Thousand Li Horse
|"Be on a horse when you go in search of a better one."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Fox in the eleventh Year of the Spider since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place on the way to and in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival
Meeting on the Road
Ringmaster Te calls the circus together - it's time to be going again. Their welcome is definitely starting to wear out, and there is starting to be trouble with the locals. Cai Wen got into a big brawl in the tavern last night, and is cooling his heels in jail for a few days. People wonder if they should be breaking him out, but Wei Han says it's probably just the High Warlord arranging to talk to him about Lucky Chang. The Hunter's Map doesn't show him, though - maybe that just means he's somewhere extra-safe.
Grasshopper tries to convince the rest of the party to leave a message for Cai Wen somewhere saying that circus has left, but everyone else is confident that it will not be hard to track down the circus again. Disheartened, Grasshopped draws a brush painting, of a city being menaced by a giant snake, a giant horse, a giant boat, and a very small rock.
As the circus heads out and heads down the Imperial Highway towards the Hon'eth Arcade, things go smoothly for the early part of travel, but then traffic starts to slow down. People head forward to see what is going on - apparently a cabbage merchant has accidentally run over a woman with his horse and cart. The woman languishes dramatically on the side of the road, and the cabbage merchant is trying to revive her and offer her wine. Everyone rushes forward to help; Grasshopper attempts first aid and offers her water, but she would prefer the wine.
- "Is there anything we can do to help?" -Xian
- "Just sit here and comfort me as I drift off into the shadowed lands. And help this poor gentleman with his cart."
- "Wait, are you dying?" -Xian
She seems rather well-dressed to be walking alone on the highway, making Shuyan suspicious. The woman diverts into a story of how the cart horse leapt to the side and knocked her down. Grasshopper checks to make sure the horse is okay (it is), and Xian stays with the woman while she convinces the cabbage merchant to go on again. He tries to chat with the cabbage merchant about cabbages, and is disappointed to not be remembered.
- "Good luck with the red grubs next year." -Xian
- "Ah, know a lot about cabbages, do you?"
- "Only what you've taught me."
Anto and Kasumi head back to the circus to look for people taking advantage of what is clearly a distraction. Sure enough, they see River Ford poking around waiting to be noticed. Anto tells Kasumi to keep an eye on him while he goes to fetch the "talkers", so Kasumi wanders up to Ford to chat.
- "Li Merit's not here right now, but someone will be here soon to get you some stuff."
- "What sort of someone?"
- "A talky someone."
- "Oh, much better than a fighty someone. Not that I don't have many of my own fighty someones, ready to appear at a moment's notice."
- "You were a much better bluffer last time, maybe you don't need both bags of money."
- "It's been a hard week. There's a second bag of money?"
The party pulls out the cart with the tea tent to set it up on the side of the highway, telling the rest of the circus to go on ahead. Ford says that he's here to report a... predominantly successful conclusion. No, Li Kao isn't missing any limbs, but he is very stubborn, and is, even now, likely to be halfway back to his spire, escorted by the rest of the Crew. Ford tried to convince him that going back to where he was kidnapped from might not have been the best idea, but he said that he was taken by surprise before, and will not have that problem again.
As far as trouble, finding where he was being held was not so difficult, and getting past the security was not so difficult, and even getting out again was not so difficult. But at that point, the entire Hidden City was in an uproar, with thousands of Imperial Guardsmen, from there until to the end of the world. The entire Empire is up in arms, as if the Emperor himself was offended, except that there is no Emperor. They were not informed that this guest was such an important one in the initial briefing, Ford is quite sure.
- "You can't have been entirely surprised." -Xian
- "Come now, sir, I was entirely surprised." -Ford
- "If he wasn't so interesting a prisoner, we would have hired someone less impressive."
Ford advises them to not wear green hats in the capital for a while - they arranged to have everyone there wear green hats, so that from the guard towers, it was simply a sea of green.
- "So your friend here says you've got a couple of bags of gold for us." -Ford
- "Someone actually said that? Of course someone said that." -Xian
Ford says that Li Kao wasn't an official prisoner - he was more like a guest being held incommunicado and not permitted to leave. That was why it wasn't so hard to get in and out.
- "But he seems to have been an incommunicado guest of the emperor, except there isn't one."
