154 – Dealings

“You go inside and open a window.”  You order.  “I’ll fly through the window and together we will find Sunan.”

Aiko frowns, but agrees.  She holds her head high and with confident steps, strides down the hallway.  You step out of fate and follow her.  Aiko stops in front of the two guards.   They shift uncomfortably in their faceless jade armor, as Aiko stands before them.  “I wish to see Lung Yin.” Aiko says.

One of the guards nods, “Go get him and tell him he has a visitor.”

“No,” Aiko stops the guard.  “I want you to take me to him.”  Aiko crosses her arms.  “I’m not giving him a chance to slink off like a coward again.”

“Aiko, the family is in mourning.”  The guard tries to reason with Aiko.  “Come back after the funeral.”

“I am well aware the family is in mourning.”  Aiko replies.  “Though we pretend it isn’t so, Shogun was my grandmother too.”  When the guards say nothing, Aiko closes her eyes.  “Please, I’m not an acknowledged member of the family, so I can’t attend the funeral.   My father’s acknowledgement is my only chance to pay respects to my grandmother.”  Aiko stares at the guard, unshed tears shining in her eyes.

The other guard breaks his silence.  “I’ll take you to him.”   He takes Aiko around the shoulder and guides her into Hayate’s apartments.

You head outside, eyes blinking from the morning sun.  You unfurl your cloak and rise up to the windows of Hayate’s apartments.  You peek into the various windows.  Most are curtained.  You cannot find Aiko in any of the open windows.   You land on the ledge and wait for a window to open.

And wait.  How much longer is Aiko going to take?   It should not be that much trouble to ditch the guard.  She is not actually talking to her father, is she?  Part of you sympathizes with her, but you are on a timetable here!

As you wait, you watch a squirrel climb up the jasmine trellis.  The squirrel makes it way along the wall, leaping from one window ledge to another.   It pauses at one window and scratches.   Taika Shamira, the Earth aspect in Lung Duri’s circle, appears.  She pulls aside the curtain and frowns at the squirrel.   She opens the window.

“You shouldn’t be here, Ban.” She scolds.

The squirrel slips into the room before Shamira can close the window.  You fly next to Shamira’s window and eavesdrop on their conversation.

“That is a new form,” the groundskeeper says in introduction.  “What happened to Lung Sunan?”

“She will be attending the funeral with us.”   Shamira groans as if stretching.  “I find I enjoy being a woman.  You should try it.  I can teach you the knack for it.”

“No thank you.  I am fine with my own face.”  The groundskeeper parrots courtesy in his voice.  “I’m surprise Hayate let you kill one of his own.”

“He didn’t.  Would you like a strawberry?” Shamira attempts to change the subject.  “Food grown on the Blessed Isle always tastes better than in the Threshold.”

“I doubt Shamira let a dirty rat like you into her own bed.”

“I’m not a rat,” The lunar wearing Shamira’s form snaps.   “And she didn’t let me into her bed, as you so delicately put it.”

“You didn’t…”  the Groundskeeper responds in disbelief.

You almost fall out of the air when the horror of what this lunar did hits you.  You swallow and force yourself to listen to the rest of the conversation.

“Trimming the hedges for the Dragons all these years has made you soft, Ban.  The Earth Aspect was being troublesome.  Hayate threatened her with me.  She still was not cooperative.  And Hayate believes a Shogun should follow through with his threats.  And as any good ally, I had to play along.  Do not look so disgusted, Ban.  It’s not like I enjoyed it.  Her anima…”

“I don’t want to hear details!”

“Then why are you here, Ban?  You should be guarding your post.”

“Why did you bring Quo here?”

Silence.  “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Crash!  Wood splinters and something soft thuds against the wall.

“Temper, Bran.  Make too much noise, the guards will investigate.”

“Why did you bring Quo here?” The groundskeeper repeats though gritted teeth.  “The Wyld Hunt is searching the tunnels for her.  She will die and her blood will be on your hands, Tear.”

“No, Ban.  Her blood will be on your hands.  You should have let those kids die.  Now both your cover is blown and Quo has been discovered.”

“They were just two stupid kids necking in the tunnels.  They never did anything to us.”

“Little hatchings still grow up into Dragons, Ban.  Those children you saved where students of Enki Osamu.  I doubt diplomacy was among the lessons he taught them. ”   Your chest tightens at the mention of your Sifu’s father.

“Having a Chimera rip apart the Shogun’s granddaughter would not help our plea for peace.  Which is why I am confused why you brought Quo here.  Unless….”

“There will be peace, Ban.”  Tear assures the groundskeeper.

“You are going to betray them.”  The groundskeeper hisses.

“Only before they betray us.  No Dragonblooded would deal with us in good faith.  Hayate already has plans to dispose of me after he takes the manse.”

“Do you have proof?”

“Proof?  They are Dragonblooded.  You have been among them for years.  You know how they are.  Hayate and his little wars.  That bitch and her little dogs.  The Twins and their ‘parties’.   They are all scum and it’s time to clean house.”

“What are you planning, Tear?”

“Nothing you can stomach, Ban.  Go back to your post and be in the room during the funeral.  I will call you when I need you.   Now let me go.  I got a funeral to prepare for.”

“Shit, Tear.  No matter what form you are, you are still a filthy rat.”   A dragonfly flutters to the windowsill and takes flight.

“I’m not a rat, Ban.”   The Lunar says to an empty room.

You shiver as you fly away from the Lunar’s window.   They are planning something at the funeral.  Or rather Tear was.   You send a message to Elder Kejak.  “The Lunars are planning something at the funeral.  One lunar will be wearing the form of Taika Shamira.  The other will hide in animal form or in the crowd.”  You swallow.  “I think the Lunar raped Shamira.”

Elder Kejak responds instantly.  “That is good information, Svante.  Akachi and I are aware the Lunars will be present at the funeral.  Find Shamira.  If what you say is true, you will find her more agreeable to testify against Hayate than Lung Sunan.  Also, I believe now is the time for Creation to remember Lung Duri exists.  Let me know if you discover any more information.”

Your fingernails bit into palms.  Elder Kejak is once again profiting from someone else’s tragedy.  You are about to speak a caustic reply when you notice Aiko’s head sticking out of a slender slip of a window.   You close your eyes and release your hold on Lung Duri’s fate.  It will take a while for people to encounter their memories of her.

You flap over to Aiko.  “I’m here.” You whisper into her ear.  She scowls,  “I hate when you do that.”  She ducks back inside.  You grab onto the window ledge and unfurl your cloak.  You grunt as you lift yourself up.  You suck in breath and squeeze into the small window Aiko opened for you.  You wince as you scrap your elbow on the ledge.  You drop to the floor of a spare bedroom converted to a storage area.  Shelves line the walls and the floor and bed are covered in wooden crates.  “Couldn’t you find a larger window?”  You rub your scraped elbow.

“It was the only window not warded.”  Aiko points at the larger window, surrounded by wards.  She sticks her head out once again and the closes the window.

You brief Aiko on what you overheard.  “We need to find Shamira, not Sunan.”

Aiko’s eyes unfocus as she considers the situation.  “The apartment is larger than I thought.  There are people everywhere.  It will take a while to search.”

“I doubt they will be keeping her in plain sight.”

“No, they wouldn’t.” a rough voice replies.  The groundskeeper stares down at you from the top of a shelf.  You draw your sword at point it at the Lunar.  You verify there is no warning of danger.  The threads of fate are silent.   The groundskeeper must want to talk.  “I can help you find the Earth Aspect.”  The groundskeeper offers.

“How did you find us?” you reply.

“This is the only window left unwarded.  If someone was going to break in, this is how they will enter.”  The groundskeeper smiles.  “You are good at sneaking, boy.  I didn’t even hear you on the ledge. “

You ignore his comment.  “Why are you helping us?”

“I want assurances.”  The Lunar replies.  “My companions and I will be allowed to leave Dragonblooded territory without being hunted. “

“No,” Aiko disagrees.  “If you help us, only you will be free to go.  But the Chimera and your companion will be put down.”

“I am not leaving without them.”  The Lunar declares.  “Either we all are allowed to leave or your Earth Aspect friend will rot in her cell.”

What do you do?

  • No deal. You do not need the groundskeeper’s help to find Shimira.
  • Agree to anything the Lunar wants. You aren’t planning on keeping the deal anyways
  • Agree to the Lunar’s terms and try your best to fulfill them.
  • Convince the Lunar to abandon both Tear and Quo.
  • Other

 

 

 

 

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153 – Study Buddies

“Arg!”  You yank on your wavy red hair in frustration.  “Is now the time to be discussing homework?”

Aiko agrees.  “My grandmother died this morning.  I’m sure the Shogun’s death may take higher priority than whether this idiot did his homework.”

You glare at Aiko, but she stares ahead, her entire focus on Elder Kejak.

“Svante,” Elder Kejak leans forward, resting his hands on thighs.  “You and I have the potential to be working together for a very long time.  We can spare five minutes to discuss the situation.”

Fuck.  “Aiko hasn’t been doing my homework.”  You defend yourself.

“Obviously, as you know little about the contents of the Five Moons.”  Elder Kejak turns to Aiko.  “How far have you gotten into the book?”

“About half way,” Aiko sits tall in her chair.  “And I would have finished the book if I had my own copy.”

What the fuck was she doing?  You stare at Aiko while she smirks at you.

Elder Kejak arches an eyebrow.  “And what makes you think you deserve your own copy, young lady?”

“Because, unlike Svante, I am not going to squander the opportunity. “  Aiko explains.   “You give him a copy of a rare pre-Usurpation text.  And he sees it as busywork.  “

“I’m not squandering anything!”  you argue.  “I could read that book in a week if I wanted to.”

“But you never do.  You don’t appreciate what you have.”  Aiko’s deep scarlet eyes never leave Elder Kejak’s.  “I would kill to have the advantages he wastes.”

Elder Kejak stays silent for a few moments.  “Lung Sunan and the rest of her circle have returned to Meru.   Aiko, tell me the ways a Lunar acquires new forms.”  You frown at Elder Kejak’s statement.  His two sentences seem unrelated.

“The majority of Lunars participate in a scared ritual called the Wyld Hunt.  They observe an animal or human whose form they wish to take.   Once they learn their prey’s habits, they kill them and drink their hearts blood.”

Unless they were connected!  You open your mouth to speak, but Elder Kejak holds up his hand to stop you. “Are there any other ways?”

“A Lunar may take an individual to court and sue for the individual’s form.  I don’t many courts that would accept a lawsuit from an Anathema.”

“It was a different time.”  Elder Kejak comments.  You squirm with the desire to speak, but Elder Kejak shakes his head.  “You may continue, Aiko.”

“A Lunar could also seduce a person and steal their form that way.”  Aiko continues, eager to show off.  “I don’t know why they bother with the heart’s blood if they could just…”

“Lung Sunan is still alive!” you blurt out, unable to wait any longer.  “Hayate may be allied with the Lunars, but he isn’t going to sacrifice one of his own to them.”

“You mean Lung Sunan…shared a bed with an Anathema?”   Aiko cringes and hugs her knees together.

“As you said, no court will accept a lawsuit from an Anathema. ”  Elder Kejak leans back in his chair, stroking his beard.   “Murder will not be necessary, Aiko.   If we all survive the coming hours, you may join our Jupitersday sessions, Aiko.”

“What?!”  You didn’t think it was possible for your sessions with Elder Kejak to get any worse.  “She can’t come to Yu-Shan for our lessons.”

“We will meet in Creation from now on.”  Elder Kejak gives you a rare smile.  “If appeals from an authority figure won’t encourage you to learn, let’s see how you fare with competition from a peer.”

“Aiko isn’t my peer!”

“A valid point, Svante.  She’s a half a book ahead of you.”  Elder Kejak clasps his hands.  “Now that is settled, I have a new mission for you, Svante.  One that Aiko can assist you with.”   He reaches into a pocket in his sleeve and reveals a talisman similar to the one Ayesha gave you.  “I think you remember this.”

“Um… I…”  You didn’t realize Elder Kejak knew you were at the meeting.

“Don’t worry.   I am aware of many of Ayesha’s activities.”   He hands you the talisman.  “I suspect the real Sunan is hiding somewhere in Hayate’s apartments.  They are warded, so you’ll need this to bypass them safely.”  He removes the chain with his cache egg from around his neck and passes it to you.  “I’ll need you to hold this for me until after this business is over.”

“Why?”

“I’m about to be arrested on suspicion of being a Sidereal.”  Elder Kejak sorts though his books and tucks one into his sleeve pockets.  “I’m curious on what trump up charges will be on the warrant.”

“You are going to let them arrest you?”  Aiko asks the same question you had.  What self-respecting Sidereal would let themselves be caught?

“Yes, if the Secretary goes missing, that will erase all doubt of his status.”  Elder Kejak frowns at the Cache Egg.  “Don’t lose that.”

You slip the chain around your neck and tuck it into your shirt.

Elder Kejak nods.  “You have until the funeral feast to convince Sunan to testify against Hayate.  I’ll try to be there, if only to argue the case of all the poor mortals who were arrested for treason.  I’ll imagine it will be a crowded jail cell.”  Elder Kejak leaves you and Aiko behind in his room.

“Is he fucking crazy?”  Aiko asks.

You do not reply.  You grip the talisman in your hand.  “Let’s go get Chiyoko and Masaru.”

“And hand them to the man who’s been trying to kidnap them for the past few days?”  Aiko shakes her head.  “Today of all days, they will be missed by their families.”

And she won’t.  You can hear Aiko’s unspoken phase.  “How are going to get into Hayate’s apartments by yourself?”

“Lung Yin has been staying by Hayate’s side throughout this entire situation.”  Aiko smiles, “I am going to go to his apartments and demand to see my father.”

You pull on your cloak.  “I want to take a look at the wards first.”

Aiko leads you to Hayate’s apartments.  While she waits for you, you step outside of Fate and investigate the wards.   Carved in the wall around the door are the multi-colored runes forbidding entry for ghosts, demons, immaterial and fair folk.  There were more wards around this door than the Shogun’s.   Along with the rest of the wards, you spy a starmetal engraving with the signs of the Maidens.  And some other more powerful runes.  While the wards on the Sidereal conference room blocked you from entering the room, these were more offensive.  Triggering these wards would be painful.   They may even kill you.

You head back to Aiko.  “It’s not good.  There are specific wards for Sidereals and they are not nice wards like the ones on the library.”

“The Tailsman will protect you right?”

“Only keeps me safe from the wards.  The wards themselves still go off.”

“So you are going to have problems with the Alarm wards.  They are going to know a Sidereal went past the wards.”  Aiko considers the situation.   “That is easy to handle.   I’ll pretend to be a Sidereal.”

“Your anima looks different” You point out.  “And you don’t have a cast mark.”

“I’ll just say I am using a spell to pass as Dragonblooded.”  Aiko shrugs.  “For all anyone knows, Sidereals can pass as Dragonblooded.”

Someone should invent a spell that does that, you muse.  “This is risky.”

Aiko rolls her eyes.  “I can go by myself and find Sunan while you wait here in the hallway.”

What do you do?

  • Let Aiko go alone, while you wait out here like a coward. Like that is going to happen.
  • Go with Aiko and let her pretend to be Sidereal
  • Aiko distract the guards and go in by yourself outside of Fate
  • Find another way in. It was easy to climb up to Chiyoko’s room.  Maybe the wards are less guarded.
  • Other

152 – The Procedure

Adults are so dumb.  You lay back against the pillow, energy snapped by the chimerical parasite.  “Both of you stay.” You close your eyes in exhaustion. “Just get this thing out of me.”

You feel cool fingers on your forehead.  You open your eyes to find Elder Kejak scrutinizing you.  He nods as if he has come to a decision.  “Just a moment longer, Svante.”  He disappears into the washroom.

Chiyoko sits back into the chair and frowns at the bathroom door.  She takes your hand.  “Why don’t you trust him?” She whispers at the demon.

The Neomah settles on the bed beside you.  “He believes I am too dangerous to live.”

Chiyoko cocks her head at the Neomah.  Nimishema’s multi-jointed fingers end in blunt fingernails.  Her long thin lavender arms do not compare to the powerful might of a Blood Ape’s.  “You don’t seem dangerous to me.”

“Ah, Dragon Child.  Claws and Muscles are only one type of danger.” Nimishema taps the temple of her forehead.

“You know something.” You mumble.  “Something dangerous.”

“What do you know?” Chiyoko asks.

The Neomah’s spine goes rigid.  “I am bound to silence.”

The sound of clinking glass emanate from the washroom.  What was taking so long?

“Child,” Nimishema attracts your attention with a brush of her fingers along your cheek.  “You must not drift off.”

“Don’t call me child.” You hated being called child.  It reminded you of the age difference between you and the other Sidereals.  “I have a name.”

The Neomah inclines her head.  “I did not wish to be rude.  What shall I call you?”

You close your eyes.  Names had a different meaning among demons than humans.  A demon could be summoned by their true name.  Nimishema was a nickname.  Only Akachi as the Neomah’s summoner knew her true name.  You pull your mind back to the demon’s question.  You saw no harm in allowing the demon to call you by name.  “Svante.”

“Svante,” The demon repeats, tasting your name.  She folds her hands in her lap.  “You may call me Nimishema or Nimi, if you prefer.”

“You can call me Chiyoko,” She glances back at the washroom.  “How much longer will this take?”

“Not much longer,”  Elder Kejak emerges with an armful of supplies.  He unrolls a towel and lays out various medical implements.  “This will be easier if he was unconscious.”  He sets the glass jar on the nightstand.

Nimi rests two fingers to your temple.  “Sleep, Svante.” You feel a pressure and fall into darkness.

 

A turn of a page wakes you.  You open your eyes and blink in the morning sun.  Your arm feels stiff but whole.  The tingling sensation is gone.  A flexible paper bandage, reminiscent of a wasp’s nest, covers your arm from shoulder to elbow. You test your arm and find the bandage does not inhibit your range of motion.

“There is nothing in this book about Chimera. “  Aiko announces.  She turns another page in disgust.  “much less anything about the parasite.”

“The book dates to before the Usurpation.  Chimera didn’t exist then.”  Movement on the nightstand catches your eye. Inside the glass jar, a long pink smooth skinned worm crawls up the side.  Its lower half is curled in the bottom of the jar.   The worm is not pink, as you first thought, but scarlet blood pumps beneath its translucent white skin.  As you observe its undulating motion, your arm tingles with phantom pain.  This thing was crawling around inside your shoulder, heading Jupiter knows where.  You avoid studying the worm and focus on Aiko.

She sits at the table, her long red braid hanging over her shoulder.  “The Shogun died early this morning.” No emotion occupies this statement.  As if Aiko’s grief was an unwelcome guest she did not wish to entertain.

“Shit.”  You swing your legs out of bed.  You pause for a moment until the room stops spinning.  You stand up and find clothes laid out on your cot.  Your bag was still where you left it from the night before.  Did Elder Kejak ever sleep?

