|"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their rightful names."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Dog in the Month of the Crane in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place mostly in the Hidden City.
Master Zhou's previous investigations into Imperial wedding customs has suggested that Lijuan's wedding will have to take place on the Day of the Crane, in the Jade District, so the party has been making preparations, buying another Jade Key as well as twenty-five jade passes. He also recalls that if a combat interrupts an Imperial wedding, it is deemed to have taken place, as well as a number of things about dress and hair and flowers that he thinks are probably not relevant.
Takanata feels a headache coming on - when he puts on his tinfoil hat, it starts getting warm, so he takes it off again. Then, to everyone's surprise, Lijuan turns up looking for the group. She explains that she agreed to marry the guy from House Siew, so they let her go. That's okay, right? People ask for a longer explanation, and Lijuan embellishes: the House Siew guys were trying to destroy House Foon, which is her. So they grabbed her and took her away, and gave her a panda. So her clever plan was working. There's an annoying woman who is really annoying, and the groom's name is Siew Zhuai. She promised to be at the Palace of Assisting the Earth, tomorrow at noon.
Takanata growing headache has driven him to rush off at that point, and gets him to add more bits and pieces of prophecy to his art.
The first section, Takanata guesses, is about Butterfly and Spider wanting to do the same thing - maybe move Bear? But that's not quite right. The first two smaller poems are probably about how Lijuan can't not go to the wedding now that she's promised, and that seems more likely to be right.
Lijuan clarifies - she swore "I swear upon my name and blood that I will show up when and where you say to, to marry this guy. And I hope it will stop the stupid destroying each others' houses and if you're working for Spider or Kali or undead I'll be really pissed." Anto takes a look at her bindings, and thinks that if she doesn't go and make a good faith effort to get married, then that breaks her oath - which doesn't really hurt her, but it seriously hurts the Great Bear Spirit as a part of her "name and blood." He thinks the part about working for Spider is a weaker binding because it talks about hope rather than truth, but if in fact members of House Siew are working for undead, then that could... well, it could cause Bear to be pissed. An Interpret Omens roll confirms that the stone in Takanata's poem is not Bear, but that Lijuan's promise binds Bear and not Takanata.
The group speculates that Siew's plan is to destroy the Bear line by having Lijuan marry into House Siew rather than the other way around. Lijuan explains that Siew's intent is to protect themselves from Bear, and asks Yanyu's professional opinion; Yanyu in general really doesn't think it's a good match, but reassures her that no marriage to a random petty house could destroy an Imperial line.
A Chat with the Alchemist
A messenger arrives for Takanata - his master, the Imperial Alchemist, has sent him to tell Takanata that he wishes to have a conversation to their mutual benefit, if Takanata can arrange that the masters Cai Wen and Shen-Ji be not present. He will do Takanata the great honor of coming here, at a time of Takanata's choosing. Takanata chooses "in an hour".
An hour later, Ming I shows up (with Cai Wen and Shen-Ji having been shooed away) and sets up a ritual circle in the inn. It bursts into flames at her command, and the Alchemist shows up within it. Takanata is impressed, because he's learned that such things are usually done with water, not fire.
The Alchemist nods to Takanata, and explains his concerns. At the moment, there is no official succession to the Jade Throne. However, there are some... troublesome people... who are attempting to arrange a marriage with a lost Foon heir, which could explicitly put these troublesome people in the line of succession. He doesn't want that, and he suggests that Takanata does not want this either. Takanata allows as he is probably also not in favor of it. The Alchemist suggests that the easiest way to resolve the problem is to find the Foon heir and eliminate her before the wedding. Second, and more complicated, would be to invalidate the wedding such that even if it takes place, it will be clear later that it was not a legally valid Imperial wedding. Takanata raises Master Zhou's point about a combat causing the wedding to be concluded, but the Alchemist says that if it's not properly constituted, they can kill anyone they want. There will be a number of steps and points of law - if the points of law are all invalid, it will be obvious. If some are valid and some are not, it could be brought before the Regency Council, which is to be avoided. Anyhow, he has a list of objectives that Takanata can have his people attend to, while the Alchemist attends to other matters. Takanata tries to angle for more information about what the Alchemist will be doing, so that his people won't accidentally interfere with it, and the Alchemist says that Ming I and others will be attending to the stability of the Empire during this "disruption".
