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
Advertisements