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The Canon of Changes

By Scen

::Sung Chiang's Realm::

In the sky over the land of the Most Illustrious Lord of Thieves, the Majestic Sung Chiang of the Six Deft Hands, there were seven suns and one moon. The suns dimmed and brightened in accordance with the Deft One's regimented Eight Segments of the Day, and in similar fashion the moon passed through the sky at regular intervals, eclipsing each of the seven suns in turn.

Legend had it that these celestial objects were all gems that had been stolen by Sung Chiang himself, though whether they were stolen during the Deft One's mortal career as a burglar or plucked from the heavens by Sung Chiang the deity is unclear. Regardless, these marks upon the sky were the only method of telling time within Sung Chiang's realm. The falling sands of the hourglass were unreliable, as were the machinations of the
relatively new art of clockwork mechanics; one knew the passage of time only by divining the hour from the sky that Sung Chiang controlled.

Which meant that, when it suited him, Sung Chiang could alter time's flow within his realm and none would be the wiser.

Such facades of power pleased Sung Chiang; but the toying with reality within his own realm had bored him long ago. Centuries earlier, Sung Chiang had developed a lust for greater power and influence. And around the same time, he had had his first glimpse of a future in which such a thing was not only possible, but destined to become.

The scholar Genruo, a contemporary of the mortal incarnation of Shang-Ti, was a prolific writer in his time. The bulk of his portfolio comprised treatises on civil administration, poetry, military strategy and a smattering of philosophy. Briefly, however, one of his more obscure works flirted with prophecy. This "Canon of Changes," as it was known, was influenced by Genruo's exposure to Lunarian seers and their methods and techniques of foretelling the future.

For one hundred years after his death, Genruo's Canon was catalogued along with his volumes of poetry, which none among the Empire suspected was anything other than flowery descriptive language telling of the passing of the years and the seasons.

Sung Chiang, however, knew the book for what it was as soon as he first read it. Within Genruo's verse and calligraphy, Sung Chiang saw the very plain transcription of what he recognized to be a Lunarian prophecy. And being clever, the Deft One recognized that it was only a matter of time before others would read from Genruo's Canon the same meaning and import that he did. So, as the God of Thieves, Sung Chiang set out into the mortal world and, over a period of two centuries, stole every existing copy of the Canon from every library and repository within the Empire.

In the twenty-third year of Soaring Dragons, Sung Chiang had completed his task, stealing the last copy of the Canon. As a last measure, he had one final theft to make: abducting the spirit of Genruo himself from his place of rest.

Arriving in Sung Chiang's palace, Genruo's bonds were removed and he found himself prostrate before the Deft One's throne. So sudden and swift had been his kidnapping that he hardly remembered where he had been before Sung Chiang's six arms enfolded him.

"You are the scholar Genruo," the God of Thieves declared, leering down with all three of his faces.

Even though he was a spirit himself, Genruo found himself terrified as a mortal might be. He could only nod in reply.

"And you know then that I am the illustrious Sung Chiang, Master of Thieves, God of the Six Deft Hands?"

Again, Genruo nodded.

Extending a hand, Sung Chiang summoned one of his copies of the Canon of Changes. "I have become quite the fan of your work, Genruo," Sung Chiang said. "This book, in particular, has captured my interest most

Genruo just gawked. Sung Chiang glared at him, but then his triple visages softened.

"Perhaps etiquette does not know where to direct one in response to such flattery from a God," the Deft One said, a note of mockery hidden in his voice. With a gesture, the book floated from Sung Chiang's hand and toward the dead scholar.

"Your critics have long declared this to be your most feeble attempt at poetry," Sung Chiang said.

Genruo took hold of the book. "The Canon of Changes," he said, with a frown. "My greatest work. How deeply I regret that I wrote it."

"Then you are aware, as I am, of the text's true import," Sung Chiang said.

"It was fortune's folly that my experiments with Lunarian prophecy yielded what they did," Genruo said, almost apologetically.

"Not at all," Sung Chiang said. "Fortune makes no folly. Things have happened as they were meant to. You penned the Canon, perished as mortals do, and now I have become your admirer. Let us talk about this book of yours, if you would indulge me."

