Whatever Happened to the Gate of Shen?

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"The higher the price you have to pay, the more you will cherish it." The run takes place on the Day of the Early Crane in the Month of the Crane in the Year of the Dog of the Fourth Treaty of Houses

The run takes place in various places around the Golden Coast

Forging the Fourth Treaty


A Bright New Day

It's a new day of a new month in Tahiti, and the mood both inside and out is celebratory. The locals are behaving as if it is New Year's Day, and Merit declares that Tahiti is also having a party.

There is some louder cheering outside, as a group parades by, saluting (or giving something that might be mistaken for a salute if you weren't familiar with the gesture) at the estate. Merit disguises himself and infiltrates the group, and listens to their discussion.

"This is all our land now!"
"We're members of the house now!"
"No, we're subjects of the house!"
"Are we rich now?"

The mood is, in fact, a combination of celebration and confusion, due to the Fourth Treaty of Houses having been agreed to in principle, while the details are still being worked out.

When Merit goes to check on his agent in the House of Exuberant Interference, he discovers that he doesn't have one. On closer inspection of his spy lists, he discovers that what he does have is an agent in the House of Intervention. He is quite troubled by the fact that the house has been renamed without his having agreed to it, and whatever the spiritual ramifications of that are - it doesn't seem to have been renamed in the way that it was always that way. In fact, when he looks through the paperwork on his desk, there seem to be a lot of forms and documents that have been arriving recently. One set of documentation lays out the borders of the house lands - now that all land of the country is held by the great houses, each house has a set of holdings. The holdings for the House of Intervention are odd and wiggly, with a number of long sections extending into nearby territory, including both to the border with the Dragon's Throne and the border with the Forest of Chin.


The triangle between the extension to the Forest and the Throne may be held by the House of Prosperity, or may be held by the Dragon's Throne, or both. Negotiations / bureaucratic machinations for that are still underway, and are complicated by the fact that this extension would cut into the territory of the House of Prosperity, and is not permissible. .

{[QQ|I have the feeling our border is the same length as the House of Prosperity's border...|Li Merit}}

Another point about the map - the three major coastal cities are held by no house, and only the King's Writ provides the Law there. The city of Daizhou, on the other hand, is the City of All Houses, and all house law applies. Exactly how that works is, again, yet to be fully determined. Between individual House territories, the borders are open but each House's laws additionally apply.

Cai Wen points out that someone has asked "Whatever happened to the Gate of Shen?" and while investigating everything about how the country has changed is in fact interesting, perhaps the entire minirun should not be spent on this.

The group heads northwards, and notes that the level of partying increases markedly as they proceed. (Cai Wen checks whether there is some sort of Party Pilgrimage from the House of Celebration going on, and while there wasn't, the locals decide that that would be a great idea.

"That was ten or twenty steps northwards. We should probably keep going." -Cai Wen

As the group continues to proceed northwards, leaving the territory of the House of Celebration and entering the territory of the House of Valor, things become a little less celebratory, and a little more picking-up-the-pieces. People are looking for loved ones they haven't seen, putting their looted and destroyed farms and towns back together, and generally rebuilding in the aftermath of the Northern retreat.

Gateless Gate

When the party reaches the places where the Gate of Shen used to be (and more recently, the magical entrance gate), the clearing is there but there is no sign of town or gate.

Deng looks around for ghosts, and sees some unresting ghosts who look like casualties of the war, but not seriously Spooky Undead. The greatest danger nearby is probably Takanata, not the ghosts. Takanata looks around with Eyes of the I Ching and notes that the clearing is not on the mystical boundary between the two countries, the way it used to be. Instead, it is entirely inside the Arcade (er, the Golden Coast, as it is now known). The party rides west.

And sure enough, a few miles to the west, at the political border, is the mystical border as well. Additionally, to Takanata's sight, there is a giant magpie egg, about the size of a town, on the boundary. To everyone else's sight, the gate stands exactly on the border. There are no gate guards, as there have been in the past, and the bowl to pay an entry fee lies broken nearby. (Stepping into the Steppes, things look just the same).

Takanata views the scene with Eyes of the Past, and sees:

Ezokin goes in and out of the gate several times. Nothing happens. Ezokin puts a huge number to tael in the bowl, and goes in and out of the gate, and nothing happens. He throws some magpies through the gate, and nothing happens. He puts a zhu in the bowl, and stomps in and out of the gate. Nothing happens. He throws the bowl at the rock, breaking it. Nothing happens, and Ezokin stomps away.

