ONCE UPON A JOURNEY TO THE WEST
Previously: A Dash of Preparation
Themesong: Go West by Pet Shop Boys
“And I hope you’re all sorry for what you did!” I glared at a full half of my companions, some of whom actually looked contrite… mostly elements of my family (Mini, Velma, the kids, but also Anne and AJ)… while the others were a mix of sulky (Raven, Brigid, Toph, & Uriel), rebellious (Ahab, Kendra, Bart, & Bao), and smug (Cirno, Carwyn, Francine, Gaius, & Meetra). The remainder of the ‘traitors’ each had their own reaction. Zane seemed indifferent, as if the lecture hadn’t applied to him. The Lost Choir looked as if they were more pleased to be being lectured than they had been about breaking the rules and were holding a dick-measuring contest of whose ride had been the most horrible. Amelia had taken it like a military officer being upbraided for breaking a rule that both she and the one doing the chewing-out knew had been for the best to be broken. Meetra looked like a Jedi, in that she was concealing her emotions completely. Joy’s expression showed that she understood my point, but considered it largely irrelevant… and Franchesca was asleep… on a tree-branch… without pants on.
I’d filled in my knowledge of who they had each been. Velma had been Siona, Raven had been Darwi, and Meetra had been Miles. Joy had been Duke Paul, Ahab Duke Leto, and Alex had indeed been Leto II… both of them. Hwi had been Amaryllis, who giggled at how she’d almost married her brother (not that there could have been anything sexual with the Jabba-esque Worm-Emperor). And Chani had been both Mini and Frankie in a double that was just… weird.
Maggie had, of course, been Alia, and I’d tanned her backside and then given her all the hugs and then a huge independant lecture and then more hugs. Oooo… sooo frustrating children can be.
Every one of them was grounded from the next… which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. They weren’t confined to the warehouse… they were just stuck using the Baseline Import Rule, which meant that they were also limited to defensive abilities and minor TP for the duration. Of course, I’d verified that the next jump was not, in fact, Assassination Classroom first. Letting my companions out when there was a chance the world could blow up under them was a bad move.
As it turned out, it was called ‘Journey to the Western’.
“Uh… Chamber. Is that a typo? I thought you said this was Journey to the West?”
“That is correct. But Zane made a joke that distracted me as I was linking the realities. As such, I accidentally connected to a version of Journey to the West set in the period of American History known as the Old West.”
“Wait… so, what, instead of going from China to India… we’re going from New York City to Los Angeles?”
“Boston to San Francisco, actually. Yes. Though you are not required to join the Monk’s journey, your stay will coincide with the quest to retrieve the Buddhist Sutras in the West and return them to the East.”
“I suppose that makes a certain twisted kind of logical sense… but… I suppose just offering to transport the quartet… oh. Sorry, quintet… can’t forget the horse… from one side of the country to the other would work?”
“That is entirely up to you, as always,” came the annoying response.
“Riiight. Just like Sun Wukong could have just transported Monk Tripitaka the across the vast distance but didn’t. It’s the journey, not the destination or something.”
“I am but a simple Chamber of the Ordeal. What would I know about facing tribulations?”
“Har… Har. Fine. What are we working with?”
“This is, essentially, the Journey to the West document with the Generic Western overlay. So you get 1000 CP and 1000 WP, plus up to 600 of each from Drawbacks, as usual,” the Chamber said. “Do you want to look at them first?
“Mmm… yeah. That might work… oh, my Floating Discount from Single-Shot… does that apply to both or just one? And do my feckless minions get CP and WP?”
“That is a good question. If you import them, you’ll get what you pay for, but you’d have to import them into each document to get their full points. Otherwise, they’d just get the basic… but they’d get both. You… I don’t really see that 100 CP being a gamebreaker… Sure, you can use it for both, but only once in each.”
“Gotcha… Roger Roger… mmm… I need someone to talk this stuff out with… but it can’t be someone who’s grounded… Petraaa!”
“Whaaaat?!” She stomped into view. “I was busy!”
“Busy with what?”
“Stuff!” She snapped… I don’t think she knows how cute she is when she’s crabby.
“Come over here and keep me company while I make choices,” I patted the arm of my throne. Petra eyed it and siiighed melodramatically, then clomped over in her overly large boots and glared up at me. Petra has always been shorter than me when we’re both humans. I default to just under 5 feet. Petra defaults to just over 4, and she’s built like a little fireplug.
“This is stupid. You don’t normally import me unless it’s a group import. Not that I care or anything,” She frowned.
“Do you want to be imported more?” I asked. She shrugged, then pulled away as I ruffled her hair.
“Nooooo… I mean, you don’t import Dyna or RayRay that often either. It’s okay. Not like you ignore us.”
“Well now I feel guilty,” I said, widening the seat and patting it until the grumpy metallic girl sat next to me with a slouch and a flump.
“You shouldn’t! Imports aren’t about friendship! They’re about utility! I don’t need more moves… I’m fine as I am. I don’t need to evolve more!”
I gave her a hug. “I know. But I feel like I’ve been ignoring you because you’re so quiet. You don’t have to just sit back and let the others monopolize me just because you’re shy.”
“I’m NOT SHY!” She blushed slightly blue and pouted. “What’s Journey to the West?”
“You’re changing the subject, but fine. Journey to the West is one of the Four Pillars of Chinese Literature… of which there are actually five. Bandits of the Marsh, also known as Water Margin; Romance of the Three Kingdoms… which the Dynasty Warriors games are based on; The Story of the Stone, also known as Dream of the Red Chamber; and The Plum in the Golden Vase, also known as The Golden Lotus, which is the fifth and widely banned for sexual content… and kind of an unofficial sequel to Water Margin.”
“That’s stupid… why would a banned book be considered a pillar of national literature?”
“Because it’s brilliant and ahead of its time. Very modern and one of the earliest true novels in world history. It’s been compared favorably to Tale of Genji, Pride and Prejudice, and Don Quixote. Sometimes a sixth book called ‘The Scholars’ is added to the group.”
“I haven’t read those either… they don’t have enough enemy squashing. I like Dynasty Warriors… I didn’t know they made a book of it.”
“Other way around, you twit. And you should read more.”
“Reading is boring! It takes all my attention, but only one of my brains!” I rolled my eyes and nuggied her.
“Fine. No reading. But to explain Journey to the West in simple terms is no easy task,” I said, leaning back and studying the ceiling. “At its most basic, it is the quintessential road-trip adventure. The Monk Tang Sanzang, usually just called Tripitaka after the main body of holy Buddhist texts… this is essentially like calling a christian priest ‘The Monk of the Bible’… sets off from the Tang Dynasty lands in eastern China for Tianzhu or the Dahila Kingdom… part of what you’d call India, where he plans to retrieve copies of the original Buddhist scripture to spread across China. The Chinese Goddess slash Buddhist Bodhisattva Guan-Yin or Avalokitesvara, seeing that Tripitaka is essentially helpless, supplies him with three guardians slash disciplines to serve him. They are promised enlightenment and amelioration of their former sins for this aid. Sanzang is based on the real world figure Monk Xuanzang, but while Xuanzang was wise and experienced, and went alone on foot, Sanzang is incredibly naive and idealistic… and rides a dragon that’s pretending to be a horse.”
