The Noon Fool
|"If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Magpie in the Month of the Bear in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed|
The run takes place principally in the Dragon's Throne
Guest of Insufficiently Clear Circumstance
The party is resting in Tahiti, when the junior butler approaches Master Zhou. There is a bit of a ... situation. Could he come to the door? At the door is a young woman, dressed nicely, but to Master Zhou's eyes, she is clearly a trap. The young woman says that she seeks Zhu Cai Wen. Master Zhou ties the strip of yellow silk over his eyes and thinks that she is not an enemy, at least not at present. He fetches Cai Wen, who is presented with a choice:
Accept moll [y/n]. He picks no, and at that point, Master Zhou decides that she is no longer a trap. She says that she has a message from the "lady of valuable green stone", which sounds somewhat odd.
- "She understands that you seek undue influence over the councilors of greatness and asks that you attend where inspiration can be provided."
- "Those were the words she used?" -Master Zhou
- "In approximate truth. Language."
- "Where are you from?"
- "I am far from the place of speaking."
- "Are there any other messages?"
- "Not for delivery unto you."
- "Would you like to rest here?"
- "I would be pleased to regain my powers."
While the mysterious young lady rests, Takanata shows around the tarot cards he has been drawing. He is particularly suspicious of the back of the Taiga card and the back of the Forest of Chin card. The one looks suspiciously like the fox is being worn by the coyote (or maybe vice versa). And what the heck is up with that monkey? No conclusions are drawn.
People decide that they can speculate for a long time about what Precious Jade is up to, or what this young woman is up to, but in the end they should probably head to the Dragon's Throne. The young woman says that she would be happy to lead them on the path to power which, again, is a little weird sounding.
On the way there, they chat with the mysterious young woman. She says that she was infiltrated into the service of the Great Stone Mistress, by one who seeks her favor. Would that "one" be someone from far away? Previously, yes.
Yanyu checks what her aspect its. Well, it's not really an aspect, but if you had to put it into words, it's a weird combination of freedom and light. Master Deng checks if she is an enemy of the Empire - the answer is indeterminate, and possibly conditional?
Yanyu suspects she's a Southerner, what with the "light" in her aspect, and asks in Senatali if she speaks Senatali. She doesn't answer and seems confused, so either she doesn't or she's pretending. Takanata asks her what her name is, and she says it is not transparent, but she is frequently referred to as a thousand zhu.
- "And since ten in Chinese is 'shur' her name is Shirley!" -Tom
Festival Day One
When the party reaches Gatetown, the two guards eye them with some concern. They should be, ah, warned, that a festival is underway. It might be advisable to wait until the festival is over in two days hence. People claim that they like festivals and want to go in anyway. Well, it is the custom for this festival, or so the guards are told, that "all must serve and obey in proportion to their status", and he would not wish Takanata in particular to suffer such indignities. The festival - called the Festival of the Noon Fool - began this morning, and will last until dawn on the third day. So... what is the festival for? It is to celebrate the inauguration of the new vice mayor. Who is the new vice mayor, then? The city is expectantly waiting to hear.
Takanata and Kuan-Xi unearth some hooded cloaks that drop their status to 3 unless they call attention to themselves, and everyone heads in. In the Pewter district, some small gangs take note of the newcomers, and head in their direction. The party makes a beeline for the gate to Bronze, and only one of the gangs manages to catch up.
One of the ruffians tells Master Deng that his shoes are in need of repair, and Deng should give the guy his shoes. Deng shrugs and trades shoes with the guy.
- "Wow! That actually worked!"
Emboldened by this success, another guy takes on Master Zhou.
- "Good sir, I am most tired! Can you please carry me to my home?"
- "You're not supposed to say please!"
- "Oh, right. Um, noble scurvy dog, take me to my home!"
Master Zhou bows, gets seven successes on a humility roll, and carries the guy three blocks to his lodging. The guy looks even more confused, and thanks Master Zhou, who bows humbly and says it has been an honor. The gang is at a loss for what else to ask for, and the party escapes into Bronze, where they head for Fen-Xi's house.
