|"He who cannot agree with his enemies is controlled by them."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Tortoise, in the month of the Butterfly, in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Hidden City.
Lijuan corners Merit - she thinks something is wrong with Takanata, perhaps he has been enchanted to object to her getting married.
- "It's not at all Butterfly to say 'We can't do that because we don't know what would happen.'" -Lijuan
- "I think he doesn't want you to get married, but he doesn't have a good reason to tell you not to." -Merit
Merit, like Takanata, doesn't really think that Lijuan marrying Zhuai is a good idea, as Lijuan is far too immature, and Zhuai will probably manipulate her, but he also doesn't have a different solution to the Siew / Foon feud.
A messenger arrives, inviting the circus to another performance in the Gold district, with more gold passes and copper passes for everyone. Another messenger arrives, with an ivory pass for Kuan-Xi to head to City Hall to talk to Shen Gao. Lijuan draws a sketch of a mysterious card game, which looks a lot like one she has drawn before. So... probably another Illumineaucracy mechanic.
Takanata writes a poem:
So... probably the Marked, too. And the era of working together on threats against the Empire may have passed.
Takanata shows Merit and some of the others some information he has acquired from Autumn Rose - the three most likely names (not including Autumn Rose herself) who are likely to become one of the Marked:
The middle name is unfamiliar, and Merit asks the Beautiful Spy Service to generate a dossier on them. (The spy service reports after a while that they don't have anything on that name at all).
Kuan-Xi, Wei Han, and Kasumi head to City Hall to look for the Municipal Sorcerer's office. It is a bit of a maze, but they are able to find it eventually. Shen Gao is pleased to see Kuan-Xi - he's sorry that he could not meet her in a more congenial location, but he is trying to regularize this position while he sees how long it lasts, and it's been very busy. He has petitioned the Imperial Alchemist to assist in providing a means of recovering both Shen-Ji and Ebon Brush; Shen Gao is an expert on water gates, and the Imperial Alchemist is an expert on the World Below, so hopefully between the two of them, they will be able to put something together. However, it will no doubt involve opening a gate to the World Below, so if there were volunteers to go through the gate, that would be good. Kuan-Xi agrees to have her friends put together a team.
Kuan-Xi and the others are rather unhappy at the idea of the Alchemist being involved, but decide that trying to explain to Shen Gao that the Alchemist is a bad guy and is likely to trap them somehow, may be futile.
The Plot Announces Itself, With Company
A messenger arrives for Ringmaster Zhu, with obsidian and ivory passes, inviting him to meet with Regent Ishii at his earliest convenience. Without Cai Wen, everyone else goes along as well, and with Takanata's status, the group gets to jump to the front of the line.
The door to the Regent's office opens, and Ti Jun leaves, in the middle of a parting conversation with the Regent. He spots the party, and glares at them for a moment, before asking the Regent if there are any good parks in the Gold District to visit. Regent Ishii suggests the Garden of Heavenly Contemplation at the southern side of the district. The party all bow to him, and Ti Jun nods curtly, just on the polite side of rude, and heads off.
The party explains that Ringmaster Zhu is unavailable, but Lord Tokai has agreed to come in his stead. Regent Ishii had not understood that Lord Tokai was as interested in this particular mechanic as Cai Wen was, but as he was hoping to prevail on the Ringmaster for assistance, perhaps they could aid him instead?
- "As you may recall, last time you visited, we acquired certain influence over the Imperial Treasury -- for reasons that did not concern me. Later, another party moved to eliminate that influence and take it for themselves. I, knowing that Ringmaster Zhu and his associates were concerned about that piece, moved to defend it and failed, but now I unfortunately find myself in a battle that is much larger than I had anticipated, as the source of the attack turns out to be much larger than I am. My first thought was that if this particular property was important enough, that the Ringmaster might be willing to intercede directly and take the heat off of me, but if he is not actually here, perhaps we might be able to engage in some misdirection and convince our opponent that someone else is making a play for it." -Regent Ishii
The Regent's own goal is to get whoever his foe is to stop attacking him, by distracting them. He assumes that the party goal includes getting the Imperial Treasury to be at least neutral; if they succeed in that, then he will provide what assistance he can in aiding Cai Wen to acquire it later. He lays out his current power structure - he has lost some groups, but has acquired another criminal group to put in another defensive loop.
He has traced the ownership of the Imperial Treasury up to the Spider Guard, though he thinks there is more to the structure than that. There is also another small structure he has identified, and a number of solo groups currently in play.
