Whatever Happened to Hana?
|"In sorrow we must go, but not in despair."|| The run takes place on the Day of the Early Tortoise in the Month of the Crane in the Year of the Dog of the Fourth Treaty of Houses|
The run takes place in various places north of the Wall
To the North
The party relaxes at Tahiti, wondering after other people (and ghosts) that they have not seen in some time. Whatever did happen to Hana after being rescued by Takanata? Is she an Empire abomination in the North now? Does that include rampaging?
News from the North, to the extent that there is some, suggests that there may be more lower-level abominations now because three great ones were destroyed in the war. There might be a new great abomination, but the details are fuzzy (and definitely don't say "good abomination" or "Imperial abomination"). It might be tricky to track her down - she was last seen vaguely in the northeast, but that's pretty big.
Lijuan wonders if Ho could track her down with a scent from one of her old socks, but Butler points out that Hana never lived in Tahiti. Master Zhou wonders if a ceremony could send her messages, the way burning ghost money and offerings does, but that has its own difficulties, since the World After functionaries wouldn't just be able to deliver something to her by way of the bureaucracy. Cai Wen thinks about it with True Bureaucracy, and thinks that maybe the afterlife bureaucracy could deliver north of the Wall with sufficient pressure, but even so they would need to know where to deliver to. Shen-Ji thinks about rituals. Maybe the Elemental Braid could help design something, or he could try to detect the power she picked up from the broken Death Staff, if he was nearby.
All of these seem somewhat iffy. Lijuan is keen to try the bureaucracy ritual but Cai Wen is worried that there would be consequences if they try to compel the afterlife bureaucracy to carry out an impossible task.
The only thing remaining, it seems, is to search the North for Hana.
The group proceeds to the Wall, leaving behind the Talismans and bringing some basic Northern disguises. The Wall is being repaired and is guarded by the Dragon Army, which tries to shoo people away, but Cai Wen tracks down Lieutenant Chiyo for some off the books recon.
Chiyo is a little suspicious that Cai Wen's northern abomination friend is very pretty, but agrees to help them sneak across that night, across a gate that has just had a dinner delivered to its guards. She says she's heard that the abominations are not having a good day, and the Northern shamans are confused because there are not more small abominations to control as they might have expected.
- "We could go to the Life Temple. They mostly don't try to kill us there." -Master Zhou
Lijuan finishes her prophetic art.
Hey! Is that the Life Temple in the center? Master Zhou contemplates the question, and then is confused to note that fifteen successes really should be enough to answer a simple yes/no question with Interpret Omens. Cai Wen tries with some extra fortune thrown in, and gets as far as "It's complicated." The answer is obviously no, but kind of yes. Maybe it's actually "anti-yes". From this, the group concludes that Hana has taken over the Life Temple and now it's the Death Temple. That would explain the interpretations. So... is the swirly black cloud mostly Hana? Mostly.
The Temple Formerly Known As The Life Temple
The party rides towards the location formerly known as the Life Temple. Deng spots several Northern warrior ghosts heading across their path, but they don't seem to be paying particular interest to the group, and he lets them pass. After a while, a hazy snuffling beast-thing that is partially visible to ghost-sight and not at all visible otherwise, follows along the trail of the ghosts. When the ghost's path crosses the path of the party, though, the beast gets confused and circles around, and then it heads back the way it came. Master Zhou is pretty sure it's a horrible death-beast of some kind.
As the group enters the territory of what still looks like the Life Temple, a patrol comes to meet them. As in the past, the riders wear clothes/furs of different clans, but there are only three this time.
- "Why do you come to this place, and are you alive or dead?"
- "We come to visit the Life Masters, and we are very much alive."
- "What business have you with the masters of life?"
- "We have gifts, and wish to consult on a matter of strange happenings."
- "Harm no one, and you may head to the land of life."
Having passed the initial screening, they head to the temple. Deng spots a snuffle-beast-thing chomping on a ghost and then fading off into the distance. Master Zhou, peering more closely, thinks that it is just fading and not fading into the distance, and also notes that he feels as if he is climbing the gradient of Life, such that the world of Death is becoming farther away. Whatever that signifies.
There are camps of refugees around the Life Temple, and Cai Wen and Lijuan ask around to gather what information they can. Rumor has it that the Beastmaster of Men has gone into hiding, or to recover from wounds, or to return from the dead. The clans are in disorder and generally things are chaotic. No one talks about running away from snuffling beast-ghosts, though, and while ghosts are still in the class of "to be avoided", the necromancers also got pummeled in the war and aren't causing too much trouble. Lijuan gives the urchins her pork buns and they are duly impressed.
There is a line at the temple, but it seems to be fast-moving. People aren't being let in, though, just dismissed. They seem to be asking questions about food and healing, and being told that someone will come out to distribute food later, and provide healing at a different later.
The party goes through the line, and Shen-Ji offers his vial of "Death-be-gone" stabilizer as a gift. This is deemed a sufficient offering, and they are escorted into a sitting room to wait, until a Life Master enters.
- "This is a powerful tincture. Might one ask where you acquired it?"
- "From the south. One of the few small victories."
