141 – Bloodlines

You glance at Elder Kejak and see the Secretary frowning in confusion.  Only his eyes betray his Resplendent Destiny as he observes Indrani .   Perhaps you only notice because you know the true man, not the false identity.  His eyes met yours and Elder Kejak gives you a slight nod.

You wipe your mouth with a napkin and clear your throat.   Best keep the conversation to cultural details.  Nothing mission related.   “I went tarantula hunting with the local children while I was there.   We cooked them over an open fire until all the hairs burn off.”

“Tarantulas….”  Indrani  pets Ling Ling and muses over the idea of eating spiders.  “I don’t think I have ever tried Tarantulas.  What do they taste like?  How did the children fare on such food?”

You remember the children starving, but you will not give mission details out.  “They looked okay.  The spiders taste like crab, though the taste isn’t as strong.”  Masaru kicks you under the table.   Out of the corner of your eye, you catch Chiyoko shaking her head at you.   You frown when you realize you might have condemned your friends into eating spiders.  “Not a lot of meat on them.  It wasn’t worth the effort to be honest.”

“I see.”   Indrani offers Ling Ling a tidbit of fish.   You think of something else to add, but your mind blanks.  Making conversation is hard.   The only thing you could think of was joking about tasting Alhat’s actual gems.   You doubt this is the appropriate audience for that joke.

“I heard a rumor the mortals hunt whales out in the far west islands.”  Masaru prompts you.  “Did you hear anything about that?”

You seize on the topic.  “Yes!  I participated in a coming of age ritual involving whale hunting.”

“With the Island Villagers?”   Indrani scoffs at the notion.  “No mortal can hunt a creature so large.”

“It’s true.”  You assure the Ancient Air Aspect.   “They have spears attached to their boats with long ropes.   You leap into the air off the boat and drive the spear into the whale’s flesh.  Other spear-carriers attack the whale.   The whale pulls the boat and tires out.”

“Clever!”  Reva approves.

“Did you come up with the idea?”  Indrani asks.

“No, ma’am.”   You replied confused.  “They have been hunting whales like that for generations.”

“Some Mayim must have taught them how.”   The old woman smiles at you.  “I’m sure the mortals were glad to have the support of an Exalt for their whale hunting.”

If it were not for the interference of gods and Exalts, the islanders would not have needed your help with the whale hunt.   You did not like the implication the islanders were incapable of hunting whales without an Exalt to show them how.   You look down at your plate.   You have lost the taste for your food and this conversation.

“Lady Indrani, you have barely let my nephew eat.”  Elder Kejak nods at you in approval.  You relax and try to finish your plate.   “I’m curious why you are paying him so much attention.”

Indrani chuckles.  “You got me, secretary.   Or rather I got you.”   She motions with a wizened hand to Yi, Masaru’s older brother.  “Bring me the Lung Bloodline scrolls.”  The air aspect nods and climbs a ladder to a large shelf of scrolls.   “I have done much work the Dragonblooded Bloodlines since the Shogun gave me domain over the marriage contracts.  No Dragonblooded marries without my approval.”

Aiko snorts at this.  Chiyoko plays with her food a small smile.   Masaru stares off at nothing.  He has obviously heard this speech many times before.  Reva watches her mother, her face carefully blank.

“No!  That’s Ling Ling’s Pedigree!  Two shelves down!”   Yi brings her the correct scroll- an ornate red jade container with orange tassels swinging from the tips.   Reva clears the dishes off the table to make room.

“Gent Lung.”   Indrani unrolls the scrolls to reveal a family tree going back centuries.   Indrani traces the line from the current Shogun to Lung Guanyu, a youngest son of the Shogun, who married a distant cousin, and finally to Lung Chiyoko.   “A bloodline of brutes and warlords.   Wasting their lives before bearing their heirs.  Wasting their seed on unworthy, treacherous partners. “   Aiko’s name branches off the oldest son, a Lung Yin, though her mother’s name is blank.   “When Zheng became Shogun, she put a stop to this.”

“Intelligence.  Beauty.  Fertility.  Purity of blood.  These are the characteristics I breed for.   Sometimes politics interferes, but it is how these three children here came to be.”   She smiles at that end of the table.   None of the children met her eyes.

“Hmmm….”  The secretary gives the scroll a polite look over.   “I don’t see how any of this has to do with Svante.  Gent Cnead isn’t known for its purity of blood.  Svante would be poor breeding material for your bloodlines.”

Indrani shakes her finger.  “Don’t play coy with me, Secretary.  I’ve heard you complain about not enough Sidereals to be everywhere needed in Creation.  I’ve had my people do a census on your people.”  You and Elder Kejak exchange a look.  A census?

“According to our calculations there are exactly 832 Sidereals.”  Indrani  states.

“Approximately 832 Sidereals.”  Reva corrects.

“Bah.”  Indrani  waves her daughter’s correction off.    “We found our way around that little Arcane Fate issue.  Our methods are sound.   ”  Reva frowns at her mother, but says nothing.

“My elders would be greatly interesting in your methodology.”  the Secretary says.   You are sure that Indrani’s methodology is destined to be filed in the incense burner.   832 Sidereals!    If only, there were that many!  “That still doesn’t explain your interest in Svante.”

“This boy is proof!  Do you know how many Sidereal children we have found in our research?”

Elder Kejak sighs.  “I’m sure you are about to enlighten me.”

“One.”  Indrani  points at you.   The whole table looks at you.   You squirm under their gaze.  “One child with Fire Aspect markings.  You have been experimenting with combining our Bloodlines with your own!”

