“Tell me why you want to help me,” you demand.
Ayesha scowls. “I’m offering to help you. No string attached.”
“No,” you disagree. “You have to be getting something out of this. “ You ignore Sasha’s aghast expression and continue. “You don’t get to help me until you tell me why.”
“My, they do grow up fast,” Ayesha mutters. “Sasha, if you’d excuse us?”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Your sister leans back in her chair and crosses her arms.
Ayasha frowns and glances at you. You fidget with your napkin. “It’s okay, Sasha. We won’t be long.”
Sasha grumbles, but relocates over to the other end of the café. Your sister throws herself into a chair and puts her feet on the table. She crosses her arms and stares daggers at the gold-clad woman.
“What do you remember of Rikali’s life? Her family?”
“I remember enough.” You met Ika, Rikali’s drug-dealing daughter. Did this have something to do with her?
Ayesha twists her mug on the table. “Rikali and I didn’t part on good terms the last time I saw her. I’ve always regretted my last words to my sister were filled with anger.”
“Your sister?” None of Rikali’s memories included Ayesha.
“You don’t remember?” She taps her fingers on the table. “Lytek prunes our past incarnation’s memories. He must have thought he was doing me a favor by removing her memories of me.” Ayesha picks up her mug and takes a sip. “Rikali and I were the first Sidereals to exalt after the Usurpation. Chaos ruled Creation for those first few centuries, thus the Elders decided to raise young Sidereals in Yu-Shan. We were among Akachi’s first experiments with raising Sidereals together….”
Ayesha’s words fade as a vague memory floats to the surface. Exalts did not age until the end of their lives, but you remember younger and more carefree Ayesha. She smirks at you, “Just because you are a Chosen of Secrets doesn’t mean you get to learn all of my secrets, sister of mine.”
You shake your head of the memory and focus on the Ayesha of the present. She gives you a knowing look and says, “I’m not expecting you to treat me like family, Svante. We barely know each other and you got family of your own. “ Ayesha glances up at the bored Sasha, waiting for you on the other end of the café. “It’s just… you are the closest thing I have to making amends with my big sister. Please,” Ayesha begs, “Let me help you.”
In contrast to Elder Kejak’s library silent office, Akachi’s boisterous staff yelled insults, jokes, and groan inducing puns down the hallways at each other. You sit in the break room and wait for Akachi to come back from his “last” meeting of the day. At this late hour, neat stacks of dishes fill the shelves and the counters have been swept clean of crumbs and spills. Itziar, the short round elderly goddess in charge of the mail, shoves red mission envelops into the wall of cubbies. Deep wrinkles etch her face and wild wispy white hair refuses to lay flat. Her long earlobes dangle down her chest as she grabs a stepstool to reach the cubbies out of her reach.
You wonder whom the Elders will assign to keep you away from the meeting. While Ayesha can help you past the wards, it was up to you to lose your tail. As far as you can tell no one trailed you and Sasha back to the Bureau of Destiny.
“Svante!” Akachi’s secretary, Shapau, walks into the office, interrupting your thoughts. The tall bone thin god’s peacock feathered headdress was missing, revealing his shiny baldhead. Shapau only wore his headdress when he was out running errands. Despite the immaculate appearance of his turquoise robes, the secretary seemed tired. “What is this I hear about you putting a goat in Elder Kejak’s office?”
“I didn’t do it!” you deny. “No one can prove anything!”
A grin creeps across Shapau’s face. “Oh, you naughty boy!” the god tisks. “You better not bring any dirty animals in here!”
You put your feet on the break room table. “You better stay on my good side, Shapau.”
“Ah…” Itziar chuckles. “The kitten has grown some claws. I’d be careful, Shapau.”
“Elder Akachi doesn’t pay you for your smart comments,” Shapau snaps. Itzair rolls her eyes and sorts more red envelops into cubbies.
“When do I get a cubby?” you ask.
“Why do you need a cubby?” Shapau sounds scandalized by the very suggestion. “Young you may be, Svante, but you are still a member of the Five Score Fellowship. If Akachi assigns you a mission, it will be from his own hand.”
“Only us lowly gods get cubbies,” Itziar explains.
“Where do all these missions come from? The Maidens?” you ask.
“Pattern spiders. Ever tangle they can’t fix means a new mission for the Bureau of Destiny. We sort them and the delicate missions go to you Sidereals and the rest go to our gods assigned to posts in Creation.” Shapau groans in frustration. “Those lazy pattern spiders send us a mission addressed to you every once in a while.”
“Oh don’t worry.” Shapau waves a hand. “You aren’t officially a member of the Bureau until your eighteenth birthday. We forward those to Elder Kejak’s office.”
