Hidden City: Inner Ring

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"Wealth is but compost, useful only when spread about." The run begins on the Day of the Late Butterfly in the first Month of the Magpie in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.

The run takes place in the Hidden City.

Previous Run


Contents

Brass

The party has been staying at the Green Table, an inn in the Brass district. Fen-Xi shows up, looking for Takanata, to let him know that he has finished the training to become a second-level bureaucrat. He has more shticks now, and his rates have increased, though Takanata has him on retainer at the initial rate. However, if anyone else needs to hire him temporarily, he charges four li a day now.

The discussion of rates is interrupted when two guards enter the inn, flinging the doors open; a further set of guards comes in, taking up stations around the party, and more guards stand by the door. Everyone begins to look a bit worried when a messenger in fancy robes and a complicated hat enters, looking for Lady Wu Shuyan: her Exalted Excellency the Precious Jade invites the lady to attend her in the Imperial Palace at her earliest convenience. The messenger carefully backs out of the room again, and the guards leave.

"For those of us who haven't been keeping up, what the hell is going on?" -Min Feng

Shuyan explains that Precious Jade has been very friendly -- and given her many pointers -- since they met during the Noodles of Fu Manchu, when the Cup of Five Virtues was founded, and had sent her a jade key for her birthday.

"Shuyan is actually a mole in our organization." -Xian
"That's okay, so am I. You and I are both moles, right?" -Min Feng

Another messenger arrives, this one with fewer guard escorts, inviting Cai Wen to the birthday party of the most exalted Haru Mikae, two days hence. Cai Wen doesn't recognize the name, but the moll he met during puttering had agreed to get him into a party. Cai Wen asks around about Haru Mikae, but doesn't get the required eight successes, and the locals find out that Cai Wen has been invited to his party but Cai Wen still doesn't know who he is.

A third messenger shows up, this one with a message for Min Feng, and delivering a silver pass with an invitation from Baron Song to meet him. The group recollects that the last time they saw him, he was trying to arrange to present some of his starmetal to the Regency Council, to earn political favor.

"Where did things get left with the whole him stealing your land thing?" -Anto
"..." -Min Feng

Since Precious Jade now really really outranks Shuyan, her convenience should probably be soon. The group contemplates how to actually get up to Jade, though. Having a Jade Key doesn't let you enter districts on the way. However, Fen-Xi explains, there is a stair gate between Bronze and the end of the Jade park - there's a covered walkway used by servants to bring things into the palace. Ah, that should work. Also, the Jade park might have that gate Wei Han was wondering about, the Gate of Supreme Harmony, that only the Emperor passes through.

As the group sorts through the party's pile of keys and passes, they note that some of them appear to be slightly magical (that is, some item cards are on yellow card stock instead of white). Shen-Ji checks them out and confirms that they are magical, but can't tell anything more than "it's complicated."

When Fen-Xi finally realizes that Shuyan has a Jade Key, he falls to the floor in obeisance before her. He suggests to Cai Wen, who has hired him, that he do his best to ingratiate himself with her, but Cai Wen assures Fen-Xi that they're all on the same team. So... how large an entourage is appropriate to bring on a Jade invitation? Fen-Xi thinks Shuyan really needs a good honor guard. Master Deng, as swordsmaster to the Court of Beauty, is probably a reasonable component of an honor guard, but Fen-Xi kind of thinks she should have more than one. People have gone into the Jade Palace with parades of followers that last for an hour. He's actually a bit impressed with Shuyan's "disguise", as it has clearly dropped her status quite a bit.

The party has a lot of Bronze passes, but they're a little worried about spending all of them, and decide to get a couple more keys. Xian hires Fen-Xi, and purchases a bronze and copper key, with associated passes, and Anto hires him to get an iron key for himself (and loses two status when Fen-Xi has trouble with that roll).

