Prop Mastery

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"The blacksmith in one village becomes a blacksmith's apprentice in another." The run begins on the Day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Tiger in the third Year of the Magpie since the crowning of Ti Lao.

The run takes place in the Butterfly Meadows

<-- Previous Run, Next Run -->


Community Organizers

The party is gathered in the Butterfly Meadows, awaiting a new circus season. Everyone finds a small card, announcing an Important Circus Meeting at noon. That's a little unusual, especially since nobody is sure who sent the invitations.

Melina wanders by, looking for Lijuan; as she is not around, Melina wanders off again. Mystic Mondo lets Ringmaster Zhu know that because of their other duties, he and Melina (who is the assistant ringmaster) will probably not have time to be official headliners, but they are happy to manage the contest for headliners. Cai Wen is worried, as he's not sure what "other duties" Mondo could be referring to. Is Mondo all right? Mondo says he is almost certainly recovered from his long ordeal, or, at least, his recovery is within expected parameters.

"So... what's up?" -Cai Wen
"There is so much going on these days... it seems that this would be best." -Mondo

Well, that's not very much of an answer, but Cai Wen can't really mandate that Mondo try out for headliner if he doesn't want to.

Another circus hand pokes his head into the tea tent - has Merit seen Lijuan around? No, he hasn't. Merit and Xian head out to see what sort of emergency seems to require Lijuan in particular. There are a gaggle of children, dashing around the circus and playing a complicated-looking game of tag. Merit recognizes one of them as Pho, who normally lives in the Savannah, so that's a little odd. Merit calls a time out on the game of tag, to talk to Pho for a couple of minutes, and the kids scatter. Merit shows Pho where the kids can play without getting in anyone's way, and gives him a li to buy everyone lunch, as the kids are obviously not a plot. Xian is not convinced that the kids aren't a plot, as showing up three countries over to play tag is kind of unusual, even when you're Horse's Guy, but doesn't pursue the matter.

An addendum shows up to everyone's invitation to the noon meeting - there will be a meeting at 1pm for candidates for Prop Master after the noon meeting. Cai Wen checks with Merit - nope, neither of them are scheduling these meetings, though they clearly do need to happen. Merit has been thinking that he needs to step down as Prop Master now that he's the head of a noble Arcade House. It's particularly odd to have a treasure of the Butterfly Meadows be a wholly run subsidiary of an Arcade house, for one thing.

"This could be a good coup or a bad coup."

Merit wonders who is in town for the 1pm meeting plot, and gets a ridiculously long list.

Merit asks for a short dossier on Blushing Rose, and then checks in with Melina. She had been thinking that perhaps they would assign the propmaster candidates to the headliner candidates, in order to have them work together. Merit shows her his list - it's really very complicated, and he's pretty sure not all of these people want to become prop master. Does Melina want to borrow the orb? She doesn't generally like to use that sort of overkill, but she does note that the list is incomplete, and adds some more names.

  • Butterfly
  • Dog
  • Magpie
  • Dragon
  • Serpent
  • Horse
  • Fox
  • Moon

Hmm. The Prince is here, but Spider isn't. That's... significant, maybe?

Cai Wen gives his Opening Day speech to the circus and assorted PCs. Those who want to try out as headliners should only use the shticks that they're willing to use in a casual performance, and should let Melina and Mondo know. Merit will be retiring at the end of the season, and will be training a new props master. There are several promising candidates - everyone should meet them and try to stump them. Finally, there's a candidates meeting for props master at one o’clock, so anyone who is interested should be there. Finally, everyone should make sure to pay attention to all the signs and portents.

A young man who introduces himself as Pan the Elder presents the dossier on Blushing Rose to Merit, and says that he wishes to continue in the honorable tradition of having the position of props master held by a spymaster. He hails from the Strand.

Blushing Rose hails from the Jade Taiga; she is a frequent visitor at the salons of the Pearl of the Taiga, and is known as a problem solver of unusual personal problems. Part therapist and part detective, she is usually effective, if unorthodox, at making problems go away.

"Kuan-Xi, I am fatigued. Can we retire to your carriage?" -Merit

Merit briefs the group on Pan the Elder and Blushing Rose - Pan might be "talk to you later" or "Bento Chan", but it's not clear which. And it's really not clear why this is a plot.

"At the very least, we're making the illusion of progress." -Xian

There's a thump on the side of the carriage. Merit sticks his head out, and there is a kid throwing a ball at it the side.

