130 – Aftermath

You rub your bloody nose on our shoulder sleeve and give Aiko a dirty look.  Aiko gives a long-suffering sigh and rolls her eyes.  She is trying to tell you something, but what?  That she is a fucking bitch?  You already knew that.  You focus on Aiko and dip into her well-ordered mind.  Aiko’s eyes become unfocused.  She’s been talking to Chiyoko and Masaru!  They want you to….

Ow!  A pisssed off Aiko elbows you in the nose again.  You jump up from the mode after the Earth Aspect girl.  She headbutts you, but you easily dodge and knock her onto the muddy street.

“Cut that out!”  Ru, the Water Aspect drags you away from Aiko.   She dumps you on the other side of Chiyoko.

“She’s always like this!” you defend yourself.  “You set a demon on my once!”

Aiko mutters curses in her gag, yet seems pleased with herself.   Masaru sits quietly, watching the fight.

Distraction.  Aiko wanted a distraction.   You make a rude gesture at the girl and Aiko jumps up again.  Ru grabs her long plaited red hair and throws her to the ground.

“Maybe we should let them fight it out?” the Lunar suggests.

“No,”  Khalid approaches with a sullen Shamria trailing behind.  “The skyship approaches.”

The sky rumbles and the grey storm clouds reveal a sleek manta class sky ship.   The dark manta ray ship glides down and lands in the village street.  Festival lanterns blow around their stalls and a table cloth flies down the street.  Your heart pounds as the belly of the ship reveals three more Dragonblooded.   Whatever slim prospects of escape you had just vanished.

The Water Aspect captain, flanked by her crew, slows as she approaches your group.   She is tall with a regal bearing and well pressed uniform.  Her bright blue hair is shaved and bound in the shogunate style.  With deep blue eyes, she surveys the scene.  You and Aiko bleeding and covered in mud.  Chiyoko with her broken arm.  Two corpses lying in the street.  “We were ordered not to harm the children.”

“They have been fighting among themselves.”  Khalid explains.

The Dragonblooded were fractured and without leadership.  You could not let this Dragonblooded take charge.  “Aiko did hit me,” you admit. Aiko grunts at this.  “But she broke Chiyoko’s arm”  You jerk your head at Ru.

The Skyship captain crosses her arms and stares at her fellow Water Aspect.

“Shit happens.”  Ru drags Chiyoko to her feet.  “Let’s get the fuck out of this shit hole.”

“They killed Chuzei Enki” You swallow a lump in your throat.  “And they killed that woman.”  You nod at Duri’s corpse.

The Captain studies the corpse with a frown.  “Who is that woman?”

“No one you need to concern yourself with, Captain Abioye.”  The Lunar interjects.   She walks up to you and smacks the side of your head.  “What did I say about talking, boy?”

“You said I couldn’t talk on the wind.”  You stand tall and stare the Lunar in the eye.  “You said nothing about the truth.”

The Lunar raises her fist.  You back away and slip on the slick cobble stone road.  You roll away from the approaching Lunar.

Shamira draws her hammer and stands between you and Sunan.  “I warned you not to touch these children.”

“Stand aside.” The lunar orders.

“I don’t take orders from you filthy….”

“Shamira!”  Khalid interrupts.

Captain Abioye’s frown grows as she observes the scene.   Her crew stands behind her confused.  “Is there anything I should be aware of, Dragons?”

The Captain does not know about the Lunar.  Duri’s circle must know, but the airship circle does not.  You circle does not either, but there is no way to warn them.  You realize this is not the time to reveal this secret.   The Lunar and Duri’s circle would have to kill everyone to keep the secret from getting out.

The Captain waits for someone to speak.  The Lunar is silent.  Duri’s circle is silent.  You speak up.

“They kidnapped us.  They hurt us.  They killed our teacher.”  Captain Abioye’s entire attention is on you.   “Do you want to be associated with these people?”  You lace your question with Essence.  You need to get Chiyoko and the others away from these dangerous people.  You need to gain the upper hand.  You need allies.

“Get the children on the skyship.”  Captain Abioye orders.  The Captain’s expression never changed once after your plea.  Did it not work?

Yet when Ru walks by with Chiyoko, the captain holds her hand out to stop the water aspect from boarding the ship.

“What are you doing?”  Ru asks.

“You and your circle are staying here.  My crew and I will see the children to their destination.”

“No,” the Lunar stares at you, gears turning in her head.  “Where they go, I go.”

“Your circle has proven incapable of dealing with children without injuring them.”  Captain Abioye points out.  “You will not be accompanying them to Meru.  I will bring them to the Shogun.”  You wonder which Shogun the captain means.  The dying one or the one she supports?

“What authority do you have to do this?”  Khalid questions.

“What authority?”  The captain cracks her knuckles.  “My authority is basic human decency.  You will not board my ship.  You will not be accompanying these children to Meru.”

The Lunar screams and lunges for you.  Shamira blocks with her hammer.  “Run!”

“Retreat to the ship!”  The captain orders.   Ru and Khalid surround the airship crew.   They may outnumber the remains of Duri’s circle, but they are unprepared for close combat in their ship uniforms.

Masaru, hands free of bounds, helps you off the ground.  Mei Mei reveals herself from under a festival stall.  She barks at you.  “Come one, girl!”  Together you race for the ship.  After everyone is one, Aiko slams the door button.

“What did you do that for?” you yell.   Masaru picks the locks on your cuffs and hand you the pick.  He sits in the captain’s chair and studies the console.

