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|Break in the Clouds|
One: Hushed Mystery
February 11, 2013
Previously in Tempests
While Eizo and Kanae are mysteriously missing, Sohyon begins having strange dreams. He goes to see Madame Lao, a dream interpreter and fortune teller, and has a very strange series of dreams/visions to awaken in the barn by Meali, leaving him to believe that he might not have gone to see Madame Lao at all...
The sun shines through for but a moment
"What?! Again?" Sohyon held the door open for a very nervous looking messenger. This one held up a handkerchief to his forehead, dabbing sweat off while avoiding eye contact. The colors of his uniform could just barely distinguish himself as one of Emperor Mashita's men. It was mid-morning; judging from how active the city was at night, Sohyon guessed that most of the nobles did not get up until now. The atmosphere was calm, with little more activity than the bustling of gossiping housewives down the street.
"Yes," the messenger replied. "He said that he wanted to meet with you personally this time—without his son and the other nobles."
The airbender blinked and shook his head in slight disbelief. His life had been exceedingly strange the past few weeks, with Eizo and Kanae mysteriously gone and many strange happenings. Three nights ago was the incident with Madam Lao, and then just last night he thought he heard a strange animal rustling against the house outside. "When does the Emperor want to meet with me?"
"As soon as possible."
Once again Sohyon shook his head and sighed. "I'll just follow you there." As he stepped outside, Sohyon closed the door behind him. Over the past few days, he had developed a habit of making sure that it was completely shut and that Meali was okay—his superstitions seemed to be steadily becoming greater and greater.
The route to the Emperor's house had become familiar; this was not because he had been there very often, but rather because determining its location became easier and easier the longer Sohyon lived here. Lived... the word lived caught in Sohyon's throat a bit. He did not think of this place as his home, but as time progressed he became increasingly more absorbed in the culture around him. Frighteningly enough, the sights around him were becoming as familiar as the Air Temple he had grown up in. The thought sent a shiver down Sohyon's spine as he continued to follow the messenger.
Eventually they came upon the mansion, which seemed just as unremarkable now as it had the first time Sohyon was there despite the size and grandeur of the building. Unlike the last time, this messenger did not try to explain anything to Sohyon and rather hurried forward with his head ducked low. It was as if he was hiding from something, but Sohyon could not quite place his finger on what.
Rather than lead him towards the dining hall again, Sohyon was this time lead to a tucked away room towards the left wing of the building. The messenger stopped in front of a great glass door, through which Sohyon could see the Emperor pacing. Even as the door creaked open, the emperor hardly looked up. It was only after the matching creaking noise accompanied the door closing that Mashita made eye contact with Sohyon. "It's good to see you again, mediator. I understand that our last meeting was a bit... hectic, to say the least."
After a brief silence, Mashita gestured towards a chair. "Please, sit." Sohyon obliged, taking the opportunity to look around. The room appeared to be some sort of office, with paintings covering the walls and an expensive-looking desk facing an open window overlooking the city. Everything in the room seemed almost foreign, with vibrant summer tones versus the typical tones nations of Earth took. "Most of the furniture is from the Fire Nation—my father bought the furniture from the capital just before chaos broke out." He laughed a little while pouring what Sohyon guessed to be some form of alcohol into a cup on his desk. "I suppose getting mixed up in chaos runs in the family. You don't drink, do you?"
The Emperor chuckled again. "That's what I had thought. My father always told me not to trust a man who doesn't drink. I guess I can make an exception." With this reflection, Mashita simply leaned back in his chair. He held his cup tenderly in his right hand before taking a sip, setting it down, and reflecting again. "I called you here to clarify and correct any rumors you might have heard. An informant of mine has told me that the Empress's bodyguard told you of the assassination attempt."
Sohyon furrowed his brows. "There was an assassination attempt?"
"Ah," the Emperor smiled ironically, "it must have been your friends who heard, then. I suppose it's best if you hear it from me?" He sighed before continuing, "I can't say I know much, despite whatever busybodies have told you otherwise. I know about as much as any of those people really know—and that's just that someone tried to kill the Empress last year."
"Who was it?" Though this question came from his lips, Sohyon internally knew that the Emperor was just trying to cover himself up on this matter. Further, the question as to why Eizo and Kanae never told him was nagging at the back of his mind. They had been strange lately, and this only drove into Sohyon a feeling that he couldn't even trust his friends.
