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World of Crystals > The Canon of Changes > The Canon of Changes... 2

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The Canon of Changes... 2

By Scen

In the lowest levels of Sung Chiang's palace, there was a dungeon. Within were kept thieves, assassins and spies whose skill was such that they might have posed a threat to Sung Chiang. Also kept within the dungeon were those that had, in fact, stolen from or committed grave crimes against Sung Chiang already.

The Deft One came to this place only rarely, when he needed or felt obliged to visit some torment upon his captives. This day, he came because he thought he might put some of them to proper use.

Attending Sung Chiang was his only daughter, a beautiful but slight young goddess with alabaster skin and coal-black hair.

"Mai," Sung Chiang said, calling his daughter by her familiar name, "You are here most often engaging in torture, and are most familiar with my charges. I want you to pick for me five prisoners whose skill is great, and whose loyalty can be... modified in my favor."

The girl smiled. It was a beautiful smile, bewitching; telling of great pleasure from her macabre duties in her father's dungeon. She left her father's side and returned with five men whose wrists and ankles were bound by iron rings. They wore little more than tattered loinclothes, and their backs were marked by Mai's cruel tortures.

Sung Chiang then went to each man in turn and stripped him of all but one character in his name. This process involved the painful violation of each man's mind, one in turn after the other. When he was finished, the five men standing before Sung Chiang knew themselves to be no more or less than Phi, Chi, Sho, Tau and Mu.

"You are all gifted through my grace, as Patron of Thieves," Sung Chiang told them. "Each among you experts in the ways of stealth, of subterfuge, of seeing while remaining unseen. These skills flow to you only from the fount of my own divine talent. So as you are my children, and I your Patron, you must then well realize that no gift comes without its price."

Sung Chiang's words were taken to be incontrovertible by the prisoners' freshly violated minds; as far as they were concerned, they couldn't so much as think to use their skills without paying proper deference to the Deft One.

"You will thus perform a service for me. Behold your world," Sung Chiang spread his cloak, and upon its underside was drawn a map of Ching-Shih-Chieh that was more perfect than any Imperial cartographer could render. With five of his six hands, Sung Chiang pointed to five different places on the map. "Recently, five magical doorways have opened up. Beyond each lies another world, both like and distinct from the one you knew as mortals. Somewhere in each world there is the fragment of a prophecy that foretells of my rise to power... power over this and all other worlds. I require that you bring me the pieces of this prophecy, so that I can assemble and read them as a whole. In this way I show prophecy and fate that they are not my masters; rather I am master of them."

Each of the five prisoners swore to serve Sung Chiang faithfully. Pleased, the Deft One produced five cricket cages from the folds of his robes. "Take you each one of these companions," he said. "I have bred them from the maggots that fed upon my mortal corpse after I ascended. They are cunning, and quite adept at learning and remembering secrets. When you arrive in a new world, you will find a suitable, secret campsite. You will release your cricket into the wild, and wait until the following morning for it to return to you. While it is away, it will listen to the whispers of the land and bring back to you all that it has learned. In this way you will search for the pieces of the prophecy. When you have located one of your goals, release your cricket from the cage and it will guide you back to me."

With these instructions, Sung Chiang bid his minions depart. He mounted them on giant ravens that flew them to the newly opened doors, and started them on the fulfillment of Sung Chiang's task.


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