Getting A Rock
|"Let's find a rock
I mean a big-ass rock
Or maybe something like
A cinder block"
| The run begins on the Day of the Late Dog in the Month of the Butterfly in the twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place principally in the Dragon's Throne
A Tentative Visit
When last our heroes could remember, they were no longer very wanted in the Dragon's Throne, after Zhuai sent urchins wandering around with passes and keys in the party's names for long enough that the guards would no longer appear. It's still worth keeping a low profile, though.
In addition to getting a rock for Wei Han, the party (in this case, Kasumi, Takanata, and Li Merit) thinks that they should check in with Fen-Xi, and see about doing some research in the Imperial Archives to make Xiao Fa an Imperial Heir. As the three of them head there, it becomes clear to Merit that Kasumi is always staying on the other side of Merit from Takanata, and Takanata is not speaking to Kasumi. Merit wonders if he is the only grown-up on the mission.
The line at Gate Town is long, but moving quickly. The border crossing does not seem to be very onerous.
- "Welcome to the Dragon's Throne. Please declare any illegal valuables you might be carrying."
- "(whisper whisper)"
It is clarified that they are not carrying any illegal valuables, rather than refusing to declare the ones they are carrying, and are permitted to enter.
There is a crowd of people holding up signs - two are of particular interest.
When they check in with the second sign-holder, there is quite a bit of bureaucratic fuss for a double-stamped receipt, after which Merit is given a note from Fen-Xi.
Fen-Xi indicates that he has been promoted to Bureaucrat Fourth Rank. In a month's time he can be found at a new address in the Silver District, after he finishes his training for Bureaucrat Fifth Rank, at the Imperial Civil Service School. However, his wife would be pleased to assist them with anything they need that isn't bureaucracy.
Merit investigates the Civil Service School, and determines that it is possible, though discouraged, for guests to visit. Before doing so, then, they head to the new Fen house. Kasumi has an iron key, and assigns herself to guard Takanata. As Takanata and Merit only have silver passes, this is a little irregular if anyone were to seriously investigate, but is not a problem for the guards on the street.
Fen-Xi's wife, Black Pearl, is happy to see the party, and explains what has been going on. The family's fortunes have been on a rise, mostly due to the patronage of Takanata and Merit and the others. She is surprised at how swiftly Fen-Xi was invited to study for promotion to fifth rank - no doubt that was due to the patronage of Lords Takanata and Merit? Well, no, it wasn't. In fact, Lords Takanata and Merit are a little worried about anything that seems unusual. When the timing is revealed to be "the day after the party deposed the foreign minister", it seems particularly suspicious. Black Pearl assumes that the party is friends with the Lord Mayor.
- "As it turns out, we oppose him in many matters." -Merit
- "Well. Hmm. He is a fine gentleman to be so solicitous to the associates of his opponents." -Black Pearl
- "I do not think he is usually so solicitous." -Merit
Black Pearl is confident that, as a bureaucrat of the fourth rank he would no doubt have noticed if the application was fraudulent. But she will write to him to let him know that the circumstances are... odd. Takanata asks to be kept informed if he says anything back.
She says that factions are forming for the mechanic to choose the next foreign minister, but that the rules of the mechanic have not been released yet. The pro tem minister, Siew Xuan, is very popular. Merit tries to recall where he has heard the name Siew before. It has been a while since the last run.
Black Pearl doesn't think that the party is particularly wanted in public, but she wouldn't know about any secret police orders. She invites them to stay in the family house while they are in town, though Merit suspects she doesn't expect them to take her up on it, since they always stay in spiffy inns.
Archives Take One
Next, it is off to the Imperial Archives. The building seems to be no longer open to the public; there is a gate blocking access, with a uniformed guy in attendance. Apparently the Archives are only open to qualified archive researchers, which Merit guesses is a technical term. However, it also requires passing a test of three research rolls, each of which must get ten. Test-taking hours are technically at any time the archives are open, though it is appreciated if nobody shows up right before closing. Takanata wants to know what one may do inside if not a qualified researcher? Other guests must be accompanied by a qualified researcher who is going to actually do research.
- "There were issues in the past. There will be no more issues. "
Merit wants to know how long you have to wait after failing the test before taking it again. The guard says that no one has ever taken the test twice, and clearly imagines Merit wasting the Archives time to fail the test as often as possible. However, he will put in a request to find out the answer.
Takanata arranges for rooms in an inn in Gold District, and decides against visiting Autumn Rose just yet. The Gold District inn has a full service concierge and valet, in case they need anything.
- "Could you find a book on research?" -Merit
- "Ah, is there a staff member who is not up to snuff?"
- "A book would be a subtle reminder."
Merit considers the best place to launch a stealthy attack on the Hall of Supreme Harmony. He recalls that the nearby small building is the Palace of Penultimate Preparation, where one waits before seeing the Emperor. It is also known as an excellent place to center oneself for an upcoming trial.
- "If we pull off this Emperor thing we'll need more reverence."
