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