The First Interferences
|"Beginning is easy - Continuing is hard."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Bear in the eleventh Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly in the Hon'eth Arcade
A Set of Missions
The party is in the Steppes, where Mondo has just returned with Kuan-Xi's carriage and the three Talismans, but is asleep beyond waking at the moment.
Cai Wen finds a message from Chashui in his Duplicating Papers:
Honored Master Zhu, and others of the House:
Enquiries have begun to appear from those who wish enthusiastic interference performed on their behalf. Some are clearly inappropriate, or may be intended as entrapment against the monopolies of other Great Houses, and some I have been able to deal with; these are the requests which have been made in the past few days which have not obviously fallen into those categories.
Two enquiries that may be worth pursuing while you are in the North (and appropriate fees determined):
1. Grandmother Khoo wishes news of her son Iroh, who joined the Dragon Army some few months ago but has not been heard from since.
2. If the House of Exuberant Interference does intend to be in the “really really fast courier” business (some rumors to this effect have begun to circulate), then Yang Achu wishes Su Kaong to be delivered word that “the answer is yes”, as fast as is humanly possible. Su Kaong is part of the Arcade levies sent north.
Other enquiries that should probably be pursued once you return to the Arcade:
3. Hsu Verity and others in the Elemental Braid would like to consult with the House about “co-existent elements”.
4. Konoe Tadako would like to consult the House about an entanglement she finds suspicious.
5. Lady Liet would like to consult with “the particularly clever and sneaky” House members about a matter she was unwilling to discuss with me.
6. Cho Lin is curious whether, in addition to matchmaking services, the House provides anti-matchmaking services.
Merit wonders what "coexisting elements" are - probably something like ice chips of doom, which are both water and fire simultaneously. Hmm. Well, they can talk to Verity when they get there.
Next, Merit checks with his Divine Skein contacts in the Dragon Army to try to find Khoo Iroh, but has no luck. The military records aren't secret exactly, but they're not public, so the contact would need an excuse to look through them. However, he says that the new recruits from the Arcade would likely be in the Northeastern command, in the camp for the recent battle, or possibly in the Northern Arcade. The group asks around the camp in the Steppes, and finds some soldiers named Khoo, but none are Khoo Iroh, nor are they related. Su Kaong isn't here either, but Arcade levies would be in the Arcade.
The group heads to the army camps in the northern Arcade. There continues to be no sign of Khoo Iroh, but Su Kaong is in the medical tent. Rumor says that there was some kind of accidental friendly fire incident. Xiao Fa and Merit head into the medical tent, and Xiao Fa offers his assistance. There are a bunch of people in casts, but there's not a lot of blood. Merit delivers the message to Su Kuong - he's bewildered that the head of the house has arrived, but is happy to be told that the answer is yes, and tells Merit to send a return message that he is the happiest of men. So... what happened to him? He isn't supposed to talk about it, but he fell off the Wall. This is certainly suspicious, and Xiao Fa interrogates the other wounded. They all aren't supposed to talk about it, but Xiao Fa manages to extract that "the Dragon Army doesn’t like the Levies practicing on the Wall". They seem embarrassed and annoyed more than furious, though. Cai Wen sends the reply to Chashui via the duplicating paper, and that task gets checked off the list.
The group heads over to the Steppes Dragon Army camp — there's no sign of Khoo Iroh there either. They consider - maybe he told his mother he signed up, but ran away instead. Takanata Auspiciously Summons Mulan, who is in the area to report in about recruiting. They ask her about the Arcade guys getting thrown off the Wall, and her immediate reaction is that it's not their Wall, though it's not like they can't go up when there's a battle or there are joint training exercises with the Dragon Army. Mulan doesn't know Khoo Iroh or remember recruiting him, though. She did recruit a Li Iroh in the Strand, but that's probably not the same person, and he's probably in one of the Southern Commands now. Mulan notes that there should be a recruiting record in the city he signed up in, and a file in the command wherever he ended up, both in the main HQ and in the local theater.
