All My Fault
|"Think of your own faults the first part of the night when you are awake, and of the faults of others the latter part of the night when you are asleep."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Magpie in the Month of the Magpie in the third Year of the Magpie since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place in the Isle of Beauty
New Things to Worry About
The Month of the Spider is over, so Horse is no longer dropping by to say hello every few minutes, the Magpie Talisman is missing, and Anto is an enemy of the Isle of Beauty. Today is the Day of the Early Magpie, first of the three great marketplace days in the Month of the Magpie.
Takanata mentions that Master Zhou has been thinking about the status of the Seahorse Cavalry, with respect to whether or not it is a major change to the Isle of Beauty:
You think (including the results of all the miniruns, including the one that hasn't happened yet), that Horse is not pushed over the top to major-horse status during the Month of the Spider. However, that doesn't preclude the seahorse cavalry becoming, in the future, so epically great that it's the big thing of the island, and counts as major at some point in the future. Probably the best way to head that off at the pass is to have some blemish right at the start - a great embarrassment or stupid move (or a tragedy) associated with the founding of the seahorse cavalry, that would be remembered for a long time (or at least for the rest of the Cycle).
Speaking of seahorse scandals, Golden Flame shows up, wearing armor with fancy seahorse designs. Merit and Shen-Ji recognize it as the "captain's armor" that their guys designed in their trip to Rejoicing Industry, which Horse said he would deal with finding a wearer for. Apparently Cai Wen has convinced her that her new path should be a companion to and occasional-poor-order-follower of the Prince, and arranged for some Horse training montages to get her to be a good seahorse rider. She says that Cai Wen suggested that Takanata would know the most auspicious time to present herself.
Takanata introduces Golden Flame to everyone else as "part of the scam Cai Wen is running to put someone close to the Prince". Perhaps the group can arrange to have the current captain caught in some sort of dramatic embarrassment, and bring her in to save the day. Hiro wonders if a dog in a box would make the plan better, and Takanata agrees enthusiastically that it couldn't hurt!
Takanata also notes in passing that the other thing they should look into is that Yoshi is cursed. Wait, what? Oh, just that those bolts of cursed silk got bought by the Master of Perfected Distinction, and she made some fancy silk thing and gave it to Yoshi. But Horse said it was cursed, so they should look at Yoshi. Takanata has copied the entry from the Manual of Distinction:
Compassion's Shelter: A brightly colored set of Enchanted Silken Robes able to be worn as armor. Centered on the back are the characters for Compassion and Redemption, with ornate iconography worked into the streams of color that flow from these characters down the sleeves and legs of the garment, giving the viewer a feeling of movement and action even when at rest. Entered into the Manual on the Day of the Late Fox in the month of the Late Spider, this third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao. Created by Katsuo Narina, Master of Perfected Distinction, and currently held in trust for the Court of Distinction by Kensei Tara Yoshinosuke.
Merit checks out the seahorse training program, with the reasonable justification that the Merit Trading Company has donated a lot of the weapons and armor. The troop isn't bad, but it will take them some time to get up to speed, as these are unfamiliar mounts and unfamiliar weapons. The ones who have previous experience as soldiers are being given command of small groups of green recruits. Merit also hears that there will be a first demonstration of maneuvers to the public tomorrow, in the ocean northwest of the capital. He reports this back to the group - maybe there will be some sort of opportunity to mess it up. Perhaps they can convince Renyu to mess the seahorses up, though they'd likely have to promise him something in return.
Xiao Fa asks around the circus after Yoshi, but it sounds like nobody has seen him for at least a few days. Takanata thinks that talking to his mother, or perhaps Grandmother Shien, would be a next step, but they're up north on the island, not in the capital.
- "Yoshi and Xiao Fa have an informal competition - who can jump under the most buses." -Anto
Merit checks who is in town related to Yoshi's plot. Yoshi, it turns out, is not in town. Katsuo Narina is in town, the Queen is in town, and Ezokin's commercial factor is in town. Ooh, that last one is no good. Other interesting people in town not related to that plot are the King and Prince, Golden Flame, one of Xian's sisters, and a high-ranking Beautiful Spy returned from the Hidden City.
Shuyan goes to the local graveyard to chat with her mother; tomorrow is her birthday, and she expects no one will remember. Her mother always would have, though.
