Ship of Gold
|"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of."||It is the Day of the Early Magpie in the month of the Monkey, in the two hundred and fifty-ninth Year of the Fox since the opening of the Exalted Library.|
Akimoto's Return, Deferred
The Silken Wings Circus prepares for its entry into the City of Light. Lijuan volunteers to ride the elephant for the entry procession, and Zhi-Hao teaches Wei Han a sword trick, in gratitude for Wei Han's loan to purchase armor. Wei Han and Kasumi show off their trick (Wei Han throws Kasumi into the air and she acrobatically lands on things) and do well enough to make a few zhu in tips.
The area the circus has reserved is a roped-off square in the city proper - it's large for a square, but small compared to what the circus usually uses. The City of Light is full of canals and bridges, so there isn't a vast amount of open green space anywhere.
Akimoto the Astonishing checks in with Li Merit - he's totally ready to return to performing, and asks Merit to clear it with Ringmaster Te. His clever plan is foiled, however, when he is reminded that Merit also has medical skill, and insists on examining him first. Merit only gets one success, though, and isn't really sure Akimoto is ready to go back as a headliner when he hasn't practiced for months. Merit decrees that he has to practice until the Ringmaster okays his act for an actual performance. Akimoto complains that he is being ganged up on, but agrees to provide artistic advice to Wei Han and Kasumi's act as a means of participating early.
Takanata passes around his poem of the morning, which, as always, Merit thinks is insufficiently helpful.
- The river runs clean and silver
- The golden ship drifts like a leaf
- The reflection of the ship shines as brightly
- But cannot be touched
Akimoto checks in with Wei Han and Kasumi. Kasumi explains the act: "He throws me up there, and then I dangle precariously..." and demonstrates, getting three 7s. Akimoto thinks that she can do better, and coaches, reminding her to say "Ta-Daa!" after each move. He has her try with just one hand (three 9s), and then just one foot (two 11s). This is better than he expected, and he declares that maybe he can work with her. He gets Wei Han to throw him up to the wire as well, and demonstrates a four-thirteens move, balancing on only one hand. Kasumi tries, but falls, to be caught by Wei Han.
- "Say it! Say it!" -Akimoto
- [long pause]
- "Ta-Daa?" -Kasumi
- "I am a monkey ninja. I don't see what's so hard to understand." -Kasumi
- "It's not hard to understand, it's just wrong." -Takanata
- "That means we know what she's up to... until we don't." -Merit
- "Until we hear the Ta-Daa at the end!" -Lijuan
As the circus sets up, Lijuan notices there aren't many little kids running around, the way there normally are when the circus comes to town. She finds this somewhat disturbing, and checks with Takanata, who thinks that "no kids" is not actually a normal feature of the City of Light. However, due to the lack of distractions, the circus gets set up much faster than usual.
Ringmaster Te warns the party that they should do their best tonight - there are a number of important guests expected, beyond what the circus usually gets. There should be representatives from the Savanna, and also people from a boat which is expected in. The mayor let him know this, but he missed some of the details.
Min Feng recalls that she overheard a conversation at a party (from puttering) that mentioned the sending of a tribute ship from the Butterfly Kingdom, and suspects that that is the golden ship from Takanata's poem. That still doesn't explain what to do about it, or what the reflection is, but it's a start.
Merit, Zhi-Hao, Lijuan, and Ho go to wander around, particularly down by the docks, to pick up information. Kasumi sneaks after them (with 5 stealth), and Min Feng disguises herself as Kasumi and sneaks after as well (with 3 stealth). Kasumi is pleased - now any time someone sees Kasumi blow a stealth roll, they'll assume it's Min Feng!
There are large crowds at the dock, waiting for the tribute ship to arrive - sure enough, this is where all the kids are. There is a lot of talk of kraken attacks - there are several badly damaged ships over to the side, with snapped masts. One is a Savanna military ship, the others are Precinct trade ships. There is also much hope that once the tribute is paid, the blockade will finish, since, like the Arcade, the Precincts do a reasonable amount of trade with the Butterfly Kingdom. Lijuan briefs the local kids about the Butterfly King not being dead, and also about the party's own kraken attack. Wei Han notes that there's a local garrison of the Dragon Army, but no major military presence.
