Night of Gates VI.2
|"As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
| The run begins on the Day of the Early Dog in the Month of the Tiger|
The run takes place in the Hon'eth Arcade
Questions for a Visitor
The group is relaxing and preparing for the Night of Gates in Tahiti, when the butler announces that there is a visitor: the Path of Knowledge. Merit tells the butler to show him in.
- "Noooo!" -Xian
- "Haven't you ever heard 'keep your enemies closer'? Also, you can stay here any time." -Merit
The Path of Knowledge says that he is here to deliver a message - but before doing so, he wants to make it clear that he bears the group no ill will, nor does the message reflect any disagreement between him and them.
- "So, the message is from someone who we don't want to hear a message from?"
- "I hope not."
The message is: the Gates have opened. Should any of those present (in the run) cross the boundaries of this country while the Gates remain open, they will die.
- "Aw, come on!" -Sei-Lin
This proves to be his last message of the day, so he accepts an invitation for tea, in which the party interrogates him some more. No, he can't tell them who the message is from, though he does explain: there are great powers at work in their lives - spirits, and others. For some reason, their location during the Time of Gates is material, so certain powers have decreed their location.
So... how is his research going? He says that he has almost uncovered the secrets of carving your own destiny, as Takanata mentioned. He has reached a sticking point, and requires assistance from certain sources. Merit offers to solve his sticking point, but the Path of Knowledge does not seem to think that Merit is the right person to do so.
When he said that they should not cross the boundaries of other countries, what exactly does that mean? Can they go into the World Above? (He thinks so, but they would have to be careful about where they returned). What about magically transporting to another country without crossing the border? He thinks going from country into another probably counts as crossing the border even without walking across it. Can they sail out to sea, and land south of the Wall? The Path of Knowledge thinks that then they would be exiled, so they shouldn't do that. But would they die? Admittedly, the powers that be might not be able to cause them to die if they were exiled among southern barbarians, but that still isn't a good outcome.
The conversation digresses into trying to convince the Path of Knowledge that going to the south is awesome, because then you can see changes that have "always been the case". He thinks that's more of a curse than a blessing, to be confused about the state of the world. Once the truth has changed, why cling to a false truth? This goes on for a while, to no one's satisfaction.
Leaving the question of crossing the Wall aside, can he say more about who sent him? No. Well, can he speculate on whether he was sent because he was convenient or because he was the best for the job? He guesses that the message, coming from him, came with a certain amount of clarity and import, in a way that it might not have, were it to come from someone that they did not know.
Sei-Lin sulks some more, as he definitely wanted to go to the Dragon's Throne to rob the Cartogramancer, but no one else really expected that to be the plan for the Night of Gates. The Path of Knowledge takes his leave, having finished his tea.
- "Go! And, hopefully we will never see you again!" -Xian
- "Xian!" -Everyone else
As Merit is walking the Path of Knowledge to the door, he gets a signal from one of his contacts, who has an item to return to him. They tried to duplicate the Sash of Honor, but all they were able to find out about it during magical detections was "horse horse horse", so they have brought him a Sash of Horsemanship.
Yanyu receives a note from Xingfu Yin-Xiang inviting her to a masked ball in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival. Is that likely to be a spirit party? Yanyu says that her fiance would hardly be going to the wrong party. Maybe Autumn Rose will be there too, just on general principles.
- "If you do a favor for Autumn Rose, she can help you with the fact that I think there are twelve countries." -Merit
- "Can she help with the part where you think Hayato is a good playwright?" -Xian
At previous Arcade parties, the Great Houses pass out tokens as the other party-goers compete. Is this one of those parties? Should the House of Exuberant Interference be passing out tokens? Should someone have let them know? The butler notes that it would be customary to have been invited in that case, so either this is not that sort of party, or they are being deliberately left out, which would be strange. Reasons for snubbing a Great House might include a declaration of war against that House, or possibly bureaucrat-based problems.
The group heads to the Harbor, determined to attend, one way or another, and gets rooms at the best inn in town.
