Worlds and Oceans
|"Though all rivers flow into it, the sea never overflows."|| The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place on the Moon's First Daughter
On the Land
Grasshopper is down by the dock playing with the young panda whale he has named Bubbles, when Renyu wanders by. He notes with a smile that he has an affinity for such things, and offers to take him on a tour the following day, of various domains of the Whale. Grasshopper need only meet him tomorrow at dawn at the docks, and all will be arranged. Intrigued, Grasshopper agrees.
Later, at the tea tent, Grasshopper mentions his upcoming trip to Xiao Fa. Ah, Xiao Fa thinks he should go as well, and Xian, also in the tea tent, perks up his ears. Grasshopper wonders if Xian is related to the First Daughter of the Moon? His temple has... something to do with the Moon, right? Xian says no, he's not related to the Moon, and he doesn't really trust Her. And it's actually kind of anxiety-provoking to not trust something as large as the Moon. This leads to the question of how large the Moon actually is, an unanswered question which will continue to plague the group, mostly due to Grasshopper's interest in such things.
Xiao Fa mentions, as well, that he just had a run-in with Whale on the Moon's First Daughter, and that has made it clear that Moon and Whale have some sort of agreement. Hmm. How does Captain Xie come into this relation? The Captain has mentioned before that he is less close in blood than the Son of the Moon. On the other hand, Moon talks directly to Captain Xie.
The idea of changing one's Aspect arises, and Grasshopper perks up - could he change into a Dog? How would that work? Well, Xiao Fa obviously has changed his Aspect, and Xian points out that Master Zhou has also changed his Aspect - he used to be a Tiger, but he has mellowed now and is a Tortoise.
- "He's a turtle like I'm a Crane..." -Grasshopper
- "You should think of him like a snapping turtle." -Xiao Fa
Xiao Fa and Xian declare that they're going to crash Grasshopper's trip - Xiao Fa in particular has a responsibility to make sure that Grasshopper is not led astray. Speaking of Xiao Fa's responsibility...
- "Did I tell you about the bee girl's people?" -Grasshopper
- "uh...?" -Xiao Fa
- "Tsai Su-Yin" -Xian
- "Well done!" -Laura and Mike
Grasshopper explains that he kind of accidentally told House Tsai that Xiao Fa knows more about what Tsai Su-Yin is up to now, and they may be sending someone to ask questions.
- "This bus is labeled House Tsai..." -Xian
Xiao Fa suggests that Grasshopper should have thought of a different way to approach this matter than to blame Xiao Fa. Grasshopper is crestfallen - he thought he was being clever to think of the connection with Su-Yin at all! There is some discussion of how being clever is not as easy as some people make it seem, and requires a lot of practice.
A circus hand comes into the tea tent, and lets the group know that... someone... outside wants to talk to the three of them. He's kind of spooked, and doesn't know who it was. Whoever it was, wanted them to come outside. The group heads out, cautiously, and a voice says "Psst! Hey, guys, over here!". It seems to be a horse.
The Large Horse Spirit explains that it's still the Month of the Spider, and he's still giving away horse points. He happens to have a favor that he needs done, that could earn them some big horse points. If they could just take this letter to the Tokai estate on the other side of the island and deliver it, as quickly as possible, that would be perfect. It shouldn't take them more than a few days.
Grasshopper says sadly that he has a previous engagement, but Horse is sure it's nothing binding. However, Grasshopper is still rather suspicious - why is this important enough to be lots of horse points, but not important enough to be worth using the extra-fast horses? Horse makes a lame excuse about not having any fast horses here right this moment, which Xian leaps on - if extra fast horses aren't actually available when they're needed, then horse points aren't so useful, are they? Grasshopper points out that Xian and Xiao Fa could go, but the Horse is pretty sure that the letter delivery is a three-person job. Xian joins in with the clamor of suspiciousness - why does it require three people to deliver one letter? Redundancy, Horse says. Well, are there three copies of the letter, then? Well, no.
- "Are there bandits at Takanata's house?"
- "Would that help?" -Horse
- "No! No!"
Horse gives the equine equivalent of a shrug.
- "Later, when people say... whatever it is they say, don't tell them I didn't try." -Horse
- "Well, should I tell them you tried? Immediately?" -Xian
- "No, well, why don't we keep this between us?" -Horse
Xian fishes the letter out of the saddlebags. It's a nice letter on good paper, addressed to Tokai Wanakaru, with Takanata's seal.
