Bureaucracy for Beginners
|"The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency."|| It is the Day of the Early Butterfly in the Month of the Serpent in the third Year of the Fox since the Burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place in and around the City of Spires, capital of the Jade Taiga
A Dangerous Poem
Ringmaster Te forwards the Official Report from the mayor of Harmonious Endeavor to Takanata, for delivery to the king of the Jade Taiga when the circus reaches the City of Spires. Takanata takes the report and returns to his tent for a good night's sleep before the trip. Just before midnight, he awakes to inspiration. Moving to his desk he pens a poem, but struggles through it, as if his writing were being opposed. He spends a few yin, and has just enough time to feel them being refreshed before passing out over his writing desk.
Early the following morning, as the circus is packing up for the trip, Song Min Feng is walking around watching the work. She happens to overhear a couple of guys in the elephant pens talking in hushed tones.
- "Look, I didn't get into this business to carry elephant droppings all over the place."
- "It won't be for long. I hear he visits Takanata quite often. Once he shows up, we'll check him out, report to Internal Affairs, and get out of this damn place."
Min Feng heads to Takanata's tent to report this and finds him unconscious. Help is summoned, and Li Merit and Xiao Fa determine that Takanata is suffering from severe exhaustion. Xiao Fa examines his chi and decides that his spirit has been used as a battlefield recently. It is as if two great forces met there, fought, and then both retreated.
They move him to a carriage for transport, but let him sleep. The rest of the circus finishes packing up, and off everyone heads to the City of Spires.
En route, Min Su introduces Min Feng to the new monkey, Tofu. Apparently, while Monko is still quite interested in locks, he's become much less interested in taking things now that Tofu has shown up. On the other hand, while the two monkeys play well together, Min Su won't be allowing it anymore, after the amount of trouble a lockpicking monkey and an item swapping monkey were able to cause in just a couple of hours.
After much of the first day of travel, Takanata finally wakes to some tea. He is informed of his condition by Xiao Fa, including what they determined about the state of his chi.
- "There was a great battle." -Xiao Fa
- "Was I a participant or the battlefield?" -Takanata
- "The battlefield."
- "Oh, good!"
- "Yeah, he wouldn't want to have been too yang!" -Zhou
Min Feng then informs him about the spies in the circus. Takanata tells them all that he expects to meet with Ando in the City of Spires, and can't think of anyone else who visits him regularly. Indeed last time he invited Ando over, the latter refused and instead asked to meet away from the circus, so people are pretty convinced that the spies are indeed after Ando.
Then the party turns to discussion of Takanata's latest poem.
Unfortunately, other than a couple of guesses, people don't seem to have enough information to really understand its meaning at this time. There's some discussion of whether "foxruns" might refer to the spirit realms of the Great Fox Spirit, but no one is really sure what it might portend.
City of Spires
After a couple more days of travel, Takanata is fully recovered, and the circus is almost arrived at the city. As they all crest the final hill they see a vast crowd, dressed up and waving banners, lining the roads and bridge leading into the city. When the elephant crests the hill, the crowd cheers and waves their banners. The banners are a mix of the colors of the Jade Taiga and the Dragon Army.
- "Our advance guys are pretty good." -Li Merit
- "They're usually not this good." -Mike
As the crowd continues to cheer, a horseman rides up to the circus and demands to know what everyone is doing here, disrupting the rehearsal. He explains that the city is preparing for the arrival of the Obsidian Warlord (Commander of the Dragon Army), and the circus is disrupting the proceedings. Li Merit and the others convince him that it makes a better rehearsal if there's someone for the people to actually cheer at. Thus the circus plays the part of the arriving army, and marches to much fanfare directly to the Royal Spire.
Li Merit, Xian, and Ringmaster Te take notes on how the arrival ceremony might be improved. Mostly they notice that the crowd is not nearly as excited as they have been instructed to seem.
