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.”
“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?”
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