Chochiro's List Part IV
|"People who want to appear clever rely on memory. People who want to get things done make lists."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Magpie in the Month of the Monkey in the twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in various parts of the Empire.
Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time
Shuyan, Shen-Ji, Xian, Xiao Fa, Lijuan, and Kuan Xi are sitting at Tahiti, starting to discuss Chochiro’s list, when an old woman with a cane bursts in. Shuyan recognizes her (surprisingly) as Mother Virtue, from that haunted orphanage way back in Book One. She announces that she has ghosts again, and wants the party to come and get rid of them.
Some brief discussion ensues as to (1) what the party can actually do and (2) if this is something they really want to worry about right now. Xiao Fa points out that they have to go to the Illuminated Precincts anyway, but Shen-Ji feels like this is a quagmire that they don’t want to step into.
Shuyan takes Mother Virtue off for tea and distractions. When her tea is scorned as insufficiently well made, she asks for instructions. Mother Virtue seems initially inclined to be huffy, but then looks at her and hrumphs “Well fine, if you’re going to be an orphan about it...” and starts to instruct her in the art of tea ceremonies.
The rest of the group goes to sit in the carriage while discussing the contents of the safe stolen from the Purple Duke last run and opened at the last minute before the run. Shen-Ji and Kuan Xi analyze the contents to get a better sense for what they have acquired.
- The deed to the Purple Duke’s house and grounds, deemed to be not magic
- Red leather gloves deemed to be not dangerous
- Looking at that a bit closer, the gloves appear to be an interesting item only one-fourth created, so that they have one level of "not dangerous". At the moment they seem to be men’s gloves, though Kuan-Xi thinks she could pull off the look if she needed to.
- Jade combs, deemed to have a great deal of gravitas.
- Analyzing them is deeply disrespectful, and Shen-Ji and Kuan-Xi decide to not do that again.
- Twelve tael
- The blackmail book, deemed to be very magic
- The book is almost an artifact. It is still susceptible to fire, but if it get used much more, it will become an artifact and become much harder to destroy.
Xian wants to use the book to get the head of the house of Gainful Protection fired. A political discussion follows – the current head is part of the summoning demons faction of the house, and getting rid of him would be better sooner than later.
The butler distracts Mother Virtue while Shuyan briefs the party on the goings-on in the orphanage - apparently any orphan who dies there becomes a ghost. That's not good. Lijuan unveils her most recent drawing, which appears to be the party being attacked by swamp monsters.
I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped!
The group contemplates the things they still have to do:
- Burn the book
- Get rid of the foreign minister in the Dragon's Throne with blackmail first?
- Get rid of head of house of Gainful Protection with blackmail first?
- Talk to army commanders about the Servant’s guys
- Both northern commanders
- and either Construction or Highways
- Throw a Salon to change Illuminated Precincts policy
- Remember to get the favor from the King of the Precincts before dealing with the foreign minister
Shen-Ji and Xian discuss how to convince the northern commanders. There seems to be consensus that the group should go do that, until someone brings up the safe again….
It is decided that the best thing seems to be to put everything but the book back in the safe and hire someone to bring the safe back to him. Lijuan disguises herself, and hires movers to cart the safe off to the Purple Duke's lawn.
Mother Virtue is becoming impatient. Well, really, more impatient, and now the butler is getting rather harried. She finally agrees to leave, upon promises of help later.
Back to the army commanders plot! Xiao Fa goes to talk to Commander Yao, the NorthEast commander, first. The rest of the party is summoned rather peremptorily to the conversation by one of Xiao Fa's minions, and eventually deigns to go. Xian throws quite a lot of persuasion at the commander, and he agrees to allow the First Servant's patrols across the Wall, if he can send an agent with each patrol.
Back at the carriage, Shuyan notices a snake track in the dust, which leads to a note saying "Meet at the park in the town center at midnight." She guesses that it's from Lord Hawk, and stays behind to investigate the distraction, while everyone else heads to the Bridge of Moonlight to talk to Commander Musashi, of the Construction Battalion.
Workers seem to be digging around the side of the bridge at a diagonal, modifying the highways to slant away from the bridge in an odd way. As the group works its way through layers of army bureaucracy to see the Commander, they overhear a shouted warning: "Moonrise in thirty minutes!"
While discussing how horses might be gotten over the wall, another warning is shouted: "Moonrise in fifteen minutes!". Apparently there is an official edict to do no work on the bridge while the moon is up, "to avoid overworking the laborers". Right. Anyhow, after much discussion, the Commander agrees to let the First Servant's patrols cross the wall if they arrange to build horse-hoists.
The question of what the construction battalion is hiding from the Moon is not provided a satisfactory answer, but Commander Musashi is somewhat willing to discuss his constantly changing orders. The shift in orders seems to be a conflict between various members of the imperial bureaucracy: alchemist/cartographer/treasurer/etc. – the most recent set of orders was countersigned by the Regent of the Illuminated Precincts.
