Hidden City: Outer Ring
|"With money, a dragon -- without it, a worm."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Crane 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.
The party, having reached the entrance to the Hidden City at the end of the run, notes that there does not seem to be an actual entrance - only a medium sized town. There do seem to be a lot of important carriages going in and out of the town, but it isn't clear where they are going, and things are rather mysterious. Also mysteriously, one of the letters Ti Jun wrote seems to have vanished, probably in the pocket of someone who has wandered off.
Merit ponders what the law of the Hidden City is - mostly, things are about as legal as elsewhere, except that a lot more things need permits. For example, the head of his caravan guards needs an iron key. The other local merchants note that he should definitely get an iron key for his guards, rather than using his own passes - who wants to have to keep track of how many guards you have?
The party troops to the bureaucracy office downtown. Merit tries to talk to the guy behind the window, but he quickly comes out to offer Takanata (at a 22 status) his assistance. Takanata explains that he and his companions would like to enter the Hidden City, and the office worker asks if they have a bureaucrat. When the answer is "no", he gives Takanata a slip of paper with "22" on it, and directs him across the street to the Licenced Bureaucrat's office. It's important that your bureaucrat be licensed, so Merit contemplates getting a license of his own. Number 22 proves to be the front of the line, and Takanata asks to hire a licenced bureaucrat to accompany him in his travels in the city (and gets a Tao roll of 5 for a good one). The clerk goes to fetch him the best available bureaucrat, and several others spot this fine young man trying to brush off any dust from his robes and put his hair in order, before rushing out and bowing to Takanata as instructed.
- "Great Lord, I am To Fen-Xi, a bureaucrat of the first level. I would be honored to enter your employ and do whatever it is you require."
Takanata says that he would like to hire Fen-Xi for a week. The fee for a first-level bureaucrat is one li a day for a short-term contract, but a longer term could be negotiated.
- "And, I am required by law to tell you that this is my first gig." -Fen-Xi
- "Let's start leveling him!" -Xian
Takanata notes that he himself has ten bureaucracy, which impresses Fen-Xi quite a bit. A first level bureaucrat has to have ten skill to take the exams at all. Merit notes that he also needs to get an iron key for his own guards - Fen-Xi says that he can work for multiple parties as long as they are not in the middle of feud, battle, or war.
Fen-Xi stops to explain more generally how the Hidden City works: there are a number of districts, and living or working in a district requires a key for the district, or passes from someone who has a key. Each key covers one person and as many retainers as they have status; buying a key, or paying upkeep on a key (the same price) give one the chance to create passes, up to the person's status. Passes are used (and collected by guards when used) to do one thing in a district.
The districts are:
- Pewter - this is the "entry" district, and has a bad reputation for having malingerers. "Little that is savory happens in Pewter."
- Brass - where most servants live
- Bronze - where workmen and guards live
- Copper - where artists live and work
- Silver - the merchant district
- Gold - the lesser nobles
- Obsidian - where the Regents and the higher nobles live
- Ivory - where the Regents work, and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy
- Jade - the Imperial palace
Merit goes back to the bureaucracy office to hire his own bureaucrat, but has to take a more normal number farther back in line. He should be able to get someone by tomorrow, they tell him.
Takanata decides that the best first step is to get some pewter keys, as well as an iron key for Wei Han and a copper key for himself (so he can visit the artist's district). Fen-Xi has a hard time getting a copper key, though he says that it'll be easier to do that in the Pewter district, and Xiao Fa notices that he seems to be rolling for 9s (though he's got ten skill, so it's not as bad as it could be). Everyone hires Fen-Xi for a single day, in order for him to get them each a pewter key (though he notes that "Everyone has a pewter key" is kind of why the Pewter district has a reputation for malingerers). The group notices that two of the pewter keys are slightly magical, kind of like tael are, though it isn't clear what effect the magic has. Also, when someone is holding a key, they can see the enormous gates to the Hidden City, which were not otherwise visible before. Grasshopper messes around with giving away his key and taking it back - when he doesn't have the key, he can't see the gates. That explains why there's this town instead of a great big city.
