|"Cabbage: a familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Butterfly in the Month of the Spider in the eleventh Year of the Magpie since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival
Getting On the Road
Still in Stately Foon (or Siew) Manor, Cai Wen begins things by the Ritual Reading of the Omens of Toro - if you see something like this, do not help it happen! Prevent it!
- A river dry of water, and a lake of dark water where no lake should be
- A ferocious rampage by a Great Spirit, wreaking havoc and carnage among innocent and guilty alike
- A town or a keep where the dead walk and the living do not, keeping a terrible beast prisoned within
- A great massacre among men, with death as swift and silent as the falling of night
- A hole in the world through which the stars fall
- A rebellion arising in the World Below, to place the World Below above the World Above
Ming I wanders in, and is pleased to see Shuyan, although Min Feng, whom she has a message for, is not there. She briefs Shuyan: Precious Jade is interested in investigating the recent appearance of an Imperial Consort. If she or Min Feng knows (or can find out) anything about that, then write a briefing on this blank paper, and burn it. Otherwise, please write anything they know (or can find out) about the love lives of any Queens (or equivalent) in the Empire. Shuyan says she'll see what she can do.
Merit thinks that he should file another round of stalling paperwork on the formation of the House of Exuberant Interference, so the group should head back towards the Arcade and the Master of Trade's house in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. Zhuai says that he and Lijuan will catch up to them later, after things are in order here. Merit asks Zhuai if he can come up with options to strengthen the House of Exuberant Interference, but not actually do any of them (on the theory that this will be less costly than carrying them out). Zhuai notes that his talents lie in converting resources into results; if the results that Merit wants are un-enacted plans rather than enacted plans, he can do that, but there's still a resource-to-result conversion going on. Merit hopes maybe this way will be cheaper than if Zhuai carries the plans out; time will tell.
Speaking of Zhuai, how plausible is it that the Marked are interested in recruiting him? It seems plausible that he might be on their short list at this point.
- "Is he lower or higher on the list than Shen-Ji, do you think?"
- "Both answers are worse."
Round about the cauldron go
On the road towards the Harbor, the group spies three hooded figures standing around a cauldron, off the edge of the road.
- "Plot!" -Merit
- "Soup!" -Xian
One figure asks if they would care for any cabbage soup. Another figure waves at Kuan-Xi, and she recognizes her as Shidehara Setsuko.
Merit helps finish cooking the soup, adding some spices and such with his Cooking skill. He doesn't notice any poison or other obvious nefariousness in the soup. Deng senses the danger level of the three figures - the least cheerful of the women does seem to have some poisons on her in addition to her weapons.
Kuan-Xi chats with Setsuko. She says they have been travelling around the Empire, doing this and that, but that people keep telling her her suggested matches are "inappropriate", much to her dismay.
- "Our names we may not share, but you are wondering why we called you here."
- "See? Plot!" -Merit
- "We know your names..." -Kuan-Xi
The hooded figures confer for a bit. Ought they tell everyone? They don't even recognize some of the people here, like Ming I. Well, okay, Ming I and Cai Wen go for a stroll to let a more secret briefing commence.
- "They're all going to help do the work anyway, so we may as well tell them all."
- "So. The... boss, and the boss's boss... want us to find someone who is from a certain... place"
- "This is going to take forever. The Songstress and the Firelord want you to find a Northern spy and set up a line of communication with them. " -Setsuko
The party says they might already have a Northern spy on hand. The Triad is impressed - Setsuko suspects them of being able to see the future. Oh, wait, a spy from the North, not a spy on the North? They don't already have one of those.
- "Do you require any further insight into this task?" -Tansho
- "You probably won't answer this, but why?" -Zhi-Hao
- "You are correct."
Xian asks for a little clarification - do they want a spy looking at military buildups or social information or important people? They say any of those would be fine. They do want a gathering-information sort of spy, not a covert assassin. Are they looking for someone who can be turned to be loyal to the Empire? They're looking for a go-between; they don't need a double agent, but "can be turned" isn't a disad.