“Your uncle,” Aiko colors the word uncle with sarcasm. “said he will return after his meeting.”

“Where is everyone else?” You strip off your nightshirt and sort through the clothes left for you.

Aiko arches an eyebrow at your nakedness, but answers your question in a steady voice.  “The Neomah went back to your guardian.  Chiyoko and Masaru are with their families, preparing for this afternoon’s funeral.  “

It does not take you long to get dressed.  Your stomach growls in protest.

“There’s not going to be any food until the funeral feast tonight.”

“I know.”  You brush dust off your boots and pause when you hear footsteps approach the door.  Aiko slams the book shut.  She hurries to chair next to the bed.  You set your boots on the floor and begin lacing them.

Elder Kejak enters the room, Sasha close behind.  You rise, one booted to meet your sister.  You envelop her in a hug.  She pulls away and examines you, testing the material of your bandage.  Sasha seems lighter, more relaxed since you last saw her.  “How do you feel?” she asks.

“I’m fine.”  You rotate your shoulder to prove it.   You frown in dismay when your stomach growls again.

Sasha laughs and digs though her bag.  She reveals a wrapped hand sized package.  “I bribed the kitchens for food.”  You snatch the food out of her hand and unwrap it.  Sandwich.

Elder Kejak offers Sasha the jar with the worm.   Sasha’s face grows grim and nods.  “This will lead you to the Chimera.”  Sasha accepts the jar, holding it with two fingers.  “We do not have much time,” Elder Kejak reminds her.  ‘The funeral will be in two hours.”

“Where are you going?” you ask around mouthfuls of sandwich.

“Wyld Hunt.”  Your sister explains.  Elder Kejak answers a knock at the door.  Sujay and other Dragonblooded wait outside.  The Mercenaries – they were wearing the same uniforms as Chiyoko’s guards.

Aiko fidgets with the end of her braid as Sahsa leaves with the Wyld Hunt.  Elder Kejak closes the door and sits in the chair Aiko vacated.  “With luck, they will find the groundskeeper along with the Chimera.”

“The groundskeeper?” You remember a rough voice warn you to flare your anima against the light sensitive Chimera.

“Chiyoko saw him in the passages before the Chimera showed up.  He hasn’t been seen since.”  Elder Kejak crosses his arms.  “Let’s hope he is dead instead of running around the manse in all fours.”

Elder Kejak rests his eyes on the Five Moons of Denial.  Catching Aiko’s gaze, he adjusts the book two inches to the right.  Aiko sucks in a breath.  The Elder Sidereal crosses his arms and stares at you.

Your heart pounds in your chest.  Elder Kejak did not forbid you from showing anyone the book. Though he did mention Dragonblooded read an abridged version of it.  There must be a reason why.  A reason you did not know because you never finished the book.

What do you do?

  • Elder Kejak has no proof of your involvement.  Let Aiko take the fall for this.
  • Own up to letting Aiko read the Five Moons of Denial
  • Change the subject. The Shogun is dead.  Now is not the time to discuss homework.
  • Other

 

151 – Trust Issues

Akachi is undercover.  You remember his whispering caution when you warned him about the Lunar infiltrator.  You wipe your sweaty hands on your robes.  You want to go with him, but you presence would compromise his cover.  You do not want to make your guardian choose between your safety and the mission.  Akachi would choose you.  This feverish insight does not bring you calm.  You do not want to be the reason the Shogunate purges into civil war.

“Don’t touch me.”  You cringe from the strange mortal sorcerer that is Akachi’s resplendent destiny.  “I want my uncle.”

Akachi’s face is blank.  “Is that what you want, boy?”

Nimishema is less of an actor.  “Don’t let him do this.  He will be much safer with us than with him.”

“Nimi…”  Akachi warns.  He rises and instead of returning to the twins, he faces the two figures approaching the crowd.   “The boy is ill.”  The three words convey an accusation rather than information.  Akachi withdrawals to the twins.  Nimishema stays by your side, her pupil-less sapphire eyes on Elder Kejak.

Elder Kejak knees and with cold fingers, probes the skins around your wound.  His eyes grow distant as he reviews the possibilities.

Lung Guanyu takes in the state of his daughter.  He removes his outer cloak and throws it around her shoulders.  “Can the boy walk?”

“Little brother, I was on my way to see you.”  Hayate smiles.  “Have you heard the news? Akane is dead.”

Chiyoko eyes widen and she pulls her father’s cloak closer.   The secretary pauses in his examination and looks up at Hayate, mouth agape.   He knew, you realize.  You lean back against the wall.

“I heard.”  Guanyu replies.  He is more interested in your situation than with Hayate’s news.

Elder Kejak frowns when Chiyoko’s father reveals this.  The Elder Sidereal digs in his pocket for a metal flask.  He uncorks it.  The sweet fragrance of Celestial Wine makes you sigh.  It reminds you of happier times in the Celestial City.  You want to go home.