Jade

Shuyan brings everyone as her escort, with Anto and Zhi-Hao as iron-keyed guards. There are no problems getting into and through bronze, and they climb the Jade stair gate. There are several guards, checking the people coming through - a guy is carrying a backpack filled with... fireworks? The guards carefully examine his pass, and then he goes through a small gate. Another man carries a basket of flowers; a third carries a small box, and he shows the contents to the guards only. When it is Shuyan's turn, and she turns out to have a key rather than a pass, the merchants and several of the guards hit the floor in obeisance, though one guard does stay standing to examine the key. When it opens a lock in the gatehouse, he also hits the ground until Shuyan tells him to rise. He opens the small gate, and opens a large jade door behind it, which leads to a wide ivory stair up to the garden rather than the lower walkway.

The garden is lovely and wondrous, with flowers, low hanging fruit, and fountains flanking a central stream. It is more formal and carefully tended than the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation, but nearly equally lovely.

At the central portion of the garden, as it crosses over the wall between the inner and outer rings, there is a jade bench made for two, looking out over the city. No one dares sit in it, though.

Xiao Fa looks about, contemplating the feng shui of the garden.

"This is Jade. The garden examines your feng shui." -Shuyan
"She tasks me!" -Xiao Fa, spending a karma to get 15 successes

Xiao Fa falls over, and guards instantly appear, from behind nearly every tree, demanding to know what is going on. Zhi-Hao is quite disturbed to note that until they appeared, he had not sensed any particular danger in the area. The guards examine Shuyan's key with some sort of small wand, and then nod and ask if her servant needs assistance. However, Min Feng has been looking after him, and when Shuyan says that no assistance is needed, the guards vanish behind trees again.

Xiao Fa explains that it seems that the chi of the entire Empire comes into the city, going around and around the districts, then into the palace where it is diverted and heads down the Jade path and out. Huh, so where is the chi going? What direction does the Jade park point? Maybe towards the Pearl River? But that doesn't seem particularly nefarious, however Dragon, according to Xiao Fa definitely doesn't like what it's doing now. There was some mention of a Sky Gate - is that for flying people? Or something else? No one is sure, except that "a gate for flying people" seems unlikely.

Anto looks out over the city from next to the bench, and sees a birds-eye view. There are workmen dressed in gold robes, taking down scaffolding from around a mansion, in the Gold district. The mansion is the largest of the houses in the district - perhaps it is the home of the Golden Duke.

Xian finds a peach tree, and after much searching, finds a slightly overripe peach, which he picks and eats.

Then, the group proceeds down the length of the park to the palace, where they are met by a group of "Butterfly guards" (that is, guards with butterfly icons on their uniforms) who seem to be expecting them. The guards tell Shuyan that her servants can wait in one room, and her guards can wait in another. Shuyan asks if they might accompany her, but the guards say she has no need for guards in the Jade Palace, but if she wishes to bring her majordomo or a lady in waiting or the like, that would be appropriate. She invites Men Feng, and the others cool their heels in the waiting room.

As Shuyan and Min Feng head into the palace, they find several times that just as they are starting to approach an intersection, before they find themselves slowing to wonder which way to go, a young woman appears to ask if she can be of assistance in directing them. This happens several times, in nearly identical manner.

"Do you have a dedicated stalker, or is it ambient servants everywhere?" -Anto

Min Feng can't figure out if it's the same woman each time, or servants dressed and made up very similarly (and perhaps chosen for aesthetic similarity).

They pass a room with some guards in front of the door; a woman exits, wearing a long black dress and odd, somewhat gauche, jewelry - ruby pendants at her neck, emeralds on one arm, sapphires on the other arm. She politely pays them no mind, and heads off in another direction, and Min Feng studies her.

The two finish their trip through the palace, to another room with guards outside who appear to be expecting them. Inside are Precious Jade and several other women.

"Oh, lovely, you didn't bring any of them. Well done." -Precious Jade

The other women look disappointed, and are sent away. Precious Jade starts into small talk, asking Shuyan and Min Feng about what they've been up to, and Shuyan happily fills her in about where the circus has been and what it's been doing. She mentions Inspector Fu, which catches Precious Jade's attention. She says that's why she invited Shuyan - she saw that there was a shakeup in the Inspectorate, and that the Inspector was spending some time looking into Shuyan's friends. Precious Jade has arranged for some of them - she should pick the good ones - to go to this birthday celebration for the Golden Duke, and Inspector Fu will be there. She has made it clear that it would be gauche for him to do too much investigating before the party, and then at the party, they can put him onto something new that isn't Takanata.

