142 -Blowhards

You turn to Elder Kejak, silently pleading with him to get you out of this mess.  Now, if any time, would the perfect moment to break character and take charge of this discussion.   You have seen Elder Kejak end an argument with a single look.

The secretary clears his throat.  “Lady, Indarni, as I said earlier, I don’t have the authority to agree to any marriage contracts on Svante’s behalf.”

You groan and slam your head into the edge of the table.  Fucking adults are useless.

The Shogun’s secretary continues in that annoying reedy voice.  “I can bring your proposal back to my….”

“I’m not marrying anyone, you hag.”  Aiko glares down the table at the ancient Air Aspect, fork gripped in her hand like a spear.

The air cracks with static electricity, standing your hair on its end.  “Ungrateful child, if it wasn’t for Lady Chiyoko and her father, you would not be sitting at my table.  You are in no position to turn down any match.”

You open your mouth to say something, but Elder Kejak puts his hand on your arm.  He shakes his head no and watches the two Dragonblooded quarrel.  Mei Mei leaps upon your lap and shivers.

“I don’t care if you match me with the Immaculate Dragons themselves.”  Aiko declares.  “I will not be bred like a dog.”

“Blood always tells.  This ill breed child will end up just like her mother – a traitor.”   The breeze picks up, sending the crystal glassware tumbling down the table.  Masaru and Yi retreat to under the table.   Chiyoko grabs Aiko’s hand and whispers in her ear.

Aiko ignores Chiyoko and stands up, knocking her chair over.  “I am nothing like my mother.”

A red paper crane flutters though the brisk breeze surrounding Raijin Indarni.  Reva plucks it out the air and unfolds it.  “Mother, you have a message.”

“Hui and the rest of the northern gents have loose morals.  The next Shogun needs to go north and bring the Dragonblooded in the whole direction into line.   The lack of discipline among the legions there is an affront to the Immaculate….”

“Mother!” Reva interrupts.  “The Shogun has requested your presence.”

The winds falter.  Indarni closes her eyes.   “Tell her I will be there.”  She replies in a soft tone.   She picks up Ling Ling and heads for the door.

“Lady Indarni?”  Chiyoko approaches the ancient Air Aspect.  “May I come with you?”

Indarni nods.  “Zheng will be pleased to see you.”  Long robes swirling, she leaves the room.  Chiyoko and surprisingly Aiko, follow.

Masaru pops his head out from under the table.   Seeing his grandmother has left the room, he motions it is clear to his brother and sits back down at the table.

The secretary sighs and picks a piece of crystal out of his teacup.  “Who’s ready for dessert?”

What do you do?

  • Follow Chiyoko and Aiko to see the Shogun
  • Stay with Elder Kejak and talk to Reva
  • You have had enough “Politics” for one day. Excuse yourself and explore the manse.
  • Other

 

140 – Ling Ling

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

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

“Your mistress invited me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both you and Elder Kejak glance towards Ling Ling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do?

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



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

139 – Grooming

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

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

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

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

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

“Won’t they suspect our involvement?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Instead, you feel empty.

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

“What?” the sevant yells over the howls.

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

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

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

“Do you need any help?” you ask.

“No, we are fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They are lost eggs.”  Aiko explains.

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do?

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

137 – Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My mother tells me everything about her dogs.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your friend…  How did you meet him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go Away!”  Chiyoko hisses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You mouth back “Later.”

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

“Our Circles?”  Chiyoko repeats in dismay.

“Dinner with Grandmother?”  Masaru gulps.

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

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

“Yes, Lady Reva.”  “Yes, Mother.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do you need to talk to her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you understand?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Other

 

 

 

135 – Arrest

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

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

“I can teach you,” you offer.

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

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

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

“Aiko?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chiyoko!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do? 

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

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

 

 

132 – Crash

“Masaru.”  You lean over and grab his shoulder.   “Fly around and try the landing approach again.”

Masaru closes his eyes and swallows.   He nods and fidgets with a knob on the control panel.  His hands leave a sweaty stain on the leather wheel of the skyship.

You sit back in your seat and encircle your arms around Mei Mei.  You close your eyes and pray to Mercury you and your friends will land safely.

Masaru pulls the wheel back.   The skyship rises above the ruins of Meru.

“Masaru…”  Aiko warns.  You open your eyes to see two tall towers looming in the windshield.

“I see it.”  Masaru’s hair glows with a harsh turquoise glow.   The cabin air grows heavy and moist.

“Masaru!”  Aiko screams.   You are jarred as the skyship’s left wing clips one of the towers.   The ship tumbles down from the air.   Blood rushes to your head as the ship flips.  You curl in a ball around Mei Mei.   Metal groans.  Glass shatters.  The skyship comes to a full stop.

Mei Mei whines and struggles in your arms.   You keep a tight grip so she does not fall to the ceiling.

“Is everyone okay?”  Masaru winces and glances back at you.