“Just a sip.”  You cough as the heavenly nectar evaporates on your tongue.   You lick your lips and feel weak but a bit livelier.  Elder Kejak tucks the flask back into his pocket.

“This is good news!” Hayate proclaims.  “We are averting war.”

Guanyu turns on his heel and confronts Hayate.  “I do not find the death of our sister to be good news.”

“Guanyu, don’t be so naïve.”  The fire aspect with the ash streaked hair cautions.  “We are Lung.  You will not live long if you let familial loyalty stand in the way of ambition.”

“Now, Yin,” Hayate puts an arm around Yin’s shoulder.  “let’s not shatter our little brother’s innocence.”

With a finger, Aiko’s father pushes Hayate’s arm off him.  “Do not touch me.”  To Guanyu, he says, “Something dangerous lurking in the passages.  What else can you tell me about it?”

“It’s a chimera.” You say.   There is no point in keeping this secret.   If Yin is going to hunt the monster down, he will need to be prepared.  “It moves like quicksilver and can break off into pieces.   We were hiding further down the hallway from its main body when it attacked us.”

“A chimera,” Yin smirks.  “I always wanted to face a chimera.”

“You should bring Sujay with you.  He has experience with hunting Lunars.” Guanyu advises.

Yin snorts at his little brother’s suggestion.  The sound of running feet echoes down the hall.  Aiko sprints down the hallway with Masaru and Yi not far behind.  All are dressed in full armor.  “No time like the present to start the hunt.”  Yin pushes his way through the crowd around Hayate.

Aiko stops halfway and watches her father retreat though the crowd, her expression unreadable.  Masaru and Yi approach.  “Chiyoko, we have been looking everywhere for you!  These secret passages are confusing!”

“My lord, I do not mean to interrupt, but the boy needs a doctor “  The secretary wrings his hands

“Go along, little brother.”  Hayate shoos him off.  “We can talk about coronation plans later.”

“Mother is still alive.”  Guanyu points out.

“Yes, but we must do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition.”

Guanyu clenches his fist.  You are afraid Chiyoko’s father wishes to discuss the coronation plans now.

“Lord Guanyu,”  Elder Kejak interrupts,  “I will appreciate your help getting him back to his room.”

Guanyu makes an effort to relax his fist.  He bends down to pick you up.  Your head spins and your stomach turns as Chiyoko’s father rotates on heel away from his older brother.  Even Elder Kejak, with his long legged strides, has trouble keeping up.

Finally, Guanyu slows down.  “Chiyoko, I find it interesting that your fiancé and the rest of your circle are in full armor, while you and your friend are not.”   Guanyu glances down at you when you tense at his words.

Chiyoko trails behind her father, keeping out of his sight.  “Armor is too noisy for the passages.”  She explains.

“You should be in the passages in the first place.”  Guanyu counters.   “Chiyoko, are you admitting to a lesser crime to cover up for a greater one?”

Chiyoko sighs.  “I was showing Svante the passages and we were attacked by a chimera.  We barely escaped with our lives.”

“A partial lie is still a lie, Chiyoko.”

“Are you using charms on me, father?” She rolls her eyes.  “I almost died tonight and you are using charms on me!”

“I can carry Svante from here.”  Elder Kejak offers.  He is ignored.

“I wouldn’t have to use charms if you would stop taking dangerous risks. “  Guanyu yells.  You really wish someone else besides Chiyoko’s father had carried you.

“Are they really going to argue in the middle of the hallway?”  Masaru asks.

“I’ve been in the passages thousands of times and nothing ever happened!”  Chiyoko shakes her fist to make her point.

“Looks like it,” Aiko replies to Masaru.

Elder Kejak speeds up his steps.  He unlocks his door and holds it open.  “We are here.”  His sentence puts an end to the conversation.  Mei Mei runs out of the room and shadows Guanyu’s steps as he puts you on the bed.   Mei Mei licks your face clean of sweat.  Elder Kejak heads to the bathroom to clean up.

“Chiyoko, we should go.”  Guanyu says in a calm voice.

“No,” Chiyoko disagrees.  “I’m staying here.”

“Lady Chiyoko, you should go.”  Elder Kejak emerges out of the bathroom, drying his hands.

“I am not leaving him alone.”  Chiyoko stares down the Elder Sidereal, the chimera’s blood splattered across her face.  You never loved her more than in this moment.

“We are all staying,”  Masaru says.  “Svante is a member of our circle.”

“The secretary can not do his work with all of you in the room.”  Guanyu thinks for a moment.  “One of you may stay at a time.  You can trade off in shifts.”

Elder Kejak does not look pleased at this compromise, but inclines his head in agreement.

Chiyoko pulls up a chair to the bed.  She holds your hand.  Her father glances at Masaru, who has no reaction to this.  Lung Guanyu shakes his head.  “Come along, children.”  They leave the room.

