History and Fiction
|"Study from new books, but from old teachers."|| The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place in the City of Light in the Illuminated Precincts.
Min Feng, Yanyu, Hana, and Kasumi set off to "case the Exalted Library" as a preparation for stealing the Great Talisman of the Tortoise from it. Yanyu and Min Feng invite Kuan-Xi as well, just in case having a full triad will be useful. They leave most of the party loot behind (party loot can more or less only be held by one person during the miniruns), but bring the Shackles of Silence, as they might be useful for sneaking.
Min Feng heads to the docks to talk to the mate of the Moon's First Daughter, but is intercepted by Horse, who offers a ride in exchange for doing some horse-type favors. The party notes that they have no concrete plans for something to do in the Illuminated Precincts. He offers them a scroll to put in the Exalted Library - it'll surely refile itself appropriately. It's just a little treatise on seahorses, and should backdate itself nicely. Hana wants to know how that works - don't libraries want real histories? Horse notes that surely she's noticed that books aren't as static as one might think. The secret - and he'll let her in on it - is to make the change in the Material World and in the World Above at the same time. He can take care of the World Above part if they want to slip it in to the library’s stacks. Hana wants to know what's in it for them if they do this; the answer is "Horse points", since the Horse's grand plan for the Month of the Spider is still in effect. Hana notes that the party might think that they're helping Horse get into the Cycle, maybe to kick out Tortoise, but that this particular favor would be more towards horse-ifying the Isle of Beauty and not so much towards horse-ifying the Illuminated Precincts, so they're not really interested in helping with that. Horse leaves, disappointed by their lack of vision.
Min Feng tells Captain Xie that she was hoping to arrange for a more normal fare to the Illuminated Precincts, with no blockade running and no weird spirits, as recompense for the trouble that they caused before. Captain Xie carefully says that it is kind of her to think of it in that way, but for all the trouble that it might have been, the previous voyage was paid for, so no recompense is necessary. However, he is open to the ship being hired for a standard fare of 2 li each.
The trip is but a day on the Moon's First Daughter, and the group arrives in the Illuminated Precincts.
Yanyu learns that the price to become a Patron of the Library is three tael. In addition to getting to enter the stacks, rumor has it that there are other benefits. (There are still sealed stacks, and librarian-only stacks, so this does not get one access to all the books). How is being a patron tracked? Well, there are scrolls of patronage which are given to patrons, but they generally do not have to present their scrolls to enter. It is permissible to bring "assistants", but they must behave appropriately and the patron is responsible for them.
The group considers their plans. Yanyu could be a distraction. Hiro can detect treasure, but that's not really long range if there's a lot of loot. Kasumi is in favor of the plan of "try to break in and see what happens to stop you" but the others think that this may tip their hand in the long term. Setting off the Library's defenses will probably get them tagged as potential trouble in the future. Could they scout in disguise? Well, maybe, but if the patron is being identified magically, that might not be so much of a help.
Yanyu heads to the library to become a Patron, declaring that the first pass at investigation is to go in and not hit any of the defenses with a stick, only to look around. The Exalted Librarian that she meets with apologizes most humbly that the Bibliothecary is indisposed and cannot meet with her personally. Yanyu, professing concern, tries to find out more about what has ailed him; the librarian assures her that it is nothing that she need be concerned with, simply a minor security matter, but the stacks are perfectly safe. A higher-ranking librarian with several layered stoles enters to welcome Yanyu into the family of the Library, and asks after her name and titles and occupation. Additionally, is there anyone to contact regarding her official dedication biography? Yanyu isn't sure what he means, but he explains that often those who know a Patron best are called upon to provide their testament for the scroll. Yanyu suggests Lord Takanata as such a person, and the librarian bows and says that a librarian will be dispatched.
- "Is this like a blurb in a G&S program - if you don't submit it in a timely fashion you go in as a kind of vegetable?" -Meg
Yanyu's access to library privileges need not wait upon the scroll being finished, however, but only requires that the financial arrangements be settled. She has brought the fee of 3 Tael with her, though, and the matter is swiftly dealt with. The scroll of patronage will be prepared once the librarian has contacted Lord Takanata, but she can use her Patron status immediately, and the Bibliothecary would be pleased to meet her at the next formal library party.