- "Remember when they started hunting you? That was because you found something out that they don't want anyone to know. He knows something that they don't know themselves, and that they don't want anyone else to know." -Xian
Xian sends Kasumi to get both sacks of loot (one labeled "Outstanding Balance For Services Rendered" and one labeled "Sorry About The Mess"), and gives them both to Ford. He takes his leave happily, letting Xian know that they're going to start their Master Group training montage now.
- "When we meet again, we will be more skilled. And also more expensive."
Meanwhile, however, Shuyan has started to be bothered by a buzzing noise in her head. She's had it all morning, and can't seem to shake it. She wanders around the circus wagons (followed by Wei Han), trying to figure out if it's coming from somewhere in particular or is inside her head. She thinks it's a little louder outside, but doesn't seem to be coming from anywhere in the circus. She tries to meditate, which makes it less annoying, but doesn't seem to make it go away. When she checks her snakes, she thinks they are somewhat agitated as well. Grasshopper asks Ho if he can hear anything, and he howls mournfully. Grasshopper asks Xiao Fa to take a look at Shuyan, since she's easier to ask about symptoms than Ho or the snakes. Xiao Fa thinks that her chi indicates that she is under some stress, but she doesn't seem to be under an active chi effect.
As the group catches up to the circus, Anto notices that there are four horses by the side of the road, lined up together and glaring at him.
- "Hmm. Does the boss want to talk to us?"
- "They say 'neigh!' as if to say yes." -Mike
- "For the second time today, I go to fetch the talky people."
Everyone troops in to talk to Merit's horse, and Anto says they want to talk to the boss. Everything becomes a little more crisp right around the horse, and a little dimmer outside, and the buzzing in Shuyan's head fades a lot.
The Horse grumbles that after all that negotiation, it's been several months and he has heard nothing from any of them. He nearly thinks that nobody is interested in dealing with him, and wonders if anyone has given any more thought to his offer.
Grasshopper asks if the Horse knows what was up with his bunny and its chi, and the Horse notes that he can tell Grasshopper what was up with it, if he does the Horse a little favor. Grasshopper immediately demurs, suggesting that he talk to Xian. Xian protests - he hasn't been part of the talks with the Horse before, and doesn't know what the offer is. The Horse explains that since they are already part of a cabal to displace a Great Spirit from the Cycle, they are already movers and shakers and able to help him get into the Cycle too. But they're hesitant on the trigger, so there was an agreement to start with smaller deals to build mutual trust. Like, he can explain about the rabbit hedgehog, and they can fix a little auction.
Xian asks for more details about the auction. The Horse says there will be an auction in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, three days hence, at which a horse will be sold. It's an excellent horse, and could, in normal circumstances, easily go for almost hundred li, or even, if the bidding is fierce, a hundred and fifty. But the world has not had a thousand li horse for many many years - the last one died with its Emperor. It is time for another thousand li horse to walk in the world. And, they will find, the better price it goes for, the better a horse it will be. Of course, when word goes through the Empire of a Thousand Li Horse, that's what the story should be. Not a story of the Great Horse Scandal, so the party has to get it right.
- "Is it a magic horse?"
- "All horses are magic." -Horse
- "If all horses are magic, then none are." -Master Zhou
In return, the Horse could offer them something like an escape for the whole party (like in the Spider's Citadel), or a Great Puttering, allowing puttering anywhere on the map. The party asks about an Unspecified Favor to be Named Later instead, but the Horse notes that boons of that kind are more expensive, and are often given as rewards for a gift, rather than as part of a bargain. If they want the ability to leave the favor unspecified, it would be smaller.
Grasshopper offers to groom the circus horses nicely in exchange for an answer about his bunny. The Horse notes that he hopes Grasshopper is not currently grooming the horses badly. But for ten li of ribbons for the horses, he will give two short answers about the bunny.
- "Or you can give me ten li and I'll give you some plausible answers." -Xian
- "In the future, you might want to undercut the previous offer if you're just going to make up the answers." -Xiao Fa
The party wonders if they don't make a deal now, does that mean if they do the mission, it counts as a gift, so they can get a boon? The Horse notes that not making a bargain should not be counted upon to lead to a better reward than making a bargain.