"Pardon me, we're having tea inside." -Merit
"Can I have some?"

Merit asks the kid to not thump the carriage, and introduces himself. The kid introduces himself as Ramen. He and the others figured they'd come to the circus, and play, settle old scores, and so on. Merit tells them that everyone is busy, so don't bring on any disasters because the Ringmaster really holds a grudge. Oh, and does the kid have any dirt on Pho? The kid says that Pho doesn't have permission to be here. Merit gives him a point. Oh, also, can Ramen tell him the rules? Merit will give him another point. The kid asks if he could tell Lijuan the rules? He'd really like another point, but doesn’t think this trade will work. After some more arguing about Lijuan not being here, it becomes clear that the kid doesn't think Merit can give him another point.

The carriage party breaks up, and Cai Wen looks for the Pearl of the Taiga in town. He is shown to a sitting room in a nice inn, where there are two women - the Pearl, and a friend of hers, who she introduces as Blushing Rose. Cai Wen gets the option of her being his moll for the run, and takes it. She says she was just getting ready to go to the one pm meeting. Cai Wen notes that the interest in the job was a little more than he was expecting, and Blushing Rose gives a nice speech about filling very large shoes as Merit moves up and on into other opportunities. She's very thrilled about the eminence and tradition of the Silken Wings circus, and would welcome any tips that Cai Wen can give; he does so. He is curious which traditions in particular she is interested in continuing, and she explains that she sees the role as someone who keeps things running smoothly, such as that recent labor dispute that Merit so aptly smoothed over. Perhaps she could go into more details over dinner?

Xiao Fa looks for Gi Su. The young geomancer has decided to buckle down and continue his studies again.

"I understand I was a bit difficult at times, and am hoping to make up for it now."

Xiao Fa asks him to tell what he can about the chi of the area. He wanders around for a bit, and then looks stunned, and then looks impressed.

"I have seen through your test. Most remarkable, Master. I am not entirely sure how you have managed to disguise the chi of the circus as the chi of the Empire itself, but I am impressed."

Gi Su also seems to think that the chi of the Arcade and the Taiga (in the "link") suggest that they will have a great role to play in times to come. Xiao Fa is at something of a loss for words. Gi Su also notes that he has already had lunch - one of the other kids had a li and bought lunch for everyone. Oh, so Gi Su is in the "kids" group, and not a props master candidate? That... might make a little more sense.

Candidates Meeting

Kasumi hides in the tea tent before the 1pm meeting. A woman she doesn't recognize comes in and lays out place cards for everyone, and an agenda at the head of the table.

Merit takes a census of all the propmaster things he can find that need doing, but refrains from doing them yet.

Cai Wen, a little concerned about the whole chi-of-the-empire thing, wants to know what sort of Monumental Consequences there are going to be from choosing a props master. Nobody is sure.

"My first thought was that we could just fire them if it doesn't work out, but that might not be sufficient." -Merit

Apparently Blushing Rose has convinced Murase Minako to try out for being a headliner, as a learning experience into circus mechanics, though she isn't convinced that she is ready to be a headliner. There is immediately some suspicion - why shouldn't she think she's ready to be a headliner? Is someone trying to talk her out of it? Melina says, well, she does generally have one trick per horse still, so Melina doesn't think she's quite ready to be a headliner, though the one trick is often remarkable.

As people head to the tea tent, they find a candidate list at each place. Happily, the list is a lot shorter than the list of everyone in town.

  • Moonlight
  • Benevolent Heavenly Son Sent To Save The Chan Family
  • Artemisia of the Golden Needle
  • Pan the Elder
  • Shu Qi
  • Tael Di
  • Blushing Rose
  • Rubberlegs

The differences are also interesting. Tael Di rather than Zhu Di, and that second guy is probably "Bento Chan". All of the candidates head in. Bento Chan does not look pleased by his listing.

Merit describes the average day of prop-mastering. Most people seem to find it reasonable. Pan the Elder gives Merit a knowing nod, Rubberlegs nods slowly, Blushing Rose winks at Cai Wen, and Tael Di takes notes.

"The more serious duties of the props master are about protecting the circus members. In addition to foomph mats to get the elephants out of swamps, we also have to be careful about Dragon Army troop movements, Northern incursions, and so on. Given the strong resources the props master will have, just be aware that it's a stressful job, and it's mostly underpaid. Mostly, you need an honest appreciation for what the circus is doing and the hands are doing. You'll put in long hours mucking out the elephant stalls when half the elephant keepers are sick." -Merit

Everyone looks baffled at the "underpaid" part, but other than that, there are no surprises.

