|"When you say one thing, the clever person understands three."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Butterfly in the Month of the Magpie in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run begins again in Tahiti, but wanders quite a lot (again)
Kasumi, Lijuan, Shen-Ji, Deng, and Merit are hanging about Tahiti when the junior butler arrives, bowing to Merit. Lord Zhu left a message - he and one of his advisors are deep in consultations and will be so for the next several days. However, he thought that Merit should have this, for reference.
Kasumi, having heard about the three-part plot from the previous run, suggests that she and Shen-Ji burn the town of Shrouded Pond down. That should be easy, should deal with any problems, and should keep things from bogging down in investigation.
Lijuan produces some prophetic art of her own:
People pore over the paths. Are they literal? Is there a reason that it goes north around Dragon's Throne to get to the Steppes, rather than through the Forest? Is there a direction? The path doesn't suggest splitting up the way the previous art did - is that a suggestion? Interpret Omens suggests that order is not really important, but has nothing to say about why the path is so curvy.
Next point of order - if the group is going both north and south of the wall, that probably means that they should leave the Talismans at home.
- "The thing that will mind control us is the North, and the thing we understand best is the South. So maybe we should do the South first."
The group takes a water gate to Shen-Ji's estate in the Precincts, and then borrows horses to ride for the Strand. Shortly after they reach the highway, they note that they are being followed by someone on a black horse, dressed in black and carrying a black staff. They pull aside to let her catch up, and she nods and rides by, but then turns back and rides up to Shen-Ji. When he confirms that he is Yang Shen-Ji, she then bangs her staff on the ground. It vanishes and in its place is a bag, which she hands to Shen-Ji, declaring, “The debt is paid”. Then she rides off again. Shen-Ji seems pleased his order from the Alchemists’ Guild has finally arrived.
Once they reach the Strand, Merit looks for an old friend who might know about invigilators, under the pretense that merchants might want to ask questions about things like who is buying and selling things. The old buddy explains - you hire an invigilator who follows you around and listens to your discussions and such, and makes sure that you don't find out more than you let go. If you do, they tell your secrets to other people until things are even. They take a lot of solemn oaths to follow these rules, and not spill secrets unwarrantedly, and their reputation is strong.
- "If you hire an invigilator, you might have things to worry about, but the invigilator shouldn't be one of them."
Next stop, the South! Except that Merit wants to talk to an old buddy to smuggle them across the Wall, and he can't do that in the same scene that he asked about invigilators, so maybe they should do the Strand plot first.
Off they head to Nine Terraces, where the College of Invigilators is. The campus has green walls, with little stonework serpents dotted along the top of the wall. (Many of them have actual snakes hanging out with the stone snakes.) The gate has a pullrope to open it, and inside there are a number of people in green robes or (in one case) green armor similar to the armor taken from the "green" attacker who attacked the Jade Chefs. Some of the people make odd hand gestures while talking - a hand over the head, or hands over the ears in a way that doesn't actually block sound.
A young woman in a pale green smock comes over and bows - can they be of service?
- "I'm not going to get this right, but I'm looking for an... invisigator?" -Merit
The woman in green explains that there are several options available. If Merit is just looking for invigilation in the capital, they can provide that immediately. If he wants to travel in the rest of the Strand, then he could have a novice immediately, but a master's time would need to be scheduled. Alternately, there is a deluxe service where Merit just specifies the period of time that he needs invigilation, and the college will handle the details.
A novice will charge 10 li a day; expenses must be covered, but come off of the 10 li. A master is 50 li a day, plus expenses, but the expenses are not required to be higher quality than the client's. ("If you're posing as stable boys, the invigilator is happy to sleep in the stable. If you're being lords, the invigilator does not sleep in the stable.") The deluxe invigilation is a tael a day.
She recommends that if they have big secrets to keep, Merit will probably want a master, who is unlikely to get the details wrong. Novices are more likely to make errors in memory or judgement as to equivalency - but in either case the party will be fully legally protected. Merit wonders - he imagines that masters are harder to compromise, as well. She shakes her head - the security is comparable, and not left to chance. Lijuan, who is somewhat alarmed by the suggestion that whether or not the invigilator can be bribed is not left to chance, tells the woman in green that if they are casting spells on her to make her do things she doesn't want to do, she can go with them and they'll rescue her. The woman kind of laughs it off, a little confused.
