Creation of Light
|"When the sun rises, it rises for everyone."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Tiger in the Month of the Crane in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in and around the Hidden City.
Into the World Above
The party (sans Anto) meets up at the Green Table inn in the Brass District, after having been interrogated or possibly evaded interrogation instead. The group has taken all but one of the rooms, which was previously reserved. Everyone is beginning to relax and drink tea in the common room, when the doors burst open, and a spirit-glowing Anto strides in to announce "Very well, it is time for your audience.". Then, there is a great wind, blowing through everyone and catching up their spirits.
As Takanata, Min Feng, and Xiao Fa's spirits begin to blow, there is a brief conversation between Horse and an unseen other.
- "Oh, hmm, sir, can I just borrow a part of her?"
- "Oh dear, really?"
- "Well, thanks then sir, I'll just be going."
Then, their spirits go up and up and up and up and up... until they land, on a flowing wave of yellow grass. Takanata and Xiao Fa both think that there's something odd and not normal about the spirit world here, though they can't put their finger on what. Takanata thinks maybe it's a little like the trip with Whale, but there's nothing specifically in common. There is a warm breeze blowing east, so they head that direction. The grass grows thicker and thinner again as they go, but overall the terrain gets rockier, and brighter.
Then, they reach a giant, blocky pagoda. Takanata knocks, and the doors swing open, but it's even brighter inside, which is odd. When Takanata tries to cover his eyes and walk forward, that causes him to walk straight into a wall, so that's probably not the right thing. The group squints and walks forward, until they get to... something really bright, but off to the right of whatever it is is a door. Xiao Fa tries to go farther, but then decides that "walk into the light" might not be the right thing to do in the spirit realms, and so they go through the door on the right.
Through the door, there is a much more comfortably lit (though not dim by any means) room there, laid out with a feast and four chairs. The food looks very fresh and delicious. Xiao Fa wonders whether it is safe to eat the food - in stories, you mustn't eat the food that isn't yours, but when you are offered food as a guest, you ought to eat it. Takanata thinks etiquette suggests that they sit but wait for their host before eating. The table has two end seats, and two side seats - Xiao Fa takes an end seat, while Takanata and Min Feng take side seats, leaving another end seat. Then, there is a moment where it gets very very bright where Xiao Fa is looking (he is somewhat blinded), but after a moment or two, the light fades back to comfortable and an old man in yellow robes is seated across from Xiao Fa.
- "Do please eat. You will need your strength for the journey home. I wish to apologize for taking you from your travels, but I believe you would not have enjoyed where you were going to end up, so I intervened. As you were not planning to go to these places, I hope you will not take it as interference on my part that you did not get there. If you do wish to go there, just say so and I will make amends."
- "I had no plans to go anywhere else." -Takanata
- "I do so dislike interfering with the choices people make. But on occasions such as this, I can to take certain small measures as befits the responsibility of one who has brought others into this world - so I would ask you to carry a message for me. Tell your disquiet one that while your most admirable horn will likely work as expected, it is insufficient - you will require the bodies off the lesser lights as well as a dreamer, and the one who is to discern and distract will also be necessary."
- "I believe that Xian knows that there are other things that are required, but I am not sure I understand beyond the requirement of the starmetal what you are asking for." -Takanata
- "Xian was ... sent to gather those who would be needed when they were ready. You have taken it upon yourself to find a way to obviate the need for one of them, but the others will still have a task. You could of course obviate the need for others - hmm, actually, you are getting closer to that yourself. I wished to let you know this, because although you would have discovered it on your own, it will cause one of mine less discomfort at the end if you discover it sooner, and I am not averse to telling you things that you will discover in the light eventually. In exchange for this service, is there anything appropriate you might wish from me?"
Everyone looks at each other for a moment, no one wanting to jump in with demands of the Sun. Then Takanata ventures:
- "If it would be appropriate, we would be interested to know more of Lady Chochiro and her opposition to certain potentially unfortunate changes in the Empire."
