|"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."|| The run takes place late in the Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place around the Arcade
Recaps and Prophecies
As is traditional, the party gathers in Tahiti to remind each other what has been going on. The past two runs have been spent on rescuing Shen Mei and (sort of) the younger brother of the Beastmaster of Men, but it's probably time to take a 'normal' mission again.
Takanata speculatively jots down a set of prophecies, and Xian reconfigures her hoop: "district, atheist, originator". Shuyan reminds everyone that she has four d6 pips that she can change, after a bargain with Speedy.
Wei Han reminds people that he can't be healed in a run, Xian reminds people that she can't be healed at all, and Kuan-Xi reminds people that the rain is caused by Whale and an Efrit.
Min Feng spends three karma to figure out which mission number Renyu is in, and learns that he is on mission #1. At this revelation, Takanata quickly draws a new sketch relating to mission #1:
Then, it's off to the No Longer Secret Benevolent Headquarters, and Takanata draws a second piece of art. That's odd, but the previous drawing was probably caused by getting the Renyu mission information.
Kuan-Xi analyzes this new art with Interpret Omens and Fashion, and concludes that based on the clothing, the woman in the foreground is preparing for her wedding. The woman on the left in the mirror is married and is the consort of a ruler, and the woman on the right in the broken mirror is a ruler in her own right. Fashion doesn't say anything else about the picture, but people speculate that the subject is Lady Jin, and the two mirrors are two possible futures.
Lijuan draws another installment in her spooky pictures about rain series. In this one the two figures on the hillside are arguing or, at least, swearing at each other. And Takanata and Kuan-Xi are off with someone in blue who might be the Magpie Prince, or possibly the Azure Blade.
The group arrives at the Benevolent Headquarters, and finds that security has gotten a bit more restrictive since the last time they were here. Of course, the last time they were here, the compound was overrun by bad guys, so that's not surprising. There is also some muttering between the guards as to whether or not they are surprised that the party has returned.
When the group is escorted in to see the prince, Lady Jin is there as well. The prince smiles...
- "See? I told you."
- "You are right as ever, my Lord." -Lady Jin
- "We are grateful for your confidence in us, Your Highness, and are here to see what we can do to aid the Arcade." -Takanata
The Prince is pleased to see them, and says that while they have had some troubles, now that they have returned, hopefully things will proceed as he had hoped. Takanata hopes that someone can fill them in on the troubles, and the Prince says that Lady Jin will surely do so.
Takanata asks for a mission and rolls a two! This has been rolled already, so there is some discussion as to whether or not to buy it down to a one or up to three. Wei Han is keen to get the leak in army intelligence cleared up, and Kuan-Xi thinks going after Renyu and the Sea Lord will work better after she has finished getting all her boat shticks online, so Shuyan spends a pip to make the roll a three.
- "The disaster at Xiulon Field must not recur. Prevent it." -The Prince
The group retreats into the map room, and Lady Jin joins them. So... what happened last time that caused everyone to be so concerned that they weren't coming back? Well, it seems like it was time for another mission, but they weren't there, so Lady Jin took one. She rolled a six, and investigated the House of Gainful Protection.
- "I would not categorize it as difficulties, though it was difficult." -Lady Jin
Well, related to this new mission, as people might recall, Xiulon Field was the site of a fiasco during the last war turn, and it has been visited several times, under different spellings. Did Lady Jin learn anything about the details of the House of Gainful Protection's doings there?
Well, Gainful Protection's breach with the Dragon Army became much more serious after the battle, because the Dragon Army is blaming them for the fiasco. On the other hand, the House of Gainful Protection thinks that this is all just a ruse for the Dragon Army to cut off logistical coordination with them and send more spies. She offers to tap her contacts in the House of Gainful Protection, and Takanata suggests that she do that while the party uses their contacts in the Dragon Army.
Takanata thinks that he has successfully diverted her away from the real mission, but when he uses Crossroads to check if they will be more successful by investigating Gainful Protection or the Dragon Army, he learns that the order doesn't matter.
Tapping the Dragon
Off they go to the Dragon Army Headquarters, where Takanata demands to speak to the Sea Lord. Unsurprisingly, he is told that the Sea Lord is not present and is in fact off at sea. Takanata says that he will wait, and given that he has 42 status, they really can't get rid of him, unlikely as it is that the Sea Lord will return while he waits.
The party is stashed in an antechamber, and Shuyan sends off her Snake of Secrets to investigate. Lijuan sneaks to the kitchen to check in with any kitchen urchins, and discovers that there are a lot of classified bento boxes being constructed. Intriguing!
