162 – New Beginnings

“No, I’m not okay.” You aren’t sure if you are going to rage or cry. You take Chiyoko’s hand in yours. “But I am better now I am here with you.” You know this sounds overly sentimental, but it was the truth. After everything that happened today, you couldn’t lose Chiyoko too. You needed her just as much as she needed you.

Tears trail down your cheeks and fall to the ground. Chiyoko takes you in her arms. The events from today pour out of you. You tell Chiyoko about the Elder’s vote. The star charts. Kejak and his sword. Tears the Grass. After you are finished you feel empty, yet cleansed. As if what happened today was poison that needed to be extracted.

“They used us.” Anger creeps into your words. “They are training me to become like them. A liar. A puppetmaster. Someone who uses people like tools.” You clench your fist. “No more. I am through being a puppet. And I will not become a puppetmaster.”

Chiyoko is silent all though your rant. “I don’t want to be Shogun.” She whispers. She grips the shelves of her robe and turns away from you.

“I know. I’m going to help you, too.” You consider the problem. “You have lots of relatives. We will find someone else to succeed the throne.”

Chiyoko paces the small courtyard. “You need me to be Shogun. You need me on the throne just like your elders.”

You hesitate before answering. A part of you knows your and Akachi’s plans will be easier if Chiyoko could help you. Yet you did not want to force Chiyoko to take the throne. If she didn’t want to be Shogun, you will help Chiyoko free herself from her destiny. Though at this point you aren’t sure how. “I’ll figure something out.” You promise her.

“You can’t rule, Svante. No Sidereal can.” Chiyoko reminds you. “That’s why they work though others like my father.”

“I don’t want to rule!” you yell. Chiyoko was misunderstanding you. You wonder if Kejak has been talking to her. You take a deep breath. “I just want to bring peace to Creation. Stop this pointless war between the different types of Exalt.” You stop her pacing and hold her shoulders. “Give me some time. Your father is young for a Dragonblooded. We got years to find a solution.”

Chiyoko looks down and bites her lip. “Okay,” she agrees. “I trust you, Svante.” You brush a stray strand of hair out of her eyes and kiss her. She rests her head on your shoulder.

You are confident you will figure out a solution to both the war with the Lunars and Chiyoko’s problems. Perhaps you will bring peace to Creation before Chiyoko is forced to take the throne. Then someone else, someone not Chiyoko, could become Shogun.

The sun sets and the stars twinkle into the velvet night sky. You glance up as the Broken Mask fades into the sky. Venus in the mask. What better relationship for a Chosen of Secrets than a secret one? It was comforting the stars themselves smiled on you and Chiyoko.

Yet the mask was broken, a small doubt whispers in the back of your mind.

Later, you make your way through the secret passages to where Ban is being held. With a single word, you bring down the wards and enter his cell. From a hanging chain, Ban dangles from the ceiling. He looks up, his dirty blonde hair falls away from his face. “Who are you?”

“You don’t remember me, but I remember you.” You touch the wards on the floor and bring them down.

Ban shifts out of his chains and drops to the floor. With little prior warning, he crosses the room. Ban pins you against the wall. His hand tightens around your throat. “Sidereal,” he curses.

Your heart pounds in your chest. If you misjudged Ban, you will be dead. “You told me you believed in peace. Your trial is tomorrow and it will be a sham. You will executed.” You glance up at the moon silver wards you have yet to bring down. “If you kill me now, you will never leave this cell.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“I believe in peace too.”

Ban studies you and releases you. You rub your throat. “Our peoples need to stop fighting. Something is coming. Something the maidens cannot see.” You don’t know where this knowledge comes from, but you know it to be true. “If we are to survived, everyone – Lunar, Sidereal, Dragonblooded, Mortal- must band together.”

The Lunar considers your words. “Tears the Grass?”

“Dead, but you already know that.” Nor did Ban seem displeased by this news. “You will be dead soon if you don’t go. Head South. The Yu-Shan gates are more spread out on the Southern coast of the Blessed Isle. Keep to the sea…”

“I know how to escape your people, boy.” Ban snaps. He frowns. “Do you have a name?” he asks in a softer tone.

