Chochiro's List Part I
|"As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list — I've got a little list"
| The run begins on the Day of the Late Crane in the Month of the Tortoise in the twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place in a number of places around the Empire
A Cryptic Visitor
As dawn breaks, Xian awakens from a dream she has been having of Chochiro. In the dream, Chochiro speaks in speech bubbles hidden behind other speech bubbles, and Xian must carefully extract the hidden speech bubbles without being seen by a spider. Sure enough, by midmorning, the butler announces Lady Chochiro, here to see Master Xiao Fa. Since Xiao Fa is not there, Xian takes charge, and instructs the butler to "show her in but not quite yet" and tries to explain the dream first.
When Chochiro does come in, she says she was hoping for Xiao Fa's advice. She is planning to go to a fancy party in the Strand, the kind she has no business being invited to, and she doesn't have a thing to wear. She was hoping that Xiao Fa could help her out with some proper accessories, perhaps something "light and flighty". The conversation continues along these lines, as people try to hint about whether she needs help with whatever she's doing - she indicates that she's principally interested in costume help. There are no doubt consequential and important things going on at other places around the world, but she doesn't have time to think about those, as she has this party to go to. Xian says she's sorry that her schedule is so packed that it prevents her from doing other things. Chochiro demurs - the other things aren't very important, of course. (Xian notes that she is lying). Perhaps she can suggest something stupid and trivial to do, Xian wonders? Well, she didn't bring her to-do list, but she'll get around to that later. (Xian notes that she is still lying).
Xian offers Chochiro the use of Kuan-Xi's wardrobe, and she tries several robes on, and returns one of the ones she does not choose with a rolled up scroll hidden beneath a seam. (Meanwhile, Xian searches her original clothes, looking for a to-do list - but it's already been passed to Kuan-Xi). Xian shows her some boots, which she examines carefully, while Xian puts the Butterfly Talisman on her without her looking. Then, Chochiro thanks the group for their party dress assistance, and heads off again.
The party heads to Kuan-Xi's little carriage to read the Secret List, and Xian frets about possibly not having gotten all the secret messages. The dream had three "blah blah blah"s in it, and they may have only gotten two messages!
Xian frowns at the Roof of the World entry. "Don't bother doing this because it's tedious" is a stupid thing to put on your to-do list, and it's also nonsensical to put a bunch of impossible things to change the world on the list but skip one because it's "tedious". She suspects another hidden message, but is not clear what it is. Plus, who is this Purple Duke guy?
- "There are five dukes and he is not any of them." -Xian
- "There are six dukes and he is one of them." -Takanata
Next question - what is the Sword of All Clans? Those familiar with the Plains of Honor think that this is the sword wielded by the Hand on the Sword of All Clans, the King's champion. The exact powers of the sword are dependent on the wielder, according to the stories, which are not entirely consistent.
This does seem like a lot of things to do just while someone is at a party. Yanyu suggests that prioritizing by doability may be helpful. Also, why are there four contenders mentioned for the Roof of the World? Yanyu looks for her husband, who tends to hang out in the Roof of the World - does he know about the people in contention for power? He knows that there are the two people who are in contention for "rightful king", as well as the Steward. And there are rumors that Bear Mountain is trying to overthrow the country, though he is not sure they are well-grounded.
Takanata draws a set of cards, and lays them out. They seem to somewhat indicate the plots in the to-do list, but also, Takanata realizes that the layout depends on the question being asked, and the cards are themselves prophetic tools. The deck is clearly incomplete - these are just the ones that are useful right now.
Yanyu sorts the cards by urgency - the Roof of the World is simultaneously both the most and least urgent, and the others are somewhere in between.
However, one thing that the weird Roof of the World entry makes clear is that this is a list of getting favors from rulers - which is necessary for putting Dragon back in the Cycle.
Perhaps it is time to try to accomplish one of the favors - the Forest of Chin could just be a fight, which seems eminently doable. Takanata notes that if the plan is to get a favor, it is probably a good idea to negotiate beforehand, rather than show up afterwards to demand a favor.
