144 – Secrets Shared

“I’m not going to let anything happen to Masaru or the others.  Actually, my current mission is to protect them.”  You leave out the part about preventing kidnapping.  Masaru and Aiko were only kidnapped for a few moments.  That should not count against you.

“What about future missions?”  Reva asks.  “As a Sidereal, you are often sent into the most dangerous missions.  Danger Masaru will encounter at your side.”

You grow frustrated talking about events which haven’t happened yet.   “Why do you care so much?  Masaru says you haven’t seen him in a while?”

“Are you questioning my love for my son?”

“No.”  you reply.  “Masaru is my friend and I have seen him more over the past year than you have.”  Reva’s eyes narrow and you quickly change to a safer subject.   “I don’t want to lose my friends.  If you know anything about Sidereals you know I don’t have many.”  How can you reassure Masaru’s mother he is safe with you?  “If it makes you feel any better, I promise I won’t let anything happen to Masaru when he is with me.”

Reva closes her eyes.  When she reopens them, you are surprise how… mortal her grey blue eyes look.   “You shouldn’t make promises you can’t hope to keep, Svante.”  She whispers.

You stare down at the crumbs on your plate, unsure what else you can say to convince Reva you mean Masaru and the other no harm.   What did those other Sidereals do to Admiral Mayim’s circle?  The Western Admirals seemed wary of Sidereals, but he did not question you like this.

“Lady Reva, do you plan on interrogating every officer Masaru serves under?”  the Secretary asks.  “It will not reflect well on his career as a Shogunate officer if his mother shadows his every move.”  Elder Kejak picks up his tea cup.  “Nor will Masaru thank you for your interference.”

Lady Reva takes a deep breath and regains her composure.  “You are right.  I shouldn’t be interrogating your nephew about things we have no control over.  It’s just Masaru is my youngest.”

“I understand completely.  Svante is not much older than Masaru.”  The Secretary smiles behind his teacup.  “The other Sidereals would coddle him if my brother allowed it.”  He sets his teacup aside and adds.  “Masaru will be safer with Svante, who is his friend, than some general who is willing to sacrifice his young officers for his own glory.”

Reva considers Elder Kejak’s words and nods.   She gives you a weak smile.  “Do you read Metal Gods, Svante?  Of course you do.  You were able to name Cora Nadia as the pilot of Blood in the Breeze.”  She gathers her robes and rises from the table.  “Follow me.  I have a surprise for you.”

“I am not sure this is a good idea….”  Elder Kejak objects, but follows you and Reva out of the dining room.

“Nonsense.  I have showed Masaru and the rest of my sons and nothing untoward has ever happened to it.”  She leans close to you and whispers, “You must only look, but not touch.”

“What are you talking about?”  you ask.  “Where are we going?”

“Shh….  We are almost there.”  She leads you to heavy red jade door.  She nods to the two guards and presses her hand against the panel.  The locks on the door clicks and she pushes the heavy doors open.  You walk into a well-stocked armory.  The aroma of leather and metal assault your nose.  Rows and rows of metal swords, spears, and shields hang from their racks.  Jade diaklaives in a rainbow of colors grace while jade walls.

“I am one of the few who have access to this room.”  Reva pauses before a small door, easily overlooked amidst the weaponry in the room.   “The Shogun showed it to me when I was around your age.”

You wish she would say what it was.   You follow Reva into the room.  The lights brighten as you approach a glass case in the center of the empty room.  In the case, sits a single copy of Metal Gods.

“This is one of the last copies penned by the original illustrator.  He never signed his work, so his name is lost to history.  I searched for information about the illustrator, but found nothing.  Not even what Gent he was born into.  All that remains of the man is this manga.”

What this manga really one of Akachi’s?  You glance towards Elder Kejak who frowns but makes no indication of one way or another.  You take a step closer and study the manga.