The three main things that the party needs to deal with are:
- Send people to the Shrine of Eternal Reverence to ensure that the Foon Emperors are not appeased.
- Send people into rest of the Jade Palace itself to ensure that the servants do not successfully arrange the flowers and other nonsense according to the official Imperial requirements.
- Send people to the Imperial Archives to make sure the appropriate entries and certifications are not entered into the records.
- "There may be some opposition on that last from the Mayor. The man is willing to shoot himself in the foot as long as someone has filled out the proper paperwork."
The Alchemist still thinks it would be simpler to find the Foon heir and eliminate her, but if Takanata wants to do the complicated plan, that's fine. Takanata fishes to find out more about the Alchemist's plans, and learns that during the ceremony itself, he will probably be greatly distracted, and Ming I will be defending the chi of the throne room. The Alchemist counter-fishes to find out if Takanata is really so sure he can't find the Foon heir in time, but Takanata manages to evade having to answer with other than a dodge about how it would be hard to search the whole Hidden City.
Takanata asks for some assistance in getting in - the Alchemist notes that Shuyan doesn't have much status, but commissions her as an Imperial Ritual Research Trainee, granting her +4 status until the end of the run. Between her key and Takanata's key, they should be able to get around, and he'll get them some silver passes for the Archives.
- "Don't interrupt the wedding with combat until you've defused it. But at that point, kill anyone you want, I won't be there."
Wei Han asks how far the "kill anyone you want" goes while carrying out the missions to start with. The Alchemist notes that the Jade Palace will react poorly to violence in general, but he should be able to arrange to let them off the hook after the wedding has been thwarted. Takanata asks how many agents House Siew has in place, and the Alchemist looks a little cross. After some fretting, he admits:
- "I had that figured out earlier, but I forgot." -the Alchemist
- "Well, we will attempt to not forget anything as important as stopping this." -Takanata
Takanata asks a few last questions - if the matter does have to go before the Regency Council, can it be resolved today? No, no, not at all - the full council isn't even all in town right now. It would be a while. Is the Mayor in charge of the Archives in the Illumineacracy mechanic? The Alchemist had not realized that Takanata was a player in that game, but believes that the Archives are controlled by someone who is a front for the Imperial Cartogramancer.
The Alchemist warns Takanata to not let Shen-Ji or Cai Wen go into the throne room - "she doesn't need the distraction", and says that he'll hold up his end if they hold up theirs. The rest of the party casts Meaningful Looks at Takanata, suggesting that he ask more pointedly exactly what the Alchemist will be doing, but Takanata declines.
Master Zhou trains Lijuan for an hour, and notes that he thinks that House Siew let her go because they want her to fail to show up, or possibly to show up with her friends to disrupt the wedding. If she breaks her promise - and getting people to go kill everyone at the wedding on her behalf might qualify - then that breaks Bear's word/name/line/something.
- "Why else would they have told her to show up in the Jade District without even giving her a pass?" -Master Zhou
- "One solution to the problem is to kill you. [long pause]. We don't want to do that, but the Imperial Alchemist would." -Wei Han
Merit brings out the his map of the Jade Palace - it has names, but it is not clear what can be done in any given building.
- "Hey, this building is like the Stata Center. Oh, wait, it is the Stata Center." -Brian
Kasumi draws the Obsidion Key from the cart - the party has seen this before, but didn't know what to do with it then, so they threw it back in. Perhaps they will figure something out this time.
Meanwhile, the bodyguard assigned to Lijuan from House Sung arrives to asks Lijuan for permission to kill himself to redeem the honor of his house, seeing as he was so useless in preventing her kidnapping. Lijuan forbids this, and orders him to redeem himself by helping her train an imperial panda to be nice to people. He decides this is probably a far worse fate, but he deserves it. He’ll come along to guard her on this last mission before meeting his fate.