Chasing the Silk
For some latecomers, Takanata is explaining again about the cursed silk that Narina bought, and Horse talking about the last artistic masterwork being cursed, when Xian sits back with a pole-axed look.
- "Man, this is all my fault." -Xian
It's hard to pry out of Xian exactly what happened, but it eventually comes out that he knew Narina needed help with something since a vision at the Temple of the Invisible Wind but forgot the last time he was in town, and knew about the cursed silk, and knew about the cursed masterwork, and... had been intending to do something about it. Oops.
Merit and Hiro set out to follow Ezokin's factor.
- "Perhaps you should start with a gather information roll, to find him first." -Mike
Takanata decides that enchanted (cursed) silk is probably for selling so heads down to the market to start looking around. He luckily finds a merchant selling several enchanted silk dresses. He tells the merchant to hold onto everything, and then drags Xiao Fa and Shen-Ji over to look at them. They are the traditional expensive clothes of +3 status and +3 charisma, but they're also cursed. The curse is very flexible - it's part of the material, not formed until the shape is formed. The curse gives you what you asked for, but perverts it in some terrible way. In this case, the charisma is ablative - each time you roll it, it's one less, and keeps going down below 0 - and the status is infamy rather than fame. Hmm, so maybe Yoshi's armor is ablative and non-protective? Takanata has a better guess:
- "It isolated his heart and made him cold. That's totally what Compassion's Shelter does when it's cursed." -Takanata
Takanata starts to give the dress merchant something of an anti-sales pitch. He really can't sell those - they're cursed silk, just not appropriate. He's one of the masters of the Court of Distinction, did he mention? He'll make sure that it's all dealt with, but it's important that none of the cursed silk items get sold. Did he just have the one bolt of silk? Oh, good, that's just four more that Takanata has to track down, then.
- "If you hear of anyone else on the island selling enchanted silks, do let us know. Someone from the Court will be down to talk to you to make sure they're properly collected and disposed of. Have a nice day." -Takanata
Anto stakes out the merchant in case he does something suspicious. He closes up his shop, wrapping up the two dressed with ribbon. One is apparently a gift and gets left on his bed at home, one he takes to a bar with him. (Anto grabs a random urchin and sends a note with what he's observed towards the palace, where he hopes the urchin can find Takanata).
Meanwhile, at the palace, the Minister of Trade seems the most likely person to talk to about the cursed silk, so Takanata, Xiao Fa, Hiro, and Shen-Ji head there to talk to him. Even without the Butterfly Talisman, Takanata is pretty good at getting people in, and they reach the Minister of Trade's office just as someone is stalking out crossly.
- "I'm just saying if I cannot get this kind of preferred rate, I'm going to take my silks elsewhere."
Takanata puts an arm around the guy and wheels him around to head back into the office, starting to talk about cursed silk. The merchant is confident that nothing of his is cursed - it was acquired from the finest trading houses in the Hon'eth Arcade.
- "Yes, yes, that's the problem. We're down to three bolts unaccounted for, and I'm sure that since you've already been talking to the Master of Trade, there's a complete list of everything you have, so it's sure to be no trouble, then." -Takanata
The merchant says that he will gather up his wares and meet Shen-Ji in the inn where he is staying, in an hour, and the Minister of Trade, somewhat taken aback at Takanata's tale of curses, will take care of any cursed silk brought to his attention.
- "Glad to hear it. I have to run." -Takanata
Xiao Fa, on the other hand, has begun to regard Takanata with alarm. Whoever this fast-talking wheeling, dealing person is who looks like Takanata, he really doesn't sound like Takanata, and he and Hiro whisper fiercely together.
- "Lord Takanata, how are you feeling?" -Xiao Fa
- "Fine, how are you?" -Takanata
- "Oh, for heaven's sakes! Have you been speaking to Horse recently?" -Hiro
- "I read his I Ching!" -Takanata
- "Oh, you idiot!" -Xian
Meanwhile, Shen-Ji has gone to the inn to wait for the silk trader. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't show, and Shen-Ji heads back to the Minister of Trade's office. The message for Takanata from Anto gets passed to him, so he gives it a quick read and then hands it off to a court guard before heading to the bar where Anto is.
While all of this is happening, Merit checks in with his guys to find out why spies are suddenly being transferred back from the Hidden City, a move almost unprecedented. Normally, policy is that spies sent to the Hidden City never return, or in the rare case in which they do, they're handled at arm's length before being retired off the island. He eventually is told that there’s a new policy being set, and this Ping is the first spy so returned. Perhaps he’ll be the only one, but no one is sure.
