128 – Unintended Consquences

Chiyoko ignites her sword.  The flames deepen the shadows on her face.  “Let’s go!”

“Wait!” You have to think this through.   You have to find a way to get everyone out alive.

Danger!  You duck.  A chakram brushes by your head.  A few red hairs fall through the air.

“We can’t wait.”  Chiyoko deflects her own chakram.   The Air Aspect smiles and readies another volley.

Bam!  You hit the ground.  The Water aspect kicks your legs out from under you.  Panicked, you roll away.  You have to get up.  You know from sparring with Masaru you are at a disadvantage.   You roll again in the mud to move out of the Water Aspect’s reach.

The Chuzei ordered you to take your friends away while leaving him behind.  You could try to take him with you, but he will not go.  Chuzei Enki was planning to sacrifice his life to buy you time to escape.

What if Chuzei Enki didn’t have to die?

What if you didn’t have to run away?

What if you could save everyone?

“Keep them busy!” you yell at Chiyoko.  You have an idea.

“What?!”  Chiyoko rushes forward and attacks the Air Aspect with her own volley of blows.  He laughs as he dodges each blow.

You rejoin Chiyoko and stand back to back with her as the Water Aspect approaches.  “I’m sorry.” You tell her.   You sidestep the Water Aspect’s blow.   Chiyoko is thrown off her feet.  With a streak of flame, she recovers her footing.   Both Dragonblooded now face her.

Thank the Maidens Chiyoko was able to recover so quickly.   She will be pissed at you, but you are sure she will forgive you after you save everyone.

Forgotten and safely outside of Fate, you observe the fight.  Chuzei Enki’s twin blades sign as he trades blows with Lung Duri.  Yet each blow is slower than the next.  Rivers of blood run down his armor.  The old Chuzei did not have long.

Lung Sunan and the Earth aspect stand by Masaru and Aiko and do not engage anyone.   Sunan keeps a close eye on the field of battle while the Earth Aspect keeps a close eye on Masaru and Aiko.  What are they waiting for?  A signal from Duri?

You advance towards Duri.  She is breathing heavy.  Sweat drips down her brow in spite of the cold.  Careful to avoid her blows, you brush the back of her armor.   You share the Gift of the Broken Mask, if one could call it a gift.   You retreat.   Without a leader, the older Dragonblooded will have trouble coordinating a pursuit.

Lung Sunan frowns as she observers Duri and Chuzei Enki fight.   The old Chuzei’s face is pale and his anima has flared, yet Duri does not finish off her old teacher.  The Fire Aspect walks away from Aiko and Masaru and towards the dueling Dragonblooded.

“Where are you going?”  The Earth Aspect demands.  Her hand reaches for the hammer by her side.   You take advantage of her distraction and search for the shadow of Saturn in her soul.  You slap her with the side of your sword.   She falls to the ground.   You take a moment to check for a pulse.  She is still alive.

You kneel by Masaru and pick the lock on his jade cuffs.   “Aiko, you need to summon mounts.  We are leaving.”  You hand the pick over to Masaru and pick up your sword.  You need to help Chiyoko get away from the two Dragonblooded.  Now that Masaru and Aiko are free, you can leave.  You are going to save everyone!  No one dies today!

You turn just in time to see Lung Sunan stab Duri.

The fighting stops.   Duri looks down at the blade sticking out between the plates of her armor.  “Why?”

The Water Aspect strips Chiyoko of her sword.   It falls to the ground and is extinguished by the mud.  The Water Aspect grabs her arm and with brutal and efficient movements, wrenches back in a hold.  Chiyoko cries out when her arm snaps.

“Chiyoko!”  You rush to help your girlfriend, but an earthen wall rises to block you.  Another wall rises behind you.  Soon, the walls trap you, Aiko and Masaru.

Chuzei Enki throws one of his swords at the Water Aspect.   A chakram deflects it off course.  The sword spins in the air and embeds itself in the mud.

With a roar, Chuzei Enki charges the Water Aspect.   Sunan kicks him in the side.  Blood gushes out of the Chuzei’s previous wound.  The old man collapses to the ground.  Digging his fingers into the muddy earth, he crawls towards Chiyoko.

“I can’t get out!” Aiko whispers.  “My hand holds just crumble into nothing.”

Masaru begins to kick the earth walls, but more earth replaces the missing chunks.  “Svante?  What do we do?”

You do nothing.  You watch the scene you created.

“No, Shikari,” The Fire Aspect refers to Enki Osamu’s old rank in the Wyld Hunt.  “You aren’t going anywhere.”  She kicks the old Earth Aspect in the face.

“What have you done?” the Air Aspect cries out, eyes wide.

“My mission.”  Lung Sunan answers.  She draws a knife and approaches Lung Duri.

“You treacherous bitch,” Lung Duri spits blood.  “My father should have never allied…”

Sunan backhands Duri.  The Wood Aspect falls to the ground.   “Do you remember her?”  She screams at her Dragonblooded companions.   “Do you know her name?”  Sunan kicks Duri again.   “It’s like I told you.  They can be anyone.”