“Sounds really boring.”
“Would you say that if I told you that the reason the Monk needs to be defended is because there are literally hordes of demons and monsters along the way who believe they can become immortal by eating the Monk’s flesh?”
“How about if I told you that the guardians include a former Heavenly Marshall named Pigsy or Zhu Bajie, who got drunk one night and tried to molest the goddess of the moon; a former Heavenly General banished for breaking the Divine Queen Mother’s goblet or vase in a fit of pique, named Sandy or Sha Wujing; and a former Heavenly Stablemaster who broke into the divine orchard, ate a bunch of the Peaches of Immortality, stampeded the Heavenly Dragon-Horses, and then broke into the heavenly pill forge and stole the pills of Immortality.”
“Wow… those are not the same level of crimes at all. Sands was a bit of a jerk. The Pig was an asshole… but that last one, he was like a terrorist… what did you say his name was?”
“Su… The Monkey King? I know him! He’s awesome! So this book is like fanfiction?”
“No, sweetie… This is the book Sun Wukong, or in Japanese Sun Goku, is from. Dragonball is essentially Journey to the West fanfiction. Though don’t feel so sorry for Wujing… after being exiled he became a river demon and ate the first nine monks who went to fetch the scriptures… he even wore a necklace made from their skulls.”
“Whoa… deep. So, they do all this stuff, kick all the demon-monster butt, and get the scrolls at the end?”
“In the original story? Yes. Tripitaka and Wukong become Buddhas, The Buddha of Sandalwood Merit and The Victorious Fighting Buddha respectively, Sandy becomes an Arhat, The Golden-Bodied Arhat specifically, and Pigsy becomes an Altar Cleaner.”
“Buddhas are the highest level of enlightenment, and Arhats are below Bodhisattvas… but Altar Cleaner?”
“He gets to eat the offerings at every Buddhist temple for eternity but doesn’t get enlightenment.”
“Wow… what a pig,” She snarked. “So… I ain’t never sat through one of these… what happens next?”
“Well, the Chamber was about to tell me what Drawbacks I could inflict on myself… and potentially all of you.”
“Yeah… those ones that screw us all are sooo wonderful! I like those the best!” She is such a brat… but she is a steel crab… with a big hammer.
“Oh, hush you. Sometimes they’re fun! Anyway… Chamber, what do we have?”
“Journey is not particularly verbose, with only 8 potential drawbacks. ‘Sealed’, which you won’t take, means the Buddha has sealed all your powers. Oddly, this is probably the safest jump I’ve seen to deal with such, since that gives you maxed CP and if you’re not following Tripitaka and company, all you have to do is survive Tang dynasty China for a decade.”
“Mmmm… I’ll think about it, but no, probably not. Only my powers? Not my gear? Not my warehouse or companions?”
“Nope. Just powers. And only the ones from out of jump,” The chamber confirmed.
“Huh. Not too bad for a six hundred. Next?”
“For 400 you can be forced to follow Tripitaka. But if he fails, you fail.”
“Heh. No. Chain-enders are never worth the stress. Xuanzang would be okay. He’s not an idiot… but Tripitaka is. Almost feel sorry for Sun Wukong, putting up with that never listens quick to punish twit.” I shook my head, then explained to Petra about how Wukong is controlled by an unremovable diadem on his head that tightens painfully whenever the Monk recites a mantra and how the monk repeatedly punishes Wukong for killing demons pretending to be humans without listening to or trusting Wukong at all.
“Sounds like an abusive Poketrainer… with a… mmm… Infernape, a Spoink, and a Gyrados… and some dragon as an HM slave,” Petra said, kicking her boots against the base of the throne. It was an annoying sound, but I toned it out and summoned a plate of poffins to keep her distracted.
“Sounds like, yeah. Next?”
The Chamber continued, “For 300, you can have earned the wrath of Heaven… meaning they’ll send out the same level of forces that could capture Sun himself… and their orders will be to execute you… or you can get your own circlet which will kill you if you kill the controller.”
“Who’s the controller?”
“Who can say? Someone who will have tasks for you to fulfill.”
“No chance on either of those. I’m not certain I can fight gods powerful enough to take down Sun Wukong, and letting some unknown control me… that’s a recipe for disaster. Next?”
“For 200 you can become a hot-head with poor impulse control and no knowledge of propriety, procedure, or etiquette. You’ll be able to relearn those skills, but it won’t stop improve your attitude. Also for 200 you could be a vegetarian… no meat at all. Fruit, Vegetables, and Grain.”
“That sounds more like vegan than vegetarian, but I could do that,” I said, considering carefully as I rubbed my chin.
“Aren’t you morally opposed to vegetarianism?” Petra commented.
“Rather, I deny there is morality inherent in it. It’s a choice no better or worse than most. I don’t endorse it, but I don’t think those who embrace it are foolish or repugnant. And I do like fruits, nuts, and grains. Milk and Eggs, Butter and Cheese, those things are wonderful and I’ll miss them… but a decade is a short enough time. I’ll be okay. That’s +200… eh, toss in the other one too.’
“Undisciplined?” Petra asked, looking at a pad with just the names of line-items and prices.”
“That’s got to be the one, yeah. See, there are only two +200 drawbacks, so it has to be,” I stole one of her poffins. They’re made with berries and grain… “Don’t select Vegetarian yet. Let’s go get some dinner. Chamber, switch over to the tabletop at the dining room.”
“I… I can do that?” The Chamber’s voice showed it was mildly surprised at the idea.
“It’s made of the same stone as your… Chamber. Quarried from the same block in fact. In fact, so are five tables in the town square and several book-blocks in the game room. I imagine you should be able to move between them through the same act of will that allowed you to move between the Corus Chamber and the Warehouse Chamber.”
“I… had almost forgotten that. It is strange… having never before been subject to temporality, I’ve never needed the concept of a memory before. Recalling the past is… an interesting experience. But yes. Very well.”
Sitting at the table and consuming my last taste of flesh for a decade, I asked “What are Monkey and Ire of Heaven?” recalling the final two drawbacks from the glance I’d given the tablet.
Petra, who’d decided to eat a bucket of peppermint ice-cream… metal bucket and all… clutched her bucket and glowered at the table as the Chamber’s face formed on it and said, “Ire of Heaven means the denizens of Heaven don’t particularly care for you, but aren’t openly hostile to you. Monkey means you’re a monkey. It specifically warns against showing up or disrespecting Sun Wukong.”
