The Eternal Dream
|"A man cannot win a war in the world if he cannot win it first in his dreams."|| It is the Day of the Early Bear in Fox Descending, in the second Year of the Fox since the ascension of the High Warlord Ze.|
The run takes place mostly in the Tanzhe Plain
The Circus's riverboat is docked in a small town in the Forest of Chin, and is due to head downstream again soon. Putterers both in the Forest and the City of Spires begin to trickle back in.
Min Feng wraps up her tea with Litona of the House of Silence, getting the enigmatic advice that when things look most like a clear choice, that's when you must seek out the third option.
In the tea tent, Cai Wen explains to any who will listen how the master Burnt Chalk has explained that a nerve strike and "got your nose" are in fact the same thing, as the conflicting impulses between "protect the nose" and "the nose is actually fine" get jumbled together at the same nerve cluster that a nerve strike targets.
Some of the circus roustabouts find Li Merit - they think the plan is to pack up tonight, but could he go and ask Ringmaster Te? Merit heads to Ringmaster Te's tent, which has a couple of circus workers standing outside to warn people away. Everyone else who goes in, comes out very unhappy or in tears. Still, Merit braves the dangers, and heads in, where Ringmaster Te greets him calmly and offers him a cup of wine. Merit confirms that the circus should be packing up, and lets the guys outside know that. Then, he tries to figure out what's wrong with Ringmaster Te. His best guess is that he's putting on a good front over being upset. Apparently Xiao Fa said he was roiling up his chi, and he needed to relax, or Consequences Might Follow. So he's trying to relax. Merit confirms that Xiao Fa was the last person to talk to Ringmaster Te, and didn't actually run out crying.
Min Feng notes to other party members that she heard somewhere that the Forest of Chin and the Savanna of Tears are about to come to blows in the Tanzhe Plain.
Wei Han goes to take this news to a local Dragon Army garrison. Wei Han asks the private at the desk which patrol has most recently returned from downriver - the private says they're all being sent down river, and aren't coming back. A sergeant is summoned, who has more details. Since just about all of the region's Dragon Army forces headed up to the Port of Propitious Voyage, the locals have been getting frisky. Now, the ones that are left are just concentrating on keeping the river safe. He recommends that they travel by day and keep moored by night. Wei Han asks if there are river convoys, but not yet. Since Wei Han will be going down the river with the circus, he is given some dispatches to take to various posts.
In the hopes of keeping either side from attacking, Merit finds a supply cache that has a Dragon Army flag, and some Dragon Army uniforms. He wants to put some circus people in the uniforms, but Wei Han insists that this is Not Appropriate (and likely the sort of thing that gets you hung if the army catches you at it).
- "Would you rather they die?" -Merit
- "Do you really want me to answer that question?" -Wei Han
Flying the flag is more acceptable, on the theory that it counts as Wei Han's courier ship, though that does put the ship in the chain of command of the army, so there is a chance that it could be ordered to do something by someone who outranks Wei Han. Grumbling about general doom, Merit puts the flag and uniforms back in his cache again.
Despite general nervousness, taking the river junk downriver is still faster than walking, as far as circus travel goes. The "outboard motor" gets installed on one of the small boats, in case it is needed for an emergency. Merit takes the small boat and rows over to another ship on the river, to find out what he can about what's going on. Apparently, the Forest of Chin is taking back their ancestral homeland - though that leads to quite a bit of ribbing between the crew (of various nations) about whose ancestral homeland it was first. It sounds like there's only been trouble for about the last week, though everyone thinks it has to do with the Dragon Army mostly being up north.
The first night traveling is spent at a Forest of Chin dock. Late at night, a man approaches the ship, claiming that his cart has thrown a wheel, and he is hoping to borrow some tools. (No, it's not the cabbage merchant). As it turns out, though, Merit has spare wheels in all sizes, having packed these when the circus first left the Butterfly Kingdom, and offers this as well as assistance. Cai Wen, observing the man closely, thinks that he is confused and suspicious and thrown off by Merit's super-extra-helpfulness.
