Find the Pattern: I see if checking distance and direction to Horse gives me anything meaningful.
- In the Tahiti stables.
I will try and follow that and see if I wind up at Li Merit's horse, or Xian, or if it wavers between the two. :-)
- You go to Li Merit's horse.
Well, since I am there, I will ask to speak with the boss.
- "Hey! Long time no chat!"
Takanata bows politely.
"Master Horse - I have been doing some investigation into Coyote, and what he wants to achieve here in the Empire. That investigation suggests you are one of the Spirits more entangled with him at present. I was curious if you are free to discuss those entanglements, as part of an appropriate bargain."
- "Entangled, you say?
- There is not much for which I am bound to not discuss, and I'm always happy to bargain, but I'm not sure we're using the same working definitions here."
Takanata looks thoughtful for a moment.
"Perhaps that overstates. One of the major portions of my investigations was a divination of the relations between Coyote and the various Great Spirits and Great Spirit candidates. You were one of those described as '"Using Coyote" except also "Being Used by Coyote". Those two are more intrinsically linked than they normally would be.' 'Entangled' may imply a stronger version of such a relationship than is actually present, however."
"Certainly, a description of what deals you have made with him is what I am looking for."
- "And what do you offer?"
"The first offer that comes to mind is the results of my divinations with regard to the other Great Spirits and Candidates."
- "Well, I can't say you aren't offering me things you think are valuable, but I'm not as much a collector of esoteric information as you are. What would you say to helping Xian with one of her switcheroos?"
Takanata raises an eyebrow at that first clause in a way which perfectly expresses both "I don't think *I* have ever tried to deal with you unfairly" and "but I have seen you negotiate with others in my group."
- (Horse looks confused, and then thoughtful as if he is checking what he
said to see if he included too many negatives, and then he shakes his mane.)
He sighs a little at the rest of it, and turns to Cai Wen. "What was the list of those again? And do you have one in particular you intend to do as your payment?"
The remaining list is:
- 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.
I'm talking right now about #3, restabling Li Merit's horse to a stable in Myeong.
Mystique was saying (This is That) that it would be helpful to her if Xian could try to use a karma on each one, and that Horse could arrange for the karma to be tripled. Regrettably, I neglected to negotiate the tripling into my deal, so I'm not sure if it would apply to me or not. We should ask...
"Snow Wolf is... one of those two bounty hunters? From years ago? Do I remember correctly?"
He considers a moment, and looks tired. Turning back to Horse: "Does it have to be 'helping Xian,' or if I simply take care of one, does that cover it? And can you assure me that assisting the switcheroos is not an attack on Wolf?"
- "Xian need not be involved if you prefer."
- Seriously: "The switcheroo is not an attack on Wolf. Assisting the switcheroo is not an attack on Wolf, in case there's a distinction."
- In his more normal tone: "It became clear that it would be easier for both Wolf and I to accomplish our goals if we allowed a certain amount of synergy in place of competition."
Takanata smiles slightly at that.
"Then very well. I will agree to see that one of the switcheroos is taken care of, with or without Xian, in exchange for a briefing on your dealings with Coyote." He pauses a moment and then adds "I understand from Mystique that our formal deals cannot require me to spend karma, but if you also include the triple karma effect you have granted Xian while pursuing these goals, it will strongly incline me to spend karma in the process."
He thinks a minute and then says "And I am curious, if you know, whether my current status would allow the expenditure of 9 karma safely. But I am not looking to include that answer as part of this bargain, merely wondering if that is information you have and will share."
- He thinks about this for quite a while, looking in a couple of different directions (not in the shifty way, but like he's thinking about things, remembering things, imagining hypotheticals, etc.)
- Eventually, he says:
- "You are not a horse, so tripling your karma is not as easy for me as tripling Xian's karma. I believe, but do not know for sure, that *you* can spend nine karma without altering your nature."
- Then he says, picking his way carefully through the words,
- "Because tripling your karma is substantial, it would be inappropriate for me to offer it without a bargain. And I may not ask for the expenditure of karma as part of a bargain. So, instead, I offer to triple your karma expenditures for the duration of the mission, in exchange for an Augury of Ordination on my undertaking to join the Cycle."
Ok, so Takanata does not think he can really do an effective Augury of Ordination for that without spending Karma, which probably winds up costing him more than he will be getting.