It was a work of art.  The Anathema, in all of his sunlight horror, crouches before five jade Warstriders.   He wears nothing but leather armor and wields with nothing but his bare hands, yet he is ready to take on the whole circle of Dragonblooded pilots.  Ornate etchings cover each Warstrider.  Everywhere you look, you notice more details.  The lake the warstriders stand in reflects the mountains and night sky.  Every star was in its correct position.  It must have taken hours to draw this one cover.

“Do you like it, Svante?”  Reva asks as you admire the manga.   You tear your eyes away from the manga and smile at her.  She smiles back and you realize your answer is very important to her.  This is her way of apologizing for her interrogation at dinner.

“It’s wonderful.”  You admire the manga again.  “Has anyone read it?”  You want to know how won the battle alluded to on the front cover.  Obviously, the Dragonblooded won, but the Solar must have some trick to explain his confidence.

“No.”  Reva holds her hand over the glass case just short of touching it.  “It seems a shame, but this manga has belonged to Gent Lung for generations.   It is rumored to have belonged the first Lung Shogun.”  She sighs and puts her hand down.  “Very few of the living Lungs read manga.   To them this is simply a family heirloom.”

“It’s getting late, Svante.”  Elder Kejak reminds you.  “We have a big day tomorrow.”

Reluctantly, you leave Reva and the manga behind and follow Elder Kejak back to his room.  A cot and sleeping bag sit in front of the door.  After thoroughly searching both, you and Elder Kejak bring them into the room.  Mei Mei leaps onto the bed, but a stern look from the Elder Sidereal causes her to jump back off.

“Akachi doesn’t know about the manga.”  You guess as you set up your cot and sleeping bag.

“No,”  Elder Kejak replies.  He has his Astrology desk spread out on the table and sorts though his prayer scrolls.  “Akachi has made peace with Arcane Fate’s effect on his work.   I decided it was best not to open up old wounds and give him false hope.”

You had so many questions but you didn’t want to second guess the older Sidereal.  “Why did Reva believe you were threatening Yi?”

“Yi is not the son of Admiral Mayim, but of Yeh Sujay.  Reva and Sujay have been lovers before Mayim Takeshi appeared.   As a young woman, Reva pleaded with her mother to allow her to marry Sujay.”  Elder Kejak shakes his head in remembrance.  “Yeh Sujay’s father was mortal and Indrani will not sully her own bloodlines with mortal blood. “  He returns to his prayer scrolls.  “It is ironic that Yi is Indrani’s favorite grandson.  Neither Yi nor his brothers know and you will not tell them.  ”

You sit down on your cot and watch the Elder Sidereal work.  “I thought we were supporting Akane.  Why did you tell Reva you were supporting Chiyoko’s father instead?  Are you going to betray Akane or Chiyoko’s father?  What about the other Sidereal’s missions? And why did you say all those things in front of Ling Ling?  If I was a Lunar, the dog would be first on my list.”

“The missions I handled out will support either candidate no matter which becomes Shogun.”  Kejak answers as he muses over a prayer scrolls.  “I would not worry about Ling Ling.   Indrani would notice the moment she laid eyes on the imposter.  Much like you would know if Mei Mei was replaced.”

“Wait.  Were you planning on supporting Chiyoko’s father all along?”   Elder Kejak says nothing.  “Did you lie to the entire Five Score Fellowship?”

Elder Kejak continues to write as if you did not accuse him of lying.  He finishes his corrections and sets down his brush.   “I did not lie to the others.  Of the options I was offered, I choose Akane.   I could not put Guanyu’s name forward.   The other Elders will not consider a Shogun younger than a century.  I would have been voted down and clue the other elders in on my plan.”

“So you lied to Akachi and the others.”

“I did not lie.   When I approached Reva and she suggested Guanyu, I had no choice but to accept her offer.  We cannot put any Dragonblooded on the throne without the support of the rest of the court.  “

“But Reva didn’t convince you of anything!  You were already planning to support Guanyu before you even talked to Reva.   You made Reva give you those concessions for your support even though you were already planning on giving it!”