"That's the thing," the Emperor declared. "No one knows, and so all their fingers pointed to me. But I don't want to kill her, and that's why I brought you here: to tell you the truth."
The airbender said nothing. His brow remained furrowed as he held back his skepticism about the Emperor's integrity. In the time that he had spent in Ishi Sentō, Sohyon was fairly sure that not a soul had told the truth.
Sensing that Sohyon would not reply, the Emperor continued, "You probably know that I proposed to the Empress, and she refused. But what no one understands is that it was not just a move on my part to gain more power." As he spoke, Mashita removed a large map and gestured for Sohyon to come over. The latter stood and did so. It was a large map of the land of Earth. "Here are our empires," Mashita explained while pointing to two bordering segments of land. He moved his finger upwards to outline a mass about twice as big as either of their empires. "This is the so-called 'Earth Kingdom'. I can tell that he's hungry to swallow us into his kingdom, and alone none of us can stand against his army. I wanted to marry Ichihara so that we could have a strong union between our two countries, and it would happen that marriage is the traditional way to do so."
"But that can't be all," Sohyon caught himself saying while examining the piece of paper.
"Indeed..." Mashita trailed off with another exhalation. "The truth is dark, mediator, but please remember that I am just human and I just want to do what is best for my people." With a sigh and another sip of alcohol, he continued, "The truth is that I want another son. You might have noticed that Eiichi is not particularly fit to rule... I need to have another heir so that my people don't serve under a cruel and arrogant leader. If I had a child with just anyone, it would look back. But marrying an empress after my wife's death... it would be judged kinder than marrying my maid, you see?"
"But Eiichi is still your firstborn."
"And that is the slight hiccup in my plan. You see... I would have to... do away... with my son."
This shocked Sohyon beyond anything else the Emperor had said. No one could argue against Eiichi being a jerk, but regardless of that the teenager was still this man's son. "You'd kill your own son?! But it's your fault that he's turned out this way!"
"I know! Please, try to understand. My wife was a kind woman, and when the signs began to show of Eiichi's stubborn nature, well... we didn't know what to do. She catered to his needs, and I hardly spent enough time with him to teach him otherwise. Then, when my wife died—" Suddenly, the Emperor became choked up. This show of emotions caught Sohyon off-guard, but it was not long-lived. "After my wife died, there was no one. It is my fault, but that doesn't make Eiichi any less of a danger to the welfare of my empire and its people."
For a moment, Sohyon simply leaned back to process this information. As the gears of his thought process churned against each other, he began to speak, "If you really do want another child, then there's no way that you would have sent out the assassin." It seemed like a convenient setup, but nonetheless this was the conclusion Sohyon reached.
Mashita beamed, pleasantly surprised that Sohyon deciphered the message. "Exactly! But you see why I don't want to make this public, even if to disrepute the rumors. But as you are supposed to be unbiased, I thought you should know my side as well, as embarrassing as it might be."
Sohyon sighed. This much was true—he did need to know both sides. While the fact that the Emperor was planning on killing his own son was disturbing, it did not particularly have anything to do with the reason why Sohyon was there. Further, the knowledge would help Sohyon to guide Eizo and Kanae down a better path on their strange investigation. That is, if he ever saw them again. "But if it couldn't have been you, who could have tried to kill her?" After saying this, Sohyon reconsidered his words, "Who would try to kill her?"
"I have a couple of theories..." The Emperor sat back and folded his hands against his chest. "Unfortunately, the most prevalent suspect would probably be Saromi."
"Saromi? Isn't he one of your allies...?"
"I understand it looks bad!" Mashita appeared exasperated, unfolding his hands to rub his temples in apparent fatigue. "But I'm trying to be honest with you, mediator. Saromi is a bit touched in the head, if you haven't caught on to it. He goes to all these crazy lengths to make me look better for whatever selfish motivations he has. I wouldn't put it past him to hire an assassin to eliminate her completely. Obviously I haven't told him about wanting another son, but quite frankly I don't think he'd care—he's power hungry, even with how much wealth he already has."
"Lord Saromi is power hungry?" Sohyon's brow remained knitted in the expression Eizo had so frequently taunted. "He doesn't strike me as the sort. All he does is throw parties."
