Order and Chaos

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"The person who has never been cheated cannot be a good businessman." The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.

The run takes place in the Gate of Shen.

Previous Run

Takanata, Merit, and Hana head to the dock to start their journey to investigate what Ezokin has been doing in the Gate of Shen. Horse offers them a ride, but they insist that they aren't planning to do anything horse-related, and decline, in order to take a ship. Merit carefully leaves all his money except for 99 li, and has Hana and Takanata bring two tael of the Merit Fund, after having them sign contracts saying that they're guarding the money but can't spend it. Perhaps this will protect it from Ezokin. Hana leaves all but 30 li of her own money, but Takanata is not planning to physically attack Ezokin and brings his money. Takanata stops by the shops of the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival to buy some teas, and then the group heads up towards the Gate of Shen.

Surprisingly, there's a lot of traffic entering the town - an actual line to get in!

"I would be thrilled if it weren't for Ezokin being here." -Merit

There's a merchant caravan ahead of the party on the road, and some of the wagons are being sent around the town. The guy directing traffic recognizes Merit, and is enthusiastic that he's here. Will he be freshening up before meeting with Captain Shan and the Gao sisters? Merit evades making any actual appointment, and says he'll drop by soon. He also wonders what's up with some of the merchants not being allowed in? The guy explains that they aren't banned, they're just being sent to the far gate. This is the selling gate; the other side is the buying gate. Merit is a bit bemused, and the party heads in.

The group heads to the Gao sisters' house (which seems to be a bit more spiffy, and has a sign calling it the Yak Shack now). The sisters think Merit should be happy with his investments, as things are definitely going well. However, they point out that if he's doing any trade, he should make sure he uses the proper "trade districts" - well, really, it's the east side of town and the west side of town, but Captain Shan calls them districts. Merit wonders whether this "you must go in through different gates" is a little too overbearing and will drive trade away. The sisters kind of thought so too, and said so at the last town council meeting, but it doesn't seem to be working that way in practice. Merit calls for a town council meeting that night, and the sisters say it will be best to finish before dark, as there have been odd things happening - though nothing nearly as terrible as last time. No actual disappearances, just people getting lost on the way home.

The group goes to observe the marketplace. There's one side where you announce what you're buying and people allow you to buy it from them, and one side where you announce what you're selling and then sell it to people. This is all very odd, and it has people doing a lot of running back and forth. Maybe the purpose is that it looks extra busy? Takanata spends a while walking around thinking about the chi flows. Economically, all this walking back and forth is a no-op, but it's a transaction cost, so it's kind of like a small tax. Ritually, it's a no-op with a lot of effort being put in, so that's doing something. Where is the "tax" of energy going? It doesn't seem like a setup that would automatically make the place extra prosperous. Looking at the two market areas, the "selling" side of town has a lot of haggling, while the "buying" side involves setting a price and either buying something or not, without haggling.

There are four caravans in town right now, which is a lot more than the Gate of Shen used to be seeing. The western side of town is a new expansion (i.e. toward/into the Steppes), so that Captain Shan's house in the old gatehouse is now in the middle of town, and a lot of people pass through the gate.

Takanata, speculating, talks about flows of cash and flows of good, and spends a Yin to realize that it's a flow of something going on, but it's not cash or goods. The Chi is drawing something directionally.

"If we assume this is Ezokin doing a money-flavored ritual..." -Hana
"Let's assume that." -Takanata

The ritual, while incomprehensible, doesn't seem to be harmful as far as they can tell, except that it seems to have some sort of side effect of making people get lost.

The party heads to the Captain's house - it's been repaired some, and built out. And he has a servant out front taking the names of people who want to see the Captain. Merit gets bumped to the front of the line, and then shown in to see Captain Shan (who is wearing his retired army dress uniform, which makes him look a bit more important). Like the sisters, Captain Shan thinks things have been going very well. Merit suggests a town council meeting - he sighs, as he is not psyched at another shouting match with the Gao sisters, but Merit is at least a third vote. Having declared that there should be a meeting, Merit wants to know what's on the agenda - Captain Shan thinks that maybe they should start making capital improvements to the town, like building up the gates or putting in a wall, since there's money now.