Tetsuko thinks maybe they could marry the Great Khan to an Empire princess to broker a peace, but trails off when Kuan-Xi starts giving her looks… Merit tells her that wouldn't work anyways. Well, okay then, finding them a spy it is, then.
They prepare to leave, packing up their things, though not the cauldron (which wouldn't fit on their horses anyway).
- "Hey, you forgot your cauldron." -Xian
- "Be well and may the spirit of the Phoenix watch over you!" -Tansho
- "And thanks for the soup!" -Setsuko
Um... why is the Emergency Backup Triad in league with the Pretty Large Cabbage Spirit, Merit wants to know. Everyone looks at him oddly.
- "Well, that was really good soup. And they didn't bring that cauldron on those horses." -Merit
Xian thinks maybe it was just really good cabbage from the cabbage farmer's cabbages, which are really good. So... the secret cabbage conspiracy has been infiltrated by the Song of the Phoenix?
There is a digression into the secret conspiracy of the White Lotus, which is pro-Empire (Dragon rather than Spider) and kind of disogranized and now under Li Merit's... well, not really "command", more like "vague suggestion", or something.
Anyway, Merit is sure that the cabbages are a clue of some sort. The group finishes eating the soup, and then heads off towards the Harbor again.
Omens of Cabbages
Kuan-Xi's carriage arrives in the secluded grove outside the Harbor, and Merit checks in with his White Lotus contact to pick up the Armor of the Bear (and some matching Fox-based masks) and send the "embarrassing nose" into the shop.
Asking around, Kuan-Xi hears that the Queen is doing some sort of feeding-the-poor thing later tonight, and there may be a counter-rally to heckle her for it.
Still thinking about Northern spies, Merit thinks that there's no James Bond public spy equivalent, but people do recall that Shingao's daughter Mei has been dealing with Wolf to make contact with the Great Khan's second son.
Merit heads to the house of the Master of Trade to file his paperwork. The clerk is impressed by his successes, and stamps the forms and gives Merit a small box with a cabbage in it. When Merit asks what the deal with the cabbage is, the clerk is flustered and says it was a mistake, and hands him an envelope with receipts instead.
- "The cabbage spirit is trying to communicate with us, but all it can say is 'cabbage'." -Xian
Merit asks an old buddy for information on what is going on, and confirms Kuan-Xi's gossip about the Queen passing out cabbages to the hungry. Also, the House of Continuing Sustenance is back - the new house is attempting to claim the assets of the old house, but several things are still missing.
- "So, either we help them or we grab their assets instead." -Merit
So, the cabbage farm was just north of the Harbor - perhaps they should talk to the cabbage farmer? Most of the group heads that way, with the theory of continuing on to the Port of Propitious Voyage to check in at the non-demolished branch of the House of Continuing Sustenance. Ming I thinks Cai Wen looks tired, and suggests that they take a break. Cai Wen suggests the House of the Hidden Orchid, so the two of them stay behind.
The travelling group reaches the cabbage farm, where there is a cabbage cart on its side, one wheel spinning slowly. It looks like a standard sort of cart breakdown, but it's odd that it hasn't been fixed. There are some workers hoeing the cabbages in the field. People hail the workers - they want to talk to the farmer in charge. The workers say that he is away on business, but they will be happy to sell some cabbages. Merit buys four of the best cabbages.
The group asks if the hooligans have returned. The workers say that the farmer told them about the hooligans, and an adventuring party that dealt with them, but that was a while ago. Xian asks about redgrubs, and learns that they continue to be a problem, but aren't as bad as previous seasons. This season, the farm has a lot of extra acreage, and the workers have been hired on.
- "Huh. Are cabbages fashionable in the capital now?"
- "They will be soon!"
They explain that the farmer is turning it into a whole House of Cabbages, and he went to the capital to deal with some paperwork. They were expecting him to be back by now, though. So... why is the cart lying on its side? The workers explain that it's unreliable and has a tendency to break when stressed. So it's best to leave it broken until needed, and then fix it quick and go. That sounds implausible and suspicious, but Xian confirms it's true. When the workers claim to be just cabbage hands, Xian thinks that's the most true statement she has ever heard, which is also kind of odd.
