|"To be forgotten, is to die a little."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Spider in the Month of the Butterfly in the Eleventh Year of the Bear since the wind changed direction.|
The run takes place in nearly all the places.
Cai Wen lets everyone know the basics of the circus woes before heading off with Merchant Siri to discuss important matters. Takanata reminds them to bring Sei-Lin back, but that subject may be one of the actually important matters that still needs resolving.
The next performance of the circus will be tomorrow. They're still down Mondo and Gipeno and Sei-Lin, but the return of the others (even if they keep getting mistaken for new hires who fit in really well) has helped a lot.
Akimoto is volunteered to have the tattoo on his back examined in detail. It is a tale of the attempted assassination of the Butterfly King and the diverse interlopers who came to his defense. Shen-Ji and Kuan-Xi think that the story is anchoring the general powers of the Palimpsest Book to the specific task that it has been bent to. Merit thinks that this whole write-things-down-to-make-them-forgotten thing is part of the branch of magic that includes Name-o-mancy and Cryptomancy and Cartogramancy - technically an offshoot of wood sorcery, but with a principal focus on text.
Merit asks his guys to find out who is in town regarding the "Mondo is missing" plot, and shortly thereafter, a dignified gentleman approaches and nods sagely.
- "I am. One question has been asked and answered, and two remain. But the mission also remains. I am Tsuai Talekeeper, Riddlemaster of the Seventh Rank."
- "It is an honor. If I have met you before, I do not remember due to... influences. We are attempting to find your student Mondo." -Merit
Tsuai asks Merit to confirm that those around are the companions that Merit has chosen for this quest, and then embarks upon further explanation.
- "It is clear that there are things that you know that you no longer know. But it is not clear to you that it is not the things that you know you do not know that you do not know, because there are many paths to mystery." -Tsuai
Recently Mondo gave a tale into his keeping regarding his flight from the nine ninja of doom. Did they notice, during that tale, that he escaped from but eight ninja? Yes! Yes they had in fact noticed that! The party blames Li the Wanderer, especially as he was involved in Mondo's most recent disappearance, but Tsuai is less sure of that.
- "Unless you believe that your nemesis is everywhere at all times, you must concede that there are other paths to forgetting. And as all paths go in two directions, there are therefore other paths to remembering. Retrace his steps, learn what you do not know, and from those pieces construct what he did not do. With eight worlds and eight of you, you should be able to succeed."
There is a dramatic reading of the Tale of Mondo and the Nine (Eight) Ninja, during which careful notes are taken of when the numbers of the ninja are mentioned.
Tsuai tells the party that it will be up to them to choose who goes to which realm; in each world, they must seek that which they do not know of Mondo, and one of them will find a fact in a way that only one of them can.
They discuss who should go where. There are some obvious matches - Yanyu can get Yin-Xiang to take her to the moon, and Shuyan can die and return. Takanata can dreamwalk, though the Temple of Eternal Dream can also assist with that. Shen-Ji likes bargaining with demons. And Kuan-Xi is dating the Wu Xing, who can open gates to a lot of these places.
An order is determined:
|Takanata||World of Dreams (Mondo)|
|Xiao Fa||World of Dreams (Ninja)|
The second of Tsuai's questions is spent on the question of how he would improve the plan.
- "Each of you, remember who you are - solve it in the way only you can solve it. For only in that way can you find out what you do not know."
Yanyu reminds everyone of Mondo's horoscope, in case that comes in handy, and then eyes Tsuai, checking his aspect. The Riddlemaster looks at her and raises an eyebrow.
- "Do you truly wish the answer to that question?" -Tsuai Talekeeper
- "...no" -Yanyu
The Tanglevine Sea
Kuan-Xi's carriage makes short work of the trip to the Strand, and Anto drops by. He can open a gate to the Tanglevine Sea, of course, but he warns that there will be a lot of tanglevines trying to get through while it's open. They aren't clever, so it's not as dangerous as some of the other places people want gates to, but they should be careful. He'll go with Kuan-Xi, so everyone else should guard the gate opening. Merit quickly recruits some thugs from a nearby village.
