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posted Apr 11, 2020, 6:32 PM by Stephen Pliska-Matyshak

Nonotina 11th, Year One of the Reign of High King Ran

Cho Chi has traveled thousands of miles since joining the monastery. The traveling has been a pilgrimage of a sort, arriving in "The City" about a month ago. Her master has grown very old and frail and has decided that his journey would end in this fledgling civilization as a guest of the High King. Several of the priests and monks that had traveled with him have decided to begin the return trip to the monastery, far to the south. However, Cho has found that the Temple of the Billiken is a close match to her beliefs and has decided to stay with her master until he passes.
One day, the prior of the temple made an alarming discovery. An idol of The Billiken has gone missing. Cho had taken a liking to this icon as it reminds her of the Buddha from the temple back home.
A search commences, but it appears that the idol has vanished completely from the temple. Rumors begin to circulate that the thief known as Forget-Me-Not, taken from the flowers they leave behind at their thefts, has absconded with it.
Cho Chi: Master The Prior, he is not here. I think we need to look beyond the temple grounds.
The Prior: Based on the rumors running rampant throughout the temple, you may be right.
Cho Chi: I will go look for him, but first I must make sure Master An Soo Young has his tea and whatever else he needs.
The Prior: Very well. He may also have some wisdom for you, as well.
Cho Chi: He is the font of wisdom in the ocean.
The Prior smiles as Cho takes her leave.
Cho Chi bows and runs off toward Master An Soo's dwelling.
Cho arrives at the small dwelling on the temple grounds. Her master sits on a cushion on the porch meditating.
Seeing her master is in contemplation, Cho quietly moves past him into his quarters and places water upon the fire to make tea, adding tea leaves to the pot. She glances around looking for anything out of order.
Everything is in order as it has been since Cho and her master arrived here. The tea is done as she finishes her survey.
Cho Chi places two cups and the pot on a tray and walks it to the porch. She places it on the ground nearby and kneels to wait for An Soo's attention.
An Soo Yong breathes deeply as the aroma of the tea enters his nostrils. He opens his cataracted eyes and smiles.
An Soo Yong: Thank you, little one.
Cho Chi: Shall I pour, Master?
An Soo Yong: Certainly.
Cho Chi pours the tea into Mater An Soo's cup and then pours tea for herself.
Cho Chi smiles and waits, trying to be patient.
An Soo Yong picks up his cup giving no indication of his blindness and nods for Cho to do the same.
An Soo Yong: We shall drink together and then talk.
Cho Chi enjoys the familiar quiet time with the old man being present in the moment and sips her tea.
Having finished his tea, the master sets down his cup and sets his hands on his knees.
An Soo Yong: I feel a sense of urgency from you, little one.
Cho Chi: Yes, but first, are you well?
An Soo Yong: I am fine; enjoying the respite at the end of a long, hard life.
Cho Chi: Have you heard, An Soo? The Billiken, the smiling Budda has been stolen from the Temple and someone has left forget-me-not flowers in his place.
Cho Chi: I have offered to go and look for him. He should be home here.
An Soo Yong: I heard the idol had gone missing though I have not caught the scent of myosotis.
Cho has no recollection of the scent of flowers either.
Cho Chi: Come to think of it, I did not smell or see the flowers.
An Soo Yong: One must be cognizant of the power of rumors. Make your investigation, but take nothing at face value.
Cho Chi (chagrined): I shall do a better job of investigating. I will look at the evidence with my own senses.
An Soo Yong smiles.
An Soo Yong: Then off you go. I will be fine. Worry not about me.
Cho Chi looks at the old man tenderly and gives him a beaming smile.
Cho Chi: Shall I take the tray in before I go?
An Soo Yong: No, thank you. You must leave me something to do with my time.
Cho Chi (laughing): Ah, but you must spend your time pondering deep thoughts.
An Soo Yong (laughs): I have spent decades in that pursuit. I will slack a bit.
Cho Chi bows and runs off toward the temple.
Cho enters the temple and the usual activities are in progress along with extra eyes open in search of the idol.
Cho Chi: Slowing she heads towards the niche where the Idol was displayed. Remembering her master's words, she uses all of her senses to look for disturbances.
Cho carefully looks over the area with a fresh perspective. There are no signs of any forget-me-nots and nothing else that would indicate anything was here except knowing that the idol was.
