Chochiro's List Part III
|"If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Monkey 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
At Tahiti, Li Merit sits Wei Han down in a chair and examines him, using the Orb of Light. His state seems quite confusing, as though his concept is something like “Enemy of the Empire”, which he is not really working at very hard. Li Merit checks with Deng -- is Wei Han an enemy of the Empire? Sure is. Li Merit, Wei Han, Deng, Cai Wen, Kasumi, and Yanyu embark on a road trip with the intention of waving a disguised Wei Han in front of some other people; Li Merit theorizes that the more connected people are with the Empire, especially if they have some official duty, the more likely they are to instinctively react badly to Wei Han.
A few minutes after setting out, the party comes upon a young girl crying in the road. We ask her what’s wrong. Well, their carriage has overturned, and they can’t agree how to fix it, and she’s stuck because her ankle is hurt...it’s the youngest of the Seven Sisters, who the party first met while Travelling_with_the_Butterfly_Prince:_Part_II! Around the bend, the party finds six more sisters and a carriage with a broken axle. The sisters are bickering furiously over how to proceed, but when they see the party, they (mostly) turn to Cai Wen. He suggests cutting down a tree to fashion into a new axle. The sisters quickly fell the tree and start fashioning an axle, but they can’t agree on how to finish it -- the second Sister is having none of this plan!
While the carriage repair stalls, Yanyu considers the relationships between the sisters -- they are all part of something she can best describe as a blessing gone wrong. They explain that they were on their way to Tahiti to look for Lord Takanata, who they figure could find Hiro, so that the eldest sister can marry him. Yanyu identifies Hiro as the most important person not here who is part of their relationship, though his connection is not strong.
Yanyu also notices that the second sister has broken free of the ‘blessing’. She’s a phoenix (the others include a couple of foxes and a butterfly), which piques Yanyu’s interest. She wants the sisters to work together and cooperate to be successful, but she has simply had it with the requirement that they can only cooperate when a good-looking man tells them what to do. Eldest Sister got charisma dice, and second sister got chi dice, and she eventually got enough to snap herself out of the blessing. Yanyu thinks they all ought to be broken out.
Li Merit observes all the sisters with the Orb of Light, wondering how to unbind them. Their binding is a long-term effect that has a natural escape clause - they’ll fall out when they get married. Unbinding them otherwise will take some mojo. The name of the binding is “Mother’s Final Blessing”. Li Merit thinks that Xiao Fa could perhaps unbind one of the sisters as a major effort.
Cai Wen suggests that we might try making offerings to their parents to withdraw the blessing. The older sisters know that their parents passed away about a cycle ago. We’re not sure if their parents would be reachable yet -- you have to pass through the Pumice Scrubbing stage of the World Beyond in order to respond, and the more interesting you are, the longer that stage takes. Merit asks them more questions, and also asks his guys for a dossier on their mother. The eldest sister knows that their mother made some kind of great sacrifice for them, and that she was from the Strand originally. Merit reads his dossier and raises an eyebrow when he realizes that the youngest daughter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter.
The party decides (having been warned about distractions) that they would like to help, but can’t take time to untangle everything now, so Merit and Yanyu lay it all out for the second sister -- maybe they could make some offerings at their parents’ shrine, along with a promise from us to take care of the sisters and arrange marriages? Merit is unconvinced that their mother can actually rescind the blessing, as that would take powerful mojo from an ancient line, but she might be able to send signs back, which would make us feel better about simply doing away with the blessing. They talk to the rest of the sisters as well. Eldest sister thinks that this is all nonsense; mother gave them a blessing, second sister messed it up, and the thing *she* is concerned with is finding Hiro and marrying him so that things can move along.
- "A wise friend of ours said there is no fixing change, so the thing to do now is take what we have and make it for the best." - Cai Wen
The sisters are eventually persuaded to go to their parents’ grave with some spirit money, and a petition to withdraw the blessing and let the House of Exuberant Interference see to the sisters’ prospects.
Back to the List
The group returns to Tahiti, and begins considering Chochiro’s list. Merit dispatches a strike team to attempt to procure the Purple Duke’s notes, with instructions to destroy the notes if they can’t get away with them, but above all to pull back rather than risk capture or casualties if there is serious trouble. They think it’s bad juju to mess with horse statues, but Merit thinks this is just a rumor.
The butler arrives with word that a representative of House Zhen, from the Forest of Chin, has arrived. The House of Exuberant Interference owes House Zhen three non-chi house actions, so we figure they have come to collect. Indeed, they have. They wish to find the answer to the question “Where in the world is the heir to House Tsai?”. They think that a chi roll would be more helpful than others, but since that wasn’t covered by our debt, they will offer to clear two actions from the debt if we will address the problem with chi.