Duri rises to one arm.  “I…am…not…a…Sidereal.”  She ignites her anima.  Luscious deep green leaves of summer swirl around her.   “Ru, you know me.   We went to school together.”

The Air Aspect takes a step back.  He shakes his head.  “How could we not notice a stranger in our midst?”  He asks Sunan.

Sunan grabs Duri by a loose pigtail.  Her hand bleeds from Duri’s anima flux.  “Your anima proves nothing.  I’ve seen Sidereals wear a Dragon’s anima before.”  Duri fights to scratch Sunan’s eyes out.   Sunan draws a bloody line across Duri’s throat.

While Sunan and the others are distracted, Chuzei Enki begins to crawl again.  Sunan drops Duri’s corpse.   “Do you not know when to give up old man?”  She squats by the old Chuzei and observes his painful progress.   Facing away from you and the others, she leans over and whispers in his ear.  The Chuzei, enraged by Sunan’s words, tries to tackle her.  She barks a laugh and forces his face into the mud.   She slits his throat and watches the old Chuzei gurgle his last muddy breath.

Sunan takes a deep breath and relaxes.  She pulls out a think white cloth.   She cleans her knife of blood.

She folds her cloth and ties it around her brow.

You hand involuntarily reaches for your own headband, which conceals your caste mark.   The headband.  Duri’s words.  The Wyld Hunt. Your Heart stops.

Lung Sunan is a Lunar.

“Come,” the Lunar says to her Dragonblooded companions.   “The Air Ship awaits.  We have much to do before we can free your people from Sidereal tyranny.”

To be continue…

((I’ll admit, I took the suggestions with the worst outcomes. This is the moment where teenage arrogance runs smack into the wall of reality. We are playing in the adult leagues now! ))

Captured and his mission in shambles, Svante and his friends must escape and warn the other Sidereals about the Lunar Anathema in their mist.

Chapter 8, the last chapter of Hero, will begin next Monday, July 25, 2016.

127 – Bigger Problems

Who the fuck?  You break away from Chiyoko to discover who dared interrupt you.   If it was Masaru, you are going to show him just how much better of a martial artist you were than he was.

At the end of the stall stands a figure decked out in white jade armor.   Twin Orcalcum short swords hang at his sides.   Chuzei Enki pulls off his helmet and tucks it under his arm.   Chiyoko pushes you away and stands at attention.  You sit on the hay bale and fume at the Chuzei’s interruption.   How the fuck did he find you in a barn in the middle of nowhere?

“An open barn?  Are you fucking farm animals?  Lung, straighten your shirt.”   The Chuzei stalks into the stall.  “I have half a mind to write you two up for conduct unbecoming of the blood of the dragons.”

Chiyoko smooths her shirt down.  “Sir, you are bleeding.”

A line of blood mars Chuzei Enki’s clean white armor.   It drips from the bottom of his chest plate and down his thigh guards.

Fear burns away your anger.  “What happened?”

The Chuzei curses and wipes it away with his hand.  “Don’t worry about me, Cnead.  We have bigger problems to deal with.  Where are Hui and Mayim?”

“They went to the stable the horses at the village,” Chiyoko answers.

“How long ago was this?”

“A few minutes.”  Your anima and caste mark has faded.  You must have lost track of time.  “Maybe longer?” you amend.

Chuzei Enki sighs.  “Never mind.  Get your armor on, Lung.  We are leaving.”

“Are we going back to school?”  Chiyoko turns her back to you and you rebuckle her chest armor.

“No.”  Chuzei Enki rolls a pebble in his hand.  “Where is the nearest heaven’s gate, Cnead?”

“The Gate at Vanchow, but there is another gate north of here.”  Your caste mark glitters.  “Five hour ride away.”

Chuzei Enki grunts.  “Not ideal.   Lung, your cousin Duri and her circle came to collect you early this morning.   Said your grandmother ordered you and the Mayim brothers to return to Meru.   We had a disagreement about the validity of her orders.”

“Is Masaru’s brother okay?” you ask.

“Noboru and his older brother, Lotaro, left on a ship this morning.”

“How many Dragonblooded are in your cousin’s circle?” you ask Chiyoko.

“Five Experienced Dragonblooded.”  Chuzei Enki frowns.  “I trained Lung Duri myself.”

You tie a headband around your forehead to cover your caste mark.  “I’m not hiding in Yu-Shan while Chiyoko and the others are stuck in Creation.”

“Don’t worry, Cuckoo.  We are all going to be hiding in Yu-Shan.”  This plan of retreat does not sit well with the Chuzei, but he continues.  “You will sponsor us to the Lion Guards.  Someone named Keeper of the Locks will meet us at the Manse of Still Waters.  Do you know where that is?”

“It’s my guardian’s lake house.”

“Good.  Lung, you take point.   Cnead, keep an ear out for trouble.   If we get separated, head directly for the gate.”