Anto opens the gate, and he and Kuan-Xi leap through. Kuan-Xi spots one of her missing silk kimonos, which she recalls as the only good thing that fool of a fiance gave her. She calls a rainstorm and runs up the raindrops to see the path of other tattered and soiled silks through the sea, sees in the pattern the tracks of a Tortoise, and realizes that Mondo is not only a Tortoise, he was marked by Tortoise from birth, rather than gaining his aspect later or after having another aspect.
Meanwhile, those left behind have been battling ever-strengthening tanglevines, but are able to fend them off long enough for Anto and Kuan-Xi to return.
Takanata sketches out a small piece of art, much to his and everyone else's consternation.
The group heads next to Dutiful Serenity, where Spiral and Swiftgreen merged to form the demon Maelstrom.
The group knows where the altar in the bamboo is, so they skirt the village and Shen-Ji contacts Maelstrom. Shen-Ji says he wants to know about the interaction with Mystic Mondo and the ninja, and what it might tell of Mondo's nature, but he does not have an initial offer. The demon counter-demands four boons for each part of the answer and one boon more for what is yet hidden. Shen-Ji thinks that's rather pricey (Merit thinks that since Shen-Ji passed in the opening bid, Maelstrom expected there to be haggling and opened extra-high), and offers a magical egg, which Maelstrom eventually accepts, and tells Shen-Ji that there are four demons that regularly visit Mondo for advice. Remarkably, one of the four has kept Mondo from realizing their true nature.
Takanata draws another sketch, which is not an improvement.
The group heads next to the shrine in the Steppes, where Silent Han was buried. Shuyan worked with Han for many years, and tries to remember any tricks of communicating with him. There weren't really tricks - he tended to be agreeable and would do what people asked him to, so he didn't have to convey a lot of information. He had some expressive gestures, but they only go so far. Mondo always understood what he meant if it ever got complicated, though. Merit and Xiao Fa put together some ghost money, which they burn at the shrine. Then, Shuyan puts on the ring. Merit turns the Orb of Light on her, and is somewhat rattled to realize that she is actually dead, not just sort of mostly dead.
It takes a little while for Shuyan to make her way to the line of ghosts waiting to get into the World After. She tries to jump to the front to explain that she isn't really dead, but the spirits with clipboards are sorry to have to inform her that she is really dead, apparently by suicide. She heads back away from the World After, to take the ring off again, which seems to work, but it's more a walking-back-up-the-line sort of thing and not an obvious proof of aliveness.
Shen-Ji offers to raise Shuyan as a zombie in case that would help. It is decided that this will not, in fact, help.
Shuyan puts the ring back on and heads back in, but veers off past the lines, until she gets to the impressively high walls around the World After. She whispers through the wall, asking after Silent Han, asking him to knock three times if he is there, but it is a very thick wall. However, her mother taught her to climb, and she is quickly able to get to the top, where Han is at the bottom.
It's difficult to convey anything through waving, though, and Han doesn't seem to think that Shuyan should jump into the World After. After some contemplation, she summons a particularly karma-ish snake that can bring a message from Han and then climb the wall. The snake-spirit hisses with Han for a bit, and then heads up the wall at top speed, insisting that they leave Now. Shuyan isn't sure she can get the snake out, but it thinks it can follow her, and encourages her to pick up the pace. When she wakes up from her second death, the snake slithers out from behind Han's shrine, and tells her: Mondo is the only living member of the circus to have known Silent Han's birth name. The snake asks Shuyan to give it a name - it plans to be famous. She names it Ocha, and it slithers off, trying out "Ocha, Snake of Death" and "Ocha, The Snake Reborn" on for size.
When the group returns to the circus, Takanata draws another sketch.
Takanata heads to Mondo's wagon to take a nap, dreamwalking for Mondo's dreams. The maze-garden that Xiao Fa and Cai Wen encountered has a gate to enter, with a figure who sort of resembles Mondo, to ask a riddle.
- "State your name and rank."
- "Lord Tokai Takanata, Immortal of the Golden Palace."
- "Light as a feather, yet no man can hold it for long."
Riddle answered, Takanata can enter the garden of bridges and canals and odd multiply connected geometry. He tries to head for where Mondo's dreams of him are, and walks towards the more-statusy part of the garden, but in order to enter, he must answer another riddle.
- "The more you take, the more you leave behind."