Merit and Min Feng ask around about the blockade - two of the piers have been set aside for Savanna ships, and the three-master is where the people running the blockade are located. The locals seem to be doing their best to swallow the Savanna claim that this isn't an invasion of the Precincts, because they don't want trouble. They don't pick up too much more about the "ship that cannot be stopped" - it carries its own fog bank with it, so people assume it is from the Shrouded Isle - but it can vanish into the fog and pass through the blockade without problems. And, the tribute ship is late; it was expected in this morning. Merit and others are very suspicious - it doesn't sound in character for Ti Wren to send tribute. But she is kind of random.
Takanata has remained back in his tent at the circus, and hears a polite clap at his door - it is Inspector Ando. They have another of those conversations in which Ando thinks he is fencing and Takanata thinks they are talking.
- "Ando! This is quite a surprise. Did you get my message?" -Takanata
- "Many people got your message. May I ask why you addressed it to me?" -Ando
- "It seems that we have become linked in the minds of many. This shall either be a great boon or a great disaster to my career, and we shall see which, but for the moment, I have been promoted." -Ando
- "Why, exactly, are you here?" -Ando
- "I believe the circus has an engagement in the City of Light." -Takanata
- "Yes, of course, obviously... so you have nothing to do with the missing tribute ship?"
- "Is there a missing tribute ship? When did it go missing?"
- "About the same time you arrived."
Takanata offers his congratulations on Ando's promotion. Ando is an inspector-without-portfolio now, and his current assignment is to assist the Imperial Chief Inspector, who is assigned to verify the contents of the tribute ship before they are transferred from the Butterfly Kingdom to the Savanna of Tears. But, he says, eying Takanata, now he understands why he was sent.
Down at the docks, rumors are starting to fly - most of the crowd suspects the tribute ship has been eaten by kraken, or it is just one of those things that happens to boats, that they are late sometimes, but near the Savanna docks, there is grumpier muttering that there was never going to be a tribute ship, that it has all been a trick.
- "We have replaced the Mystery of the Missing Children with the Mystery of the Missing Ship."
Lijuan is rather concerned about the idea that there are more kraken now than there used to be - they didn't used to plague the shipping lanes so badly, certainly - but nobody can give her more details about the reasons. Merit notes the uniforms of the Savanna sailors - there are several clans, each with their own colors, but they're fairly distinguishable from the Precinct locals.
The dock-exploring party heads back to the circus for the evening, for the opening show. Ringmaster Te has started to set up two private boxes - one for the Butterfly dignitaries and one for the Savanna dignitaries. There is some question as to whether or not the Butterfly box is actually needed, but Wei Han advises that they both be set up - it would not do to look like they knew that the Butterfly ship was not coming. Akimoto checks to see if Kasumi is ready to open her acrobatic act rolling for 11s. She's game.
Merit wonders whether the party can do anything from here about the blockade. They're definitely having trouble with supplies, as the rumors in the Port of Auspicious Voyage had indicated. Perhaps if the locals could be riled up more - if the Savanna soldiers could be encouraged to cause more trouble. Or perhaps they could arrange to forge some bills of lading, and get the Savanna ships loaded up with the wrong supplies. Zhi-Hao suggests that the Savanna box be given extra beer - perhaps if they get drunk and rowdy, they will cause trouble not for the circus, but for the locals on their way back to their ships.
Takanata points out Ando, in the audience. Merit grumbles that it is unacceptable for the Imperial bureaucracy to be giving their stamp of approval to this transaction. Takanata notes that Ando thinks the circus stole the tribute ship. That is one straw too many for Merit, who cracks.
- "Yes. Our elephants swam out to sea. And they seem like kraken, with their snouts...!"
The Savanna's boxed section is very full of clansmen. Ando sits in the box for "guests of the Ringmaster", and Takanata sits by himself in the box reserved for the Butterfly dignitaries. He finds that it is difficult to get any tea, since all the servers are making extra trips to deliver extra high-proof beer to the Savanna box.
Lijuan does her trick-shooting act, against kraken targets, and Kasumi manages to get a single 11 on her acrobatics performance. There is someone in the audience who particularly appreciates it and claps loudly, but for the most part the audience is only mildly impressed. Min Su and her Monkeys of Distraction close out the show - a messenger arrives in the confusion, but is not noticed by anyone but Merit, who, undeterred by monkeys, manages to intercept the messenger and get the information: that the tribute ship has arrived.
The party starts to dash for the docks, on the theory that if something is going to happen, it will be happening now, and that they can get there faster than the now-drunk Savanna clansmen. Merit waves Ando over, to let him know that the ship has arrived and invite them to join the group to see what is happening. Ando is more convinced than ever that the party is in on whatever the plot is, and comes along.