Before any further investigation can happen, several riders arrive in the clearing, riding in from the east. Based on their uniforms, they are an officer from the House of Valor, and several attendants. The officer dismounts, and introduces himself as Lord Ming of the House of Valor.

"<whisper whisper.>" -an attendant to Lord Ming
"Colonels are Lords." -Lord Ming
"I am Lord Colonel Ming. What can you tell me about the town that should be here?" -Lord Ming, adjusting his introduction.

Merit notes that he is a member of the town council, and Lord Ming says that he has also come to be on the town council. People are dubious - the town is now in the lands of the House of Valor? He believes it is. The others think this is more debatable, as the town is both Not Here and On the Border.

Lord Ming thinks that once they find the town, they should be able to better determine where exactly it is. That is the gate, right? The party grudgingly admits that it is. Lord Ming wonders how Merit came to be on the town council, and he admits that it was an early investment.

Merit makes ready to go through the gate, but has a sudden existential qualm, after rolling Yin with Business, thinking that walking through the gate without fully understanding what is going on might be a really bad idea.

"The magic or mechanic or some other mysterious M word of the town is in play." -Merit

Lord Ming offers to try, but Takanata is concerned that there might be "some chance of not existing when you get to the other side". Lord Ming looks frustrated - it is his duty to find the town!

Takanata offers to cast his I Ching to see if he might figure out whether Lord Ming would be in danger, and Lord Ming accepts the suggestion. .

Most honorable Ming,
Unlucky in Love, unlucky in War.
His honor will drive him where
No man asks him to go.
Doomed to sit between,
Peace is his dream.

Takanata doesn't go into the full reading, but says that the most relevant part is that "his honor will drive him where no man asks him to go," which is presumably through the gate. He admits that when the documentation indicated that the Gate of Shen was on the house rolls, and that members of other Great Houses were on the town council, that he volunteered to come to make sure that things were straightened out.

Merit ponders if he is a good fit for the Gate of Shen? Actually - yes, surprisingly so. However, when Lord Ming goes through the gate, nothing happens. He pokes it a couple of times to no effect.

"Do you know how this thing works?"
"You put money in that broken bowl. Maybe the bowl needs repairing, but it's probably worse than that."

It seems clear that Ezokin didn't have the same sense of foreboding about going through the gate, nor did he cease to exist when he tried. So what is the difference between Merit and Ezokin (and possibly Lord Ming)? Other than all the obvious things, that is. Both of them are on the city council for the Gate of Shen, and both of them own land there. But Merit is a head of house and his shticks are being weirdly affected by the change in the country mechanic. Merit thinks about this last some more, and comes to the conclusion that "until the country mechanics stabilize, he has a lot of discretion and should not spend it willy nilly."

Takanata, bored with all this poking of the gate and contemplation of mechanics, wonders if there is anywhere that Butterfly thinks might be good to wander to. He wanders over towards his horse, and starts riding southeast. Well, possibly that means there isn't much else to learn at the gate itself - Cai Wen, Deng, and Merit follow.

Cup of Five Virtues

Well, the place to go "anywhere southeast of the Gate" to find someone is clearly the Cup of Five Virtues, so the group rides there. Business is booming at the teahouse. Cai Wen does his best to hear the state of the country-finishing mechanic, but again, things are a little confused. Houses can't own property in the city, but they own the tea house. Maybe individuals in the house own the tea house? No, they own it, they just can't leave it to their kids! There are as many opinions as people, and it isn't clear that any of the opinions are authoritative.

After a while, Ezokin comes in, also clearly looking for someone, and then spots Merit and comes over.

"So, I notice that the Gate of Shen is misplaced." -Merit
"Not misplaced. MOVED. With great intent. To reclaim what should be ours. In a patriotic sense, you should be with me on this. Oh crap, it's Deng..." -Ezokin, acquiring DCV

Ezokin explains, in a somewhat aggrieved fashion: he deliberately moved the town to the border, and, with Magpie's help, brought the spiritual border with it. The Golden Coast is now bigger than the Arcade was. Unfortunately, the mechanics changed out from under him, and for reasons he now understands, apparently mere money is no longer good enough to pay spiritual debts, and Magpie only wants land. He has been trying to buy land in the city, but people are iffy about if that is legal.

