Three Ring Yoshi
|"Thirty-six plans of how to win the battle are not so good as one plan to withdraw from the fight."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Serpent in the Month of the Butterfly in the third Year of the Spider since the burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place mostly around the town of Flowering Resolution in the Jade Taiga.
Riding the Pig
People start to wrap up their business in Iron Fortress, as the circus packs up after one of their longest stops ever. Yanyu wanders by and asks Kasumi some leading questions about finding a match for her; Kasumi glowers about boyfriends being no use, but when Yanyu concludes that "perhaps Kasumi doesn't need to settle down just yet" Kasumi is duly alarmed. Lijuan asks whether burning down the Red Pagoda might be a good idea, but everyone else leaps in to assure her that it is not.
Lijuan draws a picture, which she deems Prophetic Art, and Takanata writes a poem:
Takanata notes that in Lijuan's picture, the hunter is not Lijuan, and the panda is symbolic.
Yoshi is dubbed Junior Assistant Ringmaster again, and Ringmaster Te asks, for planning purposes, if if the party has settled all the problems keeping the circus from going to the Hidden City. Again, everyone leaps in to say "No!". Well, they can argue about that later. The circus will be heading east, with a couple of choices for the first stop - two towns in the Taiga named Flowering Resolution and Tranquil Endurance. Merit notes that these are both in Duke Huang's lands; one is known for street gangs having taken over with a protection racket, and the other is experiencing an economic boom, and the Duke has been spending a lot of time there. Yoshi protests - the Secret Swords aren't so much a racket as actually protecting the town. Xian has had a dream, also, and wants to go to a town in the Taiga, but is a little fuzzy on where. In general, the group decides that they'd prefer Flowering Resolution, as they've been to Tranquil Endurance and it wasn't that exciting.
As the circus heads eastwards on the Imperial Highway, they spot a group of troops moving westward. Merit invokes the Fast Passing Rules and turns the circus caravan into a travelling performing parade. The army commander says his men have been marching hard and will soon see combat, so some rest and ease for them will be good. They'll be heading into the Roof of the World to put down the bandits that are gathering there. Lijuan talks to the army's horse-handlers - they're a bit demoralized, as cavalry in the mountains isn't that good an idea. Xian chats with some of the infantry, and comes to a similar conclusion - their morale isn't so good either. Takanata warns the captain that he should make sure his men don't fight in the Reflected City. The captain doesn't seem to worried about being "banished", and is overall very young-seeming. He's very enthusiastic, especially when he hears that Takanata's brother was the commander of the Bearers of Swift Response. He's not totally tactically inept (his plan is to send scouts and surround the bandits) but seems unaware of the actual numbers of bandits that were at the Shadow's valley. On the other hand, the party thinks they've mostly left by now, so it could be okay. He and Takanata talk about tactics.
As the circus is passing by the army guys, a merchant caravan kind of sidles up to the circus wagons, trying to draft past the army on the circus's tailwind. That might or might not qualify as suspicious - Merit doesn't try to chase them off, as he really can't complain about merchant caravans hanging around with the circus, but he does wonder about it. Kasumi sneaks behind a wagon, and manages to overhear a little bit about either “bandits” or “pandas”, and about doing something. Anto and Cai Wen drop by the merchants, and Cai Wen suggests that as part of getting them past the army, they should chat with him and answer some question. They say they're bringing bulk goods to the City of Spires, and ask him about his recent travels. He finds himself talking about having driven off Tai Lung, so it's not clear that he has come out ahead in this particular exchange of questions. Anto finds it suspicious that they don't try to sell him anything, but Merit thinks that's reasonable - he doesn't spend all his time trying to sell his bulk goods in bits and pieces to people he meets along the road.
Speaking of which, Merit offers to sell them his second load of bulk goods, to take to the City of Spires when they go. After some haggling, he thinks that they're trying to drive a believable bargain rather than a good one, and that their manifest has an asterisk (metaphorically) by "bulk goods". He digs deeper, trying to figure out what they're up to, and decides that they just pulled off a Ride the Pig job by getting their illegal bulk goods past the army, while making it look (if they're caught) like the circus arranged it.