Master Zhou gives a brief training practice to some of the others, though he is somewhat cagey as to whether he has a particular purpose in mind.
Fen-Xi notes that you generally cannot hold more than one key of the same sort, but you can give someone a key if you hold them in esteem, and by that token, you can kind of sell them, as long as you don't discuss the price too much. Xian takes the opportunity to chat with him, and learn his background: He's from peasant stock, but was the smartest of his siblings, and his father’s lord sent him to the Hidden City to study. It took him a little longer to graduate from his studies, as he was seeing a girl in the Brass district, but now he can't afford to get in to see her any further. Xian asks her name, and learns that she goes by the Black Pearl. When Xian carries this story back to Merit, Merit doesn't think that she's a Singularly Famous Concubine or anything, but he has heard that the House of Silent Discretion in the Brass district has someone who is much better than one would expect for the Brass District. Xian wonders whether the Black Pearl convinces all the guy she sees that they're in love with her, or if it's genuinely reciprocated. He tries to find this out from Fen-Xi, but Fen-Xi is pretty sure that obviously everyone who meets the Black Pearl would love her, and he's also just as sure that she loves him. Xian can't figure out if he's just fooling himself or not. Anyway, if they can arrange for the two of them to get together for a bit, he'll probably be down to rolling for 8s, but to get him rolling for 7s, the party may have to fix his love life.
- "I have a love potion." -Takanata
Fen-Xi says that normally the bureaucrat carries the key, visibly, for his master and entourage. But carrying a whole fistful of keys is kind of silly, so he carries Takanata's pewter key, and everyone else pockets theirs (after carefully writing their names on the keys with the elemental marker). Takanata certainly has enough status to bring everyone else with them as his entourage. Though Fen-Xi notes that in the future, Takanata might want to get a palanquin to be carried about in.
Merit suddenly recalls that Shuyan was sent a jade key for her birthday - oooh. That's the best of the keys!Then, the party proceeds through the huge gates, into the Pewter district of the Hidden City. Inspired by the city, Takanata writes a poem, and Grasshopper draws an ink painting.
The first stanza is a bit confusing, but the second sounds like an invitation to putter about in the city. Well, that's probably a good idea, as there are a lot of mechanics to learn. For one, once in the Hidden City, everyone has two new sources of fortune dice:
- You can spend a point of status to get +1 die to a roll
- You can spend a point of status of the person you are in the entourage of (i.e. Takanata) to get +1 die to a roll
Merit also realizes that bribes can add successes, though he doesn't realize he can explain this to everyone else until later. He also notes that this is a level 5 city for trade (the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival is the only other one) because of all the money circulating around and around. Grasshopper doesn't spot any urchins, though it will soon become clear that any urchins in the Pewter district have at least six successes of stealth.
The group heads to the Pewter bureaucracy center, and Fen-Xi gets a copper key for Takanata - spending 4 of Takanata’s status - and ten passes. "I can spend your status to get more dice" is apparently part of what he meant by "it will be easier in Pewter". Takanata starts to worry about running short on money - Wei Han offers him a few li to cover him until the next Merit fund payout, but it becomes clear that Takanata still has more money than Wei Han.
- "I'm a noble! I call 60 li almost out of cash!" -Takanata
Takanata leads the group to the Copper district, where they get rooms at a fairly nice inn (the Dulcet Harp). The asking price is 1 li per person, but when Merit tries to haggle and only gets nine successes, the price goes up a bit. Takanata and Master Zhou want to meet the local artists, but everyone else wants to go and meet the Black Pearl. That requires Fen-Xi getting them a brass key, which he is entirely happy to do. Takanata says he'll meet up with them later at an auspicious time.
