|"Before you plan to improve the world, look around your own house three times."|| The run begins on the the Day of the Late Crane in the Month of the Magpie in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly in the Hon'eth Arcade and the Isle of Beauty
The party gathers in the tea room of the best inn in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival - there is a bit of a smell of smoke. Of the three tea rooms, one was recently fireballed by Shen-Ji, one had its wall demolished by Wei Han, and one was set mildly on fire by Kasumi and Xiao Fa in puttering. Merit wonders whether buying the inn would make the innkeeper happier. Maybe they could put the headquarters for the House of Exuberant Interference in it! On second thought, maybe an actual estate would be better. Kuan-Xi notes that if the house would just buy an estate, she could start installing water gates in it.
The group also considers that Mondo is still out there with Kuan-Xi's carriage and all three Talismans. Is there a way to help him? Cai Wen considers the conversation with Horse:
"I gave him a good strong Chase Scene montage, and he got a one-at-a-time defense from the Bear, but it looks like the chase scene has gotten a bit more *significant* since it started, and that wasn't my doing."
The comment about "significant" indicates that Mondo is wearing the Butterfly Talisman. So Butterfly (or, the Hand of Fate) is probably dealing with him, but that's also why random plots aren't showing up to the party now. So... they should be figuring out what sorts of things to do.
Lijuan has been considering how to repay her debt to Ezokin - Zhuai thinks that he can set up a meeting, but it will require offering Ezokin something (in addition to a cease-fire for the meeting). If there's a good faith meeting, they should be able to just repay the debt with cash, even if Ezokin would rather have the debt for nefarious purposes.
- "I don't really want to stab Magpie in the back any more." -Merit
- "Why?" -Xiao Fa
- "Because... I feel that he has not earned our stabbage." -Merit
Back to considering the House of Exuberant Interference. Zhuai had previously suggested two ways to help with the house - spending some money to buy up the debts of various lesser nobility for some Influence, and turning the two points of spirit power into getting a guardian spirit or demon for the House. Shen-Ji suggests Speedy, the snail spirit, currently mostly discorporated in the World Below. If they just pour the two points of spirit power into him, he would probably owe them enough to be a guardian spirit for a while. The question of how to get the spirit power there is tricky, though. With Anto's help, it might be possible to send someone there, but it's a hard place to get out of. Last time, they had Shen Gao and the Wu Xing and the Alchemist. Getting the former two again might be possible, but getting the Alchemist on board could be tricky. (Anto suggests that if there's a spirit or demon that they already know, they could cut a deal to deliver the spirit power and the offer.) Cai Wen thinks that the mirror demon Mei-Zhen might be a good choice to send the message, but he's not sure where she is. She tends to be either at the Harbor of Shining Reflections, or the Reflected City.
The group decides to hire a fighting-worthy ship to head to the Harbor of Shining Reflections - that way, a sea monster will attack Lijuan (because of the Horn of Seawater), and they can kill two birds with one stone. However, there is still some puttering to be done before they leave.
Xiao Fa is still down several health due to having been accidentally set up on fire by Kasumi. He suggests some herbal remedies that might help with that, and Kuan-Xi and Merit set out shopping to find some. Merit suggests agoro root, and they find some. Kuan-Xi thinks that's boring, and more like "buying things" rather than "shopping", so she goes shopping for a better remedy. She finds some blue lichen tea, and offers it to Xiao Fa. Merit and Shuyan are both dubious - blue lichen died out hundreds of years ago, so this is probably some sort of scam. However, once it is brewed up, it is particularly healthy for Xiao Fa (and Lijuan's wounded shticks heal), and it is the best tea that Merit has ever tasted.
Lijuan talks to Tai about her urchins working as couriers for the House of Exuberant Interference. She says they'd be interested, though she notes that they don't dance very well - if they end up in a dance fight against another courier, the other one will probably win. (Bobby Li runs the other urchin couriers).
The party hires a ship (the Dauntless) which is willing to go along with a sea monster hunt, for an extra fee. They surmise that the group wants to harvest sea monster liver, which is apparently valuable. Interesting! What is the liver used for? Well, among other things, it can confer benefits on unborn children, when eaten by pregnant women. Still interesting. Shen-Ji asks about livers that help confer magical ability, and the sailors think that the Dread Noodle Kraken is such a one.
The sailors are a little nonplussed when the party manages to remark about the Dread Noodle Kraken three times in quick succession, but the kraken attacks shortly after. The long noodle-like tentacles can reach deep into the ship, much to the unhappiness of the noncombatants, but the kraken is eventually dispatched, and its liver harvested. Kuan-Xi makes a pile of ice to keep the liver on, though it still will not last very long.