“Svante.” You take down the final wards. “You told me to look for Ivory Ban in the Wylds where the waters meet the ice. How will you know when I arrive?”

“Do not worry about that. The Wylds will make sure you find what you seek… if you pass their trials.” Ban shifts to the Dragonfly. You follow the Lunar to the entrance of the passages. Ban flutters off into the night. You hope he makes it to the Wylds.

You are about to step out of fate when you see the guards you passed earlier are lying in the dirt. You kneel down next to them and find both asleep.

“That was brave of you,” a voice behind you says. “to face the Lunar alone.” You turn to find Haythem behind you. “Fucking stupid but brave.”

“I…” you really don’t what to say. Your whole plan was not to get caught in the first place. All you do know is you are fucked. Your mind races for a way out. Perhaps you can reason with Haythem. “Why are you here?”

Haythem bursts out laughing. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to turn you in.”

At first you are relieved. Then paranoia sets in. “So why are you here?”

Haythem ignores your questions. “Come with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you until you give me some answers.” You grow frustrated with the older Oracle. “You used me as bait for the Bureau of Destiny traitor.”

“Maidens, you still remember that? I’d expected you forget by now.” Haytham sighs. “I’m not giving you a choice here, Svante.” He threatens quietly.

Haythem’s tone chills you. You meet his eyes. Instead of the drug addled idiot you know, you find a stranger. Cold and sober.

“It’s an act. The drugs. The stupidity.”

Haythem smiles. “Not as much as I’d like. Come along, Svante. We are going to be late.”

“Late for what?”

“If you hurry up, all your questions will be answered.” Haythem grabs you by the shoulder and drags you along with him. His grip is firm. The Oracle leads you down Mount Meru. Your footsteps are soundless as you walk through the ruined city.

What did Haythem want with you? Was he going to kill you? You detect no impending violence from the other oracle. You keep your mouth shut and keep walking.

Finally, you come to a grove of blackened dead trees. Their dark branches reach up to stars in the velvet sky. Dead grass crunches under your feet.

“Reveal,” a firm feminine voice commands. Golden leaves sprout from the dead trees, illuminating the orchard. Ayesha Ura rises from a stone bench. Long fur in gradual shades of gold and yellow protect her from the night breeze. Her yellow starlit eyes fall upon you. She looks at Haythem with a silent question.

“Svante freed the Lunar.”

“Did he now?” Ayesha’s eyes return to you. “Why did you free the Lunar, Svante?”

“You choose your words carefully. “He didn’t do anything that deserves execution.”

“Some may think spying for the enemy is a crime worthy of death.” Haythem points out.

Shit, that was a good point. “This whole war is stupid and pointless.” You blurt out.

“Out of the mouth of babes.” Wanahton guffs. The tall Chosen of Journeys steps out from behind a tree and ambles over.

“I’m not a child,” you snap back. You grow more pissed off when Wanahton chuckles. “I want to know what is going on.” You demand.

“Svante, it’s okay.” a soft voice answers. Idir, the Chosen of Endings who offered you the sandwich, steps back into Fate. “You are among friends here.”

Friends? “Why are you here?” You ask of the Sidereals surrounding you.

All three men look to Ayesha. “We were hoping to reopen negotiations with the Lunars.” Ayesha tells you.

You frown. You were hoping to open negotiations with the Lunars with Akachi. “Why did you want to talk to the Lunars?”

Ayesha smiles. “Svante, I’d like to introduce to the Sidereals of the Gold Faction.”

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161 – Another Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You drop the sword and bolt.

“Svante!” Sasha calls out.

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

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

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

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

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

“You killed her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I vote no.” Uilani repeats. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly, Venus was also ascending though the Mask. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venus in the Mask.

A secret romance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Haytham brought them though Yu-Shan.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You talked to him?”

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

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

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

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

It frightened you.

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

“I may have another way…” you start.

 

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

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

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

“So it’s fake.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

What do you say?

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

 

160 – Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hayate smiles.  “No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you do with him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do?

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

159 – Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do?