The party heads to the Arcade and Daizhou, where Takanata statuses his way into the Records section. He offers, by way of explanation, that “Khoo Iroh’s grandmother is worried about him”, but then realizes that that's untrue. Oh, it's his mother, but (Merit thinks) there's probably something more to it than a simple mis-speak, or it wouldn't have set his I Ching off so much. Hmm. Takanata does find someone by the name of Khoo Iroh in the records, but he was a soldier who died about thirty years ago, so that probably isn't him either. The party considers whether this is all some mysterious pretense, like "Grandmother Khoo" is actually a mobster trying to find someone who owes her money, but Cai Wen doesn't think that "Grandmother Khoo" is a famous personage in the Arcade, at least.
The group asks around after scouts who have been over the Wall - are they severed from the chi of the Empire now? Xiao Fa goes out for drinks with some of them, and looks at their chi. It looks like they have been severed, but more gently than the party. Xiao Fa thinks they might notice if country names change (or have some dissonance and denial, the way people are in denial about the islands changing places). Those who have been over the Wall for longer times and farther scouting missions seem to be more detached.
Merit asks for a background check on Khoo Iroh - they'll see what they can find out. He asks if there's anything they need, and they say if he can find them some actual white lotus seeds, that would be keen.
Port of Propitious Voyage
Well, maybe they need to talk to Grandmother Khoo about more details. And check in with Chashui about the rest of them. As they head into the Port of Propitious Voyage, Li Merit spots Nozaki Maeko, the court flower arranger for the Beautiful Court (who Merit had a date with for the second Chapter End), and Cai Wen gets the feeling that there's a babe around somewhere. She's here to get some colder-weather flowers for the Island, and when Merit asks after white lotuses, she suggests the Strand or the Precincts, as it's a tropical water flower. Everyone heads to the tea house as Maeko and Merit chat.
Chashui goes into more detail about not stepping on the monopolies for other Great Houses, and notes that the House of Exuberant Interference could think about applying for a monopoly - but they won't get one on "meddling". Basically, the monopolies aren’t absolute, but they shouldn’t be making a big splash in someone else’s area. For example, if Deng was in the House, hiring him out to Interfere is fine, and bodyguarding people in the House is also fine, but hiring him out as an expensive bodyguard is starting to step on the toes of the House of Gainful Protection. Licensing fees are the usual way of getting around infringements, though those are mostly for individuals — Houses don’t usually license to each other. Merit gets a list of stuff to not buy or ship in bulk through the Arcade.
Hsu Verity and some of the other members of the Elemental Braid are in the back room, and the group chats about "coexisting elements". Yup, they mean ice chips of doom, or other things like that? Alas, the party has no more ice chips of doom, and suspects the GMs will not give them more. Petrified wood and pond scum are also potentially interesting, though not exciting, and they're interested in having Takanata tweak some of their shticks to change elements, to test things out. The party agrees to keep their eyes out for other similar items, and mention Ming I having a "water gate" that she uses with fire. Ooh, that's interesting. Cai Wen says he'll try to arrange a chat with her that doesn't involve going through the Alchemist first. Speaking of Ming I, does Verity have any ideas about the "Shen-Ji is cursed to make women particularly hate him?" She doesn't know much about Ming I, and thinks that Yuwen Fire-Eye was kind of legitimately annoyed about being drafted by the Dragon Army, but she does also think that Shen-Ji can be a little exasperating sometimes. They aren't entirely pleased by "By the way, I was talking to some southern gods about your project, and they think you need to become gods", and now they keep second guessing themselves about the City Spirit project.
Takanata draws a picture and then crumples and throws it away idly - Xiao Fa pounces on it. Hmm. Is that the orb of true seeing showing a coyote in place of a fox? But what about the poem? Why does it trail off? Why did Takanata throw it away?
Cai Wen detects another babe - or, an older woman of grace and dignity. She smiles at Master Zhou, who spots Cai Wen looking, and glares at the woman in puzzlement. She looks a little hurt, and continues on, to be immediately pursued by Xiao Fa.
- "Pardon me, miss... Do you know..." -Xiao Fa, pointing at Master Zhou
- "Apparently not!"
- "I am Xiao Fa, a student of..."
- "Of course you are."