Merit wakes the circus cartwright, and sends him with Master Zhou and Shuyan, as well as Cai Wen and Wei Han, to help fix the cart. Lo, there is in fact a cart with a wheel off, so the cartwright gets to work. He notes quietly to Cai Wen that this wasn't a crash - someone just took the wheel off, there's not an actual problem. Meanwhile, the owner of the cart has been chatting up the others for information. Wei Han is pretty close-mouthed, and Shuyan defends herself by babbling about all sorts of circus business, but Master Zhou flubs his defense and confesses the thing he most doesn't want the guy to know. That turns out to be that the great Master Zhou of Iron Mountain is only second level now, which is very embarrassing.
Once the cart has been "fixed", the guy thanks them all and heads off on his way, and everyone else heads back to the river junk.
- "Who goes there?" - Merit
- "Wei Han."
- "It's us!" -Shuyan
- "That combination is pretty convincing." -Xian
Cai Wen explains that the guy was some sort of spy, but that it didn't turn out too badly.
- "...so Master Zhou kind of cracked and told him what he didn't want him to know..." -Cai Wen
- "Which is that nerve strike and "got your nose" are the same thing?" -Merit
Xian notes that the guy doesn't seem to have been expecting an actual wheelwright, which would be stupid if he were specifically going after the circus. So he was probably just checking out anyone moored here for the night.
The rest of the night passes uneventfully, and the river junk sets off downstream again. Mid-morning, a small boat with two soldiers wants to see their papers. When Wei Han comes to the side of the ship, the two soldiers stand up and try to salute, nearly tipping their boat. The papers for the junk and the circus are both pretty much all in order, so that's not a problem. The two soldiers are trying to make sure no one is carrying troops down the river. Most of the Savanna navy is upriver still. Which means it could be right behind the party even now!
Merit has the captain move the outboard motor from the small boat to the back of the the large ship, making it go... a small amount faster. It's not really meant for propelling large boats. To save more time (and try to keep out of the way of the Savanna navy), though, the plan should be to travel at night as well. The suggestion to not travel at night was only a suggestion for safety, not an order, so it's decided that this is probably the way to go. The ship is decked out with lanterns and lights and decorations, to make it very very clear that it is a traveling circus and not a troop ship (the elephants are displayed prominently).
That evening, a larger boat crewed by Dragon Army soldiers encounters the river junk. Wei Han explains that they're heading downriver to cross to the Butterfly Kingdom, and gives them the dispatches for their base. They also do a quick inspection, but again, there are no troops on board. Cai Wen pumps the lieutenant for information. They're doing their best to look like the Dragon Army is keeping things under control, but they're woefully understaffed. They've basically retreated to the river, rather than trying to deal with the entire countryside.
The party splits itself onto different watches, now that they're travelling at night, and Xian wakes up before dawn with a Dream of Import. He asks the others who are awake (Cai Wen, Master Zhou, and Shuyan) if anyone has heard of the Temple of the Eternal Dream? No one has, though Master Zhou notes that this means it's not Ascending Path. The captain doesn't think it's on the coast - there's monasteries in the hilly area of the Tanzhe, but he doesn't know their names.
Xian says he got a message in a dream from, um, someone he knows, who was calling for help, because something was going wrong at the temple, and the army was involved, and "they won't wake up." The others are awoken to tell them about the news, and various people clamor for more details from Xian, such as exactly who sent the dream.
- "A... friend."
- "Could you be any more specific?" -Wei Han
- "I could, but how would it help? Her name is Yuwen."
- "For example, my motivation has just increased 100% percent!" -Cai Wen
- "Hey!" -Xian
It seems plausible to leave the circus boat heading downriver, and go on a side expedition to see if something more can be found out about the trouble at the temple, so the group takes one of the small boats and heads to the small port on the Tanzhe side. Asking around after the Temple of Eternal Dream at a bar turns up some description of them as "crazy monks who don't do anything" but directions can also be provided. As the captain speculated, it's in the hills, and local gossip says that there isn't any trouble there yet, unless someone starts it, but if someone does start trouble, that's where it'll get started. However, now there's new gossip to add, about the Circus Evacuation of the Monks, which is interesting enough to start embellishing.
