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.
((Great to be back! ))