Wei Han uses his Seat at the Table shtick and gets a meeting with Commander Yao's XO, while Min Feng breaks off on the way there to reconnoitre on her own. Commander Yao's office also has one of the black-uniformed security guys, who Wei Han thinks is being possessed by a (non-necromantic) ghost. When he points this out to Commander Yao’s aide, she shouts for guards, starting a bit of a kerfuffle. The security guy says that ghosts are classified and need-to-know, and the guards should take it up with Shen Dai Han, and the XO storms off with Wei Han into her private office, and the security guard says Wei Han will regret this. Wei Han frowningly says that she wasn't supposed to cause a fuss, she was supposed to let him discreetly explain the ghost, but she says she figured he was giving her a way to get rid of the security guy. Well, whatever the intention, now they can talk privately.
He asks her what she has found out about the leak. She says that Internal Security has been investigating like mad, and they are certain that the leak is on the Arcade side. On the other hand, they haven't told her about the ghosts, so they aren't entirely straight with her. Nevertheless, she also thinks that the leak is in the Arcade, because the extent of the leakage indicates someone with a lot of access, and she trusts the few on the Dragon Army side that have that access. Maybe it was just that the enemy has really good seers, but they definitely set up like they had all of the intel on how the Empire's forces would be arrayed.
Wei Han notes that he is concerned about the Obsidian Warlord, and she looks around as if to be sure that none of the Internal Security guys are around. Wei Han says that his priority is to win glory for himself. The XO says that that's a serious accusation, and Wei Han needs to not make it more widely without proof. He says he doesn't have proof but she should keep her eyes open to protect her people.
Meanwhile, Min Feng wanders around, using her rank in the Navy to insert herself into some conversations. It doesn't seem like anyone here actually knows where the Sea Lord is, and information is pretty compartmentalised. The Navy officers think that the internal security guys are pests, but they do seem to know everything. On the other hand, they are all just a little bit wrong, somehow. And they don't seem to do well if they're too far away from headquarters.
The Navy officers also think it was someone in the Arcade who betrayed the battle plans, but they think it was probably some other Arcade house doing so in order to get the House of Gainful Protection stomped. They don't think it was Gainful Protection themselves, because they got hit pretty hard too. She also overhears some officers talking about getting everyone to spend their EPs before the battle, as part of the Rapid Shtick Development Program.
The Snake of Secrets returns, and asks if Shuyan is claiming diplomatic immunity, because apparently she has made some sort of snakey faux pas with the snakes that Internal Security has, but Shen Dai Han will let it pass because "he respects the old ways". Anyway, the snake reports that the next big battle is expected to be at the Bridge of Death being constructed over the North Wall - and as long as the battle plan isn't leaked, it should probably go well. On the other hand, no one here is totally confident that the battle plan won't be leaked. The Bridge of Death battle is on a 4, like many other major northern battles have been.
Everyone regroups back in the waiting room and swaps information. Lijuan makes one last run to the kitchen to steal a bento box, and just barely gets away with it. The bento box is labeled "Secure Dragon Army field rations: For operation 4B March on the North" and has the location of a specific part of the Wall on the northern border of the Arcade. Wei Han doesn't think the location is particularly significant. Finally, Takanata writes a polite but irritated note to the Sea Lord, and they leave.
Kuan-Xi examines the bento box - it isn't very magical in any given component, but the way it is packed has a very ritual feel to it. In fact, it seems to her like the box is part of a large ritual that reminds her in a way of Master Deng.
- "Someone is a food shui master." -Xian
Wei Han tries to diagnose the chi of the food, but it's food.
Time to see what Lady Jin found out from the House of Gainful Protection! They head back to Benevolent Headquarters, where they find the Prince and Lady Jin and the head of the House of Continuing Sustenance are in conference.
Shuyan corners the cabbage merchant as he heads out, and tries to find out what is on his mind. He says that Continuing Sustenance is not a Great House, but they do have a lot of contracts with various Great Houses, especially the ones strongly pursuing the war with the North, to provide supplies (especially cabbages), but he has found that they are being cut out of negotiations with houses that are not currently in contract, in a way that he doesn't understand. He thinks one of the other minor houses is arranging it, but not one that is directly selling food. If he can't sort it out soon, his House's resources might drop. Maybe nobody cares because Continuing Sustenance isn't rolling Military, but they are feeding the military.
Lady Jin reports that she investigated in the House of Gainful Protection, and she's quite confident that the head of House doesn't know where the leak is, or she would have gotten it out of him. She tried to talk to the survivors of Xiulon Field, but they're off at some sort of Shtick Training Acceleration Camp and she wasn't able to reach them.
Ooh, two examples of similar training programs in different places is definitely suspicious.
After casting about for a good lead, the group lurks around the Cup of Five Virtues, and Min Feng overhears that the retreat is being run by the House of a Hundred Scholars, in a little rural area north of the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival.
