Too Many Puzzle Pieces
|"Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion."|| The run begins in the late Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place principally in the Port of Auspicious Voyage
Another New Mission
Takanata carefully edits some previous prophetic art to put pips on the blank dice he drew, so he can choose an 11 when the time comes to roll. However, before they head off to talk to the prince, they check with the butler to see if any plots have showed up that they need to deal with. There aren't any visitors, but the butler does hands Takanata a sealed envelope to be used later as needed.
Takanata also wonders - has Master Li or Master Zhu dealt with the "square hexes" near the Gate of Shen in the uber-Empire? The butler thinks that they were muttering about hiring a special consultant to handle the matter, but have not done so. Should they go and look at those, instead of getting a new mission? Xiao Fa thinks that the House of Quiet Concordance could spend a country turn on it and fix the problem. However, people keep complaining when the Arcade Houses do something that isn't roll their military, and he doesn't want to hear the complaining afterwards. Alternately, if there were any Imperial Battlemasters, they might be able to fix things. Are there any Imperial Battlemasters? Broken Sword, and Yue Mei, both at the White Pagoda, might count as such. Should the party head to the White Pagoda and talk to the two of them, instead of talking to the Prince?
In the end, the various distractions to deal with the squares are postponed, and the Party heads to the Benevolent Secret Headquarters to get a new mission, and Takanata rolls the prophesied 11.
The Magpie Prince tells them: "Find the Teacher of the Mistress of Death!" Huh.
Retiring to the map room, people contemplate who the Mistress of Death might be. There seems to be a lot of possibilities, but Takanata thinks that Hana is the most likely. Her shtick source was "the Lost", ghosts of women drowned in the Jasmine, but that's not "the teacher". On the other hand, when she was training as a geisha at the House of the Lotus, Mistress Cho was in charge of the house and might have counted as her teacher.
Mistress Cho seems as likely a candidate as any, so the group sets off to visit the House of the Lotus in the Port of Auspicious Voyage.
A Meeting Elsewhere
When they reach the house, the party finds a note on the front door: "All engagements postponed - please return for our hospitality tomorrow." This is taken as evidence that a plot is clearly going on, and people knock on the door until Dutiful Hsung, the house's butler, finally answers. The butler reiterates the message that the house is currently not open for business, but he offers to give the Mistress a message from Takanata. When pressed, he admits that she is in a meeting, but says that he could not say with who.
Min Feng wanders around the back of the house, and overhears a conversation in the garden. She listens to two women talking - one of them thinks that now is the perfect time for meddlers. They could go pick what country Two Rivers is in, or they could sort out the City of Spires throne thing. The other voice says that they shouldn't just do whatever anyone else wants them to do - instead, her companion should figure out what she wants to do. The first voice thinks that political power is fun, but the second voice thinks that fun shouldn't be the only reason. Min Feng doesn't recognize either voice, but the conversation is intriguing. Takanata notes that the House of the Lotus has a reputation for training young women in political astuteness - after all, Hana was sent there for training - so the conversation might not be as unusual for a flower house as it seems.
Takanata opens his sealed letter - it is a fairly simple thing, asking that the reader please provide any assistance possible - but it is signed by the House of Exuberant Interference's butler. Perhaps Dutiful Hsung will be swayed by it, as he is also from the House of Butler.
The group knocks again, and the letter is presented. Dutiful Hsung will go so far as to admit that Madame Cho is at the House of Judicious Increase, and she is expected to return by dinner, and the House of the Lotus is expected to resume normal house operations tomorrow.
The party dashes off to the House of Judicious Increase, where Takanata asks to speak to Madame Cho of the House of the Lotus. Their butler, again, offers to bring a message to Madame Cho, and expects her to be free after several hours.
Xiao Fa uses expressive gestures and bribery to see if there is any inducement that can be offered to get further. The butler indicates that he is not averse to that sort of thing in general, but right now the head of his house has come to town from the capital to meet with Madame Cho, so it's far above his pay grade to interrupt the meeting on behalf of random visitors, no matter how high their status. He shows them to a waiting area, where they can remain until Madame Cho is free.
Kasumi melts into the shadows, and heads off to find the meeting. She uses True Stealth to stealth past the locked door, but then both Madame Cho and the head of the House of Judicious Increase look up, appalled to see a ninja. Madame Cho shrieks delicately, and Kasumi finds her far too inoffensive to chop. Lady Chow draws a pouch from her belt, about to throw it at Kasumi.
- "Yup, this is definitely the room with the meeting." -Kasumi
Kasumi dashes for the exit, and manages to dodge past enough guards to get to the roof, and away.
Meanwhile, the party hears shouts about ninjas and some house guards lock them into the waiting room while security rushes about. After a while, the butler comes back, apologizes for the excitement - it was just a security drill - and they are politely escorted out.