“What the fuck, Masaru!”  Aiko’s long braid hangs down and shakes with fury.  “You crashed the ship into an Anathema Ruin!”

“Akachi is going to kill me.”  You groan and throw your head back into the seat.  This ship was a pre-Usurpation relic.  Your guardian has ranted about Dragonblooded destroying irreplaceable artifacts.

“At least we landed safe,”  Masaru points out.

“Safe? You call this safe?”  Aiko waves her hand at the broken windshield.   The head of a broken statue lies among the glass shards.

“It could always be worse!”  Masaru begins.  “We…”

Something jumps onto skyship and rushes across its exposed belly.

“What was that?” Chiyoko whispers.

“Never tempt fate by saying ‘it could always be worst,’” you warn.

“The Lunar followed us.”  Aiko declares.

Masaru shakes his head.  “No bird could fly as fast as a Manta-Class Skyship.”

“It must be the ruins defenses.”  Chiyoko unbuckles herself and drops down to the ceiling.  You follow, awkwardly carrying Mei Mei in your arms.

The skyship starts to shift.  “It’s not me!”  Masaru hisses.   He pokes at the control panel.  “No power, no defenses.”

Mei Mei barks.  A ruby paw claws at the broken windshield.

“I can hear you in there!”  A throaty alto voice calls out in Spirit Speech.  “Is anyone hurt in there?”

Everyone is silent, not sure how to answer the voice.   Chiyoko points at you and hides her eyes.  You nod and step outside of fate.  The Dragonblooded gather weapons and crawl out of the broken window.

Despite being a neglected ruin, the courtyard garden looks well-tended.  Trees hang heavy with exotic fruits you have never seen even in Yu-Shan’s markets.   The skyship scraped a long grove in the brick floor and scattered tables and chairs in its wake.   You look up and see the stained glass window you flew though.   Copper bugs the size of your hand climb up the wall in a straight line.   A few have already begun welding window back together.

A ruby lioness sits by a shattered fountain, her flame tipped tail curled around her front paw.   The remains of the fountain’s statue – a large burly man surrounded by lions- lie submerged in the clear fountain water.  Her fiery eyes glow with curiosity as she observers you friends emerge from the crashed skyship.

“Greetings.  Welcome to the Manse of Burning Enigmas.”  The lioness purrs.  “I’d ask the purpose of your visit, but it is obvious you didn’t plan this visit.”  She nods at the crashed skyship.

“We did not mean to intrude on your manse,”  Aiko replies in Spirit Speech.  “If you could lead us to the exit, we can be on our way.”

The fiery end of the lioness’ tail flicks.  “We have a dilemma here.   I would like to help you, but the manse is on lockdown.   Do you have a keystone that allows access to the rest of the manse?”

You walk around the perimeter of the courtyard and try a door handle.   It is locked.  Each door you find is locked.  You return to your friends and examine the lioness.   A flicker flame pulses deep in her chest.   This lioness is a constructed entity designed to serve the manse.

Aiko considers the lioness’ question.  “No,” she finally answers.  “How does one acquire a key stone?”

“The master of the manse can create keystones.”   The lioness looks down at the headless statue lying in the fountain.  “The last master hasn’t been seen since the lockdown was enacted centuries ago.  The hearthstone has reformed in the heart of the manse.”  She studies all three Dragonblooded.  “Would you like to enact the emergency access protocol?  Each room may be accessed by answering a riddle.”

“Riddles?  That’s it?”  Aiko wrinkles her nose.  “How many riddles do we need to answer to reach the exit?”

“Three.”

Aiko glances at Chiyoko and grins.  “How many riddles to the hearthstone room?”

“Five.”  The lioness flicks an ear.  “The hearthstone room is in the opposite direction of the exit.”

“What’s going on?”  Chiyoko asks in Earthspeak.

“It’s a puzzle manse.  This sphinx will ask us questions and for each one we answer correctly we gain access to another room.  We need three riddles to get out of here, but five riddles to access the hearthstone.”

“What happens if we answer incorrectly?” Masaru asks.  Aiko repeats the question.

The lioness flexes her claws.  “I rend the flesh from your bones.  I do not wish to harm Dragonblooded children, but the security protocols are clear in this matter.”

Chiyoko takes a deep breath.  “We should head to the hearthstone room.  If we claim an old Anathema Ruin we may get in less trouble for busting up the skyship.”

Masaru frowns.  “It’s too risky.   If we get a question wrong, the lion will attack.”

“If we get them right, we get a whole manse with a hearthstone!”  Aiko exclaims.

“In the abandoned part of Meru,” Masaru counters.

Aiko rolls her eyes.  “Masaru, you can head to the exit and get help while Chiyoko and I can head to the hearthstone room.”

What do you do?