Army, Army, and Temple
The party troops onto the Tanzhe Plain towards the hills where the temple should be. After some hours of walking, people start to spot something on a nearby hill, but those with sharper eyes note that it's not a temple, it's a battle encampment. As they get closer, flags of Savanna clans can be seen. They discuss whether to detour around the army, or walk straight through and possibly have trouble? Xian worries that whatever is going on is urgent, and they can't spare the time for the detour, but being captured might well waste more time.
Master Zhou takes this time to get a better description of the dream from Xian:
- Yuwen, is standing on top of a hill, shouting. There are spooooooky shadows and ominous movement down the hill below her. "Hello? Hello? Is anyone out there? Can you hear me? If anyone remembers this in the morning, please help! I'm at the Temple of the Eternal Dream, in the Savanna, er.. on the Tanzhe Plain. They won't wake up, and I think the army is going to - wait, what?" (At this point, the shadows swirl around a lot more, and move up the hill somewhat). "Hello? Hello? Is anyone out there? Can you hear me? If anyone remembers this in the morning, please help..." but then you wake up.
Master Zhou thinks the shadows are disrupting the dream somehow, but it's not clear what that means.
In the end, the group detours widely around the army, and gets to a vantage point where the next hill over can be seen - there's a building at the top, with gargoyles at the four corners, with a small figure sweeping the steps of the temple. Xian thinks this is the same hill as his dream, but there wasn't the building there in it. Wei Han starts to get a bad feeling about the area, which usually means something about undead.
Shen-Ji recognizes the gargoyles as statues of baku (which he met one of at the Night of Gates party). Ah, that's somewhat reassuring - baku are the good ones, so they aren't actually monsters. Hey, why wasn't the temple in the dream? Master Zhou explains that in order to see the dangerous part, the baku couldn't be in the dream or they would have eaten the darkness, but no one else really understands what he means there.
The road up to the temple appears to be watched by scouts from the Savanna, but there are also scouts on the other side, probably from an army in the other direction. Min Feng thinks she can sneak up without being spotted, but not everyone is so sneaky. Perhaps she can go up and find out if there's a secret entrance? Cai Wen draws a drop of blood from his ferret (which gives him a very reproachful look until he distracts it with peanuts), wears the party's magic monocle, and gives Min Feng his ferret. Then, she and Master Zhou sneak up the hill.
At the top, there's a young man in monk's robes, nervously sweeping the steps. Min Feng thinks he's very concerned, and also not really sure why he's sweeping. Master Zhou notes that this is perfect high ground to control the local area. The pair lets the monk know that they're there, but Min Feng reminds him to keep sweeping in case people are watching. Is he in need of assistance? "Yes!" he responds. "The monks are in dire need of assistance!" Well, there are people here to help, but they want to get to the monastery without being spotted. Can he help with that? Well, he could take the cart down to the nearby town to get food, and they could hide in the cart on the way back.
Master Zhou writes a note: "We're sending the monk with the cart to come and get you" and shows the note to the ferret, greatly puzzling the young monk. Min Feng disguises herself as a similar monk, and stays and sweeps the stairs, while the original monk goes down with the cart. The plan of Secretly Fetching the Party is successful, without (as far as they know) any of the scouts spotting them, though Min Feng does get pretty bored with sweeping and has to make resolve rolls, so once the monk returns, she gives him the broom back.
The young monk explains (while sweeping) that the monks are dreamwalkers, who follow the Eternal Dream. Normally only a few of the monks are in the Eternal Dream at any one time, but now none of them are waking up. The Master told him, before going into the dream, that "So long as the steps are clean, the sleepers shall be safe," so he has been continuously sweeping the steps, but he doesn't know what else to do.
Min Feng asks if the monk's name is Yuwen - he pretends to be confused and not knowing what she's talking about, but she's pretty sure he's lying.