“Hurrr… Well, I’ve been a Monkey before. I could do that again if I need to… but I’ll give Ire a nod, which brings me tentatively to 1500, and leave Monkey waiting in the wings if I need the last hundred. Is there a companion import built in?”
Petra shook her head, the telepathically spoke so she wouldn’t have to stop eating. “The only thing in the Companion section for Journey is the Global Import Rule. Should I poke it?” I nodded and she continued, “The West section has ‘Deputy’ and ‘Posse’ for 200 each and Global for 400. Deputy is a single import with 400 Western Points and Posse is 8 with only a background, human form, and history.”
I sighed. “Good thing I negotiated the Global Rule. Fine. Buy both, and bring up the Western Drawbacks, then give me a breakdown.”
Petra snapped a spoony salute and brought up that section of the list, then peered at it myopically… or maybe just crossly. Medbay guaranteed no optical problems, but couldn’t really stop a giant metal crab-girl from being a crankypuss. “Three at +100… Water?, Jumper the Singing Cowboy, and Rules in a Knife Fight. Gonna guess the first makes you have trouble finding water, the second makes you sing all the time, and… I dunno about the last one? Makes you have to follow the rules or something when there normally wouldn’t be any?”
The Chamberface ahemmed. “It’s my task to explain such things, you glorified note-taker.” Petra bonked the face on the nose with her spoon, frowned at it, then stuck her tongue out at Chamber. It was unfazed by either violence or petulance. “Water means that our dear EssJay will spend much of the decade constantly parched and dehydrated, though booze will still be plentiful. Jumper the Singing means that not only will EssJay sing everything, but her supporters… or horse… will be compelled to provide harmony. Either that, or she’ll have to speak entirely in palindromes. Rules means that she’ll be bound by a belief in honor and sportsmanship and all that ‘hornswoggle’.”
Petra giggled, “Hornswoggle? That sounds like a Poketype!”
I nodded. “It kind of does,” I agreed.
I was about to request they continue, but Petra suddenly stopped giggling and glared at me. “You better not be thinking of making me sing,” she accused… which of course, meant that I just had to take Jumper the Singing Cowboy. She was right. The potential for humor and annoying my companions was just too high. It wasn’t like it would particularly bother me. I liked musicals. But I’d save that for a final surprise. Petra looooved surprises.
“Three more. A Cowboy Rides Alone, Frail, and The Outlaw Jumper Wales,” Petra read outloud, before ripping a chunk of the stainless steel of the bucket off and using it to scoop up some of the frosty goo inside. I gave the bucket a minor blast of frost to keep it cold and turned to Chamberface for an explanation.
“Alone guarantees your friends, lovers, and allies will all leave within a week, either by choice or a bullet,” Jump-Chan began, earning a disgusted snort from me and a sharp nod of agreement from the crabgirl. “Frail gives you a horrible wasting incurable untreatable disease that won’t kill you but will leave you very weak and cause you to constantly cough up blood… and you can’t drink booze.” that was another no right thar. “And Outlaw means that the entirety of the US government is after you, from the Feds to the Army. They’ll send their men by the hundreds until you’re brought to justice.”
“Oh… no. not the US government! How will I ever face off against hundreds of rifle armed normals. Give me the points.” Petra smirked at that, then tried to pretend she didn’t.
“I do not think you are giving this drawback the respect it deserves,” The Chamberface said. “But, unfortunately, I am not empowered to elevate drawbacks to a reasonable threat level.”
“Good. And you shouldn’t. I’ll still have to deal with the annoyance value if nothing else. What about the +300s?”
“Nothin’ But a Man… that’s probably a powerless… and Saint of Killers… isn’t he from a comic book?”
“From Preacher,” I said. “Total psycho… but then again, everyone in Preacher kind of is… but no amount of points is worth it. He never misses and every shot is mortal… and unless I’m remembering incorrectly, he fucking murdered the Devil and God. So no. just. No.”
The Chamberface spoke up at that. “Yes. I can’t imagine who thought that was a sane option to add, and for what seems a paltry price unmatched by the value of anything on offer in the jump. And yes, your petulant crab is correct. Nuthin’ But a Man strips you and your companions of powers, perks, and technology from other worlds. It also locks the Warehouse.”
“Yeah… no. So, 1500 or 1600 CP for Journey, 1300 WP for The West. Cool.”
Petra blinked slowly, looking at her pad. “1200 WP. You only took Outlaw Jumper Wales.” she said with a frown. I reached over and tapped Singing Cowboy, then crossed off boy and penciled in girl, just so the Jump didn’t try to reverse my gender to annoy me… not that I couldn’t just shift it back, but the default gender of each new form is set at entry… or do I mean sex… not that it really matters when you have been as many people as I have been… psychology has never been my strong suit… I should research that some time when I had a spare decade… and didn’t have a metal-crab trying to gnaw my hand off.
“It’ll be fun!” I told her, prying her jaw off my arm. She glared at me. I smirked back at her. She threw her spoon at my head, but I snatched it out of the air, reversed it, and stole some of her ice-cream. She hugged it defensively and pouted at me. Soooo cute! “So… back to Journey… Well, I assume my starting location is set by Western, not Journey?”
“Negative. You will be starting in Yama, the Chinese Afterlife.”
“I… Will? I’m dead?”
“Negative. But you will have to deal with the bureaucracy to get out… or fight your way through the residents.”
“Vunderbar. Yah. Dis vil be zooo much fun.” I handed back the spoon and Petra sullenly resumed eating, now down to below 2 gallons. “Zo… So… backgrounds?”
Checking the tablet, Petra said, “In Journey, your options are Monk, Warrior, Immortal, or Demon. That last is free. Monk and Warrior are 100 and Immortal is 200. In West, Drifter is free, while Lawman, Cowboy, Gambler, and Bandito are all 100.”
“Mmm… Let’s be a Demon Gambler. I assume that Demon is the one based on Wukong himself, spiritual powers, cloud, transformations, enlightenment… martial prowess?” I asked.
“Actually, despite the legendary prowess of the Monkey King and many of the other figures in this myth cycle… the only Martial Arts on offer is a basic competence with a knock for keeping your cool in a fight… and that’s in the Warrior line… but aside from that, yes. Demon is the drop-in line, which includes the somersault cloud, 72 transformations, and enlightenment… as well as a freebie called ‘Forager’ which means you can always find just enough food and water to survive, though the quality will vary depending on the local climate.”
“Well… that’s just strange… but okay. Fine. I don’t need the Forager, but it’s free, so I’ll take it. Also don’t need the 72 transformations. I’m already an accomplished Shape-Shifter… and the transformations are pretty much just tricks… also, they can be learned in the setting… they’re techniques after all. According to the text, the Somersault Cloud can cover more distance in a single leap than exists between any two points on earth… though the Cloud thing is mostly just an artistic reference more than an actual cloud… I’ll take that if it’s not too pricey… what, exactly does Enlightenment do?”
