|"All right. Fine. You really want to know what I want? You really want to know the truth? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place. I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power. I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want...I want it all back, the way that it was. Does that answer your question?"|| The run begins on the first day of spring, the Day of the Early Tiger in the month of the Tiger in the forty-second Year of the Dragon since the Empire was Lost.|
The run takes place in the village of Three Piers, which is not in the Hon'eth Arcade, and on the ocean.
Ringmaster Te announces that Her Majesty has suggested that the circus wait for a slightly more auspicious time to leave, so there is time for everyone to practice their acts for about a week. The circus performers promptly react by arranging for week-long vacations.
Anto takes the opportunity to pull Min Feng and Xian aside. He would desperately like to figure out what happened to Kuan-Xi, but he is feeling very ill; would they be able to help? He briefly recaps the clues that they already know about her disappearance, before collapsing with stomach flu.
- Her little carriage went from the Port of Auspicious Voyage to the Butterfly Kingdom, but arrived empty.
- Detective work indicated that there was a scuffle on board.
- People with magical skill think that exiting the carriage mid-trip would cause someone to arrive at the "average" of the endpoints - geographic average, symbolic average, mystical average, something.
- When Lijuan tried to say Hello to the Whale, she asked for a sign and retrieved a piece of trim from Kuan-Xi's carriage floating in the water.
So, perhaps the No-Longer-Great Whale spirit is involved somehow (and Cai Wen has been saying nothing less for days).
As far as Whales go, Min Feng remembers that the party has a metal plate inscribed with a prayer to the whale spirit from the town of Three Piers, which no longer exists. That doesn't seem to be a lot of help, though. Xian thinks about spirits in general, and the Whale spirit in specific. "Great Whale Spirit" isn't a valid term, but Lijuan calling it that is probably flattering. Kraken are the natural enemies of whales - is there a Kraken Spirit who might also be an enemy? The Whale may be particularly bitter at the Phoenix, and Kuan-Xi is an agent of the Phoenix, so it may be acting with some malice. Though, it did return a piece of carriage when Lijuan asked for a sign. Is it gloating?
Anto wakes up enough to remember that Kasumi recently told him that the Mystical Menagerie from the Roof of the World has a whale expert. So maybe they could ask him something? Min Feng is dubious - what would they ask? What was Anto going to ask? He thinks asking how to find the Whale, or how to talk to it, might be things to ask.
However, the Mystic Menagerie is far away, so perhaps asking people who are closer by would be more useful. They troop to Master Kwan and ask him if he knows what the "average" of the Hon'eth Arcade and the Butterfly Kingdom would be, and explain the problem. Master Kwan notes that the best way to find a location along a poorly understood path is to follow the path yourself. But the little carriage is tired, and jumping out midway might not be the best idea. Master Kwan wonders, might there be other, more reliable modes of transportation which do not strictly follow the rules of this world. Such as the "Fog Ship"? Xian says, disapprovingly, that the fog ship is creepy. Master Kwan suggests that if the fog ship follows the path Kuan-Xi took, that might prove enlightening. Min Feng points out that the driver chooses the carriage's path, and they don't have the driver or know the path. Xian disagrees - he thinks Xiao Fa was confusing himself when he was trying to drive Kuan-Xi's carriage like a real carriage; when he thought about the destination only, that helped him be less confused.
So... how do you summon the fog ship? A Gather Information roll suggests that they have been doing a good job running the blockade with goods for the Shrouded Isle. And Kiri, one of Cai Wen's molls is said to be on the fog ship. The pair considers hiding in a box and trying to smuggle themselves to the Shrouded Isle - and maybe once she is there, Min Feng can figure out how to study Kuan Xi remotely. Xian perks up at that plan - he thinks his bosses should talk to Min Feng's bosses, as they're both weird Secret Sisterhoods. They start thinking about what sort of food to buy to send to the Shrouded Isle (probably staples, like rice...)
As the two consider their somewhat muddled plan, Takanata wanders by, and convinces the GMs that they owe him a prophetic art from his minirun, so he presents them with a watercolor landscape of a seaside. There is a fuzzy, smeary town pictured, with three large docks sticking into the water, and a fuzzy picture of a grey boat docked at one of them. Okay, so that's another indication of both the fog ship and Three Piers.