When Takanata has no answer, the riddle-giver suggests that this perhaps is not the way Takanata meant to go, and indicates the canal instead. Takanata suggests that if he is providing directions, he is looking for the thing he does not know about Mondo. Unfortunately, the ability to call on a circus member for the run does not really work to summon Mondo at this time.
Takanata tries to cross the bridge over the canal, but is blocked by another riddle.
- "I can be found where anything cannot; dead men eat me all the time, but if a living man eats me, he'll die."
Takanata puts on his ring of water breathing and jumps into the canal, where there is in fact a drowned ninja. A quick rummage through the ninja's pockets finds a piece of paper (which begins to dissolve), with a note:
- "What's louder than one dog barking?"
- "Two dogs barking!"
He swims back up to the surface, where another riddle-giver suggests that before he finds what he does not know, he should concentrate on what he knows. Takanata uses "echoes of the past" on the riddle-giver, and sees a long-ago scene, or an apocryphal dream of one, with a youthful Mondo and a much younger Tsuai. Young Mondo complains - he thought they were going to be doing the hard ones! Tsuai frowns and says that he can answer this one first.
- "My thunder comes before the lightning; My lightning comes before the clouds; My rain dries all the land it touches."
- "A volcano"
Then, he shrugs and says that he doesn't think he's going to make it here - he's going to go and join the circus.
Regardless of whether the scene is truth or dream-truth, Takanata realizes that Mondo was not the youngest ever to be inducted into the Great Wisdom, but he was the youngest to earn the Second Rank, after which he began to travel with the circus.
He tries to wake, and has to answer one riddle more.
- "How far can a fox run into a grove?"
- "To the middle."
- "Close enough."
When he wakes, he draws another sketch.
The group heads to the Temple of Eternal Dream. The monk sweeping the stairs recognizes Takanata; Takanata explains that Brother Han wants to dream about someone who has been misplaced. The monk will take Brother Han downstairs while Takanata discusses the offering with the abbot.
Master Bao is concerned about current events - there are raiders from the Forest who are not happy with the surrender to the Plains of Honor. They are infrequent but growing. Master Bao thinks they are not an organized campaign by one of the Great Houses of the Forest, but disaffected youths who were not part of the bargain. Shen-Ji and Wei Han offer to go out and take care of things right now, perhaps setting them all on fire, but Master Bao was looking for a less violent resolution, and the youths are not currently all standing out there waiting to be killed by the party. Takanata promises that this is a thing that they will seek to resolve, if not today.
Xiao Fa begins to dream, and heads towards the Dojo of the Shadowed Ones, looking for someone who needs help along the way. He finds a blood trail, ending in the crumpled form of a ninja. The ninja regains enough energy to throw one shuriken at Xiao Fa, but then drops the other, having lost too much energy to continue.
Xiao Fa asks him why he persists - the answer is honor. Xiao Fa heals him a bit, and he throws another shuriken.
- "This is your honor? I put you back on your feet and you try to kill me?" -Xiao Fa
- "You understand." -The ninja, nodding solemnly.
Xiao Fa is pretty good at dodging, but the ninja is improving with each attempt. Finally, Xiao Fa chi-blocks him, and he begins to dissipate, being only the dream-echo of a lost ninja.
- "Why are you doing this?" -Xiao Fa
- "Because the animus of the ninja is death, and the animus of the riddlemaster is mystery."
Xiao Fa awakens, one more clue obtained, and Takanata draws another sketch.
To The Moon
The group heads to Tahiti, and puts the Talismans in storage before heading farther afield. Yin-Xiang can bring Yanyu to the Moon's garden through the Tahiti grounds; she drops the good news that he is expecting a son as they arrive.
Yin-Xiang is pretty stunned by the news, and is still reeling when the Moon comes out. She hands Yanyu the Mondo briefing as nearly an afterthought, as she is more interested in dispensing maternal embraces and advice about what to eat and not eat. Yanyu returns downstairs in Tahiti, somewhat puzzled - Yin-Xiang is nowhere to be seen.
The Mondo briefing has a map of his journey, which the Moon seems to have watched, and a note: Mondo has been to one other "realm" not visited on his Great Flight, but the Moon's Realm is the farthest he has been from the Material World.
Takanata draws another sketch.
Bribery as an Art Form
The group heads to the Strand near the South Wall, and Merit checks in with his smuggling contacts. They say that sending people south across the Wall isn't hard at all - getting back can be a bit more tricky, and getting Southerners across is even harder. The hardest stuff to smuggle north is concentrated powerful items.
