Coin of the Magpie
|"Lie to a liar, for lies are his coin; Steal from a thief, for that is easy; lay a trap for a trickster and catch him at first attempt, but beware of an honest man."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Crane, in the Month of the Crane, in the eleventh Year of the Spider since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Casing the Joint
As the group continues to hang around in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival (having nowhere in particular to be until the beginning of spring), Li Merit starts the run by giving the party his maps from the scouting of the House of the Master of Trade, including all of his insights into the location of the Great Talisman of the Magpie. But before doing anything more, Li Merit gets food poisoning, puts Shen Ji in charge, and rushes off to sleep it off. Shen Ji calls the party to order and starts making a plan. There’s some discussion of the morality of stealing the thing: on the one hand, breaking into buildings and stealing stuff from non-enemies is not generally considered honorable behavior. Also, it seems to be driving the local economy (The Harbor has been unusually prosperous compared to other Arcade cities for a long time). Kasumi reminds everyone of the various reasons why this theft is good: a) getting all the talismans is important, b) the Magpie told Li Merit to go get it, and c) it’s something she can help with. Hana thinks perhaps stealing it isn’t really appropriate, and thinks other plans (such as buying the door-lintel it's embedded in, without letting anyone know the Talisman is inside) should be investigated. Shen Ji thinks the master of trade doesn’t know it’s valuable, so it’s OK. He also mentions that there are provisions and safeguards in the house to prevent swindling, etc., so they'll need to be careful and crafty in any case. Master Zhou thinks this whole thing isn’t the righteous path, but the best argument in favor he can think of is that a better way might be preferred, but he doesn’t know of one that avoids telling them it’s there. Master Deng thinks that the greater good demands that the party acquires the thing at some point, so if they can’t think of a better way, then they should do it this way, but doing nothing is unacceptable.
After much discussion, folks decide to start by investigating the defenses of the place, and generally gathering more information. Hana and Xian disguise themselves as randoms and try to gather information in the area. Shen Ji and the rest investigate the public areas of the house itself. Shen Ji notices that the walls have one shtick in “vaultlike” and there also appear to be contingencies that, if they were tripped, would increase the defenses in some way, but he can’t tell what they do until they are activated. Sadly, some of the guards apparently have some skill in noticing people who are “casing the joint” as Master Zhou notices that they start converging upon Shen Ji. Shen Ji pumps up his Acting skill and and starts carefully admiring the art, having already admired the magic. The guards stop converging, and the pair leave. Shen Ji notes that last time he was here, he scoped out the whole place with detect magic and didn’t attract guard attention, so they clearly have some shtick or sense mode in detecting actual theft planning, as opposed to information gathering, etc...
Elsewhere, Xian and Hana ask around the Great Bazaar for word about the Master of Trade. He doesn't seem to have a lot of life outside his job - while he does have a wife and children, he spends long hours at work, and when one asks about him, the description is always of how he performs his duties rather than what he is like in his spare time. He is scrupulously fair, somewhat vindictive when wronged, polite but not jovial, and prone to lucky chances or very well-informed on his short term plans. They also go to speak with the old madam who works behind the tea counter at the House of the Master of Trade, and while they are in the tea area, Xian spends a Yin and a li to recognize Ezokin as one of those drinking tea (and apparently waiting for something), and Hana (who is very poorly disguised) is recognized by Niyo, the courier who was "ambushed by ninja", who asks her to dinner later. Hana agrees to meet with him later, though she says she will have to get her family's permission, and then she and Xian chat with the tea lady. They get the old madam to compare the current Master of Trade to his predecessor - his predecessor, an older cousin, was better at long term plans, for one. She asks them questions of her own, including wondering if they know what Niyo is researching (they don't). Xian asks if she knows what Ezokin is waiting for (she doesn't), and indicates that Ezokin is "probably the least trustworthy person I have encountered". On the other hand, Xian admits that he isn't particularly trustworthy himself.
Shen Ji goes away and flies up to case the building from above at a distance. There’s a guard who climbs up to the roof every once in a while and does a circuit, but not a permanent roof guard. It also seems that the roof itself also has the level of “vaultlike”, but not the triggers for additional defense, whatever those might be.
Down in the market, Master Zhou talks to a puzzle box vendor and buys a four success puzzle box, while others shop for various trinkets as well.
After regrouping and discussing what's been learned, Xian and Deng insist that Hana go on a date with Niyo as soon as possible to find out what he is researching, since he is ultimately in The Bureaucrat's chain of command, so whatever he's doing, the party probably wants to know.
Meanwhile, Kasumi stalks Ezokin all around as he continues to wait for something. He mostly stays in the tea room at the Master of Trade's House, but he does go to a nearby shop for lunch, and a local inn at night. Everywhere he goes though, he always has a view of the Master's House. He's definitely waiting for something... but what?