Yanyu is also given a small pamphlet of rules of the library, for her and her assistants to follow - basically, no weapons, fire-making tools, or ink are permitted, and all of the obvious things like not stealing or destroying books, or going into areas which are marked as off limits. She's also given a small bell that she can ring whenever she needs a scribe. The librarian offers her a tour, and she happily accepts, asking to have the astrology section pointed out to her. The library is quite large, there are several areas restricted by red velvet ropes (administrative) or blue velvet ropes (sealed stacks). Everyone tries hard to remember the layout. Nobody hops (or artistically trips and falls) over the velvet rope, or brings any forbidden items, so it is still not clear what the defenses are. Nor is the Talisman of the Tortoise evident, though Min Feng notes a lot of tortoise-themed scrollwork in the reading room in the center of the main floor.
Hana spots the ghost that she has met before; she's still pursuing her quest to read all the books in the Library. Hana asks her about the books that were burnt during Library Cards, and the ghost says that they were mostly histories. Some she had already read, which is good. Hana asks if the ghost has seen people trying to change the books, but the ghost frowns at the suggestion - that would get them in trouble. She saw someone get in trouble for bringing in ink once. Hana asks how many books she has read - she says 18,293.
Meng Shou, now in the robes of an Exalted Librarian, wanders through the stacks, and does a double-take at seeing Hana and the others. He welcomes Yanyu as a new patron, and she takes the opportunity to wonder at the Bibliothecary being called away on a security matter. Meng Shou hadn't heard about that - he's sure he'll be informed at the next meeting. Is this sort of thing a frequent occurrence? No, no, not at all, he assures them, and there is nothing to worry about, as none of the alarms went off. Min Feng wonders if it's hard for people to do their work if alarms are constantly going off, but Meng Shou assures her that such things are very rare - she has perhaps gotten the wrong impression due to seeing the trouble with the fires. Yanyu says that she needs privacy and discretion for her researches, and asks what kind of protections are in place for that. Meng Shou says that there are private reading rooms that she can use, and while the Library cannot prevent people from eavesdropping on nearby conversations, she would only be encountering those who are permitted to be in the library.
Meng Shou also lets Yanyu know that the first investigation of a Patron nearly always goes extremely well, and further research after that will often be "helped along" by the Library. The group asks after the damage from the fire - hopefully not too much was lost? No, there were not many books permanently destroyed, and the recopying of damaged books is nearly complete. The archivists are going through the indices to see what might have been permanently lost, but he does not expect it to be very many items. They ask if he has joined a new conversational society, but he has not.
Does he know what in particular the Society for the Imagined Ideal was trying to destroy? He thinks the works destroyed had to do with particularly embarrassing or unfortunate historical events in the Precincts - an inn deliberately burnt down in an assassination, killing a number of children, a wartime massacre, that sort of thing. The group tries to get him to put the incidents all together into a single theme, but he says they were from different times, and not related as far as he knows.
Min Feng asks after particularly impressive spots in the library that she shouldn't miss while she's here - he suggests the collection of artistic books, in particular some books of watercolors, and the maps. There isn't a particular spot that's architecturally impressive, though - the building is rather symmetric. The reading room in the center is nice, though.
Wishing Yanyu luck, he mentions again that the first research of a Patron often goes well - they will frequently be struck by inspiration and find what the librarians call "the book of bright imaginings", something that you were not specifically looking for but proves to be something you wanted.
Yanyu does finally take the hint and wander around to look for books, and comes across something that strikes her fancy:
Archive of Titles of Families
This is a weighty tome, marking out names and bloodlines of families, and titles that were bestowed upon those bloodlines so that they will not be lost in the slow wearing down that time wreaks upon all knowledge. It isn't clear what information in here is relevant, but something about the book seems important, and you note down the title for later.