The candidates give their opening briefings, and people start drawing lines on the chalkboard between names and Great Spirits.

  • Chan (who tells everyone to just call him Chan) says that as far as he is concerned, the most important duty of a props master is, obviously, to acquire props, and he is very skilled at props acquisition. If the circus needs a bridge over a river, he can get it a bridge. "Getting the props, getting them here, getting them soon." (Probably Magpie)
  • Blushing Rose thinks that the position is more of a general ombudsman for the circus - she would be well suited to sort out any interpersonal issues, and makes sure everything is running smoothly. (Definitely Fox)
  • Tael Di refers to the briefing notes in front of them which she has distributed - it seems to her that the props master is more of a personal assistant to make sure the Ringmaster has everything he needs, whether that's briefings or indexes or props. Cai Wen notes that she might have been a moll, but no longer is available. (Maybe Dog?)
  • Rubberlegs hasn't been in the circus for very long, but it's longer than most of the others interviewing for the job. He thinks that he's ready for more responsibility than roustabout, and props master seems like a good next step up. (No one is sure)
  • Shu Qi says that getting props isn't enough - you also have to get them to where they need to be. If you schedule a performance on the other side of the Empire in an hour, the props will be there. She also had the possibility of being a moll, but no longer. (Horse)
  • Moonlight says that during the day, everything should already be done, so she will work tirelessly all night long to make sure that everything is ready. Plus, she gathers, for unclear reasons, that being a master of stealth is helpful. (Moon, though Kuan-Xi notes that she is Phoenix-aspected)
  • Pan the Elder notes that everyone has been saying how important it is to bring the stuff to the places. But, more importantly, the job is about having the information that the circus needs, to go where it needs to go, to... accomplish its goals. (Serpent)
  • Artemisia has been working for some time as the costume mistress, and has provided costumes. She thinks she's ready to move up to providing props. And, she would be an actual prop master, not a... some other mysterious thing. (No one is sure)
"That was all extremely enlightening." -Merit, banging his head against the pole five times.

Xian decides to throw her hat in the ring as well.

"I'm the Confounding Xian, and I think the most important thing about the prop master is..." -Xian
"EEEEEEEEEE!" -a scream from outside

Merit and Shuyan and Kasumi run out to see what is going on. There is a fight between the kids, a unhappy cat in a bag, and someone's hair got pulled.

"... that's the sort of thing that the props master does. I think the most important thing about props master is…" -Xian, trying to continue
"Xiao Fa, can I talk to you? Now?" -Gi Su, poking his head in the tea tent
"... is that you be unaware that the prop master is even there. If the prop master has done their job well, you forget they even exist. The ideal prop master is one who takes care of things..."
"Sssst!" -Xiao Fa, sticking his head back in the tea tent and making a throat-cutting gesture at Xian

Outside, Merit unloads a lot of leadership, oratory, and charisma at the kids, stopping them in their tracks. There is a confused babble about who did what, and some accusations of Jade having been cheating, though it sounds like "someone in the direction of the tea tent was cheating" may have been the actual evidence. Merit confiscates the cat, and tells the kids that he will let them keep playing if someone provides him with a status report on who is playing and who is cheating. Ayumi snaps to attention and agrees to do this. (The four kids in this particular squabble are Jade, Stick, Ramen, and Ayumi.)

Xian notes to herself that if the Great Spirits make an agreement to have a mechanic, they can't break it if things start going awry. So if someone starts stuffing Coyote into their mechanic, then "maybe things maybe start happening" is about the most that they can do.

Merit assigns the propmaster candidates a test: everyone should spend forty-five minutes going around and finding a list of things that are being left undone because no one is prop-mastering today.

"My original plan had been to pick the actual best prop master." -Merit
"How naive." -Shuyan


Merit thinks that for actual prop-mastering, as opposed to all the other things being auditioned for, Artemisia might be the safe choice. She might start with a bit of a focus on costumes, but she knows the circus and knows what sorts of things need doing. On the other hand, a lot of the other candidates are really interesting and should definitely be hired by someone. But - which one is the Spider's trap? There must be one.