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

158 – Closed Doors

The mortal guards pass without noticing you.  You follow behind them.   You stop outside the warded door and wait for all the guards to enter the cell.  Your plan is to lock all the guards in the cell.  You did not want to harm the guards.  You have enough blood on your hands.

Three guards enter the cell and two stand outside to guard.   Shit.  Why couldn’t anything be easy?  The funeral will be starting soon.  You do not have much time.  As the three guards search the cell, you walk up to one of the guards.  “Help them search the cell.  The more eyes the better.” You whisper into his mind.

The guard glances back at the cell.  “Let’s help them.  The more eyes the better.”

“Go with him.” You whisper in the other guard’s ear.

The two guards enter the cell.  “What the fuck are you doing…”  You slam the cell door closed before the guard could finish his sentence.  The guards bang at the door.

You snicker.  Your plan worked.  In a much better mood, you race to catch up with Aiko and Shamira.  Aiko was an idiot.  You could be a hero.  Yet being a hero is more complicated than you thought.  There is more to being a hero than swing your sword against evil.  Akachi and the rest of the elders have done horrible things in the hopes that the end result would be better.  Could you keep true to yourself and what you know is right and still save the day?   Or will be forced to choose between your own morality and the safety of others?

You come to a point where the corridor branches into two different directions.  You choose one at random, hoping the fates will guide you true.   You walk for a long while and realize the fates lead you wrong.  Or did they?  Footsteps and the clang of weapons echo down the passage.   You hide in an alcove outside of fate.

Sasha leads the remains of the Wyld Hunt.   Her expressionless face is pale and smeared with blood.  About half the Dragonblooded who accompanied her did not return.   Sasha is putting forward a brave face in spite of the Hunt’s losses.  You close your eyes at your sister’s pain.   The Elders are using her just like they use you.  How many Sidereals are sacrificed for their unknown goals?

“Sasha?”  You step out of the shadows.     Sujay draws his crossbow and aims at you.  The rest of the Dragonblooded draw their swords.

“Hold!”  Sasha orders.  She steps though the crowd of Dragonblooded.   “Svante?”  She embraces you.  Your sister stinks of blood, sweat, and acid.  Sasha examines you.  “Are you okay?  What are you doing in the passages?”

“I’m fine.”  You look at the blood on her face.  “Are you injured?  Did you get the Chimera?”

“The Anathema is dead.”   One of the Dragonblooded holds up a dripping bag.

“It’s only a scratch.”  Sasha touches a knot on her head and then waves it off.   “What are you doing down here?”  she repeats.

“I’m looking for Aiko.”   You scan the faces of the Dragonblooded to see if Aiko and Shamira are with them.  “Have you seen her?”

“She and the other Earth Aspect were headed to the Funeral.   We are headed that way as well.  Did you want to come with us?”

What do you do?

  • Openly accompany Sasha and the Wyld Hunt to the Funeral
  • Trail Sasha and the Wyld Hunt outside of Fate
  • Catch up to Aiko and Shimara
  • Find out where Elder Kejak is being held.
  • Other

157 -Fed Up

“Shamira,” you draw her gaze. The sound of boot thumping on stone echo in the passage. “If you want to do the worst damage to those who hurt you, testifying is the best way. Let the whole Shogunate know what Hayate did.”

Shamira scowls and faces you. She was going to argue or even turn on you. “What are you going to do?” You stand tall and take a step closer. “Waste your life here or be smart and testify?” You give her a choice, but really she has no choice at all. You lace your words with essence and force her decision. She will testify. You are done with dealing with the idiotic decisions of others. You are done being a puppet.

Shamira curses and looks away from you. “Which way out of this stupid tunnel?”

“Follow me.” Aiko heads off in the opposite direction of the stomping. She pauses when she sees you turn in the opposite direction. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to stall them. You will need time to get out of the passages.” You can’t leave though whatever way Aiko is using. You are sure it is warded. “I’ll see you at the funeral.”

Aiko knits her brows, but nods and leads Shamira away.

Once they are out of sight, you step out of fate. You approach the oncoming guards. Five mortals dressed in leather and chain mail, but no Dragonblooded. Where were the Dragonblooded?

