140 – Ling Ling

“No!”  You crouch down low and wide.   Wanahton taught you never to show fear to an animal.  Not that this Shih Tzu is a fearsome beast.   When the dog ignores your orders and goes for your ankle, you grab him by the scruff of his neck and pin him to the tile floor.  “Calm the fuck down.” You order, adopting the Untamed Face.

The dog does not struggle in your grip, but you feel a deep growl though your fingers.  “What are you doing in my territory?” the dog snarls.

“Your mistress invited me.”

“Svante!”  Elder Kejak’s voice draws your attention away from the dog to the rest of the room.   Chiyoko covers her giggles with her mouth.  Aiko whispers in her ear and winks at you.   Masaru and his brother stare at you, mouths agape in shock.

“Svante.”  Elder Kejak warns.  You sigh and let the dog up.  The Shih Tzu growls and is about to attack again when you hear a voice cry down the hallway.  “Ling Ling!”  The dog cocks his head and goes running down the hallway.

The secretary pats you on the back.  “I know you like to play rough with dogs, but I’m sure Yi will not appreciate his clothes he loaned being dirtied before dinner. “

Yi perks up at the mention of his name.  “It’s no bother.  I haven’t fit in those clothes in years.”

Mei Mei whines and you pick her up.   So that was Ling Ling.  Sasha said he was evil incarnate.  You look down at your puppy.  Mei Mei was one of his puppies.

Ling Ling appears, carried by a shriveled version of the woman in the tapestry.  Dressed in rich flowing silk robes, the decades have shrunken Raijin Indrani.  Yet her eyes flash with blue white light.

“Lady Indrani,”  Chiyoko bows her head.  “My cousin and I thank you for inviting us to dinner.”   Silent as a stone, Aiko stands just behind Chiyoko.  Her fingernails bit into her wrist.

“Gracious as always, Lady Chiyoko,” Indrani’s voice is warm with approval.  She reaches out and gives Chiyoko’s hand a squeeze.  Chiyoko returns a weak smile.   “You have grown tall since the last time I saw you, but a shade thin.  Have you been eating enough?  What has that school been feeding you?”

“The school has been feeding us fine.”  Aiko responds.

Indrani ignores her and pats Chiyoko’s cheek.   “You should spend the summer with me.  A few weeks of good food will fill in those hollow cheeks.  If I can wrangle my grandson from his father, Masaru can join you.   Would it be nice for the two of you to get to know each other away from school?”

Masaru opens his mouth to disagree, but his brother pokes him in the ribs.

Chiyoko collects her thoughts before answering “That is a generous offer, Lady Indrani.  I know you have a busy schedule.”

“It’s no problem at all.  I could use the company, especially after….”  The ancient Air Aspect trails off at the mention of the Shogun’s eminent death.

Chiyoko closes her eyes pained.  “I was to spend the summer with my mother.   Neither my father and I have seen her since I was five.”  She whispers.

“Plans can change.”  Indrani gives Chiyoko a small smile.  “As I said I could use the company this summer.”

Chiyoko mutters something unintelligible.  Indrani turns her attention to her to you and Elder Kejak.  “Lady Indrani, it’s a pleasure to see you again…”

“Yes Yes Yes,”  She waves the secretary off.  “I’ll get to you in a bit.”   You thought Elder Kejak has a piercing stare, but you have never been judged by Raijin Indrani.   She examines you from head to toe as if inspecting a purebred puppy.   “So you are Svante.”

You nod.  For someone to remember your name before you even met them is a rare occurrence.  Indrani’s eyes narrow and you realize she is expecting something more.  “Yes, ma’am.”

She takes a step closer to you.  So close you can smell her musky violet perfume.   You have to stop yourself from retreating.   She reaches for your hand and studies it.  For a moment, you wonder if she is going to read your palm.  “Large hands.  Northern blood usually breeds tall and broad men.  You’ll have your uncle’s height, though his bone structure isn’t has heavy as yours will be.  “  Elder Kejak, who would blend in well on the Blessed Isle, looks nothing like you.

Elder Kejak breaks between you and Air Aspect.   You retreat to Chiyoko and Aiko.   “My brother said he has hit his growth spurt this year.”

Indrani smiles, but does not step back.  “You will have to forgive my curiosity, secretary.  I have never seen a Sidereal child before.”

“We are very careful with our children.  My nephew would not be here if we did not trust you and your gent.  For example, I trust you have warded these apartments from eavesdropping.”

“I have warded these rooms myself, secretary” Reva appears from a side hallway.  “I have also kenneled all the dogs for the night and drugged the servants to sleep.   Sujay and Basma are watching over them.”   She stands aside and indicates you continue to the dining room.  “We will not be disturbed.”

Both you and Elder Kejak glance towards Ling Ling.

Indrani rolls her eyes.  “Ling Ling never leaves my side.”   With a flick of her robes, she turns away from the secretary and heads to the dining room.

An exotic spread of delicacies from around Creation lies on a long table.  Much more food than the number of diners could eat.   This feast could rival the meals you have eaten in Yu-Shan.  You have had nothing to eat except cold trail rations since this morning, you could eat a feast this large.  Your stomach grumbles in agreement.

“Why can’t your grandmother serve normal food?”  Chiyoko whispers to Masaru.

“If people eat soup hot, my grandmother serves it cold.”  Masaru has a plate of rice, seaweed, and fish fillets folded into origami cranes.

“Dragons, she’s serving Ahlat’s Gems.”  Aiko points out a plate of fried nuggets.

“Really?”  You pick up a tong to add some to your plate.