Kasumi sneaks into one of the wagons, and notes that most of the crates are sealed, but one is open and has radishes in it. After much creaking and thumping, she gets a bottom crate open and finds swords in it. She creaks and thumps the crate back shut again, and leaves the wagon for the cover of the nearby grass. Oddly, no one seems to have come to investigate any of this, despite a pretty poor stealth roll on her part. Merit and the merchant agree to swap wagons when they stop for dinner. Over dinner, the merchants ask about the confrontation with Tai Lung - that must have been exciting, and they hear Imperial Pandas came out of the hills for it? Lijuan enthuses about how fuzzy the pandas were, and Merit embellishes on the story - when Master Zhou denounced Tai Lung, the pandas roared in response and went after him. One of the merchants pumps Lijuan for extra information, including asking after her family. She says she doesn't know who her father is, but she's here with Yoshi. Is he her cousin? No, they just met in the Forest of Chin a while ago. They ask after other panda stories, but due to an impressive Resolve roll, Lijuan refrains from explaining about the later panda adventure.
Takanata tries to figure out the strongest connection between Yoshi and the merchant.
- "We both have secret swords." -Yoshi
The connection Takanata finds is that the merchant thinks Yoshi is his target, but he's wrong. He and Merit ponder whether or not to just have Merit tell the merchant that "Yoshi isn't the one you're looking for." That seems likely to invite more questions, though, so he doesn't. Cai Wen notes that one of the merchants is particularly good-looking, and starts chatting her up. (She's named Sho Fi). In the meantime, one of the other merchants chats up Lijuan; she admits that there's a guy that she likes, but it's a secret and he doesn't know about it. Kasumi kicks her to make her stop explaining.
Takanata's best guess is that they aren't the spies for a particular country - they're a little too varied. Merit tries to recruit one of them as an informant (though he only gets one of the caravan guards, not one of the named spies).
Cards on the Table
In the morning, at breakfast, Cai Wen notes that the spies are pretty darned loyal - you can't get information about them out of the underlings. The merchants seem inclined to head to Flowering Resolution as well - Xian is unsure whether that's where he wants to go, as Takanata has given him confusing information about where it is (perhaps Takanata has just pointed to a random place on the map?)
- "Sometimes in error, but never in doubt." -Yoshi
Merit dithers about what a true Butterfly would do in response to the merchants following them - if the circus wasn't here, they would just have gone straight into town, so since the circus has distracted them somehow, the party should continue to poke them. He continues to poke around the merchant camp, and discovers that the real game going on is not a Ride the Pig, it's a Ride the Pig in the Dark - the swords are probably entirely a distraction, to make Merit's group think they know what's going on. Ahah, that must be why they pretended to not notice Kasumi going through their stuff. Merit's best guess, based on the prophetic poem and drawing, is that they're looking for someone who has a tell for pandas, but they aren't clever enough to recognize Lijuan's tell, because it's about fuzzy rather than scary, so they're looking for someone else. They're probably working for someone else, who might be worse than they are - the employer wants the pelt, not the animal.
So, while the spies might be turnable, it's the person who hired them who's more dangerous and more important. But, the spies are here.
- "We have levers to turn them - guilt, and money." -Merit
Kasumi offers to just start killing some of them - if ninjas are supposed to be so terribly dangerous, maybe she should start acting that way. No one else thinks that's a good idea, not to mention, they seem pretty competent.
Having no better plan, perhaps they should just try talking? "Get 'em" with social dice?
Merit and the other non-fighters head over to the merchant's tent, leaving the fighters to lurk nearby in case it goes badly. The merchant boss (named River Ford, though they don't learn this until later) is eating breakfast, with all his guys nearby (including Sho Fi, who winks at Cai Wen), and his thugs nearby in case it goes badly.
- "I don't want to interrupt while he's eating. Can't we confront him after breakfast?" -Yoshi
- "No! We're not going to march into his tent and turn around and march out again!" -Merit
Yoshi takes point. He understands the merchant has a quandary - might Yoshi be of assistance? The merchant professes to not know what he means, but Yoshi is sure that the merchant knows what Yoshi means better than Yoshi does.
- "It's possible that your merchant friend (Merit) took me for a ride yesterday and I overpaid, but I don't think I should complain." -Ford
Yoshi declares that they're past that - he's talking about the real thing, not the distraction. The merchant asks Yoshi to enlighten him.