Petra said, “The Cloud is only 100… that leaves you with 1000 CP.”
The Chamberface added, “The speed is listed as 33,554 miles in a single leap. Yes. or 30,000 steps to the sun. Though if you combine this with Transliminal Stride and Flash-steps or Shunpo, you’ll probably be able to reduce that a bit.”
“No doubt, no doubt… Enlightenment?”
“Greater spiritual awareness, greater wisdom, longer lifespan, fantastic magic such as the clone technique, size-shifting, charms to ward against fire and water, command the wind, protect against demons, and freeze even gods in their tracks. It costs 300 CP.”
I smirked, “Grooovy. I’ll take it. That’s 700 CP. Can I buy a Ruyi Jingu Bang?”
“Yes. It will cost you another 300 CP to acquire a long forgotten duplicate Iron Clasped Wishing Staff that Yu the Great used in the Southern Sea instead of the Eastern Sea… though Ao Guang may attempt to take it to replace the one Wukong stole.”
I considered, then nodded to Petra to add it. “Now. just so we’re clear. Ao Guang is still the god of the East China Sea, not of the Atlantic right? And the Southern Sea is still the South China Sea, not the Carribean?”
“Such distinctions are meaningless under heaven. The Eastern Sea is the Eastern Sea, the Southern Sea is the Southern Sea… their location doesn’t really matter… this is mythology,” The Chamberface supplied, sounding put out I didn’t know that already.”
“Fiiiine. Whatever, mom!” I snarked, then considered. “Peaches of Immortality?”
“How many Peaches do I get for that? What grade? Are we talking about 3,000 year peaches, 6,000 year peaches, 9,000 year peaches, or Man-fruit?”
“Man-fruit?” Petra and the Chamberface asked in near perfect sync.
“Man… 10,000 years. The greatest peach tree around is the Man-Fruit tree which look like a newborn and have senses. Smelling one grants 360 years of extended life. Consuming one grants 47,000 years,” I explained “Those who eat the 3,000 year fruit becomes an immortal and understands the Way and his body becomes both light and strong. Those who eat the 6,000 year fruit can fly and enjoy eternal youth. The 9,000 year fruits make those who eat them as eternal as heaven and earth, as long-lived as the sun and moon… that’s why I was asking, since, sure, Yuzuha can grant immortality to anyone and everyone, but the peaches are pretty spiffy too… and supposed to be food fit for gods.”
Chamberface ummmed… “The Peaches of Immortality item says it’s quote ‘a piece of fruit that bestows resistance to harm and a long life in the hundreds of years’ unquote.”
“A piece? But it’s called ‘Peaches’… that’s plural,” Petra complained.
“Very true. So… Chamber… clearly these aren’t anywhere near full power peaches… but that’s okay. Give me a tree that flourishes once a decade and produces several hundred head-sized peaches that cure all mortal disease and grant 360 years of extended life and resistance to disease, aging, and harm.”
The chamber considered, then the stone face nodded. “Very well. This seems acceptable. I was expecting you to demand more.”
“I also want the tree to mature into a 3,000 year tree in 10,000 years, a 6,000 year tree 200,000 years later, and a 9,000 year tree 4,000,000 years. The Man-fruit tree is just… creepy.”
The face looked sceptical, but sighed and nodded. “Very well… but no temporal acceleration.”
“That’s fine… apply my floating discount to that. So I’m at 300. What else is for sale? Ooo… can I get a Tiara like the Monkey King? Not on me… something I can put on someone else?”
“The Golden Band? Yes, Also 200 CP. Indestructible by the wearer and anyone less powerful than a god, unremovable by anyone besides you or a Bodhisattva of mercy or similar. Causes unbearable headaches when you chant a mantra.”
“Cool… anything worth 100 CP?”
“Religious Training? Martial Arts? Celestial Bureaucracy? Phoenix Feather Cap? Golden Chain Mail? Jiu Pot?”
“No. No. God No. No. Maybe? Jiu Pot? Alcohol? Jiu is just Chinese for booze or ‘wine’… what kind of Jiu are we talking?”
“Rice Wine. Unlimited supply.”
“So Mijiu… What quality? Is it Mibaijiu? Huangjiu?”
“It doesn’t say.”
“It… doesn’t… say. Just… rice wine… hrrrmmm… Fine. Heavenly Imperial Wine.”
“I… accept that as an interpretation,” Chamberface agreed.
“Good. Good. Now… send tablets to RayRay, Caine, Reggy, Petra, The Dire Weasels, Tokimi-Chan, and the Righteous Choir loaded for Journey. Make sure RayRay & Petra’s are loaded for Western as well. Then send out Western loads to Beth, Lizzy, Yuzuha, Soffie, Vita, and the Luteces. That should get everyone covered. I don’t suppose I can actually block Ahab and Joy, but they’ll have to make due with their 100 CP.”
Petra squeaked, “I hav… get to come with? I mean actually come with?”
“Yes, you have to come with, pipsqueak. You and RayRay are going to be my wing-girls this time. My partners in crime.”
“Yay?” she muttered, blushing a bit. It has to be hard knowing you’re not mom’s favorite, and there wasn’t anything I could do about that. AJ and Ziggy were my clear favorites among the original six Mon, and Zane was my partner, my second in command. But Petra knew she was among the chosen and cherished that status. I’d released several of my Mon and kept her and that counted for a lot. What counted more was her senior status and the fact that I’d never treated her as a pet or as if she didn’t matter. Then again, much of her pleasure was derived merely by being allowed to remain in the presence of her goddess, and I was (occasionally) painfully aware how utterly fanatically the Mon worshiped me. There was literally nothing I could ask them to do that they wouldn’t do. I was the pole of their moral compass. If I asked it, they’d do it. Teaching them not to try and kill people who looked at me cross-eyed or insulted me had been quite a challenge when they’d first gained human forms. Thankfully, Ziggy didn’t understand insults… or how eyes worked for that matter.
For instance, I routinely called him things like Senior Waddlebottom, Monsignor Stinky, and Lord Peabrain and he just licked my face and asked for treats. Ziggy is a simple creature… who can flatten cities. Always good for a cautionary tail.
“Okay, enough contemplation,” I said, 0.00001 seconds later. Petra of course was used to me claiming vast amounts of time have passed when anyone sane (or limited to pure meat brains) would know nothing of the sort had happened. Then again, her brain wasn’t meat either. Except when it was… but it seemed like our most basic functionality remained consistent across alt-forms… probably to keep us from going insane from the changes to neurofunctionality. For instance, do you know that male and female human brains are not structured identically. Just swapping from a male to female version of the same body could cause issues… and it wasn’t limited to merely neurostructures… neurochemistry and hormonal balances were different. Even body size and health could have a pronounced effect on how the brain functioned… and that in turn had an effect on personality.