What?  What the fuck is this old bat talking about?    You look at Elder Kejak in a panic.  He ignores you as he processes this new information.   Was this a situation not even he considered?  How could he?  A Sidereal Exalts reincarnate, they do not carry down though bloodlines.   Where did Indrani get this idea?

“Your bloodlines are failing.   You overprotect your children because your people have only managed to produce one this generation.   And you had to breed with the Blood of the Dragons to conceive this one.”

You remember a long boring lunch you shared with Akachi and Elder Kejak a few months ago.   The Immaculate texts mention Solars and Lunars but not Sidereals.  Yet, Akachi favored telling the Dragonblooded the truth about Sidereals.   He believed an open honest policy was best.  Elder Kejak disagreed.  He argued that the less the Dragonblooded knew about Sidereals the better.  Moreover, the rest of the Elder Council agreed with him.  You had a suspicion that Akachi let you be open with your friends because he wanted to test this hypothesis.

In the absence of information, Indrani would come to her own conclusions.   “I thank you for using Gent Cnead in your experiment and not interfering with my own work.  If you came to me, I could have helped you directly.  “

“While your offer is very generous, I do not have the authority to make any decisions without consulting my elders.”  The Secretary replies.  You could just imagine Akachi’s face when he hears about this.

“Do talk to your elders.   I’m getting old, Secretary.  I won’t be around much longer to help you.”  She hugs Ling Ling to her chest and sets the dog on his pillow.  “Secretary, you are a young man.   Are you married? ”

“Mother!”  Reva interrupts.  “Please stop discussing marriage contracts over dinner!”

You cover mouth to keep from laughing aloud at Elder Kejak’s predicament.  Elder Kejak’s stare kills your laughter.

“Grandmother?”  Masaru interrupts, looking at you.  “Have you considered a political marriage between a Sidereal and a Dragonblooded?”   You kick Masaru under the table.

Hope blossoms in Chiyoko’s eyes.  “Yes.  The Sidereals are some of Gent Lung’s strongest allies.  It makes political sense to bring them into the Gent.”

Are Masaru and Chiyoko trying to use you to break their engagement?  You consider the implications of this.  You like Chiyoko a lot, but thirteen is a bit young to be considering marriage.  Frankly, arranged marriages are stupid.   And breeding people like dogs gives you the creeps.

“Masaru, you are not getting out of your betrothal.”  Reva stresses.  Masaru slumps into his chair in defeat.

“No, of course not.   Chiyoko and Masaru are definitely getting married.  Zheng and I have waited a long time to bring our bloodlines together.”  Indrani returns to the nonexistent Sidereal bloodlines.   “While we know the Blood of the Dragons enhances the Sidereal bloodlines, we don’t know their effect on our bloodlines.”

“Now, Indrani …”  the Secretary objects.

“Don’t worry, Secretary.   We will not dishonor you with mortal blood.  We just need to find a suitable match.  Someone with pure blood, yet who is politically unmarriageable….”   She looks to Aiko has spent the entire conversation hiding her head in her arms.  She looks up with tears of laughter in her eyes.  Her amusement dies when she sees Indrani’s regarding her.

“Wait….”  The horror of what Indrani is implying dawns on you.    “You don’t mean Aiko and me?”

What do you do?

  • No no no no no no no
  • Reveal the truth about Sidereals. There are no bloodlines.  All of Indrani’s research is useless.
  • Let Elder Kejak handle it. Now would a good time for him to break character.
  • Explain how your views on arranged marriages and how stupid they are.
  • Other

((Great to be back!   ))

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140 – Ling Ling

“No!”  You crouch down low and wide.   Wanahton taught you never to show fear to an animal.  Not that this Shih Tzu is a fearsome beast.   When the dog ignores your orders and goes for your ankle, you grab him by the scruff of his neck and pin him to the tile floor.  “Calm the fuck down.” You order, adopting the Untamed Face.

The dog does not struggle in your grip, but you feel a deep growl though your fingers.  “What are you doing in my territory?” the dog snarls.

“Your mistress invited me.”

“Svante!”  Elder Kejak’s voice draws your attention away from the dog to the rest of the room.   Chiyoko covers her giggles with her mouth.  Aiko whispers in her ear and winks at you.   Masaru and his brother stare at you, mouths agape in shock.

“Svante.”  Elder Kejak warns.  You sigh and let the dog up.  The Shih Tzu growls and is about to attack again when you hear a voice cry down the hallway.  “Ling Ling!”  The dog cocks his head and goes running down the hallway.

The secretary pats you on the back.  “I know you like to play rough with dogs, but I’m sure Yi will not appreciate his clothes he loaned being dirtied before dinner. “

Yi perks up at the mention of his name.  “It’s no bother.  I haven’t fit in those clothes in years.”

Mei Mei whines and you pick her up.   So that was Ling Ling.  Sasha said he was evil incarnate.  You look down at your puppy.  Mei Mei was one of his puppies.

Ling Ling appears, carried by a shriveled version of the woman in the tapestry.  Dressed in rich flowing silk robes, the decades have shrunken Raijin Indrani.  Yet her eyes flash with blue white light.

“Lady Indrani,”  Chiyoko bows her head.  “My cousin and I thank you for inviting us to dinner.”   Silent as a stone, Aiko stands just behind Chiyoko.  Her fingernails bit into her wrist.