There is a Kraken Celebration, with a lot of alcohol, and the ship finally careens into the Harbor of Shining Reflections.
- "We should go check into an inn and close all the curtains." - Lijuan to Merit
Everyone else stares at Merit in astonishment, but they are the two with hangovers.
Merit arranges with the captain of the guard to have the carcass of the kraken distributed to local farmers as fertilizer.
Lijuan heads to the Tokai townhouse to say hello to Butler-san, but is appalled to discover that it is being sold! Kuan-Xi suspects that this is part of a Terrible Trick to have her install a water gate in the wrong townhouse, but others have more of an explanation - Takanata wanted to make sure that his strange living-room masterwork ended up in the Court of Distinction before the water gate was installed in the house. There is another house being bought nearby and his possessions are being moved to it.
Cai Wen finds Mei-Zhen, and brings up the idea of her brokering a deal with Speedy for the two points of spirit energy. She pokes him a bit about the fact that he didn't think to offer her the spirit energy, but eventually agrees. It's about time to be done with her travels in the Middle Kingdom anyway. Cai Wen promises her that he'll arrange to have a fancy mirror set up in the House of Exuberant Interference, and the pair shops for a fancy mirror to send her back to the World Below.
Others have gone to the circus's winter training grounds, to consult with Enlightened Melina. They offer her the Orb of True Seeing, and ask her about the Northern invasion. With some effort, she predicts that there will be three major attacks in each of the three winter months, one on each of the relevant Days for each Month. Then, she doesn't want to put the Orb of True Seeing down, because she's concerned that doing so will be dangerous. Merit doesn't see how that makes sense, so he psychoanalyzes her, and decides that she is telling the truth. But if she can’t put it down, she’ll have to stay awake until someone fixes her. Perhaps Xiao Fa can help with this? Unfortunately, Xiao Fa has gone off to Petal Bay to put some finishing touches on the feng shui project for Lord Nogi.
Cai Wen checks in with the rest of the circus - Iron Shirt Jojo is interested in learning Wall of Fate / Wall of Chi / Wall of Anti-Weirdness from the party. Kar Lo is blossoming; the competition with Wei Han had pushed him to work hard, but now with Wei Han gone, he isn't as stressed. Bian needs some more silk for her act, and other small matters are discussed as well.
Xiao Fa eventually returns from Petal Bay, and examines Melina's chi. Right now, he thinks, the Orb and Melina are metaphorically arguing about who is going to take the corruption damage. However, Shen-Ji thinks that inanimate objects don't normally take corruption, and Orbs of Light certainly don’t take Northern corruption, so it should be okay to force the Orb to do so. (Basically, it's just making an automatic resistance roll). After some consideration, the group has Melina put on Shuyan's Ring of Death; the corruption falls to the orb with Melina dead, and then the ring is removed again. Shen-Ji is pretty sure the orb is fine.
The party reports to the local Dragon Army garrison about the nine attacks. They're a little dubious when they hear that the information came from the circus fortune-teller, but Merit insists that she's the best fortuneteller in the Beautiful Kingdom. The army thinks that's Takanata, but he's not here right now to double check with.
The group heads back to the Dauntless again, and discovers that it has a new cabin boy, an enthusiastic kraken watcher that Lijuan has accidentally recruited by telling exciting stories of fighting kraken to. Merit does his best to convince him to not intentionally summon any kraken until he's better at fighting than Lijuan is. He agrees, though he may be trying to summon other things.
- "Here, whaley whaley whaley..."
The party heads back to the Port of Propitious Voyage, and starts building a final checklist for the House of Exuberant Interference. Zhuai asks if they want him to set up a meeting with Ezokin, but they think not.
Cai Wen and Merit are the two obvious choices for head of the house. One caveat is that the head of the house doesn't add any stats; Cai Wen would be an Influence, and Merit would be a Resources. However, being the Ringmaster and the Head of House at the same time is a little awkward, and Cai Wen has kind of committed to doing a better job for the Silken Wings Circus, so he doesn't want to step down as Ringmaster yet. They agree that Merit will be in nominal charge, and Cai Wen will be the person behind the scenes that does most of the work, sort of the opposite of the way the circus works.
Next, the House needs an estate. The Northern Arcade has slightly cheaper real estate, so Kuan-Xi leads a shopping expedition to look for houses on the market.