- "Maybe their ship and Kuan-Xi's carriage hit each other in hyperspace." -Min Feng
- "You got your fog ship in my Triad! You got your Triad in my fog ship!" -Xian
Buying 14 li of rice to smuggle to the Shrouded Isle is deemed Too Boring, so they decide to head to approximately where Li Merit might have thought that Three Piers was. Spurred into action, off they go! They take a ship (Anto foots the bill) to the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival, and hire a carriage to go to the approximate area. The carriage driver is a bit dubious about the "and then we circle up and down the coastline for hours", but eventually the investigators recognize some hills as part of Takanata's watercolor, and hop out.
Min Feng disguises herself as Hiro, just for fun. They head down to the edge of the water, where a village might have been, and Xian looks for places to spend a Yin. There's a sandy beach there, and out in the water, about thirty yards from shore, is a patch of fog that on closer look is in fact a fog ship. When Xian spends a Yin, he realizes that the ship is docked to a dock that Xian still can't see.
- "So, there's really no dock there." -Xian
- "It is not that there is no dock there; it is that the dock is not there." -Laura
Xian waves, ineffectively, at the fog ship. Min Feng pulls a colored scarf from her bag, and waves it a bit more dramatically. After a short while, a rowboat is lowered from the side of the shot, and it heads for shore. Aboard, there's a sailor, and Kiri. She wonders, with some concern, what they're doing here (and whether Cai Wen is with them). Min Feng explains that they were looking for the ship. Kiri is rather appalled - who told them to come here? A prophetic painting, and a plate with a prayer to the Whale Spirit.
- "The town prayed to the Whale Spirit, but I don't think they were answered. It's not here any more." -Min Feng
- "...That's true." -Kiri
Xian explains that they're looking for someone who fell off a magic carriage between the Hon'eth Arcade and the Butterfly Kingdom, who might have been taken by the Whale Spirit. This is above Kiri's pay grade, so she thinks they should talk to the captain.
The rowboat heads back out to the ship, and the first mate comes to question the newcomers. First of all, how did they know to come here. Min Feng points at the prophetic painting. The mate says that next, the Captain isn't going to be willing to do anything for them, unless they're willing to promise to not talk about the town. Min Feng happily agrees that there isn't a town, as does Xian, at which point the mate leads them down the gangplank into the town of Three Piers.
It seems to be a sleepy little fishing village, with fishing boats, people fixing nets, that sort of thing. In the center of the waterfront, there's a tall man dressed in grey (Captain Xie), talking to people - the mate heads that way. As they approach, a hush falls. One of the older men in conversation with the captain frowns at him, and notes that they are not supposed to be bringing outsiders here. The captain echoes the frown to the first mate, and agrees that they are NOT SUPPOSED TO BE BRINGING OUTSIDERS HERE. The mate protests - Kiri captured them, and they need help.
Xian says that while they can't claim to fully understand what's going on here, he understands that it should be kept quiet, and they respect that. It was not a person who knows, but a prophetic painting. Captain Xie inclines his head, and asks if that means the spirits brought them? Xian says possibly. Min Feng brandishes the watercolor, and the prayer plate.
The elder pales - that prayer plate must not be brought here! That is not a thing to be left here, it is for the Sea to have. Xian explains that the sea gave them the message in the first place. Hmm. So the Great Whale Spirit brought them here, the elder says. Xian says, well, maybe. Min Feng explains that they seek one who is perhaps lost in the sea, and there was a sign from the Whale.
The elder asks if they are from another land, and Min Feng says they're from the Butterfly Kingdom. The elder is startled - is the time of the Return nigh? Captain Xie leaps in - no, they're just travelers. The captain and the elder argue at this point - the captain says that these two are like the ship's crew, travelers, not from the Lost Empire. The elder, on the other hand, thinks the Butterfly Kingdom is one of the places in the Lost Empire - if that one is returned, then the Return is nigh! And the whale spirit brought them, and he is their patron.
Min Feng asks if the Foxruns and Bear Mountain are other lands of the Lost Empire. Yes, exactly! Have they heard tales of the Lost Empire also? It's still lost, Min Feng concedes. The senior elder of the village knows more of the Lost Empire - perhaps they should speak to him. Captain Xie thinks this is a bad idea, but the junior elder says that there are still a few hours before all his supplies are ready, so that's plenty of time to talk to the senior elder.