The Butterfly Prince
Once at the docks, the Fair Seas is obvious - one of the largest Butterfly vessels, but its midmast is broken, probably snapped off by a kraken. People with particular heraldic (or Butterfly Court) skill note that above the Butterfly Kingdom flag is flying Ti Jun's personal standard. Takanata and Zhi-Hao can easily get permission for themselves and their party to come aboard; Ando is introduced as an Imperial Customs agent.
Everyone is shown into a cabin where Ti Jun is seated. Ando is presented to the prince, who is most impressed at the efficiency of the Imperial machinery, given that the ship has only just arrived.
- "We do try to stay on top of things, your Highness." -Ando
Ti Jun asks if Ando would like to inspect the "merchandise". Ando demurs: he is not the Chief Inspector, he is just providing logistical support for the Chief Inspector. He will be happy to tell the Chief Inspector that everything is ready for the inspection... Takanata suggests that they meet again in the morning. Ti Jun agrees: they will meet tomorrow at the hour before noon, and commence with this charade. Ando bows himself out.
Ti Jun seems very cross with the whole matter, and, hoping for good news, asks if the party is on their way back from their mission. No, they are still on their way there. There was this Kraken, you see...
- "We shall both proceed with our ill-conceived missions and pray that they will turn out well." -Ti Jun
The group asks about Ti Jun's "ill-conceived mission" - that would be paying tribute to the Savanna clansmen "to rectify any wrong that may have caused this misunderstanding." He nearly spits out the last words, and notes that there has been little discussion of what the Savanna's actual grudge is.
- "The most insulting thing we've done so far is surrender when they attempted to invade us."
Ti Jun is pretty sure that it was the Savanna's intention to invade, though the blockade is sufficient trouble. Merit notes that he thinks the blockade is fairly fragile, due to supplies, logistics, and kraken. Ti Jun thinks it didn't look so fragile from inside, but the party does think that Ti Wren has been operating with insufficient information.
Ti Jun shows the group the tribute: there is a large pile of tael and li, and three Great Treasures, each in its own locked cabin.
- Pearl Lion: A stylized lion, somehow shaped from a single pearl the size of a fist, with no signs of having been carved.
- Peacock Crown: An incredibly delicate tiara of silver and platinum, set with diamonds and opal, and inlaid with tiny shards of colored gemstones.
- Precious Bonsai: At first glance, this appears to be a small bonsai tree. With a closer look, it is clear that each leaf is jade, strung on hairlike silver wires to mimic a real tree. The trunk is of ebony. (Every year, the sculpture is adjusted ever so slightly, as the "tree" grows.)
- "Her Majesty has negotiated an end to the blockade with the transfer of these items. If you can call it negotiation." -Ti Jun
Merit does his best to convince the prince that the blockade is going to fall apart - or perhaps get the Savanna to bankrupt itself - shortly, and he becomes even more unhappy about his mother's plan. If the Savanna agrees to take the tribute in front of the Imperial inspectors, then they will be held to ending the blockade by the Empire, or have to go to war against the Dragon Army. But, Merit points out, the Dragon Army has all headed north, so what will they be able to do? Ti Jun simmers some more.
Ti Jun notes that they seem kind of friendly with Ando - have they gotten anything useful from him? Merit says he's a spy for the Imperials. Ti Jun says yes, he knows that. Merit clarifies: he means a spy spy.
Wei Han checks out the security for the treasures. Each cabin has its own key, but there aren't as many guards as Wei Han would like. Ti Jun says that the crew and guards are securing the ship after the journey, but they'll be on duty after that. Lijuan offers to stay on board and guard; Ti Jun demurs, as he is sure that Master Takanata has things that he must need her to do. She decides to wait and watch on the docks.
Kasumi realizes that all this asking for permission is no good, and she and Min Feng decide to hide on the ship.
- "I am the Butterfly Court's ninja! I don't need permission to guard its treasures! And when I ask permission, they say no." -Kasumi
Merit (followed by Wei Han, who has decided that Merit is the nearest thing to Cai Wen to guard) finds an old buddy to talk to about the blockade. The buddy confirms that it's a losing proposition for the Savanna, costing them more than they expected. This is about what the people in the Arcade were saying, but the difference is - if the Arcade was running the blockade, they would stop if it was unprofitable. The Savanna is more honor-bound to not quit unless something happens. The tribute will let them go home and claim that honor was satisfied.