Preparing for the missions, the party splits into teams:
- Team Archives: Shen-Ji, Merit, Zhou, Deng
- Team Decoration Committee: Cai Wen, Kasumi, Shuyan, Lijuan, Wei Han, Sung Guard
- Team Shrine: Xiao Fa, Xian, Takanata, Anto, and Kuan-Xi
The Imperial Archives are in the Silver District (across the street from the House of Butler, and the archives team arrives at dawn. Having never visited the archives before, the group isn't entirely clear what they need to do other than generally preventing House Siew from registering the wedding. There are different stacks, with a number of books that can be investigated, but only reading (or at least skimming through) a book will tell the reader if it's one that's needed as far as the proper forms and information goes. Once the relevant forms and information is researched, it can be notarized by the Imperial Notary, an elderly gentleman in the middle of the archive - and someone who Master Deng thinks may be the most dangerous person in the building, at least in some strange non-fighty fashion.
The party throws li around like zhu, offering donations to get assistant researchers (and pull them away from House Siew hiring them). Though when Merit starts throwing around even larger bribes and demanding more help, they pull in another shift rather than exhausting the current archivist staff.
In addition to the guys who are probably working for Siew, the group spots a more impressive sage, dressed in fancy green robes. He seems to be on a slightly different mission than the others, and doesn’t have to check in with the librarians at the desks, having a pass that gives him run of the place.
Master Zhou finds an impressive book, alone on its own pedestal, in a separate room, and manages after much research to find out that its title is Speculations into the Fate of the Emperors. The group recalls that Takanata once said that Spider put half a secret in the Imperial Archives, and half a secret in the Exalted Library - maybe this is the book with the half a secret in it? One of the House Siew minions fails to make much headway with that book, and it will require hundreds of successes to work through, so everyone decides it isn't worth their while to investigate just now.
Shen-Ji watches with interest as a House Siew mage tries to talk his way into the secure area at the library, using his reputation - but the secure librarians resist!
Finally, Master Deng finds the appropriate book explaining all the regulations and forms necessary to legitimize an Imperial Wedding. The groom must be registered and the bride must be certified. Hmm, this gives at least some of Team Archives an idea - they should register someone else to marry Lijuan to throw in at the last moment! Xiao Fa seems the most likely candidate, as the traditional person to be thrown under any handy busses, and Master Deng gets to work.
When it comes to notarizing the documents, though, the Imperial Notary is mysteriously and amazingly incompetent, so it takes quite some time.
- "He's not even as good at it as you are, and you suck!" -Mike to Brian
When the closed stacks rebuff Shen-Ji, he burns his reputation, as well as a bribe on top of a persuasion roll. The secure librarian concedes that he'll ask for only a two-success notarized letter, assuring Shen-Ji that the notary can "often get two successes on the first try." However, after the green-robed sage has a document notarized, the notary appears to be doing better, so things speed up a little.
Merit starts to register Lord Hawk as a potential groom; the Siew minions try their best to cancel the party's paperwork, but Shen-Ji is playing keep-away with one of the important books and they can't catch up.
Merit considers who is in town on the "mysterious non-Siew team" plot, and realizes that they are Lucky Chang's people. Or at least, people who owe Lucky Chang favors.
Team Decoration Committee
The second team starts at the entrance gates to the Jade Palace, outside the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The giant gates into the Hall are shut, and Wei Han tries to investigate what is going on inside, but since this is the Jade Palace, finding anything out about a building takes fifteen successes, and he only gets that it is off limits.
One of the two guards at the gates, however, is Yanling, so Cai Wen introduces Shuyan to her as the "wedding organizer". That confuses her, since the last she heard Cai Wen was telling her the wedding was bad, but he clarifies - their plan is to "organize" it so it doesn't happen.
The group needs to find the right places to get the things that are required for an Imperial Wedding - but they don't yet know what those are, so they'll have to see if there's anywhere that can tell them. Some other people seem to be doing a similar sort of investigation - they are probably House Siew minions, so those paying attention can eavesdrop on what Siew finds out. Alternately, they can be badgered - Wei Han impersonates an Imperial guard and demands a jade pass from one of them.
Some interesting buildings and gardens are investigated over the course of the group's exploration:
- The Garden of Benevolent Tranquility allows spent status to return with some meditation.
- The House of the Eastern Flower has gardeners and florists.
