|"So long as I can keep a secret it is my prisoner. If I let it slip then I am its prisoner."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tiger, in the month of the Butterfly, in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Hidden City.
Cai Wen lets everyone know that there is a farewell party for the circus in the Obsidian district, sponsored by the Gold Duke. This will count towards the anti-bribery mechanic, and since the Gold Duke is sponsoring the party for the circus and wants to "win" the party as part of getting himself more status in the Hidden City, so the group should try to be at least benevolently neutral towards him. And, Cai Wen is cashing in one of the favors from the House of Night's Promise, which is good at parties - that will allow people to be whisked around, or to set up a private conversation area, or to send someone to buy something in an emergency. Cai Wen's moll Seoyeon is also an expert at Hidden City parties and can assist.
Takanata writes a poem:
Hmm. He thinks that this suggests that the Marked, or possibly the Alchemist in particular, will be making an appearance.
Merit and Master Deng head to the Ivory Tailors to pick up their previous purchases. There is a woman there who is keeping the entire shop busy with her cranky demands, and while Deng does not recognize her, he realizes she is clearly very important and he should wait. Merit, who recognizes her as Sho Fi, compliments her on her exquisite taste, and asks if she could help advise him on the fitting of his clothes, with as much charm and grovelling as he can manage. Sho-Fi thinks that he is hardly worthy of this particular establishment, and suggests pointedly that once he has picked up some decent clothes, he should head somewhere lower-class - like a particular teahouse in the Silver district - and be gone from her presence.
Takanata auspiciously arrives with a silver key as they head in that direction, and upon their arrival at the teahouse, they are all whisked into a meeting with River Ford. He says that things are mostly in place, and hands over a bundle of passes marked "Do Not Open until the Imperial Job". (There are about 41 points of passes to be determined later). Takanata says that they have arranged for a week's scrying protection for themselves and another five hundred people, and a year's coverage of any loot. In return, in part, they will have to leave behind a large golden statue of a horse, which Shen-Ji will take care of. Ford is impressed by the scope of the protection, and thinks that he can use a distracting mob in that case.
Ford also asks after the group's current arrangement/entanglement with Inspector Fu. Takanata says that Inspector Fu is not personally fond of them, but there are no formal arrangements, and when last they spoke, the Inspector noted that it was not illegal to mess with the chi of the Empire. When dueling nobles are trying to mess with it in different directions, that does not make it a matter for the Imperial Inspector's office until and unless crimes are committed in the process. Takanata thinks that there are no current investigations involving the party, but that the Inspector would love an excuse to find one.
Ford tells them that when a small jade statue appears at their door, to bring it and assemble their strike team.
The party is a "prestige party", as seen before, but with a lower starting prestige (status/5, rather than status). However, it can be transferred between people via a bet or other in-party mechanic.
Cai Wen spends 4 tael on counter-bribery bribes, and checks the scoreboard before the party. Apparently, there are three people trying to win the party, and a number of VIP guests who have votes. A party favor can be used to get a VIP to vote for (or against) one of the contenders.
|Gold Duke||Imperial Archivist||Baron|
|Imperial Finance Minister|
|Zhu Cai Wen|
|Roof of the World Regent|
Kuan-Xi asks around, trying to find out who "the Baron" is. It sounds like there is only one baron important enough to be attending an Obsidian party, and he was not realized to be in town: the "Iron Baron", Baron Lonehill.
Merit asks for a brief dossier on the Iron Baron. Most of the ducal levies raised by the Hidden City nobility are stationed within the city itself, as well as all of the imperial troops, and City guards. The Iron Baron is one of the very few who has troops out in the mostly-rural countryside between the city and the borders of the country, and he "loans" troops as needed, making him sort of a mercenary provider. The Hidden City is almost never attacked by another country in an intra-Empire war, but the Iron Baron's troops do deal with bandit suppression and such. However, the Iron Baron himself is not very well respected in the City, as his power comes from the hinterlands.
As the party begins, the Gold Duke asks if Cai Wen would like to say any words of introduction.