Knocking on the door, they hear a voice inside which calls out saying that people are sick and everyone should come back later. Takanata says he has medical training, and the voice switches tack: that's not necessary, everything is under control. Master Zhou calls through the door, saying that it's Takanata and friends, and Black Pearl opens the door quickly - come in! Get off the streets! She is impressed by Takanata's cloak.
Fen-Xi is not here at present - he has been drafted to help administer the bureaucracy exams, but will be available in the evening. So... what happened to the previous vice mayor - was he promoted? Ha, ha, no, he just retired.
Black Pearl explains what she has seen of the festival. What happens if you don't go along with it? Right now, the penalty is just that you get a reputation for not going along with the custom, and being anti-social. But that will probably get worse as the festival goes along. Similarly, the demands low-status people making are not very bold yet, and they will probably get bolder.
Well, perhaps it is time to talk to Precious Jade. The guards at the gate to the Jade Garden are particularly confused to see a three status guy with a Jade Key, and are even more confused when it turns in the lock.
The mysterious young woman (still being called Shirley) takes the group to the Pavilion of Rain and Flowers. Some of the concubines are horrified by Takanata (a 3-status person in their midst), and flee; Shirley heads off to get "the mistress of valuable stones." A short time later, Precious Jade comes back. She starts to apologize for the timing, notes Takanata and Kuan-Xi's dress, and bursts out laughing.
- "You have got to be kidding me." -Precious Jade
- "Is there anything that shopping can't solve?" -Kuan-Xi
Precious Jade says that she didn't know about the festival in advance, but she did know that there would be a new vice mayor. She also notes that Shirley's name is actually "Mill-ih-cent", which everyone has trouble pronouncing.
- "She described herself as having been 'infiltrated into your service'?"
- "She says things like that. They are both culturally inappropriate and uncomfortably true." -Precious Jade
- "Where is she from?"
- "That is not something I have been vouchsafed. It was an exchange of favors, and deep background was not included."
Master Zhou wants to blame Xian for all of this, but Takanata thinks this is obviously the work of the Light, Sima's opposite.
People ask Precious Jade more questions. The vice mayor stepping down was apparently wholly unexpected. The festival has been organized by the Office of the Mayor. In addition, the Mayor apparently occasionally appears, and if you can get him to do something funny, that's worth - well, whatever the opposite of status is. Precious Jade herself sent over some possible candidates for the exams - several washed out immediately, and one still is in the exams but has no hope of winning. Her brother is taking it, as well. Actual registered bureaucrats in the Dragon's Throne are barred from taking part.
Cai Wen looks for the scoreboard.
|Phase I||Phase II||Phase III|
That is not particularly enlightening, but it does suggest that there are more phases.
Precious Jade notes that she thought that now would be a good time to work together on favors, because the new vice mayor will shake things up. The festival was unexpected, though. In any event, she has found out some things, and they can divide and conquer.
For example, how are they at making parties go down in flames? Cai Wen notes that he normally spends all his effort on preventing that, but that suggests that left to their own devices, parties are likely to spontaneously catch fire. Anyhow, the Golden Duke is throwing a party, and the Forest Regent would take it as a favor if it was a disaster. And the Regent from the Steppes wants someone to provide a mass-producible, easily replicable test for whether a particular soldier has been beast-mastered.
Those are two examples, but she notes that she would be more confident in their ability to work together if there were an official... alliance. Cai Wen says that Xiao Fa accepted the deal. Precious Jade is pleased to hear that. Everyone else perks up their ears - what deal? That Precious Jade would make 'Xiao Fa for Emperor' part of her plan, if Xiao Fa would make 'Precious Jade as First Imperial Concubine' as part of his plan.
In that case, she can provide the list of the rest of the Regents and what she knows about potential favors.