Anyhow, they should stay within the party mechanics, but they should pick a plot that they want him to investigate, and then quietly and indirectly point him at it, by getting other people at the party to bring pieces of the plot to his attention. They'll need to have plotlets that add up to three different areas - investigability, nefariousness, and importance.

Anyhow, she'll arrange for both Shuyan and Min Feng to get invitations, and they can each bring a servant and a date. Min Feng wonders if her brother is coming to the party as well? Precious Jade says that he is not really her plot, but as a favor to Min Feng, she'll arrange for him to have an invitation there as well.

"When you've finished the party and put Inspector Fu on the trail, come back and tell me what you've learned." -Precious Jade

She tells them that they can feel free to enjoy the palace for the rest of the day, but she has duties to attend to, and she retires. Min Feng wonders how Precious Jade survives in the palace - she wasn't getting fifteen successes against them.

Rather than explore the Jade Palace, the pair quickly rejoin the others. Min Feng asks if her brother can invite Kuan-Xi to the party - a princess of the Shrouded Isle should help his prestige. Or would she be uncomfortable with that? Kuan-Xi looks a little uncomfortable, but thinks that it would be right and responsible for her to help out Min Feng's brother, so she'll go with him.

Zhi-Hao reminds the GMs that he has a "+1 invitation to the next party" from a long ago party that he did really well at, so he can arrange for an invitation for himself to the Golden Duke's birthday too.

Min Feng looks for somewhere to send a note to her brother, and discovers that it is very easy to send messages via Imperial messengers as long as they are going down the importance gradient. She lets her brother know that she's arranged for a party invitation in Gold, and a princess for him to attend with.

The Hidden City
(painting by Charles Urbach)

Then the group heads back into the park and away from the palace, but instead of stopping at the stair gate, they continue out along the park to its end, where a bridge... stops in midair. When they turn they see that they are outside of the Hidden City, there the view of the bridge and waterfall is impressive.

At the end of the bridge, Anto can tell that there is some sort of door, maybe with a place to put his hand in front of it. After looking at it for a little while, he concludes that it's the Emperor's personal door into the Worlds Above/Below.

"Nobody else can see the door, so would anyone notice if I opened it?" -Anto
"YES" -everyone

He starts to put his hand on the spot in the air where a handprint seems to be; Zhi-Hao, worried about him being 'wu-xied' into doing something foolish, grabs him, but Anto reassures Zhi-Hao that he's intentionally doing something stupid, and Zhi-Hao lets him go.

As Anto pushes on the "door", he finds that he's spending hit points instead of li to buy up successes. Twenty-five hit points later, the "locks" pop, and he opens the door, to look down upon the Spider's Citadel. He thinks that the door could have pointed to many places, but now it's pointing there. The party thinks briefly of visiting Dragon, but decide to shut the door instead.

Before closing it, Anto and Xiao Fa and Min Feng contemplate how the door might be changed to point somewhere else. After much thought, and another 36 of Anto’s hit points, their best understanding is that the last Emperor put his hand upon the door and pointed it where he wished it to go - and that happened a long time ago.

Anto pushes on the door again, and shuts it, but when the door closes, he finds that he is back up to full hit points, rather than down 61 as he expected. That's much more worrisome than being nearly dead. Cai Wen, thinking about the risk, worries about the next time Anto is in a fight.

Having borrowed enough trouble for the day, the group heads back down the stair gate to Bronze, and then back to their hotel in Brass.

House of Butler

Eventually, Cai Wen reveals that he has received a Silver pass bearing the stamp of the House of Butler. He’s not sure when or how he got it, but he found it among his things. So, the party heads to the Silver district. The House of Butler, where many nobles and houses of high reputation and wealth go for their trusted bonded servants (such as Dutiful Hsung), is across the street from the Imperial Archives, but nobody dares go in there.