“Gracious as always, Lady Chiyoko,” Indrani’s voice is warm with approval.  She reaches out and gives Chiyoko’s hand a squeeze.  Chiyoko returns a weak smile.   “You have grown tall since the last time I saw you, but a shade thin.  Have you been eating enough?  What has that school been feeding you?”

“The school has been feeding us fine.”  Aiko responds.

Indrani ignores her and pats Chiyoko’s cheek.   “You should spend the summer with me.  A few weeks of good food will fill in those hollow cheeks.  If I can wrangle my grandson from his father, Masaru can join you.   Would it be nice for the two of you to get to know each other away from school?”

Masaru opens his mouth to disagree, but his brother pokes him in the ribs.

Chiyoko collects her thoughts before answering “That is a generous offer, Lady Indrani.  I know you have a busy schedule.”

“It’s no problem at all.  I could use the company, especially after….”  The ancient Air Aspect trails off at the mention of the Shogun’s eminent death.

Chiyoko closes her eyes pained.  “I was to spend the summer with my mother.   Neither my father and I have seen her since I was five.”  She whispers.

“Plans can change.”  Indrani gives Chiyoko a small smile.  “As I said I could use the company this summer.”

Chiyoko mutters something unintelligible.  Indrani turns her attention to her to you and Elder Kejak.  “Lady Indrani, it’s a pleasure to see you again…”

“Yes Yes Yes,”  She waves the secretary off.  “I’ll get to you in a bit.”   You thought Elder Kejak has a piercing stare, but you have never been judged by Raijin Indrani.   She examines you from head to toe as if inspecting a purebred puppy.   “So you are Svante.”

You nod.  For someone to remember your name before you even met them is a rare occurrence.  Indrani’s eyes narrow and you realize she is expecting something more.  “Yes, ma’am.”

She takes a step closer to you.  So close you can smell her musky violet perfume.   You have to stop yourself from retreating.   She reaches for your hand and studies it.  For a moment, you wonder if she is going to read your palm.  “Large hands.  Northern blood usually breeds tall and broad men.  You’ll have your uncle’s height, though his bone structure isn’t has heavy as yours will be.  “  Elder Kejak, who would blend in well on the Blessed Isle, looks nothing like you.

Elder Kejak breaks between you and Air Aspect.   You retreat to Chiyoko and Aiko.   “My brother said he has hit his growth spurt this year.”

Indrani smiles, but does not step back.  “You will have to forgive my curiosity, secretary.  I have never seen a Sidereal child before.”

“We are very careful with our children.  My nephew would not be here if we did not trust you and your gent.  For example, I trust you have warded these apartments from eavesdropping.”

“I have warded these rooms myself, secretary” Reva appears from a side hallway.  “I have also kenneled all the dogs for the night and drugged the servants to sleep.   Sujay and Basma are watching over them.”   She stands aside and indicates you continue to the dining room.  “We will not be disturbed.”

Both you and Elder Kejak glance towards Ling Ling.

Indrani rolls her eyes.  “Ling Ling never leaves my side.”   With a flick of her robes, she turns away from the secretary and heads to the dining room.

An exotic spread of delicacies from around Creation lies on a long table.  Much more food than the number of diners could eat.   This feast could rival the meals you have eaten in Yu-Shan.  You have had nothing to eat except cold trail rations since this morning, you could eat a feast this large.  Your stomach grumbles in agreement.

“Why can’t your grandmother serve normal food?”  Chiyoko whispers to Masaru.

“If people eat soup hot, my grandmother serves it cold.”  Masaru has a plate of rice, seaweed, and fish fillets folded into origami cranes.

“Dragons, she’s serving Ahlat’s Gems.”  Aiko points out a plate of fried nuggets.

“Really?”  You pick up a tong to add some to your plate.

“You do realize that is bull testicles.”  Masaru whispers.

“It’s a delicacy in the Southeast.”  You put a few on your plate.  “They have a similar texture to scallops.  You fry anything up, it tastes good.”

“You approve, Svante?”  Indrani asks.  “I see you’ve found the Ahlat’s Gems.  Good for young warriors.   Makes them fierce.”   She eyes her grandsons as she says this.   “You should eat up, boys.  Dragons know you could use some fierceness.”   Masaru retreats from the buffet to his seat, without taking any Ahlat’s Gems.

“If that woman makes me eat bull testicles, I’m going to fillet her with my fork.”  Aiko hisses after Indrani wanders off to make a plate for Ling Ling.

“Please not here, Aiko.”  Chiyoko sits down next to Masaru.  You go to sit next to Chiyoko and Elder Kejak pats the table next to him.   You sigh and sit in the empty chair between him and Masaru.   Aiko takes the seat on the other side of Chiyoko, furthest from the Indrani.

“You seem to know your way around the Cuisine of Creation, Svante.”  Indrani comments.   Ling Ling has his own seat at the table and is licking clean a plate.  Mei Mei sits by your chair, waiting for scraps.

Remember to complement the food.  “Yes, the food is very good.”

Indrani begins to ask another question and the secretary interrupts.  “My brother has traveled with Svante all over Creation.  Just a few months ago, he visited the Western Islands.  The Cobalt Atoll…. “

“Ah, what interesting food did you eat there, Svante?”  Indrani interrupts the secretary.

“Um…”  You swallow to clear your mouth.  Why was Indrani asking you all these questions?  Didn’t she believe in silent children?

What do you do?

