Mystic Mondo and the Nine Ninja of Doom
I know I said I wasn’t going to write any more of these, but when an opportunity such as this falls into one’s lap, there’s really no use in fighting it…
A Confidential Report within the Great Wisdom
To: Tsuai Talekeeper, Riddlemaster of the Seventh Rank From: Mondo, Riddlemaster of the Sixth Rank
Regarding the events following the three hundred and twelfth day of the three hundred and fifty-second Year of the Magpie (in the third Great Cycle of the Spider) since the epoch, the twelfth day (first of the Spider) of the thirteenth month, which is Magpie, and what was learned therefrom. In which Mondo, a Riddlemaster of the Fifth Rank, learns that which he did not know.
There I was, surrounded by those I thought (and in truth, still do think) friends, looking at the end. Not the end of the day, or the end of the performance, but what was most assuredly going to be the end of my life. For when one of the most powerful sorcerers of the land lays a trap for one of the most devious and deadly bands of adventurers to trod upon Imperial soil since the Ring of Many Lis was broken, one does not want (or expect) to hear, “Let’s give all the treasure to Mondo and send him off alone.”
But that is what they did. Actually, I did, in all honesty, see it coming. They had been coming to rely upon their RiddleMaster and Seer a great deal of late, feeling, not unjustly, that they had matters martial and spiritual well in hand. Modesty, if not strictly accuracy, does compel one to admit that they also have matters mental well in hand as well, or at least, as well as can be hoped given the tragic demise of the Marvelous Library of Mobile Cunning, which has been previously documented in these pages.
And so, to flee a trap of certain death, I was given three, (Yes, I know it’s preposterous, and not a little bit dangerous, but three they have, as of the time of this writing. Or at least had, as they had just given them to me. But do not be surprised if the reader of these pages, [just yourself Talekeeper, I trust], discovers that three is a pale estimation of their true potential.) of the Great Talismans of the Spirits. I should not say which, as that is not my knowledge to speak and Powers seek that knowledge even now.
This does not imply, or at least this is not intended to imply, that they sent me powerless and defenseless into the Worlds, for they did not. Indeed, I was provided, most wondrously, with one of the Great Treasures of the Shrouded Isle, although I, now that Master Horse has so heavily enhanced it, do wonder if it remains a Great Treasure, to protect me and my Trio of Irreplaceable Charges.
In addition to this near-miraculous conveyance, I was also provided with Favor from Two of the most powerful Spirits in the Empire. Normally, I would also decline to identify Them as well, for the same Powers and others Greater seek this information in addition to the fate of the Talismans, but I fear the remainder of this tale would prove somewhat nonsensical should I decline to state Whose favor I had, for it was almost immediately used, and the Identities of the Great Spirits involved would be manifest in Their workings in any case. Thus I say it was Master Bear and Master Horse whose Favor I obtained and most fortunately so.
The rest proceeded to spring their trap, by which I of course mean, “step into the trap that was intended for them”, and fight their way out, as is their custom. I’m sure a great battle was had, and I have learned upon my return that they did all survive, even rescuing those hostages used to bait the trap, but at some point something must have gone wrong. For while no sorcerous might rained down upon me, and no army of mailed warriors appeared at the horizon, I did Learn that I was about to meet with nine ninja, all and each of whom had designs on Those which I carried, defended, and survived.
Obviously, I would have felt no trepidation were they all mooks, nor would I have been overly concerned were there fewer ninja than the elements, for the ways of dealing with such threats have been documented in the Great Wisdom for ages, and I would expect even a RiddleMaster of the Third Rank to survive such a challenge. But few there were not, and nine full Master Ninja would I soon face. While the Utilitarian Corollary to the Second Survival Precept would indicate that the proper response to such a situation would be to attempt bargaining with the ninja and surrendering at least part of the Treasure I carried, my decision was not simply mine to make. I had been charged with the protection of three Talismans and given to understand, (or perhaps it is more accurate to say “taken it upon myself to understand”), that they were not only artifacts of power, but quite possibly necessary keys to the survival of the Empire itself. I shall not go into the details of why this might be so, but rest assured that I believed, and in all honesty still believe, it, for logical and proper reasons.