“You do realize that is bull testicles.”  Masaru whispers.

“It’s a delicacy in the Southeast.”  You put a few on your plate.  “They have a similar texture to scallops.  You fry anything up, it tastes good.”

“You approve, Svante?”  Indrani asks.  “I see you’ve found the Ahlat’s Gems.  Good for young warriors.   Makes them fierce.”   She eyes her grandsons as she says this.   “You should eat up, boys.  Dragons know you could use some fierceness.”   Masaru retreats from the buffet to his seat, without taking any Ahlat’s Gems.

“If that woman makes me eat bull testicles, I’m going to fillet her with my fork.”  Aiko hisses after Indrani wanders off to make a plate for Ling Ling.

“Please not here, Aiko.”  Chiyoko sits down next to Masaru.  You go to sit next to Chiyoko and Elder Kejak pats the table next to him.   You sigh and sit in the empty chair between him and Masaru.   Aiko takes the seat on the other side of Chiyoko, furthest from the Indrani.

“You seem to know your way around the Cuisine of Creation, Svante.”  Indrani comments.   Ling Ling has his own seat at the table and is licking clean a plate.  Mei Mei sits by your chair, waiting for scraps.

Remember to complement the food.  “Yes, the food is very good.”

Indrani begins to ask another question and the secretary interrupts.  “My brother has traveled with Svante all over Creation.  Just a few months ago, he visited the Western Islands.  The Cobalt Atoll…. “

“Ah, what interesting food did you eat there, Svante?”  Indrani interrupts the secretary.

“Um…”  You swallow to clear your mouth.  Why was Indrani asking you all these questions?  Didn’t she believe in silent children?

What do you do?

  • Answer her question truthfully and make conversation.
  • Ask one of your own.  Why was she questioning you?
  • Stare at you plate and play shy.  Let Elder Kejak steer the conversation
  • Other



((My failure at describing food shouldn’t delay this post. ))

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139 – Grooming

“Are you kidding me?  Do you really expect me to hide in Yu-Shan and abandon everyone here?”  You cross your arms.  “What do you need me to do?”

Elder Kejak’s face breaks into a smile.  “Good!    I didn’t expect you to leave, but I wanted to hear you say it out loud.”  He relaxes and steeples his fingers.   “Your primary mission hasn’t changed.  Stay close to Chiyoko and the others.   Keep an eye on the servants.  Any one of them can be a potential Lunar.   I may have some names of potential Lunar doppelgangers to investigate later. “

“After everyone retires for the night, wander the manse outside of fate.  You have an instinct for finding trouble, but” Elder Kejak cautions, “do not get involved.   Find me instead.”

“What about Lung Duri?  She still has the gift of the Broken Mask.”

“When the time is right, I will tell you to ungift her.  Creation will remember Hayate’s daughter.”  He smiles.  “We want Hayate to incriminate himself before he brings his alliance with the Lunars to an end.”

“Won’t they suspect our involvement?”

“No, not if they don’t know you are a Sidereal.  You must not reveal yourself under any circumstances.”  Elder Kejak strokes his beard.  “You are our greatest advantage, Svante.  No one will suspect anyone so young of being a Celestial Exalt. “

“But…”  Elder Kejak had revealed you as a Sidereal already.

He holds up a hand.  “Yes, I know I revealed you to Reva and her circle, but she is clever enough to figure out who you are.   She had to been told or else she would have revealed you at an inopportune time. Also, Indrani also knows by now.”  He sighs.

“Is there anything else?”   Elder Kejak has a long list of duties for you.   When did he expect you to sleep?

“Oh, yes.”  He walks over to the chest of drawers and reveals the Five Moons of Denial.   Your copy of the Five Moons of Denial.  You can see the puppy gnawed corner.  Elder Kejak sets it on the table in front of you.  “You can use this opportunity to catch up on your reading.”

You groan and slam your head on the book, as the secretary answers a knock at the door.  A servant enters carrying a crate full of grooming supplies and a change of clothes.

 

You sit in the bathtub and scrub the river mud off your skin.   Despite the warm water, you tremble.   You drop the cloth into the water and step out of the tub.  You stare in the mirror and the Svante who stares back seems hollow, unrecognizable.   You blink one eye and the reflection blinks with you.   You lean your brow against the mirror.   Rage, Fear, Guilt, Grief are the emotions you expect to feel after murdering someone.

Instead, you feel empty.

Mei Mei’s howls distract you from your dark thoughts.

“What?” the sevant yells over the howls.

“Will she outgrow making such a racket?”  the secretary yells back.

“Some dogs do. Some don’t.  Each dog is different….”  The howls stop.  “Grab her! Grab her!”  You hear a wet thump and feet pattering on the floor.

Scratch Scratch Scratch.   A puddle of water dribbles out from under the bottom of the bathroom door.   Mei Mei whines.

“Do you need any help?” you ask.

“No, we are fine.”

“Got her!”  Mei Mei howls again as the servant carries her back to the tub.

You sort through the clothes the servant gave you.  You hold up a grey silk robe embroidered with silver blue-eyed dragons.  You robe yourself in the dull Air Aspected clothing and frown as you smooth out the cloth.   Your eyes fall on your emerald green Wings of the Raptor.  Somehow, your cloak managed not to attract a speck of river mud.   You fidget with the cloak’s broach and adjust the cloak to fall over one shoulder.   Better.

“Svante, we are going to be late!”  The Secretary yells.  You run your fingers through your hair and exit the bathroom.