Kuan-Xi checks the environmental magic, and thinks that the agenda and place cards and so on have wood sorcery on them, which is interesting. Are they bugs? They aren't maps, so they probably aren't cartogramancy. She checks with Melina - did Melina ask a wood sorcerer to send out the agendas and so on? Melina says it wasn't her, but she thinks Kuan-Xi should know that the paper came from a Dog-aspected wood sorceress.

Merit checks in with Fu Sen, who is findable without too much trouble in the city, and asks him to give a sales pitch for his protege. Fu Sen says that he knows that the circus tends to favor the more ... currently ascendant arms of the Si Fan, but his protege would be an excellent addition, as his ability to acquire nearly anything is beyond belief.

"Do you think he can handle multiple loyalties well?" -Merit
"I'm counting upon it. He knows where the lines are. " -Fu Sen

Merit wonders how flexible he is - if his strategy doesn't work, can he change it? Fu Sen says that he is fairly flexible, but he does have some focus issues. If someone tells him to get something in particular, he'll focus on getting it and miss what other options might be available. If he's just told to deal appropriately, he will be more flexible. Merit asks if Fu Sen has any opinions on the other candidates. Fu Sen doesn't know why Merit would need another master of stealth - he hears they already have one. And putting a therapist in charge of your stuff would be an odd call. He understands that they are, technically, a circus, so he understands the appeal of Artemisia, but... enh. The one he's concerned with as competition is Shu Qi. Merit wonders why. Well, Sen assumes that Merit wasn't just going to... that is, there's retiring and then there's retiring. Sen doubts Merit is really giving away his spy organization, so that writes off Pan the Elder. So that leaves Chan or Shu Qi as the serious contenders. Merit asks if Sen has any warnings about her.

" Her smuggling days might catch up to her - but then, yours didn't."

"You know more about this than most people trying to infiltrate the circus. You know that it is a circus, right?" -Merit
"No one in the know believes that the Silken Wings circus is actually a simple circus." -Fu Sen
"True, its usefulness as a cover has waned." -Merit
"But its usefulness as a force has only increased." -Fu Sen

Fu Sen says he has been relatively forthcoming - can Merit give him an appraisal of Chan's chances? Should he be sinking more resources into the competition? Merit notes he isn't the only one with a vote, and Sen is surprised, as he had assumed that Merit would pick his successor. Sen gives a few last pieces of advice: if you tell Chan to get something impossible to get, he might vanish for two months, but then you will have an item. Also, don't make a big deal out of his name.

Kasumi, meanwhile, has been looking for places to eavesdrop, and finds the Prince talking to Artemisia. He assures her that maybe one of the other competitors can make the circus a better spy organization, or a better engine of destruction, but she can make it a better circus, and she should not lose heart. Hmm. Maybe the Prince is just playing for Butterfly in this round, rather than Spider?

That lets the group connect, hopefully, all the patrons and the contenders and spirits. Ahah, wait, Xiao Fa is a patron, which makes Rubberlegs Dragon!

Name Spirit
Moonlight Moon
Chan Magpie
Artemisia Butterfly
Pan the Elder Serpent
Shu Qi Horse
(Zhu) Tael Di Dog
Blushing Rose Fox
Rubberlegs Dragon

Xian looks around for Gi Su, but can't find him, and then tracks down Mondo, in Melina's tent. Mondo and Melina are working on a chart, and ask Xian about the idea of combining the headliner contest with the props master contest. They would pair one prop master with each headliner candidate to see how much they could help. Xian thinks that this would bias the contests. Melina notes that the circus contests are always biased - hasn't Xian noticed? But also, they pretty much know how good the circus performers are, so they can tell how much the props master's contributions were, and they would make the pairings based on who needs what - for example, they would pair Blushing Rose with Xian, rather than one of the performers who uses more props. Xian protests that she does use props. Anyhow, the fact that the props master contest seems to be tied into the chi of the Empire makes this a little more dicey. Xian agrees, noting that there was a lot of trouble when she threw her hat in the ring, given her aspect. Mondo is appalled - what was Xian thinking? Xian says she was thinking that maybe doing very very badly in the contest would diminish someone's influence.

"I'm about to miss the first deadline entirely. We're fairly sure that we think that we don't want Coyote to have anything to do with it, and coming in last should help." -Xian
"You should consult with the Ringmaster, but win or lose, being written on the scoreboard is more than Coyote had before." -Mondo

They agree that it was an interesting idea, but maybe better suited for a contest in which it was clearer what winning meant.

