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  1. #11
    [x] You can go to the Institute and dress up in white for Shuchun's funeral. Whether Yong will allow you to join the ceremony, you don't know, and it is possible that your presumption will irritate him if you try. All the same, you owe Shuchun a great debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Attending the funeral is the very least you can do.


    In the end, there is no choice at all.

    Maybe you will be able to settle the score with Akna later, but right now you have to see off a woman who was good to you.

    You return to the Institute unhurriedly. Back in your room, you don your white clothes. It is not elegant apparel, but you keep it meticulously clean. It'll do. Your dust caked garments you leave at the laundry, to clean them later, and then start heading for Yong's house.

    As you approach the main gate of the Institute's grounds, however, you hear someone calling your name behind your back. You turn and raise an eyebrow when you recognize Xiaodan.

    She is an apprentice, like yourself, and joined the Institute more or less when you did, but you don't get along well. She seems to do better than you with half the effort, she is charming and pretty and witty, and many other attributes you envy sometimes. And she just rubs you the wrong way.

    Still, it is not as if you hate each other or anything like that. It is just that you have deliberately kept things impersonal with her and systematically turned down her invitations to join her and a few other students in their journeys to the nearby drinkeries. So you wait to see what she has to say.

    "Hey, Lifen, I've been trying to find you."

    "Well, here I am. Do you need me for anything?"

    "No, no. It is just that Master Ping told us about the lady you were helping him with and, well, when old Hai died this winter, even though we tried so hard to help him recover from his congestion... Well, it was awful. I seriously considered doing something else the next few days, leaving the Institute and going home, until Bai convinced me not to quit."

    "I helped my parents before coming to Taku. I've seen patients die before."

    "Really? Well, it doesn't matter. I cannot imagine anyone getting used to that kind of thing. So if you want to join me and some of the others tonight at the Green Lotus, you are welcome to do it. We'll laugh, we'll flirt, we'll drink bad wine and we'll have such a headache in the morning that you'll forget about all this."

    Unsurprisingly, it is an invitation to go to a tavern when she is done with the day's chores. Her reasons surprise you, though, and so you consider your words briefly before giving your answer.

    [ ] You accept and will join her this night. There is no way you are going to make an habit out of this, but... a stiff drink may do you good. Besides, Xiaodan's words have struck a chord with you.

    [ ] You appreciate the offer, but turn her down politely. You simply cannot see yourself finding solace in drunken revelry, although you wouldn't mind the company in some other environment.

    [ ] You turn down her offer, curtly. Shuchun's funeral will take place at twilight, as is traditional, and you don't have time for this petty nonsense.

    [ ] Write in.

    After that, the rest of your journey to Yong's house is free of incidents. Your worst fears fail to materialize and you are admitted to the ceremony without incident, among a veritable throng of guests. The merchant seems perhaps slightly surprised to see you, but he nonetheless welcomes you with a firm handshake and a nod.

    When sunset turns the sky orange, the funeral begins. After a brief enumeration of Shuchun's accomplishments and positive qualities, the officiating sage bids her spirit a safe journey towards her next life. That brings the ceremony to the part in which those attending present a gift to the departed.

    You put some thought into this moment before coming and find yourself satisfied with your choice.

    [ ] You have brought a small block of quartz, a traditional gift that will be used to decorate her tomb, when she is taken to her final resting place. This leads us towards physical powers.

    [ ] You have brought a scroll in which you have written a short poem, which will be buried with Shuchun, about your feelings and how you shall remember her. This leads us towards mental powers.

    [ ] You have brought a scented candle. Its light will guide her spirit through the treacherous paths of the Spirit World towards her rebirth. This leads us towards spiritual/mystical powers.
    My life for your life, my death for your life, my death for your death.

  2. #12
    [X] You accept and will join her this night. There is no way you are going to make an habit out of this, but... a stiff drink may do you good. Besides, Xiaodan's words have struck a chord with you.

    [X] You have brought a scented candle. Its light will guide her spirit through the treacherous paths of the Spirit World towards her rebirth.


    There are many guests and many gifts. You feel that the numbers should surprise you, but in truth you are feeling too numb with grief to care.

    You cannot even force yourself to listen the sage's words when he continues with the funeral. Your lips form the traditional prayers, even as your mind forms apologies that you will never be able to offer and impossible wishes.