So with bargaining and surrender removed from my table, and battle obviously foolish, (Even your most Pointed Observations could not pierce the heart of nine master ninja simultaneously, I trust. If I am mistaken in this, do please elucidate the proper methods next time we speak, for I, unfortunately, but inevitably, I suppose, feel it unlikely that I will never find myself in this situation again. For as you know, once the box is opened, the contents are forever known.), I chose the last, and perhaps greatest, of the basic strategies, and fled.
The first order of business was to make the escape more manageable. I started the Little Carriage towards Bear Mountain and gathered my thoughts. Dealing with nine ninja simultaneously would be somewhat difficult, but if there were some way to encounter them singly I might not run out of tricks before they ran out of ninja. Luckily, as I have mentioned earlier, perhaps unwisely, I had the favor of Master Horse with me. Summoning Him through His favor bestowed, as first outlined by Po Shen the Librarian, I commenced negotiation. Matters of influence and advantage are second nature to any spirit, well, most any spirit, but deep negotiations are a speciality of Master Horse. I did not have time for the full give and take of true negotiation and leverage, so I was forced to rely upon the constraints of spirit dealings as a basis and resign myself to redeeming more favor than would otherwise have been necessary. After only two iterations of the Basic Series of Posturing when Desiring Fixed Service, we had agreed upon terms, and Master Horse provided me with a Chase Montage in which each ninja would be encountered singly, and once defeated would be unable to rejoin the chase even upon its ultimate completion.
The second order of business was to see to the security of my charges. It would hardly help my situation if I was bending my wits to the defeat of a ninja while protecting one Talisman while some other denizen of the realms simply acquired one of the others for themselves. For as you know, one can not personally wield more than one Great Talisman for more than a single scene without extreme endurance, a trait few RiddleMasters have in abundance. As it would happen however, and I do wonder, as must you, why these things seemed to have worked out so nicely, the fastest way to extreme endurance was to negotiate with Master Bear, the greatest paragon of Endurance in the Empire or Beyond. Negotiation with Bear rarely requires great time, although knowledge of the Three Honorable Objections was invaluable. In the end, he provided me with the Endurance to wear and fully utilize all three of the Great Talismans at once.
Unlike in the Writings of Master Worldwalker Zhou, from before his Change, I find that the Talismans do not in fact elevate you closer to the World Above. Indeed now that I have felt the effect Threefold, I am confident in stating categorically, (always an error, but one we are all prone to), that they in fact do precisely the opposite. Meant to tie the Great Spirits into the Middle Kingdom, the bearers of the Great Talismans are weighed down by the pressure coming from Above, and I believe it is the struggle against this pressure that causes all of the ill effects so well known to those who wield two Talismans at one time. Possessing this new Insight, and well versed in the working of pressure and leverage, I do now wonder if there might be some way to simply build a spiritual scaffolding that allows the wearer of multiple Talismans to simply resist the pressure, although the danger of collapse would be magnified. Although now that I write these words, and with the knowledge of how things turned out, I suspect you have already seen the truth that I now see, which is that this is precisely what Master Bear did. I shall therefore have to meditate on the relationship between endurance and spiritual essence, but that shall perhaps be the subject of another day’s musing.
With the ninja delayed (or perhaps myself sped away) and the Talismans all secure upon my person, it was time to begin the battle. As there were nine master ninja, I would have to encounter them in locations where wit and guile could overcome blade and fist, and I could not use locations too similar too often lest they become wise to my patterns or even stumble into each others’ montage scene, for even the workings of powerful spirits can not protect one from their own folly for long.
As I had just been dealing with Masters Horse and Bear, the World Above seemed a likely choice for a first encounter. But treading into the domains of a powerful spirit with three of the Great Talismans seemed somewhat unwise. So, a smaller spirit’s realm was caused for, but not so small that it would cause the ninja no trouble. Of course, a spirit that could defeat a master ninja might also defeat a riddlemaster. Of course, I didn’t need to defeat each ninja, as after all, this was a chase montage, not a battle. Merely outdistancing the ninja would be sufficient.