“No, I don’t think curling irons are necessary.  A brushing will just have to do.  I’ve got a very important dinner engagement tonight. “  The secretary hovers over the harried servant brushing Mei Mei.   Miraculously, Elder Kejak’s clothes are dry.   He looks you over with a critical eye.   “You need a brushing too.”

You run your fingers through your hair again.  “Akachi says the tousled look is popular right now.”

Elder Kejak offers you a comb.  “Indrani is over two centuries old.  I doubt she approves of the latest fashions.”  You get the idea that Elder Kejak does not improve of them either.  His own hair is neatly pulled back into a tail.

You ignore the comb.  “I would think an elder Exalt would have bigger problems to worry about then my hair.”

“I have some hot irons to straight his hair.”  The servant offers.  She ties Mei Mei’s bangs up with a red ribbon.

Hot Irons!  You grip your hair and shake your head no.   Thankfully, Elder Kejak excuses the servant.  He sighs.  “Remember your manners and complement the food when prompted.  Answer questions when spoken to, but keep the responses brief and to the point.  Fortunately, Indrani believes children should be seen, not heard.”

You and Mei Mei follow the secretary.  Each hallways is a twin to the last.   Dragonblooded officials and mortal bureaucrats hurry down the hallways on important business.   The secretary pauses in one quiet hallway, confused.  Two Dragonblooded guards stand outside of a doorway.   “May we help you?”

The secretary scratches the back of his head.  “Ah, yes.  I have seen to be turned around.  Do you know where Raijin Indrani’s apartment is?”

“I can show you, Secretary.”  Chiyoko emerges from the guarded door.  She gives you a small smile.

“Good Evening, Lady Chiyoko.  If you would be so kind.”  The secretary waves his hand around.  “I get so turned around in this manse. “

“It would be no problem.”  Chiyoko replies.  “We will have to wait for Aiko to finish getting ready.”   As if summoned by her name, Aiko opens the door across from Chiyoko’s.   Chiyoko does not have a roommate here, you realize.   You file this information away for future reference.

The secretary motions for Chiyoko to take the lead.   The two guards fall in behind the group.   Aiko whispers to you “These are the guards Chiyoko’s father tried to send to school with us.”  You glance back at the guards.   The women’s uniforms show them as an Earth Aspect and a Fire Aspect, yet both have dark brown hair and eyes.  Only the elemental tinge of their skin betrays them as Dragonblooded.

“They are lost eggs.”  Aiko explains.

“What?”

“Lost eggs.   Dragonblooded born of mortal mothers.    Yeh Sujay tries to find work for them around the Shogunate, mostly as mercenaries.   Chiyoko’s father hired these two to guard Chiyoko and I. “   Aiko steps away from you, when you reach an alcove lined with sheer silver curtains.  Four more Dragonblooded guards, these of high breeding, guard a set of double doors.

The doors open.  Masaru and another older Air Aspect boy in his late teens step out.   Tall and lean, the boy has silver blue hair and a set of wire glasses at the bridge of this nose.  His light blue-grey eyes dart between you and Elder Kejak.  “Good Evening…  I am Raijin Yi…. This is my brother, Mayim Masaru.  Though I guess you already know him….”

Masaru elbows his brother and continues in his place.  “Our grandmother would like us to escort you to the banquet hall.   If you would follow us.   Please watch your step.  Our grandmother would be most unhappy if you harm one of her dogs.”

You follow Masaru and his older brother into the apartment.  Yi stares at you and then looks away when you stare back.  Masaru walks up beside you and whispers.  “My brother never paid much attention to the night sky before tonight.”   Elder Kejak frowns when he overhears Masaru.   Yi knows you and Elder Kejak are Sidereals.  Keeping this secret will be more difficult than you imagined.

Tapestries cover the walls of Indrani’s apartment.   You pause at once depicting an Air Aspect amidst a raging storm.   Lightning cracks from her fingers and an army of Fair Folk and other wyld beasts swirl in the gale around her.

“Raijin Indrani at the height of her military career.”  Elder Kejak explains.

You hear the sound of nails clicking on tile.  A regal black and white Shih Tzu saunters into the room.  His hair bound in a Shogunate topknot.   He snarls and rushes at you, teeth bared.

What do you do?

  • Dodge out of the dog’s way
  • Kick the dog away
  • Stand tall and yell “No!”
  • Pin the Dog to the floor
  • Other

138 – Explainations

“No,”  you look down at your hands lying in your lap.  “I don’t understand.  People died because of my actions.  It doesn’t feel right we are profiting from a tragedy.”

“Not profiting from the situation will not bring back those who died, Svante.”  Elder Kejak patiently explains.  “Do not let Lung Duri’s death sake your confidence.  When the Maidens gift us with power, they do not make us perfect.”

“If I had just followed Chuzei Enki’s orders…” you stop when Elder Kejak rubs the bridge of his nose.  “What?”

“Chuzei Enki was not… the most imaginative man.  It is entirely possible events would have played out the same way or worse.  To be honest, we were all surprised when Mars chose one of his children…”

“What the fuck does that have to do with anything!?” Your chair clatters to the floor as you stand up.  “Chuzei Enki died.  According to Chiyoko, I dishonored his death by disobeying his orders.”  You clench your fist.  “And you sit here and insult his intelligence.  Especially after the idiot act you pulled tonight.”

“Svante, sit down.”  Elder Kejak’s tone bore no disobedience.

You stand over the elder Sidereal, trembling.  You wanted to throw the chair against the wall.  Instead, you pick it up and sit back down at the table.