Brass District and the Black Pearl
Since the group doesn't have Takanata's copper key or any of the passes, they just leave to Pewter. It's getting close to sunset, which Fen-Xi tells them means that the penalties are increased for running around without a pass or a key. As it turns out, he doesn't have to roll for 9s to get a brass key and nine passes, so that's pretty easy. Merit tells Fen-Xi that they want to visit the House of the Silent Discretion, and he gasps, but then says that yes, he knows where it is, and can take them to it. Xian is officially the Holder of the Brass Key, so Fen-Xi escorts Xian and his entourage to the House of Silent Discretion. On the way, a guard stops the group, but Fen-Xi presents the brass key. There is a brief negotiation, as if the guard and Fen-Xi are somewhat well known to each other, and Wei Han notes that the soldier has a crane on his uniform. When he asks, Fen-Xi explains that he's an officer of the Crane Guard, since Crane is today. They are only officers on their own day, and the rest of the time they're mooks.
When Fen-Xi heads in, the mistress frowns at him a bit, but as everyone else comes in after him, she is much friendlier, and welcomes the gentlemen to "the House of Silent Discretion, where our name is our bond." There are drinks, both tea and stronger stuff, and the women of the house can be invited to a private room to chat or... whatever. Fen-Xi checks with Xian to ask what sort of a purse he has - Xian says that they are looking more for companionship and conversation, not the special services. That will run them one li a person, though Xian himself wishes a private conversation with the Black Pearl, which raises the price another li.
When the women come in, there is one that catches everyone's eye (except Xian and Grasshopper). For Hiro, she is clearly the noble wife for him. For Xiao Fa, she would be the perfect Phoenix Concubine. For Merit, she would be a trusted information source, and for Wei Han, she is, strangely, a replacement Southern Wall who wouldn't be annoying. Xian escorts her off for a conversation, while Merit charms the proprietress, who is pleased that Bureaucrat To has his commission and rank now. As Merit tries to get more out of her, she notes that To might have contacts who can get him black market passes, based on the number of times he's been here in the past. And she seems rather pleased with herself - she's on the verge of making a big deal. Merit cautions her - when you have one big resource, you have to hold out for the best deal - but she seems confident that she has the right client on the hook.
Grasshopper releases the Hiding Monkey (after stabbing him for use with the monocle). The monkey ends up hiding to look in the window, but when Grasshopper looks through the monkey's eyes, doesn't see anything. Xiao Fa heads over to look out the window, and after a better perception roll, sees a very stealthy little kid running off. Xiao Fa convinces Takanata to give Grasshopper a Brass pass so he can follow the urchins if they turn up again.
- "So, you're upstairs with the Black Pearl..." -Mike
- "We should do some calligraphy." -Xian
Xian finds out that she's lovely, that she's a very good conversationalist with interesting anecdotes, and that she's somewhat puzzled by Xian's complete lack of expected responses; when enough of her shticks bounce, she comes to the eventual conclusion that Xian's not actually a man the way he seems. Xian decides that her concept is something like "Ideal Companion" - it would be hard to find a guy whose life she would ruin. Of course, that just makes it even more curious what she's doing in a place like this. Xian asks if she's ever had her I Ching read - she has not, but would be honored. Xian, who has learned some of the art of the I Ching from Takanata, does so:
Xian tells her what he sees in the reeds, and she's rather startled, and confides in Xian that her little scheme to disrupt her coming acquisition doesn't seem like it will succeed, then.
- "But there is still room to choose." -Xian
- "Is there really?" -the Black Pearl, sighing
Xian does his best to try the "I'm with the circus and I'm here to save you!" pep talk, but she doesn't see how Xian is likely to provide her with both security and happiness. But if she must sacrifice one, she already knew that. Xian notes that it sounds like she has some sort of plan in place - because a plan is something Xian doesn't usually bring to the table - then maybe he can help. She says that there is a guy in the Gold district who has been speaking to her mistress about setting up an establishment there. However, the Black Pearl has done a small amount of doctoring her mistress's books, to make it look as if she is not quite as fiscally responsible as she is, to make this patron lose interest. Xian quizzes her on the plan, and thinks that it doesn't seem to have any flaws, but if the choice is inexorable, then maybe she is confused about what will be driving it. Maybe it's not the Gold guy who will be driving the choice, but someone else behind the scenes.