Wondering how to send a message to Kasumi if the party needed her, Hana gets a drop of blood from the Stealth monkey (now named Pooky) and puts it on the monocle. She then sends the monkey out to wander through the bazaar, on the theory that its propensity for finding "people who are hiding" might cause it to report to Kasumi. He does notice numerous people stealthing throughout the bazaar, including Kasumi, but he doesn't stop until he comes to rest in the sewers, hiding next to, as far as anyone can tell, nothing. Hmm. This hasn't really recalled Kasumi, and it seems to have lost a monkey.
At this point, Li Merit and Min Feng recover from their food poisoning. Li Merit goes and meets his contacts and gets the bracers of blunting out of the shop. Li Merit and Min Feng get back into the planning of the theft, and propose framing some League of the Hidden Hand guy. Of course this causes the argument about ethics to break out again.
- "I assume we couldn’t just convince him it was for the greater good?" -Hana
- "Well, that hadn’t really occurred to me." -Li Merit
- "Let’s stick with things that might work." -Xian
They discuss the plan of buying the lintel from the Master of the House of Trade, under the pretense of collecting works by whoever the artist is who carved it. Master Zhou looks at the Butterfly Talisman, and determines that it was not made by any artist he is familiar with, so hopefully, no one else will be familiar with that style either. They disguise Master Zhou as a random guy, and he wanders around the House looking for artwork to appraise, finally working his way up to the talisman lintel to take a quick glance at it. He chats to the guards on the upper floor, who stick rather close to him, and he examines all the lintels. Yup, the one over the door at the end of the hall looks like a depiction of a magpie in the same style as the talisman. It's "building decoration" rather than "high art", and the other lintels are in a similar style, as if made to approximately match, though they are of things that aren't magpies.
Hana goes to the city library and asks about the history of the city. There aren’t any texts about the building of the trade master’s office, but it’s clear that the building is older than the great houses, and has been here for a while. The first Master of Trade was appointed when the great houses reorganized the country around the beginning of the current Great Cycle. Merit also arranges to read a dossier on the Master of Trade, which has much the same things Hana found out earlier, but with more explicit names and details.
The party decides to go through a local art gallery and try to get a respected middleman to buy it for them. Well, they decide this very briefly. Then the great argument of theft and it's relative appropriateness breaks out again, as well as the question of whether or not the house will sell them a random lintel without looking behind (or in, or under, or whatever) it and noticing there's a magic item in it.
After a while of more arguing, people notice that the hiding monkey (Pooky) they sent into the bazaar is still hiding in the sewer. They try to figure out why he’s still hidden, and decide to send Min Feng and Kasumi to head down there to reclaim him. Min Feng disguises herself as Kasumi. Calling outside the sewer with monkey treats doesn't summon him out, so the sneaky folk head down into the sewer. They can’t find him, but do finally lure him out with monkey treats. They almost escape unharmed, but just as they are leaving, Kasumi proclaims into the darkness, "I will be back for you!" Suddenly, a throwing knife comes out of the darkness and knocks Kasumi’s mask off, sticking it to the wall. Her face uncovered, she continues to flee after Min Feng. They escape with both monkeys.
Hana finally makes a date with Niyo - she suggests a nice mid-range place (worried about his finances, but not wanting to be insulting), and he counter-suggests a more romantic place.
- "Ah, she’s off the leash again." -Niyo, thinking to himself.
When the moral discussion breaks out again, people ask if there is even a viable theft plan to consider. Shen Ji suddenly springs into action, and pulls out maps and flow charts, laying a complete break-in and theft plan. Since he's put quite a lot of thought into this over the last several hours, people are swayed by his reasoning and detailed planing and preparations for the theft begin. Master Zhou forges a fake lintel to replace the real one, though he's the only one who has anything like woodworking as a skill. Then they start to debug the finer points of Shen Ji's plan.
Li Merit gets some local kids to set off fireworks at just the right time and add to a distraction. They drive a hard bargain and eventually he must give them several zhu. Li Merit also spreads a rumor around that someone is looking for trinkets that create walls of iron, with propaganda successes, so that Shen Ji's walls of iron won't necessarily point to a metal sorceror.