Ah, and Merit does own land, which he might have ended up spending without knowing to pay the debt. The cost would have been 144 tael to bring it back, and Ezokin has that, but it isn't in the right currency. Cai Wen notes that Colonel Ming probably has some land at his disposal. This leads to explaining Colonel Ming and the House of Valor, who Ezokin had not encountered.

What happens, physically, when you give land to Magpie? Ezokin doesn't seem to think this is as surreal a question as the party does. Magpie will just put it somewhere, and give them the Gate of Shen's land back. Merit is deeply disconcerted by this change in Magpie. The country has changed, but Magpie shouldn't have. Magpie should still want shiny baubles, not land! Ezokin thinks that his personality did change, somewhat.

"They act according to their nature, but their nature can change. Maybe."

Was the spiritual egg a Dragon egg? Or a Coyote egg? Ezokin looks up, startled. Was Coyote involved in the Treaty of Houses? On recollection, Coyote offered (via the Cryptomancer) to help, but no one took him up on it. Ezokin notes that Magpie also took a beating from the Wolf/Horse coalition, which wasn't supposed to be in the mechanic.

Merit continues to poke at this idea that Magpie thinks that 144 tael of land is worth more than 144 tael, which makes no sense. Ezokin apparently has a shtick in "What is the price?" that works on money - Takanata could change it to focus on the buyer's preferred currency. Ezokin is willing to take that, if Takanata changes it back "a not unreasonable amount of time later."

"You have the Magpie Talisman, right? Can I just touch it?"

He's only going to talk to Magpie, right? Right? He says right, he's not going to steal it (back) with Master Deng sitting right there. His eyes flash blue (the first blue, in the Prince's blue-on-blue), he staggers back, sits down, and is handed tea.

It makes more sense now. Lord Magpie does want 144 tael of land - he cares about land, but... imagine that you took Lord Tortoise and convinced him to play a chess game for the fate of something, and he started playing chess.

"It is not that his nature turned to desiring pawns instead of knowledge - his mechanic has turned towards land, and he still wants to win."

So, the land for Magpie could be large (like the House lands that don't have much on them) or small (like a valuable set of buildings in the city), or somewhere in between. Cai Wen thinks about the Intervention lands with their super-squiggly borders. Each of the protrusions is probably a plot, which makes them particularly interesting.

Ezokin broaches a terrible idea, diffidently: if Lord Nikoze joined their house instead of the House of Law, they could trade virtual land for the vast resources. But why can't he use the Law lands? He says the House of Law just shrunk and is in the middle of fighting against a hostile takeover, so he can't just abscond with a lot of their land. Merit points out that Intervention has even less physical land than Law, and he still doesn't understand what they would be selling for 144 tael.

Ezokin says he can do a financial background check, but if he does it on Merit that will include everything, not just his house holdings. But Chashui doesn't have nearly as many personal assets, and she has been waiting to talk to Merit and Cai Wen as well. The tea house is... kind of illegal, right? Maybe? But things are still being worked out.

Ezokin targets the tea house with his background check instead of Merit, and Takanata keeps the Key to the Vault scryguarded.

"Huh, that's not what I thought, but that's brilliant... wait, how did you even get those?"

So, the easiest is solution is for Ezokin to join the House of Intervention, and then give Magpie one of the squiggle-plots of mystery (things like the Pool of Longevity, or Lost Mine of Ice Opals each of which is covered up by some horrible peril). This gives him not land as in places you walk, but laaaand in the sense of the Mystic Pond or whatever was in the plot. (Like how the Demon of the Forest is the demon of the Woods, where all the fairy tales happen...).

Trading one of those away would be a net loss to the house, but gaining Ezokin does balance them out.

"You've already cleared the peril on top of Ezokin."

And, Merit notes, with a particularly good roll, there is a hidden advantage to turning the lands from an eight-limbed thing to a seven-limbed thing. Being in an alliance instead of a detente would be lovely. But how will the rest of the House feel about Ezokin and his character?

"I think the thing that speaks to this best is that I spent an entire book and three very long weeks doing nothing but protecting the Gate of Shen."
"And how much are you making from that?"

