161 – Another Way

Ignoring Kejak’s sword, you step up to Tears the Grass.  You know this man’s crimes.  If anyone deserved to die, it was Tears the Grass.  As Kejak said, Tears actions made your job easier.  You make the mistake of meeting the Lunar’s eyes.  The Lunar’s pupils were wide with fear.  Those dark pits pleaded with you.  Begged you for mercy.  You look away.

Judging a man to die is easier than carrying out the sentence.  You were responsible for Duri’s death, yet you could console yourself her was an accident.  With Tears the Grass, there will be no excuses.  Your hand will end his life.

Tears struggles again.  Haytham tightens his grip.  The dim emerald light of the Oracle’s arms break the moonlight of Tears’ anima.  Your eyes meet Haytham’s.  Now you are the one begging and pleading.  One swift motion and the older Sidereal could break Tears’ neck.  Haytham could save you from this task.  Instead Haytham breaks eye contact.  He stares straight ahead, as if you had stepped outside of fate.

You want this to be over.  You want to be back home in Yu-Shan where the most difficult thing you had to do was lie to the Owl about your homework.

Those days were over.  You place the tip of your sword on Tears’ chest.  You shift your weight and lean in.  There is a moment of resistance as the blade slides off a rib and into the Lunar’s heart.  You feel Tears the Grass’ thread of fate snap.  The Lunar slumps.  His anima fades.

You release the sword and leave it in the body.  Haytham drops the corpse to the floor.

“Pick up your sword, Svante.”  Kejak orders, as if you left dirty laundry on the floor.

You place your foot on the still warm body and withdraw the blade.  Blood drips onto the floor.

You drop the sword and bolt.

“Svante!” Sasha calls out.

You run.  You turn corner after corner.  Time loses all meaning.  Out of breath and lost, you stop.  You double over and puke.  You empty your stomach and continue dry heaving long after you run out of breakfast.

When you catch your breath and calm your stomach, you notice Sasha by your side.  She rubs your back, mummuring soothing sounds.  Because what could she say?  ‘It’s going to be okay?’ That would be a lie.  It won’t be.  It will never be okay.  You wipe your mouth with your sleeve and slide down the wall.

Sasha kneels beside you.  “I was nineteen.” She starts.  “It was my first mission.  I was assigned to assist a Wyld Hunt.  There was a Lunar hiding on one of the Western Islands.  I was to watch the islanders for any odd behavior and report to the Wyld Hunt Commander.  At first, I was lonely, but I made a friend at the restaurant I worked at.  Her name was Lina.  I never had a female friend my own age before.  Her life seemed so foreign to mine.  She talked about her mother.  Her fiancé.  Her hopes and dreams.  I told her about you.”  Sasha smiles.  “You were the only part of my life that was normal.  That I could talk about.”

“One day, Lina seemed distracted.  I asked what was wrong, but she said nothing.  We went about our day and I grew suspicious.  I…I sent a message to the Wyld Hunt Commander.  I hoped it would be nothing.  That she would say her mother was sick or something. “

“The Lunar, cornered, took me hostage.  Her plan was to escape on the next boat off the island.  Sasha’s voice escapes.  “I played the part of the frightened island girl well.”

“You killed her.”

“Yes, she didn’t realize I was the true threat until it was too late.  I stared as she bleed out, believing I had avenged my friend.”  Sasha shivers.  “But Lina was my quarry the whole time.  She played me and when the time came, she was willing to kill me.  I thought she was my friend, but instead she was a monster. “  Sasha hugged herself.  “If I wasn’t a Sidereal, I’d be dead.”

Footsteps approach.  Kejak appears, carrying your sword.   “We need to leave.  The Secretary will be needed for the Coronation and Chiyoko will be looking for Svante.”  Kejak hands back your sword, clean of blood.  You stare at it for a moment.  Then you take it and replace it in its scabbard.

“Sasha, I need you to help manage Admiral Mayim’s men.  Meru was not ready to handle not one, but two legions.  Hayate’s legions surrendered when he was revealed to be a Lunar imposter.”  Sasha hesitates, not wanting to leave you along.  “Go on, Sasha.  I need to talk to Svante before we go.”

After Sasha leaves, you and Kejak study each other in awkward silence.  The stench of your vomited breakfast saturates the passage.

“Svante, I know you are unhappy with me right now, but know you did the right thing.  If we are to preserve Creation, the Lunar had to die.”

You say nothing.  You know Tears the Grass had to die, but not for the reasons Kejak believes.  If it wasn’t for Akachi, Sasha, and the Owl, you would be long gone.