Shen-Ji asks if the Life Master can tell them more about the situation with the abominations. He hears again that the abominations were dealt a great blow by the South.
- "It is the time of new things: making new children and growing new crops. The abominations will not bother us for a time."
Shen-Ji asks about the death monter they saw on the path, but the Life master doesn’t reall completely hear the questions and doesn’t seem concerned. Master Zhou, listening closely to what is said and unsaid, thinks that something in the conversation has broken down - that the world is just a little bit broken here, and when they talk about the wrong thing, the words just slip between the cracks and away. As Shen-Ji tries to focus on talking about necromancers and ghosts, the conversation frays and tatters even further. Master Zhou tries, experimentally, to talk to Cai Wen about ghosts, and while he manages to persevere, Cai Wen doesn't seem to really be listening.
Shen-Ji tries to tell what's going on magically, and rolls his Life stat (which is doubled), but his other Life stat is suppressed... no, not quite suppressed, more like pushed away. It's... as if there are two magnets very close to each other and pushing each other away, and right now Shen-Ji and the rest of the party are being pushed into the Life direction.
Master Zhou looks around with True Worldwalking, and confirms that they are in the part of the world that has been pushed lifewards, as the structure has cracked. It isn't possible to walk in the deathwards direction from here, but if he walked in from outside, perhaps. That would be easier if he was dead.
Having gotten everything they can learn from the life master, the party asks if they can stay in the waiting room for a little while longer as the rest of their boon from the Life Masters. That is acceptable, so they stay there while they continue to figure out what's going on. For one thing, it really doesn't seem like this is "formerly known as the Life Temple" - it's just "the Life Temple".
Master Deng suggests that he use the Sword of Truth on Shen-Ji: this will cut away any bindings on him such that he can make his own choices/decisions about one issue. When he does so, Shen-Ji is presented with a quick choice: Life or Death? He chooses Death, and from everyone else's point of view, Master Deng chops him right out of the world.
- "I've always had some concerns about Shen-Ji but this seems extreme." -Cai Wen
They pull out the ghost money, in case burning it to Shen-Ji would help, and Cai Wen instantiates a spiritual scoreboard. It's still tied, which... is probably good.
Massage or Torture
Meanwhile, Shen-Ji is in a slightly more sombre waiting room, one without the rest of the party in it any longer. A young Northern woman comes in with a pile of towels and hooks.
- "Oh! Sorry, one moment, I didn't have you listed... Are you massage or torture?"
- "Massage" -Shen-Ji
He gets a nice massage, though Shen-Ji thinks she is more enthusiastic than trained. He strikes up a conversation, trying to figure out how she likes her job and her boss. She isn't really keeping any secrets, and says that it is definitely better than being chased by monsters. No, she doesn't get to spend much time with the Supremely Unliving. No, most people don't choose torture - she actually thinks she might be better at that than at massage. No, this really isn't what she expected when she died at all. Getting chased by horrible death beasts, sure. Being a masseur-torturer, not so much. But it's better than the alternative!
Anyway, she says that if he goes down to supply, they will set him up with some new clothing, but he can keep the towel in the meantime. Oh, and he definitely needs to pick up his rock. He should have gotten that at the entrance.
Shen-Ji proceeds out of the little massage/torture room, and passes through an area where they are serving drinks, and serving meals - but some of the drinks look really unappetizing, and some of the meals are fighting back. It's like.. a full service flower house but really badly done. Additionally, none of the staff really know what to do about the fact that Shen-Ji doesn't have a rock. Everyone wants to see his rock, but when he doesn't have one, they don't know how to react, so they just let him pass.
Back at the Life Pagoda, Cai Wen realizes that the prophetic art isn't of the Life Pagoda - it looks exactly like it and is in the same location, but it's presumably the Death Pagoda.
Metaphysically, life is in one direction and death is in the other, but blood isn't accounted for yet. Maybe shedding enough blood can allow transition? Lovely thought.
When they leave, Master Zhou confirms that that should work - everyone needs to shed N hit points of blood, where N = their highest substat. (Shedding less might get you there with smushed stats). Cai Wen covers Chiyo's hit points, the Danger Squad has to cover their own hit points, and Ho stays in the refugee camp.
The death beasts try to come for them, but are turned away by the smell of blood. Then, they reach the Death Pagoda, which is again more sombre than the Life Pagoda but otherwise generally similar in appearance. There is not a line outside, but the waiting room is very large, and full of Northerners, many grievously wounded or even with weapons still in them. An attendant tells them to take rocks, and someone will see them... well, not shortly, but someone will see them eventually.
The rocks don't appear to be numbered, and it isn't clear what they are for, until another attendant comes and wants to know who is next. Lots of people wave. Who has a rock? Almost everyone waves. The attendants take someone who has a rock.
- "What is this total lack of logistics?!?" -Master Zhou, offended by the chaos
Lijuan first aids a person with the sword through him, but it doesn't seem to be discomfiting him much, and he isn't bleeding.