For five tael (and a really good roll), they can have four adjectives; doubling the price will add another adjective for each doubling. There is quite a bit of brainstorming about potential adjectives. In the end, the group settles on ten tael for:
There is a grassroots campaign to name the estate "Tahiti", because it is a magical place.
Cai Wen asks around after Inokora Izumi, and the group catches up to her at the tail end of a fight with bandits.
- "It looks like she's Deng-ing a bunch of mook bandits..."
The obnoxious merchant that she's escorting to Stone Drum does his best to accidentally provoke Master Inokora into chopping the party, but they all surrender or do their best to convey harmlessness, and no extra combat breaks out. Cai Wen rides with her for a ways, and persuades her to hire on as the House's new captain of the guards. (She doesn't seem to consider Wei Han a deal-breaker, though she suggests that he might find her to be one.) On hearing that they have also hired Kong Pei, she insists that the lesser mercenary report to her rather than the other way around, but other than that, there are no sticking points. Another thirty tael is spent hiring a larger house guard force.
The party travels with Inokora's group for a little while, and then peels off to head to the Gate of Shen. The Gao sisters say that they're tired of answering mail addressed to Merit - apparently eight "unrelated" people have made offers to buy his house. Merit says that he'll be joining the House of Exuberant Interference, which means he'll have to resign his council seat, though he can appoint his replacement. (He picks his local factor, to keep his hand in.)
So, how have things been going? Well... there's still a lot of art passing through, but it's not really selling the way it has been. Merit suggests that they try to get art from farther away, but the council really doesn't see the point of being an Art Nexus. Couldn't the stupid gate do something with goats instead? Goats are useful.
Shen-Ji checks out the gate, and thinks that it's full of art energy, but the spell is also fraying and unmaintained. It's possible that it might overload, though probably not very soon. Lijuan spends a handful of karma standing in the gate to push the art energy into her prophetic art, and it grounds out through her into twelve prophetic drawings of her choice. She rushes off in artistic reverie and is not heard from again. She'll stop drawing eventually. Shen Ji frowns. He was going to use that energy for something useful as soon as he figured out how to tap it in a controlled manner. Sigh.
Kuan-Xi declares that the next stop is the Steppes, where they visit Shen Mei, and tell her when the invasions are scheduled for. Kuan-Xi lets her know that the Shrouded Isle is interested in talking to a Northern spy, either to negotiate something or to arrange for a defeat of the North. Shen Mei is a little dubious that she'll be able to find a Northerner interested in ensuring the defeat of the North, but she'll see what she can do, if someone can ensure that she is sent the official Dragon Army reports on the invasion battles. Kuan-Xi says that she will make sure that happens (she's pretty sure Wei Han will be able to get those).
The group heads back to the Arcade again. Xiao Fa talks to Shanxi about jumping ship from the House of Gainful Protection to this new House. Shanxi is willing to switch, but he wants to not just be a dupe or get paid to stand around; he is who he is, and he's reasonably good at it, and he wants to be treated appropriately. Xiao Fa agrees - he can be the head of Shady Operations. His first shady operation will be to take one of the points of blackmail to get himself and his guys out of their contracts. Deng Lumang would be similarly recruitable, but Tsi-Ya wants to know why her new job would be better than the old one. Right now, she's one of the top bodyguards for the bodyguarding house; she's not really clear that being the bodyguard for random people in the new house is an improvement, especially since everyone knows Wei Han is the official bodyguard for the party, and Inokora already has the top guard position. They give her the point of blackmail to arrange for another promotion for herself, instead.
Merit sneaks into the Dragon's Throne to arrange to hire a butler from the House of Butler. For the favor that the House of Butler owes them, they offer a second butler (two levels lower) for free with the contract for a butler. (A butler contract is N^2/2 tael for a butler who rolls a dN.) Merit spends 72 tael for a d12 butler and a d8 first footman. (He also picks up three tael of silk for Bian Meiling.)
For the rest of the staff, Merit burns seven karma ("Old Buddy") to recruit servants that he has known one way or another. The cook from his restaurant in the Illuminated Precincts confesses that she was a spy for the House of Benevolent Oversight, and throws herself on his mercy pledging that her loyalty is to him first and foremost. Finally, the 100 tael chit from the Imperial Treasury is spent on some extra resources, and the House of Exuberant Interference is instantiated.
Kuan-Xi installs the first water gate in the basement of Tahiti; the other end will be linked later. Shen-Ji summons the fire spirit that he made the deal with back in Book One - he has finished building fire shrines in all the capitals, and the fire spirit expands his concept into Fire Sorcerer.