Kejak is unflustered by your silence.  He reveals a black memory stone in his hand.  “When we meet next Jupiterday, I have this to give you.  It’s the memory you requested.  I believe you are mature enough to understand what is going on now.  “

The Memory stone of the Elder vote on ending your life.  Apparently, killing Tears the Grass was a test.  A test you passed.  Finally, you have something to say.  “Aiko will be there.”

“You can stay late.  We still need to answer the question of your young Exaltation.  I doubt Aiko can assist us in this matter.”

“Or you can give it to me now.”  You hold out your hand.  You want to spend as little time as possible with this man.  Kejak hesitates.

“I did what you asked,” you remind him. “I know the Lunar needed to die.”  Kejak didn’t need to know your personal feelings on the matter. Not yet.  “I’m fucking pissed you made me kill him, but you are right.  It had to be done.”

Kejak weighs the stone in his hand, deciding.  You try a different approach.  “Look, if there is anyting in that memory that would make me angry, you might as well give it to me now.  Get everything over with all at once.”

Kejak considers this and drops the stone in your hand.  You can feel the edges of the memory.  The taste of green tea.  Akachi arguing.  “Do not show this to anyone.”  Kejak orders.

“I won’t.” You promise.  “I can watch it here and give it back to you now, if you’d like.”

“No, I trust you to keep your word.”  Kejak puts his hand on your shoulder.  “I’m proud of you, Svante.  Today, you proved to me you are a true hero of Creation.”

Despite yourself, you stand taller at the elder Sidereal’s complement.  “Thank you, sir.”

“Do not take too long.  There is much to be done.”  Kejak takes a deep breath of relief.  “It will be a long while before the Dragonblooded will trust a Lunar again.  We will have to alter the Immaculate Texts…”   Kejak muses.  “That will come later.  Clean up and find Chiyoko.”

You watch Kejak leave.  You squeeze the memory stone in your hand.   Part of you wants to throw it against the wall, but no.  This is your payment.  You bought this stone with Tears the Grass’ blood.  You focus your attention on the stone.

You stand by the window looking over downtown Yu-Shan.  A familiar merchant emerges though the Yatosin Gate.  You have not bought a bottle of wine since Ayesha left, yet you still make note of the merchant’s passing.  You take a sip of tea.

“I cannot believe this is even a discussion.”  Akachi raises his voice.  Akachi, ever the actor, could project loud enough to fill an auditorium.  Here in this small council room, the Joybringer’s talents are wasted. 

“I cannot believe you are willing to take such a risk.” Winona counters.  The Elder Chosen of Endings will not be swayed by any emotional appeal.  “This child has the power of Fate at his fingertips.  Who knows what chaos he could cause?”

“Svante is a good kid.”  Akachi reassures her.  “He only wants what is best for Creation.”

“I distrust a child’s judgement of what is best for Creation,” Meraud sits at the table, hands folded.  “No, Akachi, hear me out…”

“No, Meraud.  I can’t believe you of all people are considering this.  He’s a boy.”

“A boy.” Winona repeats.  “A little over a decade has been lost on this boy.  We can recycle his exaltation with little time lost.”

You consider bringing up the four decades before the boy’s birth.  And the decades you could spend waiting for the next incarnation.  Instead you wait.  Let the other argue it out first.

“I don’t like this any more than you do, Akachi, but we have all done things we regret for the good of Creation.”

“No,” Uilani finally speaks.  “This is different.  This is one of our own.  Our hands may be stained with the blood of countless children, but I draw the line here.  If we kill our own children, we are no different than the Solars we slayed.   I vote no.”

“Uilani,” Meraud tries to be reasonable.  “We haven’t finished our discussion….”

“I vote no.” Uilani repeats. 

“I also vote no.” Akachi says.  Wishing to keep up the momentum, Akachi turns to you.  “Chejop?”

You swirl the dregs of your now cold tea.  You walk over to the tea pot and refill your cup.

“Chejop…”  Akachi repeats.  You know you cannot delay the Joybringer any longer.

“I believe we should not make any decision in haste.”  You reply.

You feel the air of Akachi’s passing as he storms out of the room.   He slams the door behind him.

“He’s gone to hide the boy.”  Meraud observes.

“He will not go far.”  You assure her.  You know Akachi still has a few paintings he made for Tammiz at his lake house.  With the painting, Akachi could travel with the boy to the landscape depicted, leaving behind a blank canvas.  You are certain you could track Akachi and the boy if needed.  You have Tammiz’s notes on the spell.

“Has Jupiter said anything to you, Chejop?”  Uilani asks. 

“No, she has been silent on this matter thus far.”

“She has left the decision to us,” Winona declares.

You are certain Jupiter will let her wishes be known when it suits her.  “I wish to draw up the boy’s charts.”