  • Answer her question truthfully and make conversation.
  • Ask one of your own.  Why was she questioning you?
  • Stare at you plate and play shy.  Let Elder Kejak steer the conversation
  • Other



((My failure at describing food shouldn’t delay this post. ))

139 – Grooming

“Are you kidding me?  Do you really expect me to hide in Yu-Shan and abandon everyone here?”  You cross your arms.  “What do you need me to do?”

Elder Kejak’s face breaks into a smile.  “Good!    I didn’t expect you to leave, but I wanted to hear you say it out loud.”  He relaxes and steeples his fingers.   “Your primary mission hasn’t changed.  Stay close to Chiyoko and the others.   Keep an eye on the servants.  Any one of them can be a potential Lunar.   I may have some names of potential Lunar doppelgangers to investigate later. “

“After everyone retires for the night, wander the manse outside of fate.  You have an instinct for finding trouble, but” Elder Kejak cautions, “do not get involved.   Find me instead.”

“What about Lung Duri?  She still has the gift of the Broken Mask.”

“When the time is right, I will tell you to ungift her.  Creation will remember Hayate’s daughter.”  He smiles.  “We want Hayate to incriminate himself before he brings his alliance with the Lunars to an end.”

“Won’t they suspect our involvement?”

“No, not if they don’t know you are a Sidereal.  You must not reveal yourself under any circumstances.”  Elder Kejak strokes his beard.  “You are our greatest advantage, Svante.  No one will suspect anyone so young of being a Celestial Exalt. “

“But…”  Elder Kejak had revealed you as a Sidereal already.

He holds up a hand.  “Yes, I know I revealed you to Reva and her circle, but she is clever enough to figure out who you are.   She had to been told or else she would have revealed you at an inopportune time. Also, Indrani also knows by now.”  He sighs.

“Is there anything else?”   Elder Kejak has a long list of duties for you.   When did he expect you to sleep?

“Oh, yes.”  He walks over to the chest of drawers and reveals the Five Moons of Denial.   Your copy of the Five Moons of Denial.  You can see the puppy gnawed corner.  Elder Kejak sets it on the table in front of you.  “You can use this opportunity to catch up on your reading.”

You groan and slam your head on the book, as the secretary answers a knock at the door.  A servant enters carrying a crate full of grooming supplies and a change of clothes.

 

You sit in the bathtub and scrub the river mud off your skin.   Despite the warm water, you tremble.   You drop the cloth into the water and step out of the tub.  You stare in the mirror and the Svante who stares back seems hollow, unrecognizable.   You blink one eye and the reflection blinks with you.   You lean your brow against the mirror.   Rage, Fear, Guilt, Grief are the emotions you expect to feel after murdering someone.

Instead, you feel empty.

Mei Mei’s howls distract you from your dark thoughts.

“What?” the sevant yells over the howls.

“Will she outgrow making such a racket?”  the secretary yells back.

“Some dogs do. Some don’t.  Each dog is different….”  The howls stop.  “Grab her! Grab her!”  You hear a wet thump and feet pattering on the floor.

Scratch Scratch Scratch.   A puddle of water dribbles out from under the bottom of the bathroom door.   Mei Mei whines.

“Do you need any help?” you ask.

“No, we are fine.”

“Got her!”  Mei Mei howls again as the servant carries her back to the tub.

You sort through the clothes the servant gave you.  You hold up a grey silk robe embroidered with silver blue-eyed dragons.  You robe yourself in the dull Air Aspected clothing and frown as you smooth out the cloth.   Your eyes fall on your emerald green Wings of the Raptor.  Somehow, your cloak managed not to attract a speck of river mud.   You fidget with the cloak’s broach and adjust the cloak to fall over one shoulder.   Better.

“Svante, we are going to be late!”  The Secretary yells.  You run your fingers through your hair and exit the bathroom.

“No, I don’t think curling irons are necessary.  A brushing will just have to do.  I’ve got a very important dinner engagement tonight. “  The secretary hovers over the harried servant brushing Mei Mei.   Miraculously, Elder Kejak’s clothes are dry.   He looks you over with a critical eye.   “You need a brushing too.”

You run your fingers through your hair again.  “Akachi says the tousled look is popular right now.”

Elder Kejak offers you a comb.  “Indrani is over two centuries old.  I doubt she approves of the latest fashions.”  You get the idea that Elder Kejak does not improve of them either.  His own hair is neatly pulled back into a tail.

You ignore the comb.  “I would think an elder Exalt would have bigger problems to worry about then my hair.”

“I have some hot irons to straight his hair.”  The servant offers.  She ties Mei Mei’s bangs up with a red ribbon.

Hot Irons!  You grip your hair and shake your head no.   Thankfully, Elder Kejak excuses the servant.  He sighs.  “Remember your manners and complement the food when prompted.  Answer questions when spoken to, but keep the responses brief and to the point.  Fortunately, Indrani believes children should be seen, not heard.”

You and Mei Mei follow the secretary.  Each hallways is a twin to the last.   Dragonblooded officials and mortal bureaucrats hurry down the hallways on important business.   The secretary pauses in one quiet hallway, confused.  Two Dragonblooded guards stand outside of a doorway.   “May we help you?”

The secretary scratches the back of his head.  “Ah, yes.  I have seen to be turned around.  Do you know where Raijin Indrani’s apartment is?”

“I can show you, Secretary.”  Chiyoko emerges from the guarded door.  She gives you a small smile.