- "When did Uncle Ta... Tokai-sama give this to you?" -Grasshopper
- "Is that relevant?" -Horse
- "No I was just fishing for information." -Grasshopper
- "Well done." -Xian
- "Is the letter from Takanata?" -Xian
- "It sure does appear that way." -Horse
- "You forged the seal!?"
- "He's definitely not telling you that." -Xiao Fa
Horse admits that he can't just give away horse points, there are rules!
Xian breaks the seal and scans the letter.
- "Well, I guess there's no need for that, then." -Horse
- "Got any other offers?" -Xian
- "Any other offers would be... poaching on someone's turf. So I'll see you when you get back." -Horse
Xian, somewhat crossly, suggests that Horse not try to mess with them like this. If Horse has things that he actually needs, he can ask, but fake things just irritate him.
Xiao Fa checks with Grasshopper to make sure he understood Horse's plan there. Grasshopper agrees that Horse tried to trick Grasshopper into not going to visit Whale, but none of them really know why. Xiao Fa points out that Whale doesn't really care for Xiao Fa, as a Dragon, so maybe that has something to do with it?
Xian thinks about that whole thing, and decides that one thing to keep in mind is that Horse is not actually stupid. So if he was presenting a flimsy cover story, it wasn't that he didn't expect the group to see through it, it's that he expected them to welcome a cover, rather than to poke holes in it. So... he was offering them an excuse to not go on the Whale trip? And he was willing to offer them horse points for it? Speaking of that, are there even horse points? Xian doesn't think they seem plausible as part of the spirit economy. There are favors and boons and things, but "horse points"? It seems oddly fiddly.
- "It's like that girl Cai Wen likes." -Grasshopper
- "That would be all of them..." -Xian
- "So... the question is why Horse thinks we shouldn't want to take this trip... " -Xiao Fa
- "Horse doesn't do favors without an expectation of recompense, not just to save us from ourselves. So there's a reason Horse doesn't want us to do it too. " -Xian
- "Is it good for Horse to make Whale sad? That seems like what it would do." -Grasshopper
Well, it's still not really clear why Horse doesn't want this trip to happen, and it seems unlikely that they can figure it out beforehand. They'll just have to see what the day brings.
While Grasshopper is planning to buy some chum, Xiao Fa thinks a more dignified gift from himself might be appropriate. What sort of things are good gifts for a Very Large Whale Spirit? Well, that bottle with spirit energy is always an appropriate gift. But if Anto is going to use it to save the Bamboo People, it's better to not use it up now.
Grasshopper looks around for a chicken that might be inclined to make noise early in the morning and wake him up in time to buy chum. When he wakes, there's a little baby chick hopping up and down on his head. It appears a little sniffly, insofar as birds can be sniffly. Grasshopper feeds it tea and wraps it in a blanket, and then heads out to buy chum.
The other two are awoken a little while later by a manic cheeping coming from Grasshopper's tent. It appears that Grasshopper has captured a hyperactive baby chick and wrapped it up, for inexplicable reasons. Or, Xian points out, perhaps Grasshopper has been turned into a baby chick, and that's why it is cheeping so wildly. Xiao Fa checks the bird's chi, but it does not appear to be a person's worth of chi stuffed into a bird-size shape. In fact, its chi appears to be that of a baby chick.
Xiao Fa picks up the chicken to bring with him, keeping it wrapped up.
- "Either there's a reason it's all wrapped up, or there isn't, in which case it's a lesson." -Xian
- "Spurious, but compelling." -Xiao Fa
When they catch up to Grasshopper, Xiao Fa turns it into a lesson: do not caffeinate little birds.
Renyu shows up at the dock to meet Grasshopper, and he promptly asks if "Cheep" can come. Renyu doesn't see why not, and bows to Xian and Xiao Fa, saying that he will see them in a couple of days. Grasshopper leaps in to ask if Xiao Fa can come too, if that's okay? Renyu sighs and says that technically, yes, it is okay.
Xiao Fa says it would be prudent to mention - will they be taking the Moon's First Daughter? Renyu nods, and says that a more accomplished sea captain than Captain Xie the group will not have met. Xian says that he would also like to come - he understands Whale's situation and would like to understand more. Renyu allows that three is more auspicious than two, so Grasshopper may bring his two companions (apparently dogs and baby birds do not count in the tally).