Elder Kejak sits calmly at the table, watching you settle in your chair.  “Svante, growing up means you must understand some hard truths.  And here in this place, I need you to be more grown up then you have ever been.”

“First, you need to realize Saturn comes for us all.   Not even we, the chosen of the Maidens can deter her.  If it was Enki Osamu’s time to die, nothing you could have done would change that.”  In a softer tone, he adds.  “I would not worry too much about Chiyoko’s words.  She feels just as responsible for her Chuzei’s death as you do.”

“Which brings me to another hard truth.   Dragonblooded children are raised differently than you were. They have to be prepared for the day the Shogunate requires them to sacrifice their lives.   While the death of a Dragonblooded is a tragedy, a death of a Sidereal is a catastrophe. “  Elder Kejak points at you.  “You are one of a hundred.   Dragonblooded are born each day.  A Sidereal we have to wait decades before their reincarnation.”

“Yet the elders had a vote whether I should live or die.”

“I believe you understand now how much damage you are capable of.”   Elder Kejak reminds you before returning to the topic at hand.  “Thirdly, I find it convenient to play the fool before the Shogunate court.   Very few know that I am not the helpless mortal I appear to be.   No one besides you and Sasha know my position among the other Sidereals.”  Elder Kejak smiles to himself.  “You would be surprised by what people say in front of those they believe to be fools.”

The elder Sidereal leans forward.  “What happens over the next few days will decide the future of the Shogunate.  These are dangerous and chaotic times, Svante, yet such times are when heroes are made.”

“If this place is so dangerous, why did you have us come here?”

“Us?” Elder Kejak repeats and then he nods in understanding. “Lung Chiyoko’s and Mayim Masaru’s parents needed a reminder of what they fight for.  I am not surprised the Lunars have an interest in the Shogun’s succession.  What is unexpected is they have gained support among the Dragonblooded.  Lung Hayate is playing a dangerous game….”  Elder Kejak muses and shakes his head in disapproval.  “Svante, I need another pair of eyes here.   I can’t be everywhere I need to be and Sasha’s attention is focused on the Shogun.”

You consider everything Elder Kejak said. “Now their parents have been reminded, why couldn’t Chiyoko and the others retreat to Yu-Shan?  It is safer there.”

Elder Kejak snorts.  “I am more likely to move Mount Meru than convince Raijin Reva and Lung Gayoto to let their children out of their sight.  Though…”   Elder Kejak’s emerald green eyes met your own.  “Heading back to Yu-Shan is an option for you.   Is that what you would like?”

What do you do?

  • Head back to Yu-Shan
  • Stay in Meru
  • Other

137 – Invitation

“Mei Mei was a birthday present,” you reply, brows knit in confusion.  Why did Masaru’s mother want to know about Mei Mei.  Besides being your puppy, there was nothing special about her.  “Did you want a puppy?”

“Dragons, no.  The last thing I need is more puppies.”  In spite of the tartness of her words, Lady Reva picks Mei Mei up and brushes dried mud out of her fur.  “Why are you cover in mud, puppy?”  Mei Mei wags her tail and licks Reva’s face.

“We gave her a bath yesterday,” you defend yourself.

“Mother,”  Masaru looks to you.  “Mei Mei isn’t one of grandmother’s puppies is she?”  You shrug.  You have no clue who Masaru’s grandmother is.

Reva holds up a finger to silence her son.  She walks over to the Shogun’s secretary, puppy in arms.  “Is this the dog you acquired from my mother for your nephew’s birthday present?”

The Secretary wipes sweat off his brow and croaks.  “She told you about that?”

“My mother tells me everything about her dogs.”

“In excruciating detail,” Sujay, the Wood Aspect, quips.  Basma snickers.

Reva silences her circle with a stare.  She turns back to the Secretary.  “Is this the dog you gave your nephew?”

“Your mother has a great many black and white puppies…”

“Secretary,” Reva cuts him off.  “A yes or no will suffice.”

Elder Kejak weighs his options and finally replies.  “Yes.”

“This boy is a Sidereal.”  Reva declares.  Shit.  So much for your cover.

The Secretary frowns in confusion.  “I’m not following your logic, Lady Reva.”

“The boy has the puppy.  The puppy you gave your nephew.”  Lady Reva explains slowly.  “Thus it stands to reason this boy is a Sidereal.”

You are not following Lady Reva’s line of thinking either.  You glance at Masaru, who is busy staring at his boots.

“Really, Reva” the Secretary protests.  “That is a wild assumption to make.  What makes you think any of my nieces and nephews are Sidereals?”

Reva ignores the question and asks one of her own.  “What is he doing in my son’s circle?”

Before the secretary can reply, Masaru speaks up.  “He’s my friend.”

“Your friend…  How did you meet him?”

“The Chuzei assigned Svante as my roommate at the beginning of the school year …. And he’s the only other boy at the school my age who cares about manga. “

Reva studies you and now you are the one staring at your boots.   She hands the puppy over to the secretary, who juggles the dog for a moment.   “Who piloted the Blood in the Breeze?”  She asks you.

The Blood in the Breeze is one of the warstriders from Metal Gods.  “Cora Nadia.”

Lady Reva taps her finger on her lips.  “What is the name of Fikaria’s sword?”

Fikaria was a Fair Folk minion in Kill Fire Sword.   “The sword has different names based on the time of day.  In the evening, it is the Lover’s Sigh.  In the morning, it is Lover’s Last Breath.  At all other times of the day, it is nameless.“

“What is the name of the immoral mortal in Adventures of the Immaculate Dragons?”

“Um….”  You knew one of Masaru’s relatives sent him a copy, but you never actually read that comic.