Merit is quite disturbed by this, and is even more disturbed to learn that M's retirement party is that evening. Merit tries to warn M (the court’s Spymaster) to watch out for the prince, and try to confirm these new orders with His Majesty if at all possible.
Finally, Merit goes to talk to his old friend Ping in person. They catch up a bit, while Ping tries to impress him with all of the immense difficulties of even moving around inside the Hidden city. (There are mechanics for walking down the street!) Eventually Ping mentions that since he was coming back, he’s been given a package to deliver to a hot little number somewhere in town by the name of Wu Shuyan. Merit growls a bit that this hot little number is his ward, and Ping apologizes profusely. But the package is from the Imperial Palace, so he really can’t not deliver it. Merit and Ping head to the circus and find out that Shuyan is in the graveyard. Ping raises an eyebrow at this, but follows along until they find Shuyan talking to her mother’s grave. Merit allows Ping to introduce himself to Shuyan which he does as Ping Shen-Sho, from the Imperial Palace, with a treasure to be delivered into her hands from the Imperial Concubine.
Elsewhere, Anto steals the cursed dress that was left for the merchant’s wife and heads back to the bar to keep an eye on the merchant with Shen-Ji.
The Master of Perfected Distinction
On the other side of the city, Takanata's group has headed to the Court of Distinction. Takanata asks if the Master of the Court is in, but a servant says she is not seeing anyone, as she does not feel well. Takanata pressures the servant, who agrees to bring a message to her. Takanata explains that he wishes to speak to her about Compassion's Shelter, and it is quite urgent, or at least important. And he has brought a healer with him. The servant heads for her quarters, and there follows a crash, as if a very expensive vase has smashed against the wall. The servant returns, looking cowed
- "I believe the Master... would be pleased to see you in the morning."
- "She does not normally have such a temper." -Takanata
- "She is unwell."
- "That did not sound like sickness - that sounded like a temper."
- "She had given strict instructions not to be disturbed, which I disregarded. It was all my fault."
Xian says that that's the sort of temper that sounds actually unwell. Takanata disagrees - she's had a crush on Yoshi for a while, she made a lovely present for him, and he put it on and then turned cold and cut her off, and she's pissed about it. Xian thinks it's not just guilty, it's like Buffy and Angel and the morning after when Angel has lost his soul and Buffy is shattered. She's not just kind of angry. In Xian's training, they call that "unwell." Plus he has something of a personal obligation to help her, because of the quest from the Temple of the Invisible Wind. On the other hand, she probably doesn't know the silk was cursed. Telling her will probably make her feel more guilty and less angry. But they really can't not tell her.
Xian, thinking about her tantrum, tries to do a quick guess at what she's thinking. He thinks it's not just that she's pissed that her crush spurned her, it's that she's a competent adult, and she recognized something in what happened as seriously wrong, and triggered by the thing she gave him.
- "As an artist, she never really believed her art is as good as it is. No artists do. Well, you probably do now, but before you read the Horse's I Ching..." -Xian to Takanata
Anyway, she might have been able to make allowances for things she doesn't know about - like Yoshi got terribly injured by blue silk in the past or something... Takanata perks up. Blue silk? He had a dream with the Queen in yellow silk and also in blue silk, saying it was all her fault. Maybe Narina gave something cursed to the Queen? Xian backpedals - he just made up "blue silk" as an example. Anyway, Xian thinks that they should bust in and talk to Narina. Even given all of the crisis that Xian is postulating, she's letting it show more than he would expect for someone with the position she has. (The Queen, also in mourning for the death of Master Long Shen, is not throwing vases at servants, or, at least, is not reputed to be doing so.)
With the worried permission of the servant, who they inform that Narina is cursed, the little group pushes its way into her room, provoking another tantrum and some more threatened vase-throwing. However, Takanata leaps in to tell her that the silk was cursed and she's suffering from it as well - and she should take off that silk shawl that Xiao Fa thinks is messing with her chi - and Xian throws in a lot of persuasion to that effect, so she finally takes the shawl off. Xiao Fa hits her with fifteen successes of Restore the Balance, which goes a long way to restoring her calm. Takanata asks how much silk she used - only a bolt of it. She made the silken armor for Yoshi, and the shawl for herself. The armor was made to protect Yoshi's spirit in the dark places in which he must travel, and the shawl was made to allow her to share the burdens of the one wearing the armor. Oddly, it turns out to have been blue all along, despite Xian's claim to just be making that part up.