  • Go with Masaru to the exit.
  • Go with Aiko and Chiyoko to the Hearthstone room
  • Use Force Decision to get everyone to go to the exit
  • Use Force Decision to get everyone to go to the hearthstone room
  • Other

((How confident are you in your riddle answers?  😀 ))

131 – Too Low

“Head to the Yu-Shan Gate.”  You sit at the navigation console and give Masaru the coordinates.  Afterwards, you sit and collect your thoughts.   Mei Mei settles in your lap.   You take a deep breath and rub the sweat off your face.  Then you summon an Infallible Messenger.

“Akachi,” you begin.  “Chuzei Enki is dead.   Lung Hayate is working with a Lunar named Lung Suri.  I think her tell is her buckteeth.  Lung Duri is dead.  I gifted her with the Broken Mask and the Lunar killed her.”  You send the spirit off.

The reply comes back almost instantly.  “Are you okay?”

No, you think.  You are not okay.  Two people died because of your actions.   Akachi’s voice is barely a whisper, but hearing it steadies you.   For once, you want to talk about the messed up jumble of feelings with Akachi.  Yet you do not know anything about his mission and if he is whispering, he must be where he can be overheard.

“We are fine.  We are on an airship headed to Yu-Shan.”   You close your eyes and remember the Lakehouse.   You will be going there soon.   It will be nice to relax and let the adults take care of Creation for a bit.  You can show Chiyoko and the others around the markets and the temples of Yu-Shan.

But first, you have to do what you can to help.  You ponder who else to tell about the Lunar.  Sasha most definitely.  She is with the Shogun.  Wanahton is with Admiral Mayim.  Yeva is with Akane’s legion.  Maidens, you dread talking to Yeva.   You lean back against the chair.   You are so tired.  Summoning another massager right now is beyond you.

“Svante,” Aiko swivels her chair around to face you.  “Was that woman another Sidereal?”

“No.”

Aiko asks another question.  “Who was she then?”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

Aiko isn’t going to let it go.  “But…’

“I don’t want to talk about it!” you yell.  Mei Mei whines and stares at you.

The drone of the essence engines does little to fill the silence after your outburst.

“No, we are going to talk about it now.”  Chiyoko turns your chair around to face her.  She sits up, broken arm across her chest.  “We are going to talk about it now, because we can’t do our job if we don’t know what is going on.”

Do you have to do this now?  “Your job is to do what I say and I say leave me the fuck alone.”  You turn your chair back around and attempt to tune the others out.

Aiko barks out a laugh.   “No,” Chiyoko corrects.  “Our job is to protect you.”

What?  “I don’t need protection.”

“Please.”  Aiko says.  “Your anima doesn’t even burn and frankly…”  Aiko shuts up when Chiyoko stares her down.

“No, you are wrong.  It’s my job to protect you.”  You are a Sidereal.  Chosen of Jupiter herself.  “It’s my job to protect Creation and everyone in it safe.”

“Shit.  Chuzei Enki was right.”  Masaru mutters.

“What does that mean?”  You remember him saying that before.

“Svante, it is our job to protect Creation.  We are Dragonblooded.  It is your job to guide Creation.  To warn us about Creation’s dangers. To advise us on how to deal with them.”

“To tell us what the fuck is going on.”  Aiko interjects.  “I know you are a Chosen of Secrets, but gods, do you have to keep everything a secret?”

You think this over.  “That’s fine, but I don’t need protection.”

“It’s a numbers game, Svante.”  Masaru says.  “There are hundreds of thousands of Dragonblooded.   Only few hundred Sidereals.   You are harder to replace than we are.”

“I….”  you pause.  Logically, what they said made sense.   And it was worse than they thought.  There was only a hundred Sidereals at most and it could take up to fifty years for a new Sidereal to reincarnate.   “I don’t want you to die for me.”  You tell Chiyoko.

“Trust me.” Aiko crosses her arms.  “We don’t want to die for you either.   But when shit happens it’s your job to run your dim glow ass back to Heaven.  “

“Svante, look at me.”  Chiyoko rests her good hand on your cheek.  You stare in her warm orange eyes and remember the moment in the barn.  “Svante, you act like you carry Creation on your shoulders, but you aren’t alone.  You have us.”

“Let us help you.”   Masaru says.

“And we can’t help you if we don’t know what the fuck is going on.”  Aiko adds.   “Come on secret keeper.  Spill the beans.  Who was that bitch?”

“She’s not a bitch.” You start.  You make an effort to keep your voice steady.  “Her name was Lung Duri.  She was your cousin.  I shared my Arcane Fate with her and made her circle forget about her.”  Tears fall down your cheek.  “I killed her!  I wanted to save everyone, but I fucked everything up.”

“Dragons,”  Aiko curses.  “You are such an egotistical idiot.  You didn’t kill this Duri person.  The Anathema did.”

“Wait, what Anathema?!”  Masaru jerks the wheel as he looks back at you.  The Airship jerks with him.

“Masaru!”  Chiyoko clutches her broken arm.

“Sorry!”  He rights the ship and focuses on the sky ahead.