They are met by Dutiful Hsung. Apparently, he had heard that Zhu Cain Wen was in town when people started bandying his name around after Cai Wen’s failed Gather Information rolls earlier. Having been friendly with the party in the past, he arranged for them to arrive at the House of Butler hoping that Cai Wen will help them with a delicate dilemma that they find themselves in. The ``Scroll of Service’’ has been stolen, and the thief plans to sell it in a private auction; rumor says that it may be happening at the birthday celebration of the Golden Duke. Unfortunately, by Imperial law and custom, the House itself is forbidden from participating in anything outside its walls on its own behalf, and thus cannot go get it back or even explicitly pay the price if Cai Wen simply infiltrates the auction and buys the scroll. However, they would owe him a great favor, and if in the future, he chose to ask them for something valuable and easily liquidated, that might pay the debt.

Kuan-Xi wistfully notes that she has always wanted a butler from the House of Butler. The party wonders if she could hire one for a little while while she's here, but she says no, they are hired for life. Their loyalty is one of the things that they are most prized for. Cai Wen tries to find out how much they would cost - maybe just someone with the most basic of training? It is subtly hinted that a d4-sized butler (that is, someone who can get 1d4 successes on anything) could be hired for about eight tael.

The party is generally happy to do good deeds for favors, so they agree to do what they can, and the House briefs them about standard Hidden City party mechanics.

  • Status can be spent as per the normal Hidden City mechanics (including the status of your keyholder), or as part of the party mechanic. All status spent during the party returns at the end of the party.
  • Most people are quite good at the things that they do, and everyone knows about how good everyone is, based on the district they are associated with, so the trick is to create an interaction based around something orthogonal to both of you - the soldier and the politician (but not the geisha) might speculate as to which of them could more accurately identify an unknown blend of tea. (Wits with Tea Ceremonies.) Anyone may issue a friendly gambit to someone else at the party, which may be accepted or countered (that is, the person declines that gambit but suggests a different one) which can be accepted or declined. These rolls will probably not be the default number of successes. If neither gambit is accepted, this is a ``failed gambit and both people lose a point of status, as both people are clearly trying too hard to win.
  • Whoever wins the gambit gets +1 status; whoever loses gets -1.
  • After a non-failed gambit, the winning party may ask a large (in-party) favor of the other (an introduction to someone else, a small favor, ask a non-offensive question, that sort of thing); the losing party may, if they wish, ask a fairly small favor. Large favors will often have mechanical bonuses, such as allowing instant movement to the place that you need to be to do it.

Well, the use of gambits for favors will let them send people to talk to Inspector Fu, so that should work.

House of Song

Since they're in Silver, Min Feng diverts to visit the address her brother invited her to. He seems to have managed to rent a very very small house overshadowed by two larger houses - not the most impressive location. He's pleased to see Min Feng, but wonders why she's there? She explains that she's on a mission for the Prince of the Beautiful Kingdom.

Yuanjun has been having a hard time working his way high enough to see the Regency Council, but Min Feng blithely notes that she should be able to get him into the Jade district, as they are friends with the Imperial Concubine. He bites back a snarky comment, as helpful is more important than snark. It's easier to go down the access gradient than up, so while Jade isn't where he needs to be (he was aiming for Ivory, where the Regents are), it's useful.

Anyhow, it could also be useful for them to attend the party in Gold, so she has arranged for that, and has arranged for a princess from the Shrouded Isle as a date for him, so he gives her a silver pass to give to Kuan-Xi.

"I think my plan is to make him like me better than his mother." -Min Feng

He seems quite stunned and astounded that not only is Min Feng here, but that she has quite such the run of the city as she does. He's been here for over six weeks, and has only managed to reach Silver. Cai Wen notes that since they can help him by sending a message to the Regent, hopefully he can help them at the party. He agrees, as long as they're not doing something treasonous.

Party Planning

The group reconvenes back to their rooms in Brass, and thinks about their plan for Inspector Fu. Trying to get him to investigate the roads being moved seems like the best plan - there's some good nefariousness that happened in the Four Brothers run, and it does point him at the Marked in the end. How important it actually is may be the tricky bit - so the roads got straighter, so what? But maybe using good people to pass the clues along will help with that. There's also the "Regnecy Council" letter - forging letters from the Regency Council is pretty important.