- "And he is at your service!" -Cai Wen
Xiao Fa explains that Master Zhou has had some mishaps and lost some memories. She’s appalled, but thinks maybe she shouldn't bother him. But the party isn't letting go of her now.
- "That is his look of curiosity..." -Xiao Fa
She introduces herself as Lu Yian He, and Xiao Fa shepherds her back to the Cup of Five Virtues and asks Chashui to get some serious tea. Takanata checks the strongest relationship between the two of them, and it's "exes", but there's an overlaid foxy-sort of heart valentine, with one corner bent into "coyote". Interesting.
- "Speak to me of how we knew each other." -Master Zhou
- "<general laughter>"
- "...speak to me of how we met?" -Master Zhou
She says that they lived in the same town in the Taiga when they were young. He was always into kung fu; she had hoped that it was a phase, or at least, that he would put other things in his priorities once he became a master, but he was married to his kung fu, so she moved on, got married herself, had kids... Anyway, she's travelling to the Aracade now, but she still lives in the Taiga. She's sad to hear that Master Zhou (who she calls Wei) has lost all his memories, and hasn't had anyone else to tell him about his life before that. What about his companions? These friends? He admits that they are from after the time when he went to the World Above and lost his memories. She’s concerned about him, but he says he originally wanted to get everything that he lost back, but he has let go of that. She wonders how he can know where he is going if he doesn't know where he is coming from, and is also concerned that he is lonely.
- "I have more... um... people who are not my students..." -Master Zhou
- "He means he has more friends than he had before." -Xiao Fa
- "<grunt>" -Master Zhou
She invites him to visit, in Fragrant Vines in the Taiga (that's their home town), and asks more about what he has been doing. Defending against the South, the North, perfecting kung fu, that kind of stuff. Zhou considers sparring with her to learn about her, but decides that would be awkward. (He mentions sparring, and she thinks he might be flirting, and reminds him that she’s married.) “Kung fu is kind of like flirtation... the way you did it.” But she decides that maybe a little sparring is in order, kind of like going out for a drink with an old friend, and she does apparently have a few (possibly rusty) shticks in dodge and grab. Cai Wen looks out for a Flirtatious Throw shtick, and she doesn’t have that, but the forms she has are Tiger, and grabs can certainly be done flirtatiously. She's a Butterfly, though, not a Tiger, and Master Zhou kind of remembers the grab-and-hold-a-beat sparring, with muscle memory. Also, Master Zhou notes that she clearly learned the shticks from him.
- "We have done this before..." -Zhou
- "<blush> " -Lu Yian He
She should be going, though, and leave them to their defending against the North and South and the like. She kisses Zhou on the cheek as she goes, and stops for a moment to admonish Xiao Fa.
- "He’s not that old. You’re letting him be old." -Yian He
Xiao Fa accepts his homework with a smile.
The party takes stock of what they have left to do. There are the various enquiries that Chashui listed, but wasn't there some sort of plot about people falling off of the Wall? The group troops back to Daizhou, where Cai Wen manages to get a meeting with a Dragon Army logistics officer.
- "I’ve heard there are problems with exercises on the Wall." -Cai Wen
- "Who did you hear that from?"
- "People who wouldn’t talk about it. I’m here to Exuberantly Interfere with the situation."
- "Oh you’re those people."
Cai Wen admits to being those people, and refuses to rise to argument. The logistics officer mostly doesn't want them cruising in and getting credit for solving everything. Cai Wen asks how he can help without grabbing any credit. Suspicious, the officer says he can get a case of good brandy for them. Cai Wen agrees, and goes off shopping to return with a case of good brandy - more than an out of pocket expense for a soldier, but not too much for a new House of Meddling. The officer is a little taken aback at this gratuitious helpfulness, and ends up explaining the situation. There has always been tension between the Dragon Army and the levies; the new rules changes about going across the Wall have allowed for new tensions, since the Dragon Army can go scouting but nobody else can. It used to be that the Wall was a boundary for everyone; now it's a boundary for the levies but not the Army, so the "it's our Wall, not yours" issue has gotten worse. Anyway, some Arcade levies applied for permission to train on the Wall, and it was slow to get approved, so some of them went up and started running their own training, and the Army troops came over, and... then there was some escalation, and some people fell off the Wall. From the lieutenant's description, there was some escalation on both sides that got out of hand, and with some carefully arranged bonding over brandy between the mid-level officers and between the infantry, he hopes to smooth things back down. Well, that's probably mostly solved for the moment, then.