Forest of Chin
The group takes Kuan-Xi's little carriage to the Warlord's Throne. Even without the Butterfly Talisman, Takanata has a 20 status, so they can arrange a meeting with Tsi-Shen, Warlord Ze's first wife. The party announces its intention of dealing with the House Mong bandits for once and for all. Lady Tsi-Shen notes that whenever Warlord Ze sends troops, there are only House Mong soldiers in the area, but there are often "bandits" at other times. However, simply defeating them in a battle will likely not solve the problem permanently, as it has not in the past. With that caveat, she can promise a favor if the "bandit" problem is solved.
The group heads off to discuss plans - "kill all of House Mong" might technically solve the problem, but may be unwelcome enough to the Warlord that it won't get them a favor.
Kuan-Xi notes that House Mong has two enemies and no allies, so they're in a relatively weak position. If they were stronger, they would probably stop relying on this stupid bandit plan; either squashing one of their enemies (Tsai or Foon, not going to happen) would help them, or brokering an alliance. Yanyu considers which other houses are the most eligible to have a marriage alliance set up with one of the Mong brothers. Well, Tsai Su-Yin is the most eligible heiress, if she were around, but she isn't. After her, there's the younger sister from House Tsui (the one who is the demon-summoner), and after that, there are some minor members of House Xing and Zhen. As far as an alliance between Tsui and Mong, if the marriage is with the elder Mong brother, that will build a stronger alliance, while the younger Mong brother may promote some internal Mong rivalry. Yanyu decides the younger brother it is.
- "Is nobody concerned about the fact that she was described as a dark sorceress?" -Xian
- "They didn't start raising the dead until I taught them!" -Shen-Ji
Takanata draws up a Connections reading:
The plan is to wander through the "bandit" territory, get mugged by bandits, and go complain to House Mong. Then while they're there, they can raise the idea of matchmaking. However, neither Deng nor Yin-Xiang looks particularly muggable, so they are stashed in Kuan-Xi's carriage while everyone else rides horses, trying to look hapless and rich.
- "I bet I can take the bandits rolling for nines." -Yin-Xiang
- "Whatever, go for it." -Deng
The party spots some scouts watching the road, but they don't seem to be attacking. Perhaps the three people with reputation shticks, the animated metal horse golem, and the artifact-level magical carriage with no driver do not look like sufficiently easy prey?
There is, however, a "ching" noise from off of the trail. Shen-Ji takes the bait.
- "My Goodness. What Was That? I Shall Go Wander Off By Myself To Investigate." -Shen-Ji
- "Ho There! Surrender Your Gold And You Will Live!" -A single "bandit"
- "Oh No. Are You A Bandit? What Shall I Do? I Fear I Must Surrender!" -Shen-Ji
- "Halt, Bandit! Cease Your Nefarious Doings!" -House Mong Soldier
- "Oh No! It Is House Mong! I Flee!" -Bandit, fleeing
- "Are You Okay, Sir? My Men Shall Catch That Bandit." -House Mong Soldier
- "You Have Saved Me! How Foolish I Was To Be Lured Unawares Off The Path. We Must Now Go And Thank House Mong." -Shen-Ji
- "That kind of high-minded service does not go unrewarded." -Xian
Actually, maybe they should go talk to the Dark Sorceress (Tsui Sung-Lee) first. Especially since they were pretending to ride in that direction.
House Tsui is always happy to see Shen-Ji, and with Takanata visiting, they throw an impromptu banquet. Sung-Lee is the younger twin sister to the heir to Tsui; he is more martial and she is more of an expert in the dark arts.
- "Monkey thinks twins are funny." -Takanata
Yanyu chats with the House Tsui elders about their prospects for their children. For their son, the auguries seem to say they should wait for a profitable match opportunity with Tsai or Teng. But what about her daughter, Sung-Lee? The parents look interested, but the daughter isn't so much. Yanyu suggests that she needs a partner who... sympathizes with her interests. They look at Shen-Ji, but he's taken. Of course, Master Deng has also been here chatting about demonic shticks - they eye him speculatively as well. No, no, Yanyu didn't mean Master Deng either. What do they think of the younger Mong brother?
Sung-Lee notes Yanyu borrow Kuan-Xi's skill, a trick she finds particularly interesting. The Tsui parents agree with Yanyu's assessment that Mong is weak right now, which means they could get a good deal for making an alliance - but what is the upside to allying with a flailing weak house? Well, they clearly have a serious cash supply, because they keep being able to hire mercenaries, which is not cheap. That is deemed to be a good point.