“I always find it best to walk into negotiations with the other side prepared to argue for you.  Ever since Kimiko died, I have been preparing the way for Guanyu to take this manse.   Every argument Reva gave against all of the other candidates are ones I thought of myself.   Reva says I dislike Guanyu because he will be no one’s puppet.  Frankly, that is the main reason why I chose him.  We need a strong willed Dragonblooded as Shogun.   Someone who will not sway to the opinion of other Dragonblooded.”

“Other Dragonblooded, but not you.”

“Svante, I have been doing this for a very long time.   The Dragonblooded are infants compared to me.   When I move a piece on the board, I need the piece to stay on the course I set, not be swayed by other hands.   Remember this later, when you are older.”

“This is all a game to you.”  You accuse the elder Sidereal.

Elder Kejak holds your stare with emerald eyes a mirror of your own.  “Do not take my metaphor for anything more than a metaphor.   The fate of Creation is not a game, Svante.  I am deadly serious about every action I take.  And you should do the same.  Do you understand?“

You swallow and nod.

“Good.”  Elder Kejak looks down at his feet and removes his sandals.

“What are you doing?”

“I always find I attract less attention walking outside of fate in my bare feet.”   The Elder Sidereal wiggles his toes once free of the sandals.  “Of all the changes in fashion, I wish walking around barefoot would come back into style.   Perhaps it is something I could talk to Meraud about after things settle.”   He grabs his staff from the corner of the room.  “I’ll be back in the morning.  You have some investigations of your own to do.  I look forward to your report at breakfast.”  After Elder Kejak leaves the room, Mei Mei leaps onto the bed and makes herself comfortable.

What do you do?

  • Visit Chiyoko
  • Search Kejak’s Room
  • Explore the Manse
  • Other

((I don’t want you to be so paranoid about Lunars, you can’t scheme.  ))

 

 

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83 – Battle of Wits

“I want you to read this,”  You slide a copy of current issue of Metal Gods across the table.   The Fire Aspect War Strider pilot, Ka Hi, is kneeling in front of her damaged war strider, jade parts of it scattered around her.   In the background is the behemoth, Itsumade – the current villain of Metal Gods.  The Winged Snake behemoth is reared up above Ka Hi.  Its wings are thrown back and its many vulture heads open in a toothy scream.

Elder Kejak stares at the manga and snorts.  “Did Akachi put you up to this?  In revenge for the puppy?”

“What?”  What does this have to do about Akachi and Mei Mei?

“Never mind,”  Elder Kejak picks up the manga and flips through it.  You watch as he pauses every so often to study a page.   “Well, it isn’t that long.  Is this what you like to read instead of books?”

“My favorite manga is Kill Fire Sword, but I thought you would like this better.”   Warming to the topic, you continue.   “The Crimson Squad attacked Itsumade, but they were unprepared for her mighty wind attack.   The Squad were forced to retreat and focus on evacuating the villagers.   Ka Hi’s War Strider, The Flame of Hesiesh, was damaged in the battle.  ”

“Hmmm… “  Kejak closes the manga and sets it on the desk.    “Has Akachi ever told you about the history of Metal Gods?”  You shake your head.  You have never heard Akachi talk about Manga, though he seemed pleased in your interest in them.   Each week, a neat stack of the newest manga were waiting for you on your desk.  “He created it.” Kejak told you.

“What?!”  You have never heard this before!

“Yes.  Before the Lung Dynasty was founded, Creation was broken up into fiefdoms, each ruled by a Dragonblooded Warlord.   Creation was constantly at war as each Shogun vied for supremacy and many artifacts from before the Usurpation were lost and destroyed.   Akachi came up with the idea of instilling a reverence of artifacts in Dragonblooded when they were young.”  Elder Kejak slides the manga back over to you.  “Thus Metal Gods.  The Manga ended up reaching further than its intended audience.   I believe the first Lung Shogun was a fan.   “

You pick up the manga and look at the Manga with new eyes.  “Does he still draw it?”

“Not for the past century.   He handed Metal Gods off to a Dragonblooded Artist.   Akachi was already using a succession of Resplendent Destinies, so there wasn’t of a fuss with the transfer.  I think there have been what… five different artists since then.”