"But that's just the thing, mediator!" Mashita hushed as a servant walked past the glass door. "Do you know how much gossip he collects at those things? Why, he knows more about my son than I do."
"This seems like a stretch."
"I'm not saying it's the truth. No one knows for sure who tried to kill Empress Ichihara. This is just my guess. Ask your friends where they've gotten, if they've gotten anywhere." Once he said this, Mashita noticed Sohyon's face fall and quickly added, "I'm sorry if I'm out of place in saying that."
"No, it's fine—I really do need to talk with them."
By the time Sohyon reached his temporary home, the sun was at the highest point in the sky. For some reason, it was burning more than it had during the summer, overall making for a rather miserable walk. Meali grunted per usual when he approached and Sohyon returned the grunt with a nod.
Upon entering the house, however, Sohyon was instantly brought out of the routine. "Soh! It's perfect, we have it all figured out!" Eizo and Kanae sat side by side in front of the low table in the middle of the main room; the former wore a goofy grin while the latter appeared to be forcing herself to keep a straight face.
"All this planning paid off; we have a totally foolproof plan—"
"Stop talking!" Sohyon interrupted them sharply, causing both to reel from shock. "You've been gone for weeks and all you can do is jump into what happened? Where in the name of the spirits have you been?!"
"Just stop talking!" It was clear that Sohyon was exasperated. Hesitantly, Eizo and Kanae obliged. They leaned away from Sohyon, casting their eyes downward like wounded puppies. Seeing them like this hurt Sohyon, but at the same time he knew that he could not afford to be too easy on them. After all, they had just vanished without speaking to him, and he had to make it completely clear that he was not okay with this behavior.
A few minutes of silence passed before Eizo worked up the courage to talk again. "Soh, we're sorry we left without talking to you. It just—"
"Did you even think about what you were doing?" Sohyon's brow furrowed as he gave his best friend a disappointed look. "I want to know that this wasn't just your thoughtlessness, Eizo."
Eizo glanced away from the gaze of his friend. "I'm sorry." These two words, while often used insincerely, came from the airbender in the most apologetic tone possible.
"Have all these years taught you nothing? I can understand when you slip up like this at the Air Temple, Eizo, but this is more serious. I didn't know where you two were for several weeks, and quite honestly I was most worried by the fact that after a while I stopped wondering."
"More importantly, why didn't you tell me about the assassination attempt?" Sohyon took a deep breath after speaking.
"That is also attributed to forgetfulness," Kanae admitted. "The incident with Lady Saromi distracted us from what we had learned..." She trailed off and cleared her throat. "Did you hear everything? About the Empress's sister dying and her scar?"
"I did not."
"When the assassin struck," Eizo began, "he didn't kill the Empress, but he did kill her sister. Even after that she didn't declare war, though. That in mind, it looks like this conflict might never escalate into anything."
"I wouldn't be so sure." Sohyon pursed his lips and furrowed his brow while sitting on the ground in front of his two comrades. "I talked with Emperor Mashita, who suspects Lord Saromi of trying to orchestrate an end to the Empress."
"Lord Saromi, you say?" Eizo glanced over at Kanae with a slight grin. "That's perfect!"
"What do you mean...?"
"Well, you see, in the past few weeks, we've been creating the perfect plan for Kanae to seduce Saromi!"
So this is why the chapter is so bad: first, my editor has been sick. Being the kind and benevolent writer that I am, after taking a group of ruffians to her house and determining 1) her father's existence and 2) that she was in fact sick, I made the decision not to bother her with this chapter. At the same time, that means that I'm the only person who has edited it and therefore there may be quite a few mistakes or sentences that make zero sense. Second, I have not been feeling well (I live in one of the flu-epicenters of the United States right now T^T), but to keep myself going to school I went to bed early most nights, during which time I would normally be writing this chapter.
To sum it up, I wrote this all last night and it hasn't really been edited, but I wanted to keep myself honest with the weekly releases. I'm sorry if this is a disappointment to my loyal readers but... well... let's just say next week's will be pretty amusing and I hope will make up for the lack of quality in this one ^_^
- The author lives in a place that receives very little sunlight during fall and winter, so she is not entirely sure whether most places are cloudy during fall and into winter.
For the collective works of the author, go here.