“Good Evening, Lady Chiyoko.  If you would be so kind.”  The secretary waves his hand around.  “I get so turned around in this manse. “

“It would be no problem.”  Chiyoko replies.  “We will have to wait for Aiko to finish getting ready.”   As if summoned by her name, Aiko opens the door across from Chiyoko’s.   Chiyoko does not have a roommate here, you realize.   You file this information away for future reference.

The secretary motions for Chiyoko to take the lead.   The two guards fall in behind the group.   Aiko whispers to you “These are the guards Chiyoko’s father tried to send to school with us.”  You glance back at the guards.   The women’s uniforms show them as an Earth Aspect and a Fire Aspect, yet both have dark brown hair and eyes.  Only the elemental tinge of their skin betrays them as Dragonblooded.

“They are lost eggs.”  Aiko explains.

“What?”

“Lost eggs.   Dragonblooded born of mortal mothers.    Yeh Sujay tries to find work for them around the Shogunate, mostly as mercenaries.   Chiyoko’s father hired these two to guard Chiyoko and I. “   Aiko steps away from you, when you reach an alcove lined with sheer silver curtains.  Four more Dragonblooded guards, these of high breeding, guard a set of double doors.

The doors open.  Masaru and another older Air Aspect boy in his late teens step out.   Tall and lean, the boy has silver blue hair and a set of wire glasses at the bridge of this nose.  His light blue-grey eyes dart between you and Elder Kejak.  “Good Evening…  I am Raijin Yi…. This is my brother, Mayim Masaru.  Though I guess you already know him….”

Masaru elbows his brother and continues in his place.  “Our grandmother would like us to escort you to the banquet hall.   If you would follow us.   Please watch your step.  Our grandmother would be most unhappy if you harm one of her dogs.”

You follow Masaru and his older brother into the apartment.  Yi stares at you and then looks away when you stare back.  Masaru walks up beside you and whispers.  “My brother never paid much attention to the night sky before tonight.”   Elder Kejak frowns when he overhears Masaru.   Yi knows you and Elder Kejak are Sidereals.  Keeping this secret will be more difficult than you imagined.

Tapestries cover the walls of Indrani’s apartment.   You pause at once depicting an Air Aspect amidst a raging storm.   Lightning cracks from her fingers and an army of Fair Folk and other wyld beasts swirl in the gale around her.

“Raijin Indrani at the height of her military career.”  Elder Kejak explains.

You hear the sound of nails clicking on tile.  A regal black and white Shih Tzu saunters into the room.  His hair bound in a Shogunate topknot.   He snarls and rushes at you, teeth bared.

What do you do?

  • Dodge out of the dog’s way
  • Kick the dog away
  • Stand tall and yell “No!”
  • Pin the Dog to the floor
  • Other

138 – Explainations

“No,”  you look down at your hands lying in your lap.  “I don’t understand.  People died because of my actions.  It doesn’t feel right we are profiting from a tragedy.”

“Not profiting from the situation will not bring back those who died, Svante.”  Elder Kejak patiently explains.  “Do not let Lung Duri’s death sake your confidence.  When the Maidens gift us with power, they do not make us perfect.”

“If I had just followed Chuzei Enki’s orders…” you stop when Elder Kejak rubs the bridge of his nose.  “What?”

“Chuzei Enki was not… the most imaginative man.  It is entirely possible events would have played out the same way or worse.  To be honest, we were all surprised when Mars chose one of his children…”

“What the fuck does that have to do with anything!?” Your chair clatters to the floor as you stand up.  “Chuzei Enki died.  According to Chiyoko, I dishonored his death by disobeying his orders.”  You clench your fist.  “And you sit here and insult his intelligence.  Especially after the idiot act you pulled tonight.”

“Svante, sit down.”  Elder Kejak’s tone bore no disobedience.

You stand over the elder Sidereal, trembling.  You wanted to throw the chair against the wall.  Instead, you pick it up and sit back down at the table.

Elder Kejak sits calmly at the table, watching you settle in your chair.  “Svante, growing up means you must understand some hard truths.  And here in this place, I need you to be more grown up then you have ever been.”

“First, you need to realize Saturn comes for us all.   Not even we, the chosen of the Maidens can deter her.  If it was Enki Osamu’s time to die, nothing you could have done would change that.”  In a softer tone, he adds.  “I would not worry too much about Chiyoko’s words.  She feels just as responsible for her Chuzei’s death as you do.”

“Which brings me to another hard truth.   Dragonblooded children are raised differently than you were. They have to be prepared for the day the Shogunate requires them to sacrifice their lives.   While the death of a Dragonblooded is a tragedy, a death of a Sidereal is a catastrophe. “  Elder Kejak points at you.  “You are one of a hundred.   Dragonblooded are born each day.  A Sidereal we have to wait decades before their reincarnation.”

“Yet the elders had a vote whether I should live or die.”

“I believe you understand now how much damage you are capable of.”   Elder Kejak reminds you before returning to the topic at hand.  “Thirdly, I find it convenient to play the fool before the Shogunate court.   Very few know that I am not the helpless mortal I appear to be.   No one besides you and Sasha know my position among the other Sidereals.”  Elder Kejak smiles to himself.  “You would be surprised by what people say in front of those they believe to be fools.”

The elder Sidereal leans forward.  “What happens over the next few days will decide the future of the Shogunate.  These are dangerous and chaotic times, Svante, yet such times are when heroes are made.”

“If this place is so dangerous, why did you have us come here?”