Elsewhere, Moonlight shows up at Kasumi's elbow, and notes that she's really not a threat to Kasumi's job, as she doesn't kill people. Well, then, what does she bring to the table? Why is she here? Moonlight says she wants to be Prop Master, obviously.

"NO, seriously, what does the Son of the Moon get out of all of this?" -Kasumi
"All right, fine, I'm just supposed to report back if Yanyu is ever put in danger by these foolish circus people. Don't tell anyone, please." -Moonlight

Kasumi promptly reports in, telling everyone, and everyone else takes this opportunity to check back in at the tea tent and share their stories. Cai Wen thinks that there are two important points - he needs to find out how much everyone who is applying actually wants the job, as opposed to has been sent to get it, and he wants to know who the machine of destruction options are. Oh, also, why is Anto on the list? Is he a patron? For who?

Xiao Fa talks to Rubberlegs. He's confused about the candidates - he thought that Merit's job for the circus was about props. Not about stealthing and acquiring bridges and magical paper. Anyway, he thought he was ready for a little more responsibility, and that prop master could be it, and that's about the extent of his master plan.

Shuyan talks to Tael Di. Tael Di wonders if Shuyan needs something for her act that she doesn't have yet? No, she doesn't. Shuyan notes that she thinks Tael Di is thinking more about the ringmaster job than the props master job. Di does think that the ringmaster is the key to the circus, but it's about assisting rather than running the show. She does explain what the deal is with her name, though. She's really named Zhu Di, but she didn't want to try to play on a relationship with the Ringmaster, and Li Di would have been just as bad, because Li Merit. So she picked Tael Di as a stage name. (Shuyan notes that she is Dog-aspected.)

Merit calls to order the presentation of Stuff That Needs Doing, starting people in order of highest perception, by whispering quietly that the contest is over. (He is worried about people cribbing other people's answers. Merit's list has eight things that needed solving; the results are:

Name Points
Moonlight 4
Chan 7
Artemisia 8
Pan 6
Shu Qi 6*
Tael Di 5*
Blushing Rose 5†
Rubberlegs 4

*: solved the problem, in addition to identifying it
†: solved three arguments/disagreements not on Merit's list

Xian hands Merit a report:

Things that need doing:
You need to kick me out of the Propmaster competition so I can focus on the preparation for the Headliners competition

Merit tells Xian to stop playing around as a prop master wanna-be and erases her name from the potential scoreboard. He queries people as to how they did or would solve the problems - Tael Di did a lot of casual organizing on her way by, and Shu Qi grabbed stuff from her shtick-based stashes. Moonlight says she would purchase anything that the circus didn't actually have. Chan is clear that he could have acquired the stuff that was needed, but he thought they weren't supposed to as part of the contest rules. Pan says that he would have looked at Artemisia's list and gotten Chan to fill it. Blushing Rose is a little less clear on all the solutions, but thinks that since there wasn't a performance today, it wasn't as pressing. Rubberlegs says he would buy the missing stuff and put it in the props cabinet.

"I wasn't expecting to have to test eight people in real time for this job!" -Merit
"This is but one of the things that I count on the Props Master for." -Cai Wen

Merit checks in with Mondo and Melina on their plot. Well, they have five contenders so far, and assuming that Murase Minako loses, they'll do double elimination to get down to three. Merit wants to know why they're assuming Minako will lose? Everyone seems to assume that. Melina explains that it's four circus masters and a lower-level performer. She still has fifteen one-trick horses, and Melina doesn't think she's the best person to put forward as the face of the circus. She thought that Merit understood that the circus gets to bias the circus contests - is that no longer acceptable? Merit decides that this is not a symptom of some Nefarious Anti-Minako plot, and leaves them to their organization. Oh, before he does so - can they tell which of the propmaster candidates are a trap? They'll work on that and get back to him.

Kuan-Xi looks for Autumn Rose at her hotel room in the city, and they chat over tea. Does Autumn Rose have any favorites among the competitions? Autumn Rose hadn't realized that there were multiple contests, but doesn't have any particular opinion on the internal competition for headliners. She admits that Zhu Di is her apprentice - her talents aren't bureaucramancy per se, but more like "personal assistance". It's quite new, and she has a knack for it. Kuan-Xi explains that some of her companions can only remember ten of the Eleven Kingdoms, and is hoping for assistance. Autumn Rose says that if Kuan-Xi could see her way towards giving Zhu Di a leg up in the contest, then she will "make sure that one of your company gets a country back." She notes that this offer is open to anyone in the group.