Merit wonders who is in town for the party; unfortunately, his people report, everyone is wearing a mask and they are unable to tell. However, in addition to all the masked people (and spirits), Merit uncovers one random additional attendee, and so Spider is also there. Hooray.
Merit heads to the hall at which the party will be taking place, and is met by a tall gentleman with a monocle (presumably Magpie). Magpie says that he could arrange for the group to be invited to the party, in exchange for a certain amount of consideration. The party will be similar to the usual kind, but instead of Houses, the patrons will be Magpie and his "friends".
- "Is that why we're not allowed to leave the country?" -Merit
- "Are you not?"
- "Well, we're threatened with death if we do."
- "That's different."
Magpie will arrange for six invitations, and in exchange would ask for them to arrange for his interests to come out ahead in two categories (out of five). That would of course mean two favors from him for them, and what they do with the favors is up to them. Merit says that he will need to check in with his friends before making any bargains, and heads off again.
However, before any bargains can be discussed, Ni Cheng calls on the group at their inn. She is a bit wary of going inside, but still seems a bit less feral than usual.
- "Did you wish to discuss the things of the day, or the weather?" -Ni Cheng
- "We can skip the small talk." -Merit
She says that she needs some assistance at an upcoming masked ball. She is not well suited for indoor doings - if victory were to rest upon her shoulders, it would not rest for very long, and Magpie has arranged to move the battle indoors. They should know what is stake...
- "When a smaller pack fights a larger one, the smaller pack has more to lose. For them, the stakes may seem large even when they are inconsequential for the larger pack. Thus, the stakes are very large now indeed."
The group asks if the stakes matter to anyone but Wolf. That is a more complicated question - whether the status quo continues or not affects everyone, but most do not know or care.
Ni Cheng takes her leave again, saying that she will remain in the "food square" if they have need of her.
So... there is definitely some sort of showdown between Wolf and Magpie about to happen, and the party is still not entirely sure who they prefer. Merit thinks that Wolf taking over the Arcade would result in civil war, but Shen-Ji slightly prefers Wolf to Magpie, and Yanyu thinks they should go with whoever is willing to cut a better deal. Possibly supporting Wolf somewhere that isn't the Arcade would be preferable, so trying to arrange for a non-Wolf-squashing draw now would be the way to go. In that case, they will need to know what the minimum necessary for Wolf to not lose is.
The group heads out to talk to Ni Cheng again. Could Wolf concede the Arcade and go after another country instead? Not easily - this is a challenge to Wolf's right to continue - if they lose here, then they won't be able to mount much of an attempt at another country. If they won here, they might be able to later retarget somewhere else instead.
- "Given what we have done so far, the north is where our victories are, and Dragon will oppose unseating Dog. If having put our cubs in this cave, we cannot hold it, no one will give us another cave."
They do have a more-perilous backup plan to score against Magpie, but hopefully will not need to use it. Merit is sad - he is friends with both Wolf and Magpie. Ni Cheng says that if they can get through today, then they can discuss further options.
Sei-Lin steals an invitation, and Yanyu pulls strings to get two more. Wei Han asks around and ends up getting an invitation from the Dragon Army and being assigned to maintain order at the party. Shen-Ji burns his reputation to get invited, and Kasumi sneaks in. That's everyone.
There are the traditional five areas of contest: Erudition, Charming, Seduction, Dancing, and Drinking. The group decides that their party goal is to get Wolf two points, Magpie one point, and of the remainder, Spider no points. Yanyu notes that if Phoenix shows up, she's on Team Phoenix, and Sei-Lin says he's pro-Tiger if it comes to that.
Scanning the crowd, the masks are very good. Those who are giving out tokens can be determined, and are all likely spirits, but the other party goers can’t be narrowed down further than, Noble, Foreigner, or Other, without talking to them for a bit.
