158 – Closed Doors

The mortal guards pass without noticing you.  You follow behind them.   You stop outside the warded door and wait for all the guards to enter the cell.  Your plan is to lock all the guards in the cell.  You did not want to harm the guards.  You have enough blood on your hands.

Three guards enter the cell and two stand outside to guard.   Shit.  Why couldn’t anything be easy?  The funeral will be starting soon.  You do not have much time.  As the three guards search the cell, you walk up to one of the guards.  “Help them search the cell.  The more eyes the better.” You whisper into his mind.

The guard glances back at the cell.  “Let’s help them.  The more eyes the better.”

“Go with him.” You whisper in the other guard’s ear.

The two guards enter the cell.  “What the fuck are you doing…”  You slam the cell door closed before the guard could finish his sentence.  The guards bang at the door.

You snicker.  Your plan worked.  In a much better mood, you race to catch up with Aiko and Shamira.  Aiko was an idiot.  You could be a hero.  Yet being a hero is more complicated than you thought.  There is more to being a hero than swing your sword against evil.  Akachi and the rest of the elders have done horrible things in the hopes that the end result would be better.  Could you keep true to yourself and what you know is right and still save the day?   Or will be forced to choose between your own morality and the safety of others?

You come to a point where the corridor branches into two different directions.  You choose one at random, hoping the fates will guide you true.   You walk for a long while and realize the fates lead you wrong.  Or did they?  Footsteps and the clang of weapons echo down the passage.   You hide in an alcove outside of fate.

Sasha leads the remains of the Wyld Hunt.   Her expressionless face is pale and smeared with blood.  About half the Dragonblooded who accompanied her did not return.   Sasha is putting forward a brave face in spite of the Hunt’s losses.  You close your eyes at your sister’s pain.   The Elders are using her just like they use you.  How many Sidereals are sacrificed for their unknown goals?

“Sasha?”  You step out of the shadows.     Sujay draws his crossbow and aims at you.  The rest of the Dragonblooded draw their swords.

“Hold!”  Sasha orders.  She steps though the crowd of Dragonblooded.   “Svante?”  She embraces you.  Your sister stinks of blood, sweat, and acid.  Sasha examines you.  “Are you okay?  What are you doing in the passages?”

“I’m fine.”  You look at the blood on her face.  “Are you injured?  Did you get the Chimera?”

“The Anathema is dead.”   One of the Dragonblooded holds up a dripping bag.

“It’s only a scratch.”  Sasha touches a knot on her head and then waves it off.   “What are you doing down here?”  she repeats.

“I’m looking for Aiko.”   You scan the faces of the Dragonblooded to see if Aiko and Shamira are with them.  “Have you seen her?”

“She and the other Earth Aspect were headed to the Funeral.   We are headed that way as well.  Did you want to come with us?”

What do you do?

  • Openly accompany Sasha and the Wyld Hunt to the Funeral
  • Trail Sasha and the Wyld Hunt outside of Fate
  • Catch up to Aiko and Shimara
  • Find out where Elder Kejak is being held.
  • Other
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157 -Fed Up

“Shamira,” you draw her gaze. The sound of boot thumping on stone echo in the passage. “If you want to do the worst damage to those who hurt you, testifying is the best way. Let the whole Shogunate know what Hayate did.”

Shamira scowls and faces you. She was going to argue or even turn on you. “What are you going to do?” You stand tall and take a step closer. “Waste your life here or be smart and testify?” You give her a choice, but really she has no choice at all. You lace your words with essence and force her decision. She will testify. You are done with dealing with the idiotic decisions of others. You are done being a puppet.

Shamira curses and looks away from you. “Which way out of this stupid tunnel?”

“Follow me.” Aiko heads off in the opposite direction of the stomping. She pauses when she sees you turn in the opposite direction. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to stall them. You will need time to get out of the passages.” You can’t leave though whatever way Aiko is using. You are sure it is warded. “I’ll see you at the funeral.”

Aiko knits her brows, but nods and leads Shamira away.

Once they are out of sight, you step out of fate. You approach the oncoming guards. Five mortals dressed in leather and chain mail, but no Dragonblooded. Where were the Dragonblooded?

The mortals draw their swords and advance towards the empty cell.

What do you do?

  • Flare your anima and caste sign and distract them. If they are looking for Sidereals, you are going to give them one.
  • Throw the guards off the scent with Avoiding the Truth Technique
  • Use Thought-Swiping Technique to cause confusing among the guards.
  • Lock the guards in the cell.
  • Other

156 – Rage

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.
  • Other

155 – Remember

“No.  If you are serious about peace, you would not be defending the other Lunars.”  You declare.

Ban stares you in the eyes.  “I am not defending their actions.  What Tears did…”  The Lunar trails off.  “But Quo is innocent.  “

“You are her friend and she attacked you.”  You point out.  Ban has to understand his companions are not worth his life.

“She doesn’t know what she is doing.”

“How does this change the fact she is a monster and needs to be put down?” Aiko crosses her arms.  “The Wyld Hunt is searching the tunnels for her.  This Quo is already dead. ”

You frown at Aiko’s assessment, but she is right.   There is nothing human left in monster you met in the secret passage.  “Do you want to die in whatever foolhardy plan Tears has?”

Ban clenches his fist.  “I cannot betray my own people to the Wyld Hunt.  No one deserves to be hunted like an animal.  ”

“Don’t think of it that way.”  You say.  “Think of it as bring a rapist and murderer to justice.”

“If you assist Tears, you are no better than he is.”  Aiko adds.