You ungag Aiko to hear her answer.  “We are safer with the door close!”  She holds up her cuffs for you to unlock.

Chiyoko’s gag hangs around her neck.  “Masaru, can you fly this thing?”

“My uncle taught me.”  He tries to turn the wheel.  “The captain is still attuned to the ship.”

Chiyoko closes her eyes and whispers on the wind.  The ships console dims.  “Start attuning to the ship.”  She kicks open the weapons locker, picks up a steel sword with her unbroken left hand, and offers it to you.  “In case they break in.”

“The Captain and her crew are still out there.”

“I won’t be used as a hostage against my father.”

“But they could die. “   You did not want any more lives on your conscious.

Chiyoko closes her eyes.  “They made their choice.” She replies in a soft voice.   She turns away and ignites the sword she offered you.   She waits by the door, still as a stone.   Only her trembling sword betrays her unease.

“Don’t make things worse.” Aiko hisses.

You recoil at her words.  “I didn’t mean for anyone to die.”

Aiko studies you, unsure what to say next.  “Look, just watch the door.”  She sits in the copilot seat.

You pick a sword out of the weapons locker.  No artifact swords, just plain steel.  You call upon the Battle Maiden and the sword glows with a dim red light.  Better.

You stand beside Chiyoko.  Chiyoko nods in approval.  Together you watch the door.

“I got it!”  Masaru announces.  The skyship rises.  The belly of the manta scrapes the roof of the temple. “Opps.”

“Are you sure you can fly this thing?”  Aiko asks.

“It’s fine!  It’s fine!  There’s nothing I can hit in the air.”

“Except the ground,” Aiko mutters.

Chiyoko sighs in relief.  Her sword goes out and she slumps into a chair.  Her bound arm rests over her chest.

You stare at the door and pray to the Maidens the Airship crew is okay.

“So…where are we going?”  Masaru asks.

Where are you going?

  • Yu-Shan Gate. That was your last orders.
  • Ang-Tang. Akane, the future Shogun needs to be warned of the Anathema.
  • The still living Shogun needs to be warned of the Anathema.
  • Other

 

 

 

 

 

129 – Aftermath

Blood mixes with the mud trapped between the cobblestones in front of the Immaculate Temple.   You feel none of the cold and the wet.  You do nothing but stare at the bodies of Chuzei Enki and Lung Duri.  You did not expect Sunan to react that way.  You did not expect Sunan to be a Lunar.  You did not mean for anyone to die.  Their deaths were on your conscious.   You may not have wield the blade, but your actions lead to their deaths.  Now you and your friends were captured.

You look away from the bodies.   Your eyes find Chiyoko’s.  Her rage-filled eyes stare at you, judging you as the Water Aspect binds her broken arm.   You abandoned her in combat.  You killed her cousin.  You lead her circle to capture.  You are sure she will never forgive you for this.   You avoid her gaze and stare at the bloody cobblestone street again.

Maidens, you did not even know where Mei Mei was.  You have not seen the puppy since the fight.   All you can do is hope Mei Mei is somewhere safe.

You fucked up.

“Boy!”  The Air Aspect has been trying to get your attention for the while.   He stands before you, his thumbs tucked into his belt, not far from his hanging chakrams.  His long blue grey hair is soaked by the rain as is his long grey silken shirt and flowing pants.   The cold does not bother him; he wears no coat except a sleeveless vest.   In a softer voice, the Air Aspect asks, “My name is Vayu Khalid.   What’s your name, boy?”

“Cnead Svante,”  As you say the name, you adopt Cnead’s Resplendent Destiny.  You become Cnead.  Cnead never fucked up.   Enki Osamu was only Cnead’s Chuzei, not his Sifu’s father.

”An exchange student,”  Khalid thumbs the indentation on his chin and thinks.  “How long have you been at the school, Cnead?”

“Since the beginning of the year.”  Despite rarely attending class, Cnead Svante has grades recorded.

Khalid squats to meet you eye to eye.  “You don’t need to be involved in this mess, Svante.  We can drop you off somewhere safe.  I just need your word as a Soldier of the Shogun that you won’t warn anyone.”

What?  Leave Chiyoko and the others behind?   What this a trick?   As you thought about it, the Air Aspect’s offer tempts you.   You could go warn someone.  You could head back to Yu-Shan and get help.   Maybe if you were not around to fuck things up, Chiyoko and the others would be safer.

“No,” you give the only answer you could give.  “I can’t leave my circle behind.”  Whatever happened to them, you were going to stand by their side.   Or sit in the mud with them.

Khalid nods and stands up, wiping mud off his hands.   Chiyoko gives you a small smile.

“That doesn’t change the fact that we are one gag short.”  Ru, the Water Aspect, comments.  “What do we do with the boy?” Her turquoise mane streams down her back.   Her close fitting leather armor shines with raindrops.  The wiry Water Aspect smirks at you, but her sea green eyes betray her anxiety.

The Lunar has been standing aside quietly, watching the proceedings.   She rolls her eyes and approaches you.   “Boy, no one is going to miss you.  You talk on the Wind, we kill you.   If your life doesn’t mean anything to you, we will kill her too.”  She jerks her head at Aiko.  “No one is going to miss her either.”

“No.”  Shakily, the Earth Aspect stands up.  A red bruise mars the side of her face where you knock her with your sword.   “I will put you down.”

“Are you stupid, Shamira?  Did these children smack the smarts out of you?”  Ru taunts.  “Do you think our hands will be clean of blood when this is all over?”

“One of them got lucky, that’s all.”   Shamira steps forward and stands toe to toe with the Lunar.   “You don’t scare me.  Lay a finger on any of these children and I will take you down.”

The Lunar smiles, revealing her bucked teeth.  “Have it your way.  But if the stars fall upon us, I suggest you set aside your honor.  They will use it to strangle you.”  She walks away from the Earth Aspect and returns to where she was observing before.

Shamira spits into the mud.   “I’m getting sick of her fucking suggestions.”   She mutters.  The Earth Aspect starts for the temple.

“What are you doing?”  Ru asks.

“To find the monk.”   Shamira waves at the corpses on the ground.  “They need a proper burial.”  She turns away from Khalid and walks towards the temple.

“Go with her,” Ru hisses at Khalid.  “Make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.”

The Air Aspect nods.  “Don’t you do anything stupid either.”   He warns you as he passes by.

Ru dumps Chiyoko on the ground next to you.

You sit in the mud, hands bound behind your back.   You should be glad they are threatening you.  You can’t talk on the wind.   Their threats give you an excuse not to.   There are plenty of things you can’t do because you aren’t Dragonblooded.

“I’m sorry.”  You whisper to Chiyoko.  “I thought I could save everyone.  Instead I fucked everything up.”   You close your eyes, not wanting to see the rage in Chiyoko’s eyes again.  “You are right to hate me.”

Aiko grunts, attracting your attention.  She motions her head at the Lunar and the Water Aspect.  What did she want?  What could you do?   Why couldn’t see leave you alone?

“Ow!”  Aiko headbuts you.

“Dragons!”  The Water Aspect separates you.  “What are you two doing?”

You wipe your nose with your arm and come away with blood.  “What the fuck, Aiko!”  You glance by at Chiyoko to see her reaction to Aiko’s attack.   Chiyoko is not paying attention to you.  Instead, she is watching the two arguing Dragonblooded at the temple.   Masaru is sitting quietly with his eyes closed in concentration.  What is he doing?

You see a flash of metal as you realize he still has your lockpick.

Hope blossoms in your chest.  Maybe you did not completely fuck up.  While the Lunar took charge during combat, now she has stepped aside.  The Dragonblooded are in charge.  And without Duri, the Dragonblooded were quarreling.

What do you do?

  • Chiyoko and the others have some sort of plan and you might just make things worse again.
  • Encourage the Dragonblooded infighting. You set upon this path, might as well continue down it.
  • Bait the Lunar and get her to reveal herself. You have new information about the circle holding you.  Best to put it to use.
  • Other

128 – Unintended Consquences

Chiyoko ignites her sword.  The flames deepen the shadows on her face.  “Let’s go!”

“Wait!” You have to think this through.   You have to find a way to get everyone out alive.

Danger!  You duck.  A chakram brushes by your head.  A few red hairs fall through the air.

“We can’t wait.”  Chiyoko deflects her own chakram.   The Air Aspect smiles and readies another volley.

Bam!  You hit the ground.  The Water aspect kicks your legs out from under you.  Panicked, you roll away.  You have to get up.  You know from sparring with Masaru you are at a disadvantage.   You roll again in the mud to move out of the Water Aspect’s reach.

The Chuzei ordered you to take your friends away while leaving him behind.  You could try to take him with you, but he will not go.  Chuzei Enki was planning to sacrifice his life to buy you time to escape.

What if Chuzei Enki didn’t have to die?

What if you didn’t have to run away?

What if you could save everyone?

“Keep them busy!” you yell at Chiyoko.  You have an idea.

“What?!”  Chiyoko rushes forward and attacks the Air Aspect with her own volley of blows.  He laughs as he dodges each blow.

You rejoin Chiyoko and stand back to back with her as the Water Aspect approaches.  “I’m sorry.” You tell her.   You sidestep the Water Aspect’s blow.   Chiyoko is thrown off her feet.  With a streak of flame, she recovers her footing.   Both Dragonblooded now face her.

Thank the Maidens Chiyoko was able to recover so quickly.   She will be pissed at you, but you are sure she will forgive you after you save everyone.

Forgotten and safely outside of Fate, you observe the fight.  Chuzei Enki’s twin blades sign as he trades blows with Lung Duri.  Yet each blow is slower than the next.  Rivers of blood run down his armor.  The old Chuzei did not have long.

Lung Sunan and the Earth aspect stand by Masaru and Aiko and do not engage anyone.   Sunan keeps a close eye on the field of battle while the Earth Aspect keeps a close eye on Masaru and Aiko.  What are they waiting for?  A signal from Duri?

You advance towards Duri.  She is breathing heavy.  Sweat drips down her brow in spite of the cold.  Careful to avoid her blows, you brush the back of her armor.   You share the Gift of the Broken Mask, if one could call it a gift.   You retreat.   Without a leader, the older Dragonblooded will have trouble coordinating a pursuit.

Lung Sunan frowns as she observers Duri and Chuzei Enki fight.   The old Chuzei’s face is pale and his anima has flared, yet Duri does not finish off her old teacher.  The Fire Aspect walks away from Aiko and Masaru and towards the dueling Dragonblooded.

“Where are you going?”  The Earth Aspect demands.  Her hand reaches for the hammer by her side.   You take advantage of her distraction and search for the shadow of Saturn in her soul.  You slap her with the side of your sword.   She falls to the ground.   You take a moment to check for a pulse.  She is still alive.