Takanata asks if she didn't also make something for Her Majesty, but Narina is horrified - she would not dare presume to present something of silk to Her Majesty at this time. Xian promises that he and the others will make this right, though it will take some time. Takanata and Hiro leave, now that it's to the talky bits, leaving Xian and Xiao Fa to try to soothe Narina. Xiao Fa goes to make tea very very slowly, leaving Xian to talk to her, and he manages to convince her to make him her confidante, and talks some about her admiration for Yoshi. However, while Xian is focused on trying to help Narina herself, she's focused on how they are going to help un-curse Yoshi, so there ends up being some talking at cross purposes (although the most therapeutic thing for Narina at the moment would be to save Yoshi, so perhaps the two weren't too far apart after all).
Over at the bar, Shuyan and her date Ping arrive for a nice evening and encounter Shen-Ji and Anto staking out the silk merchant who is trying to slip the second cursed silk to his mistress. After some pleasant conversation Anto and Shen-Ji gather the merchant up, confiscate the second cursed dress, and march the poor fool off to the Minister of Trade for punishment. He identifies the person who sold the silk to him (Ezokin’s factor) and that pair meets up with Merit...
Back at the bar, Shuyan and Ping finish their date. It’s an amusing series of rolls, in which Ping is (keeping Merit in mind) making numerous Resolve rolls, while Shuyan is being as Charming as she possibly can any time it look like he’s preparing to end the evening early. The poor fool has no idea what he’s in for.
Takanata finally realizes there were only four bolts of cloth to start with, and they know where all four have ended up - not five on the Isle of Beauty, two of which are missing.
The rest of the silk plot meets up with Takanata to find Ezokin’s factor. After some searching around in the marketplace, he spots them looking for him, but has no chance of escaping their vast moves and leaping flame, etc. Merit tries to cut a deal with him - if he gives them enough information, they'll let him go. He offers the answers to five questions to be set free.
- "Where is the rest of the cursed silk?"
- "Here are directions to it. I was planning to sell it later."
- "Tell me all about Ezokin's plot."
- "I'm sorry, I underestimated you. You are a far more worthy opponent than I gave you credit for, and I must renege on this deal."
At that point, everyone gets to roll for 5s against the factor in any future dealings. Interesting. Merit wonders how difficult it would be to hire him away from Ezokin? Well, Ezokin probably isn't very pleased with him at present, as he has not really succeeded in his current silk dealings, so he's willing to think about being re-bought. He thinks 150 li would cover it. Merit pays him 150 li (possibly hoping to get some of it back again shortly), but it vanishes, and the factor says now he's a free agent and can tell them more.
Ezokin told him that if he arranged to have Katsuo Narina get cursed silk, she'd make something for the Court Swordmaster. Ezokin really hates Master Deng. The rest of the silk was for his own profit and as a buffer if something went wrong. The roll-for-5s abilities are his own shticks - he's a pretty good merchant and facilitator. As far as what he knows about Ezokin's other plans - one thing to know is that Ezokin can swap shticks in and out with enough cash. Before the silk-cursing plan, Ezokin had this guy doing some minor rabble-rousing among the houses of the Arcade, preparing for an economic apocalypse that never showed up. While he knows that Ezokin visits the Gate of Shen a lot, he doesn't know the details of why. He seems to visit there after one of his big plans happens, or if he takes a big hit, like losing his familiar. He's weaker when his magpie familiar is dead, as his meta-shticks are predicated on having one. The factor thinks that he had tens of tael until fairly recently, but around when the apocalypse didn't happen, he got up to a hundred tael. But it costs him a lot of cash to do things like reconfigure or get a new familiar. Still, he's good at turning money into more money, so he's usually on an upward trajectory except when Master Deng shows up.
Merit wonders if the factor is trustworthy. Well, if he's properly bought, he's pretty reliable, but he's not a hero or anything. And if he doesn't think his boss is likely to kill him in the case of failure, he might be less willing to betray his boss in the case of failure. Anyway, Merit says that the factor can contact Merit at the circus, if he wants to get in touch again, and the factor heads for the docks to get the heck away from here.