Or rather… it should have. But somehow, thanks to the magic of Jump-Chain… it really didn’t. My brain remained a hypertech computer no matter what form I took. Petra’s brain was still a quartet of metallic crystal minds networked together no matter how human she’d become. And that was, no doubt, for the best. It meant that they could get different actors to play us in different seasons and not have to worry about it too much. Oh… sorry. Was that too meta?
“You’re smirking…” Petra pointed out. “Are you trying to breach the fifth wall again?”
“Fourth,” I corrected.
“Fifth. We’re in a 3-D medium. There are already 4 walls. So you’d be trying to pierce the 5th wall,” she pointed out in her most deadpan, pedagogical and pedantic tone. I was so proud.
“Fine. Fifth…” I waved my hand dismissively, as if the admission was grudging. “What do I get for paying 100 WP to be a Gambler?”
“In addition to knowing that the true heart of the west isn’t out in the wastes but in the towns… or more specifically the saloons? You get something called ‘Cardsharp’s Life’ and an item called a ‘Texas Prayer Book’,” Petra responded. “Any idea what those are?” I shook my head and Petra asked the table, “Well?”
“Cardsharp’s Life makes your boss good at gambling. Really good… as in uncannily lucky at any such pastime… and extremely good at cheating… and spotting cheaters. You’re pretty much guaranteed to catch anyone trying to cheat you, and you know every game of chance in the West… even ones invented five minutes ago just to fleece a sucker. The euphemistically named Texas Prayer Book is a deck of cards that adapts to fit the game in question… artwork, shape, size, composition… and while using it no one can every prove you cheated… it’s also guaranteed you’ll never end up with Dead Man’s Hand.”
Petra tilted her head, “What’s that?”
“Aces & Eights, at least in the mythology of the Wild West. It’s the black Aces and black Eights, with either the Queen of Hearts or Queen of Clubs as the hole card. It’s a five card stud hand,” I supplied. “But Three Jacks & Two 10s was also known as it, and Hoyle said it was Jacks and Eights, and a different book said it was Jacks and sevens. But I think here they mean Aces & Eights. It’s the most famous and specific hand of that name.”
“Why’s it called that?” Petra asked, half hiding behind her tablet. She has a pretty strong aversion to ‘scary’ stuff for some reason.
“Not for any ghostly reason, P. This guy named Wild Bill Hickok was pretty famous in the old west and was playing a game of stud in a saloon when a bad guy whose name I’m forgetting shot him in the back of the head. Dead Man’s Hand was supposedly what he had in front of him.”
“So… If I get Dead Man’s Hand, someone will shoot me?” She squeaked.
“Now now. You know that’s not how it works. What do we say about Coincidence?”
She twisted her mouth into a truculent pout, and muttered “It’s not the same as Causality… but sometimes it is! Some universes totally work on that kind of logic!”
“None we’ve ever been to. Some are a bit spookier than others, but even the spookiest we’ve been to doesn’t have people being shot just because random chance got them a specific poker hand… but if you’re worried about it, remember how unlikely getting that specific hand is.”
“It’s not that unlikely,” she griped. “Only one in 2.6 million… or half that if both queen versions are true.”
“But dear heart, you’re forgetting that it has to be the queen as the hole card, which increases it dramatically, and the number of players will change up the odds too. The odds are about one in 15 million.”
“You’re just saying that to make me think the ghosts aren’t out to get me,” She mumbled, but she looked a bit more relaxed. “I guess you want to know what else Gamblers get discounts on?”
“That would be nice… as long as the list isn’t too scary.” I smirked at her.
She stuck her tongue out at me, then looked down. “Barfly for 100 and Hands as Fast as Lightning for 200… there’s a perk called ‘Hooker with a Heart of Gold’… does that make you a prostitute?”
Chamberface chuckled slightly, “You’d think so, but no. It’s about providing redemption. It allows the taker to try to redeem others by finding the spark of good that rests in all people. No guarantees, of course. It’s 200 CP. And before you ask, Barfly makes you a master of bar-fights and grants nigh-immunity to the excesses of drink and drugs. While Hands as Fast As Lightning makes you fast enough that you can draw and fire six shots from a single action revolver before most normal opponents could even touch leather… and without sacrificing an accuracy. Also works for card tricks or any other feat of manual dexterity.”
I considered, then nodded. “Well, Barfly I don’t think I need, as I’m okay in a fight and Immune to Poisons which includes all the downsides of most drugs besides the intoxication… But I’ll take Hooker for 100 with my discount and Hands… that’s 300 plus the 500 I already spent on imports and Gambler itself. 500 left. Any interesting items?”
The Chamber preempted Petra trying to figure that out from just the names and said, “a cigarillo that never burns out and is super intimidating, a combination revolver-shotgun that reloads the shotgun part on its own, an invulnerable hat, a katana that radiates cold, a poncho that allows you to shuffle your guns under it, a tin star that can blind people aiming at you, a set of spurs that help you establish your dominion over any riding beast, a bandito mask that makes you unrecognizable, a derringer that can be drawn from your sleeve even if you’re not wearing a sleeve or don’t have a hand at the moment, a set of silver bullets that are extra lethal and spread the silver contagiously to other bullets, an upright piano that makes people intoxicated when they hear it played but does not affect the pianist, a long-rifle that always hits anything not human you aim at without harming the person holding it, a Bowie knife that’s good at breaking other weapons, a shoulder stock that turns any pistol into a rifle and makes you harder to hit while aiming, a horse fast enough to make riding it an attractive choice and strong enough to carry all your gear, a stagecoach that turns projectiles aimed at it more primitive and less dangerous, and a pistol that slows time as you draw it, giving you an extra few seconds.”
“Well… that’s refreshing. Thematic items that all have something about them that makes them worth buying! Assuming you listed everything in increasing order of cost, I’ll take the hat and the never miss rifle. How much for those two?”
Petra jumped on that, as if she was competing with Chamberface to provide information. “150 total… the Cheroot, Katana, and LeMat Revolver are all 50 WP if you want to spend the other 50.”
“Cheroot is the cigar… sure, I’ll take that. Not normally a smoker, but I could be. That’s 300 left. Oh, I’m going to combine the shooting iron with my staff so it’s a shooty stick.”
The Chamberface ignored my inanity to comment, “the lowest perk in the Sheriff line is called ‘Fire in His Eyes’ and it makes you so intimidating you can stop a train with an angry glower. It even lets you know how to walk at just the right pace to be extra intimidating. It’s only 100 WP… and might go well with the Drifter 100, ‘Dressed to Kill’ which makes even the weirdest get-up look good and guarantees your clothing will almost never impede your horsemanship, brawling, or gunplay.”
“Well, when you put it that way, sure. Hook me up. 100 left. None of the items scream out to me. What other 100 point perks are there?”