At the Royal Spire they receive a fairly cold welcome as they simply do not have permits to set up a circus in the main square. The party explains about the enhanced rehearsal and assures the official that they will move to their scheduled performance space as soon as possible. Ringmaster Te says he has great experience with pageantry and is happy to provide notes. The official says that any such notes will have to be delivered to the Visiting Bureaucrat, Master Long.
The circus heads to their area, and Xiao Fa and Zhou head to the Golden Spire (followed by Min Feng). As they approach the spire, they notice that the bottom two thirds of the structure are covered with cloth and signs indicating that the structure is being renovated. Guards posted at the main doorway tell Zhou and Xiao Fa that no one may visit the spire during the reconstruction, which is funded by a generous grant from the Regency Council. They are quite adamant about their duty. No one without a Royal Seal may pass. The pair leaves disappointed.
- "Think they'll be back?" Guard 1
- "Yeah, those two look like trouble." Guard 2
- "Think they'll get a seal?"
- "Maybe. Someone's got to finally get in there..."
Well, the party regroups and heads to the Royal Spire to get a Royal Seal. Tokai Takanata, wearing the Great Talisman of the Butterfly, requests entry to the king's presence. His augmented status gets the party through all of the outer layers of security, but they are stopped at the office of the Visiting Secretary, the official in charge of the king's schedule. He speaks with Takanata for quite some time, and is deeply regretful to have to refuse Takanata an appointment. It seems that the party simply doesn't have enough documentation or endorsements to make it onto the schedule, regardless of the importance of their visit.
It seems that the official is truly regretful, and in fact encourages Takanata to return to the circus and make his own annotations to the Official Report from Harmonious Endeavor in order to make them more impressive. He seems like he's stuck enforcing rules he doesn't believe in and indeed gives the party as many clues as he can how to get around him.
They return to the circus and Takanata attempts to add his own seal to the report. With several Status successes, he succeeds. Now the report includes an Officious Seal making it look more impressive.
While Takanata is working on seals, Li Merit heads to town to meet with his local contacts. First he is given a handful of Ice Chips of Doom. His home office is somewhat upset with him, as the ice chips caused quite a bit of trouble for them until they figured out that they could dissolve the things in sea water. Not salt water, just sea water. He thanks them for their research efforts, and also requests a dossier on Visiting Bureaucrat Long. They tell him they'll get back to him with a dossier fairly soon.
Takanata finishes his seal work and then collects all the letters and invitations indicating that the Viridian Queen visited the circus. Putting these all together, he heads back to the Visiting Secretary, who manages to convert it all into a second Officious Seal. Now the Official Report has two Officious Seals on it. The Visiting Secretary comments that Takanata is now well on the way to an appointment with the king. He also comments that the highest ranking person in town, other than the king, is the Duke Huang, who lives in the Flaming Spire. Takanata thanks him for his assistance, and heads back to the party.
People head over to visit the Duke Huang. With Takanata leading the way, they manage to get in to speak with the Duke. The Duke also seems perturbed by the added bureaucracy of late, and asks them what he can do to help. The party explains about the perfidy of the Duke Hong and their need to deliver the Official Report. Duke Huang volunteers to assist and takes the report into his study. When he returns, the report has a third Officious Seal on it. The Duke also offers to find someone else who could place a seal upon it if they would only return in a few hours. He's quite eager to help.
The party thanks him and departs. When they leave, Takanata notes that the report seems to have changed a little bit. It used to say it was a report "implicating the Duke Hong", while now it says "mildly implicating the Duke Hong". Given this change, people are reluctant to visit Huang again and get more of his "help".
Several hours are spent reconstructing the original report and Takanata works on transferring the Officious Seals from the doctored report to the original. It's a difficult process, requiring a large amount of status and Bureaucracy skill.
Meeting with Ando
The party wonders what happened to Ando, as he hasn't shown up yet. It's realized that he probably won't show up while the party (specifically Takanata) is being followed around by the two spies Min Feng discovered. So, Li Merit executes a clever scheme involving multiple rickshaws to drop the tails. Once the party is in the clear, Ando shows up to talk to them.