Xian quizzes her, also, on what she wants from life. She thinks she wants what everyone wants - happiness, stability, children, the whole deal. And she knows that just because she loves someone, that doesn't mean it's going to work out in the future. However, since Xian isn't really here for her services, maybe he would be more interested in one of the other women to talk to? This totally confounds Xian - is she talking about lesbians? Or someone who can help him with interrogation? Before he goes, he asks her about Fen-Xi, and she gives a rather practiced rundown of his many merits and skills (as if for a potential client of his) but Xian is pretty sure that underneath that, she does actually love him.
Back in the salon, the other gentlemen are gently questioned. They are quite impressed by Xiao Fa being a healer, though a monk is obviously not the best prospect for a long-term patron. Hiro, on the other hand, is heir to a noble house in the Forest of Chin, and attracts a great deal of attention before being lured aside for a fabulous and discreet time.
Merit gives the proprietress his business card, as he might consider making an investment in the House in the future. And he recruits one of the women as a source of information; he realizes that this has given him one point of influence on the House of Silent Discretion in some mechanic.
Wei Han, while sitting at the bar enjoying the view, notices Fen-Xi and another gentleman (named Masin) glaring at each other across the room. A door opens upstairs (as the Black Pearl finishes with Xian), and the two guys quickly grab the proprietress and start bidding against each other, and Fen-Xi (flush with his new party wages) wins the bidding war and goes upstairs - Masin wasn't expecting Fen-Xi to have as much money as he does.
When Masin sulks at the bar, Xian heads over to talk to him. Masin notes that Xian is new to the Hidden City, and probably has some sort of newbie bureaucrat helping him. Masin, on the other hand, is a third level bureaucrat - if Xian needs any services that the young To cannot provide, do feel free to look him up. Xian thinks he seems competent enough, and invites a longer sales pitch, which in this case is partly pro-Masin but quite a bit more anti-Fen-Xi. However, Xian's best guess is that it's not personal, just that Fen-Xi is in his way as he's also interested in the Black Pearl.
Meanwhile, Takanata and Zhou wander around the artist district, taking seats at tea houses while nearby artists wander by hoping to be invited to join them. Takanata's best guess at the dice of the artists is that the mooks are all ten-success artists, but the named people are usually around ten but sometimes higher and sometimes lower. They have all heard of Takanata, but seem to be more impressed by his poetry than they are knowledgeable about it. The pair question the locals about the Copper district - it apparently has a lot of student housing, in addition to artists. Will Takanata and Master Zhou be moving in? Takanata says he will not be living in Copper, but he does have a key and may visit again. The artists all promise to send him an invitation the next time there is a grand competition at the Jade Palace. Apparently, right now everyone is very keen to impress the new Imperial Concubine, Precious Jade. The previous concubine (there are several, but there is one who is first among equals) was an indifferent student of art at best, but Precious Jade is much more interested in art, and the artists are invited to many more parties in the high districts. (When someone invites you to an up-district party, they will generally send a pass).
Takanata walks Master Zhou back to the inn, and then auspiciously arrives at the House of Silent Discretion to bring everyone up to Copper for the night. After dinner, the party discusses the Black Pearl - she does seem to know what the choice she has to make is, but she's stalling for time if she thinks she has to choose one or the other of love or money. But what will be driving the "inexorable choice" to be soon? If she doesn't choose Fen-Xi soon will he get away? Or is it driven by someone else, like Masin or the Gold patron? Master Zhou tries to interpret the omens of the I Ching reading, and thinks that, given the wording, it's that she will find she has to make a choice, not that the choice will vanish if she stalls. So probably not Fen-Xi vanishing.