    You wish that you could speak with Shuchun. You wish that you could have saved her. You wish that you could restore her to life. All these things and many others, just as childish and impossible cross your mind. The only thing they all have in common is that you wish you could be more, do more...

    You shudder suddenly and briefly look back, but see nothing strange. Odd.

    For a moment there, you felt the queerest thing. It was... as if you could feel someone's eyes on your back.

    Eventually, the funeral comes to an end. Next is the procession that will take her to her final resting place in Taku's catacombs.

    It takes some time to ready everything and it is already dark when the procession starts. First go the musicians, loudly playing their horns and drums to scare away the petty spirits that could delay Shuchun's rebirth. Next, the stretcher with the body, carried by Yong and Shuchun's elder sons, followed by Yong himself and the rest of the family, as well as Dong, the sage. Finally, the rest of the mourners, yourself included.

    The march is a solemn, slightly ponderous affair, but there are no hold-ups. People move aside when they hear the funerary music, for no one wants the bad luck that haunts those who delay a funerary procession, and there are no incidents in the way to the outskirts of the city, where the entrance to Taku's underground necropolis is located.

    There, you bid Shuchun's your last goodbye. Only Dong and Shuchun's closest relatives will follow her into the catacombs to keep vigil during her first night among the dead.

    As the crowd starts to scatter, you start walking towards the Green Lotus. You don't really want to go, but you promised Xiaodan and, to be honest, you do not want to be alone right now.

    When you finally reach the tavern, however, you balk at the sight. It is packed and full of noise, qualities you don't particularly appreciate. You hover near the door, considering whether it would be a better idea to change your mind and leave before someone sees you.

    Alas, Xiaodan emerges from the crowd and, before you know what's happening, you find yourself being subjected to a hug, then dragged towards a corner at the back of the tavern, while your fellow student asks what you want to drink with and you consider your answer.

    [ ] Some plum cider, perhaps? You like it and it is not very strong. Just strong enough to give you a pleasant buzz and no more than a mild headache in the morning. This is an option that unlocks safe powers.

    [ ] Didn't Xiaodan talk about bad wine? Sounds like a plan! You want a stiff drink right now, even if you'll have to deal with a hangover tomorrow. This option unlocks powers that might be hazardous to the character.

    [ ] You are curious about the mixed drinks this place is famous for. Let's try one of those! Only problem is that you have never drunk any of them before, so you only know some of the names and nothing else. You might get something delicious and not very strong, or a cocktail suitable for putting to sleep an Earth Rumble champion. The adventurous option, which leaves the danger level of the new power to chance.

  3. #13
    [X] Didn't Xiaodan talk about bad wine? Sounds like a plan! You want a stiff drink right now, even if you'll have to deal with a hangover tomorrow.


    Well, since you are here, you might as well go for the whole tavern experience. Besides, you could use something to numb your emotions. You are getting tired of feeling sad and miserable.

    "I think... I'll have some Tian Xia baijiu," you manage to mumble in answer to Xiaodan's question.

    In spite of the noise and bustle of the Green Lotus, she hears you. Beat. She turns her head and you are subjected to a quizzical look.

    No surprises, there. You have asked for a rice beverage that your father used to keep around to sterilize wounds and which you have only drunk twice in your life, both times accidentally.

    However, you remember liking the taste and it has a kick like an ostrich horse's, which is exactly what you are looking for tonight. So you stand your ground and reply with a nod. Yes, you know exactly what you have asked for. Yes, you want to drink it.

    Xiaodan shrugs and drags you towards the counter. There she orders various drinks and -somehow- manages to have exactly the right amount of money in her hand, before the tavern keeper can say how much it is, while cheerfully ignoring your protests ("I invited you. These drinks are my treat.")

    Then, she puts in your hands a couple of clay mugs and tells you to follow her towards a nearby table, where five others have been waiting for her, munching on meat buns and cheese slices.

    You recognize Xiaodan's boyfriend, Bai, from a few times in which he has visited the Institute. You have even talked a couple of times with him and know him to be more than a well toned body and a cute butt. He is not very learned, of course, but for a dockworker he can be a surprisingly engaging conversionalist.