My mind turned to one of the first trips the Silken Wings circus took with the Yellow Queen’s Sente. Both the solution, and the problem, presented themselves. Steering the Little Carriage towards the Southern reaches of the World Above, (Yes, I know such directions don’t really apply, either in the World Above or in the Middle Kingdom if it truly comes to that, but, as you know, if the walker walks the road he knows, then he can not be lost...), I approached the realms of the lesser spirits of the Strand.
Before losing myself and the Carriage in the Tanglevine Sea, I needed to make some preparations. Looking about, I found the closet, fully stocked with numerous exquisite gowns and dresses, normally worn by the Princess Kuan Xi. Well, perhaps not normally, as she often dresses more in fitting with her true nature than her status, but at times she plays the role she is assigned and denies her Hun in favor of the Po of the world. But, while she may not always dress in line with her spirit, her taste in clothing is quite extraordinary. Indeed, it seems difficult to imagine assembling a collection like the one I had to destroy, at least, difficult without the princess’ more extraordinary resources, but sacrifices must be made by more than just I, if the great works are to continue.
It turns out that it is not difficult to move between the main coach and the driver’s platform even while the carriage is in motion, if one knows the secret, which of course, I do. Climbing to the top of the carriage, I attached dresses and gowns and shawls and kimonos to every surface, regained my proper seat, although I should perhaps not call it my proper seat, as the carriage is not truly mine, but for the time it was the proper seat for me to be in, and slowed as I approach the Tanglevine sea. My change in speed was rewarded almost too quickly, (I would have to take more care in calculating the likely approach speed of a ninja now that I had more data), and the master ninja landed neatly upon the roof. Given his early approach, I was forced to resort to the Second Delaying Banter, (I’ve always thought it superior to the first, but I understand others do not hold to this opinion), in order to hold his attack for a moment, giving the Little Carriage time to properly plunge into the sea. Then, speed became essential and moments later, the Carriage Emerged, less its many coverings, (I shall have to make this up to the princess at some future point), and more importantly, less the first of the ninja.
Wanting to gain a bit of breathing room, I sped down and to the West, leaving the World Above, passing only briefly through a town I recalled from our previous adventures, (Unfortunately, the name of this location is not a secret I am permitted to tell, for one of the True Avatars has given his word that it would not be spread, and I am not one to break such a vow for another), and dove into the World Below. For the second ninja, I thought a more straight forward demise would be appropriate. For you see, I knew the name of the two-fold demon who inhabits this realm, and few others do. Surely, even a master ninja would have difficulty when his body is pierced by ice, and his head is blown from his shoulders, yet the little carriage upon which he was riding remained strangely untouched.
Even so, it was a pity, for it was a useful name, and I am sorry to have forgotten it. Or, I should rephrase that, sorry to have to my memory of it for safe passage through the bitter winds sold. (Do rest assured, they would have been bitter.) This simple request though gave me the time to collect my thoughts and carefully choose a destination. Two ninja were dealt with, but there were seven to go, and even with the support of Master Bear, I would soon tire. It occurred to me that I required allies, but all those ready to hand were back in the very battle I was fleeing, and I could hardly take the ninja there lest Master Horse’s good works come to naught. As fate would have it though, I knew were an old and dear friend was, and not to far from my current location, that, of course, being the shores of death...
Approaching the World After is a tricky proposition, for one does not want to stumble and find himself within that which he merely wishes to be near. I certainly didn’t and I thought perhaps the third ninja would feel the same, but I knew, as is often the case, that which another did not. For within the realms of death is a man who created many doorways leading in, though never one leading out. A man who sold his very speech to be clean of the stains of the many passages to the World After he had created. A man who, as it turns out, was, and given how things turned out, still is, my friend. It is often easier to communicate with one who is Silent, than with one who speaks, when you are one, as I am, and as are you, who guards many secrets. But Han’s blades were sure, and his skills undimmed by the softening that so often comes when waiting for one’s reward, if you can really call it that, in the World After. So near to the border, it was perhaps too easy for my good friend Han to invite the ninja within with a simple, though it is perhaps a great disservice to refer to such consummate skill as simple, flick of the wrist. With the ninja safely beyond the line between this world and the next, it was off to the fourth, and my pace quickened. Little did I know though, that Han was not the last of my friends, though he was the oldest, in my knowing that is, not in age, that I would see on this journey, and I rushed on to meet the next.