Everyone regroups back in the tea tent and to brief each other about the various plots they have been pursuing. (And the party remembers that Anto is an enemy of the court, though nobody has gone after him yet.)
Nobody is clear why Ezokin thought that the silk would be made into armor for Zhi-Hao rather than Yoshi, but that wasn't something the factor knew. The cursed silk, all total, includes:
- One "spare" bolt of cloth, uncursed by Xiao Fa several runs ago in the Arcade
- One bolt made into two cursed kimonos
- One bolt made into Yoshi's armor and Narina's shawl
- One spare bolt, now recovered by the party
Shen-Ji looks at the shawl, which Hiro has in a bag and isn't touching. It's called Compassion's Burden, and appears to be linked to another magic item elsewhere. The item it's linked to is intended to protect the wearer in the dark places he must walk; this item is intended to share the burden of that journey. While there is some hope that it might be possible to use the shawl to find the armor, it's a far cry from The Knife Returns, and as people are beginning to realize, ritual construction is hard. Also, since the armor is made to protect the wearer against spiritual forces, it may actually be harder to locate with magic than the average object.
But Takanata thinks that wth the combination of a bunch of karma and someone willing to wear it, it might be possible to leverage reading the I Ching in order to memorize Yoshi and find him again.
Merit brings up the long tradition of the Butterfly Spy Service: you don't come back from the Hidden City. But here's this guy, Ping Shen-Sho, who is back and not being treated as a pariah. The policy was put in place by the King, and it's been countermanded by some sort of back channels. Also, Merit thinks M's sudden retirement has something to do with all this. It's probably not the case that Ping Shen-Sho is replacing M, but he's really not sure what's going on. Anyway, he says that he warned M to beware of the Prince, and there's a retirement party tonight, with tons of people with overhear shticks who will be at it. Shen-Sho has invited Shuyan, and Merit could probably bring his own date.
Shuyan shows off the birthday gift that Precious Jade sent her - a jade key with a sigil of the Dragon carved in. What? What? Everyone ogles it. There is some questioning of Shuyan and why Precious Jade is sending her things, and who Precious Jade is anyway. Shuyan says brightly she learned a lot from Precious Jade! Merit says that Precious Jade taught him a few things, but he is really sure that the things he learned were not the same things as the ones Shuyan learned. He decides that he really doesn't want to think about it, and puts his fingers in his ears and shouts "la la la la" until everyone changes the subject.
Takanata finally gets around to writing a poem:
Enemy o my enemy,
Sometimes I think of you
As I walk up a stair
Or ask a question.
Do you think of me?
Would you go here?
Would you ask this?
Do we dance still?
- "Wait, the Marked are sending you love notes now?" -Hiro
Takanata under the influence of Horse is perfectly happy to apply Interpret Omens to his own poems ("Maybe we can keep him this way..."). Oddly, Merit thinks the spy plot seems to be an omen for the poem, rather than the other way around. Inasmuch as the spies are involved at all, they're up in the first sentence, introducing the rest of the poem. Anto thinks that the "o my enemy" is the theme of the Marked in general, and not necessarily the Alchemist in particular. Takanata is pretty sure that the poem is about the Prince - but then why didn't he blow himself up prophesying? Well, "enemy" is kind of the Marked, but it's more about Spider. It's not a question of the party and the Marked trying to do the same thing, but of Spider and Butterfly trying to do the same thing, or at least looking for the same result. So, it’s theorized that if Spider and Butterfly aren't in conflict, then it doesn't cause the same scrying problems. Like if both Spider and Butterfly want the Prince to be in charge of the spy network, Merit hypothesizes.
Speaking of spies, it's time to get ready for the party, and Shuyan wears Merit's fancy Courtesan's Kimono.
- "If he asks, I was not happy about it." -Merit
- "He won't ask! Why would he ask?" -Hiro
At the party, Sho-Shen and Shuyan cut a dramatic swath through the place. Lots of people overhear various mildly incriminating things, but Merit (there with Hana) mostly tries to figure out what Sho-Shen is up to. He's trying to build a lot of contacts, but he's not setting himself up for a power play, Merit doesn't think. For Shuyan, though, a suave spy party is an eye-opening experience, and it's kind of like a free training montage for a Precious-Jade style shtick.
The word is that M is retiring in good stead, and is well-liked by the throne. There is no fault with his work, he just wants to spend more time with his family. The Prince (in a flimsy disguise) shows up, and gives the heartfelt thanks of himself and his (unspecified) family. Takanata also shows up, despite having not been invited or come in the door, and offers to read M's I Ching.
