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It was said that a man could not turn a corner in the Imperial Seat without stumbling upon a teahouse. There were many such teahouses; scattered throughout the districts of the capital. Some were little more than squat shops in which a labourer could grab a cup of hot tea at the end of the day, listen to the gossip that was the lifeblood of the Imperial Seat, and dice away his coin. Others were elegant affairs: towering edifices with arched roofs, where the artists and bureaucrats gathered to comment on paintings or exchange poetry. The Frozen Moon teahouse was neither. An establishment respected for its age, the teahouse was built next to an open courtyard, with blossoming peach trees overlooking a clear, still pond. Here, in the teahouse, the Imperial Seat’s underworld diced, fought, and otherwise mixed freely with the highest-ranked bureaucrats of the Empire. Here, affairs of state had once been decided; almost five years ago, when the streets and the gutters ran thick with blood as the factions plotted and schemed in the wake of the untimely assassination of the ailing Emperor Yazad, and one of the most cunning, most dangerous men in the Rose Empire, Arbiter Kaleva. The Frozen Moon, however, was over three centuries old, and while the sloping tiles of the roof had recently been repaired—there had been a terrible storm last summer, and half the roof had been damaged when the venerable peach tree planted in the day of Empress Taizu in the courtyard collapsed—much of the outrage of the years remained. The wooden door was a little more battered, and the paint on the walls had grown thin and faded, but the Frozen Moon persisted, looking somewhat worse for the wear, but a citizen could sit in the courtyard and sip tea and know that little had changed, at least where the Frozen Moon was concerned. Arbiter Oshin would have seen the same peach trees, as she sat in the courtyard and composed the famous Peach Yard Couplets that would lead to the formation of the Heritage Faction. There were changes, however. Little stirrings and eddies that suggested that the course of the mighty river of history was—potentially—about to shift. Wenshon went from table to table, copper kettle in hand, refilling cups of tea. Steam rose from the fired-clay cups, mingling with the sweet fragrance of the herbs. Usually, he was accompanied by a taciturn MaiPon server, but today, the server was nowhere to be found. So it was that Wenshon deftly scooped up coins, scrubbed at the tables, and carried out steaming plates of dumplings and tea sweets to the customers that frequented the Frozen Moon. In summer, it was slices of iced persimmon, neatly-arranged, and how Wenshon acquired such delicacies was a matter of some speculation. “...a disgrace! I have never heard of such an absurdity in my life,” snapped a stern-looking woman, her hair fastened back with an austere wooden clip. Conversations quieted, as the patrons of the Frozen Moon realised who was speaking. Arbiter Darela of the Reform Faction was young for an arbiter, and deadly-focused. What legislation she wanted, she got. It was said that only two people had ever seen Arbiter Darela smile. She was the pride of Salshi, her home province, and kept a miniature cultivated Salsi thorn-bush in a clay pot on her desk. Right now, however, Arbiter Darela was irritated. What was more unusual, however, was the person whom she was cross with. Arbiter Huzin, who was currently the most powerful woman in the Rose Empire, sat there, arms folded across her chest, and sighed. “That’s the problem with you, Darela,” Huzin retorted. “You’re far too stubborn for your own good—it’s your way, or nothing at all, and suddenly it’s tyranny when the Emperor seeks only to pass a law for the stability of the Rose Empire—” “A law which allows Emperor Gamman to censure individuals or organisations that offend public integrity by promoting falsehoods!” Darela shot back. “Huzin, you must see this. It is extremely dangerous to allow the ruling arbiters to decide what is truth and what is falsehood, and to allow the censure and punishment of those who disagree with us. It is far, far worse for us to cede that power entirely into Gamman’s hands.” Huzin was shaking her head. “I respect your perspective, Darela. I truly do. But this was the fourth Svordish agent we’ve caught within the Imperial Seat, and the last one provoked a riot in the Hall of Memories. Thirty-one citizens dead, Darela! You cannot continue to cry tyranny the moment Gamman enacts necessary laws and allow more to join the dead.” “Lushan wasn’t Svordish.” Huzin scowled. “He took their money. He commanded the guard. He played stones with the Svordish diplomat every Tuesday.” “Hardly the basis for subversion, Huzin! Or shall we all start looking to our friends and shunning those of foreign origin?” “Enough, Darela,” Huzin said. Darela drained her cup to the dregs and slammed it back down onto the wooden table. “I think,” she said softly, “The problem is that it will never be enough. There will always be another danger, another threat. Won’t there?” “Those who seek phantoms will always find them,” Huzin replied, just as quietly. Their voices carried in the hush that descended within the Frozen Moon. “Go to your work, Darela. We will do what we must.” For the third and final time, the central room of the Frozen Moon saw Arbiter Darela smile. It was a tired smile, perhaps, touched with wariness. “You will, I presume.” She bowed her head; whether in acceptance or challenge, it was not clear. She left behind a sizable tip for Wenshon as she left the Frozen Moon, the door creaking shut behind her with the loud complaint of age. From the shadows, unseen by all except perhaps Wenshon, who was getting on in years, but was still sharper than Gixin steel, a MaiPon man padded after her. ㄢㄋㄌ QF40: Uneasy Lies “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” —William Shakespeare, Henry VI Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1: 1735. It is the fifth year of Emperor Gamman’s reign. The eighty splendid suns rise and fall in turn, illuminating the sprawling expanse of Imperial Seat. In the shadows, plotting and intrigue goes on, wheels within wheels, coin exchanging hands and playing-pieces falling into place as the game of games goes on. Emperor Gamman has schemed his way into power, riding on the chaos unleashed by the power-struggle between the Heritage, Moderation, Glory, and Discovery factions, in the weeks since the previous Emperor, Yazad, had been slain by a MaiPon assassin. But some do not forget. In a modest teahouse in a corner of the capital, schemes simmer and steep like tea leaves, reaching a boil... Gamman will fall. This cause has drawn members of the various Factions together in a private tea room of the Frozen Moon, even as you eye one another warily over cups of steaming tea. But first: can you trust everyone in your midst? ㄢㄋㄌ General Rules ㄢㄋㄌ Win Conditions ㄢㄋㄌ Roles Sign-ups have opened and will remain open until 16th October, 8PM, GMT+8. (This is to give us time to get set up and to figure if we need to tweak the Embedded Operative cycles.) The IM for this game will be @Fifth Scholar . Quick Links: