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.”
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.