Encouraged, Min Feng wanders around, and finds an interesting book
The Seal of the Library
This is a dry technical book detailing various magic items that the author has encountered (and investigated and measured in excruciating detail). There is an appendix for greater Artifacts, including the Seal of the Library. "The first thing that is evident to a discerning eye is that the seal is smaller than its true size, for the object is in fact the Great Talisman of the Tortoise, pressed into gainful service by the Bibliothecary of the Exalted Library and the Library itself. In addition to the obvious benefits to intelligence and skill, the Talisman has a number of more hidden benefits to the Library - including, as its holder told me with a stern look, that he was always mindful of exactly where it was."
Hana points out that this suggests that stealing the Talisman will hose the Library, the way stealing the Magpie Talisman hosed the economy of the Arcade. The others assure her that surely the party will eventually return the Talisman to the library afterwards.
Kasumi goes wandering and picks another book:
Silence in the Library
This is an odd little pamphlet - it might be notes for a poem or a dramatic fiction of some sort? It has notes on the deep silence in the Exalted Library in the dark after everyone is gone. There are odd little comments like "the people are gone but the words remain". It's hard to pull concrete details out of the poetic bits, but two things seem clear - while the people are gone, there are other greater wards which protect the library, perhaps only when there are no people, and that the desk of the Bibliothecary is nearly an artifact in its own right - locked both physically and metaphysically, and unlikely to be vulnerable to such petty items as axes or crowbars.
Since this is a short book, Min Feng copies it.
Hana wanders around, but she doesn't seem to be struck by inspiration the way the others were. Hmm. Maybe it doesn't work for ghosts? Kuan-Xi tries as well, and is similarly unenlightened.
Meng Shou wanders by again, and asks how their researches are going. People are cautiously positive, not really wanting to say "We've been learning lots about how to rob the Library."
- "It's a fascinating place - one could easily spend a lifetime here." -Hana
- "I'm hoping to, myself!" -Meng Shou
The group asks him what the Bibliothecary is like. He's an old man, and very wise. As the most Exalted of Librarians, he serves until he chooses to retire - only in very rare cases is the Bibliothecary unseated. His replacement is chosen from among the other Exalted Librarians.
Meng Shou also comments that as they were so helpful in putting down the fires, that will surely aid their researches as well. Ahah! Is there a mechanic? He explains that normally stopping people from setting fires would have earned them the good graces of the library for three to five wanderings, but breaking the rules by bringing in a weapon probably cost them some. So that was probably two "points" total, and, of course, every new Patron gets a starting point.
- "We have to wander the library stopping bad guys?" -Kasumi
Meng Shou forestalls this - there really aren't a lot of bad guys wandering the library. But other favors, like finding rare books for the collections, or purchasing higher levels of patronage, or doing services for librarians, can also earn the graces of the Library. Yanyu asks after the prices for higher levels of patronage - she has spent her life savings on becoming a Patron, so she's wondering what the greater prices are. Meng Shou is clearly both pleased and appalled that Yanyu has spent all her money, and suggests that she not worry about the higher levels of patronage. Well, what kind of services does he need performed? He admits that he does not have any particular difficulties that he needs solved, but says that other librarians who are having their duties interfered with, will often find that their problems are solved through the generosity of the Library's patrons.
Hana brings up her suspicions about book tampering again - they suspect that people who are interested in tampering with history by means of taking out or inserting things in the Library, have done so. Hopefully that's difficult? Is there a way to tell if a book has been destroyed or stolen, or if it's been illicitly placed in the library? Meng Shou says that the easiest way to slip something into the library is to donate it - if the librarians certify it, then it's put in the stacks. So a skilled forgery or a less-than-skilled librarian might allow a forged work to be shelved. But that's why all the Exalted Librarians are so well trained. He also notes that all historians have their biases, or make errors - that is part of the point of research, to compare different accounts and to consider the writer's possible agenda. And there are also works of fiction in the library. He doesn't seem as paranoid about the idea of a book in the library having something wrong in it as the party seems to be.