- "You should read him Takanata's poem!" -Lijuan
- "No!" -everyone else
- "I think there is something you are seeking from us, but that you may not wish to be seeking, for the reasons that you currently are. I would be more clear, but we need your help to understand." -Yoshi
- "But if I were seeking something you had, that you didn't know about - were I to tell you, presumably the price would go up."
- "It's probably not something we are selling."
- "Are you sure?"
- "You'd really have to tell me what it is in order for me to know."
- "But then the price would go up..."
It is a very confusing negotiation.
- "We think we know what you're seeking, but we don't want to tell you. Do you really think we'd sell it?"
- "Surely that depends on what it is."
Yoshi tries, with sense motive, to figure out if they really think the party would sell Lijuan. That seems somewhat implausible. The guy doesn't seem to think that whatever he wants is quite as implausible as all that.
- "Maybe he's not after what we think he's after." -Yoshi
- "It's possible I'm not. What did you think I was after?"
Yoshi has to make a resolve roll against answering that, but Merit cracks.
- "Fine. We think you're looking for someone with the blood of the Bear Emperor." -Merit
He's definitely surprised at that answer - Cai Wen, who is more perceptive, figures out that he wasn't surprised he got an answer from someone, but he's surprised that it was Li Merit who said it.
- "You're really going to come out and say that? Now I have to figure out if this is a Cards on the Table or a Marked Card House."
- "It's Cards on the Table!" -Yoshi, sincerely
- "It's not like we can lie to you here. Yoshi is an open book..." -Merit
- "I've been seeing that. Him and his niece..."
Their boss concedes that if they're pretending it's Cards on the Table, they can pretend that too. So... why is doing some research into the blood of the old emperors a problem?
- "We don't do hits."
- "But you work for people who do." -Merit
- "This time, for example."
They admit that their reputation is such that they can't really justify dropping the contract, but if there's another relative (like an uncle?) who could take care of themselves, then they could drop that name and not have to have the hit put on a little girl. Yoshi agrees that he would also prefer to not put hits on little girls, and Merit says they'll check their records.
The merchant says they can talk about this in Flowering Resolution in two days time, and tips his hat to Merit as they leave.
The group heads to the circus tea tent to discuss, and immediately proceeds to worry about eavesdroppers. As Cai Wen has brought Sho Fi, she is chased away. Pooky is sent to hide near any more stealthy people, and finds one of the merchant's people - in something like a ninja suit but without the mask - dangling by one leg above the tent flap, listening. She is also chased away.
Lijuan says that they're probably after her because of the pandas not wanting to kill her, which has happened several times. Takanata notes there was also the near-riot of bringing pandas into Iron Fortress.
As for what to do, Lijuan insists that it's her turn to get kidnapped or assassinated or whatever - she's not letting someone else take her rightful targetship this time, like people keep doing. Anto suggests sowing confusion rather than truth, and there is some discussion of whether they can convince the spies that some arbitrary target like Tai Lung or Inspector Fu is really the Bear bloodline. Merit isn't convinced that they'll be convinced, and also notes that if they think the group is trying to feed them a fake name, they won't be playing Cards on the Table any more. Perhaps they can arrange to be notified when the assassins are coming?
Breakfast meetings over, the circus heads out towards Flowering Resolution, and sets up just outside of town. Sho Fi suggests that they stay in a proper inn, not the silly circus tents, and gives Cai Wen a brief precis - there's the really good inn, the acceptable inn, and the cheap inn. He convinces her to check out the town and report back to him, while Xian clamors to look at all the inns. Takanata takes a room at the best inn, but is convinced to wander around to the other inns with Xian. However, whatever mysterious clues Xian is looking for from his dreams, he fails to identify them here.
Sho Fi returns with her briefing on the town - the circus is here, the Crew is here, several retainers of Duke Huang are here, the Duke's trial magistrate just arrived, the dark chi sorceress is here, and there's a popular new winehouse in town run by a woman named Mingzhi. Merit does his own version of who's in town, and compares. He gets basically the same set, though since it's a little later, he also hears that a messenger from the Duke has arrived for the magistrate.
He gets a quick briefing on the Crew as well - there are five of them, and they're named and quite competent. The head of the Crew, River Ford, used to be an Inspector at the same rank as Inspector Fu, until he went rogue
Meanwhile, Lijuan has heard a dog whimpering, and she and Yoshi head in that direction. They recognize Littlest Si, the dog they gave the Thorny Peacocks. He seems to have been bruised, as if rocks have been thrown at him. Lijuan, Yoshi, Anto, and Kasumi head into the woods following the dog's trail, which leads them a few hours over to Tranquil Endurance.