You kneel by Masaru and pick the lock on his jade cuffs.   “Aiko, you need to summon mounts.  We are leaving.”  You hand the pick over to Masaru and pick up your sword.  You need to help Chiyoko get away from the two Dragonblooded.  Now that Masaru and Aiko are free, you can leave.  You are going to save everyone!  No one dies today!

You turn just in time to see Lung Sunan stab Duri.

The fighting stops.   Duri looks down at the blade sticking out between the plates of her armor.  “Why?”

The Water Aspect strips Chiyoko of her sword.   It falls to the ground and is extinguished by the mud.  The Water Aspect grabs her arm and with brutal and efficient movements, wrenches back in a hold.  Chiyoko cries out when her arm snaps.

“Chiyoko!”  You rush to help your girlfriend, but an earthen wall rises to block you.  Another wall rises behind you.  Soon, the walls trap you, Aiko and Masaru.

Chuzei Enki throws one of his swords at the Water Aspect.   A chakram deflects it off course.  The sword spins in the air and embeds itself in the mud.

With a roar, Chuzei Enki charges the Water Aspect.   Sunan kicks him in the side.  Blood gushes out of the Chuzei’s previous wound.  The old man collapses to the ground.  Digging his fingers into the muddy earth, he crawls towards Chiyoko.

“I can’t get out!” Aiko whispers.  “My hand holds just crumble into nothing.”

Masaru begins to kick the earth walls, but more earth replaces the missing chunks.  “Svante?  What do we do?”

You do nothing.  You watch the scene you created.

“No, Shikari,” The Fire Aspect refers to Enki Osamu’s old rank in the Wyld Hunt.  “You aren’t going anywhere.”  She kicks the old Earth Aspect in the face.

“What have you done?” the Air Aspect cries out, eyes wide.

“My mission.”  Lung Sunan answers.  She draws a knife and approaches Lung Duri.

“You treacherous bitch,” Lung Duri spits blood.  “My father should have never allied…”

Sunan backhands Duri.  The Wood Aspect falls to the ground.   “Do you remember her?”  She screams at her Dragonblooded companions.   “Do you know her name?”  Sunan kicks Duri again.   “It’s like I told you.  They can be anyone.”

Duri rises to one arm.  “I…am…not…a…Sidereal.”  She ignites her anima.  Luscious deep green leaves of summer swirl around her.   “Ru, you know me.   We went to school together.”

The Air Aspect takes a step back.  He shakes his head.  “How could we not notice a stranger in our midst?”  He asks Sunan.

Sunan grabs Duri by a loose pigtail.  Her hand bleeds from Duri’s anima flux.  “Your anima proves nothing.  I’ve seen Sidereals wear a Dragon’s anima before.”  Duri fights to scratch Sunan’s eyes out.   Sunan draws a bloody line across Duri’s throat.

While Sunan and the others are distracted, Chuzei Enki begins to crawl again.  Sunan drops Duri’s corpse.   “Do you not know when to give up old man?”  She squats by the old Chuzei and observes his painful progress.   Facing away from you and the others, she leans over and whispers in his ear.  The Chuzei, enraged by Sunan’s words, tries to tackle her.  She barks a laugh and forces his face into the mud.   She slits his throat and watches the old Chuzei gurgle his last muddy breath.

Sunan takes a deep breath and relaxes.  She pulls out a think white cloth.   She cleans her knife of blood.

She folds her cloth and ties it around her brow.

You hand involuntarily reaches for your own headband, which conceals your caste mark.   The headband.  Duri’s words.  The Wyld Hunt. Your Heart stops.

Lung Sunan is a Lunar.

“Come,” the Lunar says to her Dragonblooded companions.   “The Air Ship awaits.  We have much to do before we can free your people from Sidereal tyranny.”

To be continue…

((I’ll admit, I took the suggestions with the worst outcomes. This is the moment where teenage arrogance runs smack into the wall of reality. We are playing in the adult leagues now! ))

Captured and his mission in shambles, Svante and his friends must escape and warn the other Sidereals about the Lunar Anathema in their mist.

Chapter 8, the last chapter of Hero, will begin next Monday, July 25, 2016.

127 – Bigger Problems

Who the fuck?  You break away from Chiyoko to discover who dared interrupt you.   If it was Masaru, you are going to show him just how much better of a martial artist you were than he was.

At the end of the stall stands a figure decked out in white jade armor.   Twin Orcalcum short swords hang at his sides.   Chuzei Enki pulls off his helmet and tucks it under his arm.   Chiyoko pushes you away and stands at attention.  You sit on the hay bale and fume at the Chuzei’s interruption.   How the fuck did he find you in a barn in the middle of nowhere?

“An open barn?  Are you fucking farm animals?  Lung, straighten your shirt.”   The Chuzei stalks into the stall.  “I have half a mind to write you two up for conduct unbecoming of the blood of the dragons.”

Chiyoko smooths her shirt down.  “Sir, you are bleeding.”

A line of blood mars Chuzei Enki’s clean white armor.   It drips from the bottom of his chest plate and down his thigh guards.

Fear burns away your anger.  “What happened?”

The Chuzei curses and wipes it away with his hand.  “Don’t worry about me, Cnead.  We have bigger problems to deal with.  Where are Hui and Mayim?”

“They went to the stable the horses at the village,” Chiyoko answers.

“How long ago was this?”

“A few minutes.”  Your anima and caste mark has faded.  You must have lost track of time.  “Maybe longer?” you amend.

Chuzei Enki sighs.  “Never mind.  Get your armor on, Lung.  We are leaving.”