Sung-Lee pulls Yanyu aside, and makes her own deal: if Yanyu will teach her the ability to share skills among members of her coven, then there won't need to be any persuasion rolls made against this plan after Yanyu leaves. Yanyu agrees.
Shen-Ji discusses esoteric magics with Sung-Lee - how have relations with the World Below been recently? She says that there is a lot of turbulence, a lot of demons stirring and interested in the world, so it's a good time. Shen-Ji mentions the strangeness of demons in Northern territory, but she is less interested in that except theoretically.
Next, the group heads to Mong Keep, with Sung-Lee accompanying them. Lord Mong is happy to hear the party's thanks (all in scare quotes) for protecting Shen-Ji from a bandit. Yanyu starts sounding them out on what they're actually interested in, using Good Listener - their main point of unhappiness is that they are considered a jumped-up new house, rather than the scions of an ancient house with an ancient name.
Yanyu raises the idea of a marriage alliance with House Tsui, at particularly favorable terms, and the benefits thereof. Hmm, well, if House Tsui is such a good match, why not Lord Mong for a stronger alliance? Yanyu suggests that Lord Mong would not want to betroth himself prematurely, not when Tsai Su-Yin will be returning soon. Ah, in that case, he takes her meaning. They will agree to the alliance with Tsui, at the terms Yanyu has suggested, if Yanyu will also put her best efforts towards brokering a marriage contract with Tsai Su-Yin when she returns. She admits she cannot promise such a contract, but she agrees to make her best efforts, which, as everyone has seen, are considerable. Also as part of this deal, it is assumed that the strength of this new alliance will allow House Mong to end the bandit problem in their territory, once and for all. Right? Well, they suppose so.
Kuan-Xi mingles with the servants (now that she's a commoner), and manages to piece together some information on where House Mong gets its money: when Mong Keep was first built, it was to protect the Primordial Mine. That's why they rebuilt the old keep rather than building a new one.
Yanyu teaches Sung-Lee the Triad shtick, which Takanata tweaks to work for her Coven.
Then, the group reports back to First Wife - bandit problem solved! She thinks that they may have turned a problem now into a larger problem later, but a favor promised is a favor earned.
Plains of Honor
The sword may be retrievable, but Takanata thinks that talking to Lord Sonwu will be dicey before, and even harder to get a favor afterwards. If they just wander up with the sword and say "here, we have the sword that was stolen from you" he'll expect it to be returned, rather than bargain for its return.
While they're thinking about thieves and the Plains, everyone's thoughts turn to Sei-Lin. Might he be able to help? Is he actually related to Takanata, like Yanyu thinks? Takanata notes that he was most recently seen as a juggler apprentice at the Silken Wings Circus, so they head there to speak to him.
Takanata takes Melina off to discuss the tarot cards, while everyone else talks to Sei-Lin about the ninja clan who probably has the sword. As it turns out, he is familiar with them, but only because the party fought them. They didn't obviously have the sword in their house loot at the time, though.
Possibly the Keepers of the Hoard would know where it is? Sei-Lin thinks they're a legend, and is excited to hear that they're real. Could someone introduce him?
While Melina and Mondo are around, people take the opportunity to do some more scrying and verify their assumptions. Yanyu sorts the Tarot cards by plot into Cycle Spirit:
|Qin Chao Steppes||Dog|
|Forest of Chin||TIger|
|Roof of the World||Spidermonkeydragon|
Melina notes that the sword is in the Roof of the World. Xian realizes why the to-do entry for the Roof of the World was so odd - because it wasn't being written for Chochiro, it was being written as a message from Chochiro, so it was a way to indicate that the list was about getting favors.
Giving Kuan-Xi's little carriage a workout, the group heads back to the Plains of Honor. Takanata arranges for an audience with Lord Sonwu, in which Takanata explains that he has a lead on recovering the sword - though he doesn't know where it is right now or who has it - and the King allows that the return would be worth a favor.
Master Deng and Shuyan arrange for a meeting with a ninja from the House of Escalating Doom. It is a somewhat careful conversation, as ninja houses do not prosper by betraying their clients, but they would not be above arranging for an ongoing ally of stature. He promises them a small favor, in exchange for the hint that the sword is soon to be renamed.
