|"He who knows he is a fool is not the biggest fool; He who knows he is confused is not in the worst confusion."|| The run takes place late in the Month of the Dog in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the Arcade and the Plains of Honor.
The party, recovered from being dead (except for Shen-Ji, who is still somewhat burned-looking and wearing a hooded robe), is enjoying a breather at Tahiti. The butler brings tea and small flat cakes, and Takanata draws some art:
Huh. This seems a little... obvious... for most of Takanata's work. People peer at it more closely. Is the large non-grasss splotch of dust under Wolf a coyote footprint? Why is Horse chasing Wolf and not the other way around? Why does Wolf look more enthusiastic? Is it Horse in a Wolf pose and Wolf in a Horse pose ?
The discussion is interrupted by the arrival of a messenger for Lord Takanata. The young man, dressed in overblown frippery, drops to his knees in a deep bow.
- "Oh great one, I have been sent as a messenger from the Great Mistress of Making Things (he coughs). I give unto you: this."
The messenger offers Takanata a fine coin purse, filled with something jingling.
- "The great mistress of making many things (he hiccups) says this should be useful today."
- "Very good." -Takanata
People wonder to each other who this mistress might be - by the title, Master Zhou thinks it might be Pai the Smith, but people don't think this seems like a Pai-flavored messenger at all. It might be a messenger from Ochi pretending to be from Pai... but why?
The messenger begins to bow his way out, until Xian asks if there is a provision for a return message. Of course!
- "And what, may we ask, is your name?" -Master Zhou
- "I am but a humble deliverer."
Xian examines the messenger's dress more closely - is he wearing particular livery, or is he just an enormous fop? It's rather peculiar - he has all the tassels and accents that one might wear on top of a uniform, but without the actual uniform.
Takanata looks in the pouch - it holds a dozen coins, obviously extremely valuable coins and hand-crafted.
- "Let her know I hope to call on her soon." -Takanata
- "Indeed! I shall carry this message forth and deliver it. None shall stop me, unless they try fairly hard, well, I'm actually kind of fragile."
Takanata considers the pattern of the messenger: he is Fox-spected, with a concept of "Actor". His best skill is Improv, and he has a shtick in grace under pressure.
The messenger bows his way out and escapes, and people turn to the art again. Cai Wen thinks he has found an animal face hidden in the lower right:
People start calling out other potentially suspicious or hidden possibilities.
Interpret Omens confirms that the face is definitely a hidden animal. How many spirits are hidden in the picture? No less than three.
Takanata speculates that he can only identify one per six successes, but that is clearly wrong.
There may not be anything else to extract from the art - trying to find more hidden animals seems frustrating, since they are so hard to see - so perhaps it is time to talk to Mystique about the actual switcheroo.
The assignment originally given to Xian:
- Switch a wolf statue in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival with a horse statue in Jabon.
- Switch a painting of a horse in the Port of Auspicious Voyage with a painting of a wolf in Gangmul.
- Switch the Thousand Li Horse and the most recent winner of the Plains of Honor Horse Race.
- Switch Eto the Wolf (in the Plains) and Snow Wolf (currently in the Port of Propitious Voyage).
- Restable Li Merit’s horse to a stable in Myeong.
- Rehome Lord Sonwu’s wolf to the Palace of Benevolent Oversight.
Missions 1, 2, and 5 are done, and Takanata has an idea for 4 involving hiring Eto as a trainer for the House of Exuberant Interference, and Snow Wolf for a post in the plains.
Cai Wen meets Mystique for lunch, and brings her present: an abacus that Cai Wen can't get to work, but he thinks can calculate things about a plan to see if it adds up. She thinks it is awesome. Then she heads back to Tahiti with Cai Wen to discuss the Horse/Wolf plan.
When the group tries to switch Eto the Wolf and Snow Wolf, Takanata wants to hire them both for jobs, and throw karma into the mix to sway them to take the jobs. Xian thinks it would be extra-confounding to hire them for the wrong jobs first, and then switch them. Takanata thinks this is just making it harder for no point. Can Mystique rule on the question? She agrees that it would be more switchy, which is to the good, but agrees that it is also substantially harder, and it is important to not make the task un-doable.