Takanata tries a Connections reading:
- Xiulan Field was a fiasco.
- It was a fiasco because the North had advanced information about our plans.
- The Dragon Army and the House of Gainful Protection blame each other for the leak.
- The leak still exists.
- The leak is related to the Rapid Shtick Development Program and the Shtick Acceleration Plan.
- Both sides are contributing to the leak.
All of this is true.
Shtick Boot Camp
The party heads out to where they have heard that the Shtick Training Camp is happening. Some guards try to turn them back, but Wei Han lays about with Takanata's status like a club, and everyone is eventually shown inside the training hall. Min Feng overhears some soldiers talking about the creepy scarecrow, but doesn't see anything suspicious.
Kong Qiu joins them in the conference room, and enquires politely why they are calling on him. Takanata says he was asked by the House of Benevolent Oversight to look into the problems that happened at Xiulon Field, and his arts have led him here.
Kong Qiu inclines his head. Then perhaps what he needs is training in a shtick that he does not have? Takanata allows as that might be the case. Does Kong Qiu have a library of all the shticks that Takanata could read through, to see if anything looks likely? Alas, no. Could Takanata walk around to see what springs to mind? Kong Qiu notes that between himself and Master Cho (another scholar with him), they have all the teachings that the house can offer. Could he determine if either of them can help?
Takanata looks at the pair of scholars, and checks their deepest connection: they are two of the triumvirate that rules the House of a Hundred Scholars.
He asks if they could teach him the ability to detect spies or traitors, and Kong Qiu asks one of the junior scholars to see if Master Lu is available. While this facility is focused on physical training, Master Lu should still be able to help them. He says that there are several versions
- Power 5: Tell if a member of your organization has betrayed it in a specified way.
- Power 7: Given the presence of a loyal member of an organization, determine if another member of the organization has betrayed it in a specific way.
- Power 9: Given a foundational loyal and powerful member of an organization, determine whether another member is a traitor in a more general sense.
Min Feng asks to learn the power 9 shtick at once a run, and he can teach it for 20 li and 15 EPs. Well, that's odd. It should both cost more than that in EP and li, as well as not being that fast. Master Lu has Min Feng concentrate on a white field, moving a blue dot around until it encounters another dot, and then concentrate on determining what color the second dot is. That's the oddest training sequence she's ever had, but she does learn the shtick.
Xian considers: what is the closest connection between Kong Qiu and Min Feng? They both think they're duping the other. Or, in a less Coyote-flavored way, they both think they have the advantage now.
This doesn't seem to have solved Takanata's questions, so Kong Qiu suggests a shtick in "Why am I here?"
- "Unlike my niece, I do not have EPs to burn." -Takanata
- "I'm not your niece, I'm your granddaughter!" -Min Feng
Such a thing could be had for power 7, and Kong Qiu would be able to subsidize it by up to 50%, but sadly, Takanata only has two eps. Well, that could be possible, but that would be much more expensive in Tael.
Takanata asks for a moment to think about it, and then turns on Eyes of the I Ching. He can see that there are chi connections from everyone in the building except the party, but including Min Feng and less so Takanata himself, to Kong Qiu, and a lot of people are starting to head in the direction of the conference room. He can also see the great void of chi that is the scarecrow, out in one of the fields to the northwest.
Xian speaks inscrutably to Takanata and tells him what she saw in the connection between Min Feng and Kong Qiu.
- "Perhaps we are on the wrong track. Perhaps I need to be over there..." -Takanata, pointing towards the scarecrow
Takanata claims that there is something interfering with the spirituality of the area to the northwest, and Kong Qiu counters by offering even more deep discounts in shticks.
- "I don't trust him but I'm thinking about it now..." -Xian
When no one seems interested, he says that he has known many people, and he has never known a group who would so single-mindedly refuse so many free eps - so they must have a significant alternate agenda - and calls for guards.
- "I have never seen anyone so eager to give stuff away for free that I think you must have an alternate agenda." -Xian
All World Below Breaks Loose
A bunch of scholars, followed by some of the soldiers from the House of Gainful Protection and the Dragon Army, start coming into the conference room. The scholars try to grab people.
Takanata disentangles Kong Qiu's future from Master Lu, and notes that while the line is cut, it is trying to reform.
Shuyan throws a distracting snake at one of the scholars. Kuan-Xi dresses Kong Qiu according to his true nature, and his clothing gets a bit more dramatically Master Scholar-like with more tassels and ribbons.
Xian hits one of the Gainful Protection soldiers with a disarming smile, charming him into not being hostile for a bit. Wei Han and Min Feng end up grabbed by scholars, though Wei Han doesn't consider that a cause for concern.