“Are we going back to school?”  Chiyoko turns her back to you and you rebuckle her chest armor.

“No.”  Chuzei Enki rolls a pebble in his hand.  “Where is the nearest heaven’s gate, Cnead?”

“The Gate at Vanchow, but there is another gate north of here.”  Your caste mark glitters.  “Five hour ride away.”

Chuzei Enki grunts.  “Not ideal.   Lung, your cousin Duri and her circle came to collect you early this morning.   Said your grandmother ordered you and the Mayim brothers to return to Meru.   We had a disagreement about the validity of her orders.”

“Is Masaru’s brother okay?” you ask.

“Noboru and his older brother, Lotaro, left on a ship this morning.”

“How many Dragonblooded are in your cousin’s circle?” you ask Chiyoko.

“Five Experienced Dragonblooded.”  Chuzei Enki frowns.  “I trained Lung Duri myself.”

You tie a headband around your forehead to cover your caste mark.  “I’m not hiding in Yu-Shan while Chiyoko and the others are stuck in Creation.”

“Don’t worry, Cuckoo.  We are all going to be hiding in Yu-Shan.”  This plan of retreat does not sit well with the Chuzei, but he continues.  “You will sponsor us to the Lion Guards.  Someone named Keeper of the Locks will meet us at the Manse of Still Waters.  Do you know where that is?”

“It’s my guardian’s lake house.”

“Good.  Lung, you take point.   Cnead, keep an ear out for trouble.   If we get separated, head directly for the gate.”

Mei Mei trots up to the barn, carrying a half-eaten potato.  “Now, you show up.”  You scold the dog.  Mei Mei could have warned you Chuzei Enki was coming into the barn.  Mei Mei drops her potato and cocks her head in confusion.  “Never mind.” You motion the puppy to follow you.

“Cnead, was your mission in this village?”  Chuzei Enki walks slower than his normal brisk pace.

“Yes, sir.”  You study the Chuzei.  His stoic face betrays no pain, yet he runs a single pebble though his fingers over and over again.

The old Earth Aspect chuckles.  “Doesn’t seem like this village holds many dangers.”

“Sir?”

“Boy, if I told you half the shit you kind dragged me into over the years, you’d have nightmares for the rest of your life.  When you told me you had a mission, I was expecting far worse than this idyllic farming village.”

“A water goddess was drowning people.” Chiyoko chimes in.

Chuzei Enki snorts, unimpressed.  “If you’d been honest with me, Cnead.  I’d let you go.   I would have gone with you, but I’d let you go.”  He pauses to lean over and pick up a few more pebbles.  “Safer here than at the school.”

You keep walking and try not to think about the fire.  Instead, you focus on the silent village up ahead.   You pause and raise a hand.   “Wait.”

Chiyoko draws her sword.   “What is it, Cnead?”  Chuzei Enki asks.

“No music.  The village should be celebrating the Potato Harvest Festival.”

Chuzei Enki kneels and rests a hand on the ground.  “Everyone is in the village temple.”

“Can you tell where Masaru and Aiko are?”

“No.”  The old Chuzei grunts as he rises from the ground.  Fresh blood drips from his armor.

“Are you okay?  Maybe I sneak in to the village…”

“No.” Chuzei Enki cuts you off.  “I am not letting you out of my sight.”   He pats your back.  “I’ll survive until we get to Yu-Shan.  They have good doctors there.   I know from experience.”

You nod.  “My sister is a healer.”  Belatedly you remember Sasha is in Creation.  You doubt she be allowed to leave the Shogun’s side.  Maybe the Owl will know another healer.

You and Chiyoko follow Chuzei Enki into the empty village.  Festival booths sit empty.  You step over a trampled potato.  Chiyoko pauses by the stables.  “No horses.”

“Shit.”  Chuzei curses.  “Cnead, you got any other ways to travel in your bag…  Cnead!”

You ignore the Chuzei and enter the stables.   You let your nose lead you to a rotting pile of blood red goo.

“What is it?” Chiyoko comes up behind you.  She pokes the goo with her sword.

“What’s left of a blood ape.”  Aiko’s blood ape.

Chuzei Enki grabs you by the shoulder and wretches you around.  His face is so close his nose almost touches yours.  “Do not go off on your own again.”  He hisses.  “We stick together until we find Hui and Mayim.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

The old Chuzei stares you in the eye.  “Cnead, I am going to give you an order.  An order you must not disobey.  This situation is going to go to shit rather quickly.  When we find Hui and Mayim, take yourself and your fellow students out of the situation.  Lead them to the gate.   Do you understand?’

You look away.  He wants you to leave him behind.   How could you look your Sifu in the eye if you leave her father behind?  “I can’t.”

“Cuckoo, do I need to remind you of our first lesson?  What do you say when a superior officer gives you an order?”   The Chuzei’s fingers bit into your shoulder.

You never hated the Chuzei more than this moment.   “Sir, yes, sir.”

The Chuzei lets you go.  “If Lung Duri’s circle is here, then her Earth Aspect has been tracking us since we stepped foot in this village.  They are going to come out of the temple and surround us.  Get to Hui and Mayim and get gone.”  Chuzei Enki draws his swords.  “Let me do the talking.”

As you approach the temple openly, you try to think of other ways out of this situation.  You should have stealth in.  You could have found Masaru and Aiko without endangering anyone.  You say nothing.  Chuzei Enki is more experienced and after the fire, you are afraid of fucking this up.