But, Horse is being very careful there, and probably has a pretty good feel for what Takanata can actually do.
I roll Int + Yang with KS: Spirits and KS: Recurring NPCs to think about whether Horse is offering an actual bargain, or is offering a "bargain" where he knows he's not actually getting much, but it lets him do the thing he wants to do anyway. If I think it's the second, I also try to figure out if making the subtext text makes that fall apart.
- 19 is a lot, so you get a couple of layers of complexity.
- First, he left it *very* wide open - he didn't ask for an augury to get him in the cycle, or even to help him get in. You could put a curse on him saying he would fail, and that would satisfy the terms of the bargain.
- Second, part of the reason for that is that he is making up for having accidentally offended you at the beginning - it's saying "I don't think you try to cheat at bargains."
- Third, he would probably consider a very minor augury (from the Bearer of Auguries) to be something he could use.
- Fourth, he might not actually know that you have a bunch of shticks that say "a person" instead of "a target".
- Fifth, the triple karma offer is probably a pretty big cost for him (if you actually use it much), so he's playing the odds that you can/will give him something useful, not just giving it in exchange for something that *could* be an even bargain but isn't. It's definitely doubling (or even tripling) down on the original offer.
- Oh, and in answer to the last part of the question - it won't break things if you make the subtext more explicit, but it's slightly unaesthetic, and if he ever gets audited, it would be a minor infraction.
Takanata also takes a few minutes to consider his response.
"I believe I *can* complete one of the switcheroos without expending karma. The karma would be to... satisfy my sense of esthetics, and would make the switch stick better. I suspect I would also have to expend karma to make an Augury that satisfied my sense of esthetics, so that does not necessarily reduce my expenditures overall. If tripling my karma expenditures is difficult, perhaps we could arrange things differently? I have in the past been given just a quantity of karma only useable for specific purposes from... either Bear or Butterfly or both, I think. Would it be possible to arrange for a fixed quantity of karma, only expendable on fulfilling bargains with you? I would be happy to provide an Augury as you request in exchange for say half my Tao in karma, only for that purpose."
He thinks a moment longer. "Alternately, if you can triple my karma expenditures for both the switcheroo and the Augury, that would probably suffice. I expect that would get you a less powerful switcheroo and a more powerful Augury than a karma pool, if that affects your decisions."
- Of your two counter-suggestions, Horse thinks he can do more with the more-powerful Augury, compared to the more powerful switcheroo, so he will accept the second offer.
"Very well. One of the switcheroos and an Augury in exchange for a briefing on your dealings with Coyote and tripling any karma I spend on the switcheroo or the Augury."
To Cai Wen: "Master Zhu, if you could hold off on the switch of Eto the Wolf and Snow Wolf until I am able to attend to it, I expect that is the easiest one for me to accomplish. Obviously, if a great opportunity arises, do not ignore it. But when we are done, I can discuss some ideas with you on what might be done to switch them."
- Well, the main thing is the switcheroo plans themselves. Mystique came up with the details, but she was provided with a bit of Inspiration from someone called Unexpected Orchid, who is Coyote's minion. This was done in exchange for providing Coyote with a standard evac, for use later, the first time someone actually comes for him in a way that might actually damage his true form. Horse expects he's thinking people from home, but it shouldn't be too hard to get someone local here sufficiently mad at him to force him to trigger it early...
- They have seen each other a couple of times beyond that when spirits have been at a Mechanic, but no other actual bargains. Horse is... not sure that Coyote is exactly *bound* by bargains, so is very leery of anything which requires Coyote to commit to action later. The switcheroo bargain, Coyote paid up front and Horse will pay later.
Takanata nods. "And the point of the switcheroo plans is to make it less clear which of you and Wolf is doing what in the Plains and the Arcade, as Coyote is good at identity confusion?"
He considers for a moment, and says: "I will not burden you with unnecessary esoteric information, but you were kind enough to give me your opinion on my use of 9 Karma, so I feel it is only fair to pass along what the I Ching said of how Coyote is using you. 'Horse makes everything higher energy, and Coyote always doubles down. Horse is one of the few (semi) Great Spirits whose nature easily encompasses both being a patsy and being a confederate. Coyote is sniffing for a loophole in the Horse / Wolf arrangement.' "
He smiles slightly. "I apologize for the possibly less-than-flattering wording, but I thought you would prefer the exact statement to a more polite summary."