Master Zhou stops by the Clear Melting Sect to talk to Master Tien. She's a little more suspicious of him now than she used to be, as he asks for help sorting out the Horrible Frame against him. He explains his theory that killing someone with the Quivering Palm stolen from him would cause someone to be named "...murdered by Zhou Wei", but Master Tien doesn't think that holds water. If you steal someone’s sword and kill someone with it, you're the murderer, not them. He asks if she can check the other monks to see who killed them, in case the frame breaks down there. She says that she believes that the one who was called back was the one that they had the most personal effects on hand for, but they might be able to call someone else. It's something like encouraging a haunting long enough to question the ghost. Of course, if they think Zhou killed them, that’s a connection that could help encourage a haunting. Xiao Fa notes her suspicion, and tries to decide what she actually thinks. She's more giving Master Zhou a hearing than already believing he's guilty - she thinks he sounds sincere, but “Killed by Zhou Wei” carries a lot of weight with her, and she thinks his theories sound more like rationalizations. Could they have been killed by someone with the same name? Technically, yes, but that would be a rather unlikely coincidence...
- "Actually, the hallmark of a Master Zhou combat is a lot of people killed by Deng Zhi-Hao." -Cai Wen
She also raises the issue of possession (since Zhou has hung out with ghosts in the past), or some sort of dark chi control, which might have caused him to kill people and not remember it. She wonders if there is any evidence that Zhou would accept rather than explain away - if not, then they shouldn't describe themselves as impartially investigating, but instead, as seeking a way to clear his name.
Xiao Fa begins to suspect that the country-renaming trap is bigger than just making people think that Master Zhou is guilty. If he is corrupting Bear Mountain in the greater sense, by refusing against all evidence to admit his guilt; Min Feng rules in his favor because she is a friend of his, not because of the evidence, so the system itself is corrupt. The group discusses this for a while, but does not find any obvious way to proceed.
Harbor of Fortunate Arrival
Next step, looking up Grandmother Khoo and Liet. As the group arrives in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, Takanata spots someone who looks sort of like Min Feng, and others recognize her as Song Ming Zhu, Min Feng's mother. Takanata walks quickly in the other direction, and Xiao Fa, Merit, and Cai Wen catch up to her. She's here to buy some silk, dyed in a new deep crimson color (she explains how not all pigments work as dyes because they aren't fast). Xiao Fa writes her a letter of introduction to the House of Quiet Concordance, and sends another letter via runner to Master Tranh letting him know. Kasumi briefly gets a feeling as if there's a ninja around, but doesn't see anyone.
Chashui has given the group Grandmother Khoo's address, so they head there. The old woman offers them tea, and is happy that they are finding her son. Cai Wen asks about Iroh as a distraction, and talks about army life in general, while Xiao Fa examines her chi - she does seem to have a lot of pieces missing, as if from age. Xiao Fa and Kasumi chat with the neighbors, who are startled and sad to hear that they have been hired to find Iroh. He died a long time ago, and she does forget sometimes, they say, but this is the first time she's hired someone over it. The neighbors advise saying he'll probably be back soon - there's no point in giving her fresh grief by telling her Iroh is dead. She'll remember soon enough - he's buried with the rest of the family - but it will be old grief then. The group confers - is there anything they should do to help? Xiao Fa could chi-heal her to help her memory for a time, but Cai Wen thinks leaving her in peace might be kinder. He goes through the dossier that Merit's guys have put together, telling her about Iroh's various commendations, and leaving out his death at the end. Merit negotiates a low fee, and Kasumi sneaks the same amount of money into her money box after the group leaves.
As the group is leaving, Xiao Fa spots Yanzi, looking a little harried, as she catches up to him. She has apparently been going back and forth to Daizhou trying to find them. Since Master Zhou left the White Pagoda, there have been... some weird occurrences. She is concerned that it is haunted. There are cold spots, strange moaning noises late at night...
