is preserved!
People note that the Prince has grown both taller and broader since he was last seen - he seems to have been buying up his Body stats, not just his Mind.
The Prince was hoping to discuss... business... with Merit and Cai Wen. Merit says that Cai Wen is unfortunately indisposed, and Ti Jun notes that Cai Wen's indisposition is kind of material to his mission. He is here to investigate on behalf of His Majesty the extent to which one of the Great Treasures of their kingdom (the circus) was used to invade a second kingdom, on behalf of a third. After some pointed hinting, he is invited to stay the night so that he can talk to Shuyan and Xian and any other official circus performers.
Master Deng chats with him, and notes that he seems to be a lot more dangerous than he used to be, as well. Not as dangerous as Master Deng is, of course, but more so than his guards.
Having left Master Deng to supervise the Prince's group, there is time for some checking in. Yanyu tells Merit about the grumpy Judicious Increase envoy, but it turns out that the one Merit is more interested in is the one who was happy with the conversation. Ah, oops, Yanyu wasn't really interrogating him particularly.
Wei Han notes in passing that there have been some undead in Merit's office in the past, though not in the past several days. Merit is nonplussed, and wonders what Shen-Ji has been up to.
Merit and Yanyu catch up to Shuyan and Ando, in the east sitting room. Ando explains that there were several unexplained signals at the Southern Wall that turned out to be breaches - a significant strike force made it over the Wall. The intelligence he has learned suggests that they are coming for something that Merit et al. have. Maybe Merit wants to give him a list of what interesting things he might have that the Southerners would want? Yanyu volunteers that she has the Sankara Stone of Destruction, and that it can't be put down. Ando offers to take it to the Dragon's Throne to keep it out of the hands of the Southern strike team, but Merit thinks keeping it in their
nigh-impregnable fortress manor house will do, especially since it is guarded by PCs.
There is much wandering around in small groups. Xian hangs out with two of the actors and learns some sign language (and her delta increases by one). Ando and Yanyu and Wei Han and Shuyan and some more actors go to the West Garden to see how it will do as a spot to be ambushed in. It seems fine. Master Deng shows the Prince around the house.
Xian and Hayato and Merit join the West Garden group to chat with Ando, who tells his actors to take five. They wander off to start rehearsing - Wei Han thinks that they look like a defensive perimeter plus two scouts, and notes that some branches of intelligence hire deaf people because they're very good at reading lips, and can spy on conversations from a distance.
Xian pesters Ando about why he brought deaf operatives, particularly. Ando allows as having a team that only he can give orders to is important when the enemy can look like anyone.
- "I didn't want to tell you that, just in case you were one of them, but you seem really annoying, so you're probably the real Xian." -Ando
- "Darkness to the blind man is as silence to the deaf. " -Xian
- "Yep, it's definitely you." -Ando
How good are the deaf operatives at fighting in the dark? Well, everyone on Ando's team has some amount of blind fighting, but they're not masters of it. Xian decides that the plan should be to keep it from getting dark. Ando looks at the evening sky, dubious of this as a plan.
Merit wanders inside, and briefs the Prince (and Deng) about the Southerners, and Ti Jun is appalled. The Southerners are still trying to destroy the calendar? What are they looking for? Deng shrugs. Who can know, with Southerners?
- "Deng, can you keep an eye on the deaf actors? They're in the west garden now. You can help them help us." -Merit
- "Aren't they spies?" -Deng
- "I didn't want to say that in front of the Prince." -Merit
- "I just wanted to make sure we were talking about the same deaf actors." -Deng
- "..." -Merit
The Arcade house envoys seem to have nothing more to discuss, so rather than invite them to stay for the ambush, Merit bids them good evening. Lord Nikoze says that if Merit needs to contact him, he should spend this li entirely inappropriately. Merit refuses to take the li, so Nikoze leaves it on the table. As they begin to leave, Merit notes that there are only seven of them now.
- "What happened to your assistant?" -Merit
- "Who?" -Nikoze
- "Really? That's how you're going to play this?" -Merit
- "I have no idea what you are talking about." -Nikoze
None of the envoys seem to know what Merit is talking about either, and Nikoze seems both honestly baffled and unlikely to be use "La la la I don't remember my friend" as a strategy, so Merit finally concludes that they didn't notice him. And Shen-Ji, who was watching the assistant before, seems to have switched to watching Nikoze at some point without really noticing.
Merit declines Nikoze's kind offer to assist with whatever is going on, and shoos the envoys away.
