162 – New Beginnings

“No, I’m not okay.” You aren’t sure if you are going to rage or cry. You take Chiyoko’s hand in yours. “But I am better now I am here with you.” You know this sounds overly sentimental, but it was the truth. After everything that happened today, you couldn’t lose Chiyoko too. You needed her just as much as she needed you.

Tears trail down your cheeks and fall to the ground. Chiyoko takes you in her arms. The events from today pour out of you. You tell Chiyoko about the Elder’s vote. The star charts. Kejak and his sword. Tears the Grass. After you are finished you feel empty, yet cleansed. As if what happened today was poison that needed to be extracted.

“They used us.” Anger creeps into your words. “They are training me to become like them. A liar. A puppetmaster. Someone who uses people like tools.” You clench your fist. “No more. I am through being a puppet. And I will not become a puppetmaster.”

Chiyoko is silent all though your rant. “I don’t want to be Shogun.” She whispers. She grips the shelves of her robe and turns away from you.

“I know. I’m going to help you, too.” You consider the problem. “You have lots of relatives. We will find someone else to succeed the throne.”

Chiyoko paces the small courtyard. “You need me to be Shogun. You need me on the throne just like your elders.”

You hesitate before answering. A part of you knows your and Akachi’s plans will be easier if Chiyoko could help you. Yet you did not want to force Chiyoko to take the throne. If she didn’t want to be Shogun, you will help Chiyoko free herself from her destiny. Though at this point you aren’t sure how. “I’ll figure something out.” You promise her.

“You can’t rule, Svante. No Sidereal can.” Chiyoko reminds you. “That’s why they work though others like my father.”

“I don’t want to rule!” you yell. Chiyoko was misunderstanding you. You wonder if Kejak has been talking to her. You take a deep breath. “I just want to bring peace to Creation. Stop this pointless war between the different types of Exalt.” You stop her pacing and hold her shoulders. “Give me some time. Your father is young for a Dragonblooded. We got years to find a solution.”

Chiyoko looks down and bites her lip. “Okay,” she agrees. “I trust you, Svante.” You brush a stray strand of hair out of her eyes and kiss her. She rests her head on your shoulder.

You are confident you will figure out a solution to both the war with the Lunars and Chiyoko’s problems. Perhaps you will bring peace to Creation before Chiyoko is forced to take the throne. Then someone else, someone not Chiyoko, could become Shogun.

The sun sets and the stars twinkle into the velvet night sky. You glance up as the Broken Mask fades into the sky. Venus in the mask. What better relationship for a Chosen of Secrets than a secret one? It was comforting the stars themselves smiled on you and Chiyoko.

Yet the mask was broken, a small doubt whispers in the back of your mind.

Later, you make your way through the secret passages to where Ban is being held. With a single word, you bring down the wards and enter his cell. From a hanging chain, Ban dangles from the ceiling. He looks up, his dirty blonde hair falls away from his face. “Who are you?”

“You don’t remember me, but I remember you.” You touch the wards on the floor and bring them down.

Ban shifts out of his chains and drops to the floor. With little prior warning, he crosses the room. Ban pins you against the wall. His hand tightens around your throat. “Sidereal,” he curses.

Your heart pounds in your chest. If you misjudged Ban, you will be dead. “You told me you believed in peace. Your trial is tomorrow and it will be a sham. You will executed.” You glance up at the moon silver wards you have yet to bring down. “If you kill me now, you will never leave this cell.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“I believe in peace too.”

Ban studies you and releases you. You rub your throat. “Our peoples need to stop fighting. Something is coming. Something the maidens cannot see.” You don’t know where this knowledge comes from, but you know it to be true. “If we are to survived, everyone – Lunar, Sidereal, Dragonblooded, Mortal- must band together.”

The Lunar considers your words. “Tears the Grass?”

“Dead, but you already know that.” Nor did Ban seem displeased by this news. “You will be dead soon if you don’t go. Head South. The Yu-Shan gates are more spread out on the Southern coast of the Blessed Isle. Keep to the sea…”

“I know how to escape your people, boy.” Ban snaps. He frowns. “Do you have a name?” he asks in a softer tone.

“Svante.” You take down the final wards. “You told me to look for Ivory Ban in the Wylds where the waters meet the ice. How will you know when I arrive?”

“Do not worry about that. The Wylds will make sure you find what you seek… if you pass their trials.” Ban shifts to the Dragonfly. You follow the Lunar to the entrance of the passages. Ban flutters off into the night. You hope he makes it to the Wylds.

You are about to step out of fate when you see the guards you passed earlier are lying in the dirt. You kneel down next to them and find both asleep.