- "She is much like this one (he gestures to Xiao Fa) in that she is the focus of a system of opposition, but as yours is a direct clear plan, with its many pieces all essentially exposed, hers is a slower subtler progression towards this objective. But both parties do have the same goal. If you would aid her, then the fastest way to do so is to deliver my message; she is not supported as well as you have been, because the messenger similar to your Queen is in her case unavailable, so her pieces are not so easily found."
- "But delivering the message will cause her messenger to become available?" -Takanata, looking dubious
- "There is a certain selfish subtlety involved. If the message is received, it might not happen. If you successfully deliver the message, it seems more likely."
Ah. Takanata nods, having achieved understanding.
- "You must understand, I have a great respect for the trials and struggles of the people I watch; I do not wish to invalidate their choices with my own. So I try to walk a careful line, but I do allow myself a few indulgences. So if things are not as explicit as you might hope, know that there is a reason that I believe is a good one."
Then, the Sun regards Xiao Fa. Does he have something that he might wish answered? He mutters to himself about how Lijuan would never forgive him, but he's not asking "how big are you?" The Sun, hearing his comment, is amused and answers anyway.
- "The part of me that is over the Empire is a bit larger than any of your Cycle Spirits, but I myself am much larger still. As that question was for another, I will give you a moment to think of one of your own."
Does Min Feng have a question? She thinks for a moment or two, and then says that she doesn't understand what her purpose or role is.
- "It has always been my belief that you will find yourself most successful in the things you wish to do, if you make your own purpose or role and your own choices. But I believe that the reason the Dragon and the Butterfly have involved you in this, is that they wish your group to have access to information they would not be able to get otherwise. You are, to my vision, just coming into your skills in this area, but while it is more perilous for you, that is the way Dragon thinks of these things: the path through Peril is often the path to his goals. As part of a larger "you", you are there to gather information while your partners are there to inspire and provide for the future, but the three of you together are there to provide leverage on Phoenix, who in all honesty is as much at fault for this as is the Dragon or Spider."
- "I think she knows that and regrets that." -Min Feng
- "Dragon and Phoenix have many regrets, but only one of them is allowed to show them. Theirs is a somewhat sad tale."
- "Okay, now I have a question." -Xiao Fa
Xiao Fa wonders if his host is willing to shed light on "the exact nature of the Dragon and Phoenix's actions that led us here." While the results suggest certain actions on their part, no one has ever offered him the tale.
- "It is by now a fairly old tale, so I don't imagine that its revelation would particularly alter what is to come. Essentially, theirs was a tale of conflict between what they believed to be their responsibilities and what they believed to be their love, and both ended up abandoning both. You will now find a certain imbalance in the South, due to Phoenix's absence, and a certain imbalance in what was to be Dragon's legacy, due to her presence. On the other side, Dragon has lost his place due to his actions, but he took those actions to prevent her from becoming less than what she was when she moved to join him."
- "That is mind-bogglingly fascinating and that totally rewrites my 'give Kali Spider's skin' plan." -Charles, fleeing the room
- "So they each sacrificed a fair bit for the other, and they each lost the thing they sacrificed it for. It remains to be seen if that loss is permanent or if you will restore them both to each of them."
- "It's like the Chinese great spirit gift of the magi!"
Xiao Fa finally remembers to eat, and the Sun comments that they will need their strength for the trip back.
- "Getting home from Alpha is the problem..." -Charles
- "You are welcome to stay for a while if you wish - but be careful, as you would wish to be back in your Empire before I leave it, and you will have to go a fair ways back down in order to get there. But there is some time and you are discerning folk, so you should be able to make the journey rapidly enough to do some sightseeing along the way. Oh, and I would expect - though I cannot guarantee - that once released, my daughter would wish to clarify various answers to your questions. Though she has not herself been outside the Empire."
- "The moon's motivations in this are not yet clear to me." -Xiao Fa
- "I do not believe her motivations are clear even to herself."