“Cowboy’s 100 is called ‘Wrangler’. It’s all about impressive riding skills… or anything else having to do with horses. Plus a dex and endurance bonus, and it makes you a dab trainer, meaning you can train horses to come with a whistle or not balk when guns are fired off their backs… even has lasso tricks.”
“Well, shucks. Gotta have that, don’t I?”
Petra rolls her eyes, “Noooo. It’s dumb. Horses are dumb. Crabs are awesome!”
I patted her head. “Yes, that’s why people rode crabs in the wild west.”
“Crabs are too smart to be beasts of burden,” she said, then handed over her completed tablet. “Finished. Can I have more ice cream please?”
I nodded at the request, then checked over her purchases. From the Journey half, she’d taken the Warrior’s Path, and the Drifter Way from Western. As a Warrior, she’d gotten Martial Arts free… which was basic competence and keeping your cool in a fight… and from Western she’d taken Kung Fu, a 200 WP perk that meant she’d been trained by Quai Chang-Kang in Shaolin-style Kung Fu, which came with a lethal form of unarmed combat, dragon-shaped burns on her forearms, a strong sense of personal dignity, and the ability to keep calm when in pain. I didn’t think it was vital, but these were her choices and I wasn’t going to argue with her. None of use were Shaolin trained and it might be interesting to study her techniques. She’d also taken Omnidexterity from the Warrior path… though the description sounded more like ambidexterity, the Chamber confirmed that it was the ability to use all limbs with equal dexterity… as well as two perks called ‘I’ll Take You Down Myself’ and ‘Undefeated’, the first of which meant that most enemies would face her one on one until she proved she was clearly too powerful for that shit to work, and the second of which meant that enemies would take her alive rather than killing her and every time she got legitimately beaten, she’d gain a moderate fighting power level up. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she’d spent 500 of her WP on a perk called ‘Just Good at Killing Things’ which allowed her to shave away all the fancy bits of fighting and leaving only the most deadly and efficient killing arts.
“Well, squirt, this looks suitably blood thirsty. Do try and make sure the enemy needs killing first, yeah?”
“Yes Master,” She agreed as she tottered back into the dining area carrying 5 gallons of feldspar fudge ripple. I rolled my eyes and went through the others.
RayRay was a Demon Cowgirl, having taken the complete Demon line of perks (Forager, Somersault Cloud, 72 Transformations, Enlightenment) plus the Celestial Bureaucracy perk which just helped with navigating such labyrinthine red tape systems from Journey and, on the Western side she’d picked up Wrangler (it was free), ‘The Searcher’ (tracking good enough to work across bare rock, wilderness survival, weeks of endurance, and terrain knowledge with stealth and camo skills… all for 100 WP… quite a bargain), ‘The Truth is What’s Told’ (a variable reputation switch), as well as the stagecoach and the derringer. RayRay the Coachdemon… sure, why not?
On the Journey side of the remaining companions, The Dire Weasels had also followed the Warrior Path, taking the full package, plus something called ‘Eternal Warrior’ which was a leadership, delegation, tactics, and warfare package that I’m certain they were taking just to see if it filled in any holes in their collective knowledge. They might be insane, but their particular insanity was waging a 10,000 year long war and they were exceptionally good at it. Even Tess the Squirrel.
Caine and Reggy had followed the Monk Path, getting a firm grounding in Buddhism for Reggy and Taoism for Caine, and the ability to generate a shield of Righteousness… as in faith enough to block swords and magic alike. Faith in what? For Caine, it was his faith in the God who’d punished him for killing his brother all those ages ago. For Reggy, it was her belief that she was the best of the best of the best. Unsurprising then that while Caine had bought ‘Humble’, a perk that allowed him to pass noticeably through the world (Yes, he could do that with vampiric powers, but those needed blood and he liked perk backing more), and a set of Wind-Fire Wheels (think flaming chakrams that could also be a scooter)… Reggy had bought ‘Divine Blessing’ (good luck when not relying on it) and the Somersault Cloud technique.
Tokimi, Dyna, and the Righteous Choir had all chosen to be Immortals… each for their own reason. Tokimi-chan to study the Celestial Bureaucracy from the inside, The Righteous Choir because it felt like being part of the Human Imperium they loved so much, and Dyna… because it was highly structured like the Deoxys swarm. All seemed like perfectly creepy reasons to do it to my mind, but if I judged my companions for being bonkers, it would reflect poorly on me, wouldn’t it?
Of course, each had their own build. Tokimi-chan’s was pure Immortal, Celestial Bureaucracy & Eternal Warrior, plus the ability to reach the universe and predict the future with the I-Ching and the mastery of alchemy and matter manipulation granted by an understanding of the 8 trigrams. It was like Full Metal Alchemy, but less focused on creation and more focused on transformation and transmutation… or as Harry Potter would put it, transfiguration, essentially. Sheep into boulders and all that. She’d spent herself out buying the Phoenix Feather Cap… though I was pretty certain they were Fenghuang feathers, not Phoenix Feathers.. Phoenixes not coming from china.
Her build made sense. The Builds for Dyna and the Choir? Not even close. They had all taken Eternal Warrior, true enough… the freebie… but both had spent 600 CP on a capstone from a different origin entirely. The Choir had overpaid for Undefeated (the beatings = experience perk from Warrior) and Dyna had overpaid for Righteousness (the shield of faith from Monk). Did they not understand how discounts work?! Grrr…
Oh well, not my points, not my problem. On to the other half.
Yuzuha and Lizzy were Cowgirls, Soffie was a Lawdog, Beth a Drifter, the Lutece Twins were Gamblers, and Vita was, amusingly, a Bandito. While I won’t go into everything they bought, Yuzuha had purchased the Tennessee Stud… pointing out that this made the horse FTL by a strict reading of the text. She’d also bought the Piano that got people drunk because she thought it sounded funny. Lizzy and Soffi had both taken Hooker with A Heart of Gold… while Beth had taken both Cool Headed and Heart as Cold As Steel, which together meant she was completely capable of walking into a bar, shooting three men dead, torturing a fourth for information, then leaving, all without batting an eye or feeling a drop of remorse… Yeah… that was scary. Oh, and She and the Luteces also knew Kung Fu.
Vita? Got a mask and a hideout and the ability to escape from prison with Yuzuha. As for Joyhab… she was an Immortal Bandito, he was a Monastic Lawman. I wondered if they were planning to play cops and robbers the whole time. Why were my companions a mix of nice people, crazy people, and sociopaths? I wonder if that said something about me? Eh.
Ah well, Insertion Time!
It was the dawn of that last great age of prehistory, the 1880s, a time when the final human frontiers were being nailed down and the secrets of the modern world were flowering before the eyes of gods and mortal alike. Electricity, the Telephone, the Car, the Atomic Bomb… all these were mere years or decades away and would forever revolutionize the world. They’d circumscribe it within their borders, their known quantities… but for now… now there was still the Wild, untamed, raw, and full of hiding places between the known and the unknowable, places for demons and monsters and low men to lurk.