Before Min Feng and Xian go, though, Xie pulls them aside for a strong word:
- "There will be no discussion of the Empire in the present tense. It will just get them all riled up."
Xian and Min Feng agree - no discussion of the Empire. Check. Then they're escorted to the senior elder's little house. Min Feng says she's from the Jade Taiga, which the elder notes makes them outsiders like those on the ship, rather that people from the Lost Empire. Do they have some knowledge of the Return? Xian says that surely the elder knows more than they. He notes that the most important thing about the Return is what he doesn't know - when it will occur.
- "I do not know how it is in your lands, but here, we remember that there was once a mighty empire, and this town, Three Piers, is all that remains. One day, it is said, the Empire will return, and all of these many lands will be restored."
Min Feng makes a quick copy of the sacred map, and asks when this happened? Many years ago, before his grandfather's grandfather's time.
- "In the ancient times, when the Lost Empire was imperiled, in the days before it vanished, our people sought the aid of one of the Great Spirits. In His benevolence, He chose to protect us from the Fall."
Xian checks - was that what his people were actually asking for? Well, they were asking for sanctuary, as the period before the Fall was marked with significant turmoil.
More questioning ensues. Was there an Emperor during this time of turmoil? Yes, of course. But one of the signs that the Empire was failing was that the line of the Emperor had become weak. These things will likely mean nothing to them, but in the ancient writings, the turmoil began with the fall of the last of the true line of emperors, and the pretenders - though they often ruled with skill and wisdom - could not prevent the fall.
The discussion turns to Captain Xie. Where is he from? Strange places also? The elder says that the captain is a servant of the great spirit who also seeks signs of the Return, and brings them some news and trade goods. Xian is suspicious - Captain Xie seems to be confounding them some how. Xian tells the elder that they have heard tales about the mighty empire which was here once, the one with two great walls. The elder points out the walls on the map. So... what are the signs of the Return that they should be looking for? The return of the Great Spirits, the elder says. The Great Whale Spirit guards what is left of the Empire, waiting for the Return. With the other spirits cut off, there is no way to know what they do. The elder asks Xian for stories about his own lands, but Xian claims they aren't very interesting. They're just people. Farmers, fishermen, ninja... er, maybe not ninja.
At this point, Captain Xie returns - it's time to be going. The elder says he is happy to have met such interesting visitors, sent by the Whale Spirit.
As they head back to the ship, Min Feng says that they didn't rile him up at all. Captain Xie nods.
- "You mostly have to commiserate with them - they wait for a thing that will not come to pass."
Min Feng does note, though, that the captain is supposed to be bringing the villagers news about when the Return is coming. Captain Xie shrugs, and says that he doesn't actually think it's going to happen. Xian notes that there are momentous things afoot, so maybe it's not that impossible. Anyway, is Captain Xie actually an emissary of the whale spirit? He concedes that you might say that - the Whale Spirit is an ally of one of his ancestors. Xian clarifies - an ally or an ancestor himself? No, just an ally. He's not like the Three Piers people, descended of the line of the whale. Xian is surprised - they're all descendents? Well, Xie isn't really sure. They do seem touched by the Whale, though. Xian asks if they're spirit-born. Well, no, not the way Xian means, but they're not really in the world, either. They live and die, in their own world. Long ago, he offered to take one with him, but they said it was not their place, and refused.
What does he do for them, anyway? He says has been asked to check in on them - it is hard to maintain an eternal vigil with no outward signs, and he brings them hope, which the Whale Spirit wishes them to have. And he brings them things he finds in "other worlds" that they might need.
Xian points out there are definitely Things Happening. Maybe there will be a Return after all. Well, if something happens it will be in the next twelve years, says Xian. If it is not within the next twelve years, it probably won't happen. Captain Xie says he will be interested to see what transpires. They ask if he has sailed beyond the Wall? Captain Xie says he has not as his ancestor forbids it.
Conversation with the Whale
Anyhow Captain Xie asks what can his ship do for them, and what do they offer?