What would stop people from bringing books into the library and putting them on the shelves? Well, doing that probably wouldn't be all that hard, but the book wouldn't be in the rolls or indices, so it would be unlikely to be found unless it was someone's book of bright imaginings. And it would likely be found eventually as things were reshelved.
Anyhow, if they are interested in earning their way back into the library's good graces without funds, they could find one of these illicitly placed books, and point it out to a librarian. The party admits that while they are sure there are some, they don't know where they are. Well, if they have some idea about what it is or who might have placed it, he could open an investigation, but they only admit to a theory.
Min Feng asks him to show them the book of watercolors he had mentioned, which he does. He also notes that her grandfather's book Air, Water, and Rain is here, but that the library does not have a first edition of this work... Also, he hesitates to mention it, but since Yanyu put herself in some straits paying for patronage and seems to be desirous of other ways to earn the good graces of the library, patrons can offer the library favors that can be called in later. People are surprised - is the Library a spirit? No, no, it's an organization that's very good at keeping track of things. Like a Great House. But he would not encourage Yanyu to get too far down that path, because those debts will be collected.
Hana notes that she has seen the ghost again. Meng Shou frowns - he admits that this isn't necessarily bad but it is wholly inappropriate. Patrons would probably be concerned if they knew the library was haunted. Yanyu brightly mentions that she doesn't mind it, but Meng Shou thinks she may be unusual in that regard. Anyway, the library would probably appreciate it if the ghost moved on. Hana points out that the ghost is trying to read the whole library, and isn't done yet. That could take a while. Meng Shou asks if she knows whose ghost it is? Hana says she doesn't, and he notes that that sort of information could also be useful - the librarians could investigate and perform appropriate ceremonies. Hana wonders why the security systems haven't noticed, which sparks a thought for Meng Shou - perhaps the ghost was a patron! Who died on the premises! There can't be that many of those. He bows deeply to Hana, thanking her, and then rushes off.
- "Look for something! Look for something!" -Kasumi
Hana wasn't really intending to throw the ghost under the bus, but tries wandering and looking for something. She finds:
To Strive Against Barbarians
This is an account of a mighty long-ago hero who fought in campaigns both against the North and the South. Spending an hour reading it allows the reader to buy the shtick "Enemy of the Empire": make a Chi roll against target to damage them by four times a minimum of your roll and their highest non-Empire tao substat. You may buy this as "taught", but it may or may not be in concept for you.
Yanyu promises a favor to the library, and Kasumi promises a favor to the library (as Yanyu's assistant, this seems to work out as "Kasumi and Yanyu promise a favor").
Yanyu picks the book:
Last of the Bears
This is an account of the days of the last Bear Emperor, and the conspiracy that brought him down. One minor footnote catches your eye: "History does not detail the accomplishments of the Siew family in the planning of this massacre, for the Siew had been destroyed as a power a generation ago. Nevertheless, the few scions of the Siew clan, known for a grip of bone and iron when it came to holding grudges, did contribute in both money and sheer bloody-mindedness, and they must have thanked their ancestors to see the last of their enemy dead. Their prayers went unanswered, though, for even with those who had defeated them gone, their house never regained its stature or power."
- "I'll give you my favor if you tell me why I shouldn't worry about having a boyfriend yet." -Kasumi
- "No." -Yanyu
- "You could take me aside on the boat trip back if you don't want to say it out loud." -Kasumi
- "No." -Yanyu
Kasumi wanders around and finds:
These are floor plans of the library, at least as it was as of the last major reorganization. We have not actually drawn up these plans; if you make a copy, they will be an item card.
They decide to not copy this one with a scribe, as that's somewhat suspicious. Yanyu doesn't want to go into further favor debt with the library, so the group decides to think of other ideas.
A Mad Plan
The group heads out of the library and wanders about the city, as Min Feng and Yanyu work on gathering information about what the security breach was. Apparently, there was a recent theft of material from the library - the perpetrators were caught, as the material was easily tracked by librarians. However, the elevated status of the perpetrator is making the usual wheels of justice complex. Interesting. Who could have a high enough status as to cause that sort of problem? Yanyu, more versed with the politics of the Illuminated Precincts than others, thinks that it must be one of the Revered Sages, of whom there are about a dozen. It's very difficult to get a Sage convicted of anything, because any single Sage can veto an act of the Council. So disciplining a sage is extremely difficult.