Maybe Shuyan should lure Snow Wolf? Or Takanata disguised as Shuyan! Takanata looks even more dubious at this extension to the plan.
Even Xian is Confounded Sometimes
Before spending all the time thinking about the people swap, perhaps more brainstorming can be done about the other switcharoos, such as the horse swap. The winner of the most recent Plains of Honor horse race was a horse put forth by the Hwangbo clan. Neither this winner nor the first year's winner have been sold yet, so there is not a precise valuation for them, but probably not all the way up to a thousand li. However, they do have much higher stud fees than other horses.
Mystique tracks down Pho as an expert in the horse gossip of the Plains. He says that the most recent winner - most people believe that he's a three-adjective horse (two in speed and one in endurance) but he actually has another adjective. Pho blushes, and Xian suggests "fecund" as a possibility. On the other hand, the thousand-li horse doesn't have adjectives. "Thousand-li" is not an adjective - the whole phrase is a single-concept noun.
(Mystique notes that the horse would have been overpriced at 980 li, but once it hit a thousand, it had its own gravity).
Much discussion later, a plan is cobbled together: to use Speedy plus an extra-fecund horse, to offer the House of Quiet Concordance an instant set of cavalry, while a set of wolves (maybe including the House Sonwu wolf) goes in the other direction? What exactly does Master Tranh want to be doing, strategically? He may not be psyched to have people say "Okay, your Mil is a 2 rather than 1 so you should roll it now!" but has been very interested in rolling Chi when it benefits the Arcade in the war.
Master Zhou hates to suggest it, but maybe Meilin could help? (He finds himself wondering if he wants to have already spoken to her, and in fact, he has done so).
- "Thanks for that, it's all taken care of. It's all arranged the way you wanted it." -Meilin
- "We don't know what that is, right?" -Xian
- "But don't tell me!" -Meilin
- "Before you run off, does anyone know what is all set? " - Cai Wen
- "Presumably the thing we were using Meilin for." -Takanata
Xian is quite distressed - this seems to be agreeing to an invisible pig in a nonexistent poke - but Meilin really doesn't think she should say.
- "But, let me know what you need because it's paid for." -Meilin
- "Can you tell me what was paid for it?"
- " A coin. "
- "Check the purse to see if there are still twelve." -Xian
- "NOT YET!" -Takanata
- "I don't understand what the rules are here!" -Xian
- "She has time loops and "don't look behind the curtain!"" -Takanata
Since the party has seen the Thousand Li Horse recently, it can't have been swapped a while ago. So, the suggestion is that an agreement has been made to swap the Thousand Li Horse for the racehorse plus a year of its foals (at Shen-Ji's horse farm in the Plains), enabling the House of Quiet Concordance to field a cavalry unit. In return for this, the House of Quiet Concordance will help fix Shen-Ji's corruption.
Cai Wen asks Mystique if someone needs to help make the negotiation rolls. Mystique wonders if they are confident that Meilin can make these rolls herself. Hmm, probably not. Does the party have any Oblivion they can use? Or a favor from Li the Wanderer? Or the treasure of the ages to load Meilin down with to let her spend as needed?
In the end, Xian agrees to go with Mystique and Meilin, to whammy herself with karma-powered Inspiration, and put all her memories into a dream to send to herself later. They can also check in with Little Sister in the past, who will no doubt be pleased to pull a coup over Shen-Ji.
- "I'm willing to pay her 5-10 tael to stop talking about this any more."
- "DON'T LOOK AT THE SCOREBOARD for the coins! I don't want them named and numbered because then I can generate another one at the end. " -Takanata
Should Meilin bring any coins? She says that Master Zhou already paid her something good enough to get her to help, though she doesn't know what it was yet. Master Zhou makes sure to remember to pay her with a magic pouch coin later.