Elder Kejak moves a second chair closer to the bed.  He spins towards the closed shutters, expression wary.  The shutters separate to admit a fleshy appendage with a sapphire eye at the tip.  Chiyoko rises and draws her sword.   She stands by the Elder Sidereal.   He pushes her sword aside.  “You will not need that.”  He addresses the protruding flesh.  “Go back to your master, demon. You are not wanted here.”

Many tendrails of flesh emerge from the shuttered window.   It drops to the floor.  Bone crack and skin ripples as the Neomah reforms herself.  Nimishema rises naked and tucks a stray eyeball back into its socket.  She reshapes her skull as a woman styles her hair.  “I do not care what you want, Sidereal.  I am not bound to you.   You do not give me orders.”

“That can change, demon.”  Elder Kejak threatens.

Unperturbed by Elder Kejak’s threats, Nimishema smiles.  “Akachi believes you may need assistance with the boy.  I believe you cannot be trusted with the boy’s safety.”  Her fingers extend and form into various medical implements.  “I will extract the Wyld parasite from his body.  You will leave and repair the tattered remains of your schemes.”

Instead of offended, Elder Kejak studies the Neomah.  “Why, Nimishema?  You barely know the boy, yet you threaten me?”

The demon walks over to the bed.  Your caste mark burns on your forehead and you can barely keep your eyes open.   She plays with a wavy lock of your hair.  “They may not share blood, but this is a true child to Akachi.  He blames himself for what has happened.”  Nimi gives Chiyoko a small smile and removes her hand.  “Now leave, Sidereal.  Let me care for my master’s son.”

“No,”  Elder Kejak turns away from the demon and takes a glass jar out of his bag.  “You may stay and observe to reassure Akachi that Svante is safe.”

“Go.”  The demon orders.

What do you do?

  • Tell Kejak to leave
  • Tell Nimishema to leave
  • Have them both stay
  • Other

 

 

 

 

150 – Uncle

You run.

You follow the blaze of Chiyoko’s anima.   Your footsteps echo off the stonewalls of the passage.   You run until the moonlight glow behind you fades.

“Here!”  Chiyoko, anima fading, pushes the secret door open.   You emerge in an empty hallway.  You recognize where you are.  The roaring party you encountered earlier has settled into a somber murmur.

Adrenaline drains from your body and you waver.   You sword bounces to the carpet.  You reach for Chiyoko before you fall over.   She hisses when you grab her arm.  With her other arm, Chiyoko eases down to the floor.

“Your arm.”  You forgot she broke it earlier, her cast hidden by the long sleeves of her nightshirt.

“My arm is fine.”  She rips at your shirt, examines your wound, and frowns.  “Is there anything you can do about your shoulder?”

“My shoulder is fine.”  You rest your head against the wall.  “Actually, it doesn’t hurt at all.”  Your arm is still numb except for a strange tingling feeling.

“Svante, that isn’t a good thing.”

She’s right.  You concentrate on your numbness and push it away.  You cry out when the full pain of your wound hits you.

“Shhh…”  Chiyoko hushes you and glances over her shoulder in the direction of the ballroom.  “We need to get out of here.”

You focus on the pain and feel it drain away.  It took much more effort to duck away from your injuries than usual.  All that is left is the strange tingling feeling and a sense of unease.   You are still in danger, but from what?

“We need to go,” Chiyoko lifts you with her good arm.  “Aiko and Masaru are waiting by the staircase.”

“Elder Kejak.” You mumble.

“What?”

“My uncle.”  You correct yourself and continue in a stronger voice.  “He needs to be told about the Chimera, the Lunar, everything.”

“We will get into trouble.”  She whispers.

You grab the front of her nightshirt.  “We already are in trouble.”

Chiyoko nods.   She whispers a message to the Shogun’s Secretary, as she leads you down the hallway.  How long was it to the staircase?  It did not seem this long when you walked it earlier this evening.

“Chiyoko?” Chiyoko tenses at deep male voice calling behind you.   “What are you doing out so late?  Are you well?” The mocking tone wars with the words of concern.

“Let me handle this.”  Chiyoko turns around.   You lean against the wall.  A fire aspect in gleaming jade armor stands before you.  His orange hair shorn short and his skin glows red as an ember. Other Dragonblooded and their mortal entourage surround him.  Two silk clad fire aspect women, identical to the expressions of concern on their face, confer off to the side.  Another fire aspect, in battle worn armor, steps forward.  His expressionless face carries a scar from the top of his cheek continuing as a streak of ash though his garnet hair.   He loosens his sword and scans the hallway for threats.

“Uncle Hayate,” Chiyoko smiles in relief, though the tension does not leave her body.  “Svante and I got separated from our circle and we were attacked by something in the passages.”

Lung Hayate crosses his arms and stares down at Chiyoko.  “Chiyoko, what did I tell you about playing in the passages?  It’s dangerous down there.”

