The summer night hummed around Blaine the gnome; crickets, frogs and owls were all noisily searching for lovers. Blaine had spent the first few hours of his night watch staring dreamily up through the sparse tree cover into the stars. He accustomed himself to the sounds of this valley; the wind in the poplars, the snores of his sleeping companions, the animal mating chorus surrounding them. Once he was certain he would sense any foreign sounds he opened his pack, pulled out an extra tunic and a copper piece, then murmured a cantrip. A gentle light emanated from the copper piece. Blaine pulled the tunic over the coin, leaving only a faint glow that illuminated a few inches in any direction. His reading light readied, Blaine studied the object his tunic had protected. It was a weathered vellum folio of disparate pages. The pages had clearly not been intended to be bound together; some of the sheaves of vellum looked much older than others and many of the pages were of differing sizes. Blaine had taken this folio from the estate of Gwinnett Aidennson on the banks of the North River. Given the madman who had occupied the dwelling, Blaine did not feel too guilty liberating some of the older volumes from the library. He had already skimmed the more promising tomes he had relieved from the estate, but since his initial once-over this folio had remained unopened. Blaine suspected the contents wouldn’t amount to much, but wizards, as a rule, cannot resist unread manuscripts. Blaine’s slight fingers quickly flicked through sheaves of old vellum. The folio began with a treatise on ogres that, from the look of it, was not particularly accurate. Then came a pre-cataclysm report of “Zangqu swamp monsters”- likely imaginary creatures or greatly embellished water nagas. Blaine’s fingers flicked faster. A description of the minor artifact, The Talisman of Zagy (Blaine yawned), The Legend of Tsua Goua Jo, how to cook an owl bear…
Blaine heard a raspy voice inside his head.
“Wait! Go back.”
It was the voice of Blaine’s deity, mentor, and occasional carousing companion, Dawgg the Party God.
“You wanna know how to cook owlbear, Dawgg?"
“Not that one! Read the one before that, grasshopper!"
Blaine looked perplexed.
“The Legend of Tsua Goua Jo? You probably never went to wizard school, Dawgg, but every first year student learns that cautionary tale.”
“I went to Party University, son. You don’t even know. First paragraph, third sentence."
Blaine flicked the pages back to the beginning of the legend. He read the third sentence of the first paragraph, then paused. Blaine’s brow furrowed. Dawgg made no further comment. One of the disconcerting things about hearing a god’s voice in your head, Blaine thought, is feeling like you’ve been talking to yourself whenever the god decides to leave the plane to join another party elsewhere.
Blaine read the sentence again, this time out loud.
“When he was fifteen Tsua Goua Jo stole away from home and travelled to the Great Garnet Spire in Ojinaga, where he first learned wizardry.”
Why didn’t that sound right? Blaine cast his mind back to the old tale, one he had read and heard half a dozen times. Traditionally Tsua Goua Jo learned wizardry in Huangpu, thirty miles inland from Ojinaga. Why the difference? Blaine pursed his lips and cocked his head. Where was the last library he had been to that would have a copy of The Legend of Tsua Goua Jo? Blaine mouthed a spell and blinked out of existence. The forest did not seem to notice his absence. Neither did Blaine’s unguarded sleeping companions. He was only gone two minutes. Blaine blinked back into existence. Burning two teleportation spells was a bit of a high price to pay for a copy of a common legend- but Blaine would be memorizing new spells again at dawn so the likelihood that it would matter was slim. It actually took Blaine longer than he had expected to find a little volume of the legend. He had traveled hundreds of miles away to the stately home of the Baron and Baroness LeBrunn, but he had momentarily forgotten that Blaine’s last visit to the manse occurred in an alternate timeline. Apparently something in the changing timestream had caused the Baron and Baroness to choose a different location for their library. Blaine had accidentally teleported into the Baroness’ bedchamber. Luckily for Blaine she was a sound sleeper. It had taken a few guesses and a few dimension door spells to reach this particular timestream’s library.
Blaine recast a light spell on his copper coin then opened the messy folio and the thin bound book side by side on his lap, comparing the renditions.