“You really need to learn Spirt Speech.  Svante just said there was a Lunar.  And that her tell was a buckteeth.  Sunan never had buckteeth.  So she was eaten by a Lunar ….or fucked a Lunar or…”

“We don’t need the whole list, Aiko.”  Mei Mei licks the tears off your chin.  Maidens, you hope Arcane Fate will make this conversation disappear.  “Just because I didn’t wield the sword doesn’t mean I cause her death.”

Aiko rolls her eyes.  “And maybe if Masaru hadn’t stopped for dumplings we wouldn’t have been captured. “

“You said you were hungry.”  Masaru retorts.

Aiko continues.  “As I said before.  Shit happens.  Stop wallowing in it like a pig.  You are no use to anyone sitting around mopping.”

You say nothing for a long while.  Aiko may be tactless, but she did have a point.   You have to pull yourself together.   You wipe your tears on your sleeve and run your fingers through your hair.

Aiko smiles as she watches you pull yourself together.  “See, you should listen to me more often.”

You grunt at red haired girl and notice that Chiyoko has been quiet during this exchange.   She looks lost in thought.   “Chiyoko, are you okay?”

“Can you really make Creation forget about people?”  Chiyoko asks.  There is an earnest, hungry look in her orange eyes when she asks this question.

“Yes, but there is always consequences to important people disappearing.”  You did not believe Elder Kejak when he told you this, but you do now.

She nods and hugs herself with her good arm.  You remember what the River Goddess said about Chiyoko.  You are about to ask if she is okay when Akachi’s reply returns.

“Do not go to Yu-Shan.  Land at the Lower Fields of Meru.  The Shogun’s Secretary will meet you there.  Forward all further messages to Elder Kejak.”  There is a pause in the message.  “I’m sorry, Svante.  I cannot risk my current Resplendent Destiny.  I have to go.  Stay safe.”

No Lakehouse then.   You sigh and tell Masaru to change course for Meru.

“What, we aren’t going to the city of gods?”  Aiko asks, disappointed.

“Meru is where the Lunar wanted to take us in the first place.”  Chiyoko points out.

“If we are needed in Meru, we should go to Meru,”  Masaru says.  He seems nervous and checks the weather report for the Mountain.

“Is everything okay?” you ask.

“It’s just that the winds are strong at Mount Meru.”

“Can you handle it?”

“Yeah…Sure.”   He fidgets with a knob on the control panel.  “It’s fine.”

You lean back in the chair and attempt to mediate.  If you are going to Meru instead of Yu-Shan you need to be in top condition.   Each time you clear your mind, images pop up.  Chuzei Enki lying dead in the mud.  Lung Duri spitting blood.

“Svante?  We are about to land.”   You shake your head.  You are unsure if you actually succeeded in mediating or just passed out from sear exhaustion.   You rub your eyes and see Mount Meru loom large in the window.   The skyship flies over the ruins of the city.

“There’s the field,” Chiyoko points out.

“That’s a field?”  Masaru squints at the patch of brown amongst all the gold and white.  “It doesn’t look very big.”

Mei Mei begins to bark.  You stare out the window, as the landing field grows closer.  A tall figure waits in the field.  “Svante, let your pilot know they are flying in too low.”  The messenger imitates Elder Kejak’s calm voice.

“We are coming in too low.” You say.

“I’m trying to pull up!”  Masaru says as he fights the wheel.

“The other pilot was able to land on the village street.”   Aiko says.

“The other pilot has years of experience!  I’ve never actually landed a Skyship before.”  Masaru admits.

“What?!”

“Masaru, you idiot!”

What do you do?

  • Bail! This ship has parachutes right?
  • Ask Elder Kejak for help. Maybe he knows of an easier field to land in.
  • Have Masaru retry the landing approach.
  • Other

130 – Aftermath

You rub your bloody nose on our shoulder sleeve and give Aiko a dirty look.  Aiko gives a long-suffering sigh and rolls her eyes.  She is trying to tell you something, but what?  That she is a fucking bitch?  You already knew that.  You focus on Aiko and dip into her well-ordered mind.  Aiko’s eyes become unfocused.  She’s been talking to Chiyoko and Masaru!  They want you to….

Ow!  A pisssed off Aiko elbows you in the nose again.  You jump up from the mode after the Earth Aspect girl.  She headbutts you, but you easily dodge and knock her onto the muddy street.

“Cut that out!”  Ru, the Water Aspect drags you away from Aiko.   She dumps you on the other side of Chiyoko.

“She’s always like this!” you defend yourself.  “You set a demon on my once!”

Aiko mutters curses in her gag, yet seems pleased with herself.   Masaru sits quietly, watching the fight.

Distraction.  Aiko wanted a distraction.   You make a rude gesture at the girl and Aiko jumps up again.  Ru grabs her long plaited red hair and throws her to the ground.

“Maybe we should let them fight it out?” the Lunar suggests.

“No,”  Khalid approaches with a sullen Shamria trailing behind.  “The skyship approaches.”