The temple doors slam open and five Dragonblooded walk out – one of each aspect.   In the lead is a Wood Aspect with bright green braided pigtails.   Despite being a different aspect, she reminds you of an older Chiyoko.  She has a bow in her hand and two green jade swords at her side.  Next to her stands a Fire Aspect with shaved hair and brown leather armor.   The other three Dragonblooded encircle you.  The air aspect clutches a chakram, with others hanging from his belt.   The water aspect falls to a crouch, her Mohawk falling forward.  The earth aspect walks barefoot on the earth, never taking her eyes off the Chuzei.

Chuzei Enki stands there patiently, swords in hand.   You met Chiyoko’s eyes.   What is the Chuzei’s plan?  He told you want he wanted you to do, but he never mentioned his part in the plan.  What was it?  You rest your hand on the handle of your jade sword.  The threads of fate are still as the empty village.   The encircled Dagonblooded fidget as they wait for either the Chuzei or Lung Duri to act.  You smile.  They don’t know what the Chuzei is doing either.

“Good, you found her.  Saves me the trouble of looking for her myself”  Lung Duri smirks.  “Hello, cousin.  You’ve grown since the last time I saw you.  I don’t know what the Chuzei has told you, but I am here to take you home.  Our grandmother is ill and desires your presence at her bedside.”

Chiyoko says nothing.  She watches the encircling Dragonblooded.

Chuzei Enki points a sword at Duri.  “Where are Mayim Masaru and Hui Aiko?”

“They are safe.”  The Fire Aspect behind Duri replies.

“Let me see them.”  The Chuzei demands.

“You don’t trust me, old man?”

“I don’t trust anyone who stabs me in the back, Lung Sunan.”

“Ah…  But I have heard stories of your time in the Wyld Hunt.”  The Fire Aspect takes a step forward and comes face to face with the Chuzei.  Mei Mei growls at her.  “You aren’t above using trickery to get you want you want.”

“Defeating Anathema demands trickery.”  He shakes his head. “We are Dragonblooded, Sunan.  Not Anathema.  We hold ourselves to a higher more civilized standard.”

Lung Sunan’s eyes narrow.  “I will enjoy killing you.”

“There will be no killing.”  Duri declares.   “Bring them out, Sunan.”

Sunan glances back.  “But…”

“Bring them out.”  Duri repeats again.   The Fire Aspect steps back away from Chuzei Enki and she enters the temple.  A few tense moments pass as everyone waits for Sunan to return.

“No killing, Duri?”  Chuzei Enki asks.

“Not unless you force me to.”

“So your father’s intentions are pure when it comes to my students?”

Duri forces herself to stare the Chuzei in the eye.  “Their fate depends on their parents.  If they support my father’s bid for the throne, then they will be safe.”

Chuzei Enki grunts at this.  “You don’t believe me?” Duri asks.

“I know my history.  No Shogun has ever taken the throne without bloodshed.”

“Ah, perhaps it is time for change of management.”  The temple doors open again and the Fire Aspect drags out Aiko and Masaru and dumps them on the temple steps.   Both are gagged.  Their hands are bound behind their back.   Dried blood encrusts the back of Masaru’s head.   He rolls to a crouch and his eyes widen when he sees you and Chiyoko.  Aiko has a bruise down the side of her face.   She stumbles down the steps until she is sitting upright on the last stair.

“A bit bruised but nothing that won’t heal in a few hours.”  Duri explains.  “I’ll give you another chance, Chuzei.   Surrender.   The children won’t be hurt….”

The old Earth Aspect spares you a glance.   Then he raises his swords and bellows.  Chuzei Enki charges.

What do you do?

  • Join Chuzei Enki in his charge and fight to free Aiko and Masaru
  • Avoidance Kata away with Chiyoko, Aiko, and Masaru
  • Surrender
  • Other

 

126 – Decision

You resist the urge to wipe your right palm on your cloak, as the gods await your judgement.   What you decide here could not only affect Root Beard and Despair’s Last Gasp, but every other god in the area.

Root Beard grips his beard tight and stares at his feet.  His case was simple compared to the River Goddess’.  Illegal worship was punishable by dissipation and disbandment of the cult.  Or was it just disbandment of the cult?

Fuck.  You wish you paid more attention to the lecture on Veneration Laws.  The Owl warned you this day would come.  Now you had to pass judgement on Root Beard and not fuck it up.

You take a deep breath.  “God of the Southeast Potato Field of Wong Farm, you admit to accepting worship from the children of this village.”

Root Beard attempts to defend himself one last time.  “It was only songs.”

“Songs are a form of worship,” you remind the field god.  “You will cease accepting worship outside of your festival.  You will attend today’s festival with your fellow potato gods.”

“If we have to wear silly clothes, so do you!”  Root Hair interjects.  The other potato gods nod in agreement.  Blind Grace hushes the field gods.

You continue.  “For the next century, you will under the guidance of…”  You observe one of the potato gods pick a booger out of his nose roots and flick onto the ear roots of the other.  “Root Hair.”  Out of all the potato gods, Root Hair seems the most competent.

“Ha!  You have to do what I say!”  Root Beard giggles.

“What?!”  Root Beard falls to his knees and grovels.  “Please have mercy, Chosen of Jupiter.  I will search my field for Boll Weevils.”

“Boll Weevils don’t live in Potato Fields.”  Root Hair corrects.

Root Beard tries again.  “I will pick every rock off my fields.”

“The farmers already do that with each planting.”  Root Hair says.