- "Okay, you've found her. Time to go back and report to the Prince." -Laura
Takanata considers whether he can auspiciously summon Madame Cho. That shtick isn't really designed for that - it works to instantiate an NPC who isn't anywhere in particular right now, and doesn't yank them out of a place where they already are. Doing the latter is something that Hand on the Pattern will do - but that requires that Takanata have the person memorized already. Alternatively, he could auspiciously arrive into their meeting - but that doesn't mean they will welcome him especially after they were interrupted by a ninja already.
The group has wandered in the direction of the House of the Lotus as they talk about how to intercept Madame Cho - and then Ming Feng notices her heading for the house.
A Meeting Here
The group (except for Kasumi, who thinks she might be recognized) pounces on Madam Cho, trying to invite themselves in. She demurs - they will not be open until tomorrow. Takanata reminds her they have been introduced already, when he rescued Hana from being kidnapped.
- "Poor dear Hana, such a shame." -Madame Cho
Takanata reminds her - the first time they met, the I Ching had alerted him to Hana's disappearance. The I Ching again has alerted him, to tell him to be here now. (Min Feng doesn't think she remembers this, but is covering it well.) Madame Cho thanks him for his warning - there were indeed some issues earlier, but it is all fine now. She seems to think that the I Ching was warning against the ninja attack, and seems to think that its warning came a little late.
Xiao Fa asks if everything was handled to her satisfaction? She says that things are in progress but should work out fine. Yanyu checks to see what her aspect is. She is a Fox. She's also not a supernatural entity.
Takanata asks - now that the signs have brought him here, would it be acceptable for him to cast her I Ching? She agrees, and she and Takanata retire to her study, while the rest of the house flings itself into hospitality mode. An older, unusually pale, woman assigns girls of the house to chat with their visitors. Everyone gets a hostess, except for Shuyan and Xiao Fa, who get three each. Yanyu ditches her hostess, and heads to talk to the pale woman, who introduces herself as Lady Delilah.
Xiao Fa is pressed with tea and little snacks. The girls try to find out about his most pressing current problems, but he is unimpressed and can dodge. Min Feng is also super graceful, due to the Crane Talisman, and leaks nothing, Shuyan is less invulnerable, but throws in fortune and doesn't spill anything either.
Delilah seems to have different mechanics than the girls, as she and Yanyu chat. She says that she has been here for a week and she has filled in for Madame Cho in some of the training since Madame Cho was indisposed earlier. Her aspect is a weird combination of Liberty and Radiance, which is no surprise at this point. Delilah wants to know why Yanyu is here - she says that it was due to various signs and portents. Delilah is curious where Yanyu gets her signs from - Yanyu says it is from the stars, and then provides a completely misleading explanation of astrology.
Meanwhile, Takanata reads the I Ching for Madam Cho: she is very skilled and true to her nature, pursuing a better tomorrow through charismatic diplomacy. She is particularly skilled at the betrayal she practices on herself. But then, one of his reeds breaks, ending the reading!
Takanata explains the reading to her - she claims to have no idea about the betrayal she is practicing upon herself. Takanata calls up a vision of the past, in which he sees her amiably chatting over tea. She talks about the weather and this and that, and then her face goes blank, and she gives a succinct but well-organized briefing on inter-house relations in the Arcade. (Takanata gets +10 skill in inter-house politics until the end of run just from hearing the after echoes of the briefing.)
He describes the frame conversation to her - does she remember who it was with? She doesn't really - she has that same conversation with almost every one of her clients. Well, does every one of her clients get political house briefings like this? He retells the briefing, and she looks horrified. She asks for a moment, and then hurries upstairs.
Back in the parlor, the butler tells Delilah she is needed upstairs. Everyone else takes the opportunity to start talking in Senatali (Yanyu translating to the Triad Secret Language for Min Feng, who doesn't speak Senatali).
Takanata asks Dutiful Hsung whether the House of Butler's alliance with the Light authorizes the Light to mojo his employers. Shocked, he says certainly not! That would be highly inappropriate, and interrupting the butler/client relationship would bring civilization down. Even 26 successes of sense motive thinks that's sincere. So, then, he doesn't think that Delilah is responsible for the mistress's betrayal of herself? If there is such a thing, the butler thinks certainly not.
In Senatali, Takanata explains to the others the reading he got, and Yanyu points out that Delilah has a terrible aspect. Takanata also relays what he saw in his vision.
One of Xiao Fa's attendants excuses herself, and heads to the kitchen. Yanyu distracts Min Feng's attendant while Min Feng sneaks to the kitchen after the departing one, and hears the attendant briefing the butler about what the party is talking about.
- "They're talking to each other like they believe it - what do we do?"