“That was brave of you,” a voice behind you says. “to face the Lunar alone.” You turn to find Haythem behind you. “Fucking stupid but brave.”

“I…” you really don’t what to say. Your whole plan was not to get caught in the first place. All you do know is you are fucked. Your mind races for a way out. Perhaps you can reason with Haythem. “Why are you here?”

Haythem bursts out laughing. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to turn you in.”

At first you are relieved. Then paranoia sets in. “So why are you here?”

Haythem ignores your questions. “Come with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you until you give me some answers.” You grow frustrated with the older Oracle. “You used me as bait for the Bureau of Destiny traitor.”

“Maidens, you still remember that? I’d expected you forget by now.” Haytham sighs. “I’m not giving you a choice here, Svante.” He threatens quietly.

Haythem’s tone chills you. You meet his eyes. Instead of the drug addled idiot you know, you find a stranger. Cold and sober.

“It’s an act. The drugs. The stupidity.”

Haythem smiles. “Not as much as I’d like. Come along, Svante. We are going to be late.”

“Late for what?”

“If you hurry up, all your questions will be answered.” Haythem grabs you by the shoulder and drags you along with him. His grip is firm. The Oracle leads you down Mount Meru. Your footsteps are soundless as you walk through the ruined city.

What did Haythem want with you? Was he going to kill you? You detect no impending violence from the other oracle. You keep your mouth shut and keep walking.

Finally, you come to a grove of blackened dead trees. Their dark branches reach up to stars in the velvet sky. Dead grass crunches under your feet.

“Reveal,” a firm feminine voice commands. Golden leaves sprout from the dead trees, illuminating the orchard. Ayesha Ura rises from a stone bench. Long fur in gradual shades of gold and yellow protect her from the night breeze. Her yellow starlit eyes fall upon you. She looks at Haythem with a silent question.

“Svante freed the Lunar.”

“Did he now?” Ayesha’s eyes return to you. “Why did you free the Lunar, Svante?”

“You choose your words carefully. “He didn’t do anything that deserves execution.”

“Some may think spying for the enemy is a crime worthy of death.” Haythem points out.

Shit, that was a good point. “This whole war is stupid and pointless.” You blurt out.

“Out of the mouth of babes.” Wanahton guffs. The tall Chosen of Journeys steps out from behind a tree and ambles over.

“I’m not a child,” you snap back. You grow more pissed off when Wanahton chuckles. “I want to know what is going on.” You demand.

“Svante, it’s okay.” a soft voice answers. Idir, the Chosen of Endings who offered you the sandwich, steps back into Fate. “You are among friends here.”

Friends? “Why are you here?” You ask of the Sidereals surrounding you.

All three men look to Ayesha. “We were hoping to reopen negotiations with the Lunars.” Ayesha tells you.

You frown. You were hoping to open negotiations with the Lunars with Akachi. “Why did you want to talk to the Lunars?”

Ayesha smiles. “Svante, I’d like to introduce to the Sidereals of the Gold Faction.”

Advertisements

106 – Amends

“Tell me why you want to help me,” you demand.

Ayesha scowls.  “I’m offering to help you.  No string attached.”

“No,” you disagree. “You have to be getting something out of this. “  You ignore Sasha’s aghast expression and continue. “You don’t get to help me until you tell me why.”

“My, they do grow up fast,” Ayesha mutters.   “Sasha, if you’d excuse us?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”   Your sister leans back in her chair and crosses her arms.

Ayasha frowns and glances at you.  You fidget with your napkin.  “It’s okay, Sasha.  We won’t be long.”

Sasha grumbles, but relocates over to the other end of the café.  Your sister throws herself into a chair and puts her feet on the table.  She crosses her arms and stares daggers at the gold-clad woman.

“What do you remember of Rikali’s life?  Her family?”

“I remember enough.” You met Ika, Rikali’s drug-dealing daughter.  Did this have something to do with her?

Ayesha twists her mug on the table.  “Rikali and I didn’t part on good terms the last time I saw her.  I’ve always regretted my last words to my sister were filled with anger.”

“Your sister?”  None of Rikali’s memories included Ayesha.

“You don’t remember?”  She taps her fingers on the table.  “Lytek prunes our past incarnation’s memories.  He must have thought he was doing me a favor by removing her memories of me.”   Ayesha picks up her mug and takes a sip.  “Rikali and I were the first Sidereals to exalt after the Usurpation.  Chaos ruled Creation for those first few centuries, thus the Elders decided to raise young Sidereals in Yu-Shan.   We were among Akachi’s first experiments with raising Sidereals together….”