The regent from Bear Mountain wants something destroyed without reading, but Precious Jade's reputation is such that he did not trust her with the details. The regent from the Strand wanted to talk to Shuyan but wouldn't say about what. The Precincts regent wants to become more mysterious somehow. The regent from the Butterfly Meadows can be skipped, as he is trying to promote a different candidate for Emperor. The Plains regent wants some sort of medical assistance. The Heights regent is why she has a new assistant. The Shrouded Isle regent wouldn't talk to her, the Taiga regent Cai Wen already has on board, and the Vice Mayor is about to be someone new.
The group thanks Precious Jade, but thinks that the next thing that needs to be investigated is the exam, so they head out of the Jade Palace again.
At the Hall of the Great Art, there are large crowds outside, and urchins are enthusiastically directing people in different directions. The people taking the test are down to the last forty-five, and the last round of tests will be the last entry point for new arrivals. However, there is not a list of who is currently taking the test, nor who the few plot-relevant test takers might be, so perhaps someone needs to get inside. Should someone get in and try to become vice mayor? But then they'd be stuck in the Dragon's Throne, which would be no good.
The idea is floated of sending in Xian, who is good at observation and absolutely terrible at bureaucracy, on the theory that she cannot accidentally ace the test and become vice mayor.
Just in case, it is emphasized to Xian: DO NOT ACCIDENTALLY BECOME VICE MAYOR. Off she goes.
- "I am the Confounding Xian."
- "District of Residence?"
- "Well, then, Document of Residential Waiver?"
Xian hands the official a hair ribbon, which he is confounded into believing to be a Document of Residential Waiver, so he stamps it and puts it in the appropriate folder in his box.
Some aspirants come out of the hall, looking sad, and Xian and seventeen others go in. Xian finds her desk, and takes out a bunch of candles, a statue of a pig, and her calligraphic brushes.
New inboxes full of paper are passed out, but Xian's inbox is given to her by the guy who seemed to be pushing Shan-Xi for Emperor, and she finds it to be incredibly easy. She fills out the papers with ease, and turns them in, to be graded by the same guy.
When the test results are announced, and the aspirants come out, Xian is in the final six contenders.
Cai Wen spots a very disguised Sho Fi nearby, and checks in with her. What are they up to? Well, why wouldn't you want to be vice mayor, at least temporarily? Sho Fi can also tell them a bit about the other leading contenders. Ching Shih has a background as a pirate, of all things, so why she is here is anyone's guess. Wang Xiaofang is, well, sort of like a Warrior Poet, except he's a Bureaucrat Author. Tian Hou has no past, which is remarkable, given the background forms Hadisen had to fill out. That's why he had to enter as "Hadisen the Disguised" instead of a proper cover. Sho Fi is surprised that Fu Li isn't in the final six, too.
Kuan-Xi causes Tian Hou to be Appropriately Dressed, and she is now dressed as a high imperial kinswoman, like a sister or a cousin of the Emperor.
Yanyu notes that Serafina's aspect is some odd mix of brightness and liberty, and Master Deng thinks that Tian Hou is not an enemy of the Empire. Takanata declares that Hadisen is the only acceptable candidate, on the theory that Tian Hou is on Lucky Chang's team, and Wang Xiaofang is on the Bureaucrat's team. (Xian, Serafina, and the pirate apparently are too ruled out to be worth mentioning.)
Wang Xiaofang is Tortoise aspected, Tian Hou is a Tiger, and Hadisen is a Spider. Cai Wen wonders if Sho Fi needs any shtick refreshing? She says that she burned some shticks to get Hadisen in, but he's passing the tests now on his own skill (though they don’t think he has enough to win).
Xian and Hadisen confer and come up with a plan - they swap disguises in the bathroom, Hadisen gets the easy test and Xian the hard one.
The tests are scored, and the results announced in order. Ching Shih is eliminated, leading to cheers from the crowd, who weren't pleased by the pirate as a potential vice mayor. "Hadisen" is eliminated, but then she removes her disguise and reveals that she is Xian the Confounding. Xian is immediately disqualified, and Hadisen is about to be disqualified when he points out that he filed the form saying he was going to be in disguise. “Hadisen, the disguised”, remember? Well... okay, then. And, Tian Hou is eliminated.