Meanwhile, Shuyan goes to her assignation and has a lovely night with Snow Wolf, who is not, after all, Lord Hawk. In the morning, he asks to borrow her Talisman, "so my sister doesn't need to kidnap you to do the Wolf ritual."
- "I know it sounds weird, but we’re doing a ritual to replace one of the Great Cycle Spirits with Wolf! It’s totally a real thing! And it pays really, really well!" -Snow Wolf
Shuyan declines to let Snow Wolf borrow the Monkey Talisman, and also isn't really worried about being kidnapped because of it. She does however get quite huffy about the prospect of his letting her get kidnapped, so she storms off dramatically amidst his protests of innocence. She leaves without letting him say goodbye to her snakes even.
Protect the valley something, something, something, something alive!
Next, the group heads to talk to Commander Tsao, the NorthWest Commander. According to Commander Yao, Commander Tsao has been trying to keep the Roof of the World and Bear Mountain from going to war, and blames the party. Or possibly Kar Fai.
- "Kar Fai gets bulk discounts on Umbrage." -Xian
Currently, in the Roof of the World, kung fu is allowed, but only with a permit, and is frowned upon by the populace – there seems to have been some rather effective propaganda in place. Rants by Kung Fu masters about the idiocy of the policy are apparently not helping.
The party is distracted again by thought of the blackmail book again – Xiao Fa advocates that they just burn it immediately before ninjas can steal it back or swamp monsters come for them. Xian wants to go to the Dragon’s Throne right now to use it. Kuan Xi is uncomfortable with the idea of using it at all. A longer discussion about moral choices ensues - Xian believes that blackmail is ethical, since it is punishing people for their misdeeds. Shen-Ji is more worried about the practicalities of making the book harder to destroy.
In order to attune it to a new country:
- Drop blood on it from someone in at least the second tier of nobility of that country.
- Get actual blackmail on one of the appropriate nobility of that kingdom and feed it to the book.
The group heads back to pick up Shuyan, having left her behind for her date in the Steppes. Xiao Fa notices a guy reading a scroll and covertly watching them, and heads over to chat. The guy calls himself Ping, but claims to have never met Xiao Fa before. Xiao Fa judges him to be a thieves’ guild enforcer. Hmm.
Then, it's back to everyone's favorite border crossing between Bear Mountain and the Roof of the World. Kuan Xi thinks that Commander Tsao would be very grateful for someone who could resolve the succession in the Roof (for example, dedicating a whole chapter end to it). The party doesn’t believe that they can do that just now. So Xian decides to whammy him, except the group's status is insufficient to get them in before the early evening.
Lijuan passes pork buns out to the local urchins, and hears that food is getting expensive, and harder to beg or steal. Word is that the evil Bear Mountain guys lured the Steward’s favorite advisor out of the kingdom and she never returned. (Public opinion is very clear that Bear Mountain is behind this.)
Everyone except Xiao Fa meets Commander Tsao after dinner, and Xian hits him with a serious persuasion whammy. He signs off on letting the First Servant's patrols cross the Wall. Back to the Steppes again, Yue Ping and Gipeno are given the news that the patrols have permission now. Yue Ping agrees that her father owes the party a favor.
Listen, this whole system of yours could be on fire and I couldn't even turn on the kitchen tap without filling out a twenty-seven B stroke six... bloody paperwork.
Next stop: Dragon's Throne, to deal with cancelling the bureaucracy policy against the Illuminated Precincts. Everyone is disguised.
Lijuan asks around in Pewter, and hears that the foreign minister never leaves the inner ring - he's never been in Pewter, Brass, or Bronze, as far as the local urchins know. Kuan Xi asks around in the Silver district, and learns that he lives in the Gold district and works in the Ivory district. He's reasonably good at bureaucracy, but has seals that he uses to avoid having to make hard rolls. He's also close friends with the Lord Mayor. From gathering more information in Ivory, she learns that he's thought to be somewhat ineffective, and mostly rubber-stamps the Lord Mayor's plans. The seals that double his bureaucracy successes are left in his desk. And, he doesn't have an ivory key - he gets passes from the Mayor.
Someone comes up and whispers "Psst!" at Zhuai, who wanders off to make contact with Cai Wen's Illumineaucracy mechanic. There are several options that they can provide:
- If the current foreign minister is fired or resigns, he can be replaced with a pro tem minister that the party helps pick
- If the party arranges to have him kidnapped, he can be smuggled out of the city
- The party can make a sufficiently good bureaucracy roll to get him fired, but then they won't have any automatic say as to who replaces him.
Some possibilities for how to get him fired are floated - getting a badly incriminating document for him to stamp, that he'll just rubber stamp? Attune the Black Book to the Dragon's Throne and blackmail him into resigning?
Kuan-Xi spreads the rumors that she is interested in finding out about any enemies that the foreign minister may have, but it seems that he doesn't have enough of his own agenda to have his own enemies. Well, are there enemies of the Lord Mayor who might want to get rid of him? Unfortunately, by the time that this rumor comes to the ears of someone who might have something to say, Kuan-Xi is nowhere to be found, as she's wearing the Crane talisman. Two notes arrive at the inn, one for Shen-Ji and one for Shuyan, both in an elegant hand. The notes for Shuyan reads "You could have just asked", and Shuyan heads to the Jade Palace to speak with Precious Jade. They chit-chat about various things. Precious Jade asks after "dear Min Feng". Shuyan complains about threats of kidnapping from an otherwise-pleasant gentleman, and mentions that her friends are trying to get rid of the foreign minister. Precious Jade might be able to help, though it would be a favor trade.