Min Feng, who has a trick for getting through locked doors, hides under the bed in the room with the pearl lion (though not very well), while Kasumi lurks around in the hallways. Min Feng eventually hears a noise in the room next door, and runs out, shouting that "there's an intruder in the peacock room!" Kasumi and the guards converge on the "peacock room", and do hear someone inside. The captain shows up with the key, and Min Feng and Kasumi try to look unobtrusive. Lijuan starts to hear shouting on board the ship.
- "I try to shoot anyone sneaky leaving the ship." -Lijuan
- "This is a recipe for disaster, but in a fun way." -Drew
Once the door is opened, the people inside the ship see that there are several intruders in the room - one has his hand on the hull, which is glowing. Someone else is passing through the glowing section of the hull out of the room, and a third person has a wall shield and is blocking entrance to the room. Min Feng and Kasumi run for the deck, so they don't see what else happens in the peacock room.
Lijuan hears a splashing in the water, and then sees a second person fall out of the side of the boat into the water. She shoots at the falling body, and then gets hit by a shuriken. Min Feng, on the deck, spots a rowboat a ways away, and several people swimming for it. Kasumi swings down into the rowboat on a rope from the ship (shouting "Ta-Daaa!" at the end). Min Feng hears what sounds like an angry mob belowdecks, shouting to kill them all.
- "This is more Pirates of the Caribbean than I expected" -Brian
Lijuan puts an arrow into the back of one of the guys in the boat, taking him down. At the end of the round, though, she decides that that was a job well done, and it is time for a nap (probably because of the poisoned shuriken she was hit with).
Kasumi grabs a pouch away from one of the thieves - it's still tied to his belt, though. Min Feng shoots another thief. Kasumi manages to cut the bag loose with her katana as the big fighter climbs into the rowboat. He frowns at her, and gives her an action - she leaps over the side of the boat. The boat starts moving at very high speed, and is quickly out of sight. Kasumi manages to keep hold of the bag without drowning, and makes it to shore.
Min Feng, still on the ship, disguises herself as a guard. There still seems to be an angry mob somewhere, but nobody can find it. Eventually, the noise stops. As she jumps over the side of the boat to join Kasumi and Lijuan, she hears the captain say "Thank the Butterfly they didn't get any of the treasures," which suggests something odd is going on.
Min Feng carries Lijuan, and the group shows up, dripping wet, at Takanata's tent.
- "Someone tried to steal a treasure."
- "Did they succeed?"
- "We don't know."
They show Takanata the recovered crown, while Min Feng goes to wake up Merit (and Wei Han awakens at the fuss). Merit declares "if I'm not sleeping, no one else is either!" and wakes up the rest of the party. He examines Lijuan, notes the little poisoned shuriken stuck in her, and gets her woken up.
- "Oh, were we supposed to take that out?" -Kasumi
Merit wants to know why Kasumi has one of the Great Treasures of the Court of Distinction.
- "I didn't steal it! I.. stole it from the people stealing it!" -Kasumi
Merit checks out the peacock crown - he thinks it's real, and priceless.
- "You could retire with that." -Mike
- "I've already retired!" -Merit
As is traditional, Kasumi checks the Sphere of Harmony to make sure that it's still there. It's in a crate labeled "Xian's Magic Props", inside a plain but wonderful box, and does not seem to have been bothered. Kasumi notes that the Sphere of Harmony is way better than these other treasures. Merit reiterates his suggestion that Mystic Mondo be asked to open the sphere up to see what is inside. Kasumi protests that it is a Great Treasure, not a mere puzzle box.
The group continues to be concerned with the sending away of more Great Treasures.
- "The queen does seem very free with the treasures" -Zhi-Hao
- "Well, she did marry into the family" -Merit
Forgeries and Real Treasures
The party heads back to the Fair Seas, arguing over who gets to carry the Peacock Crown (Merit wins the argument) and Zhi-Hao pulls rank to see the Prince. He is rather disturbed by the attempted theft, and tosses Zhi-Hao a dull grey coin with an angry face on it - has he ever seen one of these? It apparently sounds like an angry mob of some sort and was used as a distraction to keep the guards busy. But none of the treasures were actually stolen.
Merit takes that as his cue to brandish the Peacock Crown. Kasumi grumbles that that's what she was going to do, if Merit hadn't taken it away from her. Well, that is no good. Everyone heads down to the treasure rooms. Takanata thinks that the Peacock Crown that the Prince has is subtly less impressive, and Merit notes that the diamonds are fake.