They toy with the idea of sending him after Ezokin instead, as the party has framed him for a bunch of things in the past, and has the ability to do more in the future. In the end, they conclude that it would be easy to point fingers at Ezokin, but going after the Marked would be better, and some people are a little concerned that if he investigates Ezokin, he'll figure out that the party is framing him and come back around to investigating the party.

As the discussion continues, a carriage shows up for Kuan-Xi from Baron Song and takes her away.

"Should we jot some notes down to remind ourselves?" -Zhi-Hao
"Nah, we'll remember." -Xian
"... that was my Trouble voice." -Xian

Prestige Party

The ballroom is set up like many parties have been - dark corners, buffet tables, bars serving drinks - and there is a pair of thrones with the Golden Duke and Duchess. Iron-key guards are invited to stand in the corner out of the way, but at this point the party has acquired enough actual invitations.

Min Feng spots Autumn Rose, and heads over to chat. Autumn Rose is disappointed that Min Feng's "delightful grandfather" isn't coming, but Min Feng makes apologies for Takanata, who is indisposed. Other guests that people recognize include Ando, Inspector Fu, Ming I and the Imperial Alchemist, and Fen-Xi and the Black Pearl.

Min Feng asks Autumn Rose for an introduction to a nearby kung fu master, named Chun Ming, reputed to be a master of the Iron Web style. Anto thinks that there's something unsavory about his reputation, but can't quite remember what it is. Min Feng remarks that the only martial arts masters she is acquainted with are Master Zhou and the late Master Long. Chun Ming says he would be interested in meeting Master Zhou.

Smalltalk around the party points out that the Imperial Alchemist is already here, and the Lord Mayor will be late. Anto can't remember who the Lord Mayor is, so he assumes that means he's Stupid Li the Stupid Wanderer.

The first Party Drift after introductions is Happy Hour - guys get to whisk girls to the bar, except for kung fu masters, who are apparently too dignified for such silliness.

Shen-Ji talks to Autumn Rose, and she chides him for allowing Takanata to come to the Hidden City without letting her know. They always have such interesting conversations. Shen-Ji asks after Autumn Rose's father - he is unfortunately also indisposed, and will not be attending the party. Shen-Ji complains about the keys, but Autumn Rose notes that you get used to it after a while (she has a house in Gold herself, not far from here). Shen-Ji offers a bureaucracy gambit, and after winning, asks her to tell Inspector Fu about changing the chi of the Empire. She asks him to remind Takanata to look her up.

Ando chats with Shuyan - all he knows is that he’s here to thwart her, so what is she actually up to? She says she's just visiting her friend, Precious Jade - which pretty much confirms his opinions about thwarting. He offers a gambit of a drinking contest, which she wins, and asks him to deliver the forged letter from the Regnecy Council to Inspector Fu. He asks a smaller favor - she should avoid leaving without informing him of the details of her inevitable victory.

Cai Wen has a memory contest with Chun Ming, and discovers that ties become double or nothing. When he eventually wins, he asks after the Scroll of Service auction, and learns that when it's time, he should whisk someone to a particular dark corner and then head to the bar.

Min Feng beats the Duke in an astrology gambit ("She walked up to the bar and asked me my sign. This is a great party."), using Yanyu's skill, and gets him to tell Inspector Fu about people making unauthorized changes to the highways.

The Lord Mayor finally arrives at the party, and proves to be the Imperial Bureaucrat.

Xian talks to Li Mei, and loses a gambit of dancing lifts. The favor he must pay is to escort her to one of the dark corners later in the party.

Cai Wen introduces himself to the Black Pearl, and notes that she seems to be some sort of omni-moll, who might be able to use the shticks and skills of previous molls, and who wouldn't wander off after a run or two. He boggles, before challenging her to a political debate. He wins, and asks her to whisk him to that dark corner at the appropriate time in the party; as the lesser favor, she asks him to give Fen-Xi the day off tomorrow.

Ming I challenges Anto to a gambit of elements - she seems to be bucking the custom of the party, and playing to both of their strengths instead of their ostensible weaknesses. Anto protests that he thought that wasn't how it was played, but she seems to think she's being bold rather than cheating. When she wins, she asks him to engage Shen-Ji and the Alchemist in conversation, to keep them distracted.