Shen-Ji tries to detect magic where the assistant was, and determines that
- he can't detect any magic there (which is very odd, because Tahiti is a magical place)
- every time he tries, his delta goes up by one
- whatever is doing that seems more like a magic item effect than an active caster.
Merit looks at the coin and the butler with the Orb of Light. The coin is magic, so he puts an iron pan on top of it. (The butler is really the butler).
Xian tries to test her newly learned sign language on the actors in the garden, but they don't seem to understand her. Maybe those two actors who taught her sign language were Southerners pretending to be spies pretending to be actors?
- "Why will no one ask Ando where his other guys are? Why will no one ask Ando anything?" -Xian
- "Xian takes a bold stand against obfuscation." -Laura
Merit looks around with the Orb, and notes that both Shen-Ji and Xian have some Southern corruption, and Yanyu has some different southern corruption (plus a Sankara Stone). While he's at it, he notices that Deng has a strange different darkness/shadow/light/butterfly thing, which he decides is some sort of strange Kali/Butterfly effect. Huh. That's different.
- "Butterfly / Spider mixing is at least in the same food group." -Merit
The junior butler announces that there's an important visitor in the south anteroom, but since Merit is still looking at everything with the Orb, he realize that the butler is Pir Pir this time.
- "I came to warn you to watch out for imposters." -Pir Pir
- "I already know that." -Merit
- "Really? How did you find out about Ko?" -Pir Pir
- "I take it back. Thank you." -Merit
Pir Pir is here as part of a clearing of debts with his "boss", which should let him get back to his own devices again. While he's here, though, can he help? He could swap everyone's appearances too, so that anyone else trying to do so gets more confused. Merit thinks maybe that's a little more confusion than is necessary, and doesn't want to pay Pir Pir in advance for any favors that he might not need.
- "Well, I could just lurk around and watch for an opportunity to put you in my debt by being useful." -Pir Pir
- "You are welcome to stay as my guest. Please don't take anything." -Merit
Out in the Ambush Garden, people stand around waiting for someone to start the ambush, until Xian starts to play the guzheng. Anyone who can hear her cannot initiate combat. So the deaf actors can! If they have a plan for who to attack, which they don't yet, so no combat starts. Especially since everyone suspected of being a Southern spy is possibly wandering around Tahiti unescorted, while the party waits in the garden.
Merit goes back into the house and finds two actors "talking" near the main vault. He herds them back out towards the garden, and peeks at them with the Orb. They seem as he expect, though his sigma goes up.
Merit tells Ando that he found the "other guys" but Ando didn't realize he was missing people. The actors are all waving their arms to each other now, and Merit tries to figure out if any of them are more confused than the others. Yellow 11 and 12 seem to be more confused, as if they're not really communicating.
The Prince yawns, as if it's time to turn in. More people go in and out of the house. Merit warns the house guards to beware of an assault from the hedge maze.
An Entirely Expected Ambush
Yellow 11 rolls his eyes in exasperation, says "Oh, enough of this" in Senatali, and makes the entire battlemap silent. Now, no one can hear the damned Guzheng and anyone can start a combat.
One of the "actors" gestures for Yanyu to give him the stone she has. She shakes her head, irritated. Deng starts stabbing anyone who looks suspicious. Yellow 11 teleports, switching places with Merit, to be right next to Deng and Yanyu.
Yanyu promptly fireblasts Yellow 11 with the Wrath of the Phoenix, and Deng stabs him through both lungs.
- "Oh, crap." -Drew, reading the note adding up all the damage he has just taken
Xian sends a thought to Merit: "A battle fought in silence where both sides lose" is a sign of Toro. Unfortunately, she sees through the illusion to realize that Merit is the guy who looks like Yellow 11, now falling over.
The Cook runs out of the north garden door, and out of the south garden door, at the same time. There seem to be two now.
One of the guards grabs Yanyu, and she finds herself holding a copper bar instead of the Sankara Stone. More stabbing happens, and more people switch places with other people.
One of the Exuberant Interference guards runs across the map, leaping through the air, but Wei Han doesn't think that the guards should be able to do that, so he chops him on general principles. So does Deng.
Xian sees through the illusion there, and notes that Wei Han and Deng have just taken down Ti Jun (partly non-lethally). She sends a thought to Shen-Ji warning him about Toro, and runs towards the fallen Prince.