- "This one misspells 'diamonds' in the description" -Charles
The Precious Bonsai is apparently also a forgery (it's a precious bosnai). The Pearl Lion appears to be real (probably because Min Feng was in the room the whole time). Lijuan has Ho sniff the forgery, but he only manages to track the trail to the hull, where the thieves magically passed through.
Merit briefs the Prince about the new information he's picked up about the blockade overextending the Savanna clans. Merit's own preference is to lure the Savanna into economic disaster, but he doesn't push Ti Jun very hard about it. It becomes clear that Ti Jun has already been advocating the "no tribute for the Savanna" plan, but that he has been vetoed by Ti Wren.
As far as the stolen artifacts go, unless the Savanna can be directly blamed for the theft, saying that the treasures have been stolen will probably not end the blockade. Merit suspects that fabricating them such that they can be seen through with only a handful of successes is not as impressive as it might be. So... it was probably meant to be an insult, that the Butterfly Kingdom deliberately sent forged treasures. Which could turn the blockade into an actual invasion. It seems a little odd that the Savanna would be running short on money but still be able to commission forgeries. On the other hand, forgeries are cheaper than real treasures. Still, it seems more likely that there's a third party trying to continue the war.
Merit and Zhi-Hao think they may recognize the thieves, as a group known as the Keepers of the Hoard, who steal impressive treasures and hide them away, against the day that the Dragon Emperor returns. They all carry a trinket from the hoard, like the coin-of-angry-mob-noises. Since the coin was left behind, it's possible they will be returning to collect it.
The group wonders, if the Savanna is looking for a pretext to abandon the blockade, whether they'll accept the fakes. Probably not if it's pointed out to them in front of everyone that they're fakes, though. The prince notes that if the party tries to recover the treasure and fails, he won't be deliberately disobeying the Queen if he doesn't give the treasure to the Savanna. However, the effort should be made. He also notes that he is in gold, in case resources are needed for the operation. Merit asks if they should risk the other mission to accomplish this one. Ti Jun thinks that delaying it slightly is acceptable; but abandoning it is not.
Takanata notes that the ritual of The Knife Returns will let them find Lijuan's attacker, since no one has healed her shuriken wound yet. They do not have a sorcerer who can perform the ritual, but perhaps one can be hired. Perhaps Yuwen Fire-Eye, who several people met during a recent party.
There is some discussion amongst the group as to whether or not they should recover the artifacts. Merit thinks that it's better that the tribute mission fail. The Queen didn't have full information when she sent the ship, and the blockade is running the Savanna out of money. And with some persuasion, they can probably get Ti Jun's permission to change the plan. On the other hand, Takanata doesn't think that it's their place to pre-empt the Queen's decision. In the end, the fact that unknown bad guys are trying to stop the tribute ship plan sways people enough that they decide it's still worth trying to get the treasure back before arguing about it again.
As things stand, the Imperial inspectors are going to come and examine everything tomorrrow morning. A delay is likely to be necessary; Ti Jun suggests that it would be better if the delay come from the Imperial end rather than the Butterfly end, and perhaps the party's friend Ando can arrange that? Merit sends Ando a note, saying that "The entire transaction will go much more smoothly if there are some procedural delays".
The party borrows a ship's boat, and heads off to Fire-eye's estate. Takanata calls upon his reputation in order to have the servants show them in and awake their mistress at such a ridiculous hour (which Takanata apologizes for). She's heard of the tribute ship, as several of her associates have been making pests of themselves trying to be put on the group which will be evaluating the treasure, so that they can see it. Takanata explains that some few of the treasures have been stolen, and asks if she might assist in tracking down an attacker who was so careless as to leave a weapon. She is also familiar with the Knife Returns ritual, and is happy to perform this service at her usual rates as a favor to Takanata (rather than the "you woke me up in the middle of the night with an emergency" rates).
The ritual involves Zhi-Hao throwing the shuriken at Lijuan at the beginning, and then someone being sliced by the shuriken at the end, and taking a lot of damage.
- "I'll take it. That's what I do." -Wei-Han
- "That's what I do too, because I haven't figured out how to dodge." -Lijuan
After the enchantment, the shuriken floats in a saucer, with the bloody point pointing, presumably, towards the person who originally threw it. Off the group rows, taking six of the Prince's guardsmen for muscle and to help row. As it turns out, the party's boat and the thieves' boat run into each other in a canal, each tracking towards the other (the thieves appear to be tracking towards the coin, which Zhi-Hao has).