Master Lu looks confused and appalled, and wants to know what they're doing. They were just trying to gain power for their house, but - what have they done?
Takanata checks Kong Qiu's particulars - he's a Tortoise aspected scholar, generally healthy but his sanity is pretty low. His highest shtick is "I am the Master".
- "Why are you attacking us?" -Lijuan, shooting a bunch of scholars
The scholars are still really only trying to grab people, but then Kong Qiu raises his hands dramatically and shouts to kill them all. Min Feng has to make a resolve check or join in trying to kill her friends, but happily, thanks to her defensive shticks, she makes it.
Vision of the past on Kong Qiu sees him kneeling before the Beastmaster of Men, and Min Feng spends seven karma to sever him. Kong Qiu collapses, but alas, has not rescinded his orders.
Xian slips out the conference door and disguises herself as a House of Gainful Protection soldier. She starts wandering the house and when a Dragon Army soldier tells her she's going the wrong way, pretends to have forgotten her sword.
- "You Arcade people are useless!"
Inside the conference room, the party has mostly managed to fence itself off from the soldiers using walls of ice, stone, and thornbush.
- "What was the price that was too high?" -Wei Han
- "This is not the way knowledge was meant to be used! What have we done?" -Master Lu
Xian circles around the outside of the building to the cabbage patch, and asks the soldiers doing the weeding what the deal with it is. These are apparently the Special Cabbages being prepared for the battle.
Master Cho, passing by, does a double take at seeing through Xian's disguise, and tells the guards to grab her. They protest - they're supposed to guard the cabbages. It gets a little confusing, and Xian sways Master Cho's emotions using her hoop, turning the search for truth into doubt regarding the truth of Kong Qiu's motives. Master Cho does think there's something not right in the House, but Kong Qiu reached Supreme Mastery first. They were partners until recently, though... and the House motto was always slow and steady before, but now they're teaching people like wildfire. He heads into the Cabin of Plausible Deniability just in case something happens to Kong Qiu.
Back in the conference room, Min Feng stealths through a wall, disguises herself as a scholar, and then wakes Kong Qiu up with a knife to his throat.
- "You need to rescind that order right now."
He does so, trying to explain that it wasn't actually him, and the combat stops.
Takanata, who still has Eyes of the I Ching up, sees through the wall as Xian picks up the Horrible Void of Chi (the scarecrow), and he dashes out, followed by Kuan-Xi. She identifies it as a Northern Life Totem, which is antagonistic to spirits, and especially to cabbage spirits. Xian takes it into the Cabin of Plausible Deniability and sets it on fire, and the local cabbages immediately all begin to wilt.
Takanata tries to contact the Cabbage Spirit in case it is nearby, and it is - the wilting cabbage is northern, and carries corruption. (Is it in the bento box? Not the one Kuan-Xi has, at least).
Back in the conference room, Kong Qiu is regaining his composure. He says he was in the Port of Propitious Voyage during an attack, and was injured. When he was in the civilian medical tent, he was grabbed by Northerners, who brought him to the Beastmaster of Men, who made him loyal. He has been supplying them with information, including on the movement of people he has taught shticks to, since then. (Master Lu is appalled by all of this).
He delivered the information via messenger birds, or sometimes to a Northern agent who appeared. And, he has been instructed to deliver the cabbages to some particular Dragon Army quartermasters, though he doesn't yet know which ones. He does know that the cabbages have been corrupted in ways that allow Northern magics to affect them. However, he doesn't know anything about locking Continuing Sustenance out of their contracts.
Min Feng tells him to compile a complete list of what he told the North, to give to the Lord of Benevolent Oversight, and Master Cho will be taking over the administration of the house while Kong Qiu goes to report.
Kuan-Xi burns a crane of beastmastery detection, and determines that one of the scholars is still beastmastered, and Lijuan and Ho figure out that two other scholars are werewolves.
Xian still suspects Kong Qiu of having willingly turned traitor for more power, and interrogates him further. It does seem that he has always been teaching shticks for a remarkably low cost, both because he believes in spreading knowledge and because he knows more about the doings of his students. And he has used that knowledge for the benefit of his House. But he didn't choose to turn all of that to serving the North instead of the House of a Hundred Scholars - that choice was made for him by the Beastmaster of Men - but when that was being used on him he couldn't help but try to understand how it worked, which led him to develop "I am the Master" in the same sanity-destroying way that Beastmaster Ze and Shen-Ji have been investigating.
Takanata prepares a brief report for the Lord of Benevolent Oversight, that doesn't make any recommendations one way or the other, but Xian throws in a codicil - before doing anything permanent to Kong Qiu, make sure to get a complete information dump, and don't waste him as a resource.