|"Learning is weightless, treasure you can always carry easily."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Dog in the Month of the Fox in the two hundred and fifty-ninth Year of the Spider since the opening of the Exalted Library.|
The run takes place in the City of Light, in the Illuminated Precincts.
Ringmaster Te says it's time to head south towards the City of Light. Zhi-Hao wonders why they aren't heading straight for the Isle of Beauty from the Port of Propitious Voyage, and Ringmaster Te notes that it's because they pay well in the City of Light - Zhi-Hao may have forgotten that the circus is more than just transportation for his wayward band of adventurers. Oh, right.
Cai Wen is still missing, and Wei Han and Kasumi are also nowhere to be seen - maybe they went to rescue Cai Wen and have been arrested as well? Master Deng thinks to consult the Hunter's Map, though, and Cai Wen is actually just outside the city now, so Deng leads a rescue party to pick him up on the road. The group swaps adventures - Cai Wen loves their mocking of the ninja on his behalf, and Cai Wen gets much sympathy for Wei Han having accidentally arranged for him to be arrested. Min Feng shows off her sword tael, acquired from Ezokin.
Ringmaster Te says that the circus will be performing on Grey Swan Island, in an outside venue. Tightropes will be strung between trees, there can be acrobatics done off of bridges, that sort of thing. Cai Wen, who has been declaring himself Assistant Fireworks Master, gets a promotion to Fireworks Master, as the circus didn't actually really do fireworks until Cai Wen started setting them off.
Cai Wen gets a one-li tip, which turns out to be from WIllow. She's happy to see the circus again, and notes that for once the party isn't enmeshed in a huge mechanic. People find that unlikely, so she looks harder and admits that Master Zhou has got a big mechanic, and Merit has a big mechanic.
- "That one looks painful." -Willow
- "What? No, it's great!" -Merit
- "Well... maybe you haven't gotten to the troubles part yet."
She notes that there should be an interesting salon tomorrow, if Cai Wen is interested in coming. Her patron has an interest in one of the topics likely to be discussed, so she could arrange for more invitations if the party would be willing to sway discussion on that particular topic "towards balance". Cai Wen allows as that might be possible, and a briefing in the tea tent ensues.
Merit gets a list of "who's in town" related to the party - the twelve scholars, a bunch of associates to the Exalted Sages (including Willow), a few other salon-attenders such as Yuwen Fire-Eye, Stoneback Cho, and Meng Shou, and members of five conversational socities: the Society of Mingling Waters ("Traders"), the Society of the Circle ("Isolationsists), the Society of the Open Palm ("Friendlies"), the Society of the Known Word ("Literalists"), and the Society of the Imagined Ideal ("Idealists").
The group thinks about what might be worth asking the scholars to pontificate about. Interesting events that changed the names of the Savanna and the Shrouded Isles? That might be hard to get, since many of the changes have been somewhat subtle. More information about Southern Tao? More information about Great Talismans? Er, maybe not. Skinwalking? The difference between spirits and demons? Huan Ken, Master Zhou's continuing obsession? Cycle politics? Dragon aspects?
Min Feng does a quick survey of the gossip about the scholars, and in particular, what they might think about balance - Bear, Dog, Crane, Tortoise, and Serpent are likely to be pro-balance, while Butterfly, Tiger, Magpie, and Monkey are anti-balance. But she also picks up that the most useful tactic is to choose people to an argument by choosing a very smart scholar on one side and a less smart but more strongly opined person on the opposite side - in case the smartest scholars aren't strongly on your preferred side. She also overhears some of the conversational societies discussing that Meng Shou has had a falling out with his own conversational society.
- "He's weak willed and susceptible to Hana's wiles! We should help him!" -Merit
- "Wait, why does that follow?" -Hana
- "I hardly think that being susceptible to Hana's wiles is evidence of weak will." -Cai Wen
- "You never stop!" -Merit
Cai Wen has a nice dinner out with Willow, but nothing particularly plot relevant happens there.
As the party begins, various people circulate and do their best to seem erudite. Zhi-Hao claims that he will only be of use moving people around, but with the Magpie Talisman, he's really very good at that.
Merit talks about trade, Zhi-Hao talks about forging swords, Master Zhou talks about teaching, Min Feng talks about gathering information, and so on. Most people can do a reasonable job of seeming erudite in their specialties.
Hana chats with Meng Shou and asks what he's been up to. He says that he'll be taking the yearly examinations for the post of Exalted Librarian tomorrow - there are a set of examinations to become a Librarian, and another set to later become an Exalted Librarian. Most people take the exams many times before passing, if they ever do pass - this will be his first time, so he is not optimistic that he will pass. There are a number of different tests, including one which involves book carrying. Essentially, they need to research particular topics, as if requested by a patron, and they can send a junior librarian to bring them books. Some people found a loophole, in that they could send friends to help carry books (to bring more back at once), and their conversational societies help with that. Once that started happening, the junior librarian would only carry one book and the rest are up to the book-carriers. However, he has had a falling out with his conversational society (the Society of the Imagined Ideal) and they won't be helping him. After some more pressing, he admits to Hana that he broke with them because they suggested altering a book, and he was appalled. Hana is equally appalled.