- The Pavilion of Literary Profundity has librarians who can answer questions about the palace (though not about weddings in particular).
- The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Throne room - the Hall of Middle Harmony is where it is possible to make an appointment to see the Jade Throne. No, it is not possible to make an appointment to sit on the Jade Throne.
- The Palace of Concentrated Beauty can answer questions about hair, and also can fix the hair of appropriate people.
- The Palace of Rain and Flowers, where the Imperial Concubines live, has servants who can fix hair, but doesn't deal with questions.
- The Chamber of Immersing in Virtue is good for fortune-refreshing meditation.
- The Stronghold of Reserving Treasures has many valuable items, including bowls of great artistry.
- The Imperial Kitchens have bowls of no particular quality.
- The Glory Palace includes tailors who can customize grand clothes and imperial regalia.
- The Hall of the Grand Secretary has officials who can cancel orders made from other buildings.
- The Arrow Pavilion is where the spies hang out.
Through following House Siew around or talking to the librarians of the Pavilion of Literary Profundity, the group slowly begins to learn what things are necessary to set up (or sabotage) for an Imperial Wedding.
Cai Wen determines that the flowers must be appropriate for the birth month of the bride - but he doesn't know what Lijuan's birth month is. Nor does she, but that doesn't hurt as far as picking something inappropriate, so he arranges for orchids to be delivered to the Palace of Assisting the Earth at noon, with one of his "fox" mah-jongg tiles to be in the center of one of the arrangements.
Similarly, the ceremony involves pouring water from a bowl, and the bowl must be in the color of the groom's house, and hair should be worn low if the bride is young, and high if she is older. (The relevant buildings can provide wigs when the bride is bald, as is the case with Lijuan, due to her Grasshopper disguise).
Master Zhou, overhearing some of the investigation from one map over, realizes with a start that maybe the briefing about Imperial wedding hair and flowers was more relevant than he thought at the time, and in a fit of guilt, spends several karma to have Takanata auspiciously arrive in the library and then in the palace in order to convey the belated briefing (including that the clothes should be red silk). Takanata also recalls that House Siew's color is blue.
Kasumi drops by the Pavilion of Rain and Flowers to speak to Precious Jade. Kasumi notes that there are three different teams trying to fuss with an Imperial Wedding, and what is up with that? Precious Jade is not surprised by the idea of a wedding, but three seems to be more than she expected. The two discuss trading information about what teams they know about, and Kasumi says that Takanata is working to de-Imperialize the wedding. Precious Jade says that House Siew is working to Imperialize the wedding - she doesn't know the details of why, but she doesn't care. She asks why Takanata is trying to de-Imperialize it, but Kasumi, continuing in a tradition of claiming to not be allowed to negotiate, says that the reasons why are above her pay grade. Precious Jade says that if Kasumi will find out for her, she will explain to Kasumi why she wants it.
Shuyan manages to order white linen bridal clothes, though the tailors are somewhat appalled, and Kasumi plunders the Imperial Kitchens, and stuffs all of the blue bowls in the kitchen into her bag of holding (which will make them vanish, to in theory appear somewhere else, but the party doesn't know where). Lijuan orders a wig with grownup pinned-up hair.
Cai Wen and Yanling and Kasumi manage to peek into the Palace of Assisting the Earth, where there are a bunch of House Siew guys fussing over things, and also one very angry and chained-up panda.
Shuyan tries to requisition all the bowls from the Stronghold of Reserving Treasures, but Kasumi grabs a red bowl, before they're all gone.
In preparation for the day’s activities, Xian disguises himself as an Imperial guardsman and sneaks into the shrine early, before it opens. There, he encounters several priests and interrogates them as to why they are so upset. It turns out, someone has added an extra shrine with various Spider motifs to the third floor of the temple and they don’t know who or why. It’s too late to get rid of it for today, but they’ll be sure to get rid of it before opening the day after the wedding. Xian also takes this opportunity to switch a Dragon and Bear shrine in an effort to confuse those who show up later.
Takanata and the others then arrive a little later, having navigated the Hidden City to the temple in daylight hours. Takanata, with a status above 15, is allowed to use the important people elevator, while everyone else must run up and down the stairs to get places.