There's a big middle bit of his I Ching that's hard to scry, but other than that there's a clear path through his life - childhood, adolescence, his first retirement package. As far as his future goes, the scrying difficulty fades out there again. He's likely to be one of those old men who disboeys orders a lot that the true ruler needs, but right now he doesn't have a particular ruler. He's clearly loyal to the King, but his I Ching thinks he's a free agent, which is odd and interesting. Takanata also checks the connection betwen Shuyan and Sho-Shen - that would be the Si Fan. ("The sea fan? What?") Takanata starts to tell Merit that, but Merit shushes him as quickly as possible. All the people with overhear shticks find that quite interesting.
- "Okay, there's the Horse minuses." -Merit
Takanata also has a bit of spycraft, and thinks that Sho-Shen might be trying to find people to recruit for something, but it's not clear whether it's his own group or the Imperial spy service or the Si Fan or what. As the party breaks up, someone asks if M will tell them his real name - he claims to be about to, but has to whoosh off to a secret meeting, which is actually with Merit.
M tells Merit that it's very very hard right now to get a meeting with either the King or the Queen, but he has talked to the Prince. Merit fumes - didn't he tell M to not trust the Prince? M seems to think that Merit's panic about the Prince is a bit overmuch, and reassures him. Anyway, the Prince said it would all be clear tomorrow evening at eight. Merit looks worried, and asks if he should put his affairs in order? No, no, nothing like that.
The party-goers stumble home, and everyone goes to bed.
Very early the next morning, Xiao Fa gets up to visit Master Kwan, and ask him about the "mindful walking" meditation that he did with Grandmother Shien to fix Yoshi when he looked too hard at the Great Spirits. Master Kwan thinks the idea of Takanata as excessively Yang is a somewhat disconcerting one, and agrees to talk to Grandmother Shien about it. Xiao Fa suggests that Master Kwan head to visit Grandmother Shien now, and they'll catch up later, but Master Kwan, knowing how the party does things, says perhaps Xiao Fa should come by and get him when everyone is going, so that he does not end up visiting Shien for a week wondering where everyone is.
Somewhat later in the morning, Merit drags himself out of bed, and checks as to who is in town relative to the seahorse plot. The Prince, Golden Flame, a hapless set of fishermen, and a bunch of seahorse cavalry - that's mostly it. Takanata hears back from the palace that his request to see the King has been granted for the following day.
Xian wonders if anyone has developed an actual plan to cause the cavalry to embarrass themselves. No, not really. Maybe it will just happen? Maybe the hapless fishermen will do something? Hana says she'll fall out of a boat and be creepy if it doesn't look like anything will happen otherwise.
The party, except for Takanata, gets into two boats to go and observe the seahorse maneuvers. Takanata stays behind (off the map) with Golden Flame, in order to have her arrive auspiciously. Anto, worried, says that stuck out in boats, it's going to be difficult to do any spin control on any disaster that happens. However, without a plan, the group doesn't have another good option.
The Prince is on a central boat, and ranks of seahorses are moving around in semi-straight lines. They aren't perfect, especially because not all directions have the hexes in convenient lines, but then, they're still just practicing. The party boats out to watch, keeping away from the line of deep water, travelling beyond which will sweep small boats out to sea forever. Hana slips down into the water, tied to the larger of the party's two boats with a rope. She has Takanata's water-breathing ring, so she should be in no danger. Some hapless fishermen fish nearby in a small sailboat.
Then, there's a great cracking sound, and the mast of the fisherman's sailboat snaps, and the boat flops over, spilling the fishermen into the water. Oh no!
The Prince sends the cavalry off to save the fishermen, and Merit sends his boat that way, getting in the way of the cavalry and causing something of a traffic jam. Xiao Fa, suspicious, wonders if the fishermen are really drowning, or just pretending, but doesn't think they're faking it. Anto brings the smaller boat alongside Merit's, trapping Merit's boat against the seahorses and nearly squashing Hana in the process.
The Prince gives Merit an extra action to get his boat out of the way of the cavalry, which he manages to do. Merit and Anto both start throwing ropes (or chains) to fishermen, and trying to drag them to the boats, while the cavalry tries to get around the boats to the fishermen.