The group goes over what they know of the ice pagoda plot - the Son of the Moon is the one who goes there when the bindings are weak, and chases everyone away. Takanata asks for a bit of clarification:
- "Is the Northern Wall the requirement that the Horn replaces?" -Takanata
- "No, no, it replaces the one of her sisters who is researching sea water. Huian."
- "Would we get a free trip outside the empire if we tarried long enough?" -Xiao Fa
- "It would be inevitable if you tarried long enough."
So... star metal is one of the necessary things, but a large source for that is Min Feng's mother's lands, now held by her brother and being used to get him in as a Duke in the Taiga. The Sun notes that in fact Takanata's group can obviate all three of those requirements. The dreamer among Xian's sisters is presumably the one who is sweeping at the Temple of the Eternal Dream. So who is the one that provides discernment and distraction? Probably the one who pissed offDuke Huang.
- "She and her sisters do have a certain small talent for annoying those in power."
- "Sometimes that is a worthy service." -Takanata
- "Anyway, I can both deliver and understand the message, so I'm ready to go. Though I don't know which of Xian's sisters is in charge of gathering star metal..." -Takanata
The Sun explains how they will have to leave - as they are so high, it will indeed be a long journey.
- "You will need to descend down through the fourteen realms between here and your World Above if you wish to return to your Empire in the time allotted. We have spent some time talking already, so you will have to press through each of the fourteen realms in a total of twelve hours. Though, again, you are clever, so I expect you can do several at once and give yourself some hours for observation. Turn left as you leave."
As they go down through the realms, the trick proves to be that walking away from the Sun involves walking into your shadow, so it is very hard to see where you are going. They must look at their choices before heading that way, and then identify which realm is more down-ish based on a few clues.
They take the realms at two per hour, a brisk but not precipitous rate, so they have time for four opportunities to gaze down at the Empire from on high.
The Bridge of Moonlight
They look down at the Bridge of Moonlight, and around those people associated with it. After a few minutes of gazing, the group spots Commander Mushashi Nori, head of the construction battalion, having a cup of tea with his wife. They are very high up, so there is no clear sound, but they seem to be talking about inconsequential things. Then, he goes to his office, and starts working through paperwork, when he notes one particular form, frowns, and brings it home to dinner. He shows the form to his wife, and she looks and frowns as well. She points to a few places to make changes, which he stamps, and puts the form back in his bag.
Then, way way far away, across the water in the Shrouded Isle, an old woman in what Min Feng recognizes as the headquarters of the Song of the Phoenix is knitting. On her mantelpiece is a small painted portrait of her daughter and her husband in military uniform - the Mushashis.
There is some discussion as to what to look for next. A Great Talisman that they don't know the location of? How to get Da-Xie to fix her wall? Where are other dragon eggs? Should they look at Li the Wanderer. Takanata can think of lots of things. Well, maybe the location of the three Flames of the Dragon is the most interesting next possibility.
Wondering where the Flame of the Yang is, they look down to the Hidden City. On one end, there is the waterfall spilling down to become the Pearl River, underneath the bridge of the Jade Garden. Between the waterfall and the bridge, there is a hidden space that the water emerges from - looking into that space, there is a deep grotto, with a pool in it. Deep deep down in the water is a hint of flame. Then, at the top of the grotto, above the water, there are steps carved into the rock, going diagonally up and into the bridge. Occasionally a shaft of sunlight goes through a small window into the stairs, but eventually they lose sight of the stairway. Then, their view shifts to the Palace of Ultimate Supremacy in the Jade Palace, where there is a chair in front of a door.
Min Feng suggests that they look at the Obsidian Warlord - then she can study him and Takanata can read his I Ching. It takes a karma for her to get enough dice to beat his status, but that works.
He's on the Shrouded Isle, looking very grand in his fancy armor, waving his sword around and making a speech and intimidating a bunch of peasants. Then he waves his sword in a chopping motion, and a number of soldiers start running forward, pulling ropes, and behind him, the Bandits of the Double Caldera are raised in nooses. Then, a messenger interrupts the Warlord - he looks furious, but the messenger cowers and continues to talk. Then the Warlord slams his sword into his scabbard and heads down to the docks, where he boards a Navy vessel and it casts off.