While the group distracts the workers with conversation, Merit looks around the field with the Orb of True Seeing. He can confirm that the cabbages in the soup came from this field. He also notes a flash of light, by the carriages where his stuff is. When he goes to investigate, he finds a receipt tucked under his cabbages, with a note that tariff due must be paid at the Master of Trade's office. Apparently Merit owes a zhu there? That's strange, as normally you don't have to pay tariffs on just buying a few cabbages. Merit shows the workers the receipt - one of them apologizes, that it must have gotten stuck onto the cabbage somehow. He takes the receipt back to put it with the rest of the paperwork. It was ... apparently an odd coincidence that the receipt was for four cabbages. Shuyan presses the workers - why is there so much paperwork? They don't seem to know.
Merit buys some more cabbages, but trips on the way back to the carriage and face plants, sending his belonging everywhere. The cabbage hands help him recover everything, but he notices something extra: a map of the Harbor with the Master of Trade’s palace circled. He questions the hands, and they apologize. That must have been the farmer’s and he likely tripped and dropped it here earlier. Merit is unconvinced, but assumes it’s more cabbage messages. In any event, they probably don't have to go up to the Port of Propitious Voyage, they might as well head back to the Harbor and look for the cabbage guy.
Meanwhile, back at the House of the Hidden Orchid, Madame Song is relieved to see Cai Wen. It appears one of her performers has been… detained? She went to perform at a party at a House of Judicious Increase, but while they know she got there, she didn’t sing or play, and never returned after the event. She’s over a day late...
- "This might not be as restful as we thought." -Cai Wen
The cabbage party opens the communication paper to send Cai Wen a message, but find a message from him instead: "Hidden Orchid. Xie Xie is in trouble." Off they go.
After a couple more briefings from Madame Song as people trickle in to the Hidden Orchid, the whole party finally reunites and compares notes. Of the various plots, it seem rescuing Xie-Xie is most pressing, so they should probably do that first. Ming I asks Shuyan if they should investigate the Queen’s love life while others work on Xie-Xie, but Shuyan thinks she is probably most useful in breaking into places, so she should go with the people searching for Xie-Xie.
Trying a two-pronged attack, half the party goes to the front door of the appropriate chapter house with Kuan-Xi to demand information, and the rest of the party goes around back to sneak in and search for information.
At the front door, the guards are reluctant to let people in, but can’t ignore the massive status Kuan-Xi brings to the table. They decide to give her a card that will give her an appointment with the actual Head of House over at the house palace in the center of the city. Not finding a reason to object to this, Kuan-Xi, Cai Wen and Ming-I head off towards the city center.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party disguises Shuyan and she uses her Monkey-talisman stealth and wall-walking to scale the side of the building and head in an open upper story window. Poking around, she finds a guarded doorway and heads around the outside to find a barred window. Knocking, Xie-Xie opens the inside shutters. Shuyan can’t get her out because of the bars, but Xie-Xie tells her not to worry about her.
- "They wouldn’t dare hurt me, but that doesn’t matter, you have to save the Queen!"
Xie-Xie explains that she overheard a conversation while she was tuning her guzheng before the party. Someone is going to try to assassinate the Queen at the food give-away - in just under an hour from now! She was grabbed up and locked in this room so she couldn’t warn anyone…
Shuyan and the others start heading towards the city center. But Kuan-Xi and Cai Wen have already arrived there for their meeting with the head of the House of Judicious Increase. They are shown right in, after a status roll by Kuan-Xi, and the head of house greets her politely. He seems to have extensive files on all of the major account holders, so is quite familiar with Kuan-Xi’s family and asks how he can be of service. Kuan-Xi explains about the missing musician. The head of house seems displeased, as annoying very wealthy account holders is against house policy, so he has one of his elite guards gather a team to go over to the chapter house and find out what is going on. He’ll report to Kuan-Xi at her inn once he’s investigated. The guard pulls some of his team off of the crowd control happening outside and head off. The head of house bids Kuan-Xi good day, and suggests she contact her mother to have their house records examined. It’s been a while since their account information had been updated.