Merit tries to find out where Captain Shan has gotten these ideas about the trade districts. Captain Shan tries to explain the ideas, and it seems clear that while he is not so dishonorable as to lie to take credit for the ideas, he doesn't mind if Merit misunderstands and thinks it was his idea. Of course, Merit knows it was Ezokin, so he leans some more, and Captain Shan admits that it was a silk merchant named Kinoze, who has been explaining some innovative ideas to him. He comes by about once a week, and will likely be here in the next couple of days. Hana asks for the longer explanation about Kinoze's innovative ideas, and Captain Shan explains in greater detail about the districts, but mostly this is just descriptive rather than theoretical. He says it's all about efficiency and organization, but there's definitely some buzzwords creeping in, possibly because Captain Shan doesn't really understand why it works.

Merit asks if there's anything else they'll need to talk about, but Captain Shan doesn't think so. Well, what about people getting lost at night? Captain Shan is not so worried about that - it's probably just visitors and people confused by the new expansion. Merit suggests putting in more signposts, which Captain Shan likes the idea of. Merit also cautions Captain Shan against spending money that they don't have, though Captain Shan thinks they need to invest in order to grow further.

Takanata asks if trading stops at sunset. Generally yes, though that's not a new regulation. There aren't a lot of streetlights. Merit gets a copy of the trade district regulations from Captain Shan's servant (actually a villager with a new job of working for the city).

As the party is leaving, a trader comes in to complain about the confusing regulations, and Captain Shan launches smoothly into his spiel about organization.

Hana wonders - if Ezokin is counting on the particular infrastructure changes that Captain Shan is suggesting, perhaps they can suggest different changes? Takanata wonders about walls and gates - would walls block the chi funneling effect or make it stronger? He thinks that gates are stronger in feng shui when they are in walls, rather than standing alone.

How about pushing the town westwards? Does "moving" the border of the town mean the actual border with the Steppes has moved? Merit thinks that historically, as of the last treaty between the Arcade and the Steppes, the Gate of Shen is in the Arcade but everything west of it is in the Steppes. The gate built into Captain Shan's house is all about being a Gate, symbolically. The eastern and western gates are less impressive - they're wood gates, the western one standing alone and the eastern gate is attached to an older stone building. Takanata also looks around for water, as part of a ritual, but doesn't see anything that seems to be a water effect.

Takanata also wonders whether Ezokin keeps coming back in order to pick something up, or if he's trying to do something to stretch the effect out to the Port? But none of the changes are outside of the Gate of Shen, so stretching the effect is probably not right.

Asking around, it looks like these changes started about a month and a half ago, before the Scheme of Zi Pon happened. People wonder whether the odd setup here would have made the Gate of Shen immune to the economy crashing.

Merit checks in with his factor, who is putting the house in order for Merit and his friends to stay in. He says that the basement has been marked as off limits, for Merit's privacy (that's where Merit's Encoded Message was found). The factor is also enthusiastic about growth in the town - all Merit's investments are up. Merit asks if there are any barriers to growth that the factor can think of that might be removed. The factor is a little unsure - his merchant training says that easing the regulations would make things go better, but what they've been seeing here doesn't support that. If he believes what he's seeing, then it might help if the Gao sisters were replaced by someone more amenable to the new way of doing things; that would let changes go smoother and faster without objections to everything. Merit scolds him - he should be cautious about change, not just charging in everywhere. The factor notes that Merit did ask about what barriers to change could be removed. Well, okay, but he didn't mean change he is suspicious of. Anyway, the factor is pretty sure that the increased trade is happening because of the new regulations, or at least is correlated with them, even though that doesn't make any actual sense.

Merit reads through the regulations, and thinks about bureaucracy and chi mastery. The regulations aren't adding any paperwork, which is usually the hallmark of bureaucracy. The rules and regulations seem to be imposing a semblance of order which is not really there. The fretting is about what things are called, rather than what they are, to an extent that really doesn't make sense. The difference between the two districts with regards to haggling seems to be what makes the trade districts actually distinct. Hmm. Maybe this is making one side more Dog and the other more Magpie?

After dinner, Merit heads to the town council meeting at the Captain's house. He counter-proposes guards instead of a wall, and this is accepted quite readily. The Gao sisters like it because it's not what Captain Shan wanted, while Captain Shan likes it because he'd be the one to be in charge of more guards. Merit re-emphasizes not spending money the town doesn't have yet, and the Gao sisters support him on that. They also want to talk about the people getting confused, but Captain Shan pooh-poohs that as just silly people getting confused. Everyone calls their kid by their dog's name once or twice, there's nothing serious in it.