- "Wait, did all our fighters just wander off into the woods?" -Cai Wen
- "They found a stray dog, and now they're trying to find out who hurt it! It's Justice, Cai Wen! Do you stand for nothing?" -Merit
As the group approaches Tranquil Endurance, a young kid jumps out, barring the way with a staff and shouting "Halt!". Lijuan says that they've brought back Littlest Si, and the kid is overjoyed. Apparently, the Secret Stupid Swords threw rocks at him and he ran away. Yoshi protests - he turned them into good guys! The kid mutters that it clearly went to their heads. Anyway, the Secret Swords abandoned the town a while ago, and the Thorny Peacocks had to protect it, and everything was extra safe - there weren't any bandits at all! Then the Secret Swords came back, and the town said they didn't need them after all, and they stomped off again. The Thorny Peacocks are sure that they'll do really well when real bandits come.
Well, this could be a problem. The group heads to the Inn of the Red Door, to try to get news from someone other than the kid.
- "I bet it's really easy to get urchins drunk." -Lijuan (thinking about Drunken Master fighting style)
Mei Li is in the back room of the Red Door, moving boxes (the crates that River Ford's group had!) around. She gives some more details - when the Secret Swords came back, the town didn't want to pay their "protection money" any more, but the Thorny Peacocks have been extra stupid about the whole thing. They got into a shouting match, and the Secret Swords got grumpy and said they didn't want to protect the stupid town anyway, and Johnny Tong said they were going to go east and join a real tong or something. So she bought a bunch more swords to try to arm the random townsfolk in a pinch. (Yoshi thinks that's several dozen li worth of swords, and wonders where she got the money).
Yoshi, incensed by Johnny Tong's perfidy in deserting his duty, names Mei Li the new leader of the Secret Swords, and gives her the Tin-Edged Sword of Justice, given to him by Ti Wren. She is very impressed. Then, the group attempts to brief the adults in the town about how all the bandits went away, but they'll be returning soon, so it wasn't really about the Secret Swords in particular. They call an emergency town meeting, and Yoshi says he'll go find the Secret Swords again and tell them to come back, while Lijuan gives the Thorny Peacocks kung fu lessons.
Merit acquires a longer briefing on River Ford and his group - he was an Imperial inspector until nine months ago, when he went rogue and formed his own criminal gang, with people he investigated but was never able to pin anything on. There are four other people in his gang: a thief, a femme fatale, a fighter, and a bureaucrat (Ford himself is a mastermind). Takanata perks up - he's been looking for a master bureaucrat. Merit notes that they've actually been hovering at fourth level for a while - they're looking for a big job to push them over the top, so they can become a Master Group in addition to just individual Masters.
- "You're her moll." -Merit
- "I'm sure it's the other way around." -Cai Wen
- "Just wait until puttering - you won't have dibs on her then!" -Merit
Takanata asks around after the dark chi sorceress that has been captured - the basic rumor is that she apparently tried to attack the Duke with dark chi, but his own chi is powerful and he overcame her. Xian also hears the rumor that the dark chi sorceress was disguised as a man, which clearly makes her extra-nefarious. She's being held in a room in the average inn, with guards - apparently there isn't a dedicated jail in town.
Takanata heads into the inn, and requests rather imperiously to interview her, confident that he can resist her dark chi. When he goes in, the guard follows, and demands that she tell her story to Lord Takanata.
- "Why aren't you frozen in ice?" -Takanata
- "... Because I was away before the winter came."
She eyes the guard warily, and Takanata turns on Eyes of the I Ching (turning his eyes white and black), and regards the guard. He says that he will have no trouble with her; the guard can stand outside. The guard, now scared of both of them, does so.
The "dark sorceress" explains. There's a woman named Mingzhi, who opened a winehouse in town relatively recently. She has been doing well, but in an attempt to bring in business, she invited Duke Huang and his retainers. The Duke made advances on her, which she rejected, and since then he has been visiting more and more often, and bringing more and more retainers. One does not ask the Duke to pay for his meals and wine, so it has become very difficult for her. At this point, it is probably spite more than interest, even if she were to change her mind. The so-called sorceress... arranged for the Duke to have some confusion, when visiting the mayor, about which was his closet and which was his privy, as that would embarrass him away from the town, but he proved to have a ring of some sort of defenses against her abilities.