Merit ponders the steps-cleaning thing, and thinks it's probably literally about cleaning the steps, so the monk hasn't misunderstood, but he doesn't know why it's important. Meanwhile, everyone starts to explore the monastery. Once inside the walls, there's a ticking sound which seems to resonate everywhere. The main floor has living quarters, a small number of sleeping quarters (with no one in them). A spiral staircase leads down, and an archway leads up to a short tower above.
Shen-Ji and Wei Han go down the stairs. There's a big "crypt" below, with twelve biers, and eleven monks sleeping upon them. Some of them seem to be somewhat dehydrated, but Merit is able to get them to drink a bit of water even while sleeping. Min Feng discovers a hidden niche in the column at the center of the spiral - inside the niche is a box with a metronome in it. It doesn't appear to be moving now, though. Shen-Ji thinks the metronome is a magic item - probably an aid to meditation - but they aren't under a sorcerous influence. Upstairs, the tower view gives people standing in the tower +3 Tactics skill to observe the area. Wei Han contemplates the tactical situation: the armies are about even; while they aren't starting to move yet, they're in a state of readiness, so if one starts to move the other one will likely do so as well. Perhaps if one gets reinforcements before the other does, that will trigger the battle.
The young monk starts to get a little exasperated as everyone runs about the monastery while he's trapped sweeping, but then Xian and Cai Wen ask him some more questions about exactly what has happened. Normally, the sleepers rotate through the Eternal Dream, a few sleeping at a time. Then, the first few didn't wake up, so others went to sleep to find them. Then, they didn't wake either, so the rest went in, giving him the instructions about keeping the stairs clean. After this explanation, the apprentice monk convinces Cai Wen that he needs to go off and contemplate all this while he talks to Xian. Cai Wen also finally notices that the apprentice monk is a girl, and points this out to others, though many of them are not so surprised.
Shen-Ji wonders if he could get the metronome to match the speed of the ticking they can hear. Probably not, as it seems to be very old and broken, and no longer capable of moving on its own. But wait, it's actually the source of the ticking anyway - ah, that's what the magic item part does. The group asks the apprentice if the ticking is normal. Yes - it helps the dreamwalkers enter the dream without assistance. Would turning it off help? He doesn't think so - that would make it harder to enter the dream, but it won't actually wake them.
Can the others enter the dream too? Yes - the monastery allows people to enter without a shtick, and the biers let the dreamwalking skill be intrinsic. What is the dream world like, Merit asks. The monk says that it is much like the realized world, but it can provide insight, can allow you to see into the realms Above and Below, or let you explore strange other worlds.
However, even if the Dream Masters were to wake again, they won't be able to fight armies on their own. Merit considers the question of "what would an undead army that no one else can see be good for?" Well, really, what couldn't it be good for? An army no one knows about is always a huge tactical advantage, and if undead means unkillable, or "the people on the other side who fall get up on my side", that's also pretty useful. Shen-Ji doesn't think there is any necromancy going on inside the monastery, though. And Wei Han doesn't notice any creepy dead vibes on the inside, only when he's outside the walls. (The apprentice monk clarifies that the feeling of death is a much more recent phenomenon - it's not always like that.)
Merit pokes his head out the tower window to talk to the statues of the baku: "Oh spirits who watch over this place... we kinda want to help out." Being statues, they don't answer him, but he gets a warm appreciated feeling. Shen-Ji tries as well and gets a similar feeling. Talking to the statues is suddenly popular, so Shuyan tries, and with slightly more success, gets a warm and comforting feeling of sleepiness.
Xian is more successful in talking to a baku statue, in that he suddenly collapses and falls asleep. Wei Han carries him downstairs to the crypt, and puts him on the empty bier. After a bit of consultation, the group decides to bring some spare sleeping pallets downstairs, put the monks on them, and leap into the dream world after Xian.
In the Dream
Turning up first, Xian gets to look around. The temple itself looks just like it does in the real world, but the landscape beyond the walls is strangely iconic in places. The only difference in the temple is that the four baku statues are gone. Xian feels like the baku he was trying to commune with is off in a direction towards a small stream he sees in the distance.