- "You can fix that in the Palace of Obeying the Heavens."
The group heads to the entrance to the Jade Garden, where the guards are rather surprised to discover that Takanata's key works in the lock. (It is a complex physical lock, not just checking to see that the key exists, as with the other districts).
Merit wonders if there a problem with fakes? The guards admit that there is a perceived problem, such that those higher up are pushing for closer adherence to rules.
The group enters the Long Garden halfway down its length. They head to the waterfall first, where the jade path goes out beyond the walled edge of the garden. Merit, terrified of having to get fifteen successes of walking and falling over the edge, does not go out further. Kasumi heads out to the edge, and looks at the waterfall, but is not mystically perceptive enough to notice anything much.
Leaving the Long Garden, they enter the Garden of Benevolent Tranquility, where Takanata first met the Cartogramancer in person. Takanata says a prayer for his soul, wherever it might be, and his status temporarily increases.
They enter the palace through the Chamber of Joyful Longevity. Merit thinks that there are conflicting stories about what this building is for. On the one hand, it is said to celebrate life and the youthful parts of life. On the other hand, it is said to be the place where the Emperors get their long life.
Takanata asks permission to enter the Palace of Penultimate Preparation, to prepare for an upcoming test. His attendants will, of course, be with him during his preparations. The palace contains a zen garden, with a spiral of sand in the middle and a small bonsai tree just off center in the spiral. Contemplation benches dot the edge, and a gently bubbling fountain is to one side.
Kasumi meditates on "how to not make Takanata that angry ever ever again", and concludes that if she spent more time here meditating, she might gain something that could help.
Takanata contemplates dreamwalking to Fen-Xi. He gets a bonus towards doing so, but only if it happens in his next three rolls.
Merit paces through the garden between the building and the Hall of Supreme Harmony, at first pretending to be a tourist and then casing the joint. There are a number of visible guards around the great throne palace; if there are hidden guards he doesn't spot them. He does note that there has been a lot of recent construction, seamless and very perfectly blended, but very new. The physical defenses of the building were already good, but these changes may have increased the mystical defenses.
The group considers whether a rock discarded from the construction would work. Well, partly it would depend on how they spin it. "A piece of junk rock that was thrown away" not so much. But "A part of the throne room that was broken and had to be repaired and replenished" might actually be more to the purpose than "A part of the throne room that was integral to the place until we stole it and made a hole".
So the question is where the old stones that were replaced in the construction are now.
The group heads to the Hall of Middle Harmony, where Merit explains that during his meditations, his lord was distracted by the repairs that had been made, and would like to enquire after the architects and the work parties. The servants in the Hall of Middle Harmony indicate that questions about the palace and its construction should be asked in the Palace of Literary Profundity. They head there, where someone who is clearly identifiable as a Librarian bows to Takanata.
Merit continues to be in charge of talking, and is permitted three questions; Takanata is clearly too meditative since his stay in the Palace.
The first question is about who is overseeing the repairs to the Hall of Supreme Harmony. An Ivory Architect, whose name they provide, is directing the repairs, with a team of workers from the Bronze district. The second question is about what changes have been made, and the answer is that the mystical security has been increased, such that is much more difficult to enter in any non-material way such as worldwalking, dreamwalking, or ghostwalking. Not that it was in any way insecure before. The nature of the Jade Palace is such that fifteen successes are necessary, but many of the difficulties have been increased.
Merit thinks about his third question.
- "I don't mean this in a bad way, but this is the exact opposite of going into combat with Deng. Merit is contemplating every ramification of every question before saying a word." -Kasumi
The third question does have to be where the rubble from the construction has been taken - the answer is the Palace of Assisting the Earth, where they head next.
The Palace of Assisting the Earth has also undergone some new construction, Merit thinks. Well, having been the site of an Imperial Wedding and a large combat, that's not so surprising. The purpose of the building isn't as obvious as some of the others, and possibly is not well defined or is even lost to the mists of time. The security is about as minimal as anything in the Jade Palace - so fifteen successes, but they aren't particularly enthusiastic successes. In this case, it's a Construction Headquarters.
The Palace staffer on duty radiates an air of "volunteer docent" and is happy to explain things to the three visitors. Merit indicates curiosity about the artifacts removed from the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and she explains that it would depend on the type of artifact. Garments would go to the Glory Palace, artistic masterworks to the Hall of Mental Cultivation.
Ah, Merit didn't mean the artifact artifacts, he meant the building materials. She happily waxes rhapsodic about those as well - they are quarried from all over the Empire and then processed here. The polishing and processing rooms are upstairs.
Ah, but Merit didn't mean the new building materials, he means the old ones. What happens to the used rocks? This is the first time that the staffer is less than completely open; they are brought back here for processing, some to be repurposed, others to be... disposed of. Some might have already been disposed of if they were particularly mumblemumble. Things with chi relevance would be stored in the basement until cleansed.