So the final three aspirants are: Wang Xiaofang, Hadisen the Disguised, and Serafina. This is the end of the exams; the other two phases will be something else.
|Phase I||Phase II||Phase III|
A: Wang Xiaofang B: Hadisen C: Serafina
Gathering some more information about Wang Xiaofang, he is apparently not a bureaucrat who works as part of the civil service, but flits around watching different bureaucracies in action.
- "Like the Jane Goodall of bureaucrats."
Takanata contemplates the crossroads: will they be happier if Wang Xiaofang, or Hadisen, becomes vice mayor? He concludes that the answer is Hadisen, but he has asked the wrong question. That's interesting - Crossroads rarely editorializes like that. His best guess is that Butterfly thinks that they will be happier if someone they have an alliance with wins, regardless of the merits of the other guy. Deng confirms that Wang Xiaofang is not an enemy of the empire. So maybe that's Butterfly hinting that Wang Xiaofang is better?
Now that the exam is over, the party heads back to Bronze to call upon Fen-Xi. He is given to understand that Phase III is popularity in the districts, and Phase II is authority in the districts, but he doesn't know exactly how those will be run. He isn't involved in them.
Takanata asks his impressions of the three that are left, and he hems and haws a bit, given that they seem to have gone to great lengths to get Hadisen into the finals. Serafina he doesn't know much about. She bought a property in Silver, a week ago, so she qualified as a resident.
Wang Xiaofang was just passing through and didn't have a residency status, but he filed a legitimate waiver of residency. He has several of those on hand at all times, as an itenerant bureaucrat.
Fen-Xi also notes that while Hadisen had an extraordinarily easy test, Wang Xiaofang did a good job on the hard questions. Serafina's method, on the other hand, involved finding loopholes in all the regulations. He found her competent but distasteful, and also doesn't approve of the fact that she is clearly from Far Away.
Xian thinks it's a weird coincidence that they both coincidentally showed up. Everyone else thinks Xian shouldn't be throwing stones at glass houses, given that the party coincidentally shows up everywhere when a plot is happening.
Takanata deals out his cards, hoping to get an idea of which regent is the most influenced by the Light.
Takanata and Kuan-Xi, as the two who have disguises of 3 status, lead the two groups to visit regents in the late evening.
The Regent from Bear Mountain was hoping that Most Exuberant Li and his associates might be able to take care of something for him - to have a particular document extracted from the secure area of the Imperial Archives, and destroyed. The key to the request is that he must rely on the honor of those who take on the task that they will not read the file before destroying it. Takanata undertakes to agree to have it done, and the Regent provides a file number and document number, with no other identifying details.
Takanata is also curious - it has been suggested to him that the current confusion in the city is related to the interference of spirits or mystical entities from outside the empire, and Takanata thinks that the regent is one of the most likely to oppose it usefully. The Regent says that he is not as much of an expert on the spirits as the Great Master Zhou, but if Takanata thinks there is confusion now, he should see what sort of confusion will befall the city if the one called Serafina becomes vice mayor. In all fairness and honor he has not spoken to her himself, but it is clear that she is from beyond the Mountains. Part of the responsibility of the rulers of Bear Mountain is to defend the Mountains of Heaven from that which lies beyond, the Gate of Five Elements and the high passes. Takanata notes that he believes Serafina to have been sent by the Light. The Regent finds that interesting - in his grandfather's time, it was the Dark that was a problem. An expedition came through, purporting to offer new ways of doing and thinking, and it caused some amount of chaos in Bear Mountain until they were sent away. Are there records of such a time, Takanata wonders? Probably in Iron Fortress, but not here.
The Bear Regent also thinks that the minimum barrier to hold office ought to be that one is a citizen of the Empire, and thinks it rather shocking that the Dragon's Throne does not have that in place.
Meanwhile, Cai Wen and Kuan-Xi talk to the Forest regent about the party the Golden Duke is throwing tomorrow. The regent thinks that it is undoubtedly a party of self-aggrandizement as most of them are, but does not know any particular details. The group considers inviting urchins and monkeys, though the regent thinks that bad behavior on the part of the guests is only partly a disaster - getting the hosts to behave badly and break party rules would be ideal.