Xian, worried, thinks that someone who is the Perfect Companion would probably be an ideal companion to help someone become the Spider Emperor, so he's suspicious that one of the Marked is going to be making a move - that this isn't just a cute little love plot. Grasshopper wonders why they care, but the answer is "We're butterflies, we noodle."
- "We should just get them together." -Master Zhou
- "We thought Liet and Myo should do that, and people died because of it." -Xian
Mostly, Xian doesn't think that they should meddle without full knowledge of what they're up against. Of course, the question of what sort of meddling to do is still open - should Xian crush their brains and bend them both to his will and tell them what to do? Or should they just offer advice? Merit thinks if the Marked are involved, they're not going to kill Fen-Xi and the Black Pearl off camera, it'll be a plot, and the party will get to thwart it. Xian still worries that getting them together will paint a big target on Fen-Xi when the Marked come for the Black Pearl. Takanata offers to read Fen-Xi's I Ching, on the theory that it might tell them something more:
- "Sold!" -Xian
Grasshopper, bored with the love plot, sets the Hiding Monkey free again, and follows the monkey when it leaves again. It eventually arrives at a shuttered house, having apparently followed a very stealthy street urchin the whole way. This turns out to be a secret clubhouse of a bunch of very stealthy kids who get together to hang out, but can’t really do it very often because they depend on their parents for passes, or have no parents and so must always hide. Grasshopper thinks they should form a children’s militia and promises to get them a key of their very own so they can generate passes for themselves and stuff.
On his way back to the inn, Grasshopper is intercepted by guards, and has lost his pass. The guards start to escort him to the Pewter district, until he finds his pass finally. (Heidi dropped her pass on the floor. Luckily Cael found it before Grasshopper was arrested.)
A final Interpret Omens on Takanata's poem confirms the speculation that "Status" is the noun that is being talked about in the first stanza of Takanata’s poem.
Sorting Things Out
The next morning, Grasshopper admits to Takanata that he needs a new pewter key. Hmm - did he lose it? No, he plans to give the new one to someone he holds in esteem. Takanata gives him permission to hire Fen-Xi to get a new key, and as he's on his game after the previous visit to the Black Pearl, he easily gets another pewter key for Grasshopper. Merit recruits a bureaucrat, giving him a recruit in the Copper Bureaucracy, a point of influence on the Copper Bureaucracy, and a point of corruption listed in the guy's file. Hmm, there do seems to be a number of mysterious mechanics here...
"Mess with Fen-Xi's love life" still seems to be the principal plot, so the party waffles about how much to tell Fen-Xi about their plans.
- "If this doesn't work, we have to get a new bureaucrat, so we might as well tell him." -Merit
Hiro decides it's his job to talk to Fen-Xi about the whole thing.
- "It has not escaped our notice that you have... a romantic thing going on." -Hiro
- "Uh oh, has Lord Tokai noticed that?" -Fen-Xi
- "Luckily, Takanata is an artist and has a soft spot for romance." -Hiro
Fen-Xi says that he's working hard to get a lot of money to pay off the Black Pearl’s contract. (Hiro has a reasonable idea how this sort of thing works - if you don't pay your tuition in advance for geisha (or "geisha") training (the way Hana did), then you end up in debt to the house and repay it back over a number of years.) Fen-Xi guesses that she has about a tael left to repay, which he really doesn't have. And he doesn't think it's proper to bring this up with her if he can't support her yet. Lord Tokai only wanted to hire him for a week, and he doesn't know for sure whether he'll be able to get a new job after that. Hiro shrugs, and says that Lord Tokai wants to visit the House of Silent Discretion too. Fen-Xi is a little boggled, but is happy to go again.