- "Do the thing, or do not do the thing. Do not muck about in the middle." -Master Zhou
Kasumi reminds everyone else that there are three other plots (giant snake, giant boat, small rock) in addition to giant horse, and time is limited. Xiao Fa takes charge, and tells the Horse that they cannot commit to the deal now. If they wish to make the deal in the future, someone can spend a karma to talk to him again. Xian emphasizes that this is a Momentous Thing that Horse is talking about, and needs careful thought - perhaps it would be better suited for some time in the future instead. The Horse notes that the House of the South Wind will not see a horse this good again for a long time, and if they can't sell this one for a thousand li, it will probably not happen for another horse any time soon.
Kasumi offers to buy ten li of horse treats for the circus horses, in exchange for an answer about the buzzing in Shuyan's head. The Horse is beginning to feel unwelcome, as they are trying to blow him off about the mission he wants done, but want random trivial questions answered. Xian does his best to be charming, and the Horse agrees to answer for fifteen li of horse treats.
- "Remember the giant snake they were talking about? You have giant snake issues. The Harbor knows they have giant snake issues too, they just don't know what to do about them. That will be your job." -Horse
Then, the clarity and dimness fade away, and the circus is at the gates of the Harbor.
Ringmaster Te gives directions to set up the Circus in the Plaza of Deliberate Celebration, and tells everyone to Practice. The party immediately takes off to the harbor to look for giant snakes, though Xiao Fa pauses to warn the Ringmaster - Shuyan has been having trouble with a migraine, and needs to go down to the harbor to see if they can fix it. Anto tries not very successfully to gather information, and hears that there is an auction in two days time, but there is some sort of problem with the harbor, and it might have to be closed and the auction might be delayed. There also seem to be several ships being repaired from serious structural damage.
Wei Han heads north to where the Dragon Army ships are. He's not permitted to go in armed, so he gives his sword and other weapons to Xiao Fa, who promptly puts them all in a pile to guard. Like Anto, he isn't great at gathering information, but does hear a bit about trouble with brigands and rebels.
- "There are seditious and rebellious elements in the city."
- "Are you sure it's not just a giant snake?" -Wei Han
- "No, that's someone else's problem."
A ship tries to leave the harbor, but seems to hit something in the water, and comes back in. Kasumi sends the Hiding Monkey off - when he returns, he's wearing lipstick.
- "Xian, do you have any experience with hiring ships?" -Xiao Fa
- "Yes, I've found that everyone really likes riding on cursed ships. If you can just find a cursed ship, everyone will leap right on it." -Xian
Xiao Fa grumbles, and goes off in search of a boat to hire. None of the boatmen around want to be hired to go and be eaten by sea serpents. However, one of them is willing to sell them a slightly leaky longboat that seats eight, for ten li. Kasumi makes sure that they can sell it back again for five li later. The boat comes with a bucket, for bailing, and a container of pitch, for patching. Wei Han decides going out in a little boat in heavy armor is not a good idea, so takes it (and any spare ice chips of doom) back to the circus.
- "There are better ways of not negotiating with the Horse spirit than dying in a boat." -Xian
- "Anto, make sure you don't unbind the wrong things. Like the anchor." -Grasshopper
- "Why am I even on this boat?" -Xian
Anto proves less competent at rowing than Wei Han, so the boat goes in circles for a while before finding itself heading back to the dock.
- "Yay!" -Xian
After some more concerted attempts at rowing, they get farther out into the harbor. People back at the dock start waving and yelling, but it's hard to tell what they're saying. Then, there's a great lurch as something underwater bumps the boat, hard. The more dexterous people keep the less dexterous ones from falling in.
Xiao Fa and Shuyan jump into the water, with rope tied to them. Master Zhou jumps in after them, spurning the rope. Once Shuyan is under the water, the buzzing noise stops bothering her, and, instead, she can hear the serpent's song - it is the deeply sorrowful tale of a lost daughter (and some contempt for talking fishes). Xiao Fa and Master Zhou just think it is a terribly loud deep sonar noise.
Shuyan tries to ask how she can help the serpent - the answer comes, "RETURN MY DAUGHTER". The serpent says that she left the world for the world of death, in the harbor.