Takanata asks - he assumes that her abilities to appear as someone else if she gets taken away are good? Yes, if she can get away, she should be okay. How well can she sneak? She can hide pretty well, and blend in as a guard, but that works better as "one of the guards" than "the guard". Takanata tells her to take a nap after dinner (so Xian can send her a dream) but to otherwise avoid sleeping that night. She seems a little unwilling to just wander away without dealing with Duke Huang and Mingzhi, though Takanata thinks then they'll have to rescue her again. She notes that she won't be caught the same way again.
- "I think reading her I Ching will not be helpful about the plot, but it will tell me things about Xian, so I don't offer to do that." -Takanata
Cai Wen and Sho Fi head to the winehouse to reconnoiter. It's quite crowded, though about half of the clientele are people in Duke Huang's livery, talking to the magistrate. Sho Fi seems to have somehow become the magistrate's secretary, and introduces Cai Wen. Cai Wen asks about the case - Duke Huang apparently thinks it's open and shut, and while the magistrate is unwilling to just ink-stamp the Duke's decision, he does think from what he's heard that she's guilty.
The group visiting Tranquil Endurance returns, and everyone meets back in the tea tent for dinner, and discusses various plans both for rescuing the "dark chi sorceress" and curbing the Duke's spite at Mingzhi. The idea of making Mingzhi appear to be a man disguised as a woman, or swapping his ring for another ring with the swapping monkey are toyed with, but as a start, it would be good to make sure Xian's sister gets rescued.
Merit remembers that the circus needs to put on a performance, just in time to get things ready, and arrange for some act swapping so as to give Anto and Kasumi alibis ("we were in the circus!") for later. Merit also contacts an old buddy to set up a safe house for later, and recruits some thugs to stand in an alley and mug anyone chasing Anto/Kasumi who runs through it. Xian sends his sister a dream basically saying "when the rope comes through the window, grab it!".
Lijuan sets Littlest Si to be the distraction - he runs around, barking and frothing. Anto climbs up to the window and "unbinds" out the nails, while Kasumi sends down her rope to yoink up the prisoner. It is surprisingly effective as a plan! Everyone flees for the safe house, with the girl wearing Merit's choker of fast talking - she later returns something that looks like it, but is actually Littlest Si's collar (Merit ends up charging Xian the replacement price for it).
Cards on the Table, Part Two
Meanwhile, Cai Wen has been chatting with the magistrate and dropping rumors. The magistrate has heard that Mingzhi is the Duke's mistress, though Cai Wen corrects him on that front. Well, he's heard about the multiple visits - he doesn't really approve, but he's just a magistrate. Cai Wen suggests that the magistrate ban Duke Huang's men, but he's unwilling to do so - even if that fixed the money drain, that wouldn't fix the Duke's being out to get her. Sho Fi suggests that they find the Duke another person to fixate his grudge on - he seems to only hold one grudge at a time. She'd be willing to lure him into falling for her and then break his heart - a job just for her, not the whole crew, so she'd only charge him 50 li.
Merit asks around town and does his best to psychoanalyze Duke Huang at a distance - he thinks that the Duke’s "tenet" (as far as Yoshi's redemption mechanic goes) is "Perception is more important than reality". However, he might not be willing to sit still for Yoshi to lecture him a bunch, so more plans may be needed there.
- "Humility is probably the right... not vice, the other thing." -Merit
- "He's trying to create the impression of being someone to not be crossed, but instead he's looking petty." -Xian
The group thinks about histories to add to a circus performance - is there something that could be tied into the circus theme? The Fire Dukes have been around for forever - there's always been two Fire Dukes and two Water Dukes as the most powerful four dukes in the Taiga. Sometimes their feuding gets out of hand, and the king smacks them down; sometimes another house begins to get pre-eminent, and that causes the four to put their feud aside to smack down the contender. There's nothing in the histories that really seems to fit, but there are some things closer to legends - a story sort of like the beginning of Beauty and the Beast, in which a young Duke, surrounded by rich sycophants, turns away a scruffy old monk, and is cursed with unwisdom. That might be a good theme to use, and then Yoshi can be the Duke's official escort around the circus, and talk about the circus and work his persuasion about the themes in.