Having been Above, Below, and After, I decided to try the next most logical destination and moved to the World of Dreams. (I must remark that Master Horse’s ability to travel between the Worlds does seem to rival that of even Lord Whale. It is uncanny how easily the Little Carriage I rode skipped between the realms and through all Primal Waters under Master Horse’s direct guidance. A pity the Carriage was not given its fullest potential to summon the Spirit of All Horses when the chance arrived.)
I started, obviously, in a dream of my own making. I passed through realms of the simplest tests, trying to gauge the perspicacity of the fourth ninja. Little did I know that others sought me and made their way to my dreams at the same time. I felt the Ringmaster falter, for he did not realize that Two Dogs Barking are the primary example of a thing that must in all ways be louder than One Dog Barking, and felt the ninja do the same. I was torn between easing the boundaries, and thus releasing Master Zhu, but risking further approach of the ninja, or continuing on assuming that others of his most gallant company would be along to rescue him, but then I noticed the Monk Xiao Fa speak to the Talking Fish, (I know, it is hard to believe a monk of the Wandering Path has yet to learn the First Rule of Talking Fish, but there it was) and knew I would have to intervene. Luckily, or perhaps I do him a disservice as well, the Great One, (too soon?), knew the riddle to Fish’s question and was neither ensnared nor deeply annoyed, but the fell into the river of My Ignorance, and I needed to alter my course to fish them out. This obviously had the side effect of allowing the Ninja to approach, but I guessed he would not know the Monkey’s Reflection, while at least Monk Xiao Fa would, of if not he, one who is a lover of mirror demons must, and so they were given passage to join me, while the ninja was delayed making his way across the bridge of My Intellect. A quick test judging the true nature of Time and they joined me within the carriage. But with so many passengers the Carriage was Slowed, (Yes, I know I merely believed it to be slowed, but in the land of my Dream, what was I to do? Deny my own thoughts within the realm of my mind?) and the ninja caught up. While he sought entry I tested my friends with the Hardest of Lies, and they saw only Truth. Thus did the carriage speed away from the fourth ninja on towards the fifth.
I decided it was time to escape the Realm of the Riddlemaster, and though I am not as large a devotee of symmetry as I know you to be, sped into the Dreams of my pursuers. For, as all know, even when Plain Sight is the hiding place of choice, the Home of the Prison is the place to search for the Prisoner Escaped. Thus we approached the Dreams of the Animus of Death. My pursuers would never find us here and we could consult, so long as none of us foolishly summoned them by name or thought. I do now, in retrospect see the great flaw in this plan, but I would point out that by this time I has navigated through many Worlds and was starting to feel the pressure of my possible, perhaps even likely, capture.
I paused to take stock with my friends and provide them with the tools to escape, but I fear the moment I took to gather my thoughts, always a necessary step before displaying them to others, my friends took the First Action and thus before my briefing even began, it was rendered moot.
“Well, this is exciting. I didn’t realize ninja would simply instantiate around you.”
Let us not dwell on who said it, for I perceive now that the blame was not theirs, but mine. I have long tended to forget that while I do know what I know, and I know what I do not know, the same can not be said for others, and I seldom know what they do not know, when it is a thing I have long known. Yes, even as I write these words, I can hear you chuckling at my folly.
But with the words spoken in the Realms of Dream, and no Dreamwalker to Turn the Path, we found ourselves at the dojo of the Shadowed Ones and the path though was the only path out. Here, I decided to preserve my strength if it be needed later, and allow my comrades to deal with the approaching threat. For as I have said, while I do not always know what they do not know, I know what I know, and I know that when presented with a straightforward challenge, where the path to victory is to simply press through the battle to its conclusion, my Circus companions, well are without peer.