“I’ve already done so.” Meraud says, hoping to bring the matter to a swift end.  “I didn’t see…”

“I trust you, Meraud, but another set of eyes never hurts.  I wish to explore all avenues before making my decision.”

“Why are you drawing this out, Chejop?”  Winona questions.  “The longer we wait, the more time Akachi has to hide the boy. 

“I have not voted yet.” You remind the Eldest Sidereal.  This discussion has gone far enough.  You leave the room.

Later in your office, you study the boy’s chart.  You run your long fingers along the onion skin thin paper, following the lines of the stars.

The Unconquered Sun ascends though the Mask at the boy’s birth.  Not the most auspicious placement, but unsurprising for a Chosen of Secrets.  The boy will shine light into the dark secrets of Creation. 

Surprisingly, Venus was also ascending though the Mask. 

Luna descends in the Guardians.  The boy shall have a knack for seeming more knowledgeable than he actually is. 

Jupiter ascends though the Gull.  The boy will learn, not from the wisdom of his elders, but from his own experience.   At least the boy’s Jupiter wasn’t descending though the Gull like Haytham’s. 

Saturn ascends though the Messenger.  The boy is persistent.  Not even death would drive him from his goal. 

Mars ascending though the Ewer.  Those with Mars in a house of Serenity tend to avoid conflict.  The boy must have a cause to rouse to fight.  This must be why Akachi encouraged the boy to think of himself as a hero. 

 Mercury was descending though the Corpse.  The boy was destined to travel though grief.  Perhaps an early death would be a kindness.

You can understand why Meraud voted the way she did.  This boy was driven by emotion.  Stubborn.   Not willing to accept the wisdom of his elders.   He will be difficult.  You will have to track Akachi down.  Make him see reason.  You throw the chart down on the pile of others you collected.   You are about to turn away to find your notes on Tammiz’s spell when the chart below Svante’s catches your eye.  

Though the translucent thin paper, you see the Venus of Svante’s chart is in conjunction with the Venus of the chart below it.  You slide the boy’s chart over to find Lung Chiyoko’s chart. 

Venus in the Mask.

A secret romance.

You are tempted to go ahead with your earlier decision.  Romance is volatile.  Love rarely steadfast. 

Yet the conjunction was strong.  You picture the boy.  You have seen him often in the marketplace, dragging Gatherer of Windborne Children by hand.  You remember his Fire Aspect Markings.   The markings will not deepen with age.  And if Svante had exalted Dragonblooded, this conversation would not be occurring.  Twelve was not an unusual age of Exaltation for a Dragonblooded. 

You retrieve the charts for the rest of the circle you are building for the Future Shogun.  Hui Aiko’s Jupiter is square with Svante’s Jupiter.  Not surprising.  That girl seems to be at odds with everyone.  Mayim Masaru’s Mars was also in the Ewer.  You added him to the circle to be a calming influence.

The Air Aspect you had chosen for Chiyoko’s fiancé will not do.  Politically the marriage makes sense, but half of Svante’s chart is in opposition to him.  You discard the chart.  Mayim Masaru may make a better Fiancé for Chiyoko.  Yes, the boy’s grandmother is difficult to deal with, but you know the woman has been striving to join her bloodline to the Shogun’s for decades. 

You stroke your beard, considering the options.  Blah.  You’ll let Akachi deal with that aspect.  You’ll have to let him in on your plans, if you are going to place the boy with Chiyoko’s circle.  Perhaps he can nudge the relationship from a romance…

A movement of Emerald cloth distracts you.  You look up to find Jupiter staring at you.

“The boy must live,” she declares with a smile.

You find Akachi in the empty Banquet room.  The spread of food for the Funeral Feast sits untouched.  Your guardian sits upon a window sill, looking out over Meru.  Legions of Dragonblooded march in the streets.  You sit across from him.

“How did the troops get to Meru so fast?”  You saw Admiral Mayim in the hallways on your way to the Banquet room.

“Haytham brought them though Yu-Shan.”

You digest this information.  “I didn’t know you could do that.”

“You couldn’t until I negotiated with the lions.  I wanted to bring Chiyoko and the others to Yu-Shan for your next birthday.  Haytham used the same procedure I created to bring in two legions worth of his ‘friends’. “  Akachi sighs.  “You’ll probably be a few centuries old before we can convince the lions to allow Dragonblooded to Yu-Shan.”

You smile weakly.  Akachi cocks his head, studying you.  “What happened?”

“Kejak…”  you pause.  He made me kill Tears the Grass you want to say. But saying it would make it too real.  Instead, you say, “He gave me the memory of the Elder Vote on my life.”