Xiao Fa tugs on the rope, and he and Shuyan are hauled back into the boat. Shuyan appears to have been trying to breathe water, which isn't very good for her, but Xiao Fa is able to resuscitate her, and she explains. The boat manages to make its meandering way back to shore, where they resell it for half price.
It's gotten pretty late by now, so Anto considers - where is the nearest person who needs help? He starts heading for the Dragon Army's side of the harbor, and is quickly intercepted by a guard barring his way (and everyone else's).
Wei Han introduces himself as Shen Wei Han, late of the Dragon Army, and explains that he and his companions want to lend a hand against the people causing trouble. The guard doesn't seem willing to let a group of armed adventurers prowl around the area ostensibly to protect them from armed adventurers. Grasshopper and Kasumi sneak by, but when Anto tries, the guard spots him. Anto runs in, shouting that he heard someone calling for help, and the guard gives chase.
The party (and pursuing guard) come upon a fight - there are two black-clad people (one swordsman and one martial artist), fighting several Dragon Army soldiers on a pier with a lot of boxes. In the surprise round, half a dozen more soldiers leap out from behind the crates. It is an ambush! Anto thinks that the people who need help are the black-clad figures, rather than the soldiers, and suspects them of being Myo and Liet.
- "Kasumi, it's them!" -Anto
Anto yoinks Liet towards him with his kusarigama chain, and demands to know why he is here to help her. It makes sense to her - they need help because they were lured into an ambush! The army seems happy to believe that Kasumi is the third black-clad figure on the same team, and gets chopped a bit herself. Master Zhou smacks one of the soldiers off the side of the dock into the water.
- "Wait, whose side are we on?" -Grasshopper
Anto declares that the party is leaving, and does his best to drag both Liet and Myo after him, though neither of them is willing to leave the other behind, so it's slow going. Master Zhou picks Liet up and runs with her, and the group manages to escape as more soldiers emerge from boxes.
- "See? I told you there were a dozen of them!" -One soldier to another
The Scene of Enticing Recrimination
Everyone heads to Lady Liet's villa, and she explains that the local Dragon Army ships have been committing acts of piracy against her house, and complaints have been ignored for "lack of evidence". So her plan was to keep beating people up until they found evidence on one of them, but that hasn't worked yet.
- "Perhaps we should not have used the same battle plan four nights in a row."
The party asks if "acts of piracy" means "sea serpents", but no, it doesn't. Their ships have been boarded, and their cargo stolen, and the crew abused. Some of the more perceptive crew members spotted Dragon Army colors under the "pirate" costumes, but in the complaints, the crew has been deemed highly unreliable witnesses, as they were not themselves Dragon Army. One of their cases of wine is being sold at the upcoming auction, but not by them. Unfortunately, they do not have the technology to trace individual cases to particular ships.
- "There's no greater danger to the Empire than the loss of your wine?" -Kasumi
- "There's no greater danger to our house than the loss of our wine." -Liet
Her father is returning in two days, so she'd really like to solve the problem before then. Shuyan wonders if this has anything to do with the sea serpent, and explains what she learned from the big sea serpent in the harbor. For example, is there someone strange newly come to town?
Liet says that the strangest person to come to town recently is Huian the Mad, who calls himself a "natural alchemist", and spends all his time mucking around with seawater.
- "I may owe you." -Xian
Master Zhou interrogates Liet about where she has been learning. She says she has been studying the manual of kung fu that was in her nurse's possessions. She shows it to Master Zhou. He is disappointed to learn that it is not a magic book that teaches you shticks; you still count as self-taught using it. Her style is Tiger-flavored and somewhat self-sacrificing, in that it tends to convert incoming damage into outgoing damage.
Kasumi asks if Liet put the lipstick on her monkey - Liet is baffled, but comments that it looks like it's laughing. Hmm. Maybe it's a message from Kasumi's ninja house. She heads off to talk to her master - she asks for a spare nose (advice from the Temple of the Invisible Wind), and lets her master know that the House of the Laughing Shadow owes a favor (or, at least, Kasumi said she'd pass that along) to the House of Night's Promise. The master ninja tells her that if she's going to be promising favors and asking for other favors, she's going to need to prove her worth to the house - for example, make sure that the House of Benevolent Oversight doesn't buy the horse at the upcoming auction.