Various scholars are asked to pontificate about various subjects, including:
- Cycle Spirit Politics
- The Tortoise scholar notes that politics in the Cycle is often un-observed by men, because it is both hard to comprehend and difficult to observe, in that changes made in the World Above can influence the Material World in ways that make it seem that they have always been true. Tortoise does play politics, and in particular likes to understand the mechanics of things.
- The Crane scholar talks about action in the world above, and also action in the material world. Often many political games are played out by those touched by the different Cycle Spirits, in the games of humanity rather than the games of spirits. Crane is one of the most aloof from politics, though when asked why Crane doesn't care, he notes that seeking to understand without seeking to control is not the same thing as not caring.
- The Monkey scholar notes that Monkey doesn't do alliances, and tends to try to shake things up. Monkey will often be interested in causing conflict in other spirits' politics. Though these things are of course bargains rather than alliances in the sense that men would define them.
- Shrouded Isle Politics
- Kuan-Xi asks the Phoenix scholar to talk about the political families of the Shrouded Isle, especially the ones currently in power.
- Demons disguised as Spirits
- Master Zhou asks the Monkey scholar to talk about this - he thinks this would be easier to pull off in the material world, such as a tengu impersonating a spirit to a person. In the World Above, this would be harder. Perhaps a demon of disguise, or maybe a spirit of mirrors, could pull off the disguise part, but there would be an additional aspect of getting from the World Below to the World Above which is not easy.
- Country changes
- The Phoenix scholar talks about significant political changes in the Shrouded Isle in the last hundred years. Many of the changes are due to changes in which House is in charge; there was one notable war with the Hon'eth Arcade. (A writeup is due on this)
- The Tiger scholar talks about significant political changes in the Savanna of Tears in the last hundred years. Mostly this is wars, especially in the Tanzhe Plain. (A writeup is due on this.)
- Southern Tao
- The Phoenix scholar talks about Southern magic - their Tao is Light, Darkness, and Shadow. They have elemental magics as well, possibly more powerful than Empire sorcery, but their aesthetics are in decline.
- Southern Gods
- The Phoenix scholar talks a bit about the Southern gods (a writeup is due on this), and notes that they seem to affect the Worlds Above and Below, and the material world, and the World Beyond (in that people can promise their deaths to a god they serve).
- The Butterfly scholar notes that Spider and Butterfly are enemies (much like spiders and butterflies are enemies), and also, spiders are similar to tigers in being able to maintain a hierarchy more easily than a confederation of equals, in which they will squabble for dominance.
While the group is interrogating the scholars, the arguments are commencing as well. Willow says that she can arrange for the balance argument to be drawn on the third drift, so the party tries to keep too many arguments from starting before then. Master Zhou and Fire-Eye both put arguments in the hat, and Cai Wen cheats a bit to make sure Master Zhou's is drawn last. The most entertaining bit of that is "Cute Girls for the Jasmine River", where emotional arguments and eye-batting are used to argue against changing the natural beauty of the Jasmine.
- The scholarly reputation of the sages and librarians of the Illuminated Precincts is peerless. Some institutions seek reciprocated sabbaticals between our great scholars and theirs.
- We should maintain our own advantage, not spread ourselves thinly trying to teach the world.
- Learning is to be found in more places than the City of Light.
Fox takes the first position, Spider takes the second. Spider wins.
- When one's nature is not a perfect balance of yin and yang, what is the appropriate path to follow?
- Each should follow their own nature - some are yang, and some are yin, and so there is variety in the world.
- Each should seek balance in themselves, and act to change their nature if it is in imbalance.
Tiger takes the first position, Tortoise the second. Tortoise wins, after a particularly bad roll by Tiger.
- Several Great Houses of the Hon'eth Arcade seek to renegotiate their long-standing trade agreements. Should this be encouraged?
- Agreements are an expression of mutually beneficial understanding and should adjust when needed to make the understanding more beneficial.
- Agreements are promises and should not be lightly broken.
Magpie takes the first position, Dog the second. Magpie wins.
- The Empire is beset by troubles, internal and external. Should levies increase to match the tension of the times?
- We must protect ourselves.
- War finds those who seek it - we should not be the first to do so.
Bear takes the first position, Serpent the second. Serpent wins, though Bear has a lot more support.
- Plan Fourteen - to dredge and straighten the most silted sections of the Jasmine River delta
- The river's natural courses should not be tampered with, and may be dangerous to floodplain-dependent farming.
- Plan Fourteen would increase upstream trade
Butterfly takes the first position, and Monkey the second. Butterfly wins.