Xian gets to be in charge of the entourage, with the brass key. Takanata wears his ugly tin helmet (appalling Hiro), so the Black Pearl is not obviously anything to him, except some sort of vaguely companionish person. Master Zhou thinks she's a "Righteous Successor", which intrigues him. Takanata does note that the strongest connection between Fen-Xi and the Black Pearl is true love.
- "True love can't handle rampaging yaks, but it's good against bedbugs." -Merit
- "I have totally lost this conversation." -Grasshopper
Takanata spends the extra li for a private meeting with the Black Pearl, and says that he understands that Xian cast her I Ching yesterday. She admits that it was most fascinating. Takanata says that he has taken the liberty of casting the I Ching for To Fen-Xi, and it seems to him that if the two of them are matched, he will rise remarkably. She regards Takanata carefully, and says that that seems likely, but could that not be said for most people? That is not what Takanata expected, but he continues on - he thinks that Fen-Xi is in particular need of a counterweight, in the way that most people are not. The Black Pearl says that that has always been his problem - while he has fine dreams and plans for a grand future, those kinds of things they cannot start until he is successful. But if he needs her in order to be successful in the first place, how can they start? Takanata thinks that if she means that he has to be able to buy her contract, that is a thing that can be discussed. She pushes further - she also thinks he needs to be stably employed enough to survive in the Hidden City. Takanata is confident of that, and tries to persuade her, but this is the Hidden City, so it's hard. She says that last night, she expected to receive a fairly substantial offer from someone who did not show up, so her final choice does seem to be approaching soon. However, if there was a longer-term contract for Fen-Xi - perhaps 250 li? Of course, this would be a contract, not charity. 250 li for 250 li of service.
Takanata heads back downstairs, and reports that for 250 li, they are done, and offers Fen-Xi the contract. Merit and the others are surprised - the Black Pearl does seem to be more grasping than they had expected. Fen-Xi zips upstairs to talk to the Black Pearl, now that Takanata has come back down.
- "Lord Tokai has offered me a long-term contract for two and a half tael!" -Fen-Xi
- "I know! I negotiated it for you!" -Black Pearl
A little while later, he comes back down, exceptionally cheery and briefed on a bit more of the plan. However, not everything is solved yet. The proprietress will be grumpy at Fen-Xi if he buys out her contract right before she thinks the Gold patron will be elevating them to the Gold district. So... if they can get word from him that he's not going to buy the establishment, she'll be grumpy at him, but then the buyout of the Black Pearl won't make her angry. The Black Pearl had said that the books were being gone over even now, so perhaps it will just take arranging to send a messenger.
Well, a Gold key would be expensive. Or a Gold pass. If only they knew someone who could get a gold pass without a key... Merit nudges Fen-Xi, who looks sheepish, and admits that he does know someone in Copper who deals in resold passes. Then, he boggles a bit more that the party doesn't know anyone in Gold either.
- "Why did you come to this city? You don't know anyone here!" - Fen-Xi
Merit says that they have to go higher, but they're building up resources.
Anyway, back to the "persuade the Gold patron" plan.
- "How do we convince the Gold guy?"
- "Xian just needs to see him!"
- "When he comes into view, hit him with the rock!"
- "My way is not very sportsmanlike." -Xian
The group troops back to Copper, and asks Fen-Xi to get them a Gold pass. (Fen-Xi assures them that these are real passes, not forgeries). He starts to take one of Takanata's copper passes, but then the group decides that they all want to meet the black market. Or at least enough to count them as another resource built up.
Merit plus Wei Han (sans Butterfly Dragon armor, which Takanata vetoes) and Xian as bodyguards (though Xian is a rather unlikely bodyguard) head with Fen-Xi to his contact. At first, the guy is rather unhappy at all these new visitors, but Merit says that he's there to make a profit and it'll all be good - he lists a bunch of passes that he wants. The guy can't get him the twenty brass and twenty bronze passes he wants, but he can do the rest: 7 brass, 15 bronze, 6 copper, 5 silver, 5 gold, and four obsidian passes in a few days with half payment up front.