Blaine immediately confirmed his guess- the bound version from the LeBrunn mansion had Tsua Goua Jo first learning magic in Huangpu, not the Great Garnet Spire. Blaine also noticed a few other differences about this folio version and the other, more traditional renditions taught at wizard schools around the plane. Most versions (including the neatly bound LeBrunn copy) began with “Once upon a time.” The folio version did not. Most versions were more flowery in their prose; the folio version was more dry and matter-of-fact. And most versions mentioned Tsua Goua Jo had lived during the reign of the Jade Emperor but did not mention how many years that reign lasted. Blaine considered these differences. After a moment he said out loud, “This folio contains the earliest known extant version of The Legend of Tsua Goua Jo.”
As soon as he said it out loud Blaine was certain of his claim. It all made sense. The Great Garnet Spire had been destroyed along with the city of Ojinaga 300 years after the reign of the Jade Emperor. At that time the ascendant Hanguk people had crossed the Pearl River and wiped the city off the map. Nothing had been left standing. Hundreds of years later, during the time of Gwinnett Aidenson, using the placename of Ojinaga would have referred to the Wu Han ring fort built in the forest that had grown up over the ruined city. The fact that a thriving city had once existed there was completely forgotten except by lore masters. That was why the more familiar copies of the Legend of Tsua Goua Jo placed his education at Huangpu nearby. The writers of those texts had lived at a time when The Great Garnet Spire and the city of Ojinaga had been almost utterly forgotten. This placed the older folio version’s creation at a date between the end of the Jade Emperor’s reign and before or soon after the Hanguk sack of the city of Ojinaga. If Blaine’s reasoning was correct (and he was certain it was), Blaine held in his tiny gnomish hand an account of the Legend of Tsua Goua Jo that was 350 to 650 years older than any other surviving copy. The reason all the other copies of the Legend had begun with the fairy tale beginning “Once upon a time” was that the writers viewed the tale and its protagonist as mythical, not historical. But even if the the author of the legend contained in the folio was a fast-aging human with a lifespan of merely 60-80 years, they would have had grandparents or perhaps even parents who had lived during the reign of the Jade Emperor. For the writer of this folio manuscript, the Legend of Tsua Goua Jo was history not myth. Blaine’s hands began to tremble. His light spell ended. Blaine hastily removed an everburning lantern from his pack. He set aside the bound copy of the legend pilfered from the Lebrun library and focused intently on the vellum version bound haphazardly into the folio.
The Legend of Tsua Goua Jo
It was during the venerable Jade Emperor’s two-hundred and forty years of prosperity that the greatest and most wicked enchanter ever to walk this earth lived and died. Tsua Goua Jo was born the son of fisherman, but he rose to advise the Emperor Himself before being killed ignominiously.
When he was fifteen Tsua Goua Jo stole away from home and travelled to the Great Garnet Spire in Ojinaga, where he first learned wizardry. While there Tsua Goua Jo discovered he had an unnatural aptitude for enchantment. He soon became well-known for his powerful ability to charm others.
This was a time of peace and prosperity, when men could apply for bureaucratic posts based on merit. Tsua Goua Jo travelled down the Pearl River and applied for the post of hoppo. Despite lacking a sponsor and having no connections within the government, Tsua Goua Jo scored so highly on his test that he was immediately given a position as hoppo in the small port on one of the outer islands of the Pearl River delta. Now this island port was given over to piracy and lawlessness. The previous hoppo had been killed for demanding that a powerful pirate warlord pay tax on his cargo. But Tsua Goua Jo made the pirate pay tax for his cargo and pay back taxes for the years the warlord had avoided giving the Emperor his due. Tsua Goua Jo used his enchantment magic to charm all the ruffians and pirates into paying taxes on their spoils. Soon, despite being the hoppo of tiny port in the middle of nowhere, Tsua Goua Jo was sending some of the largest tax revenues to the Golden City.
The Jade Emperor’s own finance minister took notice and invited Tsua Goua Jo to the Golden City to discuss his success. Once the minister recognized Tsua Goua Jo’s spellcasting prowess the minister granted Tsua Goua Jo entry into the most coveted government position a wizard could attain; the Imperial School. Here the best wizards in the Han Empire did nothing but practice spellcraft. Some wizards practiced to defend the Empire. Other wizards spent their time experimenting, trying to create new spells or magic items to assist the furtherance of the Emperor’s interests. Tsua Goua Jo learned well from his new colleagues but he gave little information back in return. Soon Tsua Goua Jo was so powerful that he began to manipulate the nature of magic itself, creating new enchantment spells.