“Us?” Elder Kejak repeats and then he nods in understanding. “Lung Chiyoko’s and Mayim Masaru’s parents needed a reminder of what they fight for.  I am not surprised the Lunars have an interest in the Shogun’s succession.  What is unexpected is they have gained support among the Dragonblooded.  Lung Hayate is playing a dangerous game….”  Elder Kejak muses and shakes his head in disapproval.  “Svante, I need another pair of eyes here.   I can’t be everywhere I need to be and Sasha’s attention is focused on the Shogun.”

You consider everything Elder Kejak said. “Now their parents have been reminded, why couldn’t Chiyoko and the others retreat to Yu-Shan?  It is safer there.”

Elder Kejak snorts.  “I am more likely to move Mount Meru than convince Raijin Reva and Lung Gayoto to let their children out of their sight.  Though…”   Elder Kejak’s emerald green eyes met your own.  “Heading back to Yu-Shan is an option for you.   Is that what you would like?”

What do you do?

  • Head back to Yu-Shan
  • Stay in Meru
  • Other

137 – Invitation

“Mei Mei was a birthday present,” you reply, brows knit in confusion.  Why did Masaru’s mother want to know about Mei Mei.  Besides being your puppy, there was nothing special about her.  “Did you want a puppy?”

“Dragons, no.  The last thing I need is more puppies.”  In spite of the tartness of her words, Lady Reva picks Mei Mei up and brushes dried mud out of her fur.  “Why are you cover in mud, puppy?”  Mei Mei wags her tail and licks Reva’s face.

“We gave her a bath yesterday,” you defend yourself.

“Mother,”  Masaru looks to you.  “Mei Mei isn’t one of grandmother’s puppies is she?”  You shrug.  You have no clue who Masaru’s grandmother is.

Reva holds up a finger to silence her son.  She walks over to the Shogun’s secretary, puppy in arms.  “Is this the dog you acquired from my mother for your nephew’s birthday present?”

The Secretary wipes sweat off his brow and croaks.  “She told you about that?”

“My mother tells me everything about her dogs.”

“In excruciating detail,” Sujay, the Wood Aspect, quips.  Basma snickers.

Reva silences her circle with a stare.  She turns back to the Secretary.  “Is this the dog you gave your nephew?”

“Your mother has a great many black and white puppies…”

“Secretary,” Reva cuts him off.  “A yes or no will suffice.”

Elder Kejak weighs his options and finally replies.  “Yes.”

“This boy is a Sidereal.”  Reva declares.  Shit.  So much for your cover.

The Secretary frowns in confusion.  “I’m not following your logic, Lady Reva.”

“The boy has the puppy.  The puppy you gave your nephew.”  Lady Reva explains slowly.  “Thus it stands to reason this boy is a Sidereal.”

You are not following Lady Reva’s line of thinking either.  You glance at Masaru, who is busy staring at his boots.

“Really, Reva” the Secretary protests.  “That is a wild assumption to make.  What makes you think any of my nieces and nephews are Sidereals?”

Reva ignores the question and asks one of her own.  “What is he doing in my son’s circle?”

Before the secretary can reply, Masaru speaks up.  “He’s my friend.”

“Your friend…  How did you meet him?”

“The Chuzei assigned Svante as my roommate at the beginning of the school year …. And he’s the only other boy at the school my age who cares about manga. “

Reva studies you and now you are the one staring at your boots.   She hands the puppy over to the secretary, who juggles the dog for a moment.   “Who piloted the Blood in the Breeze?”  She asks you.

The Blood in the Breeze is one of the warstriders from Metal Gods.  “Cora Nadia.”

Lady Reva taps her finger on her lips.  “What is the name of Fikaria’s sword?”

Fikaria was a Fair Folk minion in Kill Fire Sword.   “The sword has different names based on the time of day.  In the evening, it is the Lover’s Sigh.  In the morning, it is Lover’s Last Breath.  At all other times of the day, it is nameless.“

“What is the name of the immoral mortal in Adventures of the Immaculate Dragons?”

“Um….”  You knew one of Masaru’s relatives sent him a copy, but you never actually read that comic.

Reva smiles.  “Don’t worry, Svante.  No one actually reads Adventures of the Immaculate Dragons.”

“How do you know what the mortal’s name is?” Masaru asks.

“When my mother burned all my manga when I was a child, she graciously left me a copy of the Adventures of the Immaculate Dragons.”  Reva sighs.  “Masaru, why didn’t you tell me about your roommate?”

“I can’t write to you about him because… Sidereals….”  Masaru explains.  “And I haven’t seen you since before my second breath.”  Reva goes to her son and cups his face in her hands.  “I know you are busy…”

“Shh…”  She hugs Masaru and closes her eyes.  “It’s okay.”

You almost jump when you feel a hand on your shoulder.  You look to find Elder Kejak by your side.  “Masaru and the rest of his circle have been good friends to Svante.   He’s been lonely since taking his second breath.”

Lady Reva wipes unshed tears from her eyes.  “Let’s collect the rest of your circle and head back.”

 

You climb though the lower ruins of Meru, though ruins are not the term you would use.  The majority of the buildings are in perfect condition.  They stand empty and silent, waiting for the Anathema masters to return.   Only the weeds growing though sidewalks and the flickering streetlights betray Meru’s decline.

Lady Reva leads the way with Sujay by her side.  You, the Secretary, Chiyoko, and the rest walk next.  Basma brings up the rear.   In the distance, the sky glows with amber light.  As you approach, you see an idyllic park ablaze.  Each tree burns like a fiery flower.  White light cracks the ash-covered ground.  Crimson char flutters around you.