“Shut up!”  Root Beard stomps his foot.  “Why do you have to ruin everything!?”

“Root Beard,” you call.  The field god turns his attention back to you.  “If I find out you have been recruiting children again, I will strip you of your domain.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Yes, Yes!”  Root Beard grovels again.  The log bobs in the floodwaters.  “But what about my fields?!”

“I’m getting to that.”   The River Goddess flexes her claws as she watches your judgement on Root Beard.  The River Goddess’ situation was more difficult.  The penalty for first offense of Human Sacrifice was loss of domain.   You do not remember what the penalty was for attempted human sacrifice, if there was one.  “Audit, Audit!” you remember Akachi’s peacock feathered clad secretary shout down the hallway.  “When in doubt, always audit!”

You meet the River Goddess’ angry eyes.  “Receded the waters from the potato fields and I will see you get a fair audit.”

The River Goddess frowns and makes no move to pull her river back within its banks.  “If you do not receded your waters, we will dissipate you.”  Chiyoko draws her sword and ignites it with orange flame.

The River Goddess closes her claws and the waters drain from the fields.   “My Potatoes!”  Root Beard jumps off of his log and begins gathering potatoes to his chest.

Mei Mei barks at the potatoes still floating in the River.  “You need to return all the potatoes.” You remind the River Goddess.

A wave laps unto the bank and beaches the potatoes on the field.  Eyes burning with rage, the River Goddess asks, “Is there anything else?”

“Your auditor will not look favorably upon upsetting the field gods.” You warn the goddess.  Despair’s Last Gasp smirks and leaps back into her river.

The crowd begins to disperse.  “One more moment,” you announce.  The Gods give you their attention once again.  “The monk at the temple will be retiring soon.”  You will have Akachi arrange this.  “The new monk will know what occurred here today.  Anyone taking advantage of the temple’s lax enforcement will have until the new monk shows up to clean up their act. “

On that last warning, you nod and the gods fade away.  Soon only you, the Dragonblooded, and Blind Grace stand in the field.

“Jupiter chose well, Champion.”  Blind Grace tips her bamboo hat to you.  “You uncovered the truth and showed mercy when needed.”  Music drifts from the village.  You glance up at the grey skies and notice the rain as stopped.  “Come,” Blind Grace offers.  “Join us for the harvest festival.”

You open your mouth to decline the invitation, when Chiyoko speaks up.  “We will be honored to join your village’s harvest festival.”

“Come to my temple to wash up and for dry clothes.”   The village goddess frowns at you.  “Chosen of Jupiter, you may stay in that barn until your anima fades.”  She points out an old barn with peeling brown paint.  “I doubt the mistress of secrets wants her champions to become well known.”

“Thank you. Blind Grace” you say as the goddess fades away.   Arcane fate should take care of your involvement in this situation.  Yet it does not hurt to be extra careful.

Large bales of hay hold the wide barn doors open.     You find an enclosed stall, slide down the wall, and sit on the floor with your eyes closed.

“Are you okay?” Masaru asks.

You are tired and hungry, but you don’t tell Masaru that.  You remember his earlier comment about Sidereals.  What did Chuzei Enki tell your friends?   “I’m fine,” you say, without opening your eyes.  “Go up to the village temple.  I’ll be there in a bit.”

Masaru knits his brows and frowns.  “Are you sure?”

“Come on,” Aiko stands by the barn door and stares out at the fields.  “We left our horses by the potato god’s tree.  If we are staying, we need to stable them at the village.”

After Aiko and Masaru leave, Chiyoko sits down next to you.  You grab her hand.  She flinches, but then squeezes back.  “I always forget your anima doesn’t burn.”

“I wish it was brighter.” Your anima was dim compared to elemental beauty of Chiyoko’s.

“It suits you,”  Chiyoko traces the line of your anima, her fingertips brushing your skin.   You shiver.  “It’s…  It’s like mint in the kitchen garden.  You pass it by every day and you don’t realize it has a scent until you finger the leaves.”

You open your eyes and stare at Chiyoko, clad in armor.  Hair flat against her head from the rain.  You finally have her alone.  No Aiko with her snide comments on the other side of the dorm.  No Masaru and the reminder of his awkward future with Chiyoko.  Just you and her.  You pull Chiyoko closer and kiss her.

She winces and breaks off.  “Fucking armor.”  She turns her back to you.  “Can you help me out of it?” Your fingers fumble with the straps of her chest plate.  You watch as she slides out of her armor and sets it aside.  She runs her fingers though her damp hair.    The earlier rain soaked her woolen undershirt.  “Is there something wrong?”

You shake your head and remind yourself to leave an offering to Venus for this moment.  “No,” you smile.  “Everything is going right for once.”

Chiyoko sits down again and kisses you.  You caress the line of her spine though the thick fabric of her undershirt.  Chiyoko takes your hand and guides it under the hem.  Your heart races as your hands explore the unfamiliar terrain beneath Chiyoko’s shirt.

You hear the deep rumbling sound of someone clearing his throat.

What do you do?

  • That rumbling sound must be thunder. Continue what you are doing.
  • Break off and see who cleared their throat.
  • Jump away from Chiyoko and pretend nothing was going on
  • Other

125 – Judgement

Water creeps up the bank.  Mei Mei barks at the potatoes that float under the bridge.

“Attack?” Chiyoko lays a hand on her sword.

“No,” you shake your head. “I’m going to talk to them again.”

“Because that worked so well last time,” Aiko remarks.