The sky rumbles and the grey storm clouds reveal a sleek manta class sky ship.   The dark manta ray ship glides down and lands in the village street.  Festival lanterns blow around their stalls and a table cloth flies down the street.  Your heart pounds as the belly of the ship reveals three more Dragonblooded.   Whatever slim prospects of escape you had just vanished.

The Water Aspect captain, flanked by her crew, slows as she approaches your group.   She is tall with a regal bearing and well pressed uniform.  Her bright blue hair is shaved and bound in the shogunate style.  With deep blue eyes, she surveys the scene.  You and Aiko bleeding and covered in mud.  Chiyoko with her broken arm.  Two corpses lying in the street.  “We were ordered not to harm the children.”

“They have been fighting among themselves.”  Khalid explains.

The Dragonblooded were fractured and without leadership.  You could not let this Dragonblooded take charge.  “Aiko did hit me,” you admit. Aiko grunts at this.  “But she broke Chiyoko’s arm”  You jerk your head at Ru.

The Skyship captain crosses her arms and stares at her fellow Water Aspect.

“Shit happens.”  Ru drags Chiyoko to her feet.  “Let’s get the fuck out of this shit hole.”

“They killed Chuzei Enki” You swallow a lump in your throat.  “And they killed that woman.”  You nod at Duri’s corpse.

The Captain studies the corpse with a frown.  “Who is that woman?”

“No one you need to concern yourself with, Captain Abioye.”  The Lunar interjects.   She walks up to you and smacks the side of your head.  “What did I say about talking, boy?”

“You said I couldn’t talk on the wind.”  You stand tall and stare the Lunar in the eye.  “You said nothing about the truth.”

The Lunar raises her fist.  You back away and slip on the slick cobble stone road.  You roll away from the approaching Lunar.

Shamira draws her hammer and stands between you and Sunan.  “I warned you not to touch these children.”

“Stand aside.” The lunar orders.

“I don’t take orders from you filthy….”

“Shamira!”  Khalid interrupts.

Captain Abioye’s frown grows as she observes the scene.   Her crew stands behind her confused.  “Is there anything I should be aware of, Dragons?”

The Captain does not know about the Lunar.  Duri’s circle must know, but the airship circle does not.  You circle does not either, but there is no way to warn them.  You realize this is not the time to reveal this secret.   The Lunar and Duri’s circle would have to kill everyone to keep the secret from getting out.

The Captain waits for someone to speak.  The Lunar is silent.  Duri’s circle is silent.  You speak up.

“They kidnapped us.  They hurt us.  They killed our teacher.”  Captain Abioye’s entire attention is on you.   “Do you want to be associated with these people?”  You lace your question with Essence.  You need to get Chiyoko and the others away from these dangerous people.  You need to gain the upper hand.  You need allies.

“Get the children on the skyship.”  Captain Abioye orders.  The Captain’s expression never changed once after your plea.  Did it not work?

Yet when Ru walks by with Chiyoko, the captain holds her hand out to stop the water aspect from boarding the ship.

“What are you doing?”  Ru asks.

“You and your circle are staying here.  My crew and I will see the children to their destination.”

“No,” the Lunar stares at you, gears turning in her head.  “Where they go, I go.”

“Your circle has proven incapable of dealing with children without injuring them.”  Captain Abioye points out.  “You will not be accompanying them to Meru.  I will bring them to the Shogun.”  You wonder which Shogun the captain means.  The dying one or the one she supports?

“What authority do you have to do this?”  Khalid questions.

“What authority?”  The captain cracks her knuckles.  “My authority is basic human decency.  You will not board my ship.  You will not be accompanying these children to Meru.”

The Lunar screams and lunges for you.  Shamira blocks with her hammer.  “Run!”

“Retreat to the ship!”  The captain orders.   Ru and Khalid surround the airship crew.   They may outnumber the remains of Duri’s circle, but they are unprepared for close combat in their ship uniforms.

Masaru, hands free of bounds, helps you off the ground.  Mei Mei reveals herself from under a festival stall.  She barks at you.  “Come one, girl!”  Together you race for the ship.  After everyone is one, Aiko slams the door button.

“What did you do that for?” you yell.   Masaru picks the locks on your cuffs and hand you the pick.  He sits in the captain’s chair and studies the console.

You ungag Aiko to hear her answer.  “We are safer with the door close!”  She holds up her cuffs for you to unlock.

Chiyoko’s gag hangs around her neck.  “Masaru, can you fly this thing?”

“My uncle taught me.”  He tries to turn the wheel.  “The captain is still attuned to the ship.”

Chiyoko closes her eyes and whispers on the wind.  The ships console dims.  “Start attuning to the ship.”  She kicks open the weapons locker, picks up a steel sword with her unbroken left hand, and offers it to you.  “In case they break in.”

“The Captain and her crew are still out there.”

“I won’t be used as a hostage against my father.”

“But they could die. “   You did not want any more lives on your conscious.

Chiyoko closes her eyes.  “They made their choice.” She replies in a soft voice.   She turns away and ignites the sword she offered you.   She waits by the door, still as a stone.   Only her trembling sword betrays her unease.

“Don’t make things worse.” Aiko hisses.

You recoil at her words.  “I didn’t mean for anyone to die.”

Aiko studies you, unsure what to say next.  “Look, just watch the door.”  She sits in the copilot seat.

You pick a sword out of the weapons locker.  No artifact swords, just plain steel.  You call upon the Battle Maiden and the sword glows with a dim red light.  Better.

You stand beside Chiyoko.  Chiyoko nods in approval.  Together you watch the door.

“I got it!”  Masaru announces.  The skyship rises.  The belly of the manta scrapes the roof of the temple. “Opps.”

“Are you sure you can fly this thing?”  Aiko asks.

“It’s fine!  It’s fine!  There’s nothing I can hit in the air.”

“Except the ground,” Aiko mutters.

Chiyoko sighs in relief.  Her sword goes out and she slumps into a chair.  Her bound arm rests over her chest.

You stare at the door and pray to the Maidens the Airship crew is okay.

“So…where are we going?”  Masaru asks.

Where are you going?

  • Yu-Shan Gate. That was your last orders.
  • Ang-Tang. Akane, the future Shogun needs to be warned of the Anathema.
  • The still living Shogun needs to be warned of the Anathema.
  • Other

 

 

 

 

 

127 – Bigger Problems

Who the fuck?  You break away from Chiyoko to discover who dared interrupt you.   If it was Masaru, you are going to show him just how much better of a martial artist you were than he was.

At the end of the stall stands a figure decked out in white jade armor.   Twin Orcalcum short swords hang at his sides.   Chuzei Enki pulls off his helmet and tucks it under his arm.   Chiyoko pushes you away and stands at attention.  You sit on the hay bale and fume at the Chuzei’s interruption.   How the fuck did he find you in a barn in the middle of nowhere?

“An open barn?  Are you fucking farm animals?  Lung, straighten your shirt.”   The Chuzei stalks into the stall.  “I have half a mind to write you two up for conduct unbecoming of the blood of the dragons.”

Chiyoko smooths her shirt down.  “Sir, you are bleeding.”

A line of blood mars Chuzei Enki’s clean white armor.   It drips from the bottom of his chest plate and down his thigh guards.

Fear burns away your anger.  “What happened?”

The Chuzei curses and wipes it away with his hand.  “Don’t worry about me, Cnead.  We have bigger problems to deal with.  Where are Hui and Mayim?”

“They went to the stable the horses at the village,” Chiyoko answers.

“How long ago was this?”

“A few minutes.”  Your anima and caste mark has faded.  You must have lost track of time.  “Maybe longer?” you amend.

Chuzei Enki sighs.  “Never mind.  Get your armor on, Lung.  We are leaving.”

“Are we going back to school?”  Chiyoko turns her back to you and you rebuckle her chest armor.

“No.”  Chuzei Enki rolls a pebble in his hand.  “Where is the nearest heaven’s gate, Cnead?”

“The Gate at Vanchow, but there is another gate north of here.”  Your caste mark glitters.  “Five hour ride away.”

Chuzei Enki grunts.  “Not ideal.   Lung, your cousin Duri and her circle came to collect you early this morning.   Said your grandmother ordered you and the Mayim brothers to return to Meru.   We had a disagreement about the validity of her orders.”

“Is Masaru’s brother okay?” you ask.

“Noboru and his older brother, Lotaro, left on a ship this morning.”

“How many Dragonblooded are in your cousin’s circle?” you ask Chiyoko.

“Five Experienced Dragonblooded.”  Chuzei Enki frowns.  “I trained Lung Duri myself.”

You tie a headband around your forehead to cover your caste mark.  “I’m not hiding in Yu-Shan while Chiyoko and the others are stuck in Creation.”

“Don’t worry, Cuckoo.  We are all going to be hiding in Yu-Shan.”  This plan of retreat does not sit well with the Chuzei, but he continues.  “You will sponsor us to the Lion Guards.  Someone named Keeper of the Locks will meet us at the Manse of Still Waters.  Do you know where that is?”

“It’s my guardian’s lake house.”

“Good.  Lung, you take point.   Cnead, keep an ear out for trouble.   If we get separated, head directly for the gate.”

Mei Mei trots up to the barn, carrying a half-eaten potato.  “Now, you show up.”  You scold the dog.  Mei Mei could have warned you Chuzei Enki was coming into the barn.  Mei Mei drops her potato and cocks her head in confusion.  “Never mind.” You motion the puppy to follow you.

“Cnead, was your mission in this village?”  Chuzei Enki walks slower than his normal brisk pace.

“Yes, sir.”  You study the Chuzei.  His stoic face betrays no pain, yet he runs a single pebble though his fingers over and over again.

The old Earth Aspect chuckles.  “Doesn’t seem like this village holds many dangers.”

“Sir?”