Checking into details with the Gao sisters, it sounds like it's not happening just at night, it's just more noticed at night, because the day is already so crazy that people don't notice a little more confusion. People seem to forget who is in their family until they're reminded, forgetting where they live, that sort of thing. And since there was an actual necromancer in town before, people are getting nervous and could really panic soon. Captain Shan still thinks it's that people aren't adapting to the new brisk pace of town, but Merit agrees to investigate.

"Now it's time to run around in the dark with a tinfoil hat?" -Hana
"I need to buy a tinfoil hat." -Merit
"No offense, but it's a little less incongruous on you than it is on him." -Hana

The group wanders about a bit looking for people who look lost, and start to get the feeling they're being followed, and then Merit spots Golden Flame in a doorway, watching Hana a little suspiciously.

"I trust you're not... doing anything nefarious to the people of the town?" -Golden Flame

The group explains that they were looking for lost people, in an attempt to fix any nefariousness - that's what Golden Flame was doing also. She's taken several people home, but not gotten lost herself yet. So far the three people she's encountered have all been locals, not out-of-towners or caravan escorts. The effect, she says, is very weak - upon being reminded of what they've forgotten, the effect dissipates. And it's always related to home or family, as far as she can tell. None of the ancestor shrines she's looked at have been desecrated. The group wonders if this would be an effect of getting rid of all the Dog-ness in the east side of town? Takanata doesn't think that's right - Dogs might be strong on families, but Magpies don't forget where their nests are.

The party explains to Golden Flame that the problem is likely caused by Kinoze, a money sorcerer who's been in town. Ah, is he buying people's memories? The party isn't sure, but thinks it's a side effect of the magical trade effect going on.

Merit picks up some thugs to be an escort, and suggests that the group check out some of the ancestor shrines in the town. There's a large and well-maintained shrine outside Captain Shan's house, though Captain Shan himself hasn't been affected. Golden Flame has incense and ghost money, which she burns at the shrine. A lordly-looking ghost shows up, and regards Hana sadly.

"Ah, they got you too, did they?" -Lord Shan
"No, I don't know who you mean." -Hana
" Northern barbarians."
"No, Southern barbarians got me."
"Wait, what?"

Lord Shan (the ghost) explains that several northerners came over the wall, and summoned him through the shrine, so now he's working for the northerners, which he finds quite irritating. Hana boggles a bit - he can tell her about that? Well, it turns out they didn't tell him not to tell any wandering ghosts about it.

Hana says that she's more of a freak occurrence - Lord Shan sadly says he's an all too common occurrence. Wait, are they binding all of the ancestor spirits? He doesn't think they would waste that much time, there's only one spy per village.

"I didn't think this village had all that much to report."
"It didn't used to, but it's been fascinating recently. I'm rather proud of the boy."

Lord Shan doesn't really understand what's going on with the economics any more than the party does, though. The group also mentions that people have been forgetting things. The ghost says he would hope so - he's been trying very hard. Wait, what? He says that he's been trying to call people's attention to the problem, but as an ancestor spirit, there's not a lot he can do. The group doesn't think his warnings have been being understood, but he points out they did come here eventually, didn't they?

Anyway, there's a big divot in the spiritual protection of the Wall because of the necromancer that was in the Gate of Shen, so they were able to sneak in, and start grabbing ancestor spirits. They've been building a network of spies, who are reporting about the Dragon Army in particular. Merit wants to recruit him as a double agent, though Lord Shan doesn't have a good way to report in to Merit. How does he communicate with the necromancers, anyway? He goes up to the Wall, and talks to the icky patches. He doesn't know anything about any jade statues.

Hana notes that there's something a bit off about him - his demeanor doesn't match his appearance.

Golden Flame is less worried about the money sorcerer now that it seems he's not causing the amnesia or interfering with the ancestor spirits. She does know the proper ceremonies to empower and propitiate the ancestors, though she isn't personally worthy to lead such a ceremony. The group convinces her that if she can guide the townsfolk in the ceremony, that's probably okay.