Akachi frowns. “How did you hear about that?”

You point at your forehead.  “I find things out.”

“I wouldn’t hold that vote against Winona and Meraud.  They don’t know you like I do.  Like Chejop does.”

“I know…”  You realize you don’t want to talk about the vote right now.  You need to watch the memory again.  Study it.  You changed the subject.  “What happened to you?”

Akachi stares out at Meru again.  “I killed the rabbit Lunar.”

“What?”  You are confused.  Then you realize he is talking about Tears the Grass.  But you killed Tears the Grass.  “You weren’t on the Wyld Hunt.”

“Might as well have been.”  Akachi explains.  “I convinced him it was a good idea to take Hayate’s place.  “

“You talked to him?”

“No.  I didn’t need to.  I just left pieces of the idea lying around.  A comment from one of the Twins.  A song from Nimi.  I’m good at implanting ideas for others to pick up and claim as their own.  It’s harder for an individual.  Much easier for an entire society.  Write a book.  Draw a manga.  In a few generations you got a cultural change.  “

“You didn’t kill Tears the Grass.  I did.”  You want to absolve your guardian.  You say it quickly, before you could think about the words coming out of your mouth.  You tell Akachi about what happened with Kejak.

Akachi continues to stare out the window.  “I’m sorry he did that to you.  He and the other elders do it to all my kids at some point.  Gives you a part in our stupid little war.”

“I know.  Sasha told me.”  You find Akachi… hopeless.  You expect anger from your guardian.  You expected an Elder Sidereal to be beyond doubt.  To have everything figured out.  Instead, Akachi was more lost than you were.

It frightened you.

Aiko’s words come back to you.  Are you a puppet or the puppetmaster?  You study your guardian and make a choice.

“I may have another way…” you start.

 

You find Chiyoko in her father’s office.  She watches him give orders, her face expressionless.   You watch her from outside of Fate.

“You did this,” you accused Akachi earlier. “You put us together.”

“We didn’t put you together.  Love doesn’t work like that.”  Akachi makes a forward motion with his hands.  “We just encouraged things.”

“So it’s fake.”

“No,” Akachi corrected.  “If someone sparks a fire, is the flame any less real?”  You consider this as Akachi continues.  “Chejop wanted to adjust your destinies to a less volatile relationship than romance.  Chejop is wary of love.  I told him to let events progress as fate intended.  I just smoothed things over.  You had less bumps at you both figured out love.”  Akachi leans closer.  “Do you want me to stop?”

Chiyoko’s eyes dart to the door each time someone walks in.  You approach her, slipping between the Dragonblooded in the crowded office.  “Come outside” you whisper in her ear.  She stands up and walks to the bookcase by the door.  When no one notices her movement, she sneaks out of the office.

You rush ahead and slip out of the door as she opens it.  You lean against the wall beside the door and step back into fate.  “Chiyoko,” you call her name.

She turns around.  “Svante.”  She breathes.  She takes a step forward and hugs you.  Chiyoko doesn’t cry.  She simply stands there.  She buries her face into your shoulder, breathing you in.

Chiyoko breaks away and grabs your hand.  “My Father is Shogun.”

“I know.”

She frowns.  “Where have you been?”  She scolds.  “I sent Masaru to look for you, but he couldn’t find you anywhere.  Aiko has been sitting with Shamira.   I’ve been stuck here all alone.  Some Eastern Air Aspect is trying to marry her son off to me.  My mother says I have to marry Masaru or one of his other brothers.  His father gathered as many men as he could pull from the Western Front to form a legion to bring here.  My mother’s legion had taken heavy losses….”  She stops.  “Are you okay?”

What do you say?

  • “No, but it is better now that you are here.” Tell her everything and you have a way to help her.
  • “Yes, everything is fine.” Tell her nothing.  You will need her for your plans and the less she knows the better.
  • “No, I think we need to break up.” Now that you know the truth about your relationship, you can’t be with Chiyoko anymore.
  • Other

 

160 – Hero

“No dueling at the Funeral!”  Indrani’s eyes flash with anger and you taste lighting on the air.  Ling Ling growls in response.

“Silence, you have no voice here.”  Hayate’s imposter declares.   His sword is half drawn.  You reach out and brush his thread of fate.   The thread is fragile.  Everything that could be taken from Tears the Grass is gone.  This Lunar is cursed.

“Lady Indrani, I have no intention of desecrating my mother’s memory.  We will take care of this unpleasant business after the funeral.”  Gauyto promises.   His eyes never leave Hayate’s.

“If you cared enough about our mother’s memory, you would not be spilling her son’s blood on her death day.”  Hayate counters.