“Boy, if I told you half the shit you kind dragged me into over the years, you’d have nightmares for the rest of your life.  When you told me you had a mission, I was expecting far worse than this idyllic farming village.”

“A water goddess was drowning people.” Chiyoko chimes in.

Chuzei Enki snorts, unimpressed.  “If you’d been honest with me, Cnead.  I’d let you go.   I would have gone with you, but I’d let you go.”  He pauses to lean over and pick up a few more pebbles.  “Safer here than at the school.”

You keep walking and try not to think about the fire.  Instead, you focus on the silent village up ahead.   You pause and raise a hand.   “Wait.”

Chiyoko draws her sword.   “What is it, Cnead?”  Chuzei Enki asks.

“No music.  The village should be celebrating the Potato Harvest Festival.”

Chuzei Enki kneels and rests a hand on the ground.  “Everyone is in the village temple.”

“Can you tell where Masaru and Aiko are?”

“No.”  The old Chuzei grunts as he rises from the ground.  Fresh blood drips from his armor.

“Are you okay?  Maybe I sneak in to the village…”

“No.” Chuzei Enki cuts you off.  “I am not letting you out of my sight.”   He pats your back.  “I’ll survive until we get to Yu-Shan.  They have good doctors there.   I know from experience.”

You nod.  “My sister is a healer.”  Belatedly you remember Sasha is in Creation.  You doubt she be allowed to leave the Shogun’s side.  Maybe the Owl will know another healer.

You and Chiyoko follow Chuzei Enki into the empty village.  Festival booths sit empty.  You step over a trampled potato.  Chiyoko pauses by the stables.  “No horses.”

“Shit.”  Chuzei curses.  “Cnead, you got any other ways to travel in your bag…  Cnead!”

You ignore the Chuzei and enter the stables.   You let your nose lead you to a rotting pile of blood red goo.

“What is it?” Chiyoko comes up behind you.  She pokes the goo with her sword.

“What’s left of a blood ape.”  Aiko’s blood ape.

Chuzei Enki grabs you by the shoulder and wretches you around.  His face is so close his nose almost touches yours.  “Do not go off on your own again.”  He hisses.  “We stick together until we find Hui and Mayim.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

The old Chuzei stares you in the eye.  “Cnead, I am going to give you an order.  An order you must not disobey.  This situation is going to go to shit rather quickly.  When we find Hui and Mayim, take yourself and your fellow students out of the situation.  Lead them to the gate.   Do you understand?’

You look away.  He wants you to leave him behind.   How could you look your Sifu in the eye if you leave her father behind?  “I can’t.”

“Cuckoo, do I need to remind you of our first lesson?  What do you say when a superior officer gives you an order?”   The Chuzei’s fingers bit into your shoulder.

You never hated the Chuzei more than this moment.   “Sir, yes, sir.”

The Chuzei lets you go.  “If Lung Duri’s circle is here, then her Earth Aspect has been tracking us since we stepped foot in this village.  They are going to come out of the temple and surround us.  Get to Hui and Mayim and get gone.”  Chuzei Enki draws his swords.  “Let me do the talking.”

As you approach the temple openly, you try to think of other ways out of this situation.  You should have stealth in.  You could have found Masaru and Aiko without endangering anyone.  You say nothing.  Chuzei Enki is more experienced and after the fire, you are afraid of fucking this up.

The temple doors slam open and five Dragonblooded walk out – one of each aspect.   In the lead is a Wood Aspect with bright green braided pigtails.   Despite being a different aspect, she reminds you of an older Chiyoko.  She has a bow in her hand and two green jade swords at her side.  Next to her stands a Fire Aspect with shaved hair and brown leather armor.   The other three Dragonblooded encircle you.  The air aspect clutches a chakram, with others hanging from his belt.   The water aspect falls to a crouch, her Mohawk falling forward.  The earth aspect walks barefoot on the earth, never taking her eyes off the Chuzei.

Chuzei Enki stands there patiently, swords in hand.   You met Chiyoko’s eyes.   What is the Chuzei’s plan?  He told you want he wanted you to do, but he never mentioned his part in the plan.  What was it?  You rest your hand on the handle of your jade sword.  The threads of fate are still as the empty village.   The encircled Dagonblooded fidget as they wait for either the Chuzei or Lung Duri to act.  You smile.  They don’t know what the Chuzei is doing either.

“Good, you found her.  Saves me the trouble of looking for her myself”  Lung Duri smirks.  “Hello, cousin.  You’ve grown since the last time I saw you.  I don’t know what the Chuzei has told you, but I am here to take you home.  Our grandmother is ill and desires your presence at her bedside.”

Chiyoko says nothing.  She watches the encircling Dragonblooded.

Chuzei Enki points a sword at Duri.  “Where are Mayim Masaru and Hui Aiko?”

“They are safe.”  The Fire Aspect behind Duri replies.

“Let me see them.”  The Chuzei demands.

“You don’t trust me, old man?”

“I don’t trust anyone who stabs me in the back, Lung Sunan.”