Scene of Informational Acquisition
The news in the Grand Bazaar has some details about the auction: it is being held by the Master of Trade, as part of an economic stimulus to try to jump-start the faltering Arcade economy. Each house was required to put up at least one thing of high quality. The House of Benevolent Oversight is sponsoring the grand feast, which is actually provided by the House of Continuing Sustenance. Other items include
- The House of the South Wind is auctioning off a fine black stallion with one white fetlock.
- The House of Judicious Increase has some incredible jewelry.
- The House of Beneficent Travel is selling a ship.
- The House of Gainful Protection is selling a fine set of Great Armor.
- The House of Resplendent Decoration needs a new item to auction because their bolt of enchanted silk is cursed.
- The House of Enticing Vintage is selling a number of fine wines, including a bottle of Golden Palace rice wine.
- The House of Quiet Concordance is auctioning a gazing ball.
- The House of the Lotus is selling a year-long comp pass.
- The House of Transparent Purity is selling a case of fine wine.
- The House of Ornamental Vessels has a set of really excellent bowls.
The group gets Liet to introduce them to one of the captains whose ship was pirated. He swears that the guys who took the cargo had Dragon Army uniforms under their grey cloaks, but the Army wasn't interested in listening to his complaints, and after that, he's been making sure he has some support from the House of Gainful Protection nearby in case of trouble.
- "You're paid up through the end of the week, but if you start going to bars again, I'm going to stop being discreet." -Yang Tsi-Ya, stepping from behind a pole
She says she's stopped a couple of attacks, but no, not by people wearing Dragon Army uniforms. The people who are familiar with Dragon Army procedure think the pirate ship sounds like a navy ship, probably detached to the blockade. They check with several of the pirate victims, and think it sounds like the same ship. Investigating the ship, Grasshopper finds a grappling hook with a bit of rope attached, which he might be able to attach to the other end of the rope, but there isn't a clear place to start looking. Ho also smells some blood, which might let him recognize someone later.
Very Small Rock
While prowling around the city, Grasshopper runs across a super-mangy dog with some ear trouble. As he does some quick veterinary fixing on the dog's ear, an urchin runs up and is happy that the dog has been found.
- "Oh, and Lijuan is back!"
- "No, I'm Grasshopper!"
Grasshopper asks if the urchin has seen any lost sea serpents. He hasn't, but says that with three days, he could totally help Grasshopper find one, with a lucky rock. This seems somewhat inexplicable, so Grasshopper asks for clarification. The urchin drags Grasshopper with him to demonstrate. They climb over Master Tranh's back wall, and the boy points out his rock, in the sand garden. He says that one is his, but it's not ready yet. When the rock gets to the middle of the pattern, then it will be lucky, and that's when you take it.
Shuyan, Anto, Xiao Fa, and Xian go to the House of the South Wind to look at the horse. With the Butterfly Talisman, Xian is important enough to get the others in as his assistants. It seems clear that the horse is strong and fast, and whoever owns it is clearly Important (+1 status to the rider). After looking at its chi more carefully, Xiao Fa clarifies - it is not a horse of +1 status, it is a horse of +N status, which is currently at N=1.
Finding the Serpent
Wei Han goes down to the docks to talk to the fishermen who are currently beached because of the sea serpent. Has anyone said anything interesting about catching weird fish? They mention Huian the Mad, some sort of weird water sage. Rumor has it he found a talking fish, but he threw it back, so no one believes him.
That night's circus performance takes Shuyan, Kasumi, and Anto out of the investigation for the evening. Grasshopper goes to break into the Transparent Purity warehouse by the docks. He pokes around for a while and finally finds a receipt - the wine was purchased at a very low price from "Iron".
The Harbor Master announces that the auction has been postponed for a day, due to the closing of the harbor, to give people more time to get into the city. This reassures the party, as everyone had begun to panic about not having enough time.
Xian spends the evening talking up the horse among high society, which goes pretty well, and he begins to generate some buzz. Master Zhou thinks about how to recreate the song of the sea serpent, as a person.