The party asks if all the other Regents have seats at the table. Ishii is confident that the Taiga, Savanna, Forest, and the Arcade all do. He is equally confident that the regent from Bear Mountain does not - he may have some ability to "upend the table" instead. The rest of them, he is not sure of. Oh, and does the Hidden City have a Regent? Yes, he's the Vice Mayor. How about the votes on renaming the city? Ishii says there are votes on that most days, including today. But the Forest of Chin regent isn't back from his vacation yet, so the party's "vote for the Dragon's Throne next vote" is not wasted.
The party takes its leave of the Beautiful Regent, set to gather information and figure out how to get influence on the various groups.
Kuan-Xi heads to the park in Gold that the Regent mentioned, bringing Wei Han and Kasumi with her as bodyguards. Kasumi sneaks off, until she spots Ti Jun, strolling around and thinking out loud; she creeps up on him to overhear.
The Marked are in town at present to plan how to deal with the increasingly-annoying party (Takanata and Merit having tweaked Spider in particular during the Night of Gates). Last time, the Prince put together a plan to thwart that pesky Ringmaster Te, and he got credit with the Marked for that. If he can just figure out the perfect plan to thwart them again, then that would be good.
Merit finds the "Friends of Monk Ze" group interesting, so he asks for a dossier on Monk Ze. It turns out Monk Ze was the inventor of Drunken Boxing, and is no longer around, but the "friends" have sworn off alcohol because it was so bad for Monk Ze.
Lijuan goes to talk to the Beggar's Guild, and tries to convince them that they really don't want to be connected to the Silver Civil Service. Perhaps they should all move to the Honeth Arcade, where it is safer. The Guild doesn't appear to find this advice very compelling, but does say that if Lijuan can get them ten copper passes (for use between Silver and Pewter), she can earn an influence with them.
Merit asks a buddy in Copper about the Invisible Gates. He says that some people think they don't exist, but they're smugglers who get things (and possibly people) from district to district without passes and keys. They're pricey, and very hard to find, but the buddy thinks they're not based out of Copper. Merit's own organized-crime instincts think that they're probably not in Silver or below.
There are several interesting groups in Ivory that might be worth visiting - the Ivory Tailor's Guild, and the Ivory Blacksmiths. Plus the Imperial Treasury, of course. The party decides that starting from Jade and working down will be best, so they accompany Takanata and his Jade Key up the Jade Garden. From the garden overlooking the Jade Palace, there's a man drawing something - hey, it's the Cartogramancer, drawing the Garden of Benevolent Tranquility. Takanata cannot avoid looking at art, and he is indeed impressed by the work. It seems likely to be a Great Work, even though the Cartogramancer is clearly rushing to finish quickly. The work will capture not just the visual resemblance of the garden, but the actual essence. (Perhaps one will be able to meditate at the painting?)
Takanata remarks in admiration that the picture is very nice, and the Cartogramancer is startled, but polite. Using his vast artistic knowledge, Takanata determines that he is rushing enough that he is likely trying to finish "before 4:15 meta-time", and so the party withdraws a little ways down the garden to panic - is that when the Marked are meeting? That's very soon! Maybe they should be worrying about the Marked plot and not just visiting Illumineaucracy groups? What should they suggest to the Prince? Maybe the Prince could recall Takanata home to the Isle of Beauty, and he can auspiciously arrive in the runs. Maybe there could be some sort of horrible mess with Cai Wen getting Min Feng to be his moll, and Takanata disapproving, and Xiao Fa and Cai Wen fight and Takanata gets involved.... Hmm. If the Marked think that there's currently some party strife going on, then convincing them to try and split the party up that way might be feasible. But... how to pass the message to the Prince? Merit can arrange for a local spy to pass a report on arguments and internal politics of the circus to the Prince (who is in charge of the Beautiful Spy Service), so it doesn't appear to come from them.
The group heads back to the Cartogramancer, where Merit does his best to memorize the picture, and Takanata gets twenty successes persuading him to sell it to the Court of Distinction. The Cartogramancer looks a bit surprised, and then bows to Takanata.
- "I would consider it an honor to present it, as a favor to my lord, to the Court upon my return home." -Cartogramancer
Shopping and Influences
Takanata, having burned most of his own status, heads to the Garden of Benevolent Tranquility to meditate, while everyone else goes shopping in Ivory, under Kuan-Xi's benevolent oversight. In order to earn influence, of course, not because shopping is fun. Many tael are dropped ordering fancy clothes from members of the Ivory Tailor's Guild. Merit, trying to figure out the pricing rules, asks about +3/+3 (charisma/status) clothes, which are a bit over two tael; when he asks about +1/+3 clothes, the tailors suggest that for +1 clothes he might shop in the Gold district, rather than Ivory. (The clothes can be picked up next run).