Mei Mei trots up to the barn, carrying a half-eaten potato.  “Now, you show up.”  You scold the dog.  Mei Mei could have warned you Chuzei Enki was coming into the barn.  Mei Mei drops her potato and cocks her head in confusion.  “Never mind.” You motion the puppy to follow you.

“Cnead, was your mission in this village?”  Chuzei Enki walks slower than his normal brisk pace.

“Yes, sir.”  You study the Chuzei.  His stoic face betrays no pain, yet he runs a single pebble though his fingers over and over again.

The old Earth Aspect chuckles.  “Doesn’t seem like this village holds many dangers.”

“Sir?”

“Boy, if I told you half the shit you kind dragged me into over the years, you’d have nightmares for the rest of your life.  When you told me you had a mission, I was expecting far worse than this idyllic farming village.”

“A water goddess was drowning people.” Chiyoko chimes in.

Chuzei Enki snorts, unimpressed.  “If you’d been honest with me, Cnead.  I’d let you go.   I would have gone with you, but I’d let you go.”  He pauses to lean over and pick up a few more pebbles.  “Safer here than at the school.”

You keep walking and try not to think about the fire.  Instead, you focus on the silent village up ahead.   You pause and raise a hand.   “Wait.”

Chiyoko draws her sword.   “What is it, Cnead?”  Chuzei Enki asks.

“No music.  The village should be celebrating the Potato Harvest Festival.”

Chuzei Enki kneels and rests a hand on the ground.  “Everyone is in the village temple.”

“Can you tell where Masaru and Aiko are?”

“No.”  The old Chuzei grunts as he rises from the ground.  Fresh blood drips from his armor.

“Are you okay?  Maybe I sneak in to the village…”

“No.” Chuzei Enki cuts you off.  “I am not letting you out of my sight.”   He pats your back.  “I’ll survive until we get to Yu-Shan.  They have good doctors there.   I know from experience.”

You nod.  “My sister is a healer.”  Belatedly you remember Sasha is in Creation.  You doubt she be allowed to leave the Shogun’s side.  Maybe the Owl will know another healer.

You and Chiyoko follow Chuzei Enki into the empty village.  Festival booths sit empty.  You step over a trampled potato.  Chiyoko pauses by the stables.  “No horses.”

“Shit.”  Chuzei curses.  “Cnead, you got any other ways to travel in your bag…  Cnead!”

You ignore the Chuzei and enter the stables.   You let your nose lead you to a rotting pile of blood red goo.

“What is it?” Chiyoko comes up behind you.  She pokes the goo with her sword.

“What’s left of a blood ape.”  Aiko’s blood ape.

Chuzei Enki grabs you by the shoulder and wretches you around.  His face is so close his nose almost touches yours.  “Do not go off on your own again.”  He hisses.  “We stick together until we find Hui and Mayim.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

The old Chuzei stares you in the eye.  “Cnead, I am going to give you an order.  An order you must not disobey.  This situation is going to go to shit rather quickly.  When we find Hui and Mayim, take yourself and your fellow students out of the situation.  Lead them to the gate.   Do you understand?’

You look away.  He wants you to leave him behind.   How could you look your Sifu in the eye if you leave her father behind?  “I can’t.”

“Cuckoo, do I need to remind you of our first lesson?  What do you say when a superior officer gives you an order?”   The Chuzei’s fingers bit into your shoulder.

You never hated the Chuzei more than this moment.   “Sir, yes, sir.”

The Chuzei lets you go.  “If Lung Duri’s circle is here, then her Earth Aspect has been tracking us since we stepped foot in this village.  They are going to come out of the temple and surround us.  Get to Hui and Mayim and get gone.”  Chuzei Enki draws his swords.  “Let me do the talking.”

As you approach the temple openly, you try to think of other ways out of this situation.  You should have stealth in.  You could have found Masaru and Aiko without endangering anyone.  You say nothing.  Chuzei Enki is more experienced and after the fire, you are afraid of fucking this up.

The temple doors slam open and five Dragonblooded walk out – one of each aspect.   In the lead is a Wood Aspect with bright green braided pigtails.   Despite being a different aspect, she reminds you of an older Chiyoko.  She has a bow in her hand and two green jade swords at her side.  Next to her stands a Fire Aspect with shaved hair and brown leather armor.   The other three Dragonblooded encircle you.  The air aspect clutches a chakram, with others hanging from his belt.   The water aspect falls to a crouch, her Mohawk falling forward.  The earth aspect walks barefoot on the earth, never taking her eyes off the Chuzei.

Chuzei Enki stands there patiently, swords in hand.   You met Chiyoko’s eyes.   What is the Chuzei’s plan?  He told you want he wanted you to do, but he never mentioned his part in the plan.  What was it?  You rest your hand on the handle of your jade sword.  The threads of fate are still as the empty village.   The encircled Dagonblooded fidget as they wait for either the Chuzei or Lung Duri to act.  You smile.  They don’t know what the Chuzei is doing either.