- "You never take the first rickshaw, any idiot knows that." -Li Merit
He confirms that the bureaucratic obstacles preventing them from seeing the king were not here on his last visit. Indeed, they all seem to be the doing of the Visiting Bureaucrat Long. How he got such power is a mystery to Ando, as he's never heard of any Bureaucrat Long. Ando's main question for the party is if they know why he is apparently being followed by spies of his own agency. The party is mostly convinced it's because he spilled that he's been across the Northern Wall during the Whispered Ball. Ando is none too pleased that the party thinks several people, at least the Queen's people, overheard this, and agrees that it's probably the cause.
In return, Ando fills them in on the fact that the Dukes Hong and Huang have been associated since childhood and go by the name "The Fire Dukes". So they shouldn't expect any help from Huang in getting the Hong report to the king unaltered. Curious, they ask if there are "Water Dukes". Ando confirms that in fact there are. The Duke Lan and his boyhood friend Duke Lu were so known. Sadly, the Duke Lu does not live anywhere close to the City of Spires, so he will likely be of no help.
Ando does let them know that other than Huang, the two other people closest to the king, and thus most likely to be able to imprint Officious Seals, are Mistress Litona of the Silent House, and Mystic Tikon of the Spiral Path Temple.
- "Mistress Litona of the Silent House" -Mike
- "Hey, she's in my secret society." -Kate
- <Shocked silence>
- "Er... I probably don't say that in front of Ando."
Li Merit and Ando set up a way to get into contact with each other, although Ando reminds him they'll have to ditch Takanata's tails whenever they meet.
More Intelligence Gathering
Li Merit then goes to contact his people once more and receives the dossier on Long:
- "A minor bureaucrat with the planning ministry of the chancellery. He works mostly with the planning committee for the imperial highway system. He was recently transferred to the Hidden City's Mayoral office where he received supplementary training under the eunuch bureaucrats. After this training, he was posted here about three weeks ago."
Well, if he's learned bureaucrat shticks from the eunuch masters in the Hidden City, no wonder he's able to show up and completely revamp the Royal Spire's mechanics.
Pressing on, they take their Official Report to the Mistress Litona's residence. She talks to the party amiably, but doesn't commit to affixing her seal to the report. She wonders why they've come to her with their report and offers to help, but fears she will be unable to unless the party can indicate what it is she'll get out of the affair. At this point however, Takanata points out that Min Feng is an apprentice of Sister Helena of the Silent House, back in the Butterfly Kingdom. Litona allows that it's always good to be owed a favor and affixes her Seal to the report. She also invites Min Feng back for tea at some later date.
Meditation at the Spiral Path
Finally, the party proceeds to the temple of the Spiral Path. The temple is surrounded by a walled garden and there is no response to their knock on the main door. Undeterred, Min Feng and Zhou search the outer wall for secret entrances. They are mocked for this by the rest of the party. That is, they are mocked until they find a secret door and then they do the mocking. Zhou declares that it is acceptable to enter a Spiral Path temple unannounced if you find their secret door, and so the party proceeds within. They head to the central spire and follow the spiral staircase up to the top. At the top, they find an aged monk, presumably Mystic Tikon, meditating. Unwilling to break his meditation the party prepares tea and attempts to wait him out.
This proves quite challenging as it appears the monk is willing to meditate for quite some time. Li Merit starts looking out the windows hoping to see a local bar he might wait at. Finally, Zhou joins in the meditation. Once he is properly centered, he hears a voice in his mind, "What is it you seek?" Zhou mentally responds "Assistance and Enlightenment." His response is, "Your greatest assistance will come from assisting others. As to enlightenment, you must follow the path those you help set before you."
Tokai starts painting a water portrait. He finds himself painting the City of Spires skyline, although in his painting the Golden Spire is not covered with construction cloth or anything. It's quite lovely.
As people get more bored, they start snapping at those still waiting.
- "Hey Xiao Fa! Go Feng the Shui and make him talk to us!"