- The Empire has experienced many changes in its chi flows lately.
- The Council of Sages should perform a chi audit of the Empire to discover what is happening.
- The Council should focus on the Precincts.
Phoenix takes the first position and Crane the second. When Phoenix rolls poorly and Crane rolls well, Master Zhou ends up spending five karma to exhort everyone to try again, in order to get a result more to his liking.
Hana asks Meng Shou about tampering with books in the Exalted Library. He says that that is difficult - there are magical guards against magical changes. There are also guards against physical changes, though he thinks they may be less powerful - that's why there is so much care taken to not let people bring in ink or candles or scissors or anything like that. After checking with the rest of the group, Hana volunteers them to help carry books for Meng Shou's test, and they form a conversational society on the spot: the Society of Wandering Philosophers, which believes in performing random acts of kindness.
Carrying the Books
The next day, the group is put to work as book carriers. There are particularly tight restrictions on what can be brought into the library stacks - no ink, no weapons, no candles, etc. Most people leave their dangerous items outside, though Master Deng brings Min Feng's sword-tael.
Each person can carry one book per point of strength, and can exchange or replace books based on an Int roll. The goal is to build sets of three books touching upon the same subject, or longer sets of chained subjects (one book talks about subjects A and B, while the next talks about B and C...).
After the first round of book carrying, Meng Shou mentions that the Society for the Imagined Ideal is assisting a different librarian - he's surprised by that, as he didn't think the other guy was a member.
The party manages to maximize their three rounds of book-carrying, and as they're heading back to the examination room with the last set of books, and depositing them on Meng Shou's table, there start to be shouts of "Fire!" from the stacks. Master Zhou and Zhi-Hao run into the stacks towards the shouting, while everyone else, sure it must be a distraction, loiter around the examination room (or, in Min Feng's case, hide).
The Idealist book carriers start sidling towards the door, so they are clearly Bad Guys, and the non-fighters start shouting at them to stop. Hana shouts "Stop, thief!" and when one turns to look, puzzled, she appears to him as his greatest fear and then demands that he not run (sending perhaps somewhat mixed messages, depending on what he fears most). Merit does his best to order everyone to stay put until it can be sorted out who started the fire (causing some of the book-carriers running towards the stacks to slow down as well).
Master Zhou gives Zhi-Hao an extra action to run back to the combat, so he does so, and turns the sword-tael into a sword. His danger sense indicates that the most dangerous people in the room include the conversational societies, and the one over there that has a sorceror among them.
- "Hey, kung fu guys and sorceror, what's up?" -Zhi-Hao
The various librarians wonder if they will get in trouble if they leave their desks during the test. Cai Wen insults the leader as being a Very Bad Librarian, and he's stunned for a few rounds. One of the others is still cowering from Hana, but two try to grab Zhi-Hao, which he blocks. Min Feng disguises herself as another Idealist, and runs up next to the scared guy, offering to protect him.
Merit sounds the Guardian Horn, alerting several Exalted Librarians outside the testing room to head towards the door to come in. Then he pretends to be internal security, flashing a random amulet at one of the book-carriers, assuring him that if there was no wrongdoing, he will be fine. This was probably meant to make him flee, but fell into the trap of confusing the GM sufficiently to have the character be confused as well.
The four active idealist mooks try to kick Zhi-Hao, which he takes as license to stab them quite a lot. The sorceror surrounds himself with a ring of fire, so Min Feng throws her ice chip at him. This encases him, four of his guys, Merit, and Min Feng in ice, and the combat ends when the Exalted librarians arrive and tell the last three combatants (Zhi-Hao and the last two mooks) to sit down and be quiet.
While the Idealists do seem to be the main targets of the librarians' ire, Zhi-Hao is also in trouble for having a sword - now mysteriously vanished. They ask where it came from, and he claims to have magically summoned it and then dismissed it. However, he's a terrible liar, and this just makes them more cranky. They search him several more times, and note the Magpie Talisman with interest (maybe this is why Merit is getting so rich), but do not in fact search his money pouch. Min Feng manages to slip out of the ice when no one is looking, and leaps in to admit that the sword-tael is hers, and that Zhi-Hao was just trying to protect her. In the end, they let Zhi-Hao go, without the sword-tael but with everything else.
The librarians are not keen to pour barrels of salt water all over the library, so it takes them about a day to get sandbags full of dessicant set up to get people out of the ice. Merit emerges with a new sympathy for all those rats he experimented on.
The applicants are permitted to retake the last portion of the test that was disrupted by the fire, and Meng Shou is promoted to Exalted Librarian. Hooray! Meng Shou also later relays to the party that the fires did destroy some histories which contained accounts of past atrocities in the Illuminated Precincts.
- Shen-Ji and Master Zhou call on Hsu Verity for her assistance in forging a blade.
- Cai Wen visits the House of the Hidden Orchid.