Merit suggests that they hire a master for tomorrow, if one can be arranged. They will need to travel to the Temple of the Eternal Flame, and the town of Shrouded Pond, and they will be investigating - at that point, she puts up a hand. She doesn't need to know what they'll be looking into.
The party kills time in Nine Terraces until the next day, when they return to the College of Invigilators to meet their assigned master. She is an athletic young woman dressed for travel, wearing green leather armor and a green cap. It is obvious to everyone that she is an invigilator - she has some sort of shtick on and broadcasting. She says they may call her Casi when they speak, but most of the time she will be on duty.
Deng tries to detect what weapons she has on her, and learns that she has a number of secret weapons. Interesting. Then, Merit suggests that they begin.
- "So, you monitor how much information we're acquiring, and make sure that the balance is paid?"
- "Yes, that's correct." -Casi, putting her hand over her head.
- "Would you like to be engaged in conversation?"
- "It is more appropriate for me to be silent when on duty." -Casi, hand over head again
The group discusses their general plans in front of Casi, so she has secrets to leak later - they're planning to go south, their friend Hiro sent the map so they can get pieces of an amulet to fight Kali to prevent the world from being destroyed. She listens to all of this impassively.
The plot dump is interrupted when bandits leap out of the woods near Shrouded Pond, and demand money. Deng, somewhat lackadaisically disarms the front bandit, while Lijuan warns them to flee for their lives before Master Deng kills them all. Between the intimidation rolls and Lijuan's genuine concern, some of them flee. Merit asks if they were just hoping for a couple of li, and they agree - it's hard to live out here! Merit says he's willing to give them a couple of li in exchange for some information. For example, how long have they been hitting this area? Not long - they can't believe that after only a week or two of banditing, Deng the Tong-slayer was sent after them, They turned to banditry because times are hard, unless you want to be a digger, in which case you have to toe the line. Merit asks if the town is digging up the burning water, but no, they're digging a big canal to get the burning water out.
The first stop is the Temple of the Eternal Flame, where Merit introduces Lord Shen-Ji, here to deal with the flame as Takanata promised. The flame is currently sourced from a metal plate with a hole in it - Lijuan pokes around the pedestal and finds a door in the side. She suspects a jug of burning water is inside.
Pai the Smith arrives, and says that she did some looking around Shrouded Pond while they were gone. The main thing that seems to be inaccessible is the actual route that the canal will be taking to the source of the burning water - the only answer she can get is that it has been "filed with the appropriate authorities."
Shen-Ji sets up the ritual for the fire-sorcery version of an eternal flame, and Pai says she'll handle turning off the existing flame at the appropriate time. She pinches a pipe shut just as Shen-Ji finishes the ritual, and the flame burns on apparently untouched. She takes the barrel out from under the altar, and heads out. As she leaves, she asks, over her shoulder - is the party going to deal with finding the map to the location of the burning water?
Shen-Ji, sensing a source of answers about to vanish, has some questions.
- "Do you understand the burning water - is it natural? Can I examine it?" -Shen-Ji
- "Yes, and no." -Pai
- "I'm just curious, because... what if I were going to use fire magic, and some burning water was around? I'd need to know."
- "It will explode. Don't do that."
- "It would be really useful to know what a source of burning water might look like. For our investigations." -Merit
- "I think you are not the sort of man who one can give some burning water to and expect him to do nothing with it. The monks' source of burning water has been Dealt With." -Pai
- "Oh, so they aren't all the same...?"
Pai doesn't seem likely to provide any more hints about burning water, so the group heads off to Shrouded Pond. It is quite a bit more bustling than the time that Xian passed through with Unexpected Orchid (though not more bustling than it was a few days ago when Takanata and Deng came through).
Merit wants to know who to report local banditry to, and is directed to the Mayor's house, which has a lot of construction being added to it. Merit explains that they were met with bandits on the road, and while he talked them into not attacking, the reform might not last. Ah, the Mayor understands - fast talk never does last. Merit asks why banditry is necessary - surely there is enough work here for anyone who wants to work? The Mayor says that it's difficult for dissidents to find work - those who are unwilling to toe the line and protect the town. There are plenty of jobs in both digging, and digging support services. Merit allows as he might be interested in the business opportunities here, and the Mayor would be happy to sell him a business license. What sorts of businesses would do best? Well, there is a small imbalance in the domestic construction area, what with wealthy people looking to expand their houses and new residents needing houses. Merit asks about the risk associated with the construction project - well, they wouldn't want anyone who wasn't willing to toe the line. Merit begins to find this phrasing suspicious - is the license complicated? Does he need to hire a bureaucrat? No, no, it's nothing like that. You just get a general sense of the needs of the day, and you have to be loyal and willing to follow that direction.