Chiyoko’s eyes do not leave her uncle’s.  “I’m sure my father will lecture me when he gets here.”

“My little brother has been too soft on you.  If you were my daughter…”  Hayate’s voice fades out as you focus on the other Dragonblooded.   One of the twins makes to go to you, but the red headed Dragonblooded shakes his head.   The twin frowns, but stays where she is.

Danger, danger, danger.   Too many people.  Too many things.  The Chimera did something to you.  Poison?   Perhaps, but that does not seem right.

You slide down the wall to the floor, but a hand stops you.  “My lord, this boy needs medical attention.”

“Akachi.”   You feel his cool hand on your forehead and look up at your guardian as you have never seen him.   Peacock feathers trail down his hair and his face painted with swirls.   Akachi wears little but a cloak over one shoulder, a silk cloth around his waist, and jewelry.

“Hush, child,“  says a voice as clear as a bell.  “Don’t waste your energy to speak.”  A Neomah kneels by your side and strokes your shoulder.  She extends her finger and shoves it into your wound.  You bite your lip from crying out again.   She removes her finger and watches your blood drip to the floor with a pensive look.  The Neomah licks it off the tip of her finger.   Everyone in the hallway is silent as she does this.

Chiyoko reacts first.  “What are you doing to him?”

“Mortal, get your demon away from the boy.”  Hayate orders.

“Mayura, come here.”  One of the twins holds out her hand as if Akachi was an errant child.

The Neomah ignores them all.  “There is something inside him that tastes of the Wyld.  It feeds off of his essence as a child feeds from its mother’s womb.”

Akachi brushes your hair over your forehead.  “How much time does he have, Nimi?”

“Sorcerer, I would not worry about the boy.  My doctors could see to him.”  Hayate nods to one of his entourage to pick you up.

“No!”  Chiyoko pushes the demon away and stands in front of you.  “My father will be here soon.  Thank you for your concern, uncle.   We will be fine. “

“Now, niece.  Don’t be obstinate.”  Hayate motions his fingers for Chiyoko to follow.  “Come along.  “

What do you do?

  • Go with Hayate and Akachi
  • Stay and wait for Guanyu and Elder Kejak
  • Other

((You found the hidden Akachi rabbit hole. ))

 

149 – Finding Trouble

You hold the crystal tight in your fist.  Not a flash of light escapes as you hand it to Chiyoko.  You glance back at the shadow.   It cannot be a shadow, you realize.  No shadow can interact with a physical object.  What is this creature?  you ask yourself as the liquid darkness engulfs the cage.  You close your eyes and concentration on the symphony of essence singing around you.  A roaring bonfire of elemental energy empowers Chiyoko.  You tune out her flowing essence and focus on the creature in the corridor.

The shadow’s essence reverberates out of tune with the rest of the essence in the corridor.   This creature is no god, ghost, or spirit.   Whatever it was, the Wyld beyond the edge of Creation has irreversibly tainted it.  Your heart skips a beat when you realize what it is was.

Elder Kejak wanted you to search for hidden Lunars in the Manse.  You doubt he was expecting you find a Chimera.

And the sound was creeping closer.You open your eyes confused.   The threads of fate thrum with violence.  Yet the chimera was still in the corridor with the cage.

A thin fluid tentacle whips out from the wall.  You dodge but the creature is blinding fast.   The tentacle encircles your throat.  Its throbbing end stabs you in the shoulder.  Your throat burns.  You grip at the tentacle to pull it away.   Its skin burns your hands.  You move away but the tentacle in your shoulder pins you to the wall.

Chiyoko draws her sword and slices the tentacle away.  The cut tentacle flaps, spewing both with burning dark blood.   You heave a deep breath and toss the melting tentacle aside.

With a clang, the chimera discards the empty cage.  It flows along the stone walls towards you and Chiyoko.     Chiyoko stands in front of you.   You reach for your sword, but your hand feels like a stranger to you.  You hear the sword slip out of its sheath.  You switch your sword to your right hand.

“Ignite your anima, you stupid kids!” a voice growls.   Chiyoko’s anima floods the corridor with blinding orange fire light.   Before even reaching her, the Chimera shrieks in pain and retreats.    A rhino slams into the chimera, driving it into the wall.   You see movement out of the corner of your eye.  The tentacle is reforming itself into an oversized scorpion.  It raises its tail and clicks its claws at you.

Chiyoko stabs the scorpion with her sword.  It melts into slug, but the slug bubbles with life.  She ignites her sword to burn off the residual goo.  “We need to leave now.”

What do you do?

  • Join battle. You aren’t leaving until you get some answers
  • Run and warn the Groundskeeper to get out of the passages.
  • Run for the nearest exit out of the tunnels
  • Run and stay in the tunnels
  • Run for Chiyoko’s room
  • Run for Elder Kejak’s room
  • Other