Between him and the stream, however, are several spectral armies. They seem to be all of different times, and in many different uniforms, with differing weapons and armor and so on. They are fighting each other, completely surrounding the temple, but not apparently taking any notice of it. You couldn't get anywhere without going through one of those spectral battles though.
Back in the real world, everyone else attempts to go to sleep, but nothing seems to happen. People discuss whether they should be trying to make their resolve rolls or fail them, until someone notices that Xian's body is missing, as are the other monks.
At that point, Xian calls down to them from upstairs - "it's boring down there, come up here!" He gives them a tour of the monastery as it is in the dream world.
People consider looking for the monks - those who try hard enough make chi rolls, and those who succeed well enough (Xian, Shuyan, Master Zhou, Shen-Ji) vanish, and appear elsewhere in the dream world, by the stream Xian saw in the distance (a tributary of the River between the Dream world and the World Above, as it turns out), with the monks. Some of the monks are wounded and others are tending them; some are throwing rocks across the stream, and some are fighting against dreams of spiders. The baku form the corners of a square perimeter of defense around the monks.
Master Zhou introduces himself and asks if they are in need of assistance. They seem to think the question hardly needs asking, but yes, they do. Wei Han takes the place of one of the monks battling the spiders, so that he can talk to the group.
They have three problems:
- On the other side of that stream is a butterfly, trapped in a spider's web. It must be freed. As they are not spirit walkers, they cannot cross the river to free it.
- They are throwing rocks at the spiders who are attacking the butterfly on the other side; on this side, spiders are also attacking them.
- The wounded are unable to dream themselves back to the monastery; they cannot simply carry them because there is the spectral army in the way. The army, they think, probably has to be dealt with in the realized world rather than here.
Cai Wen speaks to the monks about what asking for insight entails. They ask him what problems weigh on his mind - the answer is Lucky Chang. Luckily for him, he's not actually looking for Lucky Chang, just for insight, so he sees a meandering path through the Twelve Kingdoms, leading to Iron Mountain. The monks warn people, "Do not actually seek your enemy in the dream unless you believe you can deal with them while you are awake. For if you find them, and you do not believe you can take them, you will not be able to."
Wei Han thinks about how one might safely get a small group from here to the monastery through the spectral armies. Sadly, he doesn't think it seems possible. The options seem to be to clear an actual path through the armies (probably by doing something in the realized world) or healing the monks here.
Shen-Ji suggests that if someone wears the skin of Amikiri, they might be able to cross the river into the World Above. Unfortunately, it has been left behind with the circus, so it will be something of a trek back. The people at the dream-monastery see Shen-Ji briefly appear, then go into the monastery, then vanish again; he can get out past the Savanna army on his flying disk, but it will take him most of the night to get there and back.
Shuyan starts to heal the monks with her snake - this seems to get them to rest easier, but doesn't wake them up. But the spirit-world river starts to approach more closely, much to everyone's consternation. The monks are intrigued, but don't know what that means.
Xian asks for more details about the spectral armies. They aren't sure exactly what is happening, but they think there is a battle going on, or about to go on, which is stirring up the dead of battles past. The Tanzhe Plain has been the site of bitter bloodshed for countless generations. If the battle were stopped, or moved, that might let the dead rest more easily again.
Shuyan tries to return to the monastery, but isn't able to reach it. Instead, she has the insight that it is probably in danger tomorrow. The dreamers left at the monastery do manage to get to the monks at this point, though.
Shen-Ji reaches the circus boat at this point. The Savanna army troops are searching for contraband weapons - Shen-Ji helpfully starts pointing out the knife-thrower's knives, the flaming clubs, and so on. He ends up spending about 5 li replacing the confiscated circus weapons, but does distract them from the actual important stuff, such as the Tincture of Pure Respite.
The group discusses other possibilities. What if they move the monks' bodies to somewhere else? It would have to be somewhere that is a significant landmark in the dream world - like the Golden Spire, or the Warlord's Throne. But none of those are close enough in the real world to get to before the battle.