It turns out the main branch of the House of Judicious Increase is right across the street from the palace of the House of Benevolent Oversight, so right where the Queen is about to give away food to the poor. With some security having been called away on Kuan-Xi’s errand, the crowd outside waiting for food is starting to get a little rowdy. Kuan-Xi, Cai Wen and Ming I exit into the waiting crowd, although Cai Wen’s horse is somewhat imposing, so people don’t get close enough to bother them directly.
Meanwhile, Shuyan, Xian, Merit, and Deng show up at the edge of the rally, having run over from the other side of the city. On the way, an itinerant advertiser offers Li Merit and Deng coupons for 15% off cabbages in the Trade District.
- "I'd like to help you, little cabbage guy, but the Queen might be assassinated!" -Li Merit talking to the sky.
Shuyan heads up to the roof of the palace to look for ninja. Deng scans the crowd for weapons and finds mostly peasant tools, with the exception of the two heavily armed people standing in the center of the crowd near Cai Wen’s group. The party starts trying to converge on that area.
The Queen comes out onto a balcony and tosses a few cabbages down, (one of which hits Li Merit and pulls him around to stare in the direction of the Trade District). She then announces that the food distribution is about to commence! The assassins start reaching for their weapons, but just before the terrible carnage can begin, Xian gets into range of them and starts playing her soothing music that prevents the start of combats. (Ironically, a shtick taught to her by Xie-Xie in the first place.) The assassins are unable to start the fight or attack the Queen, so they start heading towards Xian. When they get there, though, they can’t do much to her either, so they just growl and claim they will mark her well. (Sadly, she’s very disguised, so that’s not likely to result in a very successful vendetta.)
At this point, being at an impasse, the assassins retreat and try to melt away into the crowd. The party mostly lets them, although Deng studies one sufficiently to decide that he’s a member of the Circle of Spite. There shall come a reckoning. Hearing this, Merit tries to recruit one as he leaves, but Merit is also disguised, so it’s unclear how well that will work.
Xian keeps playing soothing music, so the crowd never does get rowdy enough to riot, and there are no assassination attempts, so in the end the House of Benevolent Oversight scores quite the PR coup.
Most of the party heads back to the House of Judicious Increase chapter house to figure out how to spring Xie-Xie before they start cleaning up their mess after the failed assassination. Kuan-Xi heads to her hotel to look for messages.
The party finds the house surrounded by House guards, but strangely most of the guards are looking inwards. There are also quite a few screams, coming from inside, both male and female. Well, that’s not good. They start considering increasingly desperate plans...
But at Kuan-Xi's hotel, Xie-Xie shows up with a box. She explains that she was released and questioned briefly by some newer house guards who then asked her to deliver this box to Princess Suzuki Kuan-Xi. Opening the box, Kuan-Xi finds a head inside. Oh dear.
Slightly sickened, she does manage to write on the communication paper that Xie-Xie is safe and the party preparing to lay siege calls off their various strikes and strike teams in the nick of time.
People regroup at the hotel. Kuan-Xi explains what happened and gives Cai Wen the box. Xian, Cai Wen, and Li Merit puzzle it out and decide that this is the deputy head of house in charge of that chapter. They must have run a full purge over there once they discovered what he had been planning. They gave Kuan-Xi his head in apology for the inconvenience. Oh, and Kuan-Xi finds that she’s spent 10 Status on the head, so clearly there was some exchange of favors or debts or something going on.
Xie Xie is very pleased that Xian stopped the assassination with her shtick. Given that the House of Judicious Increase is trying to cover it all up there likely to not be any political fallout on her, so she’s free to return to the Hidden Orchid.
Xian, Cai Wen and Kuan-Xi head off to return her there, while everyone else hustles over to the Master of Trade’s palace to find the cabbage guy.
Merit contacts an agent inside and discovers that the cabbage guy is in room 13. In fact, he won’t leave and they’ve been trying to get him to go for a while now. But he’s in the middle of his house formation paperwork and if he leaves, he’ll have to start over. Sadly the paperwork is doomed as he’s missing an important deed and thus can’t finish anything no matter how hard he tries.