Though the party doesn't find all of the following out, we include for completeness:
- Whisper: the particularly stealthy thief, who carries the Coins of Distraction, and is the target of the Knife Returns spell
- Wing: the big defensive fighter, who carries the Rabbit's Foot
- Scyne: the wood sorcerer, who carries the Wooden Comb
- Trivance: the jack of all trades, who carries the Ebony Lockpicks
A battle ensues, complicated by the current in the canal sloshing back and forth and moving the boats around. Wei Han is the first to charge the other boat, and discovers Scyne's trick of making the wood of the boat temporarily intangible long enough for him to fall in the canal. His armor is not helpful at this point, but he manages to clamber back onto shore. Trivance starts trying to switch the boat-goes-very-fast device from one side of the boat to the other.
Merit points his crossbow at Trivance, and orders him to "Leave the propulsion thing alone and just sit tight". Wing takes up a defensive stance, putting his wall shield in between Trivance and Merit. Lijuan tries to shoot Trivance, but hits Wing. Scyne does something mysterious, causing Lijuan's arrows to glow.
Whisper tries to sneak from the thieves' boat to the party's boat, but unfortunately for him, the shuriken reveals his position. Merit points the crossbow at him, and surprises him into revealing himself, whereupon he is grabbed by several of the Prince's guards.
Zhi-Hao and Kasumi leap for the enemy boat ("Ta-Daa!"), and, after several rounds of trading actions, discover the joy of falling into the canal. Zhi-Hao is probably lucky that he hasn't learned how to wear armor yet. Since Wing has been distracted by fighting Zhi-Hao and Kasumi, Merit gets to point his crossbow at Trivance again. Of course, since he's rolling his Mind instead of his Body, he can't actually fire it, but he does make the crossbow look pretty scary.
Trivance nearly gets his "outboard motor" connected, but then Min Feng manages to shoot it and breaks a strap, so the boat is no longer quite ready to take off at high speed. Wei Han leaps back into the boat, and chops Scyne.
- "Grab Trivance's nose! His is the nose that has to go!" -Merit to Kasumi
Kasumi manages to grab Trivance's nose before being dropped out of the boat again, as Wei Han dives for cover and avoids falling into the water. Merit gives the Prince's soldiers a grappling hook, and one of them manages to snag the thieves' boat before Wing grabs the hook. The soldier tries to pull him into the water, but he just lets go.
Takanata, in a display of bravado, jumps from one boat into the other. The continued pummeling of the party fighters takes Scyne down, and Trivance doesn't get his motor connected before Wei Han takes him down as well. Wing grabs the downed Trivance and runs; his Rabbit's Foot lets him go fast enough that he manages to escape, but Whisper and Scyne are taken captive.
The remaining thieves are looted - this turns up the other fake treasures, the one remaining real one (the Precious Bonsai), and the Coins of Distraction and the Wooden Comb, which creates a magical connection between the holder and the person whose hair is in the comb. Takanata fiddles with it and notes that he has a magical connection to Wing - he could probably read his I Ching from here. (That turns out to be what let Scyne pass off keeping-the-bulkhead-permeable to Wing so that Wing could be the last one to exit the Fair Seas.)
Now that the party has all six of the treasures (real and fake), they contemplate letting the customs agents and sages examine the real treasures, and then swapping them for the fakes, so the Savanna gets the forgeries. The thieves only have the correct three treasures, which is suspicious - how did they know which ones?
Merit interrogates Whisper, taking a tack of "it sounds like there is external pressure being applied, which is an insult to your group." Whisper offers that if they let him and Scyne go, they will "leave the city, trouble you no more, and tell you everything we know about this affair before we go." At Lijuan's behest, Merit adds "We also ask you to repent your evil ways," though both Merit and Whisper roll their eyes a bit at this. Whisper agrees that they will perform no more evil acts in the city.
Merit sulks that if they keep the thieves' loot, the Keepers will probably come after them again. He suggests to Whisper that they get to hold onto the two magic items for a month, and then return them. Whisper is not immediately willing to agree to this; Wei Han and Zhi-Hao suggest that they could kill him instead, but Merit keeps negotiating, since he's interested in the information and not just the loot. Whisper agrees that it is appropriate for Merit to keep his item (the bag of coins) for a month, since he is the one who failed. The party also gets to keep the "outboard motor".