The butler heads back to the parlor and tries to get the party to leave - after all, the house is closed, and it is getting late. Takanata says the house was already closed when they came in, and Madame Cho asked them to stay. The butler says that perhaps Takanata could see her in the morning?
- "In what way would not pursuing this matter in a timely fashion assist your mistress?" -Takanata
The butler, defeated by Takanata's intransigence, dismisses the girls and switches into guarding the party himself. He remembers Takanata's role in rescuing Hana, though that is not sufficient to cause him to be more loyal to Takanata than to his mistress. It seems clear that he has leveled up and is now a D20 Butler.
- "After half an hour more, Madame Cho comes downstairs. That's Hand on the Pattern." -Takanata
Madame Cho, Delilah, and the butler are all in the parlor now with the party. Takanata offers to return to her study to call up a vision of the future, but Madame Cho does not think this is a good idea - she has already inadvertently given him more information than anyone should have. Takanata says he hopes to figure out who else she has given it to, and after some consideration, she concedes that that is probably necessary.
In the vision of the future, they're all in the main parlor again, including new visitors that Takanata does not recognize. Shuyan is shaking hands with one of the young women, Xiao Fa is letting the conversational gambits of various young women bounce off of him, and Madame Cho is sitting and talking to herself. A ninja leaps in and says "That's the one!" and people start drawing weapons. Takanata (the one in the vision) is clearly confused. Hmm.
In the political briefing from the past vision, it was clear that the House of Judicious Increase is making a play for power. It seems likely that the House of the Lotus is (or will be) instrumental in this attempt, as it has a high Influence stat for a minor house. Madame Cho says that they had only barely started negotiations, before a ninja attacked the house.
Again, the question is raised whether it could have been Delilah who was the unseen party in the conversation with Madame Cho. Madam Cho really doesn't think Delilah is so treacherous, though - she took over a number of duties while Madame Cho was indisposed, and she was brought in by Dutiful Hsung, who Madame Cho trusts. Madame Cho also doesn't think that the conversation as relayed by Takanata is one that she would have had with either Delilah or Dutiful Hsung - she wouldn't have that length of small talk with either of those two. That was clearly a conversation with a client. As everyone is discussing this, Min Feng realizes that Delilah was one of the voices she heard in the back garden - the one counseling not to meddle politically just because it was fun.
Xiao Fa examines her with chi diagnosis. She isn't at peak health, but that's consistent with her having been ill last week. Her chi is clearly disturbed, probably from having been told a lot of troubling news - but other than that it seems healthy.
Takanata suspects that Delilah can use other people's shticks against them, so he asks Madame Cho if she can make people forget things. No, she can't. After some persuasion, she admits that she can convince people that things she has persuaded them of were their own idea. Well, she should clearly examine all ideas she thinks are her own ideas, then, to make sure none of them seem nefarious. That's kind of tricky, but she does think that having Delilah deal with the girls' political education while she was sick, or busy with the HJI negotiations, was her idea.
People finally retire back to an inn, to discuss what they know.
- "I see a lot of things but I can't put them all into one picture!" -Takanata, frustrated
Xiao Fa uses his Dragon's Discernment, and realizes that it isn't one picture - last round, nobody rolled the House of the Lotus plot, so two plots are in progress now. Maybe Delilah was last week, and the unseen political person is the new plot, and the House of Judicious Increase is a third plot? Hmm.
Takanata declares that the meeting with the House of Judicious Increase will not be until the day after tomorrow. The calendar is apparently quite confusing.
Shuyan sends her Snake of Secrets off, to see what it can find out.
Then, there is a knock on the door. It is Delilah, and she says that she is there to help. No one seems to consider that likely, or have any suggestions for how to do so. So... why did Delilah convince Madame Cho to let her be in charge of the political education of her courtesans? Delilah seems surprised by the question - because she's good at it. Is Delilah giving them the same education that Madame Cho would? It seems unlikely, but she could. It depends on the clients. If the clients want to overthrow the government, her girls would be trained to help them. If they want to support the government, the girls would be trained to help them. Her training will reflect what is needed. She does claim to be disturbed by the information dump, though - that was none of her doing.
Delilah notes that they should work together, but Takanata thinks that is hard to agree to. Delilah clarifies: the alliance with the House of Butler requires that Delilah put her skills at their disposal if the party is helping Madame Cho. Also, she thinks that betraying yourself is the worst kind of betrayal. The others aren't sure they agree, but it does seem in character for an agent of the Light.
- "You could tell us about the dead god thing that you don't follow."
- "I'm really not that religious, but if you're interested in that, you could talk to Serafina."