- "Give me an int roll with... theoretical acoustics." -Mike
- "I have artist, extra extra broad." -Tom
He heads down to the docks to try singing it, and in the middle of her performance, Shuyan starts getting a terrible buzzing in her head again. Meanwhile, Wei Han and Xiao Fa ask around the bazaar amongst people who might sell alchemical ingredients, if they know Huian. They know him, but don't know where he lives. One merchant notes that they could ask his servant - she's over there going down to the docks.
Xiao Fa and Wei Han run after her. Could she direct them to where the alchemist Huian lives? She is puzzled - why are they looking for him? Do they really need to know? Xiao Fa says they would really like to discuss some things with him. They want to discuss some things with him? Maybe tomorrow they could meet him? She supposes maybe they could do that, but she was going down to the docks right now, because she heard there was a sea serpent down there. She was going to go wander around down there and look. Xiao Fa offers to go with her while she goes to look, to make sure she's okay. She says that that's what Huian says too, and why she's supposed to stay home, to be okay. The three proceed to the dock, as the girl chatters, and then they find Master Zhou, singing.
- "Hello, what's your name? I didn't know there were any sea serpents here other than me!"
- "I am Master Zhou, of the White Pagoda."
- "Ooh. What's a pagoda?"
Hearing her walk straight up to Master Zhou and identify herself as a sea serpent, Xiao Fa bows deeply to Zhou; clearly he is more skilled in these matters than Xiao Fa had dreamed. Zhou describes pagodas, sketching one, and explains that they are on top of mountains. She says that her name is Sai. Huian gave her a name, because he is very nice. Ah, has she been here for a while, then? Yes! She has been here for days and days.
The group suggests that she talk to Shuyan, who will be at the circus tomorrow. Sai says that Huian will be sad, because he went to the circus today instead. Um, no, that's not quite what they meant.
Xiao Fa looks at her chi, and thinks it is the chi of a vast creature, in an itty bitty living space. They suggest that she come by the circus in the morning, with Huian, but in the meantime, they'll escort her home.
That night, Xian has a dream, of Huian standing and speaking to him: "I hope nothing happened to you. I went to meet you at the circus, but the Confounding Xian was not performing. If you are in trouble, try to let me know. I will try again tomorrow night."
Talking to the Elders
The next morning, Huian and Sai show up at the circus. Sai introduces Master Zhou as another sea serpent in disguise, but admits she doesn't know anyone else's name. She also talks about how she likes talking more than singing (though Master Zhou likes singing better), and notes that Huian taught her how to talk. Huian has an expression which suggests that he didn't want to be having this conversation at all, so Xian takes him aside while Sai talks to her new friends. She says that Huian sent a talking fish to turn her into a person for a year and a day! The group warns her that her father is very sad about her being missing, and wants her to come back, but she protests - she is seeing all sorts of new things and doesn't want to go back in the water! Anto looks at her chi, to see how she is bound - principally, she is bound into this form for a year and a day, or until she is submerged in sea water. Those who are familiar with their legends and stories recall that wishes from talking fishes often have a sting in their tail. Grasshopper demonstrates his brush painting to Sai, who makes a test drawing.
Xian returns, and explains - Sai is an expert on sea water, and Huian is trying to learn how to make it from her. Oh, and Huian didn't send the talking fish. People try to persuade her to go and at least talk to her father, but she is sure that he'll try to get her if she actually gets close enough for that to happen. The party says they can protect her from him getting her - Wei Han has fought a kraken - but she also doesn't want him chopped with swords. Well, maybe the party can talk to him.
Anto and Shuyan buy a small rowboat (again!), and Anto rows back out to the middle of the harbor for Shuyan to jump in. Shuyan explains that they found his daughter, but that she wants to stay on land and see things. Her father grumbles - fool girl. However, when he hears that she's been changed into a person by a talking fish, he lashes the water into a foam and nearly upends the rowboat. Shuyan says that they haven't figured out what the catch is, but he says that she won't even remember a year and a day - she'll be on some mountain or something when she turns back. Shuyan says they can try to make sure that doesn't happen.
He grumbles a bit more, and asks where Shuyan is from. She isn't really sure, but most recently is from the Isle of Beauty - he doesn't know the name, but recognizes the Butterfly Kingdom. He says that in a year less seven days, either his daughter will be under the water, or the Harbor of Shining Reflections will be under the water, and he leaves it to Shuyan to choose which. Then he swims away.