Takanata and Anto spend most of their time trying to rile up the ancestor spirits of the Bear Emperors, in an attempt to get them to not approve of the wedding.
Additionally, there’s a mysterious priest who arrives at the shrine, shows himself in, and goes to pray for several turns at the mysterious spider altar. But no one really stops him, so after a while, he leaves without interfering with anyone else.
Also, representatives of House Siew show up and pray at the shrines of the Bear Emperors as well, in an attempt to get their blessing. But Anto spends some time thwarting them, Xian spends some time confusing them, and they don’t get very far.
On the highest floor of the shrine, Xian (the only one up there for a while) can hear a great disturbance in the World Above, as of distant thunder swiftly approaching. Then, there are enormous voices, which, over the course of the next several turns, have a very slow-moving conversation:
- This land is Mine by treaty. You shall not pass.
- Even now, those who serve you conspire to wed My daughter!
- It is not by My will that they do these things. We do not interfere in the affairs of mortals when they choose their own path.
Xian spends a Yin to try and look closer, and manages to Yoshi himself in three directions at once. The Great Bear Spirit is outside the city, and the Great Spider Spirit inside. Way off in the distance watching is the Great (and smug-looking) Butterfly Spirit. Down on the ground outside the city is the Alchemist, doing some sort of defensive ritual.
The voices continue:
- And yet the preparations towards My daughter's marriage continue. I *will* enter this place.
- Very well, since it is due to mortals You come, it is against mortals You shall contend.
- Stand aside, mortal. Your power will not prevent My entry.
Then, there's a huge lightning strike, felt all over the city.
- Your skill is impressive, mortal, but you cannot stand against Me.
Inside the temple, Anto, who has been praying to Bear at a Bear Emperor shrine, hears a great voice speak directly to him, and give him an action.
- Will you aid Me in My vengeance?
- "Master Koji would want me to say, not without more details first." -Anto
The lightning and thunder continues. Meanwhile, Takanata and Xiao Fa have become distracted by a different plot - Takanata has drawn up a Connections reading that confirms that Ming I is redirecting the chi in the throne room, but that Xiao Fa can mess it up. The disruption will take the Alchemist serious effort to fix. So, with a bit of karma, Takanata takes Xiao Fa to Auspiciously Arrive with the group elsewhere in the Jade Palace, as that's quicker than running all the way down the stairs.
Xiao Fa convinces (by burning quite a bit of Takanata's status) the guards at the Hall of Supreme Harmony that he has to assist Ming I with some issues that she is facing. And, she is in fact having a hard time keeping the chi flow steady, what with Bear pounding on the walls of the spirit world.
Speaking of Bear, He issues His last offer to Anto:
- I will rend the gates of this city open once and for all if you but agree.
Anto agrees, with some conditions - one, that Bear kill no uninvolved people, two, that tomorrow Anto will be free of Bear's influence, and three, that Bear grant Anto an audience.
Bear, nonplussed by the terms and conditions, nevertheless agrees, and Anto goes into "avatar state" and flies through the window of the pagoda.
Simultaneously, Xiao Fa (with three karma) grabs the chi in the throne room, and drags it away from Ming I, just as Bear makes His final assault. Given the massive disruption, and Xiao Fa’s interference, Ming I is unable to keep the throne room ritual stable, and it explodes.
There is a great chi explosion - Xiao Fa and Ming I both take a great deal of damage. The explosions (both in the throne room and at the gates) rattle everyone in the Hidden City, and the Archives quickly close for the day, although, strangely, no one dies in the aftermath.
When the points are tallied up for all the parties involved, the party has done their best towards their wedding-thwarting goals (9/15); Lucky Chang has 11/15, and House Siew only has 3/15.
Most things more or less thwarted, Lijuan heads to the Palace of Assisting the Earth, with all her wedding guests. Precious Jade, and two other lovely women, are also guests; everyone else may be House Siew. Merit tries to convince one of the Siew minions that everything has fallen apart and the wedding cannot go through, so the guy runs off to check on things.
Lijuan whispers to the groom that if everything goes awry, he should go with her, and she can get him out. However, Takanata, who is looking at everything with as much I Ching as he can get, notes that the relationship between the bridegroom and the best man is "con-man/dupe", and shouts that the groom is Lucky Chang in disguise.