- "Is the moaning coherent, forming words?" -Zhou
- "<mass laughter>"
Well, he can look into it next time he is there. He has been trained in dealing with ghosts.
- "You can lay ghosts to rest, but you have to punch them first."
Xiao Fa wonders - could this be a side effect of the senchi chamber drifting in a weird direction because it's not attuned? Well, possibly, but it would have to be drifting in an odd sort of spooky direction, which would be unusual unless something was pushing it that way.
Cai Wen notices Squeaky noticing a woman with a fluffy white ferret on her shoulder, heading into a nearby inn. It's the one where the group was planning to book rooms anyway, so Cai Wen follows her in, and makes sure to get a room next to hers, with balconies that might be easily jumped between by a ferret.
Meanwhile, the others look up Liet. She says that they have to agree to keep the mission secret even if they don't do it, and they agree. Ting Fong Trinkets has discovered a deep crimson silk dye, that it plans to sell to the House of Resplendent Decorations. Myo is in charge of the negotiations for buying the dye, but Liet wants to make sure he impresses his father, so she wants the party to find out the secret of the dye so Myo can drop enough hints to drive the price down. But Myo is a little more honorable than Liet is, so it would be good if he just happened on the secret.
The party confers. Is this a job they want to do? It's kind of dishonorable and thwarts the little guy. They counter-offer: they'll put together a really good propaganda campaign for Deep Crimson afterwards, and get Kuan-Xi and/or Takanata to set a new fashion trend, so the color will be extra-profitable, and Myo will get credit for foresight. Or should Myo be the one who "hires" the propaganda campaign? Liet thinks it's better to have credit for being prescient than for hiring people to do stuff for you, so while she is disappointed, she takes the deal.
That night, Squeaky disappears for a while, and comes back looking pleased with himself. Kasumi wakes up with the idea that someone might have just looked in the window, but they're gone now. She considers ninja etiquette, and thinks that it's poor form to socialize while you're on a mission, so maybe that's what's going on.
In the morning, Ming Zhu shows up looking somewhat nervous; Takanata sends everyone away so that they can talk. They walk around the city, and Takanata manages to somewhat put her at ease by not getting into anything deep, but rather noodling around town, talking dye and fashion and embroidery. Takanata approves of her artistic tastes. They have lunch. His natural reserve and her shyness do not clash too badly, and it gets somewhat less awkward as things go along. Then she gets up her courage to ask how Takanata knew to send for Min Feng. Takanata replies that he didn’t; Dowager Song sent Min Feng to him. Ming Zhu is disappointed with this, but she’s had a lot of that.
Kasumi trolls around town for her ninja watcher. Up in the noble district, she notices a window that becomes un-closed between looks. Aha! What to leave as a calling card? She sneaks up to the window and leaves a little note inviting him to catch up with her at the House of Exuberant Interference.
Port of Propitious Voyage
After lunch, the party heads back to the Port, and calls on Cho Lin. She answers the door, and suggests a walk, as if she doesn't really want her husband to hear the discussion. Her daughter (Peng Ahlam) has married a man - they arranged it for business reasons (both husband and son-in-law are carpenters, now allied rather than competing) - but now she thinks that her daughter is unhappy, more so than the usual “not a great match and she’s unhappy”. She dances around the subject a bit, but he sounds abusive. But Cho Lin thinks her daughter won't just run away - she takes her duty seriously. The group takes the job, but is unclear what to do.
Takanata and the others go to Peng Yen-ti's shop, and arranges to buy some fancy wood for a pedestal. When Peng Ahlam comes to bring in tea, Takanata checks the connection between them, and it's clear that Yen-ti is Ahlam's abusive husband. The group retreats to the tea house to discuss. Merit and Xiao Fa think he's the traditional charming abuser type. Takanata could curse him, but that might make things worse in the longer run (he might switch to psychological abuse, or start abusing the kids instead...). After considering a lot of options, including having Kasumi just kill him, they decide to hire him for a six month private woodworking contract at Tahiti, and put Yanyu on breaking up the marriage in the meantime. Cai Wen briefs Izumi on the guy and authorizes her to do double damage to him if he lays a hand on anyone at the estate. Izumi is kind of appalled at the idea of deliberately hiring someone who might beat up the servants. Cai Wen explains the plan, and Izumi says she can think of easier solutions.