Ayesha’s words fade as a vague memory floats to the surface.   Exalts did not age until the end of their lives, but you remember younger and more carefree Ayesha.   She smirks at you, “Just because you are a Chosen of Secrets doesn’t mean you get to learn all of my secrets, sister of mine.”

You shake your head of the memory and focus on the Ayesha of the present.   She gives you a knowing look and says, “I’m not expecting you to treat me like family, Svante.  We barely know each other and you got family of your own. “   Ayesha glances up at the bored Sasha, waiting for you on the other end of the café.   “It’s just…  you are the closest thing I have to making amends with my big sister.   Please,” Ayesha begs, “Let me help you.”

 

In contrast to Elder Kejak’s library silent office, Akachi’s boisterous staff yelled insults, jokes, and groan inducing puns down the hallways at each other.   You sit in the break room and wait for Akachi to come back from his “last” meeting of the day.   At this late hour, neat stacks of dishes fill the shelves and the counters have been swept clean of crumbs and spills.  Itziar, the short round elderly goddess in charge of the mail, shoves red mission envelops into the wall of cubbies.   Deep wrinkles etch her face and wild wispy white hair refuses to lay flat.  Her long earlobes dangle down her chest as she grabs a stepstool to reach the cubbies out of her reach.

You wonder whom the Elders will assign to keep you away from the meeting.   While Ayesha can help you past the wards, it was up to you to lose your tail.  As far as you can tell no one trailed you and Sasha back to the Bureau of Destiny.

“Svante!”  Akachi’s secretary, Shapau, walks into the office, interrupting your thoughts.   The tall bone thin god’s peacock feathered headdress was missing, revealing his shiny baldhead.  Shapau only wore his headdress when he was out running errands.  Despite the immaculate appearance of his turquoise robes, the secretary seemed tired.  “What is this I hear about you putting a goat in Elder Kejak’s office?”

“I didn’t do it!” you deny.  “No one can prove anything!”

A grin creeps across Shapau’s face.  “Oh, you naughty boy!” the god tisks.  “You better not bring any dirty animals in here!”

You put your feet on the break room table.  “You better stay on my good side, Shapau.”

“Ah…”  Itziar chuckles.  “The kitten has grown some claws.   I’d be careful, Shapau.”

“Elder Akachi doesn’t pay you for your smart comments,” Shapau snaps.  Itzair rolls her eyes and sorts more red envelops into cubbies.

“When do I get a cubby?” you ask.

“Why do you need a cubby?” Shapau sounds scandalized by the very suggestion.  “Young you may be, Svante, but you are still a member of the Five Score Fellowship.   If Akachi assigns you a mission, it will be from his own hand.”

“Only us lowly gods get cubbies,” Itziar explains.

“Where do all these missions come from? The Maidens?” you ask.

“Pattern spiders.  Ever tangle they can’t fix means a new mission for the Bureau of Destiny.  We sort them and the delicate missions go to you Sidereals and the rest go to our gods assigned to posts in Creation.”   Shapau groans in frustration.  “Those lazy pattern spiders send us a mission addressed to you every once in a while.”

“What?”

“Oh don’t worry.”  Shapau waves a hand.  “You aren’t officially a member of the Bureau until your eighteenth birthday.  We forward those to Elder Kejak’s office.”

“Look at this.”  Itziar holds up a red envelop.   “We got another mission with your name on it right here.  What a coincidence…”  the goddess says sardonically.  A god working in the Bureau of Destiny is weary of coincidences.

You snatch the envelope away before Shapau can even reach his hand out.  You rip open the envelope and read.

To: Svante Visscher, Chosen of Secrets

 

From: Pattern Spider #0A6915

Mission Profile: The god of the Southeast Potato field of Wong Farm is neglecting his duties for unknown reasons.  Discover why before the Potato Harvest Festival. 

Estimated Probability of Solar Presence: Insignificant

Estimated Probability of Hidden Yozi Presence: Insignificant

Estimated Probability of Lunar Presence: Insignificant

Estimated Probability of Fair Folk Presence: Insignificant

“That’s it?”  You toss the disappointing mission on the table.

“What do you expect from a pattern spider?” Itzair grunts, as she picks up another pile of mail.

“The mission wasn’t meant for you.  One of the pattern spiders is glitching out.   Elder Kejak’s office is investigating. “  Shapau says.

Your pattern spider curls up into a tighter ball in your pocket.   You fold the mission envelop in half and tuck it in with your pattern spider.   “Don’t route any more missions for me to Elder Kejak office.   I’ll take care of them.”