Merit crosses on his own, and heads for Gateway to Riches, where the temple to Kubera he has visited before is. The priests at the temple greet him, and Merit asks to speak with Kubera. They ask whether he wishes to see Kubera, the God of Wealth (in which case a large tip would be appropriate) or Kubera, the God of the North (in which case Merit can get away with a small tip and stand on his status as a Northerner). He tips them the smaller amount, which they are not entirely pleased by; when Merit recruits one for his spy team, the priest insists on a larger tip.
When Merit reaches the central room, a man dressed much like paintings of the Emperors, sits on the throne. Merit looks around suspiciously, wanting to talk to Kubera instead of this guy, but the guy maintains he is Kubera.
- "I seek information on Mondo, and also I am interested in opening the trade borders with the north."
- "Mondo spoke to another, not I."
- "'Really. He would have been well paid."
Merit doesn't quite know what to make of this two-Kuberas thing, and is directed to meditate on Kubera's majesty while the Emperor-god leaves. After a while, the elephant-headed god enters, and seats himself on the throne.
After a traditional Kubera-god-of-wealth-sized bribe, Merit learns that Mondo invests in a hidden school in the western Illuminated Precincts with the money that he is given by the Merit Trading Company.
They discuss opening the border to trade at that point - Merit explains that his job is to convince the Southern Wall to change her mind about no longer being a barrier and being a border instead. Something that would help would be incontrovertible evidence that the Empire and the South once did trade. Kubera allows as there might be old duty records that could be researched, but it would cost quite a bit to have them all gone through. Merit persuades Kubera that they should split the costs. He is also interested in learning how Kubera is regarded in the south, and is permitted to read Kubera's two holy books (both the God of Wealth one, and the less popular God of the North one).
When he returns to the wall, he is able to sneak back across using the ropes the smugglers have left for him, without incident.
Takanata draws yet another sketch...
Up With The Dead
Then, it is off to the North. Wei Han heads for Sector Two, where Scout Sergeant Chen is, to ask about the current state of ghosts across the Wall. Chen says that when they aren't doing dangerous things, a lot of them are heading east towards the sea.
Wei Han convinces Chen to come north with the party to follow the trail of ghosts back to where Hana probably is. Wei Han looks for reinforcements, so on the way there, they come across a scouting party fighting some barbarians, and there is a lot of chopping. Afterwards, when Merit is passing out first aid, he thinks that Wei Han has taken a lot of friendly fire. Wei Han glowers at the scouts.
- "Watch your aim. I know what happened." -Wei Han
The scouts probably aren't in tune enough with things to actually detect that Wei Han is an enemy of the Empire, but it's probably related to that.
The ghost trail leads back to the Haunted Castle, which Scout Sergeant Chen is really not happy to see again. This time, though, in addition to all the scorch marks that Shen-Ji left behind last time, there is a ghostly House Teng flag flying over it. Sgt. Chen is not happy at the indication that a great Imperial house is full of necromancers, but Sgt. Chen is really not happy with anything in the North.
Wei Han reminds Hana that Mystic Mondo came through here and she gave him a hand. They need to find him now. Hana gestures to the carriage tracks outside, and the big black splotch where the ninja became Dead. Wei Han prowls around for a while following the tracks and looking at the dead ninja, but no clues unearth themselves until he calls on one of his more detectively past lives to try to discover more. He figures out somehow that the tale of the miraculous twins of light and darkness is what caused Mondo to be promoted to Riddlemaster of the Fourth Rank.
The group heads back south and across the Wall again, and back to Bear Mountain. Takanata draws his last sketch.
The Last Realm
Well, the group has eight clues, and eight pieces of art, but they're not quite sure what to do with them. Tsuai Tale-spinner leads Takanata through a discussion of what he knows and does not know.
- "What does your art normally depict?" -Tsuai
- "Normally, what we are doing or where we will be." -Takanata
- "So... where is that?"
- "The realm of nightmares."
- "Exactly so. Some say it is between the World of Dreams and the World After. Other say it lies between Dreams and Night. Yet others, such as those in the Temple of Eternal Dream, say it is not a realm of its own, but only part of the World of Dreams. But Mondo thinks it is a realm, so that is where you will find him."