You ignore her and walk off the bridge unto the muddy bank.  Your boots sink into the mud as you walk towards Root Beard’s field.  Facing the quarreling gods, you ignite your caste mark.  “You will cease this conflict at once!”

Your anima flares and extends out to wash the fields in emerald light.  You hear Mei Mei whine back on the bridge.  The River Goddess, eyes wide with fear, steps on to the shore.  The river waters calm yet do not recede.   Root Beard paddles his log over to you.

Maybe you went a bit overboard with your display of power.   You splash out into the ankle deep floodwaters.  You stand before the two gods, when you hear a squeaky voice.  “Shit, Root Beard.   You pissed off the Maidens!”

Three more potato gods, sitting in a row, materialize on Root Beard’s log.  One with roots growing out of his ear and another with roots growing out of his nose.   The third – the one who spoke – scratches her short spiky root hair on the top of her head.  “What did you do now, Root Beard?”

“Root Hair!”  Root Beard stomps, unsettling the log.  “You are making things worse!”

“Mama?”  A young girl emerges, her long algae green hair floating in the floodwaters.  “What’s going on, Mama?”

“Hush, Meander,”  the River Goddess orders.  “Go back to your Oxbow.”

Yet other gods begin to appear.  Gods of oats and beets walk in from the far fields.   Sheep goddesses titter as they materialize on top of hill.  The Audience grows as gentle pond gods meet up with wild forest gods.   Thousands of small gods appear and settle in around you and the others.  They watch you with an expectant air.

A hush falls over the audience as the crowd parts for a tall barefoot figure clad in homespun.  A bamboo hat obscures the goddess’ face and a shepherd’s staff lies in the crook of her arm.  The goddess stops before you and raises her face.  She has no eyes.  Her face covered in fresh homespun bandages.  “Child of the Maidens, what brings you my village?”

“I am Oracle Svante Visscher… Chosen of Jupiter,” you add when you see confusion on the village goddess’ face.   “I was sent to discover the secret about why Root Beard would not be attending his harvest festival.”  The crowd mutters when you reveal this, but you ignore them and focus on the blind goddess.  “May I have your name, goddess?”

“I have answered to many names over the ages, but here in this place and time I am known as Blind Grace.”  The goddess leans against her staff.  “I was unaware the Maidens had chosen champions.  I apologize for any disrespect I or the gods of my village may have given you.   If I had been informed of your arrival, we could have been better prepared.”

Opps.  Your cheeks burn.   Maybe you should have gone to the temple first.  Or maybe the goddess wanted time to hid the illegal activities of Root Beard and the other gods.   “I hoped not to attract attention to my mission, but the situation warranted action.”  The floodwaters lap at your ankles.

Blind Grace frowns and pokes the water with her staff.  “What have you discovered, Chosen of Jupiter?”

You take a deep breath and hope you read the crowd right.  “I have discovered an illegal cult ….and attempted human sacrifice.”

The crowd shuffles and whispers.   “Sacrifice!”   “They broke the Immaculate Code!”  “Why do they get a cult and all I get is a stupid song?”   “The Dragons will banish us like they did the Solars!”

Blind Grace raises her hands and the crowd falls silent.  Slowly, she approaches you.  Chiyoko draws her sword and moves to block her.   Blind Grace pauses.   “I mean the chosen of Jupiter now harm,” Blind Grace assures her.  “May I speak with Despair’s Last Gasp and Root Beard alone?”

You consider the village goddess’ request.  “You may speak with them, but I will be present to hear what you say.”

The Village goddess nods and takes the three of your aside.  The Dragonblooded encircle you and keep an eye on the crowd.

You wonder what Blind Grace has to say when she whoops Root Beard upside the head.

“Ow!”  Root Beard rubs his head.   His broken skin reveals white potato flesh.

“What are you doing bringing the wrath of the Exalted down on our village!”

“But, I didn’t….”

“No buts, God of the Southeast Potato Field of Wong Farm.”  The village goddess fumes.   “Whatever cult you have, end it.”

“It’s only children singing songs.”

“Children!”  Blind Grace whoops him again.  For an eyeless goddess, she has good aim.  “That makes it worse!”  She turns to the River Goddess.  “And you should have known better!  Root Beard may be too young, but you and I remember the Great War.   We know what the Exalted are capable of.   Just because the Solars are gone doesn’t mean we can drown humans without consequence!”

“I wasn’t going to drown anyone,” the River Goddess clarifies.

“Children!  Root Beard may be a fool, but you know the potential of a cult of children.  You know that they will not stay children forever.”  Blind Grace spits in anger.  “Ruining the good name of my village.   The monks have ignored us because we don’t cause problems.”   Blind Grace swepts her staff, taking in the flood, the dragonblooded, and you.   “This looks like problems to me!”  Blind Grace shakes her staff free of water and joins the crowd.  “Do what you will with them, Chosen of Jupiter.”

Thousands of divine eyes turn towards you.

What do you do?

  • Let the Village Goddess handle the cult
  • Assign a more competent monk to the temple to handle the cult
  • Give Root Beard a warning
  • Give the River Goddess a warning
  • Dissipate Root Beard
  • Dissipate the River Goddess
  • Strip Root Beard of his domain
  • Strip the River Goddess of her domain
  • Have the Dragonblooded end Root Beard
  • Have the Dragonblooded end the River Goddess
  • End Root Beard yourself
  • End the River Goddess yourself

((So many options!   Don’t worry too much about the how.  Just decide what you will do.))