Hana starts spooking things up (a storm appears to be coming) and terrifying seahorses, causing them to panic and flee - one into deep water to be lost. The Prince sends his boat in as well, and the drift starts pushing everyone a little too close to deep water for comfort. The cavalry rescues Anto and some fishermen, at least temporarily.
- "Is the seahorse impressed by my shirt?" -Merit
- "No, animals do not care about fashion." -Mike
One of the drowning fisherman pushes Anto under again, causing Kuan-Xi to send the small boat more tightly into the traffic jam of boats and seahorses and drowning people. Xiao Fa leaps into the water to help.
- "If Xiao Fa is leaping onto Anto, I jump in and rescue the fisherman." -Shuyan
- "Under! Not onto!" -Xiao Fa
Fishermen are mostly all being rescued in a haphazard mess, when the Prince's boat drifts into the deep water, which is Takanata's cue. He and Golden Flame show up, on her seahorse Silver Foam, and Golden Flame uses a "herd other seahorses" shtick to pull the lost seahorse back, and drives into the Prince's boat enough to get it out of the deep water.
Hooray! Everyone is saved, and the Prince is stunned by this new arrival. Golden Flame whistles some more of the Hana-spooked horses back, and presents herself to the Prince. Takanata enthuses about the seahorses. Ti Jun thanks Takanata, and invites him and his companions to meet him for dinner at eight. Takanata takes the opportunity to flip through his yarrow stalks and memorize the Prince for later.
The group does their best to spin the whole thing later, but it's hard to make it seem too embarrassing without putting the party right in the middle of the embarrassment too. They take the hit and do their best to make it sound like a kerfuffle in which no one was terribly competent (not far from the truth). It's not really a Major Scandal, but it's a minor smudge on the founding of the seahorse cavalry.
Enemy O My Enemy
That evening, everyone (except for Anto, who's still an enemy of the state) heads to the palace for dinner with the Prince. The food is delicious, though everyone is a little nervous except for Takanata, who is blithely cheerful. Ti Jun thanks them all for their assistance saving the fishermen, though he would hope that in the future it might be possible to coordinate a bit more.
Then, he notes that the party has often in the past served his mother and the kingdom. He hopes they are still willing to do so? He fixes Takanata with a look, and Takanata nods and says "of course". The Prince nods, pleased. He says that he has a request to make of them, then. It is not a thing that his mother can ask, nor his father, but he asks it on behalf of his mother: go to the Hidden City and bring his uncle (Ishii Makato, the imperial regent from the Isle of Beauty) home. Perhaps not forever, just for a visit - but home. He believes that his mother and father made promises to each other before he was born, and so they cannot ask this, but he has made no such promises and he is asking. There is a custom that those who go to the capital do not return, but he has arranged for some of those customs to be set aside, to set the precedent (he looks at Merit as he says this) that it is possible again to return.
- "After all, all these decisions were made so long ago, for such long-ago reasons. I hardly think those reasons can be relevant now." -Ti Jun
Everyone is a bit stunned and worried by this request, but no one denies the Prince. He also gives them two letters of introduction (one for whoever, one for his uncle). Takanata points out that he also has a letter of introduction for the Regent, written by the Queen. Oh, that's convenient. The Prince also gives them a purse of five tael for expenses, noting that the Hidden City is expensive, and his mother's seal, though he is careful to not mention how he acquired it. He also notes that as he is giving them these orders, he is taking responsibility for their actions with his parents.
Takanata asks what sort of speed he was thinking of - he thinks during the next couple of runs would be good, though he realizes they do often travel in a somewhat meandering fashion. Takanata also thinks about the whole conversation, and thinks that the Prince's tone was the most flippant when he talked about the old reasons hardly being relevant, which suggests that he thinks that was important.
The group takes their leave, picks up Anto, and confers. Huh. So maybe both Butterfly and Spider want this to happen, but for different reasons?
While he's thinking of it, Takanata also stops by the Yellow Silk dojo. Yue Mei is leading the other students in some new training with long knifes - they are wearing black gi instead of their normal white gi, though they still bear their yellow silk sashes. Takanata looks at the connection between Yue Mei and Kuan-Xi, and thinks that they're cousins - probably from different branches of the same house.
- Shen-Ji visits Hsu Verity.
- Cai Wen visits Malkoha
- Xiao Fa, Hana, and Takanata go visit Tara Shien with Master Kwan
- Takanata has a meeting with His Majesty Ti Lao.