When Anto pulls Shuyan back into the boat, though, she's been trying to breathe water for way too long, and he is not so good with resuscitation as Xiao Fa. She puts her Serpent Ring on and dies before she dies for real.
- "Well... I guess I carry her corpse back." -Anto
The talking up of the horse continues. Xian gets Ringmaster Te to come see the horse and talk about it - as the Ringmaster has some business skill, he says that he thinks the base price will be the reserve plus ten times the total buzz. There are three flavors of buzz: Status, Charisma, and Grace. Each stat can have up to three different people listed. The horse won't go for less than that - whether it goes for more, will require houses to particularly want to bid against each other. Perhaps by getting two houses in a rivalry to outbid each other for it.
Grasshopper goes to give the grappling hook to Liet, as he is not interested in searching boats. Liet says she's on it!
Xiao Fa visits Master Tranh, and hears some new news - the gazing ball that his house has put up for auction has gone missing! It was in the center of his garden, but it vanished a few days ago. Xiao Fa looks around, but is not much of a detective, though he thinks that Master Tranh is re-optimizing the garden every day or so. He meditates for a bit, and comes away thinking that no matter what the feng shui of the garden is like, it should not feel this much like Grasshopper.
Kasumi, who is boycotting the Liet/Myo plot because she thinks they're idiots, goes to see Merit's horse and spends a karma to speak to the Horse. She says that they're going to do the auction, and they want the ultimate puttering and something else that isn't related to hedgehog bunnies. However, once she starts bargaining, he's a much better bargainer, and notes that he did already tell them that putting it off until the last minute was not an excuse to raise the price. He counter-offers an escape to a moderately safe distance, or a puttering for just the eight people in the run. Kasumi says that she's not allowed to settle for less than the original price. The Horse notes with some asperity that she wants to bargain him down, but isn't bargaining in good faith if she doesn't have the authority to lower her price. He offers her the ultimate puttering, if they give him the thousand-li horse and Kasumi throws in something of her own to make up for her faux pas. She throws in 50 li more horse treats.
Wei Han goes shopping in the bazaar to try to find cheap black market wine. They aren't really selling any there, but he does get a hint as to where he might hook up with the black market - but not by showing up in Great Armor. Anyone who goes in that much looking for a fight will get one.
Master Zhou goes to talk to Myo about what the group has found out about piracy. Myo hushes him - his house is in favor of Enticing Vintage being pirated, so Myo drags him off to a private room. Unofficially, Myo is pleased to hear that they're working on it, and Master Zhou tells him to bid up the horse. The more it goes for, the better it will be. He also asks about their silk. Myo says that they had an order for three bolts of enchanted silk; they always make an extra bolt in case something goes wrong, and this one is the spare. The three bolts were delivered, but then they found out that this fourth bolt was cursed! Master Zhou thinks Xiao Fa might be able to uncurse it. Myo says that if that could happen, then the House of Resplendent Decoration would be able to bid horses up a bit higher.
Scene of Alacritous Resolutions
Anto brings Shuyan's body back to Xiao Fa, who manages to resuscitate her after removing the ring. She explains the deal with the elder serpent, and Kasumi explains that she has made the deal with the Horse.
- "It's all good, no one has to worry. I took it off everyone else's plate." -Kasumi
The group also discusses the rocks in the yard plot. Maybe Master Tranh can convince the urchins to stop messing with his garden by giving them food? Well, that is a bit like a protection racket.
- "It would be the lamest protection racket ever - give us sausage buns or we put some rocks in your yard." -Anto
Xiao Fa thinks that better would be a new story to tell the urchins - the Tale of the Garden and the Unlucky Rock. Grasshopper goes to look for the urchins, and explains that their lucky rocks are actually unlucky.
- "My boss, he's a sorcerer. It's all feng shui and stuff, so he knows about things being unlucky. Especially the silver one."
The urchins protest - the silver one is how they're getting food! They can see where the unguarded food is! Grasshopper explains that it is luring them into a false sense of security - you depend on the evil rock, and then it betrays you! He convinces them to put all their lucky rocks back (except for one?), and then buys pork buns for everyone.