That is it for the night's discussion, and it is time for bed. The next morning, dawn breaks over the Dragon's Throne with the sound of a faraway howl.
Festival Day Two
Sho Fi shows up at breakfast, noting to Cai Wen that they need to nail down some districts. She has an idea for a fabulous party, attracting all the attention away from the other parties, and briefly she and Cai Wen think they are on the same page, but it turns out she is planning to use the Golden Duke's party and Cai Wen is planning to destroy it. He encourages her to throw her own party in competition with the Golden Duke's.
- "Throwing a party with no notice? You ask the impossible, but I suppose I can do it." -Sho Fi
She thinks that Silver can be nailed down just by spending a lot of money - the contest is designed to emphasize and accentuate the nature of the district. (Propaganda, rather than influence, will be phase 3)
Kuan-Xi, Yanyu, Master Zhou go to see the Regent from the Shrouded Isle, and on the way there, there are a lot more shenanigans on the street, as well as people selling some quickly made status-lowering clothes.
The Isle regent is sad to find herself at odds with Kuan-Xi, as the regent thinks the Alchemist is the only one strong enough to bring down the Bureaucrat, who she holds to be the source of all this chaos. Kuan-Xi informs her sorrowfully that the Bureaucrat and the Alchemist are best buddies and allies, and the Alchemist is not to be trusted; the Regent warns Kuan-Xi not to trust Precious Jade all that far either. She will see what sort of a favor she can think of that would be unobjectionable to either of their patrons.
Wang Xiaofang is found in the Copper District, at the Dulcet Harp, holding forth about the historical bureaucratic meme of the Empire, currently being violated by Serafina. He starts out interestingly, but is losing his audience as he gets more and more academic. Listening to him, it becomes clear that he's a traditional conservative. His overall theme is that while some would claim Bureaucracy as a strange and mystical art, it is at its heart, the extension of law into your daily life. Bureaucracy is the intermediary that protects both sides (the people and the government) from each other.
- "If there wasn't a bureaucracy, 'all the struggles about what things should be done would be with knives and swords." -Wang Xiaofang
Cai Wen notes that the Mayor is pretty invested in the use of bureaucracy as a mystical art, but Wang Xiaofang is not as well informed about that. Having written a biography on the Lord Mayor in the past, he is surprised by the more recent turn towards weird and non-bureaucratic bureaucracy. Of course, mechanics do become tried and true simply by virtue of existing over time. People were sad to see bribery stop, but they were appalled half a cycle ago when it appeared.
So... what practical changes might Cai Wen see if Wang were to become vice-mayor? Well, first, there would likely be a series of proper exams to choose a replacement, not a mad scavenger hunt and popularity contest.
Cai Wen wonders whether he's more Spidery or more Dragony. Well, maybe more Dragony because he's focused on historical precedent, and there's more Dragon history than Spider history. He can point to recent innovations going awry, but old stuff has successes and disasters. He's pretty darn conservative. Really, he's more Tortoise than either, so it depends on what aspects you want to focus on. He stepped into the contest because he was appalled that it was happening and someone had to - that might be kind of Dragony.
His next stop is the Ivory District to talk to the Regency Council. He says that he has a lot of Jade passes that can get him into the Jade District, and notes that Serafina seems to be using an obscure loophole about candidates for vice mayor not needing passes. He thinks that speaks to the difference between them.
Cai Wen's team's next stop is the Precincts Regent.
- "How may I be of service today? Or maybe tomorrow? Or yesterday?"
- "He sucks at being mysterious, but he's trying." -Xian
The Regent admits he has acquired a "mystery tutor" but thinks that the party might be able to assist him in becoming more mysterious, as it is now a trend at home. They discuss Whale - the Regent is tells them that Whale was one of the original spirits, and is disappointed when they tell him that everyone knows that.