Lucky Chang shouts to the priest to start the ceremony "before they attack", but Takanata puts his hand on the pattern and forces the fate of the priest to be outside in about thirty seconds. The priest starts coughing, first a little and then a lot, and heads for the doors to the garden.
- "Well, I had to try." -Lucky Chang, dropping some escape smoke
The actual bridegroom is found tied up in a closet, and the woman that Lijuan terms Annoying Woman comes in and tells everyone to please sit down.
Everyone tries to figure out whether they should be killing House Siew now, or waiting until later, and Shen-Ji edges towards the panda bear, making hopeful eyes towards the easily-breakable-by-a-metal-sorcerer chains.
The Alchemist basically said "kill anyone you want if the wedding isn't legitimate" - on the other hand, the Alchemist is perhaps not the clearest of moral authorities, and Master Zhou thinks that Lijuan's promise to go through with the ceremony will be forsworn if she brings a bunch of friends to the ceremony and they chop everyone to bits, and Lijuan being forsworn is bad for Bear. The Alchemist in theory doesn't know about the promise, and in practice may or may not care if something is bad for Bear. It is very confusing, but Master Zhou also thinks that the point of the "do without doing" bit of the poem is that if the wedding isn't officially Imperial, it doesn't count at all, because you can't really marry an Imperial Heir unofficially. So... let it go through, on the theory that it's not really real, and then kill everyone?
Lijuan and Siew Zhuai are declared man and wife, and then Takanata orders Lijuan to come over. Then, the Siew minion who had gone off to find out what happened rushes back in.
- "He was right! The wedding was invalid!"
- "Screw this, just kill her!" -Annoying Woman
Wei Han interrupts the initial attack, and the party takes this as license to finally start killing everyone, which is what they wanted all along. Cai Wen suggests that Precious Jade leave quickly, "before the panda bear gets loose and Shen-Ji fireballs everyone." As if on cue, Shen-Ji snaps the first panda chain. Precious Jade checks with Shuyan to see if Cai Wen is hers - when Shuyan denies any responsibility for him, she wafts off back to the Hall of Rain and Flowers with him. Merit escorts another of the courtesans away.
Shen-Ji snaps the second chain, and the panda, a wrathful ball of fur and claws, starts killing people (mostly House Siew) left and right. Xian bribes the usher with an "unsigned original painting by Zi Kone", actually the Obsidion Key from the monkey cart, to get the last of the concubines and any other non-combatants, out.
Everyone happily chops Annoying Woman to bits, while Wei Han tries his best to keep Lijuan from taking too much damage. Takanata suggests that Siew Zhuai renounce his house, but he does not take the immediate opportunity to do so. By the end of the round, between the chopping and the panda bear (who’s now attacking party members standing between him and Lijuan), most of House Siew is dead when Anto comes crashing through the roof, and the panda bear sits calmly at his feet.
At this point, Imperial guards charge in to arrest everyone still left alive - many people escape with escape smoke, or other nefarious means, and Takanata somewhat inauspiciously arrives at the liaison between Cai Wen and Precious Jade.
- Wei Han
- Master Zhou
- Sung guard
- Siew Zhuai
- The usher (in quite a bit of trouble for having the obsidion key he does not recognize)
There are two varieties of questions during the interrogations of those arrested: tell the guards what happened, and tell the guards about Xiao Fa. Some are steadfast, some bribe the guard, but Lijuan and Wei Han answer quite a few questions, and give a reasonably detailed account of Xiao Fa's recent doings, as well as the fact that he's Dragon-ish. Xiao Fa seems likely to be on the Marked's list with Anto and Ringmaster Te now.
However, the Alchemist pulls strings as promised, and the arrested party members are released without substantially more trouble. When they escape the Hidden City, it becomes clear that it is not so hidden any longer - the gates are broken, and the huge walled city is evident from all directions.
Lijuan receives a note from Siew Zhuai saying he's sorry it didn't work out, but giving her a drop site to contact him in the Port of Propitious Voyage.
- Takanata wanders around the Jade District some more.
- Takanata makes a will.