Reva smiles.  “Don’t worry, Svante.  No one actually reads Adventures of the Immaculate Dragons.”

“How do you know what the mortal’s name is?” Masaru asks.

“When my mother burned all my manga when I was a child, she graciously left me a copy of the Adventures of the Immaculate Dragons.”  Reva sighs.  “Masaru, why didn’t you tell me about your roommate?”

“I can’t write to you about him because… Sidereals….”  Masaru explains.  “And I haven’t seen you since before my second breath.”  Reva goes to her son and cups his face in her hands.  “I know you are busy…”

“Shh…”  She hugs Masaru and closes her eyes.  “It’s okay.”

You almost jump when you feel a hand on your shoulder.  You look to find Elder Kejak by your side.  “Masaru and the rest of his circle have been good friends to Svante.   He’s been lonely since taking his second breath.”

Lady Reva wipes unshed tears from her eyes.  “Let’s collect the rest of your circle and head back.”

 

You climb though the lower ruins of Meru, though ruins are not the term you would use.  The majority of the buildings are in perfect condition.  They stand empty and silent, waiting for the Anathema masters to return.   Only the weeds growing though sidewalks and the flickering streetlights betray Meru’s decline.

Lady Reva leads the way with Sujay by her side.  You, the Secretary, Chiyoko, and the rest walk next.  Basma brings up the rear.   In the distance, the sky glows with amber light.  As you approach, you see an idyllic park ablaze.  Each tree burns like a fiery flower.  White light cracks the ash-covered ground.  Crimson char flutters around you.

“The park has burned since the Usurpation.”  Elder Kejak explains.  He grips his staff and watches the fire.  The blaze casts dark shadows on his face.  “A Solar fell here and wanted Creation to never forget his passing.”

You turn away from the destruction.  The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Danger!

Sujay shoots into the darkness.   A yelp.  He runs over and returns with a feline corpse.  Its adorable chubby face is at odds with its long fangs and claws.  “They are breeding again.  I saw his mate slither away with a litter of kits.”

“We will let the guard post know to send out a crew to clear them out again.”  Basma says.

Finally, you reach a section of Meru where the streets lights glow bright.  A tall jade wall encircles a large part of the city.  A full circle of five Dragonblooded guards the gate.  Other Dragonblooded patrol the wall.

Lady Reva brushes her fingers against the jade stone of the gate.  It opens to reveal the bustle of a living breathing city.  Cafes and shops line the street.  A group of mortal women titters as you pass.  They fall silent when you stare at them.

“Bitches,”  Aiko hisses under her breath as they hurry off.

A young girl – too young to have Exalted- with Water Aspect markings walks up to Chiyoko.  “Lung Chiyoko, may I have your autograph?”  She has a copy of last month’s Pretty Dragon Princess Meru in her hand.

“Go Away!”  Chiyoko hisses.

The girl bites her lip and the Fire Aspect whispers in her ear.   Masaru watches the girl wanders off.  “She just wanted an autograph.”

“I’m not Pretty Dragon Princess Meru!”   Chiyoko rages.  “I didn’t ask for some stupid mortal to write a manga about my life.”

“But it isn’t about your life….”  Masaru reasons.  “The main character was just based on you.”

“I don’t care!”  Chiyoko looks away and keeps walking.  “I fucking hate this place.”  She whispers.

You are about to say something, when Elder Kejak interrupts.  “Look, Svante.  There is the Chrysanthemum manse.”  He points out a Red Jade building with tall columns, sitting on a cliff.   “That’s where we are headed.”

Your legs burn by the time you reach the entrance of the manse.  Lady Reva leads the group past the guards and into a large echoing atrium.   You follow her though a large set of black jade doors and down a carpeted hallway.  Elder Kejak pauses at a junction.  “If you would excuse me, Lady Reva, I must see my nephew settled in.”

Chiyoko gives you a queer look and mouths “Nephew?”

You mouth back “Later.”

Reva holds up a hand.  “A moment, Secretary.”  She cocks her head, listening.  “My mother would like to invite you and your nephew to join our circles for dinner.”

“Our Circles?”  Chiyoko repeats in dismay.

“Dinner with Grandmother?”  Masaru gulps.

“I rather dine with the heart eating anathema.”  Aiko says.

“Children,”  Reva colors the word with her displeasure.  “The Blood of the Dragon shows respect for their elders.”

“Yes, Lady Reva.”  “Yes, Mother.”

The Secretary bows.  “We would be honored to join you and your mother for dinner.”

Aiko makes a hacking sound.  Lady Reva frowns and Aiko falls silent.  You cannot remember the last time you ate, but you decide that fasting may be a good experience for you.

“Will we have time to freshen up?”  The Secretary says, ignoring Aiko’s interruption.  A clump of mud falls off Mei Mei onto the carpet.

“We can delay dinner until you give the puppy a bath.  My mother cannot see the dog in such a state.  I’ll send some servants with the necessary grooming items and clothes for your nephew.”  Lady Reva leads Chiyoko and the others away.  Chiyoko looks back with a forlorn expression.

 

The Shogun’s Secretary has a single Spartan room with a bed, small round table with two chairs, and a chest of drawer.  Two doors line the left side of the room, one ajar to reveal a bathroom.  A fireplace is located on the right wall.  Elder Kejak walks to the far wall and opens the lone window to the night sky.  You sit in one of the chairs and wait as the Elder Sidereal studies the stars.  He nods to himself, satisfied with the stars and close the window.   “We won’t be over heard here.”  The window latches with a loud click.