Fog begins to rise at the end of the dock, and the group heads for the gangplank to the Moon's First Daughter. Captain Xie looks at Xiao Fa and sighs, and then takes Renyu aside. Renyu appears to reassure him, so he returns to say that all has been paid for, and they are welcome aboard. Xiao Fa takes Renyu aside, and notes that, since it came up before, he should mention that he's been touched by Dragon. Renyu notes that "we're well aware of that."
On the Sea
Juggling two buckets of chum and a baby chicken (and a dog, who doesn't need carrying), Grasshopper and the others head aboard. Captain Xie says that for this particular trip, Renyu has made special arrangements, so they need not stay below when sailing. Grasshopper shows off his buckets of chum, and Renyu gives him a look (which Xiao Fa's sense motive thinks is something like "that's adorable") before going below.
The coast recedes very swiftly, and Xiao Fa asks if they have already moved to "other waters". Captain Xie looks uncomfortable, but says yes, they have. Since they're allowed on deck, Xian and Xiao Fa both feel compelled to stay on deck and watch, no matter how boring it is for them. Grasshopper, on the other hand, is impossible to bore, as he points out fish and things that might be sharks. Lights begin to appear in the distance, leading the group to wonder if those are the lights of the Archipelago? Would there be people manning the lighthouses now? There were people in Three Piers - and it seemed too physical a place to be a part of the World Above.
After a few hours of travel, it is time for dinner, which is just the Captain, the three travellers, and Renyu. Various delicacies from the Isle of Beauty are served.
- "Did you learn anything above deck?" -Renyu
- "Not much." -Xian
- "Are those lighthouses? Who runs them?" -Grasshopper
Renyu declares that an excellent question, and notes that for all that they spent a day looking out over the true oceans, Whale has spent countless time doing this.
- "There is none that is as knowledgeable of the ways of the ocean as Whale, and so He offers you boons. As there are three of you, there will be three destinations:
- A place in the world which is not in the Empire
- A place which is in another world which is. (He clarifies, when Xian asks, that it would be easier if this world was in the Empire, but it is possible to visit a place which is not.)
- A place which is not, but which could be. "
These are the things that Whale wants them to understand - that He has knowledge and power, through His connection with the ocean and knowledge of its workings. Travel between these places is something He can freely offer.
After that, as there are three of them, they may have three questions. Once he has answered the questions, Whale will make three offers. Then they will return to shore.
So... where would they like to see first? Grasshopper, enthusiastic, really wants to see the place which is not, but which could be. Xian thinks that might be best saved for last, but Grasshopper is worried that he will be sleepy. Do they have a particular place which is not to visit? Nobody has one, so they suggest that Renyu pick one.
He thinks about it for a moment, then requests that Captain Xie take them to Three Piers. Grasshopper, puzzled, says that he thought Three Piers is. Renyu shakes his head, and says that it is not. If it were, he would have no work left.
Somewhere that Is Not
The Moon's First Daughter docks at Three Piers, and Renyu gives them a tour. He indicates the central fountain and its artwork - do they notice anything about it? It's pretty obvious, as there is neither Phoenix nor Spider, but there is a Dragon and there is a Whale. Renyu says that this place could be in the Hon'eth Arcade, if the world had progressed the way it should have. But now it is only somewhere that might be.
Xiao Fa asks after the other country names, and is shown to the village elders, who show them a map. Xian wonders - has time passed here the same as in the Empire? Here, it has, Renyu says. But it need not be so.
Xian also notes that when he was here before, they treated Captain Xie with respect and honor, but they treat Renyu as a great lord and prostrate themselves before him. Renyu seems to be trying to suggest to Grasshopper and the others that this is the sort of treatment that friends of the Whale gets. Xian suspects that Renyu doesn't quite approve of... something... but he's definitely trying to impress them, and he's essentially rolling his Charisma with no skill, as he is not learned in the arts of persuasion. When some of the village elders recognize Xian, though, Renyu is stunned. Renyu also notes that there are a few people in the village who share Xiao Fa's aspect - this is a place where other things needn't have changed. There are books of ancient knowledge here, and true maps. He's clearly fishing for what impresses Grasshopper, but since he hasn't thought of "urchins", he isn't having great luck. Grasshopper does seem interested in some of the animals that the village has.
Grasshopper wonders what happens if you go inland? Renyu says that in this particular place, inland is not a place you can go, as you will get too far from the ocean. Grasshopper starts marching determinedly inland.