    Jiao and Dawei are also vaguely familiar, although in a distinctly hazy fashion. Seeing that the feeling seems to be mutual, you decide to introduce yourselves to each other. It turns out that they are "scribes by trade, poets by passion and friends by happenstance".

    As for Meng and Xiong, they are new faces in town. Calloused hands, suntanned skin and thick inland accents tell a tale you are familiar enough with.

    It is an eclectic little group, but you find yourself enjoying your time with them. After some food and drink, there is a pleasant warmth in your stomach and, to your surprise, you find yourself conversing familiarly and trading gossip with this circle of near strangers. When Xiaodan off-handedly mentions Shuchun's death, that briefly puts a damper on things, but then Jiao produces some dice and that improves the mood. Soon, you are too thrilled by the emotion of being a few coppers ahead of the others to worry about anything else.

    Conversation drifts from local matters to favourite foods, before eventually settling in the topic of your favourite legends and horror tales.

    Bai and Meng are partial to the Tale of the Greedy Merchant and the Frog Spirit, a story of how a greedy man tricks a naive spirit and imprisons it using fire, iron and salt, releasing it only in exchange for the power to make his wishes come true. As it is often the case in such legends, the merchant dies a ghastly end after destroying his own family with ill thought wishes and discovering that he cannot undo the things he has wished for.

    Jiao and Xiaodan prefer the Song of the Ghost Eater, which talks of a dark shaman of great power with the power to consume ghosts and spirits, in order to add their knowledge and might to his own. The main character slowly loses his humanity, as the powers he usurps slowly twist him into something both more and less than human, and eventually dies when his body turns into water, after foolishly trying to make the power of the ocean his own.

    Dawei and Xiong choose the Legend of the Life Painter, in which one artist learns secret magic that lets him make wondrous paintings, so full of life and detail that the characters and creatures depicted have a life of sorts and move within their canvas world. However, when his beloved dies, the painter tries to use the magic to insufflate new life upon her body, but manages only a false life that lets him control the corpse as if it were a puppet.

    When they finally ask you about your favorite, you choose...

    [ ] The Tale of the Greedy Merchant and the Frog Spirit.

    [ ] The Song of the Ghost Eater.

    [ ] The Legend of the Life Painter.

    [ ] Write in.

  4. #14
    [x] The Song of the Ghost Eater.


    For you, it comes down to a matter of justice.

    You always thought of the Life Painter as a tragic figure, really. The tale presents him as a prideful man, who abuses his secret art to gain advantage over his competitors and who dares to defy the laws of the living and the dead, with the false resurrection of the artist's wife being an abomination against nature, but you have always felt that it was more of an act of despair-driven madness and that the painter deserves pity, more than scorn.

    Meanwhile, the Greedy Merchant may deserve punishment for his greed and his stupidity, but the Frog goads him into making wishes that eventually ruin or kill many an innocent, just to get back at his captor. In your opinion, the true villain of that tale lives at the end and gets to leap back to the Spirit Wold.

    In the other hand, the Ghost Eater? He gets exactly what he deserves. An evil man who is already powerful, is blinded by his lust for further power, and ultimately destroyed by his thirst? You like that kind of karma. If only life worked like that...

    After you state your preference, conversation moves on and things keep going, until they start getting... a little blurry.

    You can recall more talking, but not what you talked about. You remember drinking, first tiny sips from the drinks of your companions and then several more cups of baijiu. You remember... singing and the applause of more than a few patrons? Gods, you hope that part is just a drunken dream. And you also remember dancing and sharing a kiss with a young man called Lee with the looks of the Fire Nation and the oddest orange eyes you've ever seen, who whispered sweet nothings in your heart and made your heart flutter.

    You don't remember much afterwar...


    White hot pain lashes at your brain and you blearily open your eyes. You see a familiar wooden ceiling and hear the groans of your room-mates extracting themselves from their bedding. After a little while, you realize that that was the sound of the morning bell that marks the beginning of the day in the Institute and that the monster headache it roused has subsided into a dull pain.

    [ ] Time to get started with the new day! If you don't hurry, you might just miss breakfast!

    [ ] You are in no condition to follow the usual routine. Better to stay right where you are, until you feel strong enough to stand up. Maybe you should ask one of the roommates to bring you some congee and gingseng tea? That's what Xiaodan asks for when her escapades get out of hand.

    [ ] Screw that! Back to sleep for you!

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