You brush past Chiyoko and whisper in her father’s ear.  “Hayate isn’t your brother.  Look at his teeth.  He is a Lunar imposter.”

Guanyu frowns.  “Hayate, if you are so worried about your chances, let me have the Earth Aspect.  We will get to the bottom of this.”

Hayate smiles.  “No.”

Guanyu tenses when he sees the bucked teeth.  “Brother,” he asks though gritted teeth.  “What happened to your teeth?”

“There is nothing wrong with my teeth.”  Hayate states.

“When I saw him this morning, his teeth were straight.”  Reva observes.

“Are you insinuating something, Reva?  Come out and say it.”

“You are a Lunar impostor.”  Guanyu accuses hand on sword.  Chiyoko steps away from her father to allow him to draw, her hand on her own sword.

Hayate laughs.  “You would like to think that, little brother.  Would it make it easier to kill me for the throne?”  Hayate steps forward and addresses the temple.  “You notice the only ones accusing me are my political enemies.  They have no proof what so ever of Lunar infiltration in the Manse.”

Temple doors slam open.  The Wyld Hunt enters with Sujay in the front, carrying his crossbow.  As the Wyld Hunt passes, you count.  There are a lot more of them now then there were in the tunnel.  Most in black Jade armor favored by Water Aspects.  Sasha stands in the back near the door and observes the procession.

Basma, the Fire Aspect in Reva’s circle, pulls the Chimera’s head from her sack.  She displays it to the temple.  Then she tosses it at Hayate.  The head bounces on the jade floors.   It slides to Hayate’s feet, leaving a smear of emerald black blood.   The rest of the Wyld Hunt surrounds Hayate.  His guards come forward and to protect him.

“The Wyld Hunt isn’t quite finished yet,” Guanyu draws his sword and approaches.

“I’m not going into the custody on some trumped up charge….”  Sujay interrupts Hayate’s statement with a well-aimed crossbow bolt.  Chaos reigns for a moment while Hayate’s Guards fight the Wyld Hunt.  Beyond the clash of swords, you see an unfamiliar Dragonblooded exit the temple.  You follow.

Tears the Grass pulls the bolt out of his side.  A brief flicker of silver light heals him.  Tears the Grass rips off the ornate rank symbols from Hayate’s armor.   He tosses them into the hedge.  More guards arrive.  “Quick!  There is a lunar in the temple!” Tears yells.  As the guards enter the temple, Tears makes for the secret passage.   You follow.

“I don’t know about you, but death always makes me hungry.” A voice says from the shadows.  Haytham appears, blocking Tears’ way.  He takes a bit of his plum.  “I had a bit of time and hit the funeral feast early.  Shame to let all that food go to waste.”

The Lunar turns to go back to the entrance of the tunnel.  Sasha enters the tunnels and closes the door behind her.   The Lunar heads for the opposite direction.  You step forward, sword drawn to block him.

Tears the Grass is surrounded.   “Ban, now would be a good time.”  Tears the Grass says.   He waits.  “Ban?”

“Your companion will not answer.  We caught him leaving the manse.”  Sasha says.  Your heart stops.  You promised Ban you’d protect him.  Except you were so caught up in Kejak’s mission you forgot.

Tears eyes his options and decides you are the weak point in the circle.  He sniffs his nose and takes a step towards you.

“It’s over, Tears the Grass.”  The Shogun’s secretary long gone, Elder Kejak appears behind you.  He pats you on the shoulder as he passes.  The Elder Sidereal stands before Tears the Grass.  “All you have strived for is lost.  The Dragonblooded will find Hayate’s corpse.  They will know the treachery of the Lunars. No one will ever think to ally with Anathema again.”

“What did you do with him?”

“We were much kinder than you were to your victims.”  Elder Kejak draws his sword.  “I should thank you.  Your atrocities make this all so much easier.”

Tears takes the form of a bird.   Haytham throws his half eaten plum at Tears.  Tears becomes a wolf.  Sasha stabs him in the leg.   Haytham grabs him by the scruff of his neck.  Tears becomes human.  Haytham grapples him, pinning his arms to his back.

“They will know.  They will figure out what you are doing.”  Tears promises.

“I expect the Dragonblooded will forget all about our part in this manner.”  Elder Kejak calls your name.  “Svante, come here.”

Your heart pounds.  Your swallow the lump in your throat.  What could Elder Kejak want with you?

“I’ll take care of it.”  Sasha offers.  She takes a step forward and draws her own blade.

“No, it’s time for Svante to grow up. “  Chejop Kejak offers you his sword.  “You know this Lunar’s crimes.  You have seen his victims.  “

The jade blade feels slick in your hand.   You stare at the Starmetal blade Kejak is offering you.