Merit says he'll ask around to make sure the opportunities are to his liking, and the Mayor is fine with that.
Lijuan tries again to convince Casi that "if they're using magic on you to make you do things you don't want, you can come with us and we'll take care of you." Casi puts her hand over her head and asks if this is something Lijuan thinks she should be concerned about? Oh, wait, Lijuan means the College? No, that's fine. Casi thought she meant the toeing-the-line thing, but that seems to be opt-in.
So... what is with this magical toeing-the-line thing? Kasumi overhears a conversation between the digging foreman and another digger about how it's kind of frustrating to not know the overall plan. The plan is on file, of course, and in the morning you always know what the plan of the day is, but it would be nicer to know the whole plan. The party kind of gives a general shrug - the Strand is into secrets, so maybe having a secret plan that nobody knows what it is is Strandy.
Casi, finally failing a resolve check, puts her hand over her head again and points out that she knows they're foreigners and so she doesn't take offense, but following the plan without knowing what it is, is not "Strandy". It might be "Strandy" to have a plan that you don't tell other people about, but not one that you don't tell yourselves about.
Deng wanders around trying to assess threats - every so often, one of the Queen's Guard starts to head over, and then turns away again. The invigilator seems to be good for something!
Shen-Ji tries to sense the magic in the area, and yeah, it's definitely magicked up. There's an overall field, and each of the people in it is an individual focus. (Casi puts in an ear-horn to listen to what he's doing). At a basic level, it's moneymancy. At a slightly more advanced level, there's a magpie-ish flavor to it. And at an advanced level, there's a subtext saying that this is not Ezokin's instantiation, or his fault. It's like... a franchise? Or a license? Anyway, the effect is that it's magically a "company town".
Lijuan finds some urchins and asks them if they have to toe the line. They say not until you're fourteen. If you do, though, you get all creepy, and you have to follow the line ever upward. Whatever you do has to be good for the profitability of the town. Lijuan tells them to go to Tahiti if they don't want to have to toe the line - Tahiti is a magical place. This is maybe not the most reassuring thing to say.
Merit asks some of the locals about toeing the line. They think it's great, and you get rich. It's basically looking out for each other, and making sure no one does anything against the town. It's really just basic decency. Merit keeps trying to find the hidden underbelly of evil, but they don't seem to be admitting to one. So... does everyone toe the line and do what the Mayor says, then? No, the mayor toes the line just like everyone else. Hmm. So if you want to make a major investment, who do you talk to? Who calls the shots, in the end? Oh, that would be the Board. They never show up in person, though. They watch the line and make sure that it goes ever upwards, but you don't have to get their permission for individual things you do, you just know how to toe the line. They probably had to show up to file the original plan with the proper authorities, but nobody's seen them since. Come to think of it, their names are probably on the plan, filed in Nine Terraces.
Shen-Ji decides he wants a closer look at the digging. It seems to be the size of a small river, and in Shrouded Pond it's running NE/SW, though it curves a bit. Both ends have double doors where the next day's digging will be. It's straight-sided, about 50 yards wide and 10 yards deep. Shen-Ji was wondering if it was going to be a pipeline for the burning water, but this is way too big for that, it seems to be scaled like an actual canal. The raised towpath to the side seems to support that too.
The northeast direction is going vaguely towards the New Rivers area. So... does this make sense as a canal?
- "Make a Navigable Waterway Engineering roll." -Mike
- "Oh, I have that!" - Kasumi
It doesn't seem like a canal is the most efficient way to transport burning water, unless there are going to be a lot of barrels. But maybe there's some magical... something... about the path of the canal?
- "Every weird construction is part of a magical ritual. It's like the Rule of Threes." -Kasumi
Perhaps it's time to check out the plans that are on file, after all.
Hall of Poetic Justice
The group heads back to Nine Terraces, and visits the Hall of Poetic Justice.
- "We are are seeking records filed on behalf of Shrouded Pond's construction project."
- "What is your interest in these records?"
- " The Golden Palace has asked us to stop it."
- "... um. No, I mean, what is your relationship to Shrouded Pond?"