The next morning, Duke Huang arrives in town, to find everything in an outcry with his prisoner missing. Several guards are demoted.
River Ford and his crew drop by the circus for breakfast for his two-days-later appointment, and Merit shows them to the tea tent.
- "There have, however, been some questions about your character." -Merit
- "My character is an issue here?" -Ford
- "What are the circumstances of your leaving Imperial service?"
- "Do you want the hard answer or the easy answer? If you say the hard answer, you'll think I'm insane and storm out."
- "Hard answer! Hard answer!" -Everyone
Kasumi grabs a piece of paper, writes down "A country got renamed," folds it up and hands it to him, claiming it's a magic trick.
- "Fine. I opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Empire-wide amnesia surrounding the renaming of the country called Bear Mountain. Fifteen hours later, I was marked for death." -Ford
- "Open open open open it!" -Kasumi
- "Did you find anything out?" -Merit
- "I only had fifteen hours! No, I didn't find anything out." -Ford
Merit wants to know when he crossed the wall. He claims he didn't, but no one believes him. Then he says he fell off the wall once when he was dealing with some smugglers, and saw some interesting things after he hit, but he thought that was the drugs and impact at the time.
His crew chimes in, mocking how he hasn't been right in the head ever since. "The kingdom of flappy butterflies, right."
Since it's his turn, Ford wants to know the circumstances of Merit leaving the Butterfly service. Unfortunately, Merit doesn't remember so well - there was a job, and some chi damage, and then he retired. Though he's been reactivated now.
The party boggles - why is he asking about Merit? Doesn't he want to ask questions about the renaming?
- "Well, did you do it?" -Ford
- "Did you tell someone and get marked for death?"
- "Sort of."
Well, actually, since the party appears to be dying to explain about the renaming, he doesn't feel like using his questions on it, not to mention that the last time he asked questions about the subject, he got marked for death fifteen hours later.
Anyway, Merit tells him that he regrets to inform Ford that the only Bear bloodline person they have is Lijuan. Ford is disappointed - no fighter uncle? No uncle, Merit says. Sho Fi confirms that there's no uncle - she got out of Cai Wen that Lijuan calls Takanata "Uncle Takanata" but isn't actually related. Ford sighs. Well, they still don't like the idea of hits on a little girl, so maybe they can fake her death (for half price). The party thinks maybe they can deal with it themselves. Lijuan is excited about the idea of getting to pretend to be a boy instead. Kasumi points out she will need to STOP TALKING ABOUT PANDAS in the future.
Back to the country-renaming plot, Merit warns Ford that the whole Empire is next on the renaming chopping block, and Xian thinks that whoever hired Ford is part of the same country-renaming plan (because who else would care about a long-dead bloodline?). Merit, testing, says that there are a bunch of people with Spider aspects behind the plot, backed by the Great Cycle Spirit of the Spider. The other crew members look at the Crew's bureaucrat - he's part of Ford's crazy plot? The bureaucrat throws up his hands - nobody told him about a conspiracy! Takanata says that because of the conspiracy, everything is getting worse - when the Northerners come over the wall next winter, it'll be extra-bad. Takanata does a quick Connections reading, but it doesn't confirm much.
Merit decides that his curiosity about the renaming has really been hammered down a lot by the whole "marked for death" thing, so the group decides to stop with the dire portents and warnings, and go back to planning to divert Duke Huang. They'll start with the Yoshi redemption plan, and if that doesn't work, the "have a new girl catch his eye" plan can be a backup.
Yoshi wears the Butterfly Talisman in order to look impressive enough to keep the Duke's attention full time, and Merit introduces him to the Duke as his circus guide. Merit has restaged the circus acts to focus on the Curse of Unwisdom theme, and Yoshi manages to work that into his conversation as they go. He gets three opportunities to make persuasion rolls, and between a magic citron flower of Merit's and throwing in all his fortune, he gets more than ten successes on each roll, and turns the Duke's "Perception is more important than reality" to "Honor is more important than ego."
The Secret Swords Return
The next morning, Takanata offers to read the I Ching for Ford - he gets a reading for the whole crew. Their quest to become a "Master Group" is key, and they'll be particularly effective then. They're well-tuned for material world plots - if they get pointed at the World Above or something like that, they'll be smote. Takanata warns them to avoid the supernatural, wondering whether they're already too entangled with it.