“Why didn’t he tell me?”   Sometimes you feel like you will never truly know your guardian.

“I suspect it was a painful subject for Akachi.  When he quit said he wasn’t able to keep up with the demanding schedule, but I suspect it had more to do with the earlier issues being lost due to Arcane Fate.   It is impossible to find any of the early copies of the Manga, something as a fan you must be aware of.  “  You nod, having heard about Masaru complaining about the missing Metal Gods manga.  Kejak leans forward.  “I read an issue of Metal Gods, you read a chapter of the Five Moons of Denial.   That seems like a fair trade.  Do you agree?”

You didn’t expect Elder Kejak to actually agree to this trade.   Elder Kejak bridges his fingers as he observers you and you get the idea that the elder enjoys watching you squirm.

No.  That is not right at all.  Something about Kejak’s manner reminds you of your Sifu, Yeva.   Despite being a better Martial Arist than you, Yeva still enjoys sparing with you.  Not because you are easy to defeat but because she enjoys challenging you.  Watching you figure out how to beat her.  Watching you become better.

Elder Kejak was sparing with you.  But this was not a battle of arms but a battle of wits.   Which means you can win this, if you figure out how.

Reading Metal Gods was not enough to deter the Elder Sidereal.    “No.  You’ve already read Metal Gods.  You have to read something new.”

“Really, Svante.”  Kejak begins his next argument as you dig through your bag for another manga.  “Just because I may have glanced though an issue once, doesn’t mean I have read it.”  You pull out Pretty Dragon Princess Meru.   Princess Meru, a smudge of dirt marring her cheek, winks at you from the cover.   Her sword is thrown casually across her shoulders, giving you a nice view of her cleavage.  You present the manga to Elder Kejak.

He takes one look at the cover and says, “No.”

You try not to smile.  “If you get to choose what I read, I get to choose what you read. “

“You misunderstand our relationship, Svante.  I am the teacher, you are the student.  You will read what I tell you to read. “

The Owl has said the same thing to you before and it hasn’t worked yet.  “You can’t make me read that stupid book.”

“You haven’t even opened the Five Moons.  Why not give it a chance?” Elder Kejak asks reasonably.

“You haven’t opened Pretty Dragon Princess Meru.  Why not give it a chance?”  You counter in the same tone.

“Is having me read a manga really that important to you?”  You try to look away from Elder Kejak’s emerald eyes, but something holds your gaze.   “Is that all you really want out of this exchange?”

You are about to say “no” but stop yourself.   You suddenly realize that you will not walk out of this room without agreeing to read this book.   Unless… You look at the book not as a burden but as currency.   What can you get out of Elder Kejak in exchange for reading it?

You could get access to the truth.

“You said that the library is the greatest source of information to me, but that is wrong.   The Loom of Fate is the greatest source of information to me or would be if I was allowed access to it.”

Elder Kejak smiles, pleased with you for some reason.  “Technically I was right, since Akachi believes that you are not old enough to responsibly handle the information the Loom would give you.”

You make a face at this.  “Akachi wants me to be a kid forever.”

“And you?  What do you want to be, Svante?  What do you want?”  The elder’s emerald eyes watch you intently as he waits for your answer.

What do you want?

  • “I want to be a hero of Creation. To protect and serve the people of Creation”
  • “I want to be a sorcerer. To learn the secrets of Creation and know how to use them.”
  • “I want to know the truth. How can I make good decisions if I don’t know everything I need to?”
  • “I want to know about my past. How can I find out where I am going when I don’t know where I come from?“
  • Other

 

((Pretty Dragon Princess Meru is famous (or infamous) for its fan service. ))

((I figured the best way to resolve the tie was to give the Metal Gods voters the background they wanted and the Princess Meru voters to confront Kejak with the idea of reading Magical Pretty Girl Manga. ))

(( Next week and hereafter, Hero will update on a Monday and Thursday schedule.  Gives me more time to write. ))