“Good, you found her.  Saves me the trouble of looking for her myself”  Lung Duri smirks.  “Hello, cousin.  You’ve grown since the last time I saw you.  I don’t know what the Chuzei has told you, but I am here to take you home.  Our grandmother is ill and desires your presence at her bedside.”

Chiyoko says nothing.  She watches the encircling Dragonblooded.

Chuzei Enki points a sword at Duri.  “Where are Mayim Masaru and Hui Aiko?”

“They are safe.”  The Fire Aspect behind Duri replies.

“Let me see them.”  The Chuzei demands.

“You don’t trust me, old man?”

“I don’t trust anyone who stabs me in the back, Lung Sunan.”

“Ah…  But I have heard stories of your time in the Wyld Hunt.”  The Fire Aspect takes a step forward and comes face to face with the Chuzei.  Mei Mei growls at her.  “You aren’t above using trickery to get you want you want.”

“Defeating Anathema demands trickery.”  He shakes his head. “We are Dragonblooded, Sunan.  Not Anathema.  We hold ourselves to a higher more civilized standard.”

Lung Sunan’s eyes narrow.  “I will enjoy killing you.”

“There will be no killing.”  Duri declares.   “Bring them out, Sunan.”

Sunan glances back.  “But…”

“Bring them out.”  Duri repeats again.   The Fire Aspect steps back away from Chuzei Enki and she enters the temple.  A few tense moments pass as everyone waits for Sunan to return.

“No killing, Duri?”  Chuzei Enki asks.

“Not unless you force me to.”

“So your father’s intentions are pure when it comes to my students?”

Duri forces herself to stare the Chuzei in the eye.  “Their fate depends on their parents.  If they support my father’s bid for the throne, then they will be safe.”

Chuzei Enki grunts at this.  “You don’t believe me?” Duri asks.

“I know my history.  No Shogun has ever taken the throne without bloodshed.”

“Ah, perhaps it is time for change of management.”  The temple doors open again and the Fire Aspect drags out Aiko and Masaru and dumps them on the temple steps.   Both are gagged.  Their hands are bound behind their back.   Dried blood encrusts the back of Masaru’s head.   He rolls to a crouch and his eyes widen when he sees you and Chiyoko.  Aiko has a bruise down the side of her face.   She stumbles down the steps until she is sitting upright on the last stair.

“A bit bruised but nothing that won’t heal in a few hours.”  Duri explains.  “I’ll give you another chance, Chuzei.   Surrender.   The children won’t be hurt….”

The old Earth Aspect spares you a glance.   Then he raises his swords and bellows.  Chuzei Enki charges.

What do you do?

  • Join Chuzei Enki in his charge and fight to free Aiko and Masaru
  • Avoidance Kata away with Chiyoko, Aiko, and Masaru
  • Surrender
  • Other

 

126 – Decision

You resist the urge to wipe your right palm on your cloak, as the gods await your judgement.   What you decide here could not only affect Root Beard and Despair’s Last Gasp, but every other god in the area.

Root Beard grips his beard tight and stares at his feet.  His case was simple compared to the River Goddess’.  Illegal worship was punishable by dissipation and disbandment of the cult.  Or was it just disbandment of the cult?

Fuck.  You wish you paid more attention to the lecture on Veneration Laws.  The Owl warned you this day would come.  Now you had to pass judgement on Root Beard and not fuck it up.

You take a deep breath.  “God of the Southeast Potato Field of Wong Farm, you admit to accepting worship from the children of this village.”

Root Beard attempts to defend himself one last time.  “It was only songs.”

“Songs are a form of worship,” you remind the field god.  “You will cease accepting worship outside of your festival.  You will attend today’s festival with your fellow potato gods.”

“If we have to wear silly clothes, so do you!”  Root Hair interjects.  The other potato gods nod in agreement.  Blind Grace hushes the field gods.

You continue.  “For the next century, you will under the guidance of…”  You observe one of the potato gods pick a booger out of his nose roots and flick onto the ear roots of the other.  “Root Hair.”  Out of all the potato gods, Root Hair seems the most competent.

“Ha!  You have to do what I say!”  Root Beard giggles.

“What?!”  Root Beard falls to his knees and grovels.  “Please have mercy, Chosen of Jupiter.  I will search my field for Boll Weevils.”

“Boll Weevils don’t live in Potato Fields.”  Root Hair corrects.

Root Beard tries again.  “I will pick every rock off my fields.”

“The farmers already do that with each planting.”  Root Hair says.

“Shut up!”  Root Beard stomps his foot.  “Why do you have to ruin everything!?”

“Root Beard,” you call.  The field god turns his attention back to you.  “If I find out you have been recruiting children again, I will strip you of your domain.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Yes, Yes!”  Root Beard grovels again.  The log bobs in the floodwaters.  “But what about my fields?!”

“I’m getting to that.”   The River Goddess flexes her claws as she watches your judgement on Root Beard.  The River Goddess’ situation was more difficult.  The penalty for first offense of Human Sacrifice was loss of domain.   You do not remember what the penalty was for attempted human sacrifice, if there was one.  “Audit, Audit!” you remember Akachi’s peacock feathered clad secretary shout down the hallway.  “When in doubt, always audit!”