He sits down in the chair across from you and studies you with an intensity that makes you squirm in your seat. You break the silence.  “Why did you reveal me as a Sidereal?”

Elder Kejak digs under his robes for a long starmetal chain.  A small cache egg pedant hangs from the end.  He sits the egg on his desk and taps it with one long finger.  The egg cracks open and unfolds to reveal a writing desk stocks with prayer rolls and fine Yu-Shan ink.

“I had already planned to introduce you as my nephew.”  Elder Kejak sorts though the prayer rolls.  “I had even written a Resplendent Destiny for you to sign.”  With a sigh, he throws one of the rolls into the fire.   “It is unfortunate Reva received news of her son’s disappearance so quickly.  Once you and Masaru had arrived, I had planned to reveal Masaru as safe.”  He unrolls another prayer roll and adjusts the destiny.  “But we have made the best of the situation.”  The ink on the roll glows with a faint emerald light.  Elder Kejak tucks the roll into the desk and refolds the cache egg.

“We do not have much time.  Tonight we will be dining with Raijin Indarni, who is the head of Gens Raijin and most importantly, the Shogun’s lover.   I have requested an audience with her days ago, but she has been busy with affairs of state during the Shogun’s illness.  Sasha has spoken with her some, but Indarni requires special handling.”

“Why do you need to talk to her?”

“Her words carry weight in the Shogunate.  We need her to support our choice to succeed the Shogun. Akane is infertile and that weighs heavily against her in Indarni’s estimation.”  Elder Kejak rubs his face and sighs.  “Fortunately, Indarni is less than impressed with Hayate, so she hasn’t spoken for him either.”

You consider the situation.  “Indarni wants to support someone with an heir.  Yet she does not want to support Hayate at all, so she stays silent.  “

Elder Kejak nods in approval.  “Yes, we need to make her realize her silence support Hayate just as much as speaking for him.”

You close your eyes “Hayate’s heir is dead.  I killed her.”  You can still see her surprise at the Lunar’s blade sticking out of her chest.

“Technically, the Lunar killed her and that is how we will present it when the time comes.”  When you do not response, Elder Kejak continues.  “Svante, you feel responsible for Lung Duri’s death and that is the proper way to feel.  A Sidereal should always consider the far-reaching effects of their actions.  However, you must consider not the single strand, but the entire loom.  Many Dragonblooded supported Hayate because he had an heir.  With Duri not only dead, but forgotten, Akane has a chance to seize the Chrysanthemum manse.”

“Are you saying Lung Duri’s death is a good thing?”

“Lung Duri is a single strand among many.  Sometimes a strand needs to be cut to save the rest.”  Elder Kejak mimics a cutting motion with his fingers.  “Do you understand?”

Do you understand?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Other

 

 

 

136 – Execution

“Mother?”

Reva looks away from the Shogun’s Secretary at the sound of Masaru’s voice.  “Masaru.”  Tense drains from her when she sees her son.  “Quick, you and your friend come here.”

Without a thought, Masaru ducks behind his mother.   You hesitate and decide to join Masaru.  Elder Kejak’s eyes dart from you to Reva.  “Ah, you must be Masaru!  It is wonderful to meet you finally.  I have heard so much about you recently.  You take after your mother… except you are a Water Aspect… and look!  You are completely safe.”  The Secretary coughs.  “You shouldn’t go wandering off on your own and worry your mother.  She may do something… unwise in her worry.”

Reva narrows her eyes at the Secretary’s words.  He folds his hands and smiles benignly.  Reva huffs in annoyance and turns to examine Masaru.  Her eyes take note of the disarray of his clothing, his muddy boots, and his lack of armor.  She brushes his bangs to expose a half healed cut.  Then Reva clutches her son to her chest.  “When your brothers told me they couldn’t find you at school….”

Masaru hesitates for a moment and then relaxes his mother’s embrace. “We are fine, mother.”

“Where is the rest of your circle?”  The Fire Aspect asks.

“They are inside the manse, Aunt Basma.  Lung Chiyoko is attuning to the manse.”

Reva raises an eyebrow.  “Your circle managed to claim an Anathema Ruin?”

Masaru breaks away from his mother and nods.  “The guardian was lonely, so she helped us bypass the security inside.”

“My question is how you managed to enter the manse in the first place.” The Wood Aspect fingers the trigger of his crossbow and stares at the Secretary.   The Secretary holds up his hands in a shrug and tries to look innocent.

“We… kind of crashed a Skyship into the manse….”  Masaru mumbles.

“You what?!”

“It was my idea!” you lie.   “Not to crash the ship, but to fly it.  But we had no choice.  We were kidnapped and…”

Reva holds up a hand.  “Slow down.   Who kidnap you?”

“Vayu Khalid,  Abioye Ru, And..”  Masaru looks to you.  He wants to tell his mother about the Lunar.  You shake your head.  Now in the middle of the ruins is not a secure place to share that information.  “…And Lung Sunan.”   Masaru finishes.  He does not mention Lung Duri.

Reva notices the interaction between you and Masaru.   “Masaru we will discuss this matter later.  Why do you introduce me to your friend?”

“Mother, this is Cnead Svante.”  Masaru mentioned nothing about being a Sidereal or a Wood Aspect.  “Svante, this is my mother, Raijin Reva.   And her circle, Yeh Sujay”  The Wood Aspect gives you a brief nod.   “and Shula Basma.”   The Fire Aspect smiles.

“Hi.”  You give everyone a little wave.

“What about him?”  Sujay points his bow at Elder Kejak.