Takanata tries to cast his I Ching, but it is very weird, as this is very long range, and he only gets snippets:
- Firstly, it's much easier to read his I Ching now - much easier than it would have been a couple of days ago.
- The Obsidian Warlord is essentially the most straightforward of the Marked, though he is not stupid. He will tend to progress straight towards obstacles and chop them.
- He is currently completely out of contact with the only one he would be willing to call Master.
- He's angry. He's actually angry all the time, but he's particularly angry right now.
Takanata memorizes his pattern, but thinks that he has gotten something that is more like a picture of his pattern as it currently is, not a true memorization. It might degrade over time.
- His aspect is Spider.
- His specialty is warlord.
- His best skill is "War".
- His highest shtick is Nigh-Invulnerable, based off of his armor.
The next thing they search for is the "most important Southern agent in the Middle Kingdom". The view zooms in on two guys - one is Iala Mane, and one is an unknown. Min Feng uses her overhear shtick to get sound this time rather than just sight.
- "Kali's forces are in disarray. Carry my words to the temple and we will see if the Goddess wishes to do anything to rectify the damage they have already caused." -Iala Mane
- "Why should we care about the damage Kali has caused? We should go home and move against Her directly."
- "I cannot do that, I have obligations here. But if there is aid we can be doing to disrupt them without me going, bring it to the temple and start taking steps. But first, consult with the Goddess."
- "When did you start listening to the Goddess? Whenever we talk to Her, She says She wants you to come back. "
- "I have obligations but I am still in Her service."
The smaller guy starts riding to the south, and Iala Mane walks back the way he came.
Hmm, so the most important Southern agent in the Empire isn't working for Kali, he's working for... who is Iala Mane's goddess? Ratri? That isn't what they were expecting. Well, they didn't say "the most important agent of Kali" - wording is important.
Speaking of wording being important, the group discusses what last thing they should look for. Perhaps the most easily available starmetal they can find? Xiao Fa disagrees - that's kind of boring, and what if it's just the land in the Taiga or the stuff the King of the Taiga has or something someone in the party has? Takanata doesn't think the starmetal the King of the Taiga has will count as "easily available", and none of the party has star metal. Wait. No, he spends a yin and realizes that that's false.
- "Wait, someone has star metal? I must go beat someone senseless." -Takanata
The group immediately blames Shen-Ji, as most likely to be a collector of weird metal, or possibly just most likely to be responsible for something that needs blaming for. But wouldn't Shen-Ji gloat about having it? Maybe it isn't him after all. Maybe whoever has it doesn't know it's star metal. Hmm.
While the GMs would have thought it was hilarious to zoom in on the party star metal, the trio decides that they can probably find that on their own now that they know about it, and they need a different question. Where is Dog's Talisman? Where are the other interesting country borders like the Gate of Shen? What are the roads really up to?
In the end, the plan is to have Xiao Fa look at the chi flows of the entire Empire. You can really only see the whole thing from up here.
The chi is a reasonably well organized network of flow. There are sources in millions of point sources throughout the Empire, and they are gathered and sent upstream from node to node to the Hidden City, except for the northwest, which is less connected, and the Shrouded Isle, which has a wafer-thin barrier keeping its Chi on the isle. The Beautiful Kingdom is nicely part of the net now. However, the chi that flows to the Hidden City lands in a cacophony of disaster, chi spelling everywhere in a turbulent mess.
Takanata confirms that the disconnect of the northwest would be repaired (or created) by going through the Bridge of Moonlight, if it were moved a little south. Xiao Fa really wonders what the chi looked like before, but he has no way to tell that from here, so he does his best to remember the pattern for later.Then, as they pass through the last two realms, the group plummets down through the World Above, and into the Green Table Inn, where they fall into their bodies and then wake up.