Yanyu realizes that she now has a deadline, as a voice speaks in her ear from nowhere: "Someone worthy of my son could pick him out of a crowd." However, she has the "find spouse" shtick, and with a karma, that can be extended to find her fiance, and she is quickly off the hook.
Sei-Lin heads for the food, and everyone else starts testing the waters of the mechanic. Kasumi dances with someone who proves to be the best dancer in the room, Bobby Li. Wei Han talks to a masked man with yellow robes and straw-colored hair about Yanyu.
- "My charge is looking for her fiance." -Wei Han
- "She should be careful about that. If she looks hard enough, she might find him."
- "Looking for Mr. Wrong in all the right places." -Xian
Yanyu heads in the direction of the Son of the Moon, and chats to another token-giver. He gives her a token, and when she attempts to determine his aspect, she promptly Yoshis herself, and resolves to win all the categories on Wolf’s behalf.
Shen-Ji identifies Scholar Turtle, and chats with a tall woman with silver hair giving out tokens. Another token-giver has a dark moustache, and a walking stick. Yanyu and her fiance dance, though they are not the best dancers present.
Merit discovers that when talking to a non-token-giving masked figure, he can instantiate who they are - he chats with Ezokin's old merchant factor, offering to hire him, and then Ezokin.
- "It's so nice to be able to discuss things without all that Dengy violence."
Xian meets the Cabbage Guy from the (new) House of Continuing Sustenance, and they chat about red grubs.
Wei Han chats with the silver-haired woman; she notes that several times now, her son has had to charge into a combat to protect Yanyu, when Wei Han is ostensibly her guardian. Wei Han says that he can't stop her son - he is both caring and protective. She says that Wei Han will have to demonstrate his superior protectiveness.
Wolf whispers to Kasumi - can he interest her in Plan B after the party? Kasumi is always interested in Plan Bs, and agrees to meet him behind the hall afterwards.
Xian meets Wan Shi Tong, the chief librarian of the Library of Tortoise. Xian is briefly confused with the Exalted Library, which would be in the entirely non-existent Tortoise country, but no, this is the one in the World Above. The spirit librarian is someone nonplussed at Xian's insistence of the nonexistence of the Illuminated Precincts, and launches into a lecture about it.
Merit, concerned that Yanyu is winning All The Things for Wolf, instantiates the Pearl of the Taiga and convinces her to take some of the victories away from Yanyu. Meanwhile, Yanyu has put the blessing of the Butterfly on the party, so Butterfly manages to gives a not-quite-real white token to Yanyu.
Kasumi instantiates Autumn Rose, Merit instantiates a White Lotus sorcerer named Bai-Jiao, and Sei-Lin becomes convinced that the Cartogramancer is around, but has no tao to spend to instantiate him. However, he notes that in addition to Kasumi's talisman, the Pearl has a talisman, Autumn Rose has a talisman, and a still-masked figure has a talisman.
Autumn Rose offers to fix Yanyu's (friend's) problem with countries if Yanyu can arrange to have Autumn Rose win a contest. Yanyu helps her with Erudition, putting her briefly in the lead.
Merit and Scholar Turtle both try to get Wan Shih Tong to give them library cards; Merit succeeds, but alas, Scholar Turtle does not.
Xian talks to Autumn Rose about countries; she is willing to help out in exchange for a spirit favor. Such as, for example, the minor favor from the Sun that Xian already has. Sei-Lin talks to Autumn Rose, but refuses to tell her his name, so she can't suggest anything useful for him to do for her in order to sort out his countries.
The party ends!
- Bobby Li wins dancing (he’s the best!), for a favor from the Moon.
- Wei Han wins Drinking, for a favor from Wolf.
- Yanyu wins Erudition, for a favor from Butterfly, but the Butterfly token then pops.
- The Pearl wins Seduction, for a favor from the Sun.
- Yanyu wins Charming; she has two tied tokens, so scores half for Sun and half for Wolf.