Xian goes off, then comes back looking refreshed (as if she has had a nice nap and a nice dream) and dressed differently, and the exchange will have been once set up between the Thousand Li Horse and the Race Winner.
The meeting is arranged: Master Tranh has brought the Thousand Li Horse, Hwangbo representatives have brought the race horse, and Little Sister, looking smug, has brought a bunch of young horses. Master Tranh says he will consult with Shen-Ji at his convenience.
Wolf for Wolf
Next plot, and hopefully a more comprehensible one: moving the Sonwu wolf to the House of Benevolent Oversight. (Cai Wen wonders if they can just give it to whoever is going to become king next week, and Mystique says that this might work, but if the person they give it to doesn't become king, there will definitely be spiritual backlash. On the other hand, giving it to the King who is king now is not wrong. If there is a new king and the wolf changes hands then, that is better, but the king now is the king.)
- "What are we up to now?"
- "I'm reading this log Adina found about this stupid wolf." -Charles
- "I'm switching content on your wiki pages." -Cael
Perhaps Master Zhou should challenge Lord Sonwu for his wolf! That will probably turn into "Master Zhou fights the Hand on the Sword of All Clans", which everyone else thinks sounds fun to watch. Master Zhou notes that last time he fought the Hand on the Sword of All the Clans, they just bounced.
- "Well, do better." -Takanata
Maybe they can use Xian's Geas, or Sway Emotion, to trick the wolf into biting Master Zhou, so he can demand that it be remanded into his custody for training!
- Wolf bites Master Zhou
- Master Zhou challenges for custody of wolf
- Master Zhou fights Hand on Sword of All Clans
- "There are fewer flaws in this plan than in the previous plan, and that one appears to have worked." -Takanata
Maybe there are other ways to get the wolf, though - potentially with bonus horses! Could Master Zhou demand that Lord Sonwu take a spiffy horse, and when Lord Sonwu refuses, challenge because of the insult to his honor? That might be easier than maneuvering the wolf into a position where it can be convinced to bite Master Zhou. Speaking of spiffy horses, can Murase Minako generate a three adjective horse?
- "One of the most useful adjectives for a horse is underestimated, Er, except as a gift." -Cai Wen
Murase Minako is summoned, and allows as she might be able to provide a useful horse, if someone can teach the horse the relevant shticks. For example, she now has a Horse of Auspicious Arrival and Departure, would that work?
- "Where did you get one of those?" -Takanata
Shuyan notes that she has a whole set of Destiny shticks in Queen of the Strand. Murase is psyched to learn about those. She suggests that Shuyan teach one of the horses to be Queen of the Strand, and Takanata can maybe tweak it enough that it ends up as a Horse of Kings.
Master Zhou is very dubious that this will work. How can a horse be Queen of the Strand? And you can't teach destiny shticks! With True Teaching, he concludes:
- Murase Minako can teach horses other people's shticks! That's just wrong!
- This seems like it shouldn't work, but she's made it work in the past.
Xian points out that she is a horse, so maybe Murase Minako could teach her to be Queen of the Strand. She's from the Strand, which is points in her favor.
- "No! We already have one Queen of the Strand who isn't trying hard enough, we don't need another!" -Takanata
Murase Minaku notices that Xian is a horse, which she hadn't noticed before, and tries to get "Xian teaches me the true language of horses" put in the deal, but Xian refuses to be compelled.
Watching the horse mistress teach her horse is deeply puzzling. She has Shuyan sit in a chair, then has the horse sit in the chair, and then she scolds the horse that it didn't do it right. It looks like someone who has no idea how to teach, teaching something that can't be taught, to a creature that can't learn it - except that it seems to be doing something.
Master Zhou, watching with a frown, finally concludes that she is a descendant of the Horse Spirit, so this isn't really "teaching" at all.
With a trained horse ready to present, the group heads for the Plains of Honor. Takanata notes that since this was his gift originally, he doesn't want to be seen to be part of asking for it back as part of plan "Here is a Horse Now Give Me Your Wolf."