You meet the River Goddess’ angry eyes.  “Receded the waters from the potato fields and I will see you get a fair audit.”

The River Goddess frowns and makes no move to pull her river back within its banks.  “If you do not receded your waters, we will dissipate you.”  Chiyoko draws her sword and ignites it with orange flame.

The River Goddess closes her claws and the waters drain from the fields.   “My Potatoes!”  Root Beard jumps off of his log and begins gathering potatoes to his chest.

Mei Mei barks at the potatoes still floating in the River.  “You need to return all the potatoes.” You remind the River Goddess.

A wave laps unto the bank and beaches the potatoes on the field.  Eyes burning with rage, the River Goddess asks, “Is there anything else?”

“Your auditor will not look favorably upon upsetting the field gods.” You warn the goddess.  Despair’s Last Gasp smirks and leaps back into her river.

The crowd begins to disperse.  “One more moment,” you announce.  The Gods give you their attention once again.  “The monk at the temple will be retiring soon.”  You will have Akachi arrange this.  “The new monk will know what occurred here today.  Anyone taking advantage of the temple’s lax enforcement will have until the new monk shows up to clean up their act. “

On that last warning, you nod and the gods fade away.  Soon only you, the Dragonblooded, and Blind Grace stand in the field.

“Jupiter chose well, Champion.”  Blind Grace tips her bamboo hat to you.  “You uncovered the truth and showed mercy when needed.”  Music drifts from the village.  You glance up at the grey skies and notice the rain as stopped.  “Come,” Blind Grace offers.  “Join us for the harvest festival.”

You open your mouth to decline the invitation, when Chiyoko speaks up.  “We will be honored to join your village’s harvest festival.”

“Come to my temple to wash up and for dry clothes.”   The village goddess frowns at you.  “Chosen of Jupiter, you may stay in that barn until your anima fades.”  She points out an old barn with peeling brown paint.  “I doubt the mistress of secrets wants her champions to become well known.”

“Thank you. Blind Grace” you say as the goddess fades away.   Arcane fate should take care of your involvement in this situation.  Yet it does not hurt to be extra careful.

Large bales of hay hold the wide barn doors open.     You find an enclosed stall, slide down the wall, and sit on the floor with your eyes closed.

“Are you okay?” Masaru asks.

You are tired and hungry, but you don’t tell Masaru that.  You remember his earlier comment about Sidereals.  What did Chuzei Enki tell your friends?   “I’m fine,” you say, without opening your eyes.  “Go up to the village temple.  I’ll be there in a bit.”

Masaru knits his brows and frowns.  “Are you sure?”

“Come on,” Aiko stands by the barn door and stares out at the fields.  “We left our horses by the potato god’s tree.  If we are staying, we need to stable them at the village.”

After Aiko and Masaru leave, Chiyoko sits down next to you.  You grab her hand.  She flinches, but then squeezes back.  “I always forget your anima doesn’t burn.”

“I wish it was brighter.” Your anima was dim compared to elemental beauty of Chiyoko’s.

“It suits you,”  Chiyoko traces the line of your anima, her fingertips brushing your skin.   You shiver.  “It’s…  It’s like mint in the kitchen garden.  You pass it by every day and you don’t realize it has a scent until you finger the leaves.”

You open your eyes and stare at Chiyoko, clad in armor.  Hair flat against her head from the rain.  You finally have her alone.  No Aiko with her snide comments on the other side of the dorm.  No Masaru and the reminder of his awkward future with Chiyoko.  Just you and her.  You pull Chiyoko closer and kiss her.

She winces and breaks off.  “Fucking armor.”  She turns her back to you.  “Can you help me out of it?” Your fingers fumble with the straps of her chest plate.  You watch as she slides out of her armor and sets it aside.  She runs her fingers though her damp hair.    The earlier rain soaked her woolen undershirt.  “Is there something wrong?”

You shake your head and remind yourself to leave an offering to Venus for this moment.  “No,” you smile.  “Everything is going right for once.”

Chiyoko sits down again and kisses you.  You caress the line of her spine though the thick fabric of her undershirt.  Chiyoko takes your hand and guides it under the hem.  Your heart races as your hands explore the unfamiliar terrain beneath Chiyoko’s shirt.

You hear the deep rumbling sound of someone clearing his throat.

What do you do?

  • That rumbling sound must be thunder. Continue what you are doing.
  • Break off and see who cleared their throat.
  • Jump away from Chiyoko and pretend nothing was going on
  • Other

125 – Judgement

Water creeps up the bank.  Mei Mei barks at the potatoes that float under the bridge.

“Attack?” Chiyoko lays a hand on her sword.

“No,” you shake your head. “I’m going to talk to them again.”

“Because that worked so well last time,” Aiko remarks.