Xiao Fa meditates. Once he is properly centered, he also hears a voice in his mind. "What is it you seek?" Xiao Fa replies "To assist you." Inspired to help, Xiao Fa uses his Harmonious Arrangement shtick to improve the Feng Shui of the spire. While he's working, he realizes that what he really needs to make it work is down in the dormitory. Heading down and searching the dormitory, he doesn't really find anything useful, except an Officious Seal! He brings the seal upstairs and affixes it to the Official Report.
The party departs. "Master Zhou of Iron Mountain thanks you."
Presentation of the Report
Finally, the party heads back to the Royal Spire. Takanata shows the Visiting Secretary the annotated Official Report. He's quite impressed that Takanata has managed to acquire so many Officious Seals and makes an appointment for the party to meet with the king first thing in the morning, hours before the arrival of the Obsidian Warlord.
Li Merit has another secret meeting with Ando and gives him the dossier on Long. In return, Ando tells him that the strange Dragon Army troop movements in the east during the siege of the Butterfly Kingdom were apparently in an attempt to simultaneously get the troop out of the way in the south, and apply pressure to the Shrouded Isle in the north. Why the Dragon Army wanted these things is unclear, but that's what Ando's uncovered.
Now though, it is time for the nightly circus performance. Visiting Bureaucrat Long shows up and sits in the VIP section. Li Merit rushes around the circus making sure all necessary permits are displayed in all necessary places, just to be sure the Bureaucrat and his entourage can find nothing wrong.
Things go quite well for a while, but during the Confounding Xian's performance, he notices an assassin in the audience, apparently lining up a kill strike on Long. Unlike his usual assassin detection, this time the assassin seems content to wait. Xian has a while to decide what to do about it. He takes the problem to Li Merit, who decides that perhaps letting Long get killed at the circus is the wrong plan. So Xian heads to Master Zhou. He describes in detail which of the audience members is the assassin and Zhou heads off to deal with him.
Li Merit gets the elephant trainers to give a private show for the VIP section, putting elephants in all the likely fire lines. Wandering around through the crowd seemingly aimlessly, Zhou manages to sneak up on the assassin who has fixed his attention on the target. Zhou nerve strikes him in the surprise round, them slaps the Shackles of Silence on him and drags him down behind the stands to Xiao Fa and Min Feng all before the assassin recovers his lost actions. Before the assassin manages to either strike back or flee, Xiao Fa, Min Feng, Xian and Zhou pummel him into unconsciousness.
Sadly, the party realizes that they don't have much in the way of interrogation. So, Min Feng distracts Takanata's tails, and Li Merit goes to get Ando to help with the interrogation. Xian prepares the interrogation tent to give Ando the best chance, and Ando rolls quite well, so the assassin cracks.
- "If Ando wishes to join the party, he's going to have to give up his day job." -Xian
He's the house assassin of Huang. The Duke Huang is sick of needing Officious Seals to do anything, and decided to eliminate Long. Having learned about the circus's connection to the Hong report, he decided the best way to deal with both problems was to have Long assassinated at the circus. The assassin was prepared to strike, but was merely waiting for Authorization. He's totally unclear why he was waiting, as he doesn't usually do that, but the party figures Long was using some terrible eunuch bureaucrat shtick to prevent him from being attacked by anyone not authorized to do so.
Li Merit stashes the assassin in a safe house with a friend of his while the party discusses what to do with him after their meeting with the king. With that detail taken care of, they turn in for the night to prepare for the morning meeting.
Meeting the King
The party heads to the Royal Spire and gets through all of the security to the Visiting Secretary. They are sent in to see the king. Suddenly, Long himself appears and says that unfortunately the king is too busy to speak with them. However, they brandish their many Officious Seals. Defeated by his own mechanic, Long is forced to allow them to pass into the Royal chambers.