Whisper says that a passenger from the Butterfly Kingdom came on "the boat that cannot be stopped", and arranged for the theft and replacement, with duplicates of a carefully calibrated quality. It is not normally their way to replace the items with forgeries, but it was too good to pass up. Their reward was that they would keep the three items they stole. Their contact said that he was acting on behalf of Tokai Wanakaru, but this was in itself deemed rather suspicious - most people who hire thieves do not take the trouble to mention who they are working on behalf of, but, nevertheless, this is who they officially consider themselves to be working for. When they describe the passenger, they mention someone with a scar, that Takanata recognizes as sounding like a servant in the Butterfly palace.
Whisper is willing to be convinced that "this is what happens when they depart from their true path" (that is, just stealing things flat out). Merit wonders whether they ever take side commissions that are unrelated to their mission in keeping the Hoard? Whisper admits that they are sometimes paid to steal things - for example, when rivals are trying to ruin each other - but they do not steal things for other people.
Merit tries to appraise the forgeries - how much are they really worth? Well, "worth" is a tricky term for forgeries. They probably cost about a dozen li to create, such that one could intend to sell then for many tael as the real things. One might otherwise sell them as "a replica" for several li.
The party lets Whisper head off with Scyne, and heads back to see the Prince, as morning dawns. Ti Jun reports that the Imperial contingent has insisted that all the original forms be followed (apparently thanks to Ando). Since yesterday's plan was that everyone go to the circus on the night before the examination, everyone will darned well have to go to the circus on the night before the examination. So, circus tonight, and examination tomorrow.
Merit briefs Ti Jun, with the disturbing news that the thieves were part of the group known as the Keepers of the Hoard, and that they knew exactly which treasures were on board the ship. Merit describes the servant with a scar, who came across on the "fog ship". Ti Jun recognizes the man as one of his household servants, and declares that he will be executed for treason upon his return. Merit politely suggests that maybe the servant should be interrogated first, and used as a counterspy, or something more useful. Also, the thief said that he had been given the name of Tokai Wanakaru. Ti Jun is appalled, and looks at Takanata. Everyone explains that that was unlikely to be true, though Merit is beginning to wonder whether this is all a plot-within-a-plot by someone in the Butterfly Court after all.
So. What should actually be done with the treasures? Ti Jun, after some pondering, notes that "those who are clearly our enemies want the plan to fail," which somewhat supports the idea that the tribute should be allowed to go through. But... giving away the treasures! Argh!
Takanata suggests that he throw the I Ching for Ti Jun. The first few of the falling reeds indicate that the prince's greatest enemy is temptation, and that he must gird himself against it, for if he falls, he will be... and then the boat lurches and all the remaining reeds fall to the floor unread. Takanata suspects that someone else's proof against scrying is interfering, but finds the whole thing very disturbing. He explains to Ti Jun that the I Ching thinks that he should resist temptation in this matter, and Ti Jun sighs and gives in.
- "I suppose in the end, one cannot go wrong following the wishes of one's liege." -Ti Jun
The party keeps the three forgeries, just in case. Merit also briefs the Prince about the coinage ritual. He says he will give the notes to Master Bai. Zhi-Hao notes in passing that the prince appears to be cutting the party more social slack than he normally does to people of their class.
That day is set aside for Lunch and Nap, as everyone has been up all night chasing thieves. At that night's circus performance, Merit continues to skew the beer heading for the Savanna box, though the Butterfly Kingdom box is not neglected as shamefully as the previous night. There are some rumors about drunk clansmen having been rowdy, but nothing terrible happened.
In the Kasumi / Wei Han act, Wei Han throws a little short, but Kasumi does get the 12 necessary to catch the wire. Akimoto is impressed, and tells her that if she buys two more levels of acrobatics, he will be willing to take her on as an actual student.
Ando swings by to chat with Merit and Takanata. He trusts that there will be no difficulties this time, if things go off as scheduled? Takanata admits that it was unfortunate that things got delayed, but things should be in order now.
The party wonders whether it might be possible to trade the information they've learned about the Savanna/Butterfly war to Ando, in return for getting him to make things right with the Empire about the circus having crossed the Wall. It is not clear that Ando has the ability to just make things right with the Empire, and doing so might involve taking the Bloodspear away from Shen-Ji, if that's what is making them worried. Or maybe it has to do with being cut off from the Empire's chi - but that's not something they can fix. Merit arranges to meet Ando the next day for lunch and a beer.