A couple of the acolytes-in-training take a moment to watch Cho.
The Prior: Focus, acolytes.
The youths scurry off.
Cho Chi: Master The Prior, who was assigned here last night?
The Prior: I would have to check in my office. There are always a probationer and petitioner within the sanctuary at all times.
Cho Chi: Could you please let me know. Maybe they noticed something without realizing it. How heavy is the idol Is it easy to move around?
The Prior: I can do that. The High Priest has likely already talked to them, but maybe you would have a better chance, being less intimidating to a youth, to get something out of them. The idol is quite heavy for something of its size, but portable nonetheless.
The Prior: The youths regularly move it around to clean.
Cho Chi: Thank you.
The Prior walks off towards his office.
Cho Chi wanders around watching the others' body language and eavesdropping when possible while waiting for the Prior.
The probationers and petitioners are busy with their daily chores and activities. None present any obviously suspicious behavior.
Cho Chi heads toward the Prior's office.
The Prior emerges from his office holding a piece of parchment.
Cho Chi: What did you find?
The Prior: According to this schedule, Bel and Erastus were in the sanctuary during the latest lull.
Cho Chi: Where can I find them now?
The Prior: They should be rising within the next hour.
Another probationer, Hal, sheepishly approaches.
Cho Chi: Thank you, Prior.
The Prior: Hal, what can I do for you?
Hal: Umm...I...think, I think I found some tracks.
The Prior: Really?
Cho Chi: Tracks?
Hal: They are from big boots, not the sandals we wear.
Cho Chi: Where?
Hal: Leading out into the cemetery.
The Prior: Are you sure they are not from gravediggers?
Hal: Yes, sir. They come straight from the temple, not the coffin entrance.
The Prior looks at Cho.
The Prior: Sounds like a clue?
Cho Chi: I'll go look.
The Prior: This would be good. I am sure you can handle navigating gravestones.
Cho Chi bows and looks at the prior with a calculating look. Show me the tracks, Hal.
Hal leads Cho out of the temple toward the cemetery. He points out tracks that are clearly out of place.
Hal: I will return to my duties if you do not mind.
Cho Chi: Thank you, Hal.
Hal: You are welcome, Ma'am.
Hal turns and runs back into the temple.
Cho Chi measures the print against her own foot.
The footprints are quite big. Cho cannot think of anyone with feet this size in the temple.
Cho Chi quietly follows the footprints. Once, a little away from the temple, she pauses to listen and smell the air.
Cho hears and feels the breeze and smells the grass, wet with dew, mixed with the ever-so-faint hint of death typical of a graveyard.
Cho Chi attempts to follow the tracks.
As she follows the tracks, Cho begins to realize how soft the ground is here. These tracks are likey distorted from the infirm ground.
Cho Chi examines her footprints. Are they larger than normal because of the soft ground?
Cho confirms her suspicions, seeing that her footprints are also distorted in size.
Suddenly, the hairs stand up on the back of her neck and she hears an odd rattling from behind a nearby monument.
Cho Chi hefts her staff and vaults the monument to see what is behind it.
Cho finds an animated skeleton crawling out from a disturbed grave.
Cho moves in and swings her quarterstaff at the abomination, but misses. However, following up with a spinning kick, she knocks the creature into its many constituent parts that scatter across the ground.
Cho Chi examines the grave and marker.
The grave appears to be quite ancient and none of the markers around it seem to align with it. There is an air of corruption and darkness emanating from the grave that she feels she does not have the power to quench.
Cho surveys the area for any other collapsing graves but finds none. She notes the monument next to the collapsed grave as being owned by the Germanus family.
Cho Chi continues following the footprints. She hurries a bit because she wants to talk Bel and Erastus when they get up.
The footprints make a circuit around the cemetery and return, presumably, to the temple as they are eventually lost as the ground on the other side of the cemetery is not as soft and yielding.
Cho Chi examines her sandals to see how the soft ground marked them when she arrives back at the temple. Then she heads to the kitchen looking for Bel and Erastus.
Cho finds Bel and Erastus taking breakfast. They look up as she enters the kitchen.
Cho Chi (bowing): May I join you?
Erastus: Certainly, Cho.
Cho Chi makes a cup of tea and sits down with the two.
Erastus: What is up?