The king is overjoyed to see them, as he's been stuck dealing with paperwork for what feels like weeks. They explain about the Official Report, and the king promises there will be an immediate investigation into the Duke Hong. Then they ask for the Royal Seal to get into the Golden Spire. The king is quite surprised, as he believed the Golden Spire was a national treasure and open to all. The fact that it is covered up annoys him, and he writes them a letter of entrance as well as an order to the guards to remove the coverings hiding the Spire. He affixes the Royal Seal to the letter and sends the party off with it.
Min Feng disguises herself as Takanata and heads back to the circus to distract the spies searching for Ando. She then slips back to the party, they collect Ando, and head to the Golden Spire.
The guards read the letter and shrug, "We are of course all servants of His Majesty." They then proceed to remove all of the covering on the Spire and admit the party inside.
The Golden Spire
People head up to the highest level, which Xiao Fa identifies as a powerful Feng Shui site. There is a sign on the way up indicating that there is no taller structure in all the Empire. On the floor on the top level is a giant tile mosaic depicting all of the cycle animals.
Various people start to meditate and contemplate questions...
- Takanata stands on the image of the butterfly and wonders who Long works for. He realizes it must be "The Marked" referred to in his poem.
- Min Feng stands on the image of the phoenix and opens herself to what she needs to know. She suddenly sees the chi connections between all things in the Empire, but the three that stand out are strong dark connections between someone in the Hidden City, the approaching army, and Takanata.
- Xian lies down in the middle touching all 12 segments. He gets a strange sinking sensation.
- Xiao Fa stands on the image of the spider and gets the chance to discard his destiny shtick in exchange for any shtick he wants. He can buy it right now, in major concept regardless, and will even be loaned the XP if he doesn't have enough. He declines.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Ando and Li Merit are fussing over some of the newly installed plaques. Prying one off the wall, they discover an older inscription beneath it. The inscription refers to the third king of the Foxruns. Ando and Li Merit fence for a while, but finally both admit that they see the word Foxruns. Ando admits that if they brought one of the guards up here, that guard would likely see the words "Jade Taiga" instead. He thinks there might be some significant hidden history, only visible to people who have at some point left the Empire.
They head back upstairs where:
- Zhou stands on the image of the Tortoise and thinks about his past. He recalls being in terrible pain and hearing a mocking voice tell him there is nowhere in the Empire he can go to escape the voice's influence. Suddenly, another voice says, "There is one place." and Zhou sees himself suddenly awake in the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation in the Butterfly Kingdom, where his current set of memories began.
- Xian stands on the image of the Fox and wonders who it was that encased the southern pagoda in ice. He sees an image of the moon.
- Ando stands on the image of the Magpie and declares it to be broken. How can the solutions to his current problem possibly be the poem in Takanata's hand?
- Li Merit stands on the image of the Magpie and seeks something no one else knows to collect. He sees an image of the Great Talisman of the Magpie far off in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Poem in the River
Puzzling over their clues further and reading the poem a couple hundred more times, Takanata decides to drop the original of his poem in the river. As soon as he does, the entire thing dissolves instantly. A little later, an announcement is made throughout the city that the Obsidian Warlord's visit has been canceled. He won't be arriving after all.
The party breathes a great sigh of relief for dodging... something.
Finally, not knowing what else to do with him, the party decides to deliver the assassin and his confession to Mistress Litona. She's welcome to do with him and the information as she wishes.
"Well aren't you all just dears. Min Feng, tell Helena that if she wishes to take you to the island, she shall have my support."
Well, no one's really clear what that means, but it seems cool, so they head back to the circus, seemingly triumphant.
- Min Feng has tea with Mistress Litona
- Master Zhou meets with Master Furuta of the Fivefold Way, and Master Tanuma of the Second Way.
- Takanata has tea by the river.
- Master Zhou, Xian, and Xiao Fa visit a waystation of the Wandering Path.
- Cai Wen, Min Feng, and Wei Han investigate vaguely recent construction projects in the Taiga.
- Cai Wen and Wei Han visit Duke Lan at Harmonious Endeavor, bringing a letter from Takanata
- Master Zhou visits the Hand of the Wind monastery near the City of Spires