Since no one has any thoughts on how she might assist, Delilah suggests that they consider what rules they find are constraining their ability to solve the problem. After a lot of not saying anything, Takanata finally allows that the single most constraining thing is that Madame Cho has forgotten the episode where she provided the briefing. Delilah can't just erase the forgetting effect, but she might be able to ameliorate it. For example, Min Feng can impersonate Madame Cho, and then forget something else. No, forgetting what she had for breakfast doesn't count - it would have to be something equally important. Or, alternatively, she might remember something that was particularly traumatic.
- "Just remember, I'm here to help!" -Delilah
- "She sounds like us. Are we that annoying?" -Min Feng
Delilah finally leaves, and Shuyan realizes that the Snake of Secrets is overdue in reporting back. The Port of Auspicious Voyage doesn't really have a snake gradient to follow, so Shuyan and Yanyu (trailed by Kasumi) start wandering around looking for snakes. (Yanyu suggests that she start in Daizhou, but Shuyan is not convinced.)
After searching all of the nearby areas that a snake could have come to harm, she comes to the conclusion that if the snake had run into trouble, she would have found it, and has a sense of certainty that the Snake of Secrets is being well cared for and will return. Yanyu finds this unlikely, and persuades her into being worried again, and the pair continues to search, late into the night.
- "I'm a matchmaker, it's my job to crush joy." -Yanyu
Kasumi, following them and beginning to grow bored, is startled when Yanyu grabs Shuyan and passes the grab off to Shuyan's large snake. Shuyan is wearing the Monkey Talisman, so being grabbed isn't any inconvenience, so she escapes as Kasumi jumps down. Yanyu's nose is soon grabbed, and she passes out (which is unusual). Shuyan and Kasumi start to carry Yanyu back to the inn, and the grabby snake starts to leave. Wait a minute! Where is it going? The snake tries to claim that it was bad and needs to go, but Shuyan refuses to accept its resignation. Who told the snake to grab Shuyan, anyway? ... Someone else. The snake agrees to nudge Shuyan next time anyone else gives it orders. Since she's the boss, it agrees to do so. However, no more grabs happen before the group gets back to the inn.
Xiao Fa looks at Yanyu again with chi diagnosis. Under moonlight, her chi shows that she is a werewolf - which he knew, but this reminds him that not under moonlight, werewolfery is invisible. He thinks about getting rid of it with his Scrubby Pumice, but this seems likely to be a bad idea for several reasons:
- The werewolf nature is deeply entangled with a spirit bargain.
- She is pregnant, and pregnancy is surely a very Mortal Encrustation.
Time to wake up Madame Cho and look at her under moonlight. Dutiful Hsung answers the pounding on the front door of the House of the Lotus, and is persuaded to wake Madame Cho. Takanata apologizes for the lateness of the hour, but they must look at her under moonlight to test their theory. Yes, in fact, she is also a werewolf. Delilah comes downstairs as well, and they explain that a beastmaster has sunk their claws into Madame Cho.
Xiao Fa thinks the pumice would work on Madame Cho, and Delilah notes that she could probably alter the effect so that it only worked under moonlight. Once Plan Pumice is decided upon, Delilah offers to pass the pain off to a volunteer, which Dutiful Hsung dutifully volunteeers for. It turns out that:
- pumice is in fact quite painful, and
- thinking that something is your own idea is also a mortal encrustation.
Madame Cho declares that there will be another conversation about how things are working at the House of the Lotus. Dutiful Hsung glowers at Delilah. Delilah shrugs.
Takanata suggests that the next step is to wait for when the beastmaster shows up tomorrow to use beastmastery on Madame Cho, and then jump him. However, spending a yin, it seems that the beastmaster won't be showing up tomorrow after all. Hmm.
And then, the Snake of Secrets comes back, very proud for having been a secret. The beastmaster was very impressed by all of them, but now he has gone. People plot briefly about how to catch him before he leaves the city, but it seems unlikely that he sent the Snake of Secrets to say he was gone before he had even started packing. Maybe the snake was wrong? Or lying on behalf of the beastmaster? But Takanata did spend a yin, so he's at least not coming back to the House of the Lotus tomorrow.
Madame Cho does invite them back for the hospitality of the House tomorrow, and notes that she thinks the "King's Scoreboard" has updated.
It is a little too late to draw a new mission, so the group heads to Bear Mountain to talk to Broken Sword and Yue Mei.
Broken Sword says that he can turn squares into hexes, but only during a battle (in particular, a significant enough battle to instantiate a battlemap). Takanata suggests that he hang around near the Gate of Shen and join any skirmishes that happen nearby, but he thinks that in any battle between Northern forces and the Dragon Army, both sides will think he's a bad guy, so he's not keen on doing that.Yue Mei punches/explodes Takanata's corruption points, while Xiao Fa notes that curing corruption points is known technology for chi masters.