Merit examines the fallen monks, and determines that they're poisoned by spider venom. Min Feng starts shooting spiders, freeing up another monk for the discussion. Merit recalls the antidote to the spider venom - a particular rare flower in the Strand. Cai Wen thinks there may have been some near the Coil, and Merit himself remembers some during the search for other flowers for Master Hsi.
Two monks, Merit, and Master Zhou dreamwalk to the flowers, and end up in a glade surrounded by saparilla trees, but they manage to harvest flowers without too much trouble. Then, they dreamwalk back to the fight, but arrive slightly outside the safe zone. Master Zhou is bitten by spiders, and falls unconscious. Merit makes up the antidote from the flowers, but his successes don't beat the spider's successes, and it doesn't work. At least, that's the explanation that the monk gives - that seems unfair to him, since he got the actual flowers and it should just work!
Xian and Merit have a "there is no spoon!" moment, and decide to try to make an antidote without any ingredients. This is reasonably successful, in that they dreamwalk to an apothecary shop in the Hon'eth Arcade, buy some antidote, and dreamwalk back again. This is actually more successful, and the six successes defeats the spider venom. Master Zhou and the fallen monks begin to wake.
Crossing the River
Shen-Ji returns, wearing Amikiri's skin. Master Zhou offers to go with him across the river, though everyone else thinks that is a bad idea. Won't the Spiders try to get him? (Possibly) Will it even work? (Also possibly).
- "Are you sure that is a good idea, SIR?" -Wei Han
- "When he says "Sir" in that tone of voice, it means "fool"." -Cai Wen
The plan is made that Shen-Ji will cross, and if he needs help, Master Zhou will go after him. As it turns out, crossing while wearing Amikiri's skin is pretty easy - spirits going back to the World Above can do so easily. On the other side of the river, though, things look very different. It's dark and foreboding, and there are webs everywhere. The cartoonish spiders of the dream world have been replaced by seriously fearsome things that also look quite a bit more real. However, they do keep falling over (due to Min Feng and the others shooting them, not that Shen-Ji can see that any longer).
Shen-Ji flies up on his disk to try to cut the butterfly free, hacking at it through the webs with his sword. From the other side, it looks like Shen-Ji is just shaking the little web with the butterfly in it, and the spider density starts going up precipitously. People try to shoot them, and Merit tosses a coin of distraction over the river.
In the end, it's a close thing - the butterfly is freed (it flaps in gratitude, and then flaps off) just as Shen-Ji is bitten. As he falls, he tries to leap to get to the other side of the river again. He is falling short, so Master Zhou tries to world-walk, and grabs him and pulls him in. Zhou feels something beckoning to him from the other side, but it is likely Spider, and he doesn't succumb to the temptation. Everyone else can see the river part, briefly, Red-Sea-like, and a crossing to the World Above would be easy. The monks find this most remarkable, but no one is interested in making the crossing at this time.
Shuyan tries to dreamwalk to seek insight on what her I Ching reading means - a little passage through the river opens for her as well. This leads Master Zhou to realize that she hasn't finished the homework he assigned her, and there is some scolding.
Then, people dreamwalk back to the monastery. After a brief period of confusion in which the party remembers that they moved the bodies, everyone wakes up again. (A pair of monks stay behind to perpetuate the Eternal Dream.) People ask why the apprentice was set to sweeping - the head monk (Master Bao) asks if he is still sweeping, and on hearing that he is, nods in approval.
Wei Han thinks about what sort of defenses would be needed to hold the monastery against a small army. 20-30 trained soldiers with crossbows could probably do it, but none of the monks and most of the party don't qualify. One Dragon Army soldier trying to keep the peace would likely just be "accidentally" killed and then apologized for. Min Feng wonders whether it would be possible to move the fight, by trickery or some other method. What are the long term implications of having a battle here, anyway?
The monks say that this has long been a holy place, but it has also long been a fought-over place. If there is a real battle here, then the ghosts will be troubled for some time, but they will be able to re-establish things in the future. But it does mean that it will not be useful in entering the Eternal Dream for many months. (The building itself has a shtick; normally you need a personal shtick to dreamwalk.) If the battle takes place somewhere outside of the cleared area around this hill, it will probably be all right.