The mortals draw their swords and advance towards the empty cell.

What do you do?

  • Flare your anima and caste sign and distract them. If they are looking for Sidereals, you are going to give them one.
  • Throw the guards off the scent with Avoiding the Truth Technique
  • Use Thought-Swiping Technique to cause confusing among the guards.
  • Lock the guards in the cell.
  • Other

156 – Rage

In a panic, you push a chest of drawers in front of the door.  You back away.  The chest shake as the guards beat down the door.

“That won’t hold them long,” Aiko comments.

“Out the window.”  You lean against the shuddering chest.

“What?”  Aiko looks up at the tiny window.  “I’m not going to be caught with my ass hanging out the window.”

“Just go out the window.”

“What about him?” Aiko points at the Lunar.

“Don’t worry about him.”  You say.  “I’ll take care of it.”

Aiko slides a crate under the window.  She heaves herself up and out the window.   The chest vibrates as the guards break down the door with an ax.  You ignore the sound of wood splintering on the other side of the door and study the Lunar.  You pull the stake out of the wall.  Glowing with silver moonlight, Ban repairs his wing and flutters in the corner of the room.  “I will remember.” You promise the Lunar.   You step into a dark corner and out of fate.

The chest slams to the floor and the guards barge into the room.  Tears the Grass follows them, still wearing Shimaria’s stolen form.    The guards search the room and check out the window.  “Nothing.”

Tears purses her lips and considers the situation.  “Go find that girl of Yi’s and make sure she hasn’t slipped away from her escort.”  The guards nod and leave the room.

“Ban?”  Tears asks after the guards leave the room.  “What happened?”

Ban lands on the crate and becomes human.  “An Earth Aspect girl came into the room and knocked over a crate leaving though the window.  “

“Why didn’t you stop her?”

“I didn’t want to reveal myself.  No one knows I’m here, remember?”   Ban reminds Tears.  “You told me to stop people from coming in, not out.”

“Ban…”  Tears sniffs.  “The girl may warn them.”

“Warn them of what?  The whole manse knows something is going to happen at the funeral.”  Ban runs his fingers though his hair.  “Look, whatever drama going on between Yi and his daughter is not our concern.  Don’t you have a funeral to attend?”

Tears frowns.  “Be at the funeral, Ban.”   The Lunar orders, as he leaves the room.

You follow Tears out the door.   The Lunar goes one way.  You go another.  You walk the halls of the apartment, looking for the entrance Ban described.  You are careful to avoid knocking into anyone, but it is more difficult than usual.  Soldiers march the halls, dressed in gleaming jade armor.  Servants carry crates of weapons.

Lung Hayate wasn’t preparing for a funeral.  He was preparing for war.

Finally, you find the statue of the Immaculate Monk.  You wait for the hall to clear and press in the monk’s left big toe nail.   The nail depresses.  A staircase appears in the floor next to the statue.  You dart down into the dark passage before the entrance closes.

“Svante?”  Aiko’s voice calls out in the darkness.

“I’m here.”  You reply.  “How did you get back in?”

“The windows aren’t warded against Dragonblooded.”  Aiko rubs a red crystal to light.   “This way.”  She points with the crystal.

“Have you seen any guards?”

“No,”  Aiko looks behind her.  “Do you think the Lunars left the Chimera to guard her?”

You consider this prospect.  “No, Ban didn’t know Quo was here.  I doubt Tears the Grass told Hayate or his people either.”

“Almost like Lunars don’t negotiate in good faith.”  Aiko’s voice drips with sarcasm.

“You should talk,” you snap back.  “We promised to let Ban go free and you attacked him.”

“The situation changed.”  Aiko defends herself.  “The Lunar knew too much.   If he let him go, he would go back to his elders.”  Aiko pauses in the passage.  “You did take care of the Lunar, right?”

“I let him go like we promised.  “

“You fucking idiot!”  Aiko rages.  “You believed him?  What if he goes and kills Chiyoko?”

You didn’t want to think about Chiyoko right now.  You swallow a lump in your thoat.  “He won’t hurt Chiyoko.  Ban is serious about peace.”