“Finish this, Svante.”  Kejak tells you.  “Be the Hero Creation needs.”

What do you do?

  • Kill Tears the Grass with Kejak’s Sword.
  • Kill Tears the grass with your own blade.
  • Decline to kill Tears the Grass.
  • Run away
  • Other

159 – Justice

“No,” you answer.  “I need to find Aiko.  Do you know where she went?”

Sasha closes her eyes in disappointment.  When she reopens them, you see the same bone weary tiredness echoed you feel in her eyes.  “Aiko said she was headed towards east entrance of the temple.”

“Thanks.”  You take a step away, but halt.  You need to spend more time with your sister.  Time outside of missions and work.  You turn back and grab Sasha in an embrace.

Sasha rests her head on your shoulder.  “Be safe, little brother.”  She whispers.

Yi and the other Dragonblooded watch, uncomfortable with the unexpected display of emotion.  You break away and leave without another word.

You find Aiko and Shamira arguing just out of sight of the temple.

“We can’t just barge in there.  We will be arrested before we get through the door.”  Aiko argues.  Shamira scrowls and crosses her arms.

“Here’s what we do,” you interrupt.  “I’ll go inside and hide.  When the opportune moment comes, I’ll send a messager for you and Shamira to enter.”

“How the fuck are you going to get past the guards, little boy?”  Shamira questions.

“Don’t worry about that.  I have my ways.”  You assure the Earth Aspect.  Shamira narrows her eyes and glances back at the guards.

“A dramatic entrance.  I like  it.” Aiko approves.  “Wait!”  Aiko reaches out to grab Shamira, but she is too fast for the younger Earth Aspect.

“What the fuck is she doing?”  you curse as Shamira knocks out two of the guards.  The other guards at the door hesitate as Shamira whirls her chain.

“I guess the opportune time is now.”  Aiko brushes her braid back and follows Shamira into the temple.

“Shit.”  You step out of Fate and slip into the temple behind the two Earth Aspects before the door closes.

The Immaculate Temple of Mount Meru is a marvel of Shogunate Architecture.  Built on the remains of a destroyed manse, the pentagon shaped building is made of fine-grained jade.  Stained glass windows are enchanted to shine the light of the five elements, giving the appearance of walking in anima.

Elder Kejak sits with a group of glum mortals waiting for an audience with the future Shogun.  The secretary sits slouched like a man whose whole life has been upturned.  You dare not approach the Elder Sidereal.  Their Dragonblooded guards keep their hands close to their swords as they watch them.  You find Akachi among the mortal notables in the rafters.   He leans forward and whispers to one of the other mortals, who stifles a laugh.

You step though the swirling sands of the Earth and trace Aiko and Shamira’s progress down the aisle of the temple.  All eyes are drawn to the two Earth Aspects.  Aiko is smug.  Shamira radiates with rage.  Her dishevel appearance contrasts with Dragonblooded nobles on the main floor.  You walk past Masaru, who is standing with his mother and brother.  Chiyoko and her father, with identical expressions of worry, sit with the rest of the Lung family.  Guanyu whispers a question to Chiyoko who shrugs in response.

Masaru’s grandmother stands by the cloth covered corpse, with Ling Ling in her arms.  Hayate kneels before his mother’s corpse, head bent in prayer.  The monk conducting the funeral frowns and attracts Hayate’s attention.  The monk nods at the approaching Shamira.

You do not see Tears the Grass in any of his forms, nor remaining members of Lung Duri’s circle.

Shamira stands before Hayate.  The guards approach, but with a raised hand, Hayate stops them.  Bam!  Shamira throws a punch at Hayate.  The Future Shogun’s head snaps to the right.  He rubs his jaw.  “What that really necessary, Shamira?”

Shamira ignores his question.  “I declare Lung Hayate a traitor to the Shogunate.  He is concluding with our Anathema enemies.  He had one conduct unspeakable acts to steal my form.  He ordered my circle to kidnap…”

Hayate is calm as Shamira lists off his crimes.  “Shamira, my daughter’s death has made you distraught.”  He motions the guards forward.  “Take her back to her room, so we can continue my mother’s funeral.”

“I rather die than go back to that pit you locked me up in.”  Shamira drags her chain along the jade floor.

Chiyoko’s father steps forward.  “These are dire accusations, brother.  My people will take this Earth Aspect into custody…”

“That will not be necessary, little brother.  She is a member of my daughter’s circle and I feel responsible for her.”  Hayate frowns “Unless of course, you don’t trust me, Guanyu.  You do trust me to do what is right.”