The Secretary smiles and shakes his hand no.  “Oh, I don’t need to be introduced really…”

“That’s not what I meant.”  Sujay growls.

“Come on, Secretary.”  Basma smiles, barring her teeth.  “Surely, you plan on being around longer than the last secretary.”

“What happened to the last secretary?”  Masaru asks.

“The Shogun executed him last year.”

“Speaking of execution, what about him?”  Sujay repeats.

The Secretary holds up a finger.  “If I may offer a few suggestions that don’t involve execution….”

“Shut up.”  Basma orders.   The Secretary lowers his hands and falls silent.

Reva smooths Masaru’s hair and sighs.  “Let him go.  He is more use to us alive than dead.”

“Let him go, she says.”  Sujay lowers his bow.  “You are one lucky man.”

“The Fates smile upon me.”  The Secretary replies.

Basma groans at the Secretary’s words.  Sujay frowns and rests his bow on his shoulder.  Reva begins to head towards the manse entrance and then pauses.  She looks down at your feet. Mei Mei, fur covered in river mud, sits by your side.   She wags her tail and barks once at Reva.     Elder Kejak winces.

“Svante, where did you get this puppy?”

Where did you get Mei Mei?

  • Full Truth. It was a birthday present from Elder Kejak… or the Secretary
  • Barebones truth. It was a Birthday Present.
  • Partial Lie. It was a Birthday Present from your Uncle.
  • Complete Lie.  You found Mei Mei wandering around Vanchow.
  • Say Nothing.
  • Other

 

 

135 – Arrest

“You should attune to the manse, Chiyoko.”  You have been an asshole over the past day especially to Chiyoko.   Perhaps this will make up for it.

Chiyoko bites her lower lip.  “I don’t speak Spirit Speech.”

“I can teach you,” you offer.

“I’ll teach you,” Aiko says less than a heartbeat later.

Chiyoko hugs yourself and turns away from the flame.  “You take it, Svante.”

“What am I going to do with a manse in Creation?”  You shrug.  “If I am in Creation, I’m with you.”

“Aiko?”

Aiko rolls her eyes.  “I’d love to claim it but let’s be honest.  You know no one is going to trust me with a manse.   If I attune to it, they are going to just take it away.”

“You don’t want it, Masaru?”  Chiyoko asks.  “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

Masaru’s response comes out in a rush.    “You mean, if I hadn’t crashed the skyship into manse, we wouldn’t have been forced into a dangerous situation where we would have died if the manse’s guardian wasn’t lonely.”

Chiyoko closes her eyes.  “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Oh.”  Masaru stares at the floor, cheeks burning.  “The manse is fire aspected.  You are a Fire Aspect.  Who better to attune to the manse?”

Chiyoko paces away from the others.  You slowly approach as she stares at the wall of the hearthstone room.

“I don’t deserve this.” She whispers to herself.

”Why?”  She jumps at your question.  You take her hand.  “You show an affinity for the lioness despite the language barrier.  You are an Fire Aspect.  You are the best person to claim this manse.”

Chiyoko looks up to you and for a moment, you see the empty darkness in her eyes.  The same darkness you saw at the bridge.   Then it is gone.   She gives you a weak smile and squeezes your hand.  Chiyoko takes a deep breath and turns towards the fire.  The lioness waits beyond the flame.

Chiyoko reaches out with a trembling hand and grips the hearthstone.  She screams out in anguish and falls to her knees as the flame engulfs her.

“Chiyoko!”

“Wait!”  The lioness stands between you and Chiyoko.   You peer around the lioness to see Chiyoko unharmed and in an attunement trance.

The ruby lioness stares off in the distance at what you cannot see.  “There is a disturbance outside the manse.   A group of Dragonblooded, led by an Air Aspect named Raijin Reva, is arresting a man.   “

“Oh no,”  Masaru closes his eyes.  “Of course, my mother is here.”

“What can you tell me about the man?” you ask.

“No name has been spoken.”  The lioness tilts her head, listening.   “The Air Aspect just referred to him as a secretary.”

Elder Kejak.  With Mei Mei at your heels, you race out of the hearthstone room.  You bound down the stairs.  When you reach the bottom of the stairs, you pause.  You glance down both sides of the hallway, unsure where to go.

“Svante, wait!”  Masaru storms down the stairs after you.  The lioness is right behind him.  “Please don’t piss off my mother.  She is a formidable sorcerer.   Maybe we should come up with an explanation about what happened with the crash.”

“The crash?”  You had forgotten about the crash.  “Why would your mother arrest the Shogun’s secretary?”

“I don’t know anything about the Shogun’s Secretary.  Maybe he pissed her off?  More likely, he pissed off my grandmother.”  Masaru grimaces. “Everyone pisses her off.”

The lioness leads you to the exit of the manse.   Masaru holds out a hand to stop you from opening the door.  “Be careful.  There are rumors that my mother has a second circle demon bound to her.”

“Rumors?  How could she have summoned a second circle demon?  Do you know which one?”

Masaru shrugs.  “That is what I heard from Shen”

“How could you not know for certain?  She’s your mother.”

“She….”  Masaru frowns.  “She’s not a bad mother, just busy.”

You nod and push the door of the manse open.   Night has fallen and the sky is overcast.  The evening breeze chills you after being in the warm manse.   Golden lights flutter and buzz within the glass bulbs of the streetlights.   The hair on the back of your neck stands up straight as the Air crackles with lightning.

“Lady Reva,”  Elder Kejak pleads.  “I only have the best interests of the Shogunate in mind.”