“What?” Shapau says.  “What do you mean by ‘you’ll take care of them?’”

“Now you’ve done it!” another staffer yells from across the hall.  “We are going to be doing twice the work!”

“We aren’t qualified for Secrets work!” another voice wails from further down.

“The boy’s gotten only three missions over the past few months.  We’ll be fine.”  Itzair yells.  She digs though the cabinets and pulls out a box of wooden nameplates.   “I’ll assign you a cubby.”

“A cubby!”  Shapau sputters.  “He’s a Sidereal! What will the other thinks when they find out he has a cubby!  None of the gods will respect him!”

“It will be good experience for him, having to get his own mail!”   Itzair counters as she carves your name into the soft wood.

“This is unprecedented!” Shapau complains.

“I’m not running all over Creation to track down a Thirteen year old boy.”  The long eared goddess blows the shavings into the trash bin.   She slides your nameplate into an empty slot on one of the smaller cubbies.

“At least give him one of the larger ones!”  Shapau insists.

Itzair frowns as if she is about to argue.   Instead, she sighs and assigns you one of the larger cubbies.  “The mail gets delivered twice a day.”  The goddess smirks as she pushes her empty mail cart away.

Shapau frets about your cubby.  “What if you are in Creation and get assigned a mission?   This whole situation needs to go to committee for discussion!”

You drop your head to the table.  A committee discussion about whether you should have a cubby or not was asinine!

“What needs to go to committee?”  You look up to find the Owl standing at the doorway of the breakroom.  Your tutor holds a fine-grained mahogany case under his arm.

“Svante insists on handling his own mail!  He has no experience, no office, and no staff.  Only a cubby!”  Shapau points at the offending cubby.

“I’m not going to get experience if I don’t get to do anything!” you yell.

“Savante, Shapau, calm down.”   The Owl orders.   “If Svante is unavailable, then I can check his mail.”

“Oh, would you?  My staff’s already overworked with all the… “  The secretary pauses.  “Well you know.”  Shapau must be talking about the secret meeting tonight.

“Yes Yes,”  The Owl waves him off.

“Wonderful!”  Shapau, satisfied your missions are not his problem anymore, leaves the breakroom.

“Svante?”  The Owl sides the mahogany case across the table towards you.  “Do you remember what is in this case?”

Despite never having seen this case before in your life, it seems familiar.  Memories of laughter, wine, and piles of Ambrosia flitter though your mind.  You finger the silver latches before opening it.   “These are your Ma Daio tiles.”  You click the case open and reveal the worn carved and painted tiles.

“Akachi mentioned he was working late tonight so I decided it was time to teach you how to play Ma Daio.  We have suffered far too long with that fat toad on our fourth corner. “  The Owl says, referring to Sasha and Wanahton’s lazy secretary.

You pick up a face tile and run your finger over the worn carvings.  You have many evenings hidden on the staircase and listened in on Akachi’s Ma Daio game.   Yeva, your sifu was often a player along with the Owl, Sasha, Jaived – another chosen of Endings- and few others.    The elder’s plan was as smooth as the game tile in your hand.   You expected them to assign someone to tail you, but instead they simply have your tutor offer to teach you a game you long desired to learn.

What do you do?

  • Tell the Owl the truth. You are going to sneak into the meeting.
  • Lie to the Owl. Tell him you had plans to visit you friend in Vanchow.
  • Play along with the Owl and then sneak away

105 – Favors

You watch a topaz pattern spider traverse the Loom above you and realize you need to attend this meeting.  You need to meet the other elders.   Or at least get a good look at them.  Akachi can only protect you for so long.   You open your mouth to ask to attend the meeting when your stomach grumbles with hunger.   The cookies you ate in Elder Kejak’s office seemed so long ago.   “Can we get some dinner?” you ask Sasha.

Sasha laughs and ruffles up your hair.  “I don’t know if I can afford to feed you.”

You scowl and bat her hand away.  “I can pay my own way!”   Afternoons working in Akachi’s office have given you a nice chunk of pocket change.  You and Sasha rise from the stairs.  Sasha puts her arm around your shoulder and tenses, her eyes darting back behind you.

“What is it?” you ask searching for danger.  The strands of Fate around you are calm.

“I thought I saw something.”   She scans behind you again and shrugs.  “Being the Shogun’s bodyguard has made me jumpy.   Not many people come down to this part of the Loom.   Where are we anyways?  ”

“My Exaltation.” You reply.

“Oh,” Sasha knits her brows and glances back.   You can think of at least one other Sidereal who would be interested in your Exaltation.   As you continue walking, you wonder if your conversation with Sasha was truly private.