“The park has burned since the Usurpation.”  Elder Kejak explains.  He grips his staff and watches the fire.  The blaze casts dark shadows on his face.  “A Solar fell here and wanted Creation to never forget his passing.”

You turn away from the destruction.  The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Danger!

Sujay shoots into the darkness.   A yelp.  He runs over and returns with a feline corpse.  Its adorable chubby face is at odds with its long fangs and claws.  “They are breeding again.  I saw his mate slither away with a litter of kits.”

“We will let the guard post know to send out a crew to clear them out again.”  Basma says.

Finally, you reach a section of Meru where the streets lights glow bright.  A tall jade wall encircles a large part of the city.  A full circle of five Dragonblooded guards the gate.  Other Dragonblooded patrol the wall.

Lady Reva brushes her fingers against the jade stone of the gate.  It opens to reveal the bustle of a living breathing city.  Cafes and shops line the street.  A group of mortal women titters as you pass.  They fall silent when you stare at them.

“Bitches,”  Aiko hisses under her breath as they hurry off.

A young girl – too young to have Exalted- with Water Aspect markings walks up to Chiyoko.  “Lung Chiyoko, may I have your autograph?”  She has a copy of last month’s Pretty Dragon Princess Meru in her hand.

“Go Away!”  Chiyoko hisses.

The girl bites her lip and the Fire Aspect whispers in her ear.   Masaru watches the girl wanders off.  “She just wanted an autograph.”

“I’m not Pretty Dragon Princess Meru!”   Chiyoko rages.  “I didn’t ask for some stupid mortal to write a manga about my life.”

“But it isn’t about your life….”  Masaru reasons.  “The main character was just based on you.”

“I don’t care!”  Chiyoko looks away and keeps walking.  “I fucking hate this place.”  She whispers.

You are about to say something, when Elder Kejak interrupts.  “Look, Svante.  There is the Chrysanthemum manse.”  He points out a Red Jade building with tall columns, sitting on a cliff.   “That’s where we are headed.”

Your legs burn by the time you reach the entrance of the manse.  Lady Reva leads the group past the guards and into a large echoing atrium.   You follow her though a large set of black jade doors and down a carpeted hallway.  Elder Kejak pauses at a junction.  “If you would excuse me, Lady Reva, I must see my nephew settled in.”

Chiyoko gives you a queer look and mouths “Nephew?”

You mouth back “Later.”

Reva holds up a hand.  “A moment, Secretary.”  She cocks her head, listening.  “My mother would like to invite you and your nephew to join our circles for dinner.”

“Our Circles?”  Chiyoko repeats in dismay.

“Dinner with Grandmother?”  Masaru gulps.

“I rather dine with the heart eating anathema.”  Aiko says.

“Children,”  Reva colors the word with her displeasure.  “The Blood of the Dragon shows respect for their elders.”

“Yes, Lady Reva.”  “Yes, Mother.”

The Secretary bows.  “We would be honored to join you and your mother for dinner.”

Aiko makes a hacking sound.  Lady Reva frowns and Aiko falls silent.  You cannot remember the last time you ate, but you decide that fasting may be a good experience for you.

“Will we have time to freshen up?”  The Secretary says, ignoring Aiko’s interruption.  A clump of mud falls off Mei Mei onto the carpet.

“We can delay dinner until you give the puppy a bath.  My mother cannot see the dog in such a state.  I’ll send some servants with the necessary grooming items and clothes for your nephew.”  Lady Reva leads Chiyoko and the others away.  Chiyoko looks back with a forlorn expression.

 

The Shogun’s Secretary has a single Spartan room with a bed, small round table with two chairs, and a chest of drawer.  Two doors line the left side of the room, one ajar to reveal a bathroom.  A fireplace is located on the right wall.  Elder Kejak walks to the far wall and opens the lone window to the night sky.  You sit in one of the chairs and wait as the Elder Sidereal studies the stars.  He nods to himself, satisfied with the stars and close the window.   “We won’t be over heard here.”  The window latches with a loud click.

He sits down in the chair across from you and studies you with an intensity that makes you squirm in your seat. You break the silence.  “Why did you reveal me as a Sidereal?”

Elder Kejak digs under his robes for a long starmetal chain.  A small cache egg pedant hangs from the end.  He sits the egg on his desk and taps it with one long finger.  The egg cracks open and unfolds to reveal a writing desk stocks with prayer rolls and fine Yu-Shan ink.

“I had already planned to introduce you as my nephew.”  Elder Kejak sorts though the prayer rolls.  “I had even written a Resplendent Destiny for you to sign.”  With a sigh, he throws one of the rolls into the fire.   “It is unfortunate Reva received news of her son’s disappearance so quickly.  Once you and Masaru had arrived, I had planned to reveal Masaru as safe.”  He unrolls another prayer roll and adjusts the destiny.  “But we have made the best of the situation.”  The ink on the roll glows with a faint emerald light.  Elder Kejak tucks the roll into the desk and refolds the cache egg.

“We do not have much time.  Tonight we will be dining with Raijin Indarni, who is the head of Gens Raijin and most importantly, the Shogun’s lover.   I have requested an audience with her days ago, but she has been busy with affairs of state during the Shogun’s illness.  Sasha has spoken with her some, but Indarni requires special handling.”

“Why do you need to talk to her?”

“Her words carry weight in the Shogunate.  We need her to support our choice to succeed the Shogun. Akane is infertile and that weighs heavily against her in Indarni’s estimation.”  Elder Kejak rubs his face and sighs.  “Fortunately, Indarni is less than impressed with Hayate, so she hasn’t spoken for him either.”