Elder Kejak…pleading?  Never in your life have you expected Elder Kejak to plead.  You take in the older oracle’s appearance.  A few dark hairs stray from his ponytail.   His hands held high, his fingers stained with ink.  His deep green robes are disheveled with a smudge of ink near his right pocket.   A measuring stick protrudes from his pocket.

The Key.   You are not seeing Elder Kejak. You are seeing the Shogunate’s Secretary.   The Secretary’s eyes dart to you and then return to the woman standing before him.

Raijin Reva is stocky Air Aspect, the rounded shape of her face reminding you of Masaru.  Her long pale blue hair is pinned on top of her head.   Her icy skin glows in the night darkness.  Concealed under a dark blue cloak, her pale silver robes are elegant and understated.   Raijin Reva carries no weapon, but as a sorcerer, she does not need one.

Two other Dragonblooded encircle Elder Kejak… the secretary.   A Wood Aspect carries a jade crossbow and wears well-worn leathers of green and brown.  His boots are clean of mud but the dried water stains show this is a recent occurrence.   The sun has baked his skin into a deep tanned leather.  His pine green hair bound into a tight braid.   His pine green eyes never leave the secretary.

The Fire Aspect smirks as the whole situation amuses her.  Her charcoal brown skin contrasts with her bright long braided orange-red hair.  She wears jade chain mail and her sword drawn and lit, illuminating the scene.  She is the one that notices you and Masaru.  “Reva.”  She nods in your direction.

What do you do? 

  • Speak up. Talk Masaru’s mother into letting Shogunate’s secretary go
  • Stay Silent. Elder Kejak must have some way out of this situation, right?
  • Let Masaru talk to his mother. Support him when needed.
  • Other

((This scene would have been really interesting if Masaru was attuning to the manse. ))

 

 

134 – Hearthstone

You consider the lioness’ riddles and smile.  “River, Mountain, Fire” you point at each of your friends in turn.  “Stars” you point at yourself.  “The Riddles are us.”   The lioness’ tail twitches eagerly as she watches you point.

Aiko shakes her head.  “It can’t be that easy.  The lioness said ‘riddle’, not ‘answers’.  Each Riddle has to do with a Maiden of Fate.  The River is Journeys.  The Fire Battles.  The Mountain Serenity.”

“There are five maidens,” you remind her.

“And only four riddles,”  Chiyoko adds.

“There are five riddles,” Aiko holds up her hand, fingers spread wide.  “The question of the theme is the last riddle.  The End of the Riddles.   Endings.”

“Don’t over think this.”  The lioness cautions in Spirit Speech.

“Wait,”  you confront the lioness.  “I thought you didn’t give hints.”

The lioness shifts her weight and says nothing.

Aiko scowls.  “Dragons!  This is the stupidest security system!  Once we attune to the manse, we are completely changing it!”

“Something else is going on.”  You met the lioness’ gaze, trying to figure out what is going on.   “You want us to attune to the manse.  Why?”

She stares back, her eyes burning with hope and…

“She is lonely.”  Chiyoko faces the lioness.  She raises a hand.  The lioness bows her head.   Chiyoko places her head over the lioness’ flicker heart.  “She has been here all these centuries waiting for someone to come.”  Chiyoko scratches the lioness behind the ear.   The lioness purrs.

You watch the lioness interact with Chiyoko.  “Are you lonely?”

The lioness pulls away from Chiyoko’s hand and paces in front of the Jade Door.  “No one has come since the lockdown.   All there is me and the builder bugs.”  She looks back at the group.  “They aren’t known for their conversational skills.”

“Why all the riddles then?”

The lioness sits tall in front of the door.  “I have to fulfill my purpose.”  She licks her lips.  “Though I am able to choose which riddles to ask.  I have assisted you as much as I can.”

You and Aiko exchange a look.  “The riddles relate to each of our aspects.   Fire for Chiyoko.  River for Masaru.  Mountain for Aiko.  And Stars for me….  though a riddle with the answer of ‘Secrets’ would work too.”

The Lioness chuckles.  “I had considered a riddle for secrets.   It is good the Maidens have now have Exalts.”   The Lioness’ mood sombers.  She raises a ruby paw to the Red Jade Door.  The carvings on it break out into brilliant orange light.   The door explodes out, a searing wind blowing your hair back.  “The manse is your, if you wish to claim it.”

The room beyond the door is bare, except for a flickering bonfire in the center of the room.   The lioness circles around the flame.  Her heart flickers in time with the bonfire.  Within the flame bobs a flat red disc.

You draw closer to the flame, to get a closer look at the hearthstone.   A burst of glowing light, orange like the dawning sun, radiates from the center of the stone.   You run a hand over the outside of the flame.  In spite of the sweat running down your face, the flame is cool to touch.

“What does the hearthstone do?”  Aiko asks.

“The Stone of the Light Sleeper bars sleep to addle the mind of its master.   You will instantly awake with no confusion. “  The lioness pauses to add.  “I am told the stone makes it difficult to sleep in noisy locations.”

“I assume we will all get keystones, but only one person can attune to the manse.”  Masaru points out.  “Who is going to claim the hearthstone?”

Who is going to attune to the manse?

  • You answered most of the questions.
  • Aiko can speak Spirit Speech and talk to the manse’s keeper.   She answered questions.
  • Chiyoko seems to have an affinity to the lioness.  Also, giving her the hearthstone may make up for being an ass earlier.
  • Masaru. Masaru is the most responsible of the group.  He should have control of the manse.
  • Let the adults decide. You are sure Elder Kejak is just outside.  He will know what to do about the manse.