Cho Chi: I know that the high priest has already talked to you about the missing Billiken Budda, but I am looking for him. I was wondering if you'd tell me in detail what happened during the lull. I'm looking for clues. Maybe you will remember something that could help.
Erastus: Oh, sure, Cho. We were sitting in the sanctuary pretty much the whole time. We only spelled each other once to take pee breaks, isn't that right, Bel.
Bel nods his head in agreement.
Cho Chi: So you arrived at the sanctuary and sat where?
Erastus: Various places, mostly polishing fixtures and pews and other things.
Cho Chi: Yes, I noticed that it was very clean. Did you clean the Budda?
Erastus: Yes, Ma'am. Everyone likes to make The Billiken shine. It is kind of a competition among us.
Cho Chi: So do you do that first or last or somewhere in the middle.
Erastus: Usually near the end, so it is as shiny as possible when folks get up.
Cho Chi (smiling): That's how I like to do it too.
Cho Chi: So the Budda was there near the end of your shift. How did he seem? We talk when I polish him.
The two look at each other with odd smirks.
Cho Chi: What? He doesn't converse with you? Maybe he is just shy with you guys.
Cho Chi watches their body language.
The pair just seem to find it funny and odd that Cho would talk to a statue.
Cho Chi: You don't? What do you think prayers are?
Erastus: Oh, praying. I guess we just recite our prayers. I think we are too young for him to talk back.
Bel suddenly comes down with a case of the hiccups.
Erastus pats Bel on the back.
Cho Chi: He is not usually flippant. but haven't you noticed how glorious the day is after you get to care for him?
Cho Chi gets up and makes a cup of tea for Bel.
Erastus: The days are pretty much the same every day here.
Cho Chi: The whole of life is change.
Erastus: Better than being out in the street or laboring in a workhouse.
Bel nods, trying to control his fit of hiccups.
Cho Chi: You can only lose that which you cling to.
Erastus: We really have little to cling to.
Cho Chi brings the cup of tea, spilling a little on the floor, which she immediately wipes up and takes a look at the sandals Bel and Erastus are wearing.
Cho Chi: Oh, sorry.
Their sandals are clean and show no signs of having been out in the cemetery.
Cho Chi: So, nobody visited the sanctuary while you were on duty?
Erastus: No, no one. It was a very quiet lull.
Bel: No, one of the priests passed through while you were away, Erastus.
Cho Chi: Who came to relieve you? Did you check the Budda to make sure he looked his best right before you left?
Cho Chi: Which priest came through?
Erastus: I did not. I was really sleepy by the time our shift was over.
Bel: I think it was Tezil, though I do not know all the names yet.
Cho Chi: What about you Bel?
Bel: I was asleep on my feet by the time we were done. I was dragging.
Erastus: That would be Teziir.
Cho Chi: How close was it to the end of your shift that Teziir came through?
Erastus: Only halfway through. We had not even gotten to cleaning the idol yet.
Bel: It was later than that.
Erastus shakes his head.
Erastus: The moons were still out.
Cho Chi: So you gave the idol his massage at the end of your shift or he gets cleaned every day? He is already shiny and I'm really tired. Let us just skip it?
The pair look taken aback.
Cho Chi: I'm sorry for implying such a thing.
Bel's hiccups finally subside.
Cho Chi: So you are sure he was fine near the end of your shift but not at the end of your shift. Who was it that took over?
Bel: The Prior and priests are the first ones after the lull to be in the sanctuary.
Cho Chi (bowing): Thank you for you time, gentlemen.
Cho Chi gets up and heads to the Prior's office.
Cho finds the Prior seated at his desk in his office. He looks up as she enters.
The Prior: Any luck?
Cho Chi: I've been working on it, but I found something I think a cleric needs to take care of. There is a grave in the cemetery that is radiating a miasma of evil. A skeleton crawled out of it and I had to bash it.
The Prior (alarmed): Goodness, yes.
The Prior stands abruptly.
Cho Chi: Would you like me to show you where?
The Prior: I will inform the High Priest, immediately.
The Prior: Do you have a reference such as a mausoleum or a monument? I should like to keep you and all the others safe.
The Prior rushes out of his office to one across the sanctuary.
Cho Chi follows the Prior.
The Prior knocks on the door and then lets himself in.
Cho Chi: It is near the Germanus marker.