The party heads next for SinChen Village, only to discover that it is not actually in the Roof of the World, but on the Bear Mountain side. They stop to pick up the newest state of things. Kung Fu is no longer illegal in the Roof of the World, but there is a permit in order to be allowed to practice, and it is stil generally frowned upon.
The True King has returned! The Steward is banished! The other True King is back! The advice continues to be to ignore people who appear to be banished, rather than picking sides between banished potential kings. The best inn in SinChen village says that Autumn Rose is often there, but not there now.
On the way across the border, the Dragon Army has set up a garrison in force, just to make sure nobody starts anything. Everyone gets the standard warnings about not getting in fights near Mirror Lake. Local gossip in the Reflected City does mention Autumn Rose, who is a trusted advisor of the Steward, and who spends a fair amount of time walking the banks of the Lake, probably because of her recent loss.
Autumn Rose does prove to be checked into the best inn in the Reflected City, though she is not there now. The suite is guarded, as usual, by a young boy, and Deng's weapon-sense thinks there is at least one artifact level weapon in the inn.
Shuyan gets a room for herself and Deng under a false name, with no questions asked. They nod knowingly and overcharge her. From closer to Autumn Rose's room, Deng can tell that there is a Sword and also a Bow. Kuan-Xi has been in the room before, so she can scry into it, and sees two locked chests.
Well, a locked chest, a locked door, and a young child are way too much for the party to deal with, so Yanyu arranges to hire a ninja house to steal the sword from a room away. This succeeds surprisingly without incident, and the party flees at top speed from the country.
Deng thinks that the sword is not particularly dangerous unless Shen-Ji is near it, and worries that it is a sword of mind-controlling Shen-Ji. Shen-Ji takes a better look and thinks it is more of a sword of being wielded by a clansman (which he is), and the effect depends on the power and specialty of the clan.
Takanata and Deng head to another meeting with Lord Sonwu, in which Takanata explains that they have travelled to the far reaches of the Empire and back in the past few hours to recover the sword, despite previously having had no idea where it was or who had it. Lord Sonwu is justifiably a little dubious about this claim, but since they are returning the sword, decides to not push the matter, giving them a favor.
Next, the group turns its attention to the Illuminated Precincts. There was a question about changing the chi of the Empire in the last formal salon, but it was not officially drawn from the hat. Arranging for another formal salon in the next hour might be tricky.
Takanata looks for Willow, but she manages to dodge meeting with the party and their matchmaker of doom, and Takanata ends up talking to Shentu Guan instead. Takanata explains that he has heard there is trouble between the precincts and the Mayor of the Dragon's Throne, and he is hoping to peaceably resolve the matter.
- "The official policy of the Dragon's Throne appears to be to make the Illuminated Precincts a bureaucratic hellscape, in reaction to the policy of the Precincts to investigate how the chi of the Empire might be altered to become a more enlightened place. We are working towards the betterment of the Empire and they are attempting to bring down one of their brother countries." -Shentu Guan
Reprioritization of the schedule is, of course, a classic way to ignore parts of it entirely, but even this would require a fairly serious bureaucracy roll. Anything having to do with government is for 9s, and anything having to do with governmental policy is for 11s. Shentu Guan is not himself personally invested in the chi project, though he would of course want to make sure that the reputation of the Council of Sages was not damaged. Changing the policy here would require a couple dozen nines per sage that sponsored the policy (three), or a memo of understanding that only the final Sage was necessary - so 15 11s followed by 24 9s.
Yanyu notes that she has a favor from Councillor Sima, which might be parlayed into a formal salon; alternately, this plot could be postponed until later, when Merit is around and can hit it with a big bureaucracy hammer.
The group heads to Bear Mountain, and gathers information about Lord Fong and Lord Hung.
Until recently, Fong Sai-Yuk and his rival Hung Hei-gun provided much of the dynamic tension among the Five Elders of Bear Mountain. Recently their rivalry has been calming down, and they have been having a series of meetings to hammer out differences and unite in opposition to the weak policies of Lord Yu. To their understanding, Lord Yu is too deferent to the Three Masters, who are leading the country into a completely inexplicable war with the Roof of the World. Both Lord Fong and Lord Hung are widowers with several children.