Meanwhile, everyone else considers who could help attune the Black Book. Well, there is a rotating member of the regency council who’s the head of the city guard, and on that day that person would count as second-tier nobility of the country. Since It’s the Day of the Early Bear, that would be the Bear Regent, who is loyal to Lijuan.
Lijuan, Xiao Fa, Zhuai, Kawaii, Boo, Ho, and Xiao Fa's armsmen go to see the Bear Regent. Luckily, Xiao Fa has a shtick in this, so the whole menagerie isn't so much of a problem.
- "How may I help you?"
- "We need some of your blood. It’s for a ritual." -Lijuan
- "Is this important for our goals?"
He's a Bear, so he agrees. Zhuai has a dagger and vial all prepared, so the bloodletting goes swiftly.
Shen-Ji attunes the Black Book, which is now a book of blackmail on the Dragon's Throne. However, it can now only be burned with magical fire, not normal fire.
You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! You only moved the headstones! Why! Why!
The party will need to make sure they will be getting a favor before they finalize demoting the foreign minister, so they head to the Illuminated Precincts. Shen-Ji is only important enough to get an audience with the King the next day, not immediately, so they visit Mother Virtue's orphanage.
The orphans are all adorable, and try to convince people to take them home, but nobody wants to acquire an orphan at this time. There are three ghosts of children who have died in the years since the party last visited - Little Ping is the most recent, who died from "the sickness" after drinking too much canal water. The previous death drowned in the canal, and the first died of an infection from a broken leg. (Xian is suspicious at the number of deaths, but after thinking about it for a while, decides that it's not statistically unlikely, but that all of them turning into ghosts is more than just coincidence.)
Xian senses the mood, which is "death", and Kuan-Xi looks for magical influences, which are Southern. Well, that could be Yama. Perhaps the Sankara Stone of Death is somewhere around.
Xiao Fa follows the chi to the canal, and Shen-Ji notices something powerful and Southern buried in the mud below. Shen-Ji calls on Stoneback Cho, and gets his assistance for digging it up. Xian wonders if Shuyan should help particularly.
- "You might be useful here, being dead. Not that you’re not useful being alive." -Xian
Shen-Ji and Kuan-Xi put up walls of iron and ice, and Pao evaporates the water between the walls, exposing the mud of beneath the canal. Stoneback Cho unearths a large sarcophagus from the mud, and lifts it to the side of the canal.
Inside the sarcophagus, there is Senatali writing on the interior: "Now you are responsible". And, of course, a dessicated corpse clutching a stone. Xiao Fa picks it up.
Alas, the effects are reversed in the Empire.
The next morning, Shen-Ji and his entourage have their audience with Shan Yu, the Highest Wisdom. Shen-Ji mentions his connection to the House of Exuberant Interference, and says that he is investigating undoing the bureaucracy storm. Would His Majesty be supportive of this and appreciative of such efforts? His Majesty suggests that they enact his plan rather than theirs. Might Shen-Ji explain the details of their plan so that he might compare the the two? Shen-Ji explains the plan - as it turns out, His Majesty's plan is in fact very similar, with only a few tiny details to change. However, those tiny changes might be crucial, so the party agrees to enact His Majesty’s plan under his general leadership.
The party returns to the Dragon's Throne, where Zhuai notes that the Thieves’ Guild is looking for them.
The Black Book says, for the foreign minister, "I know what you do under the falls at midnight." Hmm. The Invisible Gates (one of Cai Wen's Illumineaucracy groups) smuggles a note to the Foreign Minister, saying that he should resign by noon or everyone else will know what he does under the falls too.
The night is spent in speculation on what is under the falls. Tunnels? Chi lines? Something even more interesting?
In the morning, the foreign minister resigns to spend more time with his family. In two weeks, a new minister will be appointed, but in the meantime, a minister pro tem is appointed, Lord Siew-Quan (Zhuai in disguise).
- "During this time of transition it would be appropriate to withdraw from all extraterritorial agreements, etc, etc." -Lord Siew-Quan
The Bureaucracy Storm is cancelled, and a favor is earned from the King of the Illuminated Precincts.
- "Okay, you earn eighteen eps and..." -Mike
- "We burn the book! " -Kuan-Xi
- "But... we could still use it to…"
- "Slippery slope! Slippery slope!" -Xiao Fa
Shen-Ji destroys the Black Book with magical fire. Zhuai notes that with the safe returned and the book burned, the swamp monsters are no longer in the impending doom category.
Tapped and all resources burnt:
- The Beggars’ guild
- The Silver Civil Service
- The Invisible Gates
- The Iron Keys for Hire
- The Gold Key Distributors