- "Oh, also the Pagoda of the Eternal Flame asked them to look into it."
- "So you're working for the Pagoda of the Eternal Flame?"
- "That too."
After confirming (somewhat to her surprise) that the Pagoda of the Eternal Flame does exist, the clerk agrees to give them access to the records, but cannot provide any research assistance. There is a staff shortage. Casi frowns at this, and Merit is pretty sure the clerk is lying.
- "You wouldn't by chance be toeing the line, would you?" -Merit
- "Not officially. "
They get a copy of the map of the canal, which stretches from New River to a black circle on the other side of Shrouded Pond. The path of the canal is definitely not straight - it kind of meanders, but the meandering doesn't seem to be sorcerously significant, as far as Shen-Ji can tell. The incorporation papers also list three names and seals of the board members, but all three are magically encrypted. (Shen-Ji thinks he will finish unencrypting it by next run, as it's not full on cryptomancy.)
Well, that's about it for the investigation - does Casi have enough to work with to balance the scales? She says she does. She has a number of questions, as well, but she couldn't afford the penalties. Merit takes her off the clock, and she admits that this was fascinating.
- "We are strangers here, and hope to make things better, but we really don't know much about the Strand. A different team will be here to follow up, in about three weeks, and may need an invigilator then." -Merit
- "Feel free to have them ask for me by name." -Casi
So, should the group take the Sankara stone of Ratri to the South? It will give whoever holds it +3 dice at night, which would be nice, but it does mean that Ratri will probably know about it. Merit summons a strike force to babysit the Sankara stone, impressing on them that if they ever put it down, Ratri will take it back and DESTROY THE WORLD.
Then, he contacts an old buddy, who says they have a process for smuggling: have a wood sorcerer start growing a tree over the Wall, and the Bearers will head that way. In the meantime, you just climb over. To come back, there are some spots to stand in the South where you can wave a torch at midnight, and the process will be repeated.
The travel takes a while, but the group runs three Shadowruns, disguised as locals.
Temple of Kali
This is the training run of the mechanic, so it is not very hard.
The group breaks in through the dungeon (apparently empty). This doesn't require much sneaking, but a bit of a resolve roll to go into the lockable cells to search. After that they encounter two supplicants talking to a priestess, and etiquette and advice skill gets them by. The room of reliquaries is also empty of people and easy to sneak around in, and generally searchable. Finally, a room with several bodies is seriously creepy and requires resolve and medicine to search.
Haunted Temple of Kali
The Haunted Temple is similar but harder and creepier, and the Kali clock mysteriously has one wedge filled in. The group starts in the arms yard, where they have to spar to pass and spar with unarmed combat to find clues. Acolytes chanting require meditation to pass and Yin-based sense modes to find clues - Kasumi shows off her Sense Supernatural skill, but has to make it inherent to get some additional skill. The "library of books and knives" requires dodging. Lijuan adds children to the "Cultists at dinner" area (it's Take Your Kid To Temple Day!), and the final creepy room has skulls and bones. The temple ticks up to high alert just as they find the amulet piece and flee.
Fortress of Kali
The Fortress is the hardest to pass successfully and to search - in addition to the rolls being harder, the Search clock has more wedges (it takes more searching) and the Alert clock has fewer (it takes fewer alerts to go on high alert). And the Kali clock already has two wedges filled in.
The group enters through the gatehouse, and heads to a guard tower where guards watch carefully with a horn ready to blow. Deng kills everyone in the horn tower, because they're too perceptive. The next room is the sacrificial altar, which is definitely ominously creepy. The dungeon has unhappy prisoners, who require a resolve roll to leave, and Kasumi triggers some Trouble (she is cursed). The library just has swords and knives and requires even more dodging, and the room with the Statue of Kali is also ominous. The pen of black goats is surprisingly friendly, and turns out to have kids as goatherds. The high priestess's rooms have prisoners tied up in them , which is a little alarming. The arms yard requires better fighting than before. The "cultists at dinner" card is probably too hard to encounter, so the group turns around and goes the other way around the fortress. The final room has the high priestess berating two acolytes, so that's etiquette and intimidation now, to help. Then the last third of the amulet is found, and the group skedaddles back to the Empire.
Unfortunately, by this point, the gathering of clans in the North has already happened.
Some more checkboxes on Cai Wen's scoreboard are filled in, and some insight is gained.