In a panic, you push a chest of drawers in front of the door. You back away. The chest shake as the guards beat down the door.
“That won’t hold them long,” Aiko comments.
“Out the window.” You lean against the shuddering chest.
“What?” Aiko looks up at the tiny window. “I’m not going to be caught with my ass hanging out the window.”
“Just go out the window.”
“What about him?” Aiko points at the Lunar.
“Don’t worry about him.” You say. “I’ll take care of it.”
Aiko slides a crate under the window. She heaves herself up and out the window. The chest vibrates as the guards break down the door with an ax. You ignore the sound of wood splintering on the other side of the door and study the Lunar. You pull the stake out of the wall. Glowing with silver moonlight, Ban repairs his wing and flutters in the corner of the room. “I will remember.” You promise the Lunar. You step into a dark corner and out of fate.
The chest slams to the floor and the guards barge into the room. Tears the Grass follows them, still wearing Shimaria’s stolen form. The guards search the room and check out the window. “Nothing.”
Tears purses her lips and considers the situation. “Go find that girl of Yi’s and make sure she hasn’t slipped away from her escort.” The guards nod and leave the room.
“Ban?” Tears asks after the guards leave the room. “What happened?”
Ban lands on the crate and becomes human. “An Earth Aspect girl came into the room and knocked over a crate leaving though the window. “
“Why didn’t you stop her?”
“I didn’t want to reveal myself. No one knows I’m here, remember?” Ban reminds Tears. “You told me to stop people from coming in, not out.”
“Ban…” Tears sniffs. “The girl may warn them.”
“Warn them of what? The whole manse knows something is going to happen at the funeral.” Ban runs his fingers though his hair. “Look, whatever drama going on between Yi and his daughter is not our concern. Don’t you have a funeral to attend?”
Tears frowns. “Be at the funeral, Ban.” The Lunar orders, as he leaves the room.
You follow Tears out the door. The Lunar goes one way. You go another. You walk the halls of the apartment, looking for the entrance Ban described. You are careful to avoid knocking into anyone, but it is more difficult than usual. Soldiers march the halls, dressed in gleaming jade armor. Servants carry crates of weapons.
Lung Hayate wasn’t preparing for a funeral. He was preparing for war.
Finally, you find the statue of the Immaculate Monk. You wait for the hall to clear and press in the monk’s left big toe nail. The nail depresses. A staircase appears in the floor next to the statue. You dart down into the dark passage before the entrance closes.
“Svante?” Aiko’s voice calls out in the darkness.
“I’m here.” You reply. “How did you get back in?”
“The windows aren’t warded against Dragonblooded.” Aiko rubs a red crystal to light. “This way.” She points with the crystal.
“Have you seen any guards?”
“No,” Aiko looks behind her. “Do you think the Lunars left the Chimera to guard her?”
You consider this prospect. “No, Ban didn’t know Quo was here. I doubt Tears the Grass told Hayate or his people either.”
“Almost like Lunars don’t negotiate in good faith.” Aiko’s voice drips with sarcasm.
“You should talk,” you snap back. “We promised to let Ban go free and you attacked him.”
“The situation changed.” Aiko defends herself. “The Lunar knew too much. If he let him go, he would go back to his elders.” Aiko pauses in the passage. “You did take care of the Lunar, right?”
“I let him go like we promised. “
“You fucking idiot!” Aiko rages. “You believed him? What if he goes and kills Chiyoko?”
You didn’t want to think about Chiyoko right now. You swallow a lump in your thoat. “He won’t hurt Chiyoko. Ban is serious about peace.”
“Are you seriously thinking about running off to the Wylds to find this Anathema? What are you going to do? Run away from civilization and get yourself moonsilver tattoos?”
“Maybe.” After the events of this past week, you are no longer sure Sidereals have the best interests of Creation in mind. It seems like they are doing what they could to save their own asses.
“What about Chiyoko?”
Your chest tightens when Aiko asks this. “I don’t know.” Chiyoko would want to run away as much as you do. “Take her with me?”
Aiko sighs and rubs her forehead. “You think the Lunars are going to welcome you with open arms? Ban himself said he wouldn’t remember you. What are you going to say? ‘I feel really bad about the centuries of genocide my people put you through.’ They are going to rip your throat out before you get a chance to speak.”
You slide down the wall and sit. What the fuck are you going to do? “Someone has to start somewhere.” You finally say.
“Maybe you should find a less suicidal way?” Aiko sits next to you. “Svante, you are a Sidereal. If you don’t like the way things are, you have the power to change them. Remember the Usurpation? That was Sidereals. Your people. I’ve read my history. I know my people have their heads too far up their asses to pull something like that off by themselves.” Aiko sighs. “Running off to the edge of Creation is not the answer. You need to play the game and play it well if you want to make a difference.”
You snort. “You just want to use my just like my elders do.”
Aiko does not deny this. “I want my people to be free to choice their own destiny. And trading Lunars for Sidereals isn’t the answer.” Aiko declares. “You need to stop being the puppet and become the puppet master.”
“Chiyoko’s puppet master.”
“Better you than the old man.” Aiko argues. “Despite what that Lunar said, you care for my cousin. If you do hurt her, it will be because of stupidity, not malice.”
“Thanks.” You hold her head in your hands and say nothing for a long time. “I just want what’s best for Creation. I just want to be a hero.”
“Svante, look at me.” You look up at Aiko. The light of the crystal illuminates the highlights in her scarlet hair. “There are no heroes, Svante. Everyone is out for themselves. Anyone who thinks otherwise is lying to you or lying to themselves. If you are going to be any use to me or Chiyoko, you need to understand this.”
You and Aiko walk in silence until you reach Samira’s cell. Jade and Starmetal wards carvings flicker around the doorway.
“Dragons,” Aiko exclaims. “Where did they get so much starmetal?”
You take a deep breath and blow away some dust. Hidden wards reveal themselves. “If I walk through this door, it will kill me.”
“So it’s a trap.” Aiko declares.
“If Ban wanted to kill me, he would have done so in the storage room.”
“Or maybe he’s too squeamish to kill a kid with his bare hands.” Aiko counters. She holds her crystal up higher. “I don’t see any Dragonblooded wards for death. I bet the Tiger Lunar infiltrator from the beginning of the school year was the sorcerer of the group.” Aiko opens the door and steps in.
“Wait!” You call out belatedly. The Jade alarm wards glow. You curse and look into the room. Samira hangs from the ceiling by Jade Chains. Dirt covers her skin and homespun shift. She looks up when Aiko enters. Hope blossoms in her eyes and dies when she recognizes Aiko. Samira did attempt to kidnap her.
Aiko climbs up the stone wall and ceiling and digs the chain out with her bare hands. Samira falls to the floor. She sways as she stands. Chains drag on the floor as she removes her gag. “Where is my armor and hammer?”
“I don’t know.” You call out. Boots thump down the hallway. “We need to get you out of here.”
“We also need you to testify against Hayate and the Lunars.” Aiko adds.
“Testify?” Simara twists the chain part way around her hands and gives it an experimental whirl. “I’m going to tear them apart.” She stares down the passage, rage kindling in her stone grey eyes.
What do you do?
- Let her work out her rage against the coming guards
- Convince her to go. She cannot testify if she is dead.
- Convince her by any means necessary. Force her decision. You don’t’ have time to argue.