Xiao Fa meditates for several hours. Three Piers seems to be very harmonious and well balanced - there is very little lack, and very little excess. All the chi flows downstream into the ocean.
Everyone else is mostly done with Three Piers at this point, so Renyu says they should probably collect Grasshopper, who has been hiking inland for several hours. It takes them a few minutes to catch up to him, and then they head the few minutes back to the dock.
Somewhere that Is, which is not in the Empire
Where would they like to go next? A place in another world which is, or a place in the world which is not in the Empire? At this point Takanata wanders up out of the hold, using (technically incorrectly) his Auspicious Arrival shtick to show up for a scene. Captain Xie says that Takanata arranged for a separate passage, and it's all legitimate, but everyone else is baffled. Xian gives Takanata the letter, but Xiao Fa insists that NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO DISCUSS IT.
Takanata suggests seeing the Southern World of Dreams (which is technically a place in another world which is not in the Empire, and so is harder, but Renyu did say they could go there). No one else is sure that that is the most useful place to go, so there is some argument, and as far as Renyu is concerned, Takanata doesn't actually get a vote.
Xian wants a list of all possible choices, but Renyu says that such a list would be beyond counting. But he could show them a place he thinks is interesting, if they don't have a preference. Xian thinks seeing what other people choose is informative, so he asks for Renyu's choice, for a place in the world which is not in the Empire. Grasshopper suggests that it should be a place with mountains! Or possibly pandas - but Xiao Fa glares him down.
- "Really? Pandas? Takanata is right here." -Xiao Fa
- "Would you like to see pandas?" -Renyu
- "No, he doesn't. He hates them." -Xian
The ship travels for a while, and then arrives at a dark green coastline. Renyu says that it would be inappropriate to set foot on it at this time, because it would be very difficult to get them back again in time. The ship sails down the coastline, and there are triangular huts, like round yurts, in view, and mountains in the background. Some inhabitants, with redder skin than the Empire natives, are fishing along the shore. Renyu says that this is one of the other lands - they have spent all their lives in the land that the Dragon seized, but there are others. Grasshopper wonders who made this particular land. Renyu admits that who truly made these things is not something he knows - similar to the question of who made the land on which the Empire sites.
Takanata looks at the coast with the Eyes of the I Ching. He can see that the little coastal villages has a bunch of tepees, but the village itself is also, in the chi, one large tepee. And on the top of the large tepee perches a large black bird. Takanata isn't very familiar with birds, so he's sure it's not a magpie, but he doesn't recognize it. The bird eyes him carefully. Xian asks if this is far to the South (since the Southrons are also darker and redder than the people of the Empire), but Renyu says no, it is far far to the East.
Takanata wonders why there is not an Eastern Guardian, but Renyu says that questions are for later (and technically Takanata doesn't get one).
Grasshopper asks if they can wait for the moon to rise - he wants to see what it looks like here - and Renyu agrees. The ship sails south for a while, and then north again, and the moon rises. The moon looks slightly different - in the Empire, it has patterns which suggest a woman and a rabbit, while here, the shapes are the same, but the patterns they make seem different. Then, there's a great howling, and a big... dog? is running out over the water, to Takanata's Eyes of the I Ching. Takanata isn't worried initially - it's a dog, and Dog is generally friendly.
He realizes, as it gets closer that it isn't a dog. The moon shifts, and a moonbeam shines on Captain Xie, and he tells the ship's crew to turn about, and the Moon's First Daughter pulls away from the spirit chasing them. The dog-thing sniffs deeply after the ship as it goes, and turns back to the shore, grinning.
The fog ship sails back to waters closer to home, and Renyu asks what third world they would visit - a place in another world.
A Place in Another World
Xiao Fa suggests that Renyu choose again, so he does so. The moon sets again, and things grow dark and grey, and the ship approaches another coastline. Renyu says that here, they cannot stop because they do not have a permit. The land beyond the shore has a appears to host a great walled city, with lines of people queuing up to pass through the gates. Grasshopper suddenly realizes this is familiar - he's been in one of those lines, back when he died.
People ask Renyu that if you can sail to the World After, how does burned spirit money get there. Renyu theorizes that smoke rises, and the upper airs shares certain properties with the ocean. The ways of the high airs are not as familiar to him as the ways of the ocean, though so he’s not so sure. Changing topics quickly, Grasshopper notes that the world above and the world below are in the Empire. Renyu agrees. Takanata points out that the North has its own world above and below.