- Horse nods. "Yes, thank you."
- "Oh. *Hmm*."
- "I think must discuss another deal."
Takanata raises an eyebrow. "I am certainly happy to have further discussions."
- "What price would you ask for an absolutely true answer to the question "Is this Wolf or Coyote?"? Additionally, what price for the ability to ask such a question more than once, such as once per run?
- (I presume that a tightly scopied yes/no question is easier than an arbitrary question; it would be for a spirit.)"
Takanata thinks about it for a minute.
"Before I can set a price, I feel we should discuss the parameters of and potential problems with your request.
"Parameters: I am not a Spirit, to be able to grant you the power to call on me. I have seen, in the past, spirits arrange to borrow a schtick from someone for a time. I would be willing to buy another copy of one of my shticks to loan you for a time, if that is a thing that would work. Otherwise, you would have to come to me to consult, which might result in an unfortunate delay in answering your question.
- Horse nods. "I was thinking of a circumstance in which you were there, or could be summoned, rather than using your abilities without you."
- He smiles wryly. "I rather think that any circumstance in which I am likely to really need to know the answer to the question is one in which you and yours are likely to be already involved, or, if not, would like to be, so I was imagining that this would not be an onerous requirement, though now that I think about it, you are presumably not always available to be summoned."
- "So if the best way to arrange it is to allow me use of a shtick that is also acceptable as an option."
"Problems: Coyote is stronger than I am. I am aware of an instance in which Coyote placed a disguise on someone other than himself that mortal shticks did not penetrate, and I am unlikely to simply see through a disguise on Coyote which will fool a Spirit of your caliber. On the other hand, that disguise could be circumvented in other ways, and I have some abilities to seek information by means Coyote is less likely to have thought to block. At least one of those I think would do to answer your question as absolutely as possible, but it requires more preparation than simply appearing and saying "is this Wolf or Coyote" would provide. I expect it is the case that Coyote could block those abilities if he were present and aware I was using them, but that sort of active blocking would be clear to both of us that it was occurring, from which certain conclusions could be drawn.
"Opportunities: It is not actually the case that my shticks are designed to answer questions as tightly scoped as you require, so borrowing one of my shticks for a time would provide you with the ability to ask other questions as well, if you had a run in which "Is this Wolf or Coyote?" did not seem relevant."
He pauses for a minute, and smiles. "I could go on, but I seem to have slipped into lecturing mode, and perhaps I should simply let you clarify what you want before I speak further."
- "As part of an upper bound of negotiation, let us hypothesize that you do not have the ability to absolutely discern the answer now, but part of what I wish to know is whether you could or would develop the ability to do so given a high enough price.
- Advance preparation should be possible, especially if I know what preparations are necessary.
- Additionally, an answer that you (or I using the shtick) cannot absolutely tell the answer because you are unable to penetrate his defenses against such discernment, would be acceptable as an answer. I am willing to take the risk that Wolf will not be proof against your ability to truly identify him as Wolf.
- Hmm. If I think about it with a sufficiently paranoid frame of mind, I think that having the option of summoning and asking you, is preferable, if circumstances permit. Because I have been... fooled sufficiently in the past that I might not think that not being Wolf was so bad. I understand that the Golden Immortals have their own ways of being summoned, and that you have your own ways of arriving where interesting things are taking place?"
Takanata mulls that all over for a while.
"I could provide you with a method to summon me, yes, although that is more expensive than many of the things you have asked for. I can arrive in many places by my own skill, although if it is a location you have barricaded against invaders, that might be more difficult. It does seem likely we will be present, or at least want to be present, for the event I think you are most concerned about. I expect that portion of any deal can be arranged to our mutual satisfaction, and it does seem simpler than providing you with a shtick.
- Horse having had some mulling time as well, thinks that he can arrange to invite Takanata via Kuan-Xi and the Carriage. The carriage id pretty darn Horse-based and Kuan-Xi has some authority to summon Takanata which can also be leveraged; between that and the fact that, as you say, you'll probably want to be present for any circumstance in which Horse would want to ask this question, then this can probably just be a thing that gets done, and does not need to be a bargain.
That seems fine.