“Look at this.” Itziar holds up a red envelop. “We got another mission with your name on it right here. What a coincidence…” the goddess says sardonically. A god working in the Bureau of Destiny is weary of coincidences.
You snatch the envelope away before Shapau can even reach his hand out. You rip open the envelope and read.
To: Svante Visscher, Chosen of Secrets
From: Pattern Spider #0A6915
Mission Profile: The god of the Southeast Potato field of Wong Farm is neglecting his duties for unknown reasons. Discover why before the Potato Harvest Festival.
Estimated Probability of Solar Presence: Insignificant
Estimated Probability of Hidden Yozi Presence: Insignificant
Estimated Probability of Lunar Presence: Insignificant
Estimated Probability of Fair Folk Presence: Insignificant
“That’s it?” You toss the disappointing mission on the table.
“What do you expect from a pattern spider?” Itzair grunts, as she picks up another pile of mail.
“The mission wasn’t meant for you. One of the pattern spiders is glitching out. Elder Kejak’s office is investigating. “ Shapau says.
Your pattern spider curls up into a tighter ball in your pocket. You fold the mission envelop in half and tuck it in with your pattern spider. “Don’t route any more missions for me to Elder Kejak office. I’ll take care of them.”
“What?” Shapau says. “What do you mean by ‘you’ll take care of them?’”
“Now you’ve done it!” another staffer yells from across the hall. “We are going to be doing twice the work!”
“We aren’t qualified for Secrets work!” another voice wails from further down.
“The boy’s gotten only three missions over the past few months. We’ll be fine.” Itzair yells. She digs though the cabinets and pulls out a box of wooden nameplates. “I’ll assign you a cubby.”
“A cubby!” Shapau sputters. “He’s a Sidereal! What will the other thinks when they find out he has a cubby! None of the gods will respect him!”
“It will be good experience for him, having to get his own mail!” Itzair counters as she carves your name into the soft wood.
“This is unprecedented!” Shapau complains.
“I’m not running all over Creation to track down a Thirteen year old boy.” The long eared goddess blows the shavings into the trash bin. She slides your nameplate into an empty slot on one of the smaller cubbies.
“At least give him one of the larger ones!” Shapau insists.
Itzair frowns as if she is about to argue. Instead, she sighs and assigns you one of the larger cubbies. “The mail gets delivered twice a day.” The goddess smirks as she pushes her empty mail cart away.
Shapau frets about your cubby. “What if you are in Creation and get assigned a mission? This whole situation needs to go to committee for discussion!”
You drop your head to the table. A committee discussion about whether you should have a cubby or not was asinine!
“What needs to go to committee?” You look up to find the Owl standing at the doorway of the breakroom. Your tutor holds a fine-grained mahogany case under his arm.
“Svante insists on handling his own mail! He has no experience, no office, and no staff. Only a cubby!” Shapau points at the offending cubby.
“I’m not going to get experience if I don’t get to do anything!” you yell.
“Savante, Shapau, calm down.” The Owl orders. “If Svante is unavailable, then I can check his mail.”
“Oh, would you? My staff’s already overworked with all the… “ The secretary pauses. “Well you know.” Shapau must be talking about the secret meeting tonight.
“Yes Yes,” The Owl waves him off.
“Wonderful!” Shapau, satisfied your missions are not his problem anymore, leaves the breakroom.
“Svante?” The Owl sides the mahogany case across the table towards you. “Do you remember what is in this case?”
Despite never having seen this case before in your life, it seems familiar. Memories of laughter, wine, and piles of Ambrosia flitter though your mind. You finger the silver latches before opening it. “These are your Ma Daio tiles.” You click the case open and reveal the worn carved and painted tiles.
“Akachi mentioned he was working late tonight so I decided it was time to teach you how to play Ma Daio. We have suffered far too long with that fat toad on our fourth corner. “ The Owl says, referring to Sasha and Wanahton’s lazy secretary.
You pick up a face tile and run your finger over the worn carvings. You have many evenings hidden on the staircase and listened in on Akachi’s Ma Daio game. Yeva, your sifu was often a player along with the Owl, Sasha, Jaived – another chosen of Endings- and few others. The elder’s plan was as smooth as the game tile in your hand. You expected them to assign someone to tail you, but instead they simply have your tutor offer to teach you a game you long desired to learn.
What do you do?
- Tell the Owl the truth. You are going to sneak into the meeting.
- Lie to the Owl. Tell him you had plans to visit you friend in Vanchow.
- Play along with the Owl and then sneak away