 

The Unconquered Sun was still ahead in the Games of Divinity and shines bright on you and Sasha as you eat dinner at the little café near the Vanchow Gate.  You demolish a large plate of Grilled Pork Sandwiches while Sasha nervously picks at a dark leafy salad.

“You aren’t eating.” You observe.   You pop the last of your sandwich into your mouth.

“I’m worried about tonight.”  Sasha says, intentionally vague.  She rolls a cherry tomato across her plate.

“Can I go with you?” you munch on a stray piece of carrot.

Sasha frowns and stabs the cherry tomato with her fork.   “I don’t know. “  She lowers her voice.   “This is not a normal meeting.  Maybe we can ask Akachi?”

“No. “  If you asked Akachi, then he would know Sasha told you about her mission.  You lean your elbows against the table and rest your check in your hand.   “I can step out of Fate and eavesdrop.”

“Stepping outside of Fate won’t work,” a voice says from behind you.   Sasha sits up straight and you turn to find Ayesha Ura standing behind you.   The tall Southern woman was dressed in a wispy sleeveless silk dress; her dark curly hair piled up on top of her head.   Orichalcum bands encircle her wiry biceps.   She holds up a mug from the café as if she was giving a toast.   “May I join you?”

You watch Sasha, unsure what to say.   Sasha stares down at her salad, ignoring the Chosen of Journeys woman.   When neither you nor Sasha responds, Ayesha sets her mug down and pulls up a chair.   She carefully arranges her long skirts and sits down.  “I assume you are discussing the super-secret meeting ever Sidereal except Svante and I was invited to.”  Ayesha says in a conspiracy tone.

Everyone?  You muse on this news as Sasha replies, “We were talking about the subcommittee on Martial Arts Tournaments.  Svante wants to attend the special session tomorrow.”

“You need to become better at lying, Sasha.”  Ayesha titters as she stirs the whipped cream into her cappuccino.    “A better response would be ‘What secret meeting, Ayesha?’ and be dying for the details.”  She sets her spoon aside and picks up her mug.  “Now you have confirmed you know about the meeting.”  She takes a sip.  “Why do you want to go to the meeting, Svante?”

“It’s a secret meeting everyone but me was invited to.” You retort.  “Why wouldn’t I want to go?”

“Better.  Exactly the response you expect from someone known for his insatiable curiosity.  I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Sasha.”  She smiles at you.  “Chosen of Jupiter are all accomplished liars.”

“Svante is an honest boy,” Sasha defends you.  You pick at the seam of your napkin and avoid Sasha’s gaze.  While you were being honest, you weren’t telling the entire truth.

“Of course he is.”  Ayesha agrees absently as she sets her mug aside.  “I want to help you get into the meeting, Svante.”

“Why?”  Sasha asks, eyes narrowing.

“Calm down, Sasha.  Do you think I mean your little brother any harm?”

“You want me to spy on the meeting for you.” You accuse.

“No,”  Ayesha denies.  “Akachi would never forgive me if I involve you in any of that unpleasant business.  I already have others who promise to tell me what is going on.   ”

“And you trust them to tell you everything?”

“No, that is why I have a few different people to keep me informed.” Ayesha changes the subject.   “I helped Chejop design the security wards on the meeting room.  I know a couple of ways past them.”

“How do we know Elder Kejak hasn’t changed them?”  Sasha asks, with arms crossed.

“He hasn’t.  Once the wards are activated, only a Sidereal can enter the room.”  She shrugs.  “There is no reason change the wards to keep out just two people.  Assigning someone to keep an eye on us is a more efficient use of resources.”  She stirs her drink again.  “It would be up to you, Svante, to lose your tail.   I don’t expect you to have any problem with that.”

“And what would the price be for this little favor?” Sasha asks.

“Nothing.”  Ayesha takes another sip of her drink as she watches you.

“Nothing?” you ask incredulously.  “Why are you helping me?”  You hope Ayesha’s generosity has nothing to do with the stupid scroll.

“My reasons are my own.”  Ayesha leans over the table and asks, “Will you allow me to help you, Svante?”

What do you do?

  • Accept Ayesha’s Offer as is.
  • Accept Ayesha’s Offer only if she tells you why she is helping you.
  • Turn down Ayesha’s offer and find your own way into the meeting
  • Turn down Ayesha’s offer and badger Akachi and Sasha for information after the meeting. You can observer the other elders later
  • Other

((You guys finally chose the Ayesha Ura option!  I was despairing of you ever meeting her.  ))