The next morning, Takanata walks through town with Eyes of the I Ching up (though Merit insists that he wears a deep hood to keep from panicking people). The chi of the town seems clear - on the west side, everything is stable. On the east side, everything is chaotic. The Gate of Shen is the gate between the two sections, even more strongly in the chi than it is in the real world. The Gate of Shen is clearly the border between the two places, even if kings might be sometimes mistaken about where the border lies. And the chi flow is somehow pumping stability up the chaos gradient, somehow.

"I … still don't see how that's bad … except that he's doing it." -Merit

It does seem like Ezokin doesn't seem to be staying on target - is he trying to destroy the Arcade or save it? Or both? Maybe doing whichever will make him a profit at the time? Takanata looks around for a pool of stability - yes, the town seems to have one, about a week's worth. It would clearly have to be sold, not stolen. Speaking of which, there's the chi of a very large magpie coming up the road. The party flees behind a building, where Takanata can keep watching Ezokin's chi. Ezokin enters the town, and heads to Captain Shan's. As far as the chi goes, his magpie-ness gets smaller but firmer, and the reservoir empties. Ezokin visits with Captain Shan for about an hour, and then heads for an inn.

Takanata does a connections reading:

  • Ezokin is acquiring economic stability from the Steppes (he ever so lightly crosses out the last bit)
  • Economic stability provides Ezokin with personal power / defenses
  • The Gate of Shen is profiting from this plan.
  • Ezokin has no intention of stopping this process in the foreseeable future.
  • The Steppes are not taking country-scale damage from the process.
  • A stronger Gate of Shen will help against this Winter's northern assault.

Other than the ambivalence about where the stability is coming from, it seems like it might not be so bad. Merit contemplates the best way to investigate where the stability is coming from, and decides that his best bet is to find out from Ezokin himself. Merit does have a "force gloat" shtick, so he could let Ezokin capture him and then escape with a vial of smoke. Hana particularly dislikes that plan, as it tips the party's hand to Ezokin about how much they've found out.

Perhaps there's a single nearby town in the Steppes that's suffering? Before looking into that, though, they should handle the other plot. The group briefs the Gao sisters that the ancestor spirits are antsy and unsettled, because people haven't been properly paying their respects. The Gate of Shen should probably get a temple, in fact - is it suspicious that they don't have one? The last priest passed on four years ago, but he was the only one then. It isn't a recent suspiciousness, at any event. The Gao sisters think the equinox would be a propitious day for the ceremony, but the party really wants to see how it turns out, and has to be back on the Isle of Beauty for the Day of the Spinning Spider, so they convince the Gaos that it should be sooner than that, and talk to Captain Shan as well (Merit recruits one of his servants, who is technically a "Gate of Shen" employee). Merit agrees to pay for the ceremony if Captain Shan's people can handle it. Hana makes a personal plea to Captain Shan to do better by his own ancestor spirits, as well, throwing in some feminine wiles - he is convinced.

Golden Flame gets in trouble several times trying to buy incense on the selling side of town, and some questions get floated from Captain Shan (probably from Ezokin) about whether burning ghost money counts as buying things from your ancestors, but in the end, the ceremony is done, and the ancestor spirits seem appeased. Ezokin, having reassured himself that the ceremony is not trying to destroy his project, leaves town again.

Lord Shan's ghost is pleased, and says he'll put a good word for Hana with the Bureaucracy. Normally he'd go back, but he's been appointed to look into the situation. People are concerned. And he can talk to Hana about his shtick tree in puttering.

The group asks around town - are there towns nearby suddenly dying? No, not really.

Takanata reads Golden Flame's I Ching: She is circling the remains of her old path trying to find it again, but that's not going to happen. If she keeps in that circle, her path will eventually decay. The group thinks about trying to assign her to be an Adventurer, but although she does seem somewhat influencable, she didn't go become an adventurer when Cai Wen first suggested it, so that may not be the role for her. She probably can't be High Path again, that's too close to her old path. The group thinks she wants someone to follow, not to be solo or a leader.

Well, nobody springs to mind, so they convince her to return with them to the Isle of Beauty, where perhaps someone will be inspired to suggest a new career.

"We brought your moll back who you broke. Fix her!" -Charles to Jerry
On the way back, Merit chats up a few priests and suggests they stop by the Gate of Shan, but arranging to have an actual temple with a permanent priest on staff will require a little more organizing.