Genruo sighed, recovering somewhat from his initial fright. Still, he realized fully how powerless he was before the Deft One. "As you wish, master. What of my book interests you?"

"You say you wrote the Canon as an experiment with Lunarian prophecy?"

"I did," Genruo answered.

"How, exactly, did you conduct this experiment?"

"In my travels in life, I had some occassion and contact with visitors from Lunaris, the abode of the pagan goddess Seliane. These Selianites, upon learning that I was a scholar, would engage me for an exchange of knowledge. As I would later learn from repeated contact with the Lunarians, these arrangements were entirely of good faith, so whenever they were offered to me I readily accepted. I shared with the Lunarians knowledge of Xsian language, culture, mathematics and philosophy. I shared with them the magics I had learned, and the ways of the earth and heavens that are known through the Xsian study of geomancy and astrology.

"The Lunarians provided like exchanges, and my knowledge of them and their culture grew. In my lifetime I should think I became one of the more adept scholars of Lunarians and their ways among the Xsian, and so far as I am aware none that still live have yet managed to duplicate what I learned.

"We of the Xsian have our own methods of prognostication, prediction, star-reading and prophecy, it is true. I had dabbled in astrological forecasting in my youth, but I did not pursue it further after I had matured in my studies. The Lunarian art of prophecy, however, was new to me when I began learning of the Lunarians and their ways; I determined to try it, purely for my own enjoyment, as an exercise, when I wrote the Canon of Changes. To the untrained eye, it might seem no more than a volume of bad poetry. But truly, it is the greatest of all of my writings. A pure synthesis of my Xsian education with my Lunarian dabbling."

"That is all perfectly fine," Sung Chiang said. "But it is incomplete."

Sung Chiang produced a copy of the work for himself, and opened it to a page. "Here. It speaks of the Dark and the Light, the Children of Power. It tells of a war fought between them. Of many worlds joined as one..."

"You take liberties with the interpretation," Genruo said.

"As I said," Sung Chiang said, "It is incomplete. You use, seemingly intentionally, characters with multiple meanings. Changing the reading of even a single pictograph alters an entire stanza, rippling out to entire passages, pages, chapters. If I were not a God I might go mad trying to force my way through this drivel; it is like trying to follow a single thread through a tapestry."

"I wrote only what I saw," Genruo said. "Each character I penned I was guided to by feeling."

"By feeling, you say?" Sung Chiang said. "Well. Then perhaps I might guide myself by feeling, as well. Right now my feeling is that you cannot help me decode your own writing. Which makes you worth very little to me."

Genruo watched as the Deft One stood to his full height. The fear rose up within him again. "Wait," he said. He kneeled down and flipped through several of the Canon's pages. "Here, near the beginning, I write more of the 'many worlds joined as one.' The entire vision spoken of throughout the book is predicated upon this portion coming to pass."

"Go on," the God said.

"Astrologers of the last hundred years have seen movements in the stars, master. A changing of celestial alignments, a new and different turn in the dance of the planetary orbits. This heavenly stirring foretells of a major cosmological shift."

"Which means what, precisely?"

"If I had to let myself be guided by feeling, master... I believe that the time of the prophecy I speak of is at hand. Our world will soon join with others under one heaven. The doors will fling open, and all of the rooms of the great celestial house will be made accessible."

Sung Chiang drummed his many fingers together. "That itself is promising... But your inability to tell me more of what your prophecy means still causes me to wonder if you are worth the trouble to keep around."

"Surely, master, as a Divine Entity, you are aware of how prophecy works. If this great event was perceivable to me centuries ago, surely other beings in the other worlds affected by it would have had equal, perhaps greater chance to perceive and prophesy. If we can find more examples of the prophecy in other worlds, we can piece them together, compare the different meanings and distill the best true interpretation."

"And you can do this for me?" Sung Chiang said.

Genruo shrugged. "I would need time to learn the languages of the other worlds, but yes, I could do this."

"Here in my realm," Sung Chiang said, with a smile that spread across all three of his faces, "You will have all the time you desire."

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