It seem Master Zhu dreams of fire and light for these powers did he unleash upon our ninja foes. As the dynamite of his desire did burn hot and fierce, I instructed Monk Xiao Fa in the basics of constructing a stair of thought up the nearby moonbeams, for the Mistress of Night is always nearby when the Shadowed Ones play. We had already visited all of the Near Worlds, so it seemed it was time for one of the Far. But again, not well trained in the ways of Worldwalking, though I assume he will get to it soon as it is a necessary skill for one who would, as he would, stand between the Worlds, Xiao Fa used a boon provided by the Most High to secure our passage to his Hated Lover.
Up the moonbeam to Her Realm we did travel. Normally, I would be on my Highest Guard, and not introduce unnecessary complications into any dealing with Her, for you know how She is with Secrets, and Riddlemasters most of all. But, I was running out of Worlds to visit, and She can be quite perilous, so I delayed my instruction to the Monk and allowed another of My Hunting Nemeses to proceed up the Beam before I reminded the Monk to retract His Favor. For since we had to deal with Her in any case, it seemed only meet to allow her to deal with him. After all, should we fail at whatever test she imposed, it hardly mattered whether we fell from Her Realm or into his hands, frailties of the Argument of the Excluded Middle notwithstanding.
As expected, it took very little to goad our pursuer into attempting uncountenanced violence in Her realm and thus bring us all immediately to Her attention. What I did not count on, though I realize now that I have used that phrase several times in this letter and thus should attempt to raise the level of my meta-perception in the near future, is that She knew well enough whom She had, and thus not only were we in danger, but others of our relations in the Realms Far Below were now within her power given the bonds which unite us.
For while my friends and I, and perhaps even our pursuer once he saw the Utility of the Path of Least Resistance, were happy to admit that our Trespass gave Her claim upon us, we were not as happy to hear her price. For she asked not for any of the usual Three Perilous Spirit Bargains, but something far more disturbing.
“Then I shall ask for payment, and he who pays best will know my favor. Three by three, tell me Three secrets, three truths, three flaws Of Madame Qin Yanyu.”
Why the Moon wished to know of the simple Matchmaker occasionally in our midst, I did not know, though of course, I do now, having sought such information most diligently upon my awakening, but you will of course excuse me if I do not share those truths which are not mine, and so seeing her gaze turned upon one so defenseless almost gave me enough pause to bring the Survival Precepts once more to mind, but my companions are made of stern stuff, and more importantly, have learned in many battles, spiritual, mental, and physical, that they may rely upon one another, did hazard to answer this challenge and provide information in confidence that even the Widow Yanyu was up to the challenge of the Moon, as perhaps even I or you are not.
The Ninja claimed first truth as was just and proper for he was alone and without his other two companions, while I had my own here with me. But Zhu Cai Wen is not a man to be underestimated and held his ground before Her. She seemed impressed, or perhaps merely amused, at his boldness, and took his point, claiming “First to enter, first to leave”, which is a perfectly serviceable rule at parties, but not something I would wish to continue waging the fate of the universe itself upon. Thus did the test of Qin Yanyu commence.