- "Um... let the festivities begin!" -Cai Wen
Master Deng surveys the room, looking for anyone who might count as an enemy of the Empire, who he could defeat in party combat. He's been looking for an official Enemy for ages, so that he can return to Master Fa for another lesson after defeating said enemy. After some consideration, he decides that the Archivist counts, though he is but the pawn of a real enemy.
People begin chatting with the lesser-known party guests - Xiao Fa meets an officer in the Imperial Trade Office, and Xiao Fa meets a young woman who seems interested in catching Precious Jade's eye. Takanata introduces himself to the Archivist, who starts angling to get Takanata to ask for Cai Wen's vote. Kuan-Xi meets a martial artist who is trying to put together a Hidden City Kung Fu style, and appears to be singularly bad at working a party.
- "Bureaucracy, Politics, kung fu - same thing."
Cai Wen asks Commander Yao about his agenda at the party, but the Commander says he didn't come with an agenda, he came with an invitation. He's been dealing with re-integration logistics for the troops who have returned from the recent campaign.
Challenges start to happen - Takanata wins a contest of sushi preparation (not sake-drinking, it's a little early for that) with the Imperial Archivist, and Merit is beaten by a merchant captain who seems to also be a smuggler.
Cai Wen notices that Seoyeon appears to be dancing with him only on autopilot, and she looks over to the challenge between Merit and the captain. Hey, there's another scoreboard going on - the Captain gets a point for himself for winning the contest.
Master Deng challenges Commander Yao to a fast-talk gambit, and convinces him to vote for the Gold Duke. Shuyan challenges the Regent from the Roof of the World to an origami gambit, and they tie, increasing the stakes. Kuan Xi and an acupuncturist duel in KS: Bear Mountain, which neither of them have, and they also tie.
Precious Jade, over near Takanata, wonders if he knows what Ando is here for. He doesn't, so Precious Jade assigns Shuyan to figure that out when she has a moment.
Xiao Fa challenges his dance partner to Scary Faces; when he wins, he asks her to vote for the Gold Duke, but she says she is not nearly important enough to have a vote in such a competition.
Then, the doors open, and the majordomo announces Shinji-rusho, the Imperial Alchemist, and his party. Seoyeon staggers for a moment, as the Alchemist takes over the VIP table and summons Takanata to it, and the previous scoreboard is erased and replaced with:
In addition to the 20 points of ninja help, 20 points of demon help appear on the board, and everyone in the party (except Takanata) has a new little "hint" packet.
- "I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking for, but I assure you that I have brought equal value." -the Alchemist to Takanata
Cai Wen challenges one of the Alchemist's people (we'll call him the Outdoorsy Minion, dressed in a way that suggests a master of the hunt in his best uniform) to a gambit of "horse whispering". Seoyeon warns him that that's this guy's best skill, so Cai Wen unloads everything on the roll, barely beating the minion. He asks for an explanation of what is going on, and in return, the minion asks for the minor favor of not challenging him any longer. The minion explains that each of them (the Alchemist's minions) have a hint packet as well, and that their own task is to beat party members in challenges and get them to deliver their hints to the Alchemist as favors. Cai Wen spends three ninja points to get the ninja to whisper to everyone what is going on, and telling them to beat the Alchemist's minions and have them deliver their hints to Takanata.
Zhi-Hao beats one of the Alchemist's minions in Senatali conversation, and asks her to deliver her hint to Takanata. Shuyan wins her two-round origami gambit, and asks the Regent from the Roof of the World to challenge one of the Alchemist's party and ask them to deliver a hint. The Regent asks, as a small favor, that Shuyan explain to her why the party suddenly seems to have overtones of a Great Battle between Light and Darkness.
Back in the geography battle, Kuan-Xi buys some inherent skill in well travelled, and wins the gambit. She makes the same request that Shuyan did, and her partner asks her to challenge one of the other "purple people" (the purple-token people who are appearing on the alternate scoreboard with the Captain) and beat them.