You consider the situation.  “Indarni wants to support someone with an heir.  Yet she does not want to support Hayate at all, so she stays silent.  “

Elder Kejak nods in approval.  “Yes, we need to make her realize her silence support Hayate just as much as speaking for him.”

You close your eyes “Hayate’s heir is dead.  I killed her.”  You can still see her surprise at the Lunar’s blade sticking out of her chest.

“Technically, the Lunar killed her and that is how we will present it when the time comes.”  When you do not response, Elder Kejak continues.  “Svante, you feel responsible for Lung Duri’s death and that is the proper way to feel.  A Sidereal should always consider the far-reaching effects of their actions.  However, you must consider not the single strand, but the entire loom.  Many Dragonblooded supported Hayate because he had an heir.  With Duri not only dead, but forgotten, Akane has a chance to seize the Chrysanthemum manse.”

“Are you saying Lung Duri’s death is a good thing?”

“Lung Duri is a single strand among many.  Sometimes a strand needs to be cut to save the rest.”  Elder Kejak mimics a cutting motion with his fingers.  “Do you understand?”

Do you understand?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Other

 

 

 

136 – Execution

“Mother?”

Reva looks away from the Shogun’s Secretary at the sound of Masaru’s voice.  “Masaru.”  Tense drains from her when she sees her son.  “Quick, you and your friend come here.”

Without a thought, Masaru ducks behind his mother.   You hesitate and decide to join Masaru.  Elder Kejak’s eyes dart from you to Reva.  “Ah, you must be Masaru!  It is wonderful to meet you finally.  I have heard so much about you recently.  You take after your mother… except you are a Water Aspect… and look!  You are completely safe.”  The Secretary coughs.  “You shouldn’t go wandering off on your own and worry your mother.  She may do something… unwise in her worry.”

Reva narrows her eyes at the Secretary’s words.  He folds his hands and smiles benignly.  Reva huffs in annoyance and turns to examine Masaru.  Her eyes take note of the disarray of his clothing, his muddy boots, and his lack of armor.  She brushes his bangs to expose a half healed cut.  Then Reva clutches her son to her chest.  “When your brothers told me they couldn’t find you at school….”

Masaru hesitates for a moment and then relaxes his mother’s embrace. “We are fine, mother.”

“Where is the rest of your circle?”  The Fire Aspect asks.

“They are inside the manse, Aunt Basma.  Lung Chiyoko is attuning to the manse.”

Reva raises an eyebrow.  “Your circle managed to claim an Anathema Ruin?”

Masaru breaks away from his mother and nods.  “The guardian was lonely, so she helped us bypass the security inside.”

“My question is how you managed to enter the manse in the first place.” The Wood Aspect fingers the trigger of his crossbow and stares at the Secretary.   The Secretary holds up his hands in a shrug and tries to look innocent.

“We… kind of crashed a Skyship into the manse….”  Masaru mumbles.

“You what?!”

“It was my idea!” you lie.   “Not to crash the ship, but to fly it.  But we had no choice.  We were kidnapped and…”

Reva holds up a hand.  “Slow down.   Who kidnap you?”

“Vayu Khalid,  Abioye Ru, And..”  Masaru looks to you.  He wants to tell his mother about the Lunar.  You shake your head.  Now in the middle of the ruins is not a secure place to share that information.  “…And Lung Sunan.”   Masaru finishes.  He does not mention Lung Duri.

Reva notices the interaction between you and Masaru.   “Masaru we will discuss this matter later.  Why do you introduce me to your friend?”

“Mother, this is Cnead Svante.”  Masaru mentioned nothing about being a Sidereal or a Wood Aspect.  “Svante, this is my mother, Raijin Reva.   And her circle, Yeh Sujay”  The Wood Aspect gives you a brief nod.   “and Shula Basma.”   The Fire Aspect smiles.

“Hi.”  You give everyone a little wave.

“What about him?”  Sujay points his bow at Elder Kejak.

The Secretary smiles and shakes his hand no.  “Oh, I don’t need to be introduced really…”

“That’s not what I meant.”  Sujay growls.

“Come on, Secretary.”  Basma smiles, barring her teeth.  “Surely, you plan on being around longer than the last secretary.”

“What happened to the last secretary?”  Masaru asks.

“The Shogun executed him last year.”

“Speaking of execution, what about him?”  Sujay repeats.

The Secretary holds up a finger.  “If I may offer a few suggestions that don’t involve execution….”

“Shut up.”  Basma orders.   The Secretary lowers his hands and falls silent.

Reva smooths Masaru’s hair and sighs.  “Let him go.  He is more use to us alive than dead.”

“Let him go, she says.”  Sujay lowers his bow.  “You are one lucky man.”

“The Fates smile upon me.”  The Secretary replies.

Basma groans at the Secretary’s words.  Sujay frowns and rests his bow on his shoulder.  Reva begins to head towards the manse entrance and then pauses.  She looks down at your feet. Mei Mei, fur covered in river mud, sits by your side.   She wags her tail and barks once at Reva.     Elder Kejak winces.

“Svante, where did you get this puppy?”

Where did you get Mei Mei?

  • Full Truth. It was a birthday present from Elder Kejak… or the Secretary
  • Barebones truth. It was a Birthday Present.
  • Partial Lie. It was a Birthday Present from your Uncle.
  • Complete Lie.  You found Mei Mei wandering around Vanchow.
  • Say Nothing.
  • Other