That puts the spirit reckoning at:
- Sun and Wolf: 1.5
- Moon and Butterfly: 1
- Magpie and Spider: 0
Yanyu trades her half-favor to Autumn Rose, and Xian trades her minor Sun favor, so they both have their countries back. Hey! Apparently, Tortoise does have a country after all!
Bai-Jiao and the Cabbage Merchant work on recruiting Ezokin's ex-factor into the White Lotus. He isn't an idealist, per se, but he is keen on crushing darkness because it's bad, so he may still be suitable.
The group heads to speak to Wolf after the party, though the Son of the Moon says that his mother has asked him to not be involved in that particular escapade. Wolf says that his victory is good, though not quite as strong as he might have hoped for, due to Magpie's inherent advantage.
- " We could take that up a notch if you guys want to slip quietly into Magpie's realm and help yourself." -Wolf
- "No." -Merit
- "Wait, why not?" -Sei-Lin
Merit is concerned that if he steals from Magpie's treasure, then Magpie can go after the Dragon's Hoard. Yanyu is also not keen on robbing Magpie, and Wolf respects that. There is some concern over the party as a whole declaring enmity against Magpie by robbing him; Wolf says that anyone who does go can join Ni Cheng's pack, which will direct the spiritual fallout to Wolf.
Sei-Lin really wants to go - even if you give the loot back later, you have to steal from Magpie if you can - and Kasumi won't let Sei-Lin go by himself. Shen-Ji decides to come as well, because loot. Ni Cheng is also coming, of course; there will be three challenges (guardian, security, and traps), which can be defeated singly or with assistance.
Wolf leads them through the back alley to a bazaar that was definitely not there before, with shops tightly shuttered for the Night of Gates. There is a "wanted" poster on a wall near some of the shops, with a picture of Kuan-Xi. Huh.
Shen-Ji spends a karma to break his stat cap, and gets fifty successes defeating the guardian. Kasumi gets through the security, but it takes her two tries and she takes a significant amount of Mental substat damage. Sei-Lin defeats the traps in two tries, but evades the damage from the first failure taking no damage.
At that point, everyone gets to choose where to acquire loot. Initially, there are five choices:
Sei-Lin chooses Currency, and then Cash (rather than Gems or Transferable), and then Imperial (rather than Northern or Southern), and grabs a bag of thirty tael.
Kasumi chooses Martial, then Tactics (rather than Weapons or Armor), then Understand Ritual (rather than Battlefield or Social). She gets a ring of "What the heck". Shen-Ji picks Curios, then Containers (rather than Potions or Widgets), then Chests (rather than Bags or Folders) and gets a Chest of Ritual Components. Ni Cheng chooses similarly to Shen-Ji, but chooses Folders at the end, and gets a folder, which she does not discuss. Then, the group makes good their exit.
Merit goes to find Magpie. Magpie notes that things did not go as he had planned, and Merit wants to talk about why, and what Merit has in mind. Merit would prefer that Magpie stay in the Cycle, as he thinks trade is the best way to build a relationship with the north and the south. Well, then why did the party go so poorly for Magpie? Merit says that Wolf is useful, and could be a good influence if Tiger is removed.
- "You could put Wolf in the Savanna. But that's not what is happening." -Magpie
Merit says that this outcome makes it possible that both Magpie and Wolf are in the Cycle, but Magpie is not willing to give Merit the benefit of the doubt and consider him pro-Magpie at this time. Merit will have to prove himself first.
- "Because Dragon is annoyed with you, my friends are having a harder time seeing your benefit." -Merit
For reasons that Merit can't discuss, he thinks a Spider Empire would be a disaster. But also, he thinks that it would be an empire that shuts its borders.
- "Regardless of the merits of a Spider Empire in the long term, in the short term we both know what it will be like. Similarly, a Dragon Empire is not in my best interest, due to Dragon's own nature and preferences." -Magpie
Merit says that Dragon does resist his nature, some. Well, will Merit be Magpie's emissary before Dragon and convince him such that Dragon will aid him in remaining, rather than simply tolerate his remaining. That would count as Merit proving himself.