Xian explains that their friend has gone missing on a voyage from the Port of Auspicious Voyage to the Butterfly Kingdom, in a special carriage that travels over the water, and they suspect the Whale Spirit may know something about it. Captain Xie says that he can take them to where the Whale Spirit is most easy to contact, but they will have to attract his attention themselves. And, in exchange for this service, he will accept their solemn vow to not speak of all of this (Three Piers, the ship, etc) to others. They so vow (and somewhere, elsewhere, the Butterfly Talisman thumps).
The ship heads off, and arrives in a particularly foggy portion of the ocean. Xian contemplates throwing in the prayer plate, but then Anto (who has been below decks, still sick) says that he can probably do something. He staggers up to the deck, crosses his legs, fiddles with the prayer plate, and then opens his glowing blue eyes.
- "Of what do you wish to speak?"
- "Kuan-Xi" -Xian
- "The agent of She who stole my land?"
- "Fraid so."
- "She had the temerity to travel through my seas."
- "On more than one occasion, I believe."
- "Well... she seeks to restore the Great Dragon Spirit."
- "I do not owe generosity to the Dragon after how my loyalty was repaid. "
Xian suggests that Kuan-Xi is attempting to accomplish the Return, but the Whale is adamant - it is not the return of the Dragon that his people await, it is his return. Xian notes that the return of the Dragon might provide an opportunity, but the Whale is suspicious - is this an opportunity that any would seize? Xian admits he doesn't know.
- "For those who are aware of history, it is clear that an injustice was done. The sad truth is that some injustices can be rectified, and others cannot, and I have no idea which one this is."
- "As much as you admit this was an injustice, you are well spoken, and thus I will tell you why it is I have brought you here. You may not be wise in these things, but those of us who are not what we once were can touch but one mortal at a time. It is whispered among the spirits that the Wu Xing has taken the Unbinder unto himself and my mortal is bound."
- "The captain?"
- "No. He is in the province of an ally, he is not mine."
- "What is said of the Wu Xing is true; he has taken the Unbinder. "
- "Should he/you accept this task and free my mortal servant, I will return that one I have taken."
- "Was he in the Jade Taiga?"
- "No. He is difficult to see now that he has left the sea, but the Dragon Army takes him towards the fallen throne. You may liberate him before they arrive or after, at your option."
- "What is his name?"
The Whale does not understand why the Spider was attacking "she who stole my land", so he sent Renyu to investigate, and he probably got too close. Xian commiserates - the Spider is no good.
- "The things he attempts to do now would not even have been possible before."
- "She who stole your lands is aware of that - that is why she seeks to restore the Dragon."
- "To restore him - but not me."
- "Well, she seemed regretful."
- "Beware in your dealings with her. Her priorities are selfish - it is easy to regret wrongs one need not right. But for the moment I will protect her servant and return her to you should you free mine."
Xian agrees, on Anto's behalf. The Whale says he will give Anto a way of locating Renyu. Oh, and one more thing...
- "Lijuan is fond of you, for some reason."
- "I do not hold her people to blame. They did what they could, fruitless though it was."
- "I think it would be very meaningful to her to know that. I will tell her."
The Whale says he will instruct the Moon's First Daughter return them to their lands, and then Anto collapses.
The passengers are herded back below decks, but when the ship arrives at the Butterfly Kingdom and they are disembarking, Xian asks Captain Xie about the name of the ship. Xie notes that many ships have many names. Xian clarifies - they have encountered a prophecy about the Son of the Moon and the Daughter of the Sun. Captain Xie notes that the moon has a great influence on the affairs of night - so one might expect that the moon has many children. But his ancestor was the first. What about the son of the moon? Assuming he is speaking of the one he must be speaking of, he is bitter, covetous, and he finds the night insufficient.
Min Feng shows him her ice chip. Captain Xie is intrigued - it has a bit of the moon about it, but he has not encountered it before. Xian says it is a substance produced by some action of the son of the moon.
- "While not as old or as wise, the one you speak of is closer in the blood than I, and thus would have more power."
Xian notes that he will probably have to go up against the Son some time, and Captain Xie advises him to not discuss his plans where the eye of night can hear. Xian frowns at the mixed metaphor, but agrees.Min Feng gives the captain her ice chip - he thanks her, and says that it is quite interesting, and he is pleased to have such a thing.