|The Teller||The Truth|
|Cai Wen||She was suspicious of what she was told of her first husbands death; she pursued it, and led to the discovery of the corruption of a northern commander and his ruin.|
|Ninja||She is one of the three most powerful matchmakers in the Empire|
|Xiao Fa||She is a student of Hai Ling of the House of Harmony|
|Ninja||She is a founding member of the House of Exuberant Interference|
|Xiao Fa||She has been arranging matches in order to bring more Phoenices into the world.|
|Ninja||She is a Patron of the Exalted Library but she has already used her great boon.|
|The Teller||The Secret|
|Ninja||Two of her spoken truths are because she is secretly an Agent of the Song of the Phoenix.|
|Cai Wen||She hired the House of Night's Promise to steal the Magpie Talisman from Ezokin. Retribution was taken and has been resolved.|
|Ninja||The winds of fate swirl around her and she has a Destiny.|
|Cai Wen||Her triad of the song of the Phoenix was the only one permitted to act while Dragon was imprisoned.|
|Ninja||Fate will also grant a destiny to her son|
|Xiao Fa||She's actually holding what the Son of the Moon needs as a very high priority - though she would not tell him so, she has his interests at heart.|
|The Teller||The Flaw|
|Cai Wen||In some matters she rushes in fearlessly where she should fear|
|Ninja||She is one of the three people alive most hated by Ezokin|
|Xiao Fa||She has fierce pride in her art. She will not stint it or second guess it.|
|Ninja||Of the members of her company, she has the least karma. (Xiao Fa thinks this is incorrect - he has less.)|
|Cai Wen||She has entrusted us with free use of love potions as we might wish, even knowing the havoc we might wreak|
|Ninja||Since she does not take her tea with her companions often it is easier to poison.|
The ninja was uncommonly briefed to come up with the things he did, but as She must have guessed even his knowledge was no match for that possessed by the lady’s closest companions. The true test, of course, was not what they knew, but what they would say, and what they did say was deemed sufficient. It was perhaps not a true test of Riddles or Knowledge or Skill, for the judge Herself has ulterior motive which are now obvious, but it was sufficient to win our escape, or at least, She so indicated. True or not, She acted upon it and the seventh ninja was struck down.
No longer bound by the ties of Dream, and lost in a world beyond those dreams, my companions and I went our separate ways. I assumed at the time, and now know, that they woke from the dream unharmed, and presumably immediately sped off to discuss with Madam Qin the Moon's interest. I, however, was not yet finished, for two more ninja remained.
I knew I wished to end in the Empire, and did not wish to risk traveling beyond the Ocean or the Mountains to the Worlds there, though it did occur to me, as I had two ninja remaining and those two destinations were nicely symmetric, but as I’ve said, symmetry is not as important to me as it is to you, and so I decided that though they were not Worlds unto themselves, I would spend my last two ninja upon the shores beyond the Walls, both North and South.
South was of course the easiest, for the God rules there, and one of the Gods always has His trunk sniffing for our approach. But even as He is the God of the Empire, He is also the God of Wealth and the princess is not a Lady Without Means. I hated to pick the lock on her carriage strongbox, but hated it even more when I found Master Horse himself forbade it. So, using the Principle of the Illusion of Public Debt, though at a cost I’m sure you will see on the addendum to this letter, though I’m not sure if you will agree with it, regardless of the great knowledge gained for the Wisdom herein, I simply transferred funds from the box without opening it, and paid the Inducement Fee of the God. Thus did the eighth ninja fall.
This left me with no choice, for though I do not blindly serve symmetry, I am no fool, but to finish my journey in the far North beyond the Ill-tempered Wall. There I did summon another of my fallen friends, for while I was very close to Silent Han and could thus call him forth from the World Beyond when not quite crossing its borders, the Ghost of the Circus (See Great Wisdom Report of Mondo, Riddlemaster of the Fourth Rank, On the Death of Girls and Calendars) was quite close to me, and always and ever curious, while I could not seek her out, I was sure she would seek me out were I to make enough noise. The Little Carriage may be swift, and it may be capable of reaching the most astonishing destinations, especially when Master Horse is directly invoked, but it is by no means silent, or hidden, or quiet. If you wish to make a fabulous entrance which no one can ignore, but all means ride in the Little Carriage of Princess Kuan Xi, but if you are looking to pass unnoticed, you have chosen the wrong conveyance. But I did not wish to pass unnoticed, and Lady Teng did find me, and turn her dark powers upon my foe, and thus ended the tale of Mondo and the Nine Ninja.
I sent the carriage home, with whatever little power was left to it, for I knew it would know its proper stable even if by this point I do not, and it was there, or should I say here, that I woke in the Most Noble House of Suzuki, One of the Ancient Three Houses of the Islands Lost, with all that portends for the future, and the most uncertain present.
(Attached to the letter is an addendum labeled Request for Payment itemizing 5 tael (plus 20% burden penalty) spent In Pursuit of Truth (Or at least Fleeing Lies). )