“You took a risk revealing yourself to us.”  You say.  “No matter what you decide, you will be allowed to leave the room.” Aiko glares at you, but you ignore her.   There has been enough death.  You rather not turn Ban in to the Wyld Hunt if he was serious about peace.  “But we cannot let Tears go free to rape and murder someone else.”

“So your people will bring Tears the Grass to justice and he will be held as yet another example of how my people are monsters.”  Ban grimaces and opens the window.  “This was a waste of time.  I don’t need your permission to leave this room or this manse.”

“No, but you will not leave the Blessed Isle alive.”  Here in the center of Creation, Ban is furthest from the Wyld that conceals him from the Loom of Fate.   The other Sidereals will find him and hunt him down.  “Some of your people are monsters…. But some of my people are too.”  Elder Kejak is willing to use anything and anyone, including you, to achieve his goals.  “If you truly want peace, then you must live, Ban.  Sacrificing your life to save Tears will do no one good.”

Ban is silent as he considers your words.  “You said my people,” He points out quietly.  “Not our people.  One of you isn’t Dragonblooded.”

Your heart pounds at your unintentional slip.  Now would be a bad time for you to be revealed as a Sidereal.  You attempt to look confused.

“The question I have is”  Ban whispers.  “are you the puppet or the puppet master?”   He searches each of your faces trying to discern the hidden Sidereal.  He sighs.  “It doesn’t matter.   I wouldn’t remember who I was talking to anyway.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”  You shrug at Aiko.

Ban smiles.  “Of course you don’t, boy.  We’ve had young exalts before, why not the Sidereals too?  Perfect age to hide you among the Dragon children.  The illegitimate granddaughter of the Shogun who suddenly appears?  The foreign exchange student in the Shogun’s granddaughter’s circle?  Is your hair really scarlet?”  Ban runs his hands though his own hair.  “Shit.  It must be you, boy.  You were with the Shogun’s granddaughter.   Here we are playing at Shogun making and your elders are already looking to the Shogun after.  Hell, I was outside the window trimming the hedge when they were discussing the Mayim boys.  I thought the old bag choose the wrong one, cause Luna knows that kid isn’t interested in girls.  “

“What are you talking about?”  Now you are truly confused….and suspicious.  “Chiyoko doesn’t even want to become Shogun.”

“And why would her desires matter?”  Ban’s eyes dart around as ideas come to him.  “They said the youngest was closest in age to the girl, but they cleared the way for you.  “

You grip the handle of your sword.  “You don’t know what you are talking about.  You know nothing about Chiyoko and I.”  The threads of fate vibrate with impending of violence.

“Svante!”  Aiko glances back at the door of the storage room.   “Calm the fuck down or else we will all die here.”

The Lunar ignores you.  Words keep flowing as he makes the connections.  “Venus is the maiden of love.  Who better to bring lovers together?  Who better to be a puppet master of a Shogun than a Shogun’s lover?”

“Shut the fuck up!”  You draw your sword with the Speed of Mercury.  The Lunar dumps a stack of crates to block you.   He grabs your wrist and shoves you into a shelf.  Your sword clangs to the ground.

“Of course, we fight a lunar the week my blood ape is killed.”  Aiko curses as she retrieves your sword.

“I’m not going to hurt him.”  Ban reassures her.  “Unless you force me to.”

“Fuck what the old man said.”  Aiko mumbles under her breath.  “I knew I should have summoned another blood ape last night.”  She holds your sword and waits.

“Boy,”  The Lunar whispers in your ear.  “You are right.  I am sincere in my desire for peace.  I want no more Quos.  Remember I could have killed you in this moment.  Remember I decided not to tell my elders of your plans.  “

“Let me the fuck go.”  You spit.  You struggle against the Lunar’s grasp.

“But most of all, remember me when your lover comes to the throne.  Look for Ivory Ban in the Wylds where the waters meet the ice.   Hope I am in a good mood when we meet, for I will not remember you.”  Ban glances back at Aiko.  “The Earth Aspect is being held in a cell off the secrets tunnels behind the apartment’s kitchens. ”

A jade-clad fist pounds on the door.

“It’s the only cell in this area, so the guards should take you there.”   The Lunar releases you and turns into a dragonfly.  You reach out to snatch the insect out of the air, but the Lunar rises above your hand.  A stone bolt rips though the dragonfly’s wing and impales the Lunar to the wall.

“That has to be the stupid thing you have ever done.”  Aiko hands back your sword.  “’Let’s let the Lunar get away with all our secrets.’”  She mocks in a sing-song voice.

“Shut the fuck up.”  You hiss.  “I didn’t let the Lunar go anywhere.”

“You mean I didn’t let the Lunar go anywhere.”   The Dragonfly kicks in legs and struggles against the stone bolt.

“You just stood there like an idiot while the Lunar attacked me.”  You retort.

“What did you expect me to do?  He disarmed you and you are a much better swordsman than I.”

The heavy boots kick the door.  Bolts in the hinges shake but hold fast.   The guards will be in the room in moments.

What do you do?

  • Blame the Lunar. Point at the dragonfly on the wall and say it is the hidden Lunar.
  • Let them arrest you. Maybe the Lunar is right and will take you to the cell Shamira is held.
  • Step out of fate and have Aiko deal with the guards
  • Step out of fate and have Aiko hide on the window ledge
  • Other

(Back in Chapter three, I had Kejak run two different schemes on Svante and Akachi.  The first was Kejak working with Svante about sorcery.   The other was Kejak working with Akachi for setting Svante up as the new liaison for the Shogun.  )

(There may or may not be vampires kicking down the door.)

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

 

 

 

 

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.
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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.
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