The High Priest is kneeling before a smaller, private shrine to The Billiken when they enter.
The Prior: High Priest, we have corruption in the cemetery.
The High Priest rises and turns to face the Prior.
Cho Chi stands silently, trying to fade into the background.
The High Priest retrieves an ornate mace from a rack next to the shrine.
The High Priest: Where?
Cho Chi: I bashed a skeleton near the Germanus marker. I can show you if you like.
The High Priest: The Germanus monument? I know it well. Prior, you are with me. Young lady, please make sure the acolytes remain within the temple.
Cho Chi runs and rings the bell to recall the acolytes and works to gather them in the sanctuary.
Acolytes and priests begin to gather within the sanctuary at the sound of the ringing bell. For a tense half an hour, they wait for the return of the High Priest and the Prior at which point there is a wave of light and wind that rushes in from the cemetery. A few minutes later, they return a bit disheveled, but unharmed.
Cho Chi lets the High Priest tell the others what he wants and makes no statement about what she found.
While everyone is gathered, Cho glances at shoes.
The High Priest: All is fine. A long-forgotten evil had made its way to the surface, but it was found in time and dealt with. Everyone may return to their duties.
There are a couple of priests that appear to have been out in the cemetery given the condition of their sandals, one of which is Teziir.
Cho Chi: I will attempt to shadow Teziir and make note of the other priest with grungy footwear.
While you are beginning your shadowing of Teziir, the High Priest approaches.
Cho Chi: I will drop the shadowing for now and turn to the High Priest.
The High Priest: I would like to thank you, Cho, for uncovering the corruption in the cemetery. This could have turned bad, quickly.
Cho Chi: What was there? I only saw one grave affected.
The High Priest: There is an ancient catacomb from ages past in this area. The evil within found a weakness within the cemetery, but it has been dealt with and sealed away again.
Cho Chi: Did it have help do you think? Perhaps a weakness made.
The High Priest: Only time, I believe. Decay will always eventually corrupt the pure.
Cho Chi: I think I will go check on Master An Soo. He might like to know what was going on.
The High Priest: Before you do, I understand you have been investigating the disappearance of our idol.
Cho Chi: Yes, the Billiken Budda belongs here. Is it weird that he speaks to me?
The High Priest: Not at all. The idol is quite ancient and many down through the ages have used it as a conduit to speak with The God of the Way Thing Ought to Be.
Cho Chi: I think he likes his massages to make him glow. And we speak of the journey of water drops and the breath of wind on feathers. I think I gave Bel and Erastus cause to think I am crazy.
The High Priest: They are young and still learning the ways of The Billiken.
Cho Chi smiles and gives a bow to take her leave of the High Priest. She heads to Master An Soo by way of following Teziir.
After following Teviir, completely unbeknownst to him, Cho takes the opportunity to visit her master. He, again, meditates on a cushion on his porch.
Cho Chi sits near Master An Soo and meditates on the Billiken Budda.
Mysterious presence: I feel you.
Cho Chi: I hear you.
Mysterious presence: You are close, but it is dark around me.
Cho Chi: You and I are one with all.
Cho Chi tries to expand her senses to feel him.
The presence emanates from somewhere in the temple.
Cho Chi stands up and walks towards the presence trying not to hold it, but to simply be one with it.
Cho walks towards the temple and then enters. Several acolytes and priests notice her, but then they realize she is not noticing them. She wanders into the probationer's quarters and stops in the corner of the room facing a wall beside one of the beds.
Cho Chi reaches her hands to merge with the presence, bringing it into the light.
Light flows from below the floorboards of the room.
Cho Chi seeks a seam to lift in the floorboards. Tapping and listening, feeling, touching.
One loose board is revealed as Cho taps the floor. Below it is the glowing idol.
Mysterious presence: Here I am.
Cho Chi: I'm so happy to have found you. To be found, one must be lost. To know light, one must experience darkness.
Cho Chi lifts and cradles the idol.
Cho Chi stands to put it back in his home.
A number of acolytes and priests stand amazed and part as Cho returns the idol to the shrine.
Mysterious presence: I have found the next high priest as he has taken me. This is our secret, the name I shall keep to myself.
Cho Chi: Tell me again about the journey of raindrops and the dances of flame.
Cho Chi massages off her fingerprints from the idol with a soft silk cloth.

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