Merit also recruits a spy in the Copper black market - he gets another point of influence in the Illumineaucracy mechanic, but the black marketeer does not get a point of corruption. Merit spends some bribe money to haggle the price of the obsidian passes down, and between that and the large order, the Copper Black Market gets an extra dollar on its card (whatever that means).
The group returns to the inn in Copper; To is a little nervous, it's his first crime since he went legit.
The group argues about whose name to fill in on the Gold pass. Who do they know in Gold? Well, they know the name of the Gold patron, but that could be a problem - standing in a guy's house with a pass in his name that he knows he didn't give out. Well... there's Autumn Rose. She could almost certainly give out gold passes, and if she hears that the party is using a pass in her name, she'll think that's interesting, not just immediately turn them over to the guards. Merit forges Autumn Rose's name to the pass, and staples a little pouch of li as a bribe to the guard, to make it likely to pass muster.
Then, everyone heads down to Pewter, from which Xian can head up to Gold without going through any other districts and without using a Copper pass. When he presents the Gold pass, the gate guard remarks that's interesting - Autumn Rose just came through a few minutes ago, on her way up to Obsidian.
Xian gets to the Gold patron's house, and arranges for a meeting. He gives the impression that he's there on behalf of the matron from the House of Silent Discretion, and does some conversational judo on the patron. He had been planning to wait until the end of the month to send a message, but Xian convinces him that Xian is trying to persuade him to wait longer and maybe change his mind, cementing his resolve to not change his mind and send a message now, so there.
His mission complete, Xian heads back to Pewter to meet the group, and then the whole group proceeds to the House of Silent Discretion again in Brass, trying to decide how this whole servants-with-passes economy really works.
- "What if you have to go out for... supplies that you don't want the servants to know you need?" -Xian
- "You totally don't understand having servants." -Hiro
Hiro swaps to Hana (Hiro's key goes with Hiro, so Hana doesn't have a pewter key now).
The mood of the house is cheerful, so they have probably beaten the messenger there. The group stalls a bit, until the Gold messenger arrives, and goes into a back room with the matron. Masin arrives, and hangs out at the bar. Hana engages him in conversation, successfully distracting him from being able to notice when his time to make his offer arrives. Merit gets Fen-Xi to swoop in first when the messenger leaves, and he buys out his lady love's contract. When he comes back out, even happier than before, Masin snaps out of his reverie, and stomps out, vowing that Lord Tokai will regret his meddling and rue this day (apparently, third level bureaucrats can sense who the keyholder of a particular minion is). Everyone else thinks such a small and hapless nemesis is adorable.
The group heads back to their inn in Copper, and Takanata does a Connections reading trying to figure out what they will need to do to get the Butterfly Regent to leave. Thirteen persuasion will be necessary, but not sufficient, apparently.
Grasshopper goes off to meet with the urchins and deliver to them their shiny new Pewter key. they move thier base of operations to Pewter, where they'll be in a new secret hideout, to do secret bow training with Grasshopper to secretly show Master Zhou. Grasshopper insists it can't be a tong or a militia, it has to be a secret dojo. Grasshopper's secret bow dojo. Grasshopper sneaks back pausing to bribe a guard who “almost” notices him.
Finally, Xian and Master Zhou go to a Brass tavern to talk up Master Zhou, to try to work on his reputation thwackback from the ghost-Marked back on the Isle of Beauty.
Takanata checks with Fen-Xi - what will it take to become a second-level bureaucrat? Now that he’s got his head together in his personal life, and has completed a great number of forms to buy so many keys and passes, he thinks he can pass the level two exams. Exams will take either a full puttering or a full run to complete however, so they might want him to hold off. Takanata says he'll figure out whether to have him take the exams during puttering or not. Then, to conserve expensive keys, the group heads to Brass to take rooms at a less fancy inn, the Green Table.