Are any of the Revered Sages tied to the Society of the Imagined Ideal? One (Revered Councillor Cheng) was believed to favor them, though he is certainly not so gauche as to actually attend their meetings. Min Feng tries to find out if he is currently being detained, and learns that he did cancel a speaking engagement later this evening.
Hana goes to look up Willow. She is, surprisingly, not busy at present.
- "Look at you guys - right smack dab in the middle of a mechanic!" -Willow
She congratulates them on having a more complicated research mechanic than many, and wishes them luck. Yanyu invokes her "good listener" shtick, and Willow goes on a bit - most people are looking for an answer, but they seem to be looking for one answer with a whole bunch of parts, as well as individual single answers and group single answers. Does Willow have any suggestions as to how they should proceed? She thinks that they just need to score a few more points and cash them in - they don't seem to have any hidden rules left in the mechanic.
Hana says that the reason she looked up Willow is because of the scandal. Willow agrees that it is definitely a bit of a scandal, but there's not a lot to be done about it yet. Then she has a thought, and asks them to wait for a moment, and dashes off.
When she returns, she says that she has been authorized by her own patron to negotiate with them. He would be most interested in an exchange of favors, as he is very well respected by the librarians. In exchange for his putting a good word in with the library for them, the thing he is hoping for would be to remove (this is very confidential, by the way) Councilor Cheng's immunity, which can only be done by an act of council. If he were engaged or distracted during the crucial vote, in a way that cannot be traced back to their office, that would be most providential. And it would need to be done soon.
Yanyu gets ready to rush off to make a love potion, but Min Feng notes she still has one that Yanyu gave her before.
- "That's my hammer for problem-solving." -Yanyu
- "I need a hammer." -Min Feng
- "You have a hammer, you're constantly framing Ezokin for things!" -Hana
- "That's not a hammer, that's a hobby." -Min Feng
If the plan is to get the Revered Sage to drink a love potion, they'll need to send someone in to be the target. But who? Everyone looks at Hana.
- "I hear Hana has excellent anti-seduction skills." -Kasumi
- "Where by 'excellent' you mean you mean 'some'." -Hana
- "Well, my anti-seduction skills are called my katana, so I'm not the right one for this." -Kasumi
Well, if Hana doesn't want to, maybe Kuan-Xi would be another possibility? Kuan-Xi looks horrified.
- "The last thing I need is another national ruler I'm engaged to..." -Kuan-Xi
Councillor Cheng is currently in his residence (which is attached to the Hall of Sages), and is not receiving visitors.
Kasumi sneaks in for some initial surveillance, and finds that the place is fairly thick with servants. There are some scribes furiously taking notes, and runners sent back and forth to the Hall of Sages. There's one runner whose job it seems to be to check when the next vote is. Ah, perhaps they can take him out and Min Feng can disguise herself as that runner! Though it's tougher to disguise yourself as someone that everyone knows well than as "not yourself." Kasumi notes, when she returns from her scouting mission, that her eleven successes of stealth are enough to let her move around without being spotted, but Hana is going to have a hard time with that. Maybe Kasumi can get to a window to let her in, but even so, she might be spotted, and she's not a very good climber.
Could Hana visit the residence and claim to have urgent news about a vote? That seems a little improbable. There are basically three levels of security to get through - one to get through the house door, one to get through into the Sage's wing, one to get through his bedroom door. Well, perhaps sending her in in geisha garb, and using her charisma and persuasion dice is the way to go.
Kasumi heads in, carrying half the love potion, and ambushes the Sage's runner. She fastens the Shackles of Silence on him, and stashes him in a closet.