Mondo and Melina report back to Merit.

"We don't need a Confounding props master, so I punted Xian." -Merit

They think that was for the best, and think that if there is a trap, which there isn't really, it's probably Artemisia. Sigh. Melina says that it's not that Artemisia said anything, and they don't doubt her loyalty - it's just the feeling they get. Merit explains that her patron is the Prince, and he is a battleground between Butterfly and Spider. Merit thinks that she might follow his instructions when it is not in the best interest of the circus, but Melina is sure that that isn't the case, and that's not the source of the "trap".

Merit and Xian interview all the contenders, and determine each of their specialties.

Name Specialty
Moonlight stealth
Chan scrounger
Artemisia circus
Pan the Elder spymaster
Shu Qi transporter
(Zhu) Tael Di assistant
Blushing Rose therapist

Rubberlegs doesn't have a specialty at the moment, but he is the youngest of the contenders, so he'll probably get better over time. Would anyone else be interested in other jobs, such as for the House of Exuberant Interference? Possibly - no one is willing to commit to definitely preferring a different job.

Cai Wen gets an official appointment with Prince Ti Jun to ask for his opinions. When he is shown in, Ti Jun is very formal with him. (On the way over, Blushing Rose suggests that he let the Prince set the tone). There is much discussion of the Great Treasures of the Butterfly Meadows, and Cai Wen's responsibility and honor in being its steward. Eventually, the Prince offers his opinion, that it comes down to two choices: Artemisia and Zhu Di, and the choice between the two depends on Cai Wen.

"Zhu Di would make your life so much easier and better. Artemisia would make it more of a circus, less of a... whatever it's been lately. And that is something that we need to watch out for - keeping the circus true to its nature." -Ti Jun

Ti Jun is not sure that the Silken Wings Circus needs to have a powerful intelligence service at its beck and call, though some people would no doubt find that useful. And Rubberlegs might be a fine choice, but he doesn't seem ready for it quite yet - perhaps in a few years. Blushing Rose would undoubtedly be helpful for Cai Wen in ways other than prop mastering. But... Cai Wen is the Ringmaster and the legacy is his to guard.

Well, that is informative. Does Ti Jun have any other matters on which he might like to comment? The Prince notes that if Cai Wen has a moment in his other persona - there have always been urchins, but recently he has heard that there is a young child named Xiao Xing reported missing this morning. If he could ask any of his friends if they know where she is, that might be time well spent. If they hear anything, please report it to the captain of the guard.

Cai Wen returns, and the group heads to the tea tent to discuss everything. Ignoring the fate of the Empire, Artemisia would probably be best, with Rubberlegs as her assistant. But there are two portents out there - one of them is the trap, and the other is the list of Spirits tied to the list of contenders.

Neither Moonlight nor Elder Pan makes much sense as a props master, regardless of useful ability.

Cai Wen checks the scoreboard for the kids mechanic, which is not at all what he was expecting.

Kid Score
Steward of the Roof of the World 0
Lord of the House of Benevolent Oversight 1
Prince Ti Jun 0
The Viridian Queen 0
Lord Sonwu 0
The First Servant 0
The King of the Jade Taiga 1
Vacant 0

All the prop master candidates are sent off to find the missing child named Xiao Xing.

Chan returns first. He tried, but he can't seem to scrounge up missing people. Is he out? Merit says no, that was just a new contest. Shuyan asks Pho if he can find all the kids. He runs about, followed by Shuyan, until they get to Jade, and Pho tells her that she has to call all the kids in. She calls "ollie ollie in come free", and the other kids show up. Shuyan explains that they're looking for Xiao Xing, and then Jade and Ramen start laughing that they almost fell for it. You can't find Xiao Xing, you have to wait until she shows up.

"What? What can you tell me about her?" -Shuyan
"We thought you were cleverer than this."

The kid who doesn't talk keeps stamping her foot and glaring whenever anyone tries to hint any explanations towards Shuyan.

"You can't press them too hard. It's not the Night of Gates - that's the best they can do." -Gi Su
"Okay, I think we need Anto for this..."

Kuan-Xi finds Anto, who is appalled to note all the Great Spirits’ influence all over the kids. Jade assures him that it isn't so much, and it will come off again later. Anto spends a little while observing, and concludes that the kids are, kind of, possessed by Great (and large) spirits, and the game they are playing is a mechanic that has to do with the chi of the Empire, but he's kind of fuzzy on the details. Yet another chart gets made, connecting the kids and the spirits and the countries and the score...