A rainbow of eyes watch Lung Guanyu for his response.  You watch Chiyoko, her lips whispering a prayer.

“No,”  Lung Guanyu declares.  “I do not trust you with the fate of any Dragonblooded, brother.”  Chiyoko’s father draws his sword.  “I challenge you for the right to rule the Shogunate.  For I do not believe you will rule it justly.”

Hayate smiles, revealing bucked teeth.  “It is for justice that I plan on ruling the Shogunate.”

What do you do?

  • Sneak around at stab Tears the Grass in the back.
  • Cry out that Lung Hayate is a Lunar imposter
  • Stay close to Chiyoko
  • Other

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.
  • Other

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.
  • Other

 

151 – Trust Issues

Akachi is undercover.  You remember his whispering caution when you warned him about the Lunar infiltrator.  You wipe your sweaty hands on your robes.  You want to go with him, but you presence would compromise his cover.  You do not want to make your guardian choose between your safety and the mission.  Akachi would choose you.  This feverish insight does not bring you calm.  You do not want to be the reason the Shogunate purges into civil war.

“Don’t touch me.”  You cringe from the strange mortal sorcerer that is Akachi’s resplendent destiny.  “I want my uncle.”

Akachi’s face is blank.  “Is that what you want, boy?”

Nimishema is less of an actor.  “Don’t let him do this.  He will be much safer with us than with him.”

“Nimi…”  Akachi warns.  He rises and instead of returning to the twins, he faces the two figures approaching the crowd.   “The boy is ill.”  The three words convey an accusation rather than information.  Akachi withdrawals to the twins.  Nimishema stays by your side, her pupil-less sapphire eyes on Elder Kejak.

Elder Kejak knees and with cold fingers, probes the skins around your wound.  His eyes grow distant as he reviews the possibilities.

Lung Guanyu takes in the state of his daughter.  He removes his outer cloak and throws it around her shoulders.  “Can the boy walk?”

“Little brother, I was on my way to see you.”  Hayate smiles.  “Have you heard the news? Akane is dead.”

Chiyoko eyes widen and she pulls her father’s cloak closer.   The secretary pauses in his examination and looks up at Hayate, mouth agape.   He knew, you realize.  You lean back against the wall.

“I heard.”  Guanyu replies.  He is more interested in your situation than with Hayate’s news.

Elder Kejak frowns when Chiyoko’s father reveals this.  The Elder Sidereal digs in his pocket for a metal flask.  He uncorks it.  The sweet fragrance of Celestial Wine makes you sigh.  It reminds you of happier times in the Celestial City.  You want to go home.

“Just a sip.”  You cough as the heavenly nectar evaporates on your tongue.   You lick your lips and feel weak but a bit livelier.  Elder Kejak tucks the flask back into his pocket.

“This is good news!” Hayate proclaims.  “We are averting war.”

Guanyu turns on his heel and confronts Hayate.  “I do not find the death of our sister to be good news.”

“Guanyu, don’t be so naïve.”  The fire aspect with the ash streaked hair cautions.  “We are Lung.  You will not live long if you let familial loyalty stand in the way of ambition.”

“Now, Yin,” Hayate puts an arm around Yin’s shoulder.  “let’s not shatter our little brother’s innocence.”

With a finger, Aiko’s father pushes Hayate’s arm off him.  “Do not touch me.”  To Guanyu, he says, “Something dangerous lurking in the passages.  What else can you tell me about it?”

“It’s a chimera.” You say.   There is no point in keeping this secret.   If Yin is going to hunt the monster down, he will need to be prepared.  “It moves like quicksilver and can break off into pieces.   We were hiding further down the hallway from its main body when it attacked us.”

“A chimera,” Yin smirks.  “I always wanted to face a chimera.”

“You should bring Sujay with you.  He has experience with hunting Lunars.” Guanyu advises.

Yin snorts at his little brother’s suggestion.  The sound of running feet echoes down the hall.  Aiko sprints down the hallway with Masaru and Yi not far behind.  All are dressed in full armor.  “No time like the present to start the hunt.”  Yin pushes his way through the crowd around Hayate.

Aiko stops halfway and watches her father retreat though the crowd, her expression unreadable.  Masaru and Yi approach.  “Chiyoko, we have been looking everywhere for you!  These secret passages are confusing!”

“My lord, I do not mean to interrupt, but the boy needs a doctor “  The secretary wrings his hands

“Go along, little brother.”  Hayate shoos him off.  “We can talk about coronation plans later.”

“Mother is still alive.”  Guanyu points out.

“Yes, but we must do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition.”

Guanyu clenches his fist.  You are afraid Chiyoko’s father wishes to discuss the coronation plans now.