“Are you seriously thinking about running off to the Wylds to find this Anathema?  What are you going to do?  Run away from civilization and get yourself moonsilver tattoos?”

“Maybe.”  After the events of this past week, you are no longer sure Sidereals have the best interests of Creation in mind.  It seems like they are doing what they could to save their own asses.

“What about Chiyoko?”

Your chest tightens when Aiko asks this.   “I don’t know.”  Chiyoko would want to run away as much as you do.  “Take her with me?”

Aiko sighs and rubs her forehead.  “You think the Lunars are going to welcome you with open arms?  Ban himself said he wouldn’t remember you.  What are you going to say?  ‘I feel really bad about the centuries of genocide my people put you through.’   They are going to rip your throat out before you get a chance to speak.”

You slide down the wall and sit.  What the fuck are you going to do?  “Someone has to start somewhere.”  You finally say.

“Maybe you should find a less suicidal way?”  Aiko sits next to you.  “Svante, you are a Sidereal.  If you don’t like the way things are, you have the power to change them.  Remember the Usurpation?  That was Sidereals.  Your people.  I’ve read my history.  I know my people have their heads too far up their asses to pull something like that off by themselves.”  Aiko sighs.  “Running off to the edge of Creation is not the answer.  You need to play the game and play it well if you want to make a difference.”

You snort.  “You just want to use my just like my elders do.”

Aiko does not deny this.  “I want my people to be free to choice their own destiny.   And trading Lunars for Sidereals isn’t the answer.”  Aiko declares.  “You need to stop being the puppet and become the puppet master.”

“Chiyoko’s puppet master.”

“Better you than the old man.”  Aiko argues.  “Despite what that Lunar said, you care for my cousin.  If you do hurt her, it will be because of stupidity, not malice.”

“Thanks.”  You hold her head in your hands and say nothing for a long time.  “I just want what’s best for Creation.  I just want to be a hero.”

“Svante, look at me.”  You look up at Aiko.  The light of the crystal illuminates the highlights in her scarlet hair.  “There are no heroes, Svante.  Everyone is out for themselves. Anyone who thinks otherwise is lying to you or lying to themselves.  If you are going to be any use to me or Chiyoko, you need to understand this.”

You and Aiko walk in silence until you reach Samira’s cell.  Jade and Starmetal wards carvings flicker around the doorway.

“Dragons,” Aiko exclaims.  “Where did they get so much starmetal?”

You take a deep breath and blow away some dust.  Hidden wards reveal themselves.  “If I walk through this door, it will kill me.”

“So it’s a trap.”  Aiko declares.

“If Ban wanted to kill me, he would have done so in the storage room.”

“Or maybe he’s too squeamish to kill a kid with his bare hands.”  Aiko counters.   She holds her crystal up higher.  “I don’t see any Dragonblooded wards for death.  I bet the Tiger Lunar infiltrator from the beginning of the school year was the sorcerer of the group.”  Aiko opens the door and steps in.

“Wait!”  You call out belatedly.  The Jade alarm wards glow.     You curse and look into the room.   Samira hangs from the ceiling by Jade Chains.   Dirt covers her skin and homespun shift.  She looks up when Aiko enters.  Hope blossoms in her eyes and dies when she recognizes Aiko.  Samira did attempt to kidnap her.

Aiko climbs up the stone wall and ceiling and digs the chain out with her bare hands.  Samira falls to the floor.   She sways as she stands.   Chains drag on the floor as she removes her gag.  “Where is my armor and hammer?”

“I don’t know.” You call out.  Boots thump down the hallway.  “We need to get you out of here.”

“We also need you to testify against Hayate and the Lunars.” Aiko adds.

“Testify?”  Simara twists the chain part way around her hands and gives it an experimental whirl.  “I’m going to tear them apart.”  She stares down the passage, rage kindling in her stone grey eyes.

What do you do?

  • Let her work out her rage against the coming guards
  • Convince her to go.  She cannot testify if she is dead.
  • Convince her by any means necessary.  Force her decision.  You don’t’ have time to argue.
  • Other