The party thinks that chi would indeed be more effective, as they happen to know that Tsai Su-yin is in the World of Dreams, behind some protection. Those with political connections are pretty sure that every house in the Forest of Chin wants to marry one of its men with her, and that any house which achieved this would be able to overthrow Warlord Ze. Yanyu notes that she has already promised to give her rather considerable best efforts to the cause of arranging a marriage between Lord Mong and Tsai Su-yin. The party decides that it doesn’t want to give House Zhen a lot of help here, so they go with an Influence roll, to put the HOEI name behind House Zhen’s attempts to gather information on this subject. The roll is (for better or worse) pretty good, 3 out of 5 successes. The Zhen representative departs, satisfied.
The party decides to go to the Steppes next. Cai Wen stays behind because he doesn’t believe that the Steppes exist, and Wei Han goes to walk the wall because nobody knows what will happen if the First Servant sees him. Wei Han looks down from the wall: there are Dragon Army camps on both sides, their vigilance going down now that it’s spring, and they’ll be asleep by summer. Maybe it would be a good time for him to attack them…. He goes down to chat with some soldiers. They’re all quite nervous around him, not like the old days at all. Kind of like he’s the Obsidian Warlord or something, who could kill them (or their careers) like *that!*.
As the rest approach Stone Drum, one of Merit’s guys pulls him aside to deliver the dossier on the mother of the Seven Sisters….
Chan Xuanlu was a novice monk in the Temple of Gentle Tranquility, under a vow of silence. She was walking through the clearings of the Forest in the morning when she saw in the distance Tsien Anjing being stalked by an oni. Unable to call out to warn him, she had to sprint the clearing; the oni ended up disappearing in a puff of laughter when she arrived in a disheveled and exhausted heap, too winded to even gesture. There continued to be more unusual encounters with Tsien Anjing, until she left the order and they were married. By all accounts, their marriage was a wildly happy (if odd-story-filled) one, and they had seven daughters, each of whom was granted a separate blessing by the spirits and demons of that part of the Forest, who by this time were very amused by the family. Anjing was a master carpenter, and taught his daughters the trade.
When a plague passed through the village they lived in, the entire Tsien family fell ill; Anjing died first, but the daughters all miraculously recovered on the night that their mother died.
Merit thinks that the key is the first part, where she was a monk under a vow of silence, the spirits tricked her into leaving that for her happy life.
At Stone Drum, the party is met by Princess Yue Ping and her fiance, Gipeno! Go, Gipeno! It seems that there are some who are not as psyched by this match as the party is, so there is some political awkwardness. Yanyu offers to help, but it sounds like it will be involved...
The party asks Yue Ping who she thinks is required for getting permission to go across the Wall. She is obviously quite in favor of it. She thinks that the Obsidian Warlord could grant permission, or both of the Northern commanders and one of the other commanders (construction or highways, not the other areas) together could do it. The Regency Council could probably also do it. Li Merit says that he is from the Circus, and he’s here to help! Could the party get a favor for arranging that? Yue Ping thinks so, though Yanyu thinks we want to meet with the First Servant to make it more official. Yue Ping thinks that a private dinner party would be easier than a formal audience.
Merit talks with his guys in the Dragon Army to see if there’s a good argument to be made that letting the Steppes cavalry (its specialty) over the Wall would be useful. His guys think that cavalry would be great, that’s why they’re trying to enlist some. (So probably a reasonable argument.) He asks them how the Wall is doing. Still keeping us safe? “Well… (eye roll) … as much as it ever does.” Not so good. They are building some gates and tunnels in the wall so they can take the fight to the North.
At the dinner party, all guests are carefully paired:
- Yue Ping and Gipeno
- Deng and Kasumi
- Yuan Howin (Minister of Levies) and her husband
- Yanyu and Yin-Xiang
- Merit (who notes that it is OK for him to be seated alone as he is a widower; he thinks an unmarried man or woman trying to operate in the Steppes would have problems)
Before the First Servant and his wife enter, conversation is made, and there is chat about the war. The northerners seem to be getting more mystical power, and more unity. Merit mentions the Khan of Khans unifying the hordes, and using beast magic. The Steppes would of course like to get some cavalry over the wall to deal with that, but… laws. Merit tries to pitch Wei Han’s suggestion that the Dragon Army might go for it if was a joint operation. Yue Ping and the Minister of Levies are not keen about that; it seems like a recipe for endless foot-dragging and obstruction by the Dragon Army. He wants his own operations. The Minister of Levies thinks that they might be willing to go with Dragon Army observers, as long as the observers were provided on demand, so it couldn’t be a mechanism for stalling.
The First Servant and his wife enter, and Yue Ping takes a moment to have the party talk up Gipeno. They take the opportunity to spin some stories with a little extra credit for Gipeno. There is more talking of war strategy, and a favor is brokered. Merit’s negotiation skills are keen enough to sell the deal where a relatively powerless Dragon Army observer is allowed to accompany each unit; getting a favor for a lesser deal is a bit beyond him.
Merit later thinks through how that party went, and he notices that Yin-Xiang seemed particularly helpful, whether he intended it or not -- whenever Gipeno was being talked up, Yin-Xiang would brush it off with “what, that guy?”, which was an opening for even more effective talking-up.