Well, Chashui gets veto over stupid ideas, so they tell her about the stupid idea being considered. She declines to veto, and thinks that Ezokin might be helpful in keeping the tea house, as he has a lot of contract mojo.

Takanata considers the crossroads of whether they are more likely to face ongoing difficulties from Ezokin if they bring him into the house or leave him out of the house, and concludes that he is more reliable as an ally than an enemy.

Takanata arranges to auspiciously arrive Ezokin's ex-factor Xu Fan nearby - he is busy in an argument about the warehouse full of cabbages.

"Even if we don't own the cabbage warehouse, we still own all the cabbages."

Takanata throws his fifty status into making it clear that Xu Fan owns all the cabbages, and the factor is free for a conversation. Xu Fan shakes his head - right now it's a mess, but he thinks once it all settles out, minor houses will be able to own land in cities, and the major houses will just pay the minor houses to "own" the land for them.

Anyway, he's willing to offer his two zhu about working with Ezokin. The different persona aren't separate personalities, but they have different paint. He might do things... not how you expect them to be done. And - this one is big - he'll work with you but not for you. He holds grudges for a while, though not forever.

Merit wonders how much to worry about Ezokin using his contract enforcement against them. Well... that'll be more about the game, for him. The more they try to nail him down with more words, the more he'll wiggle around. But they should also be able to use him in any House contracts with others or other Houses. And - he's good with contracts but not with law, which is slightly different.

Merit loans Xu Fan and the House of Continuing Sustenance a strike team with a combat bureaucrat to sort out their warehouses.

Now, back to the tea house to finish the deal with Ezokin.

Merit suggests that when Ezokin's goals and the House's interests do not align, that they discuss it before taking any action. Ezokin agrees that this is reasonable. And they will need to let the House of Law know that a noble is being swiped. Ezokin will have to make sure all his pending commitments are fulfilled.

More Visits

The party proceeds to the Secondary Headquarters of the King-Apparent and Lady Jin; their marriage will take place as part of the upcoming coronation-wedding.

The King-Apparent has seen great service from the House of Intervention, so he is more than willing to grant them Lord Nikoze, but warns Merit, "speaking head of house to head of house" that Lord Nikoze is one to keep your eye on. The late Lord of Oversight his father often had to sit on him, and there is always a gap between results and reputation, with Lord Nikoze's plans.

The current map-draft of the Intervention lands includes eight "lobes": the Dragon's Throne lobe, the Forest of Chin lobe causing border constraints, two unknown Prosperity lobes, three unknown Celebration lobes, and the lobe with Little Ivy (where they sent Kasumi to make a friend). They pick one of the three Celebration lobes, for symmetry, and head off to the Gate of Shen.

Lord Colonel Ming is still there and has stationed a picket of guards around the gate, but is perfectly willing to allow the party to solve the problem at this point. The group steps through the gate, and the town of Gate of Shen materializes around them.

Half of the town is in fact in the Steppes now (with half of the town hall on each side), and once Lord Ming is accepted on the town council, the votes will no longer always be tied. Until the Steppes send a representative, of course.

Merit admits to Lord Ming that he's Li Merit,

"But it was irrelevant until the town was saved." -Merit

It looks like Lord Ming was about to say something, but this particular tactic has neatly earned Merit a lot of respect in Ming's eyes.

There is a lot of business to attend to - votes on tariffs and so on, especially now that there is a border through the town.

Takanata looks into a scene from Lord Ming's past, and sees a series of images: Lord Ming walks up to someone, smiling, and reaches his hand into his pocket only to hear the news of her engagement. He congratulates the woman, then after she leaves, he takes the ring out of his pocket, looks sad, and goes home. (This has happened multiple times.)

The last things to be sorted out - should they tell Ezokin about the Vault Key? And what will he think about replacing Magpie with Horse/Wolf?

The answer to the first is decided as "yes", and to the latter, Ezokin did mention something in passing that sounded like he knew Magpie might not be the Spirit of the Arcade forever and was making plans.

"I find it surprising that you had the key to the Vault - I thought that Prosperity had it."
"Well, that gives me some idea what to expect."
Anyway, if the House of Intervention wants to do an expedition to the Vault, let him know. That's not his usual way in. And, since they have shared this with him, he will share that his secret fortress (how he usually gets to the Vault) is deep within the territory of the House of Celebration, but he is not planning to give it to them.