Yanyu and Deng visit Lord Yu, to indicate that the Minister of Ramifications Min Feng has noticed the problem, but is unavailable to solve it herself. Therefore, she asked the House of Exuberant Interference to come and consult with Lord Yu. Lord Yu is principally interested in deniability, as calling upon foreign noble houses to solve his problems is even more of a sign of weakness, but within that constraint, he would be interested in having their attentions subtly moved back to their own differences. Yanyu entirely understands, and the ostensible purpose is for her to speak again of a marriage with the younger sister of the Viridian Queen.
- "'Discretion is something we are theoretically capable of."
- "I think between the two of us we can bring this kingdom down." -Xian
- "THAT IS NOT THE GOAL." -Takanata
The feud between Fong and Hung is said to be historical rather than recent, so Yanyu starts walking up the mountain to see if the scrolls of the Green Pagoda can shed any light on the matter.
Shuyan considers seducing both lords to get them to fight over her, but everyone is sure that this would make Merit sad when he hears of it, so that is refiled under "Last Resort".
Takanata and Kuan-Xi gather information about the two lords, and find out that they are having their secret meetings in neutral territory at "a clever place no one would ever expect", that being an abandoned barn on Lord Yu's land (which is between Fong land and Hung land).
Xian looks into potential young hotheads to be stoked up. Lord Fong's son Tak is something of a hothead, and Hung's daughter Mui is also known to have something of a temper - her hero is Ting Ting. She is said to have climbed the mountain to join the Red Pagoda, and been rejected by Lucky Chang's monks; Fong Tak just gets in a lot of fights, but does not have a particularly embarrassing story.
The group considers their assets. Deng has a "coup sword" which is insulting and draws aggro. Yanyu has love potions, which could be arranged to wear off at different times. Takanata can write bardic satires.
Takanata writes a bardic satire about Mui's foolishness in trying to join the Red Pagoda, and spreads it around the capital, dressed in his low-status clothes.
Yanyu reaches the top of the mountain at sunset, in time for Po to leap down from the White Pagoda to offer his assistance with her quest. However, since she just wants to read boring scrolls and things, he just escorts her to the Green Pagoda, where he does not seem entirely at ease.
- "IhavedeliveredyousafelyImustgo." -Po
In the morning, Yanyu convinces Po to walk her down the mountain, though that leaves him as having to go back up the entire mountain again after that, much to his dismay.
The next meeting of Hung and Fong will be in a day's time, so Takanata suggests that the group scout out the barn first. They find a large table in the middle of the barn, with a line drawn on the ground dividing the barn, and the table, in two. Tracking indicates that people enter from opposite sites and never cross the line. There is a hayloft, with a rickety ladder leading up to it that doesn't appear to have been used much recently. Takanata puts together a corner of the barn to look like a hobo has been using it, draws some graffiti mocking Hung Mui, and draws a watercolor promoting aggression and leaves it there.
Between that and the satire, if the rivalry becomes heated again, the preparations are probably sufficient to keep it going, but triggering it may require a little more work.
Xian disguises herself in Fong livery and transforms the surroundings on the way from the Fong lands to the barn, to send them in the wrong direction and lead them to be rather late. In the meantime, the Hung contingent is fuming over the rude graffiti and the lateness of the Fongs. An argument nearly breaks out when the Fongs arrive, until one of their retainers claps her hands.
- "Masters, as you have said, it is time."
The two house leaders take deep breaths, and their groups start filing out. Apparently they have an emergency time out protocol!
That night, Takanata and Xian send both Lord Hung and Lord Fong dreams in which their ancestors castigate them for trying to make peace with the betrayers of the Shaolin monastery, and that is sufficient to tip the peace talks into breaking down. (But Yanyu gives Xian a love potion just in case she wants to run the love-potion-and-coup-sword plan during puttering anyway).
And, a favor is earned from Lord Yu.
- Takanata covertly spreads a praise song about Hung Mui around the Hung lands.
- Wei Han discovers a troubled student in the Port of Propitious Voyage.
- Takanata has tea with the Brothers Li
- Cai Wen, Xiao Fa, Kuan-Xi and Takanata search for some land in the Taiga to build a new Spire.