Xian, Master Zhou, Shen-Ji, and Shuyan go to present the horse, and between Master Zhou's reputation and a status roll, they can get an audience. .
Xian explains that they are there on a mission of great import.
- "For very complex spiritual reasons, we have need of the wolf that has become such a treasured part of your family. We know this was a valued gift, so we would not dare to ask for it without some suitable recompense, so we have identified the Horse of Kings..."
Lord Sonwu is intrigued, though less by the horse than by the assertion that the wolf is "needed for spiritual reasons". Xian agrees that it is. Deeply complex spiritual reasons. Are they worthy reasons? Indubitably. Would Master Zhou swear to this upon his honor? He would.
Xian is 32 persuasive. Lord Sonwu is unsure, given the lack of specificity of these "complex spiritual matters", but between Xian's silver tongue and Master Zhou's honor, he will accept it.
He raises a hand, and the wolf walks in. Lord Sonwu crouches beside the wolf, giving it something of a pep talk, and then sends it to go with Master Zhou, like he is sending it off to war. He should have realized before that when the wolf was presented, he was to be merely its caretaker until it was raised - now he sends it off to its destiny.
(Someone appears to have turned the melodrama up to seven. The court is sad, but salutes the departure of the brave wolf.)
- "Go forth, noble warriors, may the spirits look down on you with kindness."
- "We thank you, and the Empire thanks you." -Xian
- "Was Eto Tansho somewhere in the audience?" -Cai Wen
Now, to get the wolf to switch sides to the Arcade, maybe Ni Cheng can help. Mystique prefers to not talk to Ni Cheng, so Cai Wen says he'll stay behind too. To save time, Shen-Ji rides Xian to Ni Cheng, who can automatically find her.
Xian explains: Takanata gave a wolf to the King of the Plains. Circumstances require that we now give it to the King of the Arcade. They seek her expertise in changing the wolf's pack - what would Ni Cheng and Wolf want in order to do this?
Ni Cheng answers: three times now, recently, members of their pack have come to ask favors from Wolf, of one sort or the other, and have asked "What does Wolf want?" Three times she has not asked for what she wants, and has asked for lesser things. Favors have been done, with limitations, and piecemeal offerings. The thing she and Wolf truly want wants is alliance: when the time comes she will require their assistance to put Wolf in the Cycle.
Xian backpedals - she isn't the leader of their pack, and can't make this agreement. Ni Cheng notes that it has never been clear to her who is their leader.
- "Some packs have more fluid hierarchy..."
Xian suggests, instead - there is some talk of a support network of mutual dependence and recognition that would support any new entrants to the Cycle. Ni Cheng does not think that help after getting into the cycle is as useful. No doubt many will offer their service then.
Xian clarifies that she is offering Yanyu's service, not her own. Ni Cheng frowns, and says that Yanyu belongs to the Moon. Xian notes that Yanyu is also owned by Phoenix.. It's complicated. Ni Cheng allows that this may be the case, but does not think that Xian (who has already said that she is not the pack leader) can promise Yanyu's services in this bargain: she is offering coins that are not her own.
Xian is suddenly inspired, and rides off to find Takanata, leaving Shen-Ji behind.
- "You sold Shen-Ji?" -Takanata
- "Nope, I came back for the coin purse."
Takanata auspiciously arrives with Shen-Ji, and Shen-Ji tries to explain the stall in the negotiation.
- "It has been suggested that one of these might be an appropriate payment for what Xian has asked for." -Takanata
- "Suggested by whom?" -Ni Cheng
- "By Xian."
Takanata hands her a coin from the coin pouch - she examines it and notes that it is no small gift.
- "For this, I would do what you ask, and move the loyalty of the wolf as you need. But know that I and my Lord are becoming displeased with your unwillingness to commit beyond such solitary assistance. I have discussed it with Lady Xian and she suggested that were the decision hers, perhaps she would commit, but the leader of your pack disagrees."