The third of Tsuai's questions is spent on what they need to know.
- "A great many things. Assuming that you can imagine the dangers to be found within the Realm of Nightmares, the thing you will most need to know for your battle is that only you can defeat your nightmare - but your nightmare knows this."
Some more discussion happens while the GMs are trying to get the combat program working, and then Tsuai tells them it is time to drink from the draught of terror! They fall asleep, and Takanata makes a brief detour to pick up Kibo, and then the eight party members are in a dim and dry featureless expanse, facing eight nightmares, a befuddled Mondo and his own nightmare, and a ninja.
- "Under the third compulsion of vengeance denied, I have the right to command you. Attack!" -the ninja
The nightmares stride/swoop/slither forward against the party. Since everyone knows they have to defeat their own nightmare, the group spends some time trying to identify which is which. A small beggar child is Poverty - when Merit throws his sharpened hat through it, it becomes more powerful but also solid to him. Shuyan throws Farslayer at what proves to be Serpentbane, similarly activating it. Wei Han chops a Ghost, Yanyu strikes the Dying Child with the wrath of the Phoenix, and Takanata fireblasts Treacherous Dishonor. Shen-Ji targets Mundanity, and is the first to actually be hit by his nightmare - he loses eight tao substats. Spider (Xiao Fa's nightmare) bites Kuan-Xi, damaging her status even further.
Merit throws the angry-crowd-coins off to the side to convince the ninja that those he killed are coming for him now, and an angry crowd does seem to be forming. Kibo starts taking bites out of various nightmares.
Snakesbane damages some of Shuyan's shticks, and Wei Han loses some money defending Merit from Poverty.
Takanata reads from the Eight Steps of Righteousness (the book his sister was carrying when she was killed by the ice wyrm) to his nightmare, vanquishing it. Xiao Fa hits the Spider nightmare with the Glow. It teeters for a moment, then decides that it has to help defend its fellow nightmares and goes to attack Kibo. A lot of people leap in to defend Yanyu from Dying Children, since she's been just noted to be pregnant.
Merit convinces Mondo to snap out of his daze. The ninja manages to stun Wei Han and steal his Talisman, but that only means that in the next action, everyone pounds the ninja for about four hundred damage.
The last of the nightmares are dispatched, and Merit tries to convince Mondo that none of this is real. Mondo thinks it's not as unreal as Merit thinks - the world is mysterious.
- "Unlike the rest of you, I am not asleep." -Mondo
Mondo explains that getting home is a combination of worldwalking and "knowing how it's done", and declares that they should wake now, while snapping his fingers. Everyone, including Mondo, wakes up in the tea tent.
People's various damages are investigated. Mondo has a tattoo on his back, similar to the other circus members. Kuan-Xi is nearly socially invisible; between the Spider nightmare and Autumn Rose's attack, she is at -1 status. Shen-Ji is down tao, but Xiao Fa can fix that.
Merit, Shen-Ji, and Kuan-Xi consider the spell on the four circus members, and conclude that the solution is to have another of the "textual" mages transcribe the tattoo onto paper, where it can be burned with magical fire. A cryptomancer, or Autumn Rose, or perhaps Jia-Jia. Wei Han is concerned that burning the page will cause the incidents to be forgotten, but the mages are pretty sure that isn't the case. However, that gets Merit worried - how did this incident get written in the Palimpsest Book in the first place? Did the party forget the assassination attempt? Had they always forgotten it and they only just remembered it? Or was this a different one than the one they think they remembered? Maybe they forgot the other one? This seems to be a never-ending rabbit hole. Takanata tweaks Xiao Fa's chi-healing shtick to heal social damage instead. While doing so, he has the option to spend five or seven karma, which he does not take. Xiao Fa feels like something is wrong, and doesn't try using the shtick yet. They consider what happened, and conclude that the tweak has pushed the shtick out of Chi Master concept, but not out of Dragon aspect. When a shtick is pushed out of aspect, a temporary ep debt can be handled between the spirits involved. But for something that is out of concept, there is no spirit to handle the concept debt, and Xiao Fa doesn't have the eps yet to pay for a minor shtick. He decides to not try using it on Kuan-Xi just yet.
- Takanata paints a watercolor enhancing familiarity, and leaves it near where the circus performers are practicing.