Takanata thanks the Alchemist for his assistance rescuing Master Yang, and turns on Eyes of the I Ching.
- "My apologies for Master Yang's situation. I prefer my contests to be more... structured... than what my apprentice undertook. But I believe that appropriate recompense has been made." -Alchemist
Eyes of the I Ching indicates that the demons and the ninja are equally balanced, and that both he and the Alchemist have a small piece of themselves carried by their minions, making this a proxy battle. Also, each of the pieces (hint packets) is very small, but the sum of them all together is likely greater than the sum of each individual pieces would indicated. The battle itself seems very fair, even scrupulously so.
Takanata checks the closest connection between himself and the Alchemist: it is that the Alchemist sees Takanata as holding the same position in the circus party as he does in his group, and thus sees him as in some sense his peer or equal. However, he is wrong.
One of the Alchemist's minions, dressed something like Inspector Fu, challenges Cai Wen to a kung fu contest, which Cai Wen changes to a dodging contest, in which the servants throw things at them. As he can now use his "dodge mooks" shticks, he dodges with grace and wins, sending a hint to the Alchemist. Zhi-Hao defeats another minion with a battle of perception, sending another hint. Merit challenges the hunter to Go, and is countered with Charades. Merit manages to talk him into a combination of watching and doing, and wins, sending a third hint towards Takanata. As a small favor, the hunter asks Merit to throw some li towards the next challenge, so Merit challenges Xiao Fa to meditation and throws some li at him.
The Alchemist's seductive minion challenges Seoyeon to a "seduce Cai Wen" contest, which Seoyeon is sure must be a trap, and so she counter-proposes Gambling, so that Cai Wen can give her a helper roll. Sadly, she doesn't have enough dice, and loses; the minion asks her to bring Cai Wen's hint to the Alchemist. Cai Wen is faced with a choice between dropping her as a moll, or letting her bring the hint, and stalls for a bit.
The sneaky minion challenges Xiao Fa to a Chi Mastery battle, which he also suspects is a trap, but accepts. He spends a ninja point to ask the ninja to keep an eye on what the trap is, and they let him know that the minion is splitting his dice between chi mastery and pickpocket to steal Xiao Fa's hint during the contest. A karma later, Xiao Fa has won both the chi mastery and the pickpocket battle, and the sneaky minion has to deliver his hint to Takanata.
Zhi-Hao ends up in a battle with the Seductive Minion, throws in all his fortune, and burns three karma to bring his roll up to tie with hers.
- "This battle is more important to you than I had imagined." -Alchemist
- "Master Deng is poor at losing, he doesn't do it often." -Merit
- "<shrug> They're loyal." -Takanata
Shuyan explains to the Regent from the Roof of the World that the Alchemist is a very bad man, and he has decided to turn the party into a contest of knowledge between himself and Lord Takanata.
- "But it's just knowledge, not titanic consequences... no, wait, I'm from the Roof of the World, I know better than that."
Shuyan says that she doesn't want to explain further, as it could put the Regent in great danger. The Regent is nonplussed at that, but Shuyan explains that there are great forces at work here. The Regent is a little dubious that one of the forces is a circus, but Shuyan isn't explaining further.
Cai Wen spends a karma to block the fortune and status of the minion competing with Master Deng, and though Deng spends both his own status and that of Takanata, he still loses. For the extra-large favor, she asks that he take his own hint and Shuyan's hint as well to the Alchemist. A few demon whisks move them together and give him Shuyan's hint. The counter-favor is to bring her hint to Takanata.
Merit uses a ninja to send Master Deng to the far corner of the room, and uses nearly the last of the ninja to eliminate the many fewer last of the demons. Then he beats Precious Jade at Go, and asks her to vote for the Gold Duke, and tell him that it was a good party. Precious Jade asks him the small favor of catching up with Ando.
- "Oh, are we still doing that? I suppose so." -Precious Jade
- " Interesting. Your guys may not want to bribe, but they clearly don't mind cheating outrageously." -the Alchemist
The Alchemist tells his minions that they are free to burn his status. Cai Wen sends the last of the ninja to whisper to everyone to win the original game as he's determined that it still exists under there somewhere and winning it could end this party.