Kid Spirit Country Score
Stick Moon Steward of the Roof of the World 0
Ramen Magpie Lord of the House of Benevolent Oversight 1
silent one Serpent The Viridian Queen 0
Pho Horse Lord Sonwu 0
Ayumi Dog The First Servant 0
Jade Fox The King of the Jade Taiga 1
Gi Su Dragon Vacant 0
Xiao Xing? Butterfly Prince Ti Jun 0

So... the Fox team has a point, for unknown reasons, and the Magpie team has a point because Merit gave a point to Ramen way back at the beginning.

Also, why is Anto on the list of people in town? Is he someone's patron? He says that he recommended Shu Qi for the job. Shu Qi is another student of Master Kwan's, and she's kind of like a combination of a water sorcerer (with gates) and a Wu Xing, except without the World Above and World Below parts.

"Whooshing, not Wu Xing"

So... maybe the kid game is the part that's tied to the Fate of the Empire, and the circus plot is just the fate of the Circus and the Party? That doesn't necessarily make things clearer.

Anto's final note: he can't find Xiao Xing, but if she should (and he uses that word precisely) be here but she isn't, it's because she doesn't want to be here. One of the big reasons for a Great Spirit to not be where they want would be because they feel that a bargain will be made and paid for that they don't want to make, or that they have a conflict of interest about. Perhaps she is avoiding the Prince, who is the one who asked the party to look for her. And, with a last comment about how Shu Qi would make a good props master, he heads off again.

Merit checks - who is in town relative to the gameboard of kings? The seven kids, but not Xiao Xing. Okay, that matches.

The group thinks about asking Dragon for advice, and heads to the tea tent. They find that tea is all laid out with place cards, by Zhu Di. Alas, the tea is not the most amazing tea in the world, just perfectly adequate tea, artfully prepared. Also, everyone is paranoid about Zhu Di eavesdropping through the place cards, so they carry the tea into Kuan-Xi's little carriage and shut the door. Kuan-Xi declares that she officially supports Zhu Di for props master, and Cai Wen notes that that has scored the First Servant a point in the kids mechanic. Hmm.

Perhaps they can get one of the kids to explain, either Jade (who seems to be the ringleader of the kids) or Gi Su (who seems to understand the chi plot). They decide to find Gi Su, and he notes that the chi of the area (which Xiao Fa has asked him to monitor) has gotten more Steppes-flavored. Kuan-Xi also realizes that she remembers where the Jade Taiga is - hey, there are twelve kingdoms after all!

Gi Su notes, a little sadly, that now that he's part of a house and has actual responsibilities, he doesn't get to play kids' games very often, but sometimes he joins in anyway. So... does the game involve getting points by doing favors for people? Gi Su says that's not really the plan for the game, but it could be. Merit tries to get him to explain the rules - he was a kid once! - but Gi Su thinks he wouldn't understand, it's a ‘’kid’’ thing. Xiao Fa offers Gi Su a point if Gi Su tells him what he's figured out. Gi Su protests - he's been telling Xiao Fa what he figures out all afternoon! He just told Xiao Fa about the Steppes chi! He doesn't need any pity points, and anyway, Xiao Fa can't give him a point. Cai Wen tries to give him a point, but it turns out that Cai Wen has already given away his point. Ahah, because he picked Blushing Rose as his moll, which is why the Fox team has a point. Kasumi offers Gi Su a point to tell her the rules of the game - this scores a point for Vacancy - and he does.

Each of the party has one point in the kids game, which can be given away directly (like Merit to Ramen, or Kasumi to Gi Su), or deliberately-but-indirectly (like Kuan-Xi supporting Zhu Di for props master and Cai Wen choosing Blushing Rose). Nobody has to give away their point, but once they've given it away, they can't give a point to someone else. And you can't get a point from the person who is already your patron (e.g. Xiao Fa and Gi Su). Additional points will come from the props master contests, but Merit's contest didn't generate points in the kid mechanic because there are already points pre-assigned to whoever wins the job. Merit grumps. The points are... protection, kind of, regarding the names of the countries. The kids aren't allowed to interfere with the props master contest, just watch, but there are certain exceptions.