Xiao Fa talks to a woman. He introduces himself as a humble healer, and she says she is a humble spy. She's surprised there are so many at the party - she sees at least four. Xiao Fa says he sees two and a half, and she thinks that "half a spy" is particularly interesting. After a bit of haggling, they settle on a "chopstick sword-dancing" gambit, which she wins, and asks that he casually let Inspector Fu know that Shuyan is training up to be a spy. Xiao Fa suggests that she offer a drink to one of the other spies in the room, but she doesn't magically move to do so, since it's only a small favor.

Cai Wen challenges Fen-Xi to a drinking contest, which he declines - he couldn't possibly drink with his employer like that. How about an, um, simple little, um, law challenge? Cai Wen thinks that's not quite right either, but Fen-Xi seems to be not very good at parties. He wins, and asks a large favor: he hears that Cai Wen is going to be whisked to a dark corner by his girlfriend, but could he substitute in? Cai Wen grumbles about being thwarted by his allies, but agrees.

Anto challenges the Alchemist to a storytelling gambit. The Alchemist tells a story of a man who on the day of his birth was given a great gift, and so he wandered around doing random and heedless things, so that now at any time one of the servants of the Spider can snap their fingers and take away sixty-one of his hit points. Anto tells the story of the showy bandit on the border between the Strand and the Taiga, who said he was very impressive and undefeatable but the party totally defeated him. Anto wins, and asks the Alchemist to bring a copy of Li Kao's map to Inspector Fu. As a small favor, the Alchemist suggests that if Anto get into a contest with Ming I again, that he show her up badly.

Min Feng chats with a guy who doesn't give his name, and doesn't discuss his specialty at parties. She says that she's the granddaughter of Tokai Takanata, which he finds interestingly non-specific, and says he's the son of a name Min Feng doesn't recognize. He concludes that she's a thief looking into the secret auction, and suggests that if she stays away from the authorities, and doesn’t rat him out, she can have a cut of the proceeds.

The next Party Drift is women's choice dancing, in which Shuyan dances with the Imperial Bureaucrat, to many people's surprise. Zhi-Hao dances with a young woman in particularly pretty clothes, who says she's an artist. Zhi-Hao is intrigued to hear that, and says that he's friends with Takanata. She says she's an associate of the Regent of the Isle of Beauty, suddenly reminding everyone that they had an actual Mission to work on (albeit one that they think Butterfly has suggested that they noodle about on), and everyone is very pleased to have randomly bumped into a game goal. Zhi-Hao challenges her to a dancing gambit, and (with some karma use) wins. He sends her to mention the Bridge of Moonlight to Inspector Fu.

Kuan-Xi and Song Yuanjun have been spending most of the party talking; Min Feng keeps hearing her name mentioned, but can't tell what they're talking about.

The Duke, playing good party host, decides that Inspector Fu has been a little too trapped in the corner by people pestering him with interesting tidbits of information, so he wanders the Inspector over to Min Feng, who he seems interested in talking to. She challenges him - she hears he is a reputed inspector, very good at getting to the bottom of everything except mystical questions. He notes that he is quite familiar with her grandfather's reputation, but she refrains from leaking anything. After winning a perception gambit, she asks him to look into the secret auction and return the scroll to the House of Butler. The thief she was speaking to is appalled, but their bargain wasn't a favor, just conversation. As a small favor, he asks her to let him know Takanata's itinerary.

The Bureaucrat beats Shuyan in a gambit about the geography of the Twelve Kingdoms, and he asks to see what keys and passes she has. When he notes she has a key inscribed with Grasshopper's name, he confiscates it, and he doesn't seem surprised by the Jade key, but doesn't seem to have found what he was looking for. As the small favor, she asks what he was looking for, and he says one of his magical keys.

Shen-Ji challenges Ming I to a sorcerous gambit. She notes that Chi would burn down the building, so suggests Int; he counters with Yin. After spending a karma to break the doubling limit and throwing in all his fortune pools, he beats her with 22 successes, and asks her to leave his group alone for the rest of the party. She agrees, and asks him to not tell the Alchemist about her losing quite so badly.