Ni Cheng produces a jerky treat, and instructs Takanata to give this to the one who the wolf should be loyal to, to feed the wolf.
- "Lord Wolf is in need of allies and is not a merchant whose assistance can constantly be purchased. You should think on this before you return to me, but for now this will suffice."
- "I apologize for the displeasure we caused Lord Wolf, and I will speak with my companions." -Takanata
Takanata gives her a second coin, and auspiciously arrives back with Cai Wen, and sends Xian back to fetch Shen-Ji.
Takanata notes to the others that they are already taking all the political fallout from being in their camp without being their allies.
So... wolf and jerky treat! Should they present the wolf to the Lord of Benevolent Oversight, or the Prince? Probably the King is better than the Prince. What sort of politics might be involved? The House of Beneficent Travel hates wolves, and everyone is nervous about werewolves, but the main thing is that having a wolf stand next to you in a war with beastmasters is bad from a security perspective.
Try Atha Lon
The party heads to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival to see about delivering the wolf. There seems to be a large street fair celebration of some sort - asking around determines that it is the end of the Try Atha Lon, sponsored by the House of Beneficent Travel.
Cai Wen manages to get a quick audience with the Lord of Benevolent Oversight, who seems particularly overdressed.
- "Be fast, Lord Zhu, we don't have much time."
- " I have a pet wolf, previously owned by the King of the Plains of Honor, which I wish to make loyal to you."
- "Is there a reason we're doing this now?"
- "There is a debt I am attempting to repay."
The king narrows his eyes, finding this all a little odd, but decides that Cai Wen has earned his trust for the moment. He tells Cai Wen to bring the wolf to the docks, and they can do it there. Cai Wen gives him the jerky, and asks what the occasion is. He says that he will need to be there for the finish of the Try Atha Lon. Cai Wen looks puzzled, and the King looks concerned. Why does Cai Wen not know what is going on? Lady Jin assured him that she had the full confidence of the House of Exuberant Interference.
Cai Wen hurries to say that she does, but he was off doing other things and he hasn't been caught up yet.
Everyone rushes to the docks, where there is a pressing crowd and two barges of VIPs. One of the barges is all women, including Lady Jin, Delilah, and some of Mistress Cho's students, while the King is on the other barge with some other nobles. Takanata checks out Lady Jin with Eyes of the I Ching - she seems to be continuing to recover spiritually, and has no obvious beastmaster effects on her. Delilah doesn't show up as an enemy to Master Zhou, but her aspect is Radiance and is hard to look at. The deepest Connection between Lady Jin and one of Mistress Cho's geisha students is that Lady Jin is in effect the student's babysitter.
Shuyan joins Lady Jin, who looks alarmed - is there an emergency?
- "No, I'm just here for this delightful event. " -Shuyan
- "Oh, that's not good." -Lady Jin
- "I'm sure everything will just be lovely." -Shuyan
Lady Jin starts to panic, but Shuyan manages to calm her down.
People with 20+ status can join the King's barge, with Cai Wen and the wolf already there. Takanata doesn't have an opinion on which barge he is on, but thinks everyone should be on a barge soon.
Then, a roar goes up, as four dragon boats appear in the final stretch of their race, paddling as fast as possible to the space between the barges. Takanata notes a strange glow over boat number 3, and Master Zhou thinks the coxswain in boat 3 is an enemy. The glow is much more north-flavored than light-flavored, but there is some of both.
Takanata turns the foot of the coxswain in boat 3, so it starts falling behind, and Master Zhou shouts that Boat 3 has enemies in it. Shen-Ji runs to shore and summons a flying disc, while Master Zhou jumps in and swims for boat 3, punching holes in its side.
Delilah glares at the King - her right hand is down by her side, but it begins to twist as if she is casting.
Cai Wen thinks about potential hidden opportunities. Possibly they could cause Delilah to be blamed by the Northerners for thwarting them?
The second dragon boat crashes into the swimming Master Zhou, as the third dragon boat goes to pieces. Boat 4 comes from behind to pull into the lead.