The party settles on a theory that sounds maybe kind of truthy: Butterfly doesn't want to win the contest, so giving Artemisia the job is a trap because it's a victory that Butterfly doesn't want. Xian wants to know if Dragon is sandbagging the contest by putting forth such a lame candidate - Rubberlegs is clearly not as cool as the others. Xiao Fa says Rubberlegs is young, not lame, and he's not sandbagging. He's the Growth Candidate!

So. They can't pick Artemisia, because Trap. It's unfair to her, but she will probably understand that there are greater forces at play - there have been greater forces at play ever since the party started messing with the Circus. Should they just pick Rubberlegs because Dragon? What if that helps Lucky Chang?

Cai Wen ponders the Spirit Minigame. Is it winner take all? No, it's more like winner-take-more. Everyone scores for the points they have, plus there's a bonus for winning. So why is Butterfly not playing? That's still not clear. What about Dragon being Vacancy? What does that mean? Is the fact that Moon is linked with the Roof of the World a snub towards Crane? Or did Crane snub the mechanic?

"I would rather not diss Crane more than the Cranes in the party already do." -Kuan-Xi
"If Tiger were invited, Tiger would be here. So maybe Crane wasn't invited either. " -Merit
"I don't want to give Moon any more ability to have opinions about the name of the Roof of the World. It's complicated enough already." -Xiao Fa

While the group is discussing where to throw points, Cai Wen would like to put some spare points towards the Taiga for help with his current negotiations with the Taiga Regent. Kuan-Xi says that Horse has been very useful, so she wouldn't mind throwing some points his way, but Merit says that they should only give mechanic points to Horse if he gives them something in exchange. Cai Wen points out that Horse presumably has put mojo into the mechanic in general, which the party is making use of, so it's not like Horse isn't doing anything. Cai Wen's best guess is that the props master job is worth three points in the kids mechanic, so if the group wants Dragon to score highest, they still have some other points to spread wherever seems most needed. Shuyan officially votes for Elder Pan for prop master, which gives a point in the kid mechanic to the Viridian Queen. Kuan-Xi's support is already behind Zhu Di. Speaking of which, perhaps it is time to check the scoreboard for that.

Name Points
Artemisia 1
Pan the Elder 1
Su Qi 1
Zhu Di 1
Blushing Rose 1
Rubberlegs 0
Chan 0

Woah woah woah! Where did all those other points come from? There is an uproar. Did Merit giving a point to Ramen cause someone to get a point here? (Since Ramen ~ Magpie ~ Chan, probably not). The points are dissected, and Xiao Fa throws his support behind Rubberlegs.

Name Points Source
Artemisia 1 Contest Winner
Pan the Elder 1 Shuyan's support
Su Qi 1 Second Contest Winner
Zhu Di 1 Kuan-Xi's support
Blushing Rose 1 Cai Wen's support
Rubberlegs 1 Xiao Fa's support
Chan 0

Merit grumbles. So... that means Xian is the tiebreaker. Everyone gets a sense of impending doom, not from the GMs but from the suspicion that Xian could do ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING, especially since Xian doesn't seem to be paying very much attention to the chart.

"I got bored an hour ago about this because I knew we were going to support Rubberlegs." -Xian

Xian votes for Rubberlegs, and the Ringmaster declares him the official winner.

"I see if the mechanic still compiles." -Cai Wen

In the other mechanic:

Kid Spirit Country Score
Stick Moon Steward of the Roof of the World 0
Ramen Magpie Lord of the House of Benevolent Oversight 1
silent one Serpent The Viridian Queen 1
Pho Horse Lord Sonwu 0
Ayumi Dog The First Servant 1
Jade Fox The King of the Jade Taiga 1
Gi Su Dragon Vacant 6
Xiao Xing Butterfly Prince Ti Jun 0

Now that everything is decided, Xiao Xing finally shows up, and the urchins head for home.

Cai Wen reassures Artemisia that her not getting the job wasn't because she wasn't qualified, but because of Vast Cosmological Significance. She's disappointed, but she understands. Rubberlegs is stunned at being declared Props Master In Training, as he scored dead last in the only contest, but he figures Xiao Fa put the fix in for him, and he's already familiar with the rule that circus contests are heavily biased.

Xiao Fa asks Mondo about the relationship of the Empire to spirits and demons.

"What do you not know? You wish to be Emperor. What is the Empire?" -Mondo
"Oh..." -Xiao Fa


  • The circus headliners are: Xian, Shuyan, Akimoto