Three Questions, and Three Requests
Now that they have seen the worlds that the ocean touches, they may ask their questions.
- How come there is not an Eastern Guardian? Or is there? (Grasshopper)
- Because on the East the Empire is bounded by the Ocean. While the Ocean connects all lands, it also separates them.
Grasshopper nods - the Ocean is the Eastern Guardian, he gets it! Renyu frowns a little.
- From who or what did Dragon seize the land that he built the Empire on? (Xiao Fa)
- Renyu puts his hand on the Talisman of the Whale for a moment, and clarifies. Dragon, with aid, built the Empire. He constructed it. There were lands and there were people in the place where he built the Empire before he built it. It was probably incorrect to say he seized the land from them - more that he built the Empire from them.
Xian muses about potential questions he could ask. One that he contemplates is how the large spirits and great spirits could be made able to see Spider's true nature. Another is about how one could do what Dragon did and build a new Cycle on the land they just showed us. Xiao Fa says they know an answer to the first one - make him overextend himself so he slips. And it's not clear that the second, though interesting, is really very useful, unless Xian thinks he can build a new Empire himself.
- Why was the Horse spirit so keen on preventing us from going on this voyage of discovery? (Xian).
- Because he does not wish you to realize that you have other options than following his plan, and that some of those opportunities are less pedestrian than what he offers. (Xiao Fa throws in Good Listener to get a bit more)
Horse is one of the more powerful spirits who is closest to humanity in both essence and temperament, but his very closeness means he can only offer you things that you can in some sense just get yourself, while those more divorced from humanity can offer you things you cannot even imagine. You have seen some of the things that Whale can provide, that he can grant access to. Now it is time for you to meet him.
Grasshopper gets out his buckets of chum, and dumps them into the ocean under Renyu's supervision. Several huge panda whales leap into the air, and then the Whale surfaces.
- "You have tasted a piece of my power and sampled that from my knowledge. What reasons would you have left to not join with me?"
- "I'll help you if I can, but I'm not authorized to join with you." -Grasshopper
- "If you do not have sufficient agency to decide your destiny, we can make more limited arrangements."
- "My destiny belongs to Crane." -Grasshopper
- "That is something we can help you with."
The Whale has three requests to make of the travelers on the Moon's First Daughter.
First, he asks of Xian: Convince, confound or persuade, any one of the Twelve to aid Whale in getting back in the Cycle, and he shall be deeply in Xian's debt.
Of Xiao Fa, he asks: Gain the Dragon's promise to come out to the deep waters to treat with Whale.
Of Grasshopper, he asks: Take up the Whale's aspect and carry his banner through the world, and he will be vastly rewarded. (With a radiation accident!)
Do any wish to accept? Grasshopper says he would want to know what he's giving up before he could accept. Whale says he would give up the unknown destiny that Crane has given him without even explaining to him what it is.
Xian notes that when last he was negotiating with Horse, and the matters they discussed were significant enough that they required some reflection, Horse seemed "kind of put out". He trusts that by nature Whale is somewhat more patient and aware of the great value of reflection and thought before making decisions.
Whale says that Xian will find that this is true. But while he reflects and thinks about his decision, he should also think of all the things that the ocean can lay open to you.
To Xiao Fa, the Whale only says that if Xiao Fa cannot agree now, he can choose to do so later. But if Xiao Fa does this for him he will have a boon of great worth. Then, the Whale submerges again. Renyu says that very few are so honored as to be taken directly into the Whale's service, and it would be folly to pass up such an opportunity.
- "Two things are weighing in my mind. One is, Whale legitimately got screwed, and that is an issue. Two, Whale took Kuan-Xi, and I don't like people being treated as pawns in this greater game." -Xian
- "In war, the smallest are often sacrificed, but you may take comfort in the fact that the Whale is a civilized opponent and returned her when treated with fairly." -Renyu
Then, the Moon's First Daughter puts back in to the Isle of Beauty. Captain Xie says that they would be welcome to travel on her again, if proper precautions are taken.
Takanata is left to wonder - given that the Whale has all these other places that he can go, why does he care about being in the Cycle?Grasshopper responds with his newly formed theory that cycle spirits are part of the Empire, and so are incapable of leaving the Empire. Even if Magpie were to cross the north wall, he would still be part of the Empire and so would not notice when countries' names changed or when one of their peers is secretly a skin walking demon.