"I am somewhat concerned that if you have been ... fooled sufficiently ... to think it might not be Wolf and that might be ok, you would not choose to summon me, any more than you would choose to use a borrowed shtick. Does this arrangement need to include a promise from you that you will summon me and listen to what my arts tell me, in addition to a promise from me that I will appear and use my arts to answer the desired question?
"As to learning a way to absolutely ensure my arts were correct, I would be happy to contemplate such a thing if you have ideas as to how to do so, but at present I feel my major limitation is less in the style of my arts, and more in my relative lack of power compared to Coyote." He smiles slightly. "I do not believe I can undertake to become more powerful than Coyote."
"If you are willing to accept the statement that my arts are blocked from determining for certain whether someone is Wolf, but that it seems likely from what I can see that they are Coyote or someone else in disguise instead, I can think of several ways to provide that answer. Some of those do require advanced preparation, some do not. I expect that Coyote could learn to prevent those methods from working as he learns of them, so I do not think I could provide them on a once a run basis, but it seems likely I could do so more than once." Another brief smile "But probably not more than three times."
Then he frowns, clearly thinking of something he had forgotten. "It does occur to me that Coyote has a servant who is skilled at some forms of divination, and skilled at blocking divinations. Their style is sufficiently identifiable that I expect I would notice, but it might block some approaches I do not expect Coyote would block." He looks off for a minute, and then says "I should be able to deal with that at least to the level of knowing that my divinations are blocked, and in that style. I am more concerned they would have a means to make it hard for me to provide you with the answer, we might need to arrange a signal of some sort."
"So, if that is sufficient discussion for you to more exactly say what you are asking for, I can consider what payment I would require."
- Horse considers this. "That is a valid concern. I can agree to include such a promise, but, hmm. I will go and make a bargain with Wolf that before any significant irrevocable steps that he and I (or either of us thinks is he and I) take, that he or I will summon you. A bargain with you is binding, but a bargain with Wolf has... even more teeth."
Takanata notes to himself that arrangement does not include a promise from Horse to *listen* to Takanata's answer, but nods.
- "I would, of course, appreciate any aid that you can provide to Wolf in determining that I am not in fact Me, but I think that of the two of us, Coyote would choose Wolf to masquerade as."
I have had Horse memorized since I cast his I Ching years ago. I check distance and direction to Horse. Assuming it works, I nod again. "I do not know if you are aware, but it is my understanding that Coyote touched Wolf's Talisman somehow during its creation. That is one of my concerns for whether I can recognize Coyote when disguised as Wolf, but I believe it will not block some of my methods."
"I believe that if I ask the question 'Is this definitely Wolf?' and you can answer with one of Yes, No, or that you are unable to be sure or unable to answer, that this would suffice for my purposes. And, hmm, if you find yourself so that you have to say Yes but don't think it's true, or think it would be dangerous to say anything other than Yes, then say Yes but look down and take a step back and plant your feet, when you do it."
- (You can make a Wits roll with Expressive Gestures and Riding)
- The gesture he describes is kind of reminiscent of a horse balking and refusing a jump, if horses only had two feet.
- "Does that cover everything?"
"I believe so." He considers again for a bit. "I admit I am not as experienced in setting prices in this direction as in the other. My inclination is to ask for one evacuation for me and my friends, say up to 12 people, and one reasonably complete answer to a question about Great Spirit politics, to the extent of your knowledge and freedom to answer under other obligations. Does that sound reasonable?"
- Horse nods. "That is an eminently fair price."
Takanata smiles slightly. "I expect 'eminently fair' means I could have asked for more, but very well.
- Horse grins. "I would have gone up to 'seriously overpriced' - but I do remember fair dealing."
"You have provided me with information about Coyote, for which I owe you one of the 'switcheroos'.
"I have promised you a piece of prophetic art related to your entry into the cycle, in exchange for which you will triple any karma spent on the switcheroo or the art.
"I have agreed to come meet you at a time and place you indicate, and use my arts to determine, to the best of my ability, whether the entity you identify as Wolf truly is Wolf, in exchange for which you will provide one evacuation for me and up to 11 more of my friends, and one reasonable complete answer to a question about Great Spirit politics, to the extent of your knowledge and freedom to answer under other obligations.
"I believe that sums up our agreements accurately? If so, unless you or Lord Zhu has further matters to raise, I believe we are concluded."
- He nods. "I agree to these bargains."