Shuyan grabs Delilah to prevent her from doing anything, and Delilah rounds on her.
- "How can you be in favor of this? Your so-called king is going to enslave that poor animal!" -Delilah
- "There are spiritual matters you don't understand." -Shuyan
As Boat 3 sinks, the glowy energy starts to fade, washed away by the water. Takanata notes that the connection between the beastmastered coxswain and the King is that they are both from the same house.
Shen-Ji determines that Boat 3 was the focus of a giant battle magic ritual, but it is done now. The King looks to Cai Wen for an explanation.
- "Some sort of northern interference, I think we've contained it." -Cai Wen
Boat 2 starts pulling the drowning people from Boat 3 from the water, to hold on to the side of their boat, and Master Zhou grabs the drowning boat 3 coxswain.
The boats are finally all identified:
- Boat 1: House of Ornamental Purity
- Boat 2: House of Beneficent Travel
- Boat 3: House of Benevolent Oversight
- Boat 4: House of Judicious Increase
Takanata hits the beastmastered coxswain with Vision of the Past, and sees him in a northern prisoner camp. Everyone in one of the round huts kneels before the Beastmaster of Men.
Boat 4 manages to maintain its lead over Boat 1, and is victorious at the end of the race. The House of Judicious Increase is intrigued - this is the first time that Exuberant Interference has actually helped them in a plot.
Takanata tells the King that Northerners have attempted to turn the race into a threat against the kingdom. The threat is averted now, but the party would like to interrogate the captain of the boat. The King says that they will be permitted to assist with the interrogation, and feeds the wolf the jerky treat.
- "Nooooo!" -Delilah
Other than Delilah, morale in the city has improved due to the celebration.
The party proceeds to the interrogation, where Shen-ji dispels the beastmaster effect. The King's cousin shudders in relief, and explains. He was captured, and then beastmastered. He was instructed to come home with a war wound, after which he went back to his job and awaited orders. Then, he was told that it was absolutely imperative that his boat win this race, and a couple of Northern shamen showed up to bless the boat. As far as he knows, Delilah wasn't involved at all.
Takanata assures the King that his cousin's loyalty is as it was before he was beastmastered, and the guy is sent off to get some rest, under guard.
Cai Wen checks the scoreboard:
|Judicious Increase||+ 5|
|Ornamental Purity||+ 3|
|Beneficent Travel||0 + 1*|
|Benevolent Oversight||0 - 2*|
|Revolution points||3 of 10|
The group swings by where the boats launched, and Takanata does Echoes of the Past. He sees the HBO cousin stop by their boat, look around, and whistle. Some shamans with skull-staves come out of the trees, and tell him that it is important that this boat wins - the master demands it. The HBO guy vows that his heart belongs to the master, and then leaves. After the shamans leave, then Delilah shows up, looks around, and taps the HBO boat, remarking to herself that it should be a good one. Then she also leaves.
The oogly-boogers conclude that there would have been some larger ritual with sacrifices, but that it didn't happen here.
Symbolically, the king's boat would win the race, and then...something would happen, That would match the armies going north and fighting well, and then... something would happen.
It seems very likely that something exciting would have happened when the boat struck the shore, but that never took place. The whole thing has a flavor of He Who Walks Behind.
Cai Wen thinks about the score, especially the revolution ponts. One of the points was likely for the mayhem at the end, and two were scored earlier - and the rest of the 7 points were not picked up because Lady Jin sat on Delilah.
It seems likely that Delilah is planning to show up at the Treaty of Houses with some sort of populist movement in her pocket.
Takanata writes a note.
The group checks in again with Lady Jin. She is on the mend, especially after Xiao Fa (she refers to him as Lord Lo) visited her. She admits that the race was kind of madness, but she was working on getting credit for Beneficent Travel improving the morale for the city.Xian is puzzled. Rolling a 5 is "Help Lady Jin"? That doesn't seem fair. Technically, it's "help Beneficent Travel" which is why she has power to roll a 5 on demand. It’s her plot!