It was into this time that a Monk arrived in that city from which knowledge flows like water… and it is said the bay still tastes of Darjeeling and Lapsang Su Chong… Yes, it is Boston where we set our scene and Boston to which our venerable Monk does arrive… well, not so much venerable as callow. His name is Brother Trace and he belongs to that most inquisitive of orders, the Dominicans, though in this time they’d given up the scourge and torch and turned more towards mysticism and the nature of things. Of course, being a Dominican, he wasn’t truly a monk, since he did not live a monastic lifestyle, but rather a mendicant, since he lived the life of an itinerant preacher, or at least had every intention of doing so, having arrived in Boston fresh from seminary studies at the Collegium Divi Thomae de Urbe in Rome just that morning, a morning that, in that typically New England way was both cold and wet and having not yet managed to become, as it were, a homeless wanderer until he set foot off the ship upon which he had crossed both Mediterranean and Atlantic.
Brother Trace, one must understand, was a man of deep and abiding faith… though to be honest, it was not a faith well centered on any one doctrine or dogma, but rather faith in having faith itself. He believed most astutely that man should have faith… but did not, for all his Catholicism, hold to the ironclad belief that that faith had to be in the divinity of a certain carpenter from Judea. Oh, he wanted to, but the preponderance of other ideologies in the world confused him, for he was, as I have said, a callow youth, much given to pondering the nature of things and of looking for and at differing viewpoints. It was, you must see, for this very reason that he had crossed the great Atlantic, for he was under the curious delusion, having once read a book on the religion of the Hindustanis, that Jesus was not, in fact, the Son of God, but rather what the followers of certain Oriental faiths would term a Bodhisattva, or perhaps even a Buddha.
Of course, once so convinced, it became of utmost importance to our good Monk (well, not so much a Monk as a Mendicant, but the difference hardly matters for purposes of our discourse) that he acquire some bonafide Buddhist scriptures so he could study them for clues to the Bodhisattva nature of the Messianic Saviour.
Now, being an itinerant-to-be in Rome, two paths presented themselves. In the first, he could travel East, passing through the lands of Turks and Kurds and Tatars (not to mention Musulmen) to the Indian Lands, or he could travel West, passing through the lands of WASPs, Quakers and Free Negroes to other Indian Lands. Both would work, for it was his understanding, as much as he understood anything, that the people of the Middle Kingdom who had long studied those holy texts had spread themselves out across the New World and certainly a copy of the blessed scriptures must reside in one of the many Chinatowns dotting the Americas. This pleased him more, for though he was a wanderer, he preferred to wander lands rich in Christianity, rather than other more… brutal climes. Also, to him, the East was the land of Byzantium, and as a loyal child of Rome, he held no great love for the land of Constantine’s Schismatics.
Of course, when I say he was a loyal child of Rome, do not misapprehend my meaning. Although Roman of faith (in as much as he was of any given faith) he was not Roman of people nor of Birth. By birth, our good Monk… I shall not mention the mendicantism again, but take it as read… had been born in Brazil to a Portuguese trader of considerable wealth and modest piety, and his Chinese bride, whose people had no wealth to speak of and even less concern for piety, and so had sold a daughter they deemed useless for three oxen they deemed of greatest utility. And so, when I say the Good Brother was of Rome, he was also of Brazil, of Portugal, and of China (specifically the part known as Fu-Jin)… but as we use Monk to indicate a Mendicant Preacher, so too we shall employ Rome as shorthand for all the rest.
Now, being such a naif and a feckless one at that, having arrived at the true start of his journey, he did what all such fools do… he found the least trustworthy (and by that I mean best dressed) figure around and inquired where, in this great urban sprawl, he might find the Chinamen. I say he was foolish in doing this, for the figure of which he enquired was none less than Paedrag Flaherty, a member of a… not to defame all whose people hale from the green isle, but such individuals do exist… a gang of foppish but nefarious ruffians. He was also, though the Brother was not to know it, a Protestant and he recognized at once the robes of a Papist and thought he might do the devil’s work and rid the world of one more rosary sniffin’ ring-kisser (such were his thoughts, not those of the author, for though I, the author, find the act of kissing a Bishop’s ring (often attached to a withered and somewhat palsied hand) to be shuddersome, I would never use ring-kisser as a term of slander against those who do so out of honest respect).
And so it was that Mr. Flaherty did conspire to set his bullyboys (those being longshoremen of the thick neck and low moral fiber kind) upon our good Brother, who, within a quarter-hour of his arrival in the New World did find himself running down one unknown street after another as the hounds of hell… or at least the dogsbodies of the Irish Mob… were set upon his heels.
Within minutes, our most bookish of monks was winded and had lost one of his sandals, which made limping through the mud and horse apples (be advised that though round and organic, said apples would make a most disagreeable pie) a most distressing task. Having gained a few seconds on his more lumberish pursuers purely by providence, he looked round himself and his environs, seeking any potential salvation… and there he beheld a back door, slightly ajar and made for it, closing it softly behind himself and throwing the latch to forbid that which was outside from entering after him.
The insides of his new, temporary, and unknowing accommodations revealed themselves to be a shop filled with statuary of the kind that might be found in the halls of those who possessed a great deal of disposable income and who furthermore wished to appear worldly. It was, though our Monk did not know it, the third most respectable purveyor of such knickknacks in the city… and since there were only three within the city limits of Boston itself, that did not speak highly of its respectability nor of the respectability of its owner, one Fingers Montana who bought most of his goods from individuals who respected the law only in that they desired not to trouble the customs inspector by forcing him to do his job.
Whether by happenstance or providence or merely narrative necessity Brother Trace entered the shop, it was most fortuitous that he had, for within he found a statue to the Mother of Mercy, though if one would be hard pressed to know if it was a statue of the Virgin Mary or the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara or the Goddess Guanyin one may be forgiven, for it was a most rough and (though handsome) crude piece of statuary. Still, it was good enough that the Monk found in its countenance some promise of salvation, for he knelt before the statue and began to pray.
It was there, kneeling on the hard wood floors, that the minions of Paedrag Flaharty did catch up with him, and raising their saps did prepare to deliver until the monk’s skull one drubbing most severe and quite life-threatening. Thankfully, for the Monk (and for them though they were not to know it) the statue chose that moment to come to life… or rather, to glow faintly, so faintly that at first the Monk thought he was imagining it… right until the handle of a sweeping broom came whistling out of the darkened recesses of the shop and collided with the gut of the first thug at a speed so great that it lifted that unworthy off his mud spattered feet and sent him careening down the aisle of small porcelain angels that were nearly as popular as they were delicate.
By some skill unknown to mortal man, the blow had struck in just such a way as to cause the attacker to go limp and so his flailing limbs did not send the precious statuary crashing to the floor and the second thug was suddenly aware that he was now alone (the monk notwithstanding) with some terrible and darksome foe.