That night, the party guards the treasures, but nothing interesting happens.
Merit trades the information about the thefts, for Ando's information about the Alchemist.
The Master of the Imperial Treasury is an alchemist - you have to be an alchemist to deal with the tael. Merit wonders if he will come after the party for their role in the Arcade ritual. Ando doesn't know about his having actual forces in that way. He also doesn't know what the magic is being used for, but says that the Empire is tapping the energy of the tael, as far as he knows, everywhere in the Twelve Kingdoms, except the Hon'eth Arcade (now) and the Butterfly Kingdom. Merit tries to suggest that Ando not report all this to the Master of the Imperial Treasury. Ando notes that he is not a direct minion of the Imperial Treasury, but they are in the same branch of Chancellory, so he can't really guarantee that his report won't be seen, but he'll consider how much circumspection in his report is appropriate. Ando buys the beer, which Merit considers a victory.
The inspection takes place - the Imperial contingent is the Chief Inspector and Ando, and there are a number of sages from the Precincts. The treasure is deemed acceptable Thus Ending All Dispute. Everyone but the Savanna clansmen gets off the boat, taking their flags with them, and a Savanna flag is run up the mast. The Savanna clansmen agree that the blockade is ended, though it may take up to a week to notify all the ships.
Kasumi wonders how Ti Jun is getting home, since the Fair Seas is no longer a Butterfly ship. That provokes the captain to mutter darkly to his crew, overheard by Min Feng - he is definitely worried about the Prince's security, since he wasn't supposed to be on the boat. He just came down to the dock moments before they set sail, and took charge, and the captain could not really gainsay him.
Takanata throws the I Ching once more, to try to discern the connections of various plot threads:
- Her Majesty, Ti Wren, sent three of the Treasures of the Butterfly Kingdom
with the Princeto the Illuminated Precincts
- She told the Prince
to give them to the Savannato arrange the end of the Blockade. "You tap the crossed-out bit a few times, unsure"
- A palace servant arrived on the fog-bound ship from the Butterfly Kingdom before the Prince's ship to arrange the theft & replacement of the Treasures.
- The replacement would probably have sparked the blockade into a war.
- The Servant acted without the knowledge of the Queen.
The fog-bound ship is acting at the direction of the Shadowed Isle.
Zhi-Hao arranges a weapons training session with the Prince, and manages to convince him to reimburse the cost of his armor.
- Cai Wen suggests a trip to Shuyan, Master Zhou, and Xiao Fa. They (plus Wei Han) travel to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival and visit the Hidden Orchid.
- While in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, Master Zhou visits Namura Hayato.
- While in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, Master Zhou and Wei Han visit a Dragon Army encampment.
- Zhi-Hao arranges for an introduction to Prince Ti Jun for Cai Wen.
- Cai Wen suggests Zhi-Hao and Ti Jun wander around the city, followed by himself, Wei Han, Lijuan, and Min Feng to see who says what.
- Wei Han goes to talk to Yanyu.
- Takanata visits the Exalted Library and asks about their prices. He spends several days inside in study.
- Cai Wen helps some apprentices develop a small ritual: The Unfortunate Letter
- Xiao Fa figures out how herbalism plus acupuncture may be able to heal the stats eaten by the yumekui, and starts healing people.
- Lijuan chats with the local urchins, including some entreprenurial crayfish-fishers.
- Cai Wen, advised by Merit and accompanied by Wei Han, go gambling. They don't make much of a profit, but do meet a woman named Willow, who picks up games very quickly and doesn't seem to be playing for the money.
Fog Ship Trip
- Cai Wen runs into Kiri in town - she is apparently serving on the Fog Ship That Cannot Be Stopped (named the Moon's First Daughter), and offers a bargain price for a trip to the Butterfly Kingdom. Cai Wen, Wei Han, Yoshi, Lijuan, Shuyan, Xiao Fa, Master Zhou, Anto, Min Feng, Merit, and Xian take a round trip. Lijuan does manage to convince Kiri to give her a short tour of the ship.
- Yoshi, Cai Wen, Wei Han, Min Feng, Master Zhou, Lijuan, and Merit have an audience with Ti Wren.
- Shuyan and Master Zhou visit Madam Si-Sen.
- Anto and Master Zhou visit Master Koji.
- Xiao Fa and Master Zhou visit Master Kwan.