The Ivory Blacksmiths guild specialize in "unusual" swords and armor, and several of the fighters buy swords that do "social damage" hit points instead of physical damage. They are working on armor that does things like provides bonuses to stealth, and they hope to develop armor of flight. Wei Han commissions a set of great armor that provides a second attack pool; he will have to return in four runs to pick it up. Merit wonders if they can smelt aluminum - the smith considers this for a bit, and says that he probably could, though it is not very useful, as it is a weak metal.
Merit wanders by the Imperial Treasury, checking in with a spy that he planted a while ago. The group has been being tapped to embezzle each turn since they were acquired by their new structure. The party asks if the Treasury guys want anything that could be used for influence? They have spotted some ninjas around, so a suggestion of more impressive security measures would be helpful.
Meanwhile, in the garden, Takanata is trying to meditate, but overhears someone talking to himself. The Marked have met, and discussed plans. The Warlord would like to draft Wei Han back into the army, and use him as a spy or pawn against the party. The Bureaucrat and the Alchemist are arguing about who gets to turn Shen-Ji. Li has a stupid plan. Chang doesn't count - could someone explain that to him? - and no one invites Tai Lung to these meetings. That leaves him and the Cartogramancer, but the Cartogramancer showed up with a favor from Takanata already, so that puts him a bit ahead. There's also the other issue, of who is going to be put in charge of destroying Li Merit's library, because Spider thinks he knows too many secrets.
The Regent sends a message with more information on the Illumineaucracy mechancic. He has learned that the "small group" he knew about is actually part of the larger group he has been investigating, and it is very large. And owned by the Regent from the Honeth Arcade - "Parks and Recreation" is his home group.
Takanata considers: will they more successfully thwart the Cartogramancer by sending Merit's spy team to distract him, or by telling the Prince that it was the Cartogramancer's idea to sever Lucky Chang from Spider. The former seems more likely to work, so Merit sends the team off.
Next stop: the Dragon Army Headquarters in Obsidian. Flags indicate that the Commander in Chief (that is, the Obsidian Warlord), the head of the Construction Battalion, and the head of the Northwest Command are all in the city. Merit has a spy among the Obsidian Warlord's entourage, who thinks that getting Shen Wei Han to re-enlist would get some influence. Another option would be arranging to get the Warlord a meeting with the Southern Wall. Or to get a regent to put "allow official sorties" on the regency agenda.
Zhuai turns up, having gotten Lijuan an influence on the Fire Brigade.
Kuan-Xi heads to an appointment with Kusuhara Romi, the Regent from the Shrouded Isle. She agrees to see to the "allow official sorties" plot, after spending some time getting to know Kuan-Xi.
Elsewhere, the Municipal Architects find themselves suffering from disrespect. They build city buildings, but the Lord Mayor does not really show up to parties and sing their praises. Ideally, they would like a high-status patron who would commission a house, and talk them up afterwards; a party in the Obsidian district would be very helpful.
Lijuan visits her dojo of archer urchins. They're doing pretty well - they can feed themselves with pigeons they hunt, though they are in need of some proper arrowheads "just in case". She buys them some, and instantiates a (small) group on the board.
The group visits the Iron Keys for Hire, and tells them about an exciting new bodyguard contest that may be coming up. (Part of Cai Wen's anti-bribery mechanic). Like the architects, they think they are not well respected. Iron keys cost a measly 6 li, the same as Pewter, for heaven's sakes. It should at least cost 72 li, like a Bronze Key, for the district where the guards live. Nobody is really against increasing the price of iron keys, so if someone could get a regent on board, that would be awesome. Merit says he'll think about that.
Moving the Pieces
Using some influence on the municipal architects and the ivory blacksmiths, the "side loop" with the Treasury in it is severed from the rest of the Arcade Regent's structure. The Bureau of Weights and Measures seems an interestingly auspicious group for Cai Wen to try to take over, if he doesn't want the circus to be his home group (since the circus might want to someday leave the Hidden City again). They grab the Dragon Army Headquarters with the Regent's structure, and call it a day.
Lijuan turns in her ten copper passes to get the Beggar's Guild to watch over her archer dojo, since influence points won't last.
Kasumi takes a last stroll in the Gold garden to overhear the Prince again - his plan of "split up the party by causing inter-party strife, starting with using Min Feng as a lever" is the official plan of the Marked, and the Cartogramancer will be in charge of taking out Merit's library.
- Cai Wen, Takanata, and Min Feng visit the Beautiful Regent.
- Takanata and Cai Wen visit the City of Light.