You ignore her and walk off the bridge unto the muddy bank.  Your boots sink into the mud as you walk towards Root Beard’s field.  Facing the quarreling gods, you ignite your caste mark.  “You will cease this conflict at once!”

Your anima flares and extends out to wash the fields in emerald light.  You hear Mei Mei whine back on the bridge.  The River Goddess, eyes wide with fear, steps on to the shore.  The river waters calm yet do not recede.   Root Beard paddles his log over to you.

Maybe you went a bit overboard with your display of power.   You splash out into the ankle deep floodwaters.  You stand before the two gods, when you hear a squeaky voice.  “Shit, Root Beard.   You pissed off the Maidens!”

Three more potato gods, sitting in a row, materialize on Root Beard’s log.  One with roots growing out of his ear and another with roots growing out of his nose.   The third – the one who spoke – scratches her short spiky root hair on the top of her head.  “What did you do now, Root Beard?”

“Root Hair!”  Root Beard stomps, unsettling the log.  “You are making things worse!”

“Mama?”  A young girl emerges, her long algae green hair floating in the floodwaters.  “What’s going on, Mama?”

“Hush, Meander,”  the River Goddess orders.  “Go back to your Oxbow.”

Yet other gods begin to appear.  Gods of oats and beets walk in from the far fields.   Sheep goddesses titter as they materialize on top of hill.  The Audience grows as gentle pond gods meet up with wild forest gods.   Thousands of small gods appear and settle in around you and the others.  They watch you with an expectant air.

A hush falls over the audience as the crowd parts for a tall barefoot figure clad in homespun.  A bamboo hat obscures the goddess’ face and a shepherd’s staff lies in the crook of her arm.  The goddess stops before you and raises her face.  She has no eyes.  Her face covered in fresh homespun bandages.  “Child of the Maidens, what brings you my village?”

“I am Oracle Svante Visscher… Chosen of Jupiter,” you add when you see confusion on the village goddess’ face.   “I was sent to discover the secret about why Root Beard would not be attending his harvest festival.”  The crowd mutters when you reveal this, but you ignore them and focus on the blind goddess.  “May I have your name, goddess?”

“I have answered to many names over the ages, but here in this place and time I am known as Blind Grace.”  The goddess leans against her staff.  “I was unaware the Maidens had chosen champions.  I apologize for any disrespect I or the gods of my village may have given you.   If I had been informed of your arrival, we could have been better prepared.”

Opps.  Your cheeks burn.   Maybe you should have gone to the temple first.  Or maybe the goddess wanted time to hid the illegal activities of Root Beard and the other gods.   “I hoped not to attract attention to my mission, but the situation warranted action.”  The floodwaters lap at your ankles.

Blind Grace frowns and pokes the water with her staff.  “What have you discovered, Chosen of Jupiter?”

You take a deep breath and hope you read the crowd right.  “I have discovered an illegal cult ….and attempted human sacrifice.”

The crowd shuffles and whispers.   “Sacrifice!”   “They broke the Immaculate Code!”  “Why do they get a cult and all I get is a stupid song?”   “The Dragons will banish us like they did the Solars!”

Blind Grace raises her hands and the crowd falls silent.  Slowly, she approaches you.  Chiyoko draws her sword and moves to block her.   Blind Grace pauses.   “I mean the chosen of Jupiter now harm,” Blind Grace assures her.  “May I speak with Despair’s Last Gasp and Root Beard alone?”

You consider the village goddess’ request.  “You may speak with them, but I will be present to hear what you say.”

The Village goddess nods and takes the three of your aside.  The Dragonblooded encircle you and keep an eye on the crowd.

You wonder what Blind Grace has to say when she whoops Root Beard upside the head.

“Ow!”  Root Beard rubs his head.   His broken skin reveals white potato flesh.

“What are you doing bringing the wrath of the Exalted down on our village!”

“But, I didn’t….”

“No buts, God of the Southeast Potato Field of Wong Farm.”  The village goddess fumes.   “Whatever cult you have, end it.”

“It’s only children singing songs.”

“Children!”  Blind Grace whoops him again.  For an eyeless goddess, she has good aim.  “That makes it worse!”  She turns to the River Goddess.  “And you should have known better!  Root Beard may be too young, but you and I remember the Great War.   We know what the Exalted are capable of.   Just because the Solars are gone doesn’t mean we can drown humans without consequence!”

“I wasn’t going to drown anyone,” the River Goddess clarifies.

“Children!  Root Beard may be a fool, but you know the potential of a cult of children.  You know that they will not stay children forever.”  Blind Grace spits in anger.  “Ruining the good name of my village.   The monks have ignored us because we don’t cause problems.”   Blind Grace swepts her staff, taking in the flood, the dragonblooded, and you.   “This looks like problems to me!”  Blind Grace shakes her staff free of water and joins the crowd.  “Do what you will with them, Chosen of Jupiter.”

Thousands of divine eyes turn towards you.

What do you do?