Merit, after karma, some shtick-stealing, and a whole lot of newly inherent Dodge, realizes that he is not dead. He summons a watermelon and an adorable critter and brandishes them, and then does a lot of charade-waving, trying to indicate that people are not switching places - it's just illusions.
Shen-Ji channels all his delta into dispel magic, trying to dispel the silence effect using his darkness instead of his magic. That works moderately well (though at some cost), and everyone can say one word per action.
Xian reaches the Prince / Blue 5, and bows in the appropriate bow to the Prince of the Butterfly Meadows.
- "Highness" -Xian
A medicine roll determines that the Prince is dying, but not very fast - he's about a hundred points down in stabbing, and another hundred and fifty in non-lethal pummeling.
Both cooks fight over Merit, claiming to be helping (and healing him). Some of the guards run inside, much to Merit's crankiness.
Yanyu switches her copper bar with the Sankara stone that the now-stabbed Southerner has. A round later, she realizes her tactical error and takes the copper bar back too.
Merit carefully looks at a corner of the combat with the Orb, checking for people hiding in the hedge maze, and is lucky to catch No-Face Ko in the zone where he's looking. He runs over and kicks him in the shins with his boot knife and a Deng-like Smite. This pops one of Ko's effects, and people realize that the numbered characters divisible by 6 are good guys.
Shen-Ji notes the demon smite, concludes that it's Ko, and hits him with Bind Demon and some karma to stay here until they kill him. The binding isn't strong enough to compel suicide, but it keeps Ko there long enough for one more attack, in which Shen-Ji unloads another nine more karma to power a Wrath of the Phoenix.
- "Die!" -Shen-Ji
Ko briefly appears as Ebon Brush, nearly causing Shen-Ji to not attack, but then Pao swooops in and steals her face, so Shen-Ji burns Ko down to ash. Many of the rest of the illusions are dispelled at this point, and one of the Prince's "guards" is killed by an exploding demonic facsimile of a Sankara stone.
At this point, the good guys and the bad guys can be distinguished, so the rest of the combat is mopped up. Due to the confusion, there are a lot of casualties on both sides (and still two cooks).
- "I killed three of the wrong people, but frankly, I don't care." -Wei Han
- "FINISH THEM!" -Shen-Ji
- "But no killing!" -Merit
At this point, Cao Cao appears on the Tahiti roof, with a new squad of Exuberant Interference guards. All of them have crossbows.
- "Any person of any rank who is holding a weapon at the end of 10 will be crossbow bolted. " -Cao Cao
She gives everyone an action, and people sheathe their weapons. (Xian sheathes her guzheng).
The Prince, Ando, and the head of the Prince's guard are all down but not dead. Merit is barely up but with only a couple of hit points. One of the house guards is dead, as is one of the Prince's guard. And three Southerners are dead.
Xian and Merit put their heads together, and conclude that this was Ko's plan to make the Southerners and Ando's team both lose. As signs of Toro go, this one is... very good, but imperfect.
The battle wasn't entirely silent, but it was mostly so. The Southerners lost, and Ko definitely lost. But there were more than two sides. If the other signs are all done, and this one is the only one remaining, it probably counts. But if all the other signs have iffy loopholes the way this one does, it'll probably all be too fudgey to really be the signs of the apocalypse. Somewhere in between will be hard to judge.
The Prince and Ando are both healed enough to be woken up.
Merit thinks that a bunch of people still have corruption, and there is something more wrong with Shen-Ji. It's worse than Deng, but not as bad as being a Sankara stone. "Not as bad as a Sankara stone" is a kind of low bar, though. Shen Ji assures everyone he’s fine though.
Ando turns out to not know about the new Signs of Toro, so they let him know. Who should they be telling things like that so that he learns?
- "When in doubt, send me a memo." -Ando
Merit offers to let Ando recover in Tahiti if he can refrain from snooping, but he thinks he probably needs to go and make a report sooner than that.
The Prince still wants to talk to Shuyan and Xian about circus shenanigans, but will wait until puttering.
Hayato notes that he was was still waiting for that moment with Merit and Yanyu. He will try to be quick. Yanyu had asked him about creating a ritual to put up a new Peace of the Lake. How much it can do will depend on what epic resources are spent on it.
They decide to go for
▢ Country Scale
▢ Dragon tag
▢ Omen of thrones
and will dedicate two runs and some other Epic Thing. The loot from the heist will stop being un-scryable soon, so the Orb of Light is tentatively earmarked for the third Epic Resource.