“Oi!” he called, attempting to project a calmness of purpose he did not feel, and raised his sap. “You be’a come out, right quick, or I’ll cut you up a treat, son. See if I d-” The tough’s threat did not complete, for a hand like midnight reached out of the shadows and plucked the sap from his grasp.
“Can’t cut someone with a weighted leather sack,” said a voice behind that shadow, all basso rumble and mocking tones, and then Monk and Thug were graced with the vision of the largest Negro they’d ever see as he stepped fully from the shadows and looked down upon them, golden eyes sparkling with equal measures of mirth and threat. “Go on back to your masters and tell them you lost the scent, or…” He trailed off, giving only an expressive shrug that promised unpleasantness if that laggardly ‘or’ was questioned.
When the Irishmen, knowing the value of their lives and being of that mindset that knows when it is over-matched which some call cowardice and others call discretion, had fled, the towering figure stretched out a hand to the Monk and helped him to his feet. “Spot of trouble, eh?”
“I… yes… thank you. I am in your debt, and yet I do not know your name,” the Monk said, brushing himself down and looking for his valise, as it contained all his worldly possessions.
“Think this is yours,” the dark figure said, handing over just the thing. “My name is Jim. Jim Kong. But most folks call me Sunny.”
“Sooo… you’re going to let me out of here, right?” I snarled softly at the record-keepers of Yama, none of whom looked all too eager to continue the fight.
“She’s as bad as that horrible mon…” they gulped when they saw me glancing their way. “You know we’ll appeal this the Heavens! You can’t just come in here and rip up important records.”
“Why not? Worked for Sun Wukong, didn’t it?”
“Sun… Kong is imprisoned for his crimes!” the aparatchic snarked.
“Don’t you know anything, little man?” I sneered right back, “The Monkey King is getting time off for good behavior. If he isn’t free now, he’ll be free in a few days tops.” and with that I turned and left the hall of records. Let them try and send a few Heavenly Marshals after me… I could use a good fight.
As it turned out, I was able to find Sunny and Trace just as they were leaving New York City, bound for that hub of Chinese culture… Pittsburgh. I can’t say I was a companion of theirs, for that would not be the truth. Rather, I was there more as that being who offers snark and dry wit and occasionally cheers for the badguys. Actually… I’m not certain that is a common literary character… but that’s what I was. I followed too closely to be anything other than involved, but did not come to anyone’s rescue, ever. Nor did I attempt to kidnap, molest, or eat Sunny’s little Monk friend.
Sunny Kong as this incarnation of him was known was an ex-African slave transported to the new world back in 1620. He’d been freed by one master after serving him for many years and had found the old man tolerable if occasionally cruel. That master had taught Sunny to write and read and many other things… including the secret of long life. In exchange for many years of service, the master had freed Sunny with his death, and Sunny had almost immediately tried to start a slave revolt. He’d been lynched within three months, though he’d taken nearly a hundred white devils with him to the grave.
Once in the underworld, Sunny had beaten the infernal bureaucrats soundly, ripped all the names of his cohorts out of the book of death, and fled back to the land of the living. For his crimes and many others, the forces of the Celestial Bureaucracy (and the Catholic Church) had branded him a demon and he’d been harried, harassed, and hunted until finally, in a peach orchard outside of the newly founded Savannah, Georgia, he’d been captured, bound and gagged, and tossed into a furnace to burn to death.
It hadn’t worked out well for his captors, but he’d fled across the miles and the country, moving steadily north, until he’d met a middle-aged Ben Franklin in Philadelphia. The two had become compatriots, of a kind, speaking of liberty and emancipation and the nature of things. By this time, of course, things with England were coming to a head and Sunny had played a not inconsiderable part in the battle against the Redcoats.
However, after the war, it became clear that he could not, and would not tolerate the continued presence of slavery in the Southern Colonies and, regrettably, his companions had been forced to seal him away (using their terrible masonic powers, of course) within the confines of Boston, far from the South he abhorred, rather than see him destroy the fledgling Union.
And so, there he’d remained, working odd jobs, until the Goddess of Mercy had offered him the chance at freedom if only he’d serve one last master. The collar he wore ‘round his neck would choke him if the monk were only to speak the words of the ‘Hail Mary’… it was the biggest mess of a fractured fairy-tail I’d ever seen, and I was loving every minute of it.
From Pittsburgh to Chicago we went, running into Zimo Porker and Bluewater Sands, an impoverished former Southern cattle baron (and womanizer) and a Lakota scout with anger management issues, each of whom had their own reasons for joining the merry crusade, just outside of Springfield when the train was derailed by a sinkhole eating part of the track.
Once that particular demon was dealt with (#14 of the trip), it was on to St. Louis, then Denver, Salt Lake City, and finally, after months of nearly daily tribulations, the band of four (I’d seen hide nor hair of the White Dragon-Horse) had arrived in San Francisco… wherein, in a totally unanticipated move, the universe decided that there hadn’t been nearly enough Wu Xia in this progressively less and less Politically correct tale of racism and mythopoetical mangling. Seriously, making the Monkey King a African Slave? How on the nose was that? And I know it was culturally correct, but I was having a very hard time not punching everyone who used a racial epithet near me… because Oh… My… Deity… sooo many racists in 1880.
Casual racism was everywhere. Even those who decried the more egregiously racist institutions tossed out the most henious of insults as if they didn’t matter. And the stench. Oh god… the stench! If I never see another outhouse it will be too soon.
Regardless, the heroes did as they had to do, beat the final demon boss, recovered the sutras, brought them back to Boston… and promptly got excommunicated by the Archbishop for Heresy! Well, hadn’t seen that coming. Of course, that meant a Wu Xia style High Noon Gunfight in the central chapel of the Grand Cross Cathedral of Boston, which had been dedicated less than 10 years earlier. I just sat back and watched.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I did pretty close to bugger all the entire time. I certainly didn’t talk much, ate a lot of popcorn, and largely played witness to the silliest mishmash of history and cultural iconography I’d ever seen. At one point they ran into some honest to god Vikings. At another, they got wrapped up in what I’m pretty certain was a mangled version of the Ramayana, only instead of Sri Lanka, Sunny (now standing in for Hanuman) had an army of ex-slaves build a causeway to CUBA. I mean… seriously… what the fuck? Who was writing this shit?
Next: THE BARTIMAEUS SEQUENCE
OMAKE: Relationship Chart
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AN: I could have gone on and on and on with the story of Trace and Sunny, but I wanted to capture the idea rather than write an entire novel. I was giggling the entire time, as the language is (as you might have noticed) very much based on the Victorian styles. I was aiming for something in the Bulwer-Litton, Moby-Dick, Pride & Prejudice feel… which I can (I think) do fairly well in prose, but dialogue in that vein is harder for me, which is another reason not to write more. Hope you had a laugh.