  • Let the Village Goddess handle the cult
  • Assign a more competent monk to the temple to handle the cult
  • Give Root Beard a warning
  • Give the River Goddess a warning
  • Dissipate Root Beard
  • Dissipate the River Goddess
  • Strip Root Beard of his domain
  • Strip the River Goddess of her domain
  • Have the Dragonblooded end Root Beard
  • Have the Dragonblooded end the River Goddess
  • End Root Beard yourself
  • End the River Goddess yourself

((So many options!   Don’t worry too much about the how.  Just decide what you will do.))

 

 

124 – The Potatoes!

Chiyoko can’t understand the River goddess, you realize.  She is only reacting to the tone of the goddess’ voice.  Chiyoko is not jumping off the bridge.

Chiyoko is going to attack.

“Wait!”  You grab Chiyoko’s arm just as she begins to draw her sword.  You met your girlfriend’s eyes, expecting to see anger in her fiery orange eyes.  Instead, what you see surprises you.  You see uncertainty.  You see fear.  You see despair.

Chiyoko breaks eye contact and collects herself.  When she looks back, you see rage has burned away all the other emotions you saw before.  “Let me go.”

You let go of her arm, unsure what to do next.

“You were going to jump off of the bridge,” Masaru stands right behind you.   Focused on Chiyoko, you did not hear him approach.

“I was not going to jump into the river,” Chiyoko hisses.

Mei Mei barks and attracts your attention.  “She’s escaping!”  Aiko cries out.   The blood ape materializes on the bridge and swipes at the melting goddess.   A puddle of muddy water drains over the side of the bridge.   The dark serpentine shape streams though the river towards Root Beard’s fields.

The River Goddess shoots up out of the water and towers over the potato fields.   “Root Beard!”  the goddess roars.   “You told the Dragons about the cult, you fool!  We had an agreement!”

Despite the torrential downpour, you hear Root Beard’s faint reply.  “I promised you nothing, you old water hag!”

The River swells up around the goddess.  “You will pay for your stupidity, field god!”  Muddy water surges over the bank.

“No!”  Root Beard materializes on a nearby log.  He grips his beard and stomps his feet.  “My potatoes!”

The water rises and begins to cover the fields.

What do you do?

  • Fight the goddess. Dissipating her will give you a few days to get help from Yu-Shan.
  • Warn the villages about the oncoming flood.
  • Summon the Storm god and get him to stop the rain.
  • Reveal yourself as an agent of Yu-Shan and assert your authority over the situation

123 – Despair

You decide to start simple.  “Goddess of Waters, why is your river raging?”

“It is that time of the year,”  The River Goddess smirks, one of her braids leaves a muddy smear on her cheek.  “My floods lay silt up upon the villager’s fields and ensure a strong harvest next year.”

“Did she serious use the ‘It’s that time of the month’ excuse?”  Aiko hisses to Chiyoko.

You ignore Aiko’s comment and frown.  “The potatoes still lie upon the fields.   If you flood them now, this year’s harvest will be ruined.”

“It is true.  My floods usually occur after the harvest is complete.”  She glances up at the grey storm clouds. “The rains came early this year.   Once certain events have been put into motion, there is nothing I can do to delay the floods.”

“Did you submit a complaint about the storm gods to the Terrestrial Bureaucracy?”

The River Goddess arches a muddy eyebrow.  “What makes you think the Terrestrial Bureaucracy cares for the concerns of a lowly river goddess, little Dragon?”

“If they don’t take your complaint seriously, you can appeal to the Bureau of Nature in Yu-Shan.”  Any Terrestrial god on official business can visit Yu-Shan.  You hope the goddess will jump at the chance to visit Heaven.

Instead the River Goddess freezes.  She stares at you and flares her nostrils.  She closes her eyes and considers her next words carefully.  “Of course,” she smiles.  “I will file a report as soon as I can.  Thank you for reminding me of my options.  Out here, one can forget the support of the Celestial Bureaucracy.”  Nothing of goddess’ smile reaches her eyes and she has slithered her way out of every question you pose.

“What do you know about Root Beard’s cult?” you ask.   Time to be direct.

“Root Beard told you about his cult?”  The Goddess’ clear eyes darken to a muddy brown and the river beneath the bridge roars.   “What a fool!”

The Dragonblooded encircle you.  Chiyoko stands between you and the goddess.   Masaru stands at your back.  With a flick of Aiko’s hand, you smell the stench of rotting blood.   For a moment, their actions confused you, until you realize they were protecting you.

The goddess closes her eyes and the river calms to a rumble.   “I suppose Root Beard’s cult is why you dragons are here.”  Her shoulders slump down.  “You are going to put an end to it.”

“What do you know about Root Beard’s cult?” you ask again.

“Nothing,” the goddess whispers.

“Really?”  You step around Chiyoko.  You can’t properly talk to the goddess when she is standing in the way.  “Root Beard said you threatened to drown one of his singers.”

The goddess’ muddy eyebrows narrow.  “Is that old spud trying to deflect his crimes on me?”

“Have you ever drowned anyone?”