- "You're learning." -Xian
Xiao Fa visits the House of Resplendent Decoration, and hears their tale of woe about the order of three bolts of magical silk, and finding out that the spare one was cursed after delivery. He make a titanic expenditure of chi and just barely manages to cleanse the silk. Whoever cursed it seems to have a Tao of 12.
Master Zhou convinces Kasumi that if she steals the wine from the glass house, that will help the horse plot, not the Liet and Myo plot that she doesn't like. She heads off to make an attempt to do so, but while she can sneak in pretty easily, she finds it hard to carry the big crate of wine with much stealth. She gets it to a nearby alley, and then puts a note on it to deliver it to the House of Benevolent Oversight, and sends an urchin to hire some crate-bearers. While she waits, some guards come out to look around, but this generally results in the crate-bearers being chased by the guards, and the House of Benevolent Oversight being vaguely framed for the trouble.
Master Zhou thinks about what he knows about military organization, and figures that the most likely culprit for "Iron" is Captain Sozhei Iron, of the ‘Greyjoy’. Xian's encounter with the black marketeer gets the same name when he drops "Iron" as a contact. Xian also talks up the horse to the black market, though they aren't really a source of buzz themselves. They might think of having Transparent Purity front for them, though. Wei Han goes drinking with some Dragon Army officers, and talks up the horse as well.
That night, Xian gets another dream from Huian - he's not really sure what Xian did, but Sai seems much happier as her father's not yammering at her any more. They'll keep working on their problem.
Master Zhou and Liet go running into the night to try to get some evidence from the ‘Greyjoy’. There's a Dragon Army ambush set up, which Liet really really wants to trigger, but Master Zhou talks her out of it.
- "Can you swim? Because now we're diving into the harbor, since I just set off the ruckus." -Liet
In setting off the ruckus, she's come away with Captain Iron's logbook; sufficient KS: Dragon Army or Military Organization can pull evidence of piracy out of it. It doesn't look like it's at the behest of the army, it seems to be the captain's own initiative. Now, turning it over to the army could be tricky - it'll require someone with pretty high status to not have to answer questions about where it came from.
Xiao Fa stops by Master Tranh's - he is most pleased that the gazing ball has been returned. Xiao Fa tells him about the horse.
Xian heads to the army side of the harbor to turn in the log book, and is quickly escalated all the way to Sea Lord Miyora. He introduces himself as Lord Xian from the Isle of Beauty, and presents his "iron clad proof". Sea Lord Miyora has enough KS:Navy to read between the lines to see the acts of piracy, and says that it will be dealt with swiftly.
- "Is there anything I can do to set your mind at ease further?" -Sea Lord Miyora
- "No, no, you already have. In my mind it is already resolved, I need nothing more." -Xian, unwilling to try to get a favor from so suspicious a guy
Later that morning, the news comes that Soizhe Iron has been executed - his lands will be sold and the proceeds given to the House of Enticing Vintage. Liet's father comes back just in time to see this resolution, and is quite gratified.
The House of Quiet Concordance is back on track for the auction, as is the House of Resplendent Decoration. The House of Benevolent Oversight is running a little late, so the auction is actually started by the House of Judicious Increase. The House of Transparent Purity has to withdraw from the auction - they had some issues with their wine, and some of their house members were killed by a horse that was being stolen.
Everyone makes their best shot at persuasion rolls at the auction start, getting the buzz to one short of the full thousand. The bidding increases up to 990 li. There is a long pause, and then finally Liet bids one thousand li. That sparks a new round of bidding, and in the end, Master Tranh buys the horse for 1218 li, giving him a horse of +12 status, which is unfortunately overkill for his current 8 status.
- That would be the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Fox
- Xiao Fa builds his own miniature garden, and puts the "lucky rock" in it for several days. That doesn't help so much, but he realizes that sitting in Master Tranh's garden did make it lucky. He gives it back to the urchins, so they do have one lucky rock left.
- Xiao Fa investigates Grasshopper's bunny-hedgehog-thing.
- Some Dragon Army soldiers come to see "Lord Xian" and Wei Han to ask questions.
- Hiro goes to visit the Forest of Chin to ask Pir Pir about country names.
- Takanata has tea with Master Tranh, and Scholar Turtle
- Wei Han talks to Old Tsung, who runs some of the local bruisers, about training.