Xian challenges the spy to a gambit of hiding in shadows, but he proves to have a helpful shtick and beats her handily. He asks her to tell Inspector Fu about another highway factoid. She uses a shtick on him - on whose behest is he doing this? Whose plot is it? He counters with his lying shtick and says "Ezokin".

Min Feng studies Inspector Fu - since he's spent some of his status on various rolls, she gets him. Speaking of status, the party has passed its peak, and people with particularly high statuses are starting to find it tedious and leaving.

Cai Wen beats the Duke on a gambit of gathering information, and asks for a letter of support for Candidate 2B. Zhi-Hao beats Ando in a tumbling gambit, and has him tell Inspector Fu about the ex-imperial architect who was kicked out.

The next Party Drift is mood lighting, in which women whisk men to dark corners. Min Feng whisks Inspector Fu. Shuyan whisks the Bureaucrat, and finds that her seduction roll is for 11s, as he's really well defended by being a eunuch (Shen-Ji's date, in the same corner, stops paying attention to Shen-Ji to boggle). With just one success, she doesn't get to read his whole character sheet, but does see his shtick that lets him track where the yellow keys are used and for what. The Black Pearl whisks Cai Wen to the corner in question, but then Fen-Xi swaps in. Everyone in that particular corner gets a +1 Secret Sigma stat, which is very suspicious.

The Alchemist, too statusful for the party at this point, leaves.

"I think the plan of staying below the Marked's radar is blown." -Anto

Shen-Ji challenges the spy to a gambit about horses, and easily beats her due to his amazing horse mastery. The Butterfly artist beats Cai Wen in a gambit and suggests that he accompany her after the party.

Xian challenges Fen-Xi to a gambit of persuasion (since Fen-Xi has proved to be confused about the party mehanic), and sends him with some documentation about the Four Brothers captain's court martial to talk to Inspector Fu.

Xiao Fa challenges the butterfly artist to a game of charades with the Duke as the guesser, and when he wins, asks to be put on the schedule of the Regent from the Beautiful Kingdom next run.

Anto challenges Baron Song to a gambit about knowledge of obscure languages. They tie, and it goes to double or nothing, and then triple or nothing. Anto finally wins, and asks Yuanjun to step aside before taking his date (Kuan-Xi) home after the party. The Baron agrees, but he does note to Anto that he probably shouldn't get too involved with Kuan-Xi, because he thinks his sister has plans for her.

Cai Wen challenges the thief to a game of pai-gow (hoping his own cheatiness in the party mechanic will be overlooked because he hasn't been introduced.) The thief counters with liar's pai gow, to add some deception in, but Cai Wen still wins, and asks that the thief stick around the party as long as possible.

Xian offers Inspector Fu a gambit in strong will, testing out Inspector Fu's strong-will mechanics. After double or nothing, Xian loses, and Inspector Fu asks why Takanata and Shen Wei Han were recently touring the north wall. Xian says they were looking for places where they can strengthen it against invasion. As a small favor, Xian notes to Inspector Fu that the Northerners have elected a great khan, but it is not clear Inspector Fu can do anything about that at the party.

At the next party drift, it is time for the presentation of gifts! The group is taken aback, as they had not been thinking about bringing birthday presents, but they will not be the only ones with oddly lame gifts.

  • Inspector Fu gives him a nice Imperial Scroll
  • Autumn Rose gives him a lovely jeweled orb
  • The serpent spy is apparently Ando's teammate, and gives her regrets, as he had to leave the party (due to dropping below zero status) and was carrying their present.
  • The butterfly artist presents a watercolor, painted with 7 successes
  • Ming I wishes him a happy birthday; she and the serpent spy are deemed unworthy and have to leave the party.
  • Shuyan offers a dance, with 9 successes
  • Cai Wen offers a rare book
  • The merchant who has not been much mentioned offers some shiny baubles.
  • The Black Pearl is somewhat confused; she had been expecting some sort of instructions which she did not receive, and hints about a gift later.
  • Anto presents a flimsy twig hat, once worn by the Dread Pirates of the Jasmine River to steal elephants from the Silken Wings circus and ride them through the World Above to the Golden Spire. He gets 5 storytelling successes.
  • Zhi-Hao presents a slightly water-damaged book from the Exalted Library.
  • Min Feng presents her grandfather's best wishes, but as he was indisposed, he will have to present a watercolor of the Golden Duke's grounds later.