Tsua Goua Jo devoted his entire being to learning and perfecting magical enchantment. Other wizards shunned him and he had no friends or consorts. But he was protected from persecution by powerful foreign Imperial ministers who relied on Tsua Goua Jo’s spells and artifacts to curry favor with foreign diplomats. Tsua Goua Jo became wealthy beyond compare. One by one he betrayed the ministers who relied on his magic; he tricked them into being dominated by his spells until Tsua Goua Jo alone ruled the ear of the Jade Emperor. Now Tsua Goua Jo had wealth and immense power. But he was despised by all except the Emperor. He had no friends and no lover could countenance his presence.
Tsua Goua Jo was now at the height of his magical powers. He could dominate anyone he chose (save the Emperor, whom he dared not attempt to enchant) yet none would willingly abide his presence. Tsua Goua Jo considered this problem. He began to seek a way to combine a charming enchantment with a domination enchantment. Tsua Goua Jo wished to find a way to make another person desire his presence, or at least desire Tsua Goua Jo’s own desires as if they were their own.
Tsua Goua Jo toiled in secret for nearly a year before achieving his goal. He locked his charm and domination spells in a mithril necklace that bound the wearer to desire Tsua Goua Jo’s own desires as their own. But Tsua Goua Jo did not desire to have friends, so his necklace would not work to find him platonic companions. Instead Tsua Goua Jo wished only to dominate those around him. So he found a comely woman, a daughter of one of the ministers Tsua Goua Jo had previously betrayed, and he tricked her into putting on the necklace. Once she wore it the woman was trapped; her desires mirrored Tsua Goua Jo’s desires, and Tsua Goua Jo never desired for her to remove the necklace. Tsua Goua Jo enjoyed the woman’s presence, and it appeared that finally Tsua Goua Jo had found a person who also enjoyed his. Before long Tsua Goua Jo grew bored of dominating just one concubine. He fashioned three more identical necklaces and entrapped three more comely women. Tsua Goua Jo might have continued to entrap others, but he found that even his own powerful magical energies were nearly consumed in continuing to hold four women simultaneously under his control. And so Tsua Goua Jo lived with his four concubines who desired only what he himself desired. In time Tsua Goua Jo came to love the women, and it seemed to him that they came to love him as well. One day Tsua Goua wished that he had not enchanted the women; he wished they could have come to love him of their own accord. The moment after he had such a thought, the daughter of the betrayed minister begged Tsua Goua Jo to remove her necklace. She said she loved Tsua Goua Jo truly now, and no longer needed the necklace to be of one accord with Tsua Goua Jo’s desires. If he freed her, she said she would continue to serve him just as she did now. Tsua Goua Jo was suspicious; but he also knew that the woman was completely under his control. She could not possibly scheme against him. In his heart Tsua Goua Jo wanted to believe the woman and so he lifted the necklace from her shoulders. In that moment the woman perceived that her mind was again finally her own after years of horrifying forced submission. She immediately ran to the other three concubines and removed their necklaces. Such was the combined rage of the four women that before Tsua Goua Jo could even cast a spell to defend himself the women viciously tore the wicked wizard to pieces, killing him. The rest of the Empire rejoiced, but the Jade Emperor was silent. Tsua Goua Jo’s selfish and chaotic behavior had nearly destroyed the order and harmony of the Empire. Tsua Goua Jo had wanted to believe it was his concubines’ desire to love him freely and truly, but in truth Tsua Goua Jo had perceived only his own desire for such a thing reflected onto the minds of his victims. Thus ends the sad tale of the Tsua Goua Jo, the greatest and most wicked enchanter ever to walk this earth.
We know that the lich Meretresh created many nefarious magical items and artifacts to tempt adventurers with their power- at a price. But Meretresh never used deception as Tsua Goua Jo did.
At the bottom of the last page in small letters, was written:
“Copied from the original to commemorate the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the great General Tsua Goa Jo’s birth- a true account of the great General’s namesake. – Narfi"
Blaine searched his mind for some knowledge of Wu Han history. How long ago would General Tsua GOA Jo (not the legendary wizard Tsu GOUA Jo, but the very much historical pre-cataclysm military leader named after the wizard) have been forty years old? If Blaine’s historical recollection and Narfi’s postscript were to believed, The Legend of Tsua Goua Jo was maybe seven hundred to a thousand years old, but the vellum in Blaine’s hands on which that tale had been copied was only about one hundred and fifty-five years old. Blaine already knew that General Jo’s biographer had placed Gwinnet Aidenson with the General for a period of time soon after Jo’s fortieth birthday. It was possible that somehow Aidenson ended up leaving the military camp with what was supposed to have been General Jo’s gift from Narfi. It might explain how the folio ended up at the Aidenson estate. This gave the vellum folio a credible provenance.