Standing up straight, the goddess takes a step towards you.  “I am a River Goddess.  Many fall into my river.”

“So you drowned people?”  Masaru asks in broken Spirit Speech.

Masaru balls his fists at the goddess approaches.  “Once, long ago when the Suns ruled Creation, I was allowed bicentennial sacrifice.  You dragons put a stop to that and taught me the errors of my ways. “  She flips her long muddy braids aside and reveals a long scar on her shoulder.   “So here I sit and wait for my feast days.  I accept what is offered and nothing more.”  The goddess spits those last words into Masaru’s face.

Masaru doesn’t flinch.  “What do you mean by ‘what is offered?’”

The goddess’ smile chills like a frozen river.  “Despair.”  She licks her lips.   “Some mortals no longer want their lives, so they offer them to the river.  She stalks around Masaru and reaches out to run a finger along his back.  “I wouldn’t expect the blood of the Dragons to understand despair.”

Masaru spins around and slaps her wrist away.  “Do not touch me.”

The River Goddess smirks and stalks around the others.  “Like all the Exalted, you have the power to control your own fates.”   As the goddess studies Aiko, the Earth Aspect definitely meets her eyes.  The goddess ignores her and moves on to Chiyoko.   The watery woman stops and cocks her head.  “Or perhaps I am wrong.”  She licks her lips again and leans forward.   “Tell me, Dragon child.  Do you grow weary of hiding the darkness in your soul?”

“Chiyoko?” you are confused.  “What is she talking about?”

Chiyoko grips the handle of her sword.  “I don’t understand what you are saying.”  She replies in Earthtongue.

“Ah, but what I speak of transcends language.  You know the true pain of living.”

“Chiyoko, ignore her.”  Aiko yells.

“Leave her alone!”  you words burn with essence.

The River Goddess shivers at your command yet she still holds out a hand to Chiyoko.  “Come, child.  Within my waters you will find the rest you crave.”

Chiyoko cocks her head and knits her brow.  Gripping her sword tight, Chioyko takes a step forward.

What do you do?

  • Wait to see what Chiyoko does
  • Attack the River Goddess
  • Pull Chiyoko away from the River Goddess
  • Other

122 – The River Goddess

“We will talk to the River Goddess.”  It is time to get the other side of this story.

“Really?”  Root Beard hops from foot to foot.  “Thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  He stops hopping and straightens his beard.  “I can keep my singers, right?”

You rub your forehead.  “We’ll see.”

You leave Root Beard’s cozy hollow and walk out into the cold rain.  The grey storm clouds glow with the morning’s light.

“How big of a problem is it for a field god to have a small cult?” Masaru asks.

You shiver and pull your cloak tight around your neck.  “Root Beard is one of hundreds of small gods in the area.  There isn’t enough worshipers for each one to have their own cult.”  You explain.  “That’s why the Immaculate Calendar exists.  All gods get worship according to their place in the Terrestrial Bureaucracy.  “

“Gods get a surge of Essence for lives ended in their name.”  You shake your head.  “It’s a waste.   A living worshiper provides more prayer over their lifetime than a dead one, but some gods are addicted to the high.”

“How can the goddess get away with drowning people?”  Chiyoko scowls.  “Why doesn’t the Immaculate temple put a stop to it?”

You hesitate before answering.  The local monk missed a cult where his own student was a member.  What else could he miss?  “Maybe the River Goddess isn’t drowning anyone.  Root Beard could be lying.”

“Water Gods like to drown people,” Masaru points out.

You did not think it was likely the Water Goddess was innocent either.  “We have to be certain before we do anything.”  You hand Mei Mei over to Chiyoko.  “Head to the Immaculate Temple and question the monk’s student.  I’ll talk to the River Goddess. “

“And let her drown you?”  Chiyoko shakes her head.  “We are going with you.  You’ll need some muscle if the River Goddess gets rowdy.”

Masaru smirks.  “I’d like to see her drown me.”

Aiko surveys the rolling river.  “The bank is muddy and slick.  Not a good place for a fight.  Let’s head to the bridge.”

Together you cross the bridge.  You stop half way and look over the edge.  Bright foam rages at the surface of the angry river.  The river strains against its banks.

“What are you going to bribe her with?”  Masaru asks.

“Nothing, little water dragon.”  The river gurgles.  A serpentine shadow slitters though the silty waters.   A wave engulfs the far end of the bridge, revealing a slender translucent woman.  Silt encrusted ice claws tip the ends of her fingers.   The River goddess is nude, but none of your Dragonblooded friends comments on it.  They are completely silent as the goddess stalks down the bridge.

The River goddess stops and drops to her knee before you.  Her braids, slick with mud, fall forward, obscuring her face.   Her voice sounds pleasant but simmering beneath the surface is the raging river.  “What would the blood of the Dragons have of me?”

What do you do?

  • Retreat from the scary River Goddess
  • Open the conversation with her conflict with Root Beard
  • Ask why the River is Raging
  • Directly accuse her of seeking human sacrifice.
  • Other