The party heads down to room 13 to talk to him. Upon their arrival, the cabbage guy sees Merit and bows low happily exclaiming, “You got my cabbages!”
He explains the situation. He can’t leave without forfeiting all of his accumulated successes in the bureaucracy, but he can’t finish without the missing deed. He had thought the deed destroyed, as it was last reported in one of the Continuing Sustenance houses that burned down, but the bureaucrats insist it still exists and thus can’t be replaced. So he needs someone to search the burned-out wreckage of the house for the deed.
When the party asks how he arranged for the cabbages he confesses that he’s a member of the Order of the White Lotus. His job was to travel to and fro with his cabbage cart and stay on top of the local political situations. That’s why he often appeared nearby important doings, but didn’t seem involved in them. Members of the Order at his level can send message to other member if they are captured, but he wasn’t really captured. He was technically free to leave, so couldn’t send any direct messages. So, he arranged for the cabbage spirit to “push” his shtick. Thus messages with cabbages to Li Merit and Deng (who are both members as well.) The cabbage spirit is really tired now, though, so he probably won’t be doing that again for a while.
Li Merit rushes the party off to the burned out house, because the sooner they can find this deed, the sooner the cabbage guy can finish his paperwork and the sooner Li Merit can get an extensive debriefing on the political situation of the Arcade.
The burned out house turns out to be a perilous hat mechanic. Many tiles are drawn, many dice are rolled, and many deadly perils are avoided. In the end though, the party succeeds and finds the missing deed in the wreckage. Yay!
Back at the Master of Trade’s offices, the cabbage guy finishes his paperwork, and (after consulting with Merit) re-establishes the House of Continuing Sustenance as a Minor House of the Arcade. It has a Military of 0 (minor house), a Resources of 3, a Chi of 4, and an Influence of Cabbage. Wow, it has a stat equal to cabbage. People beg Li Merit to have him make it a major house, because they desperately want to know what a Mil of cabbage would mean, but he holds firm and the House stays minor.
He provides Li Merit with the promised briefing. Much of it is known to the party already, but it’s nice to have confirmation. There’s a cold war going on in the Arcade. The House of Benevolent Oversight, the House of Judicious Increase, and the House of Gainful Protection are all jockeying for position and power and influence over the minor houses. The goal would be for one of them to eventually take over completely enough to get a handle on their adversaries. The heads of houses are pretty reasonable and realize that blood running through the streets would be a disaster, and so are keeping the war cold. Sadly, they all have underlings caught in various patriotic fervors and the underlings keep enacting plans that could make the whole thing kick up to a hot war. They’re trying to keep the lid on, but they can’t really squash their own house morale, so it’s a tricky situation. The cabbage guy thinks boiling over is likely inevitable unless there is some sort of fundamental change. That’s why he was founding a House, to attempt to place himself to assist with such change. Now that Merit and the party are founding one as well, they could be allies and work for peace!
The party asks if he has people helping him with this grand plan and he looks a little guarded and says, “Technically”. But now that the party has a house, they can help too! There’s some brief talk of merging the houses entirely, but people decide not to go that way. Allies would get two actions a turn for one thing...
- "The house of Interfering Cabbages would be hilarious but wrong."
Wrapping up, Madame Song looks pleased to have Xie-Xie back, and fairly satisfied when she hears about the box.
Ming I says that Shuyan and Min Feng don’t have to do their plot right now, but they should definitely tell Precious Jade something or she’ll decide they are not actually interested in helping her or demonstrating their loyalty to the Si Fan. Overhearing, Xian adds that she’s fairly certain that the “Get information on the love lives of the heads of state” plot is the input to some Cryptomancy mechanic. Those can be subtly perverted if the wrong data is fed in, so that might be something to think about.
Cai Wen declares that he will deal with the head in a box and takes it himself. Everyone else heads back to the best hotel in town for some much needed rest.
- Xiao Fa and Cai Wen perform a funeral ceremony for the severed head, and return the ashes to the House of Judicious Increase.