Blaine weighed the implications. That meant that this Narfi character had perceived some other manuscript, now lost or destroyed, as the “true account” and made this copy “from the original." Narfi, like any good scribe, would have known the more traditional accounts of the Legend of Tsua Goua Jo. But Narfi must have noticed the same anomalies that Blaine did and surmised the same thing; that this spare, terse account with the obscure placename referents was an earlier version than the commonplace tales in wide circulation by General’s Jo’s time. Blaine wondered whatever became of the older manuscript from which Narfi had copied this account. And Narfi! Who was this fellow? Could he have been General Jo’s biographer, the one who witnessed Aidenson join up with the General? This vellum folio was proving to be most intriguing.
“Extreme, huh?” Dawgg the Party God’s excited voice broke back into Blaine’s brain.
“Extreme indeed, in a kind of scholarly way.”
“You are one of a few of my disciples who gets off on this sort of book-learning stuff, Blaine. I thought you’d dig it."
“Dawgg, what do you make of the few sentences at the end about Meretresh? Those sentences are missing from most versions of the legend, and the author of the folio version never explains what Meretresh has to do with Tsua Goua Jo.”
“Well, what do you know about Meretresh the Lich, Blaine my gnome?"
“I’ve only heard the name. Some legendary undead bad guy who was located somewhere south of here. That’s it. What can you tell me about Meretresh, Dawgg?"
“Not too much more. Meretresh is just as evil as Tsua Goua Jo was, but Meretresh is more of a ‘let’s make a deal’ kind of evil lich. Meretresh has a thing where he prides himself on always telling the truth. He wants to give you what you desire if you to willingly agree to his terms. Totally different from the deceptive, manipulative Tsua Goua Jo."
“So Tsua Goua Jo was chaotic, but Meretresh was lawful."
“Is still lawful,” Dawgg corrected Blaine. “As far as I can tell, that lich is still around somewhere, making magical items to tempt adventurers with promises of power.”
“Hmm,” mused Blaine. “I have an idea as to the connection between Tsua Goua Jo and Meretresh."
“Oh yeah, grasshopper?"
“Good. You’re on the right path then."
“Wait a minute, Dawgg! What do you know that you aren’t telling me?"
“Hmm? Oh, nothing you wouldn’t already know if you had gone to Party University, little dude! Woo hoo hoo hoo!"
Blaine heard Dawgg’s manic laughing fade out of his head. No point in asking Dawgg any more questions now. He was gone from the time being.
Blaine realized Zarathustra was awake on his bedroll and staring at Blaine.
“Uh…Is it my watch yet, Blaine?"
“Oh. Right.” Blaine looked around to see the weaker stars blinking out as the gray dawn slowly gathered on the Eastern horizon.
“I think I just took my watch and most of yours by accident, Z. Could you just give me an hour two to get a little rest?"
Zarathustra stared at Blaine a few more seconds before agreeing. Maybe it was ‘talking to a voice in my head thing’ that unnerved Zarathustra, Blaine thought.
Blaine carefully repacked his lantern, the Lebrunns’ copy of the Legend, and the folio. Then he rolled himself up tightly in his bedroll, his head swirling with ideas. Blaine doubted he was going to be able to fall asleep, but he closed his eyes anyway. Blaine heard Zarathustra stretch and seat himself in zazen position. The old tellers of tales who wrote down the original manuscript of the Legend of Tsua Goua Jo, and maybe even Narfi knew something about Tsua Goua Jo and Meretresh that modern scholars had forgotten; something so obvious that the authors and scribes didn’t bother to even write it down. Blaine felt like the juxtaposition between the chaos of Tsua Goua Jo and the lawfulness of the Meretresh must be a clue. Blaine sank into sleep with one line of text repeating in his mind; a line of text unique to this older version of the Legend. "Tsua Goua Jo’s selfish and chaotic behavior had nearly destroyed the order and harmony of the Empire.” Blaine dreamt of impossibly long vellum pages crumbling to dust just before he could read the words.