“Ah…  But I have heard stories of your time in the Wyld Hunt.”  The Fire Aspect takes a step forward and comes face to face with the Chuzei.  Mei Mei growls at her.  “You aren’t above using trickery to get you want you want.”

“Defeating Anathema demands trickery.”  He shakes his head. “We are Dragonblooded, Sunan.  Not Anathema.  We hold ourselves to a higher more civilized standard.”

Lung Sunan’s eyes narrow.  “I will enjoy killing you.”

“There will be no killing.”  Duri declares.   “Bring them out, Sunan.”

Sunan glances back.  “But…”

“Bring them out.”  Duri repeats again.   The Fire Aspect steps back away from Chuzei Enki and she enters the temple.  A few tense moments pass as everyone waits for Sunan to return.

“No killing, Duri?”  Chuzei Enki asks.

“Not unless you force me to.”

“So your father’s intentions are pure when it comes to my students?”

Duri forces herself to stare the Chuzei in the eye.  “Their fate depends on their parents.  If they support my father’s bid for the throne, then they will be safe.”

Chuzei Enki grunts at this.  “You don’t believe me?” Duri asks.

“I know my history.  No Shogun has ever taken the throne without bloodshed.”

“Ah, perhaps it is time for change of management.”  The temple doors open again and the Fire Aspect drags out Aiko and Masaru and dumps them on the temple steps.   Both are gagged.  Their hands are bound behind their back.   Dried blood encrusts the back of Masaru’s head.   He rolls to a crouch and his eyes widen when he sees you and Chiyoko.  Aiko has a bruise down the side of her face.   She stumbles down the steps until she is sitting upright on the last stair.

“A bit bruised but nothing that won’t heal in a few hours.”  Duri explains.  “I’ll give you another chance, Chuzei.   Surrender.   The children won’t be hurt….”

The old Earth Aspect spares you a glance.   Then he raises his swords and bellows.  Chuzei Enki charges.

What do you do?

  • Join Chuzei Enki in his charge and fight to free Aiko and Masaru
  • Avoidance Kata away with Chiyoko, Aiko, and Masaru
  • Surrender
  • Other

 

122 – The River Goddess

“We will talk to the River Goddess.”  It is time to get the other side of this story.

“Really?”  Root Beard hops from foot to foot.  “Thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  He stops hopping and straightens his beard.  “I can keep my singers, right?”

You rub your forehead.  “We’ll see.”

You leave Root Beard’s cozy hollow and walk out into the cold rain.  The grey storm clouds glow with the morning’s light.

“How big of a problem is it for a field god to have a small cult?” Masaru asks.

You shiver and pull your cloak tight around your neck.  “Root Beard is one of hundreds of small gods in the area.  There isn’t enough worshipers for each one to have their own cult.”  You explain.  “That’s why the Immaculate Calendar exists.  All gods get worship according to their place in the Terrestrial Bureaucracy.  “

“Gods get a surge of Essence for lives ended in their name.”  You shake your head.  “It’s a waste.   A living worshiper provides more prayer over their lifetime than a dead one, but some gods are addicted to the high.”

“How can the goddess get away with drowning people?”  Chiyoko scowls.  “Why doesn’t the Immaculate temple put a stop to it?”

You hesitate before answering.  The local monk missed a cult where his own student was a member.  What else could he miss?  “Maybe the River Goddess isn’t drowning anyone.  Root Beard could be lying.”

“Water Gods like to drown people,” Masaru points out.

You did not think it was likely the Water Goddess was innocent either.  “We have to be certain before we do anything.”  You hand Mei Mei over to Chiyoko.  “Head to the Immaculate Temple and question the monk’s student.  I’ll talk to the River Goddess. “

“And let her drown you?”  Chiyoko shakes her head.  “We are going with you.  You’ll need some muscle if the River Goddess gets rowdy.”

Masaru smirks.  “I’d like to see her drown me.”

Aiko surveys the rolling river.  “The bank is muddy and slick.  Not a good place for a fight.  Let’s head to the bridge.”

Together you cross the bridge.  You stop half way and look over the edge.  Bright foam rages at the surface of the angry river.  The river strains against its banks.

“What are you going to bribe her with?”  Masaru asks.

“Nothing, little water dragon.”  The river gurgles.  A serpentine shadow slitters though the silty waters.   A wave engulfs the far end of the bridge, revealing a slender translucent woman.  Silt encrusted ice claws tip the ends of her fingers.   The River goddess is nude, but none of your Dragonblooded friends comments on it.  They are completely silent as the goddess stalks down the bridge.

The River goddess stops and drops to her knee before you.  Her braids, slick with mud, fall forward, obscuring her face.   Her voice sounds pleasant but simmering beneath the surface is the raging river.  “What would the blood of the Dragons have of me?”

What do you do?

  • Retreat from the scary River Goddess
  • Open the conversation with her conflict with Root Beard
  • Ask why the River is Raging
  • Directly accuse her of seeking human sacrifice.
  • Other