“Lord Guanyu,”  Elder Kejak interrupts,  “I will appreciate your help getting him back to his room.”

Guanyu makes an effort to relax his fist.  He bends down to pick you up.  Your head spins and your stomach turns as Chiyoko’s father rotates on heel away from his older brother.  Even Elder Kejak, with his long legged strides, has trouble keeping up.

Finally, Guanyu slows down.  “Chiyoko, I find it interesting that your fiancé and the rest of your circle are in full armor, while you and your friend are not.”   Guanyu glances down at you when you tense at his words.

Chiyoko trails behind her father, keeping out of his sight.  “Armor is too noisy for the passages.”  She explains.

“You should be in the passages in the first place.”  Guanyu counters.   “Chiyoko, are you admitting to a lesser crime to cover up for a greater one?”

Chiyoko sighs.  “I was showing Svante the passages and we were attacked by a chimera.  We barely escaped with our lives.”

“A partial lie is still a lie, Chiyoko.”

“Are you using charms on me, father?” She rolls her eyes.  “I almost died tonight and you are using charms on me!”

“I can carry Svante from here.”  Elder Kejak offers.  He is ignored.

“I wouldn’t have to use charms if you would stop taking dangerous risks. “  Guanyu yells.  You really wish someone else besides Chiyoko’s father had carried you.

“Are they really going to argue in the middle of the hallway?”  Masaru asks.

“I’ve been in the passages thousands of times and nothing ever happened!”  Chiyoko shakes her fist to make her point.

“Looks like it,” Aiko replies to Masaru.

Elder Kejak speeds up his steps.  He unlocks his door and holds it open.  “We are here.”  His sentence puts an end to the conversation.  Mei Mei runs out of the room and shadows Guanyu’s steps as he puts you on the bed.   Mei Mei licks your face clean of sweat.  Elder Kejak heads to the bathroom to clean up.

“Chiyoko, we should go.”  Guanyu says in a calm voice.

“No,” Chiyoko disagrees.  “I’m staying here.”

“Lady Chiyoko, you should go.”  Elder Kejak emerges out of the bathroom, drying his hands.

“I am not leaving him alone.”  Chiyoko stares down the Elder Sidereal, the chimera’s blood splattered across her face.  You never loved her more than in this moment.

“We are all staying,”  Masaru says.  “Svante is a member of our circle.”

“The secretary can not do his work with all of you in the room.”  Guanyu thinks for a moment.  “One of you may stay at a time.  You can trade off in shifts.”

Elder Kejak does not look pleased at this compromise, but inclines his head in agreement.

Chiyoko pulls up a chair to the bed.  She holds your hand.  Her father glances at Masaru, who has no reaction to this.  Lung Guanyu shakes his head.  “Come along, children.”  They leave the room.

Elder Kejak moves a second chair closer to the bed.  He spins towards the closed shutters, expression wary.  The shutters separate to admit a fleshy appendage with a sapphire eye at the tip.  Chiyoko rises and draws her sword.   She stands by the Elder Sidereal.   He pushes her sword aside.  “You will not need that.”  He addresses the protruding flesh.  “Go back to your master, demon. You are not wanted here.”

Many tendrails of flesh emerge from the shuttered window.   It drops to the floor.  Bone crack and skin ripples as the Neomah reforms herself.  Nimishema rises naked and tucks a stray eyeball back into its socket.  She reshapes her skull as a woman styles her hair.  “I do not care what you want, Sidereal.  I am not bound to you.   You do not give me orders.”

“That can change, demon.”  Elder Kejak threatens.

Unperturbed by Elder Kejak’s threats, Nimishema smiles.  “Akachi believes you may need assistance with the boy.  I believe you cannot be trusted with the boy’s safety.”  Her fingers extend and form into various medical implements.  “I will extract the Wyld parasite from his body.  You will leave and repair the tattered remains of your schemes.”

Instead of offended, Elder Kejak studies the Neomah.  “Why, Nimishema?  You barely know the boy, yet you threaten me?”

The demon walks over to the bed.  Your caste mark burns on your forehead and you can barely keep your eyes open.   She plays with a wavy lock of your hair.  “They may not share blood, but this is a true child to Akachi.  He blames himself for what has happened.”  Nimi gives Chiyoko a small smile and removes her hand.  “Now leave, Sidereal.  Let me care for my master’s son.”

“No,”  Elder Kejak turns away from the demon and takes a glass jar out of his bag.  “You may stay and observe to reassure Akachi that Svante is safe.”

“Go.”  The demon orders.

What do you do?

  • Tell Kejak to leave
  • Tell Nimishema to leave
  • Have them both stay
  • Other