Cai Wen suggests that a companion of theirs might be willing to teach a shtick in being inscrutable, but when it comes out that the companion is Xian the Confounding, he is less enthusiastic. If it comes to circus performers, Mystic Mondo might be better. The group also notes that they know a location of a town entirely peopled by followers of Whale, but the regent is less impressed by this as a Mystery without documentation. In the end, a bargain is struck that the regent will have the exclusive services of Mystic Mondo for three runs, in exchange for a favor.
Meanwhile, Xian and Takanata are working on their bardic talents. Xian puts together a bardic satire on Serafina and it is set to going around Jade, and Takanata is at work on a praise song for Hadisen.
Yanling tracks down Cai Wen with a message: "Precious Jade says maybe while you are tracking things down, you could find out what happened to her brother. He went in to take the tests and never came out."
The party regroups shortly before lunchtime. Cai Wen considers the difference between Wang and Hadisen. He notes that the greatest risk in supporting Wang is that he believes in the bureaucracy, and will be fair - they can probably convince Hadisen to break the rules on behalf of the party. Takanata's Connections reading confirms that Wang might be better, so the group shifts strategy.
In Pewter, Cai Wen uses the support of the Iron Keys and "General Thuggery" to get Pewter on board behind Wang. (Illumineaucracy does not seem to have been touched by the festival mechanic, suggesting that whoever was behind the festival didn't know much about it).
Takanata heads to the Hall of the Great Art, and after some visions of the past, finds Fu Li tied up in a broom closet in the basement. Both Fu Li and Takanata are pulled into questioning for a while, but whoever lured Fu Li into the basement appears to have been in disguise. Ominously, in the vision of the past that includes Serafina, Serafina looks directly at Takanata looking at her in the past.
Kuan-Xi spends some karma to open Wang's Emporium (that is, the Bazaar) in Silver so that merchants can buy interesting things in bulk. Master Zhou purchases 100 fancy gi with white on white trim, so now the White Pagoda students can look like white is a deliberate choice, rather than a lack of color. Xiao Fa's local militia in the Tanzhe are also outfitted, and the Iron Keys in Bronze are outfitted, upping their Impress stat in Illumineaucracy. Cai Wen finds Wang Xiaofang, and says he is willing to throw his political machine behind Wang, in exchange for future considerations. Wang says that he will not betray the office, but other than that, agrees. Cai Wen presents him with district approval in Silver and Pewter. Wang thinks that Serafina is doing better with the outer ring - she has Brass now, and he thinks she had Bronze and Pewter before the party was there. Wang was making some headway in Copper, but Hadisen lives there and currently has it.
|Phase I||Phase II||Phase III|
|N/A||A: P S Bz||A___|
|+17||B: C G I J||B___|
|C: Bs O||C: -J|
A: Wang Xiaofang B: Hadisen C: Serafina
Cai Wen gives Yanling the bracers of parrying ranged attacks that he acquired for her, and reports that Fu Li has been found, so she can tell Precious Jade. Sho Fi returns, and Cai Wen gives her a mesmerizing earring so that people don't remember later that she was the one who talked them into something. He confesses to Sho Fi that the party will be supporting Wang Xiaofang, and spends three karma to let the Crew take their marbles home and pull resources out of the mechanic, and they'll support Wang Xiaofang instead.
Takanata wanders around Copper talking to people about how great an author Wang is, using Enthuse, and wins Copper back for him.
Xian concludes that Serafina isn't finding loopholes, she's breaking rules. One side effect of that is that there have to be rules for her to break - if she is sitting in a room all by herself, then there aren't really any rules for her to leverage. But using a shtick against her (like Visions of the Past) or putting her in a mechanic gives her power to break their rules.
- "She's mired in the middle of a mechanic..." -Cai Wen
- "No, the mechanic is mired in the middle of her." -Xian
Sho Fi wins over Ivory for Wang Xiaofang, which gives him the lock on Phase II.
|Phase I||Phase II||Phase III|
|N/A||A: P S Bz C I||A___|
|+17||B: G J||B___|
|C: Bs O||C: -J|
A: Wang Xiaofang B: Hadisen C: Serafina
The party retires back to the inn to let the next group finish up here.