Various plans are contemplated, including Min Feng forging and sneaking in orders to go somewhere else; encasing the whole mountain in ice (the apprentice is particularly appalled by this idea); convincing an army that a different area is even more tactically valuable; having the baku do something clever to make them think something else (the monks say that the baku won't send nightmares).
A final plan is devised. Min Feng sneaks into the Savanna camp and comes back with a copy of their orders: the Third Blades of Redemption, under the command of Nam Cho, are ordered to take all needed actions in order to secure this area. Forged orders of a similar style are made, telling the Third Blades of Redemption that the Savanna is crossing the Jasmine River to attack the Forest directly, and that they should return with all speed in order to get in on the looting. Shuyan is disguised as a Savanna courier; with the ring of Feign Death, she can pretend to be killed by the Forest of Chin scouts and they'll get the message. Then, the party will come charging over the hill as reinforcements, before they can do more than take the message. A couple of people scout out a good location to stage this.
Still somewhat unhappy about the whole timing of this war (especially since the Dragon Army left months ago), Merit looks again at the original orders - wait, these are forged too! Can they just tell both armies that their orders were forged and then they'll go home? Well, the Savanna is unlikely to let the Tanzhe Plain go without a fight. And the Forest of Chin is unlikely to just retreat back out if they think they're winning. So, even knowing the orders are forged may not help. Still, that can be tied into the "new" orders to make them more plausible.
The monks agree to send dreams to both sides saying that their orders may be forged (they are unwilling to send false insight, but people think it is likely that both sides have been duped). The courier message is adapted to have more of a tone of "You idiots, what are you doing way out of position, the real action is at the river invasion!"
Xian notes that, as an additional bonus, he can make the monastery look fortified, so if one of the armies is wavering, it might think twice about attacking.
The plan is enacted! Shuyan, disguised as a Savanna courier, runs past where some Forest of Chin scouts are hiding. They shout at her to stop, and when she doesn't, shoot at her. She's hit by six arrows, and falls down quite convincingly dead with the Feign Death ring. The scouts search her and take the "message", but before they can loot her further and take the ring, the rest of the party charges intimidatingly over the hill, and the scouts flee.
Merit is terribly apologetic - he had no idea they would shoot her that much! Some healing later, she's up and around, though she notes that being dead hurt a lot less than being wounded.
Xian dresses up the fortress with a stick here and a flap of cloth there - somehow, from the outside, it really does look like like the stick and cloth and things are Dragon Army soldiers. It's quite fortified.
It comes to pass that the Forest of Chin army is fooled, and starts heading in the direction of the "actual invasion". The Savanna army, not knowing what's going on, makes a brief foray up the hill to take the high ground in the other army's absence, but decides that since the Dragon Army is already somehow holding it, they'll go after the Chin army instead. The spectral armies in the dream world begin to dissipate, and Wei Han's bad feeling about the area starts to calm down.
Before everyone heads back to the circus, a few people take the opportunity to get more insights from the Eternal Dream.
- Min Feng discovers something new about her secret group.
- Shen-Ji looks for insight about Phoenixes (the real ones, not the people with that Aspect or the Great Spirit).
- Wei Han and Master Zhou share a dream - Wei Han attempts to visit somewhere full of Death and Horribleness, but Master Zhou manages to tackle him to keep him from getting there.
This leads to a bit of an argument between the two about exactly what the heck Wei Han is doing (he can't say) and why he can't say (he was ordered not to say).
- "Are you saving the Empire or obeying one man's orders?" -Master Zhou
- "Yes, sir."
- Cai Wen and Wei Han visit Malkoha in the Harbor of Fortunate Arrival
- A bunch of people (Shen-Ji, Master Zhou, Cai Wen, Takanata, and Yoshi) go on a field trip to visit the Exalted Library in the City of Light.
- Takanata, as well as several others (Anto, Min Feng, Master Zhou, Cai Wen, and Xiao Fa) visit the Temple of Eternal Dream again.
- Master Zhou and Xiao Fa visit the Brilliant Dawn monastery in the Port of Auspicious Voyage.