- "That’s plan B." -Cai Wen
Finally, the group goes to find Kanoe Tadako, who tells everyone about her friend who has fallen for someone she thinks is weirdly inappropriate, and might be ensorcelled. The friend is an ex street rat; the girlfriend is a minor noble in the House of Benevolent Oversight. Investigation indicates that she's studying to become a judge, and is living at home and not supposed to go out at night. The friend is a clerk. All evidence suggests that they are in fact smitten with each other (and hold hands through the garden fence). The plot seems to have been stolen from Les Miserables, and the party has been hired by Eponine. It doesn't seem worth breaking this relationship up, so the group tells Tadako that it's not ensorcelment. Perhaps she should train with Master Zhou. She doesn't see the point, but then, she doesn't have anything better to do. Master Zhou notes that she's a level 2 Dog aspect, and that his sparring seems more likely to accidentally kill her than he would expect, like she has a vague sort of destiny to die soon. Hence, she doesn't have much potential left, but if she did, she wouldn't be living up to it yet. Also, she doesn't really remember why she decided that hiring detectives was a clever idea. What was she thinking? Hmm, that is sort of suspicious. Does her forgetting have something to do with the truncated poem? Xiao Fa examines her chi, and there is a minor blip in her chi, something that she forgot recently. Merit peeks at her with the Orb of True Seeing, and thinks that she's definitely archetypal in an Eponine-ish role, to the extent that something may have polished her that way. Like having theme music. Her I Ching confirms this.
Xiao Fa walks her through a guided meditation to try to remember when she decided to hire the House. It was after she picked up a few pork buns for dinner. She bought the pork buns, and then... after that, she was going to hire the house. She doesn't really remember eating the pork buns. The group heads over to the pork bun stand, but Takanata has already used his Visions of the Past shtick. So... does it count as failing the mission if she wanders off and gets shot by a sniper? And does that set a precedent? Yes, a little. It's not a guarantee that all the future clients will get shot by snipers, but it's symbolically important. Xiao Fa asks Dragon for advice, and Dragon points out that there have been three plots that didn't have clear happy solutions: the abusive husband, the forgetful grandmother, and this one. Cai Wen drops a persuasion hammer on her to convince her to go to Bear Mountain and learn kung fu with Master Zhou; that will at least get her away from her friend and his romance.
Takanata tweaks an entangle-vines shtick of one of the Elemental Braid sorcerers to entangle with vines of stone instead, so they can mess around with the petrified wood.
Xiao Fa uses Voice of the Dragon to let everyone chat with Dragon. They explain Master Zhou's framing problem, and Xiao Fa's worry that they're just playing into the hands of their enemies. How about if they publicly submit Master Zhou to Dragon's justice? Would that solve the plot? Dragon is not clear that the Steadfast Heart is really going to see a Dragon Spirit as such an obvious judge, and saying "I submit to the justice of this mechanic that I have chosen because I know it's going to turn out the way I want" is just continuing the problem instead of solving it. He also notes that Dragons are known for wisdom, but not omniscience, and his greatest failing was an act of injustice, so while he would aspire to justice, he is not necessarily the right archetype here. Also, if Takanata's divinations give answers that are obviously wrong here, it is possible that mortals will not be able to see through the frame, and Zhou will need to decide what to do in that case.
Takanata plays around with Connections some more, and does come up with a reading that is somewhat self-contradictory, though it continues to insist that Master Zhou was behind the attack.
- Master Zhou led the attack against the Steadfast Heart Monks.
On the day of the attack against the Steadfast Heart Monks, Master Zhou was traveling to Bear Mountain and did not go past the location of the attack.
- The point of the attack was to effect a change in the Chi of Bear Mountain.
- Master Zhou does not want that change in the Chi of Bear Mountain to take place.
- Tai Lung was involved in the attack against the Steadfast Heart Monks.
- Master Zhou did not willingly cooperate with Tai Lung to attack Monks of the Steadfast Heart.