Yoshi decides it's time to track down the Secret Swords. If they left heading east, they're probably on their way to the City of Spires. Merit has a device that one can attach to a cart to make it go really fast, so perhaps they can catch up. As it turns out, when the group reaches the highway, the Secret Swords are there, heading back westwards toward Tranquil Endurance.
Yoshi leaps dramatically out of the cart, with the sun catching his hair in a sparkle. Johnny Tong is pleased to see him - he told the guys coming back was the right plan! He tries to explain how the town stopped paying them and told them they weren't needed any longer, and while they were mad when they left, they decided they couldn't actually leave the little kids to fight off the bandits themselves, so they were heading back again. They've got disguises now, and they're going to try to be underground, so they can be the Secret secret swords.
Yoshi is having none of their excuses about having been fired, and chews them out for having put their own egos over protecting the town. Mei Li was the only one with the moral fortitude to stay with the town regardless, so Johnny Tong doesn't get to be the leader of the Secret Swords any more, she is. He's crushed. Where did Mei Li get the money for the swords anyway? Well... they didn't take their treasury when they left, so that was Secret Swords money. Yoshi continues his lecture - he's indulged them for too long, letting them be a tong, and it led to their desertion of duty. They're not going to get to be a tong any more. The Secret Swords grumble - that's going to mess up all their group shticks! They won't be able to use the Tong mechanic! Yoshi tells Johnny that if he works at it, he can be Johnny the Just instead.
The group returns to Tranquil Endurance. Yoshi tries to convince Johnny that they don't need to be paid - couldn't they work as cobblers and stuff as their day jobs, and just be defenders when there's a problem? Johnny points out, somewhat reasonably, that if they have to spend all their time working at other things, they won't be able to do much training or repairing of armor or anything like that. In order to be a credible guard force, and do any sort of patrolling of the outlying areas, they really should be doing that full time. Takanata notes that Tranquil Endurance doesn't really need twenty guards, it's smaller than that, but it does probably need some, and it's kind of strange that it doesn't have any at all - the party decides that's a mystery for later.
Yoshi and the others turn their persuasive abilities back on the town council, explaining about the magical compulsion that summoned all the bandits - the Secret Swords should have explained better, but Mei Li will be in charge of them now and she won't make that sort of mistake.
- "Mei Li, the only one who stayed true to the Swords' mission, is in command, and you can trust in Mei Li's heart to make the right decision. " -Yoshi
However, the Swords do need the town's support to keep their mission going. The town elders are vaguely convinced, but they're still kind of dubious about the "tong" having run off before, and they want assurances that that won't happen again. After some conferring with Merit, the Merit Trading Company is willing to vouch for three months of salary for the Secret Swords if they haven't proven themselves worthy again during those three months. He gives the town council letters they can cash in the City of Spires to be reimbursed should the Swords fail in their duty.
Yoshi confers with Mei Li about converting the tong to be something more like a militia. The tong mechanic involves creating a tong - holding territory, tattoos, keeping a rival gang away, that sort of thing. Johnny Tong actually managed to pull of creating a real tong (such as it is) in the middle of nowhere like this - that was pretty impressive, mechanically speaking. They have three tong shticks - the hidden sword, half price to buy katana skill, and a third shtick the GM can't remember. Yoshi tells them they need to get out of the tong business (which may be its own peril), and into the militia business, because everyone is curious how the militia mechanic works. They'll probably be in EP debt for a while, but they'll try.
- "Your least secret secret sword is your hidden katana. Another secret sword is your aikido. Only when you have mastered those will I tell you of your third and most powerful secret sword." -Yoshi
- Cai Wen arranges for an invitation to the pagoda of Lord and Lady Wing again.
- Xiao Fa goes back to the Green Pagoda to work in the gardens.
- Takanata, Cai Wen, and Xiao Fa visit Meng Ao near Nine Terraces.
- Xiao Fa visits the Hand of the Wind monastery again.
- Wei Han and Cai Wen go visit Sasaki to ask about repairing Wei Han's Storm Shield.
- Takanata, Min Feng, and Merit go shopping in the City of Spires.
- Anto goes to the Reflected City and returns with Kuan-Xi. She tells him her story about being kidnapped by the Whale.