- "Put a +1 on Precious Jade - write it on the board where it would have been, and then erase it. And do the same for the Baron from the Strand Regent." -Mike
Shuyan challenges the Roof of the World Regent again, to a Streetwise contest, but loses. The Regent asks her to ask her friend Takanata to CC those hints to her as well.
In drift, the Alchemist averages everyone who is delivering a message - Master Deng gets moved in, and the Alchemist's minions get moved out, to put everyone in the center of the room. And, he replenishes his demons, and gives the option of the party replenishing their ninjas. They burn another favor from the House of Night's Promise to replenish the ninjas.
- "Now it's on." -Cai Wen
Xiao Fa beats the courtesan at a gambit of conversational interrogation, and asks what all the "purple" people are up to. She says that it's a very exciting party, and someone could really make a name for themselves here.
- "I do apologize for their use of my status; I had not had the opportunity to brief them. On the other hand, I am not certain that the shifts in drift are necessarily things that I should not be trying to counter." -Takanata
- "I have found it most instructive, the level of resources they are willing to burn to protect relatively minor secrets." -Alchemist
- "I don't know how large a secret it is, but neither do they." -Takanata
The party spends ninja to move the last two of the Alchemist's minions; the Alchemist agrees, and moves Cai Wen, Seoyeon, and Zhi-Hao with demons. Merit spends a karma to intercept the "shipment" from Zhi-Hao to the Alchemist, grabbing it himself.
Now with all the Alchemist's hints, Takanata gets a briefing on what they mean. He visibly blanches and says "He can't have any of ours." The Alchemist also looks startled, and murmurs "What do you know that is worth *that*?"
After losing a gambit to Ando, Merit is asked to tell the story of Ebon Brush. He explains that she went to the World Below and then she died. Ando thinks that this is really only half a story, but Merit declines to elaborate.
Cai Wen, unhappily, cuts Seoyeon loose moment before she can deliver his hint to the Alchemist. The Alchemist notes that she now owes him a debt that she can no longer pay, so she will have to... work it off.
Then, Cai Wen challenges the Gold Duke to a game of leadership, which he loses, and agrees to vote for the Duke. Soon thereafter, he zooshes over to the Regent from the Roof of the World, and challenges her to a dancing gambit. She eyes him gravely, and accepts, losing with no successes at all. Cai Wen asks her to vote for the Gold Duke, and she agrees to do so if it must be.
That brings the Gold Duke to five votes, ending the party. Amon the purple people, the Captain and the Banker are both tied at two successes, so, alas, neither of them earns a Name.
Takanata, still looking quite shaken, tells everyone that he'll explain back at the circus. Eyes of the I Ching indicate that the party is followed by demons back to the circus, but they do not cross the border of the boarding house that the circus is using.
Takanata explains that the six hints he received were:
- The Great Spider Spirit is larger than the Demon Aku
- The very large spider spirit held the demesne of the Web of Machination for three Great Cycles with little change
- Overarching ambition is Aku's fatal flaw
- Overarching ambition drives achievement
- All spirits and demons must act according to their nature
- The Alchemist knows the secrets of skinwalking
None of these hints are really a surprise, but when you put them together like that, what they suggest is that the the exact dynamic is different than what was previously thought. The Alchemist is using his pawn, Aku - Aku has the ambition to become the Great Spider Spirit and take over the Cycle, but after that, the Alchemist will close the Spider's skin around Aku and trap him into behaving as the Spider would, as far as continuing on.
- "So... Spider can run it but did not have the ambition to take it. Aku could take it, but cannot run it."
- The Alchemist invites Takanata to meet him for tea. With much preparation, Takanata goes.
- Shen-Ji runs into Yama - no doubt completely at random - at a noodle house.
- Lijuan, Takanata, Xiao Fa, and Li Merit go to make offerings at the shrines of the Foon Emperors in the Jade palace.