The Master of Trade eventually goes home for the evening. Team Stealth (Shen Ji, Min Feng, Kasumi, and Zhou) goes up to the roof. Ezokin takes this moment to head from the tea room into the main lobby. Xian, who has infiltrated into the guards, convinces some of the upstairs mook guards to go downstairs and deal with “a troublesome drunken noble” (i.e. Ezokin). Hana whispers into Ezokin’s ear at range, "I know where you are keeping it." Ezokin starts looking around, making per rolls. Xian recruits a couple more guards to his "anti-drunken Ezokin team", though Ezokin is being quite innocuous and non-drunk, as far as anyone can tell. He seems unwilling to be rattled. Hana up the pressure on Ezokin by whispering, "You can’t hide from me, I can see everything," and at just this moment, Zhi-Hao comes in, leaning on the cane of free action taken from Ezokin previously, and taunts the sorcerer. Ezokin looks as if he has just figured out what is going on, as Xian's guards escort him out of the building. Since Zhi-Hao is heading out as well (and Ezokin is pretty sure that some sort of Plan is happening), he's willing to go outside with guards, asking politely if there's a problem.
- "Perhaps it would be better if you can come with us, until we get this sorted out."
Min Feng manages to jam the door out from the smaller roof room, and then the group on the roof works on breaking through the skylight. Kasumi starts tying ropes and dropping them down the side of the building for an eventual escape route, and Shen-Ji preps a wall of iron between the guards and the alcove at the end of the hallway where the Magpie Lintel is.
Back downstairs, Xian shows the named guard (Bear) some of his acupuncture needles, which he somehow manage to make look like lockpicks, and tells Bear that Ezokin had them. Bear heads out to make sure that Ezokin is definitely leaving.
- "If that many guards were needed to deal with him, that really must have been Ezokin." -Li Merit, spreading rumors.
The team on the roof finishes breaking through the skylight, and Shen-Ji puts up his wall of iron, keeping the guards away from the thieving party. (However, the assistant to the Master, as well as one of the assistants, is trapped on the office side of the wall with the party.)
As Zhi-Hao pretends to walk away from the building, Ezokin heads away and flips a magpie-feather cloak over his head, vanishing in the shadows. However, he doesn't stay hidden for long, and he reappears next to Zhi-Hao attacking with his now-familiar claws. Unfortunately for Ezokin, Zhi-Hao dodges and then does seventy points of damage back to him in return. Ezokin "buys" his sword, and vanishes with it, now a bit more terrified of Zhi-Hao.
Another of the named guards (Spider) manages to get through from the hallway into the Master's office, but Shen-Ji has been waiting for this, and when he opens the door into the alcove, another iron wall goes up. The Master's assistant (Fox) starts spending actions on calling guards (Spider and Crane, the third of the named guards) towards him and upstairs, getting them in with the party, but Master Zhou and Kasumi keep them mostly busy with nerve strikes and nose-getting, respectively, and secures Crane with the Shackles of Silence.
Ezokin flies to the roof to await people coming out with the loot, and drinks some healing potions. However, Min Feng has previously memorized him and knows where he is, and Shen-Ji spots him, so he backs off a bit more, still a bit nervous after the excessive stabbing earlier.
The group on the second floor finishes prying the lintel off, though the jig is sufficiently up that trying to fasten the forged lintel is not going to fool anyone at this point.
Down on the first floor, Hana and Merit have been trying hard to act like they are just random civilians; an old woman who was in the scroll room finds Hana intriguing and realizes that she's a ghost, but doesn't seem to think that this is related to anything else going on. She asks if Hana is haunting the building (no), what her name is (it no longer matters, Hana says with a sorrowful air), and if she needs assistance passing to the Realms Beyond (no, but Hana would be interested in learning more about that, as she has Things To Do while she is still in the mortal realm, and laying the Northern Undead is one of them!) The old woman says she would be happy to speak with Hana at greater length another day, while Hana is temporarily haunting the House of Trade.
Monko unshackles Crane and they drop to the floor; Shen-Ji causes them to fly to him up on the roof. Min Feng drops some magpie feathers, helping to incriminate Ezokin some more. Everyone climbs back up to the roof, dropping the fake lintel as they go. Crane gives chase, and there's a brief battle with Kasumi in which Shen-Ji makes him drop his sword and he manages to grab Kasumi's, but then everyone escapes.
Xian arranges to be the guard that questions Hana (he finds that she had nothing to do with it), and Merit has been spending his actions convincing the guard near him that he's an idiot, so he also gets let go pretty quickly. Merit spends the rest of the night spreading the rumor around the Bazaar that Ezokin's team is ahead in the scavenger hunt.
Then, the lintel is broken open and the Great Talisman of the Magpie is found, much to everyone's relief. The talisman doubles the energy of the wearer, and also provides a distinct advantage to people who are buying/selling/trading/earning money while wearing it.
- Kasumi and Min Feng take the broken lintel to hide in Ezokin's room at the nearby inn.
- Hana goes back to the House of Trade to talk to the old woman.
- Anto and Takanata take a quick boat trip to the Butterfly Kingdom.