Meanwhile, Hana (diguised as not-Hana and made over by Yanyu to be extra-lovely) heads to the front door. She says that she has very important and delicate news to give the Revered Sage, and gives a random Hon'eth Arcade name. She persuades the front servants to let her in, and with more persuasion and feminine wiles, gets into the Sage's wing.
The secretaries at the Sage's door are less easily persuadable, but will take a letter with her message. She writes a message that says "I have a way to improve your current situation, and would be happy to speak to you about it." The secretary takes the letter, and suggests that she come back later. She agrees to do so, and on her way out, manages to surreptitiously duck into an alcove and pass through the wall into the Sage's suite.
In her previous scouting mission, Kasumi realizes that the Sage didn't have anything he was drinking, so she swipes a cup of tea from the secretary, and sneaks in as a servant arrives with a tray with tea. As the servant and Kasumi head into the room, Kasumi tips her potion-spiked cup of tea into the teapot. However, the Sage has spotted Hana (who is not very sneaky) coming through the wall, and begins to call for the guards rather than drink his tea.
Hana goes into her spooky ghost act, filling the room with a miasma of fear, and the guards begin to panic, and then hustle the Sage out of the building in a full retreat, while other guards charge up the stairs. Kasumi grabs the teapot and vanishes back into the shadows and away, but Hana is again less sneaky, and is captured by the guards. She swoons and feigns death, which leads to greater confusion - she is dead! Was she poisoned? Where is the teapot?
Kasumi briefs Yanyu and Min Feng; Min Feng starts spreading rumors around the city that the Revered Sage is mad and talking about ghosts, and has murdered a prostitute. Plus it was all Ezokin's fault.
Eventually, Hana's dead body is left alone in a locked room, and she jumps out the window (hurting herself rather badly). Kasumi heads back in to retrieve the Shackles of Silence, but neither the page nor his shackles are still in the closet. Hana is given some first aid and a healing potion and the group heads away from the central district.
Willow returns to tell the group that for reasons that she need not get into, her patron is in debt to the party, and she suggests that they hurry back to the library, for their mechanic will be finishing soon.
They quickly pick up two more books:
A Rogue's Tale
A story of a young man, full of stealth and bluff, and some of his adventures. There is a brief episode that takes place in the Exalted Library, in which he steals a librarian's robe, and attempts to make his way into the stacks. He is not challenged at the door, but soon after entering is met by several grim librarians to escort him out again. At this point, he takes it as a challenge, and spends some time making friends (including with one of the ones who threw him out), and learns that, among other things, the Exalted Librarians know when there is someone who "ought not to be in the Library". His best guess was that this was a question of permission rather than intent, for he sweet-talked a librarian into letting him in, and he tore a page from a book just to see if it worked. He didn't try to take the page out, though.
Passing of the Torch: the Exaltation of the Bibliothecary
This is a small book, an autobiography of a long-ago Bibliothecary named Sun Gonquian, and how he became the Bibliothecary. One passage is written on his last meeting with his master, the previous Bibliothecary. "And then he pressed into my hand the seal of the Library, small but oddly heavy, upon its golden chain. He told me that it seemed but a trinket, yet it carried much of the weight of the Library with it, for each Bibliothecary lent it some of his own wisdom and knowledge as a blessing. At the time, I thought it the kind words of an old man, reassuring me that my predecessors would guide me well, but each day of my life has carried something new to learn, and I soon learned that these blessings were the simple truth."
They think that's most of what they were looking for (only a pair of unopened packets remain). Min Feng has a scribe make a copy of the appendix from the magic-items book.
As the group takes its leave of the City of Light, rumors are running wild. Councillor Cheng is being investigated for murder, and for conspiracy with Ezokin to sorcerously influence some of the votes.The fog ship takes the party back to the Isle of Beauty, and Kasumi (grumpy about the four karma she spent on stealth) pesters Yanyu incessantly about her romantic prospects and why (after having a very long and laughter-filled conversation with the GMs) Yanyu has only said "Nope, you don't need to worry about that sort of thing yet." Eventually Yanyu partially relents, and tells her a little: she is the Sword of the Butterfly, and marrying the wrong person will blunt her.