The Golden Duke deems the watercolor that's actually here the best present, though he’s not impressed by the take overall, and the artist wins a favor.

Inspector Fu has been given all the factoids that the party could think of, so now it's just a question of intercepting the scroll. Based on what people have noticed, either the thief or the bartender probably has it.

Xiao Fa beats the thief in a blindfolded food tasting gambit. As a favor, he asks for an introduction to the Shadow's new lieutentant. However, as such a person is not at the party, that's a little difficult, so as a fallback favor, Xiao Fa asks to see the scroll, and learns that in fact the bartender has it.

People seem to be asking for odd numbers of drinks, like two and a half drinks and three drinks. Min Feng tries to challenge the bartender, but he says he can't play party games, he's working. After some bribery to get a good uniform, she disguises herself as a servant.

Xiao Fa asks for three and three-quarters drinks, but he does not have the secret sigma stat (from being in the right dark corner), and gets... three and three quarters drinks, much to his chagrin.

Cai Wen looses Squeaky under the bar to provide a distraction, while Min Feng pretends to be a servant and looks for the scroll. Xian challenges the artist to a gambit about opera knowledge. When he wins, he asks for a scroll, any scroll. She makes him a quick sketch and signs it.

The last party drift is Birthday Cake, summoning everyone to the bar. There's a ferret trying to eat the cake, causing a bit of distraction, so everyone doing sneaky things rolls for sixes. Also in drift, more people are too statusful and have to leave - Cai Wen goes with the artist, and Anto and Kuan-Xi leave together for a romantic evening on the town.

Min Feng successfully swipes the scroll from behind the bar, where it was hidden under a tray with food. Xiao Fa asks the Iron Web master what the scroll does, but it appears to be a "scroll of ancient wisdom" which is clearly useful but not yet specific. Xiao Fa listens closely though, and reads between the lines that the wisdom it contains pertains to transcending skill points entirely. Zhi-Hao, after winning a drinking gambit with the thief, asks him to get Zhi-Hao a drink from the other bar, sending him out of the mess surrounding the scroll. The thief orders five drinks, and starts walking to the other bar with the tray that no longer has the scroll in it, and everyone else works on escaping from the party. That's easy for most people, though Min Feng has to take some time to stop looking like a servant, since servants don't get to leave before cleanup.

Cleanup

Song Yuanjun notes to Min Feng that he is very impressed with Kuan-Xi, though he didn't end up getting a favor from the butterfly artist and doesn't have a meeting with the Beautiful Regent, which would have been a start towards meeting the full Council. Min Feng says she'll see what she can do about that.

The group returns the scroll to the House of Butler, and a favor is promised.

The next day, Min Feng and Shuyan go back to the Jade Palace, and Precious Jade wants to know what each of them learned.

"Even eunuchs can be seduced." -Shuyan
"My spy told me that's what you learned, but I had doubted. Well done." -Precious Jade
"Common criminals should know better than to use a noble's party to sell their wares." -Min Feng
"Indeed." -Precious Jade

She thinks they have done well, so they may each learn a Si Fan shtick. She asks if either of them thwarted Ando, and Shuyan says she kind of did, as she had promised to tell him what she was doing, but then he had to leave before she could. Min Feng says she didn't thwart Ando, but she did defeat Precious Jade's cousin. Precious Jade says that they do not speak of him, but that was also well done, and offers them each initiation into the Si Fan.

Min Feng also sends a message down to the Regent from the Taiga for her brother, before the party regroups.

Min Feng wonders what Kuan-Xi and her brother were talking about. Kuan-Xi says he was speaking of his ambitions - he will probably be a duke before a month is passed - and his responsibilities, as he does need to find someone to marry soon, and she sympathized about arranged marriages.

"Did you tell him about your mother's arranged marriage for you?" -Min Feng
"No, that's internal house politics." -Kuan-Xi
"So you're going to try to marry my brother, then?" -Min Feng
"What? No, that's crazy!" -Kuan-Xi

It's possible that there may have been some cross purposes in the conversation.

Puttering