Shen-Ji walks in, wrapped in a towel, looks around, notes that this isn't Supply, and starts to leave. People shout at him, but he doesn't hear over the general noise of the room. Cai Wen uses his ringmastery projection to shout Shen-Ji's name as they run after him. He stops, and then when they catch up in the hallway, he explains what he's been up to.
- "They're trying to build a World After but they have no bureaucracy skill!" -Master Zhou
An attendant tries to get them to stop milling about in the hallway, and then scolds them for not having rocks. Cai Wen tries to pretend to be an inspector, here to question the staff about the Supremely Unliving one.
- "Describe the Supremely Unliving One? Who are you?"
- "I'm Zhu Cai Wen."
- "What sort of a weird Southern name is that? What is your clan? Wait, I don't think we've ever had an intruder before, I'm going to go and ask about this."
The attendant heads off to find out what to do about intruders, and the party happily trails after them to the office of the Supremely Unliving One. There is an outer office full of people waiting impatiently to go see the boss, but Cai Wen jumps the queue and gets everyone in to see her - and in fact, Hana looks a lot more like Hana than she has in a long while.
- "You're here! Oh, are you all dead? That's sad."
Their state of deadness is clarified, and Hana says that she is trying to build a Northern afterlife, but the dead don't really know what they should be doing, not having had one before. Does the party want to stay on and help out?
- "Is this wise?" -Master Zhou
- "It has to be better than wandering and howling and being eaten by abominations." -Hana
- "Are the death beasts yours?"
- "The emissaries? They're bringing back people into the Pagoda."
- "By eating them?" -Master Zhou
Hana facepalms. Apparently, the expectations of the surrounding populace are highly influential here.
Speaking of expectations, Lijuan takes the opportunity to complain about the pumice. Hana looks surprised - she hasn't added any pumice. Is there pumice? Well, no, but there are rocks, which are related to pumice.
Anyway, Hana had been trying to help ghosts cross the wall to get to a decent afterlife, but that's hard for Northern ghosts, and the afterlife throws some of them out anyway. Then, she got captured and tortured but she got over that, and found herself with enough power to make an afterlife. She built it on the Life Pagoda grounds because of the protections from abominations, and it turns out that it's super-deathy, which is surprising.
People raise some objections to the Hana's bureaucracy, but she says she wasn't trying to build a bureaucracy, she was trying to build a refuge and, well, a flower house, because that's what she knows how to build. Bureaucracy seems so unelegant! Lijuan offers to send Lu Cin Da to help, but is shouted down.
Master Zhou suggests training. Hana kind of thinks being dead means she's beyond training, but he gets enough successes to talk her into it (as a reward for his dedication to the charismatic arts). As it turns out, taking the boss out of the loop for an hour is nearly enough to make the entire place fall apart, so Cai Wen steps in and starts making some decisions in the meantime.
Master Zhou learns that building the Death Pagoda against the Life Pagoda is stressful, but it's not actually disastrous. They're balanced and they have to be balanced. As Hana's afterlife grows, she will become more powerful, and the life masters will perforce become more powerful. The pagoda and the beasts and so on - that's not real estate she bought, that's an extension of her will, and while she has a lot of excess power, she really wasn't built to run an entire World on sheer willpower, and she’s kind of fraying around the edges but still making a go of it. All the terrible power she has amassed is invested externally, leaving her core self talking to Master Zhou.
Cai Wen wonders what she needs to really run this place. Bureaucracy for 9s says she needs some experienced organizers, like bureaucrats - number the rocks, figure out who is supposed to be getting torture vs. massage, that sort of thing. Bureaucracy for 11s says that's Cai Wen's preconceptions about what the afterlife should look like. (Hana hasn't ever been to the World After, remember). Sending her people who are good at running flower houses might end up with a different result. True Minigames suggests that it could be someone's project now to assist with it and get some benefits later. Or, they could leave it as Hana's project.
- "It likely won't be an issue this Comet.." -Mike
Master Zhou contemplates how it might or might not stay stable, with World Walking. The main thing is, it is all built with just Death - it isn't metaphysically possible to be a full world with just one stat.
Shen-Ji, perhaps surprisingly (or perhaps strategically) weighs in with "Hana is a party member and a friend and we should support her in her endeavors", and thinks that the two priorities should be:
- Make it stable
- Make it not junky
It does seem stable, at least for now, according to Master Zhou. So maybe they can help make it the Spa After. In any event, Shen-Ji thinks she doesn't have a grand strategic vision, and it might help to have that. Or at least some more organization.
- "My strategic vision is "No howling in the desert until you are devoured" and my skill set is "Flower House"." -Hana
Lijuan declares that she'll stay and help until (just before) her baby is born, and Hana is grateful for the assistance. If anyone else can find someone to send to help, she would also be grateful.
Cai Wen thinks that the World After could probably get a message here now that there's an address, though it would still be difficult. Master Zhou offers to teach Hana and some of the other ghosts bureaucracy. Hana is more into the hospitality side of things than the bureaucracy side of things, but is willing to learn.Hana tells the assistants to give them some rocks - pass them along to anyone they send up here, so they'll be recognized. Everyone regards the rocks with bafflement, but take them, and everyone (sans Lijuan) heads back to Tahiti.