That's Kasumi's cue to sneak out, and head to the basement. She's lucky, and rather than anyone too scary in the basement, there's just a priest that she doesn't recognize, looking kind of bored and ritually cleansing the chi of a bunch of rocks. She pockets one from the "cleansed" pile and one from the "uncleansed" pile, to return to a discussion Takanata is having with the docent about where one might submit a poem about a rock.
Then, mission accomplished, the group leaves the Jade Palace. Merit makes a detour through the Copper district to see if anyone there knows how to smelt aluminum. No one in the Copper district knows what aluminum is, though they think that if he gives them proper instructions, they'll be able to.
Takanata examines the two rocks. The "cleansed" rock was broken and then purified; if they can improve or repair or renew it in some rock-like fashion, it should be perfect for Wei Han's purposes. The other rock... has some of the Alchemist's chi entangled with it.
Well, that is interesting and scary and fraught with potential.
Takanata considers what would happen if he covers the rock with Cloud the Future. Well, that would not only make it more difficult to scry the rock, but it would make any predictions or scrying involving the fate of the rock more difficult - and also more random. It seems to be a strange Butterfly/Spider effect.
That night, Takanata dreamwalks to Fen-Xi. Since he prepared for it at the Palace of Penultimate Preparations, he gets to roll a second time and choose the better of the two.
As expected, Fen-Xi is learning to be a bureaucrat of the fifth rank. However, he is feverishly working to this end, at the expense of his health and his sanity, in order to finish soon enough to save the party. He doesn't know why it is necessary, but one of the first tests towards the fifth rank is to access one's own private file, and he saw the note that he had been sponsored to the fifth rank in order to deprive Takanata and Merit and the others of his services. He doesn't know why they will need him, but if it was worth pulling this many strings to get him out of the way, he figures it must be important.
In the morning, the inn's concierge presents Merit with two books. One is a standard +1 research skill 1/run book, and the other, the concierge says, was foisted upon him by a gentleman who was very insistent that he had to take it. The second book is entitled "Research: the Proper Way" and is authored by Huian. The introduction is intriguing:
Merit considers whether it is a trap, and determines that it kind of is, but it's a trap that has been built for his own good, because the trap-builder thinks he needs to be in a trap. He decides to postpone the question of the book until they have sorted out Fen-Xi.
They head to the Imperial Civil Service academy, and ask to see Fen-Xi.
- "Interrupting students is most irregular."
- "He is under contract with me. " -Takanata
Well, then. They return with a form, which Takanata has to sign, fully indemnifying the academy from any trouble or injury or other detrimental circumstance resulting from any delays in Fen-Xi's failure to pass his exams, or demotion to the end of any exam queues. The form is double-stamped with a little seal-device that the proctor is wearing around his neck, similar to the one that the guy holding the sign had. It presses and twists, but doesn't leave a mark. Odd. Merit recruits an agent from the Academy.
Fen-Xi returns, trailing behind the proctor, and is horrified to see Takanata and Merit.
- "Oh no! They have tricked you into delaying my progress!" -Fen-Xi
- "We will not be needing your services for some time. We have made arrangements. We do not wish you to harm yourself. " -Takanata, severely, turning on Eyes of the I Ching
Takanata notes, with Eyes of the I Ching, that the dream was more literal than he thought. Fen-Xi is 'explicitly spending Tao on finishing quickly, doing (so far) minor damage to his chi.
- "That is unacceptable." -Takanata
- "You made him angry. That's not good." -Kasumi
Tao damage is not something you can normally do with bureaucracy, but Fen-Xi has a little pendant around his neck that appears to be enabling this.
Takanata asks to see the pendant - it's a seal, similar to the ones that have been seen before. Merit notes that it is carved like a personal seal - it has a Fen-Xi specific icon - but there is no actual sealing involved. With a shiver, Merit realizes that this is the kind of seal one might use in the real Bureaucracy, the one in the World After. After all, you can't pour your soul into a project without authorizing use of the soul somehow.
Takanata drops Sei-Lin from his memorization list (he's still in the vicinity of the circus), casts Fen-Xi's I Ching, and memorizes him. Then he gives Fen-Xi a lecture: he and his loyalty and his efforts are appreciated, but he is damaging himself in the process of attempting to hurry through things, and they would prefer to delay their plans and allow him the time they need so that he will be finished and well, rather than available and damaged. It does not serve their ends.
- "I will be able to monitor your health from afar. Do not damage it."
- "Sir, yes, sir."
That is enough for the Dragon's Throne, so they return to Tahiti, where Merit starts to settle in with his new book. He warns the butlers to make sure he remembers to eat, but Takanata is dubious that deliberately jumping into the book trap is a good idea. He explains to Merit about "natural philosophy" - that Huian doesn't believe in sorcery and the I Ching and chi and so on.
- "Wait, you mean the things that work?" -Merit
- "Exactly." -Takanata
Huian has come up with some interesting theories that do seem to have... some interesting properties, like the ability to make extra-pure water. But If Merit ends up believing that none of those things are real, he might, for example, cease to have much of an opinion on which spirits are in the Cycle.Merit decides to not read the book just yet.