Later on, Yanyu does a divination on the relevant Dragon Army commanders, and reveals their aspects:
- Yao (northeast): Dog
- Hsiao (northwest): Tiger
- Mushashi Nori (Construction): Phoenix
- Chang Hu (Highways): Bear
Of these, the party thinks that Yao and Mushashi are the (relatively) easiest ones to persuade, and Hsiao is the next option, with Chang Hu as the last.
A guy shows up to talk with Merit. The infiltration of the Purple Duke’s estate did not go well. The team is OK, and could probably have accomplished the mission with losses, but broke off because those were Merit’s orders. He reports three layers of defense:
- 2 masters of wits and grace, who are indistinguishable and there’s no way to know which one you’ll run into. The wits-master is extremely hard to sneak past, and the grace-master is extremely hard to talk past.
- Swamp monsters. Seriously. Frickin’ swamp monsters! Not good!
- A diabolically devious safe. You have to roll for 11s, and would need a lot of successes. It’s really heavy, but probably not impossible to move. It is rumored to have safeguards, so just smashing it open would probably leave its contents safeguarded in some way.
They have, however, determined what we’re after: A magic book created from the dregs of the blackmail notes of Fu Manchu, after his Twelve Scrolls of Blackmail were looted from the estate. Rather than simply use the dregs, the Purple Duke took the notes to a sorceror as a magic item component, and from them a Great Book Of Blackmail was fashioned. You say the name of the person (in the same country as the book), and it will come up with blackmail, as long as they’re at the right level (second-tier nobility, so not the king, but in the Taiga, the other Dukes). The party boggles at the power of such a thing. But to get the favor from the King of the Taiga, they would have to destroy it, not just take it out of the country, as it could be brought back in. But perhaps it could wait for a run or two…
The party relocates to the Taiga and approaches the Purple Duke’s estates. The plan is: sneak in through the swamp, stash the horses just off the map, sneak into the house, and then Wei Han will pick up the safe and carry it off the map. Simple! Wei Han’s horse is swift and sturdy, which is a good combination for this plan. With the Serpent Talisman, Wei Han estimates that he should be able to move at a reasonable speed with any plausibly heavy safe. On the way in, the plan is to sneak -- hoping that they run into the Grace master (who we can sneak past, we hope) rather than the Wits master; and if they run into the Wits master, they’ll try to fast-talk like crazy. Yanyu and Merit don’t trust their sneaking rolls, so they stay with the horses and observe. Word is passed around -- no fighting if possible, retreat rather than fight hard enough to risk killing anyone.
Kasumi sneaks up to the window and silently opens it, while Deng looks around for danger. He determines that the most dangerous thing nearby is one of the statues in the yard of the estate, which is actually a Swamp Monster! Wei Han and Cai Wen follow, everyone sneaking as quietly as possible. They get to the stairs going down to the vault room, and then realize that they forgot to close the window. Oops! One of the guards notices this and begins to progress around the house to report to his captain, but the alert is not raised yet.
Kasumi silently opens the door to the basement, where there is a safe in the corner, and a guy sitting next to the safe, reading a book. He is not very alert. Wei Han sweeps over and grabs him, putting his hand over the guard’s mouth. Kasumi, Deng, and Wei Han carefully beat the guard over the head until he goes limp.
Kasumi looks at the safe with the Orb of Light, and sees nothing weird at all -- it’s a perfectly mundane, very high-quality safe. She tries to crack it for 11s, but 8 successes is not doing it. Wei Han downs a potion of High Strength, and hefts the safe in his arms, and starts huffing and puffing his way to the stairs. That’s not so quiet…
Cai Wen strides up to the guard who can see the hallway, and unleashes the intimidation: “You are in an unimaginable amount of trouble!” Sadly, only now does he figure out that he has run into the grace master. An eyebrow is raised, and Cai Wen has gained a phase. Behind Cai Wen, a ninja (stealthy) and a weapons master (stealthy) and a very large man carrying a very large safe cross the corridor. The eyebrow is raised even higher. In the other room, Kasumi has found the Wits master, but has stolen his nose. They open the window, and Wei Han climbs out. Cai Wen stalls the grace master for one more action, and then everybody runs for the swamp. The alarm is raised, but it’s too late -- the party escapes, with the Purple Duke’s safe!
Status of Chochiro’s list:
- Steppes -- favor arranged, plan is to persuade 3 of 4 eligible Dragon Army Commanders: Hsiao (NW), Yao (NE), Mushashi (Costruction), Chang (Roads).
- Taiga -- favor arranged, safe acquired (looking at it in puttering)
- Precincts -- no favor arranged, possible plan involving promoting or scandaling the Throne Foreign Minister and getting the pro tem Foreign Minister to sign off on ending the bureaucracy storm
- Throne -- favor arranged with indemnified contract. Possible plans:
- Leverage the bureaucracy storm to arbitrarily delay it. (Is there room for the Bureaucrat to wiggle out in this case?)
- Policy salon reverses the policy
- Takanata sends a painting and a letter to Autumn Rose