Chapter 2:

Lantern Of the Heart

Jade Heart

It was a dim lit room, with a large red bed that was embroidered with cranes, and jade pieces decorating the room. Asami’s two servants dressed her in a red and gold kimono, Yvonne was the eldest of the two, her hair done up in twin buns and her eyes a hazel green, her skin was a warm golden color. Yvonne's sister Yvett was small and dainty, her skin only slightly lighter and her eyes more green than brown. They were the only ones apart from the emperor and crown prince who had seen her face. It was tradition to keep it on around the crown prince, but he never allowed it.

“Asami, what do you think the prince will write tonight on his lantern?” Yvette teased, her voice cute and upbeat.

“ Hopefully he will wish for his father to regain his health” Asami smiled, she secretly wished for it to be about her though. It was a selfish wish, but she knew hers would be about him.

“Pardon my lady, but I think his brother is more appealing” unlike her sister Yvonne's voice was a little deeper and more serene. Asami laughed a little at that, she had never met his brother despite having lived in the palace. He wasn't talked about much, and she never saw Satoshi spend time with anyone apart from her or his best friend Subaro.

After an hour of preparing her in the kimono they strung a strand of pearls around her waist and adjusted her headdress upon her head, her hair tied up in a jade hair pin. Asami quickly slipped a piece of paper that she had written her wish on into her kimoni while the sisters put on their green veils and then accompanied Asami outside and towards the ball. The evening had already encroached upon the day, stars were starting to become barely visible. How lonely it must be to be a star, Asami thought. To always be a great distance away. Perhaps that is what the Emperor felt like. After the death of his wife Nanami and his Priest Thandu, the Emperor was a star amongst other stars in these seas of countries. Asami would not let Satoshi feel the same way. As they got closer to the main hall they could hear the sound of violins and drums, excitement rushed through Asami. She picked up the pace heading closer into the night.

The main hall was boisterous, filled with music and lights strung around the high ceiling, tables filled with steaming food and desserts decorated beautifully adorned tables, gifts for the emperor from the nobles or common people were stacked in the left back corner of the room. Colorful streamers hung low that some party goers had to duck beneath.Everyone was dressed in fancy kimonos, or dresses from other countries. It took everything in her not to abandon her veil and join the revelers, not as their priestess, but as their sister. Luckily her maidens guided her to the banquet table for the Feng line. Satoshi sat there, but more noticeably the emperor Shao-Feng was there as well. He sat regally with his long grey beard and tired strong eyes. He looked weary and a fraction of his former glory. Upon spotting her he smiled brightly “come child, sit here” the room grew silent at the sound of the Emperors voice, he patted the large pillow next to him at the low set table. She saw Satoshi scowl at this. Asami headed over feeling many eyes watching her, some in delight and others in jealousy taking her seat next to him.

“How is your health Emperor?” Asami asked gently

“Tumultuous as ever, but that would not stop me from attending tonight” the emperor’s smile was kind and his voice warm. He was like a grandfather to Asami. One she was grateful for and feared to lose. She was shocked when his health had gone into a sudden decline after the death of his priest. “Asami, would you…” the emperor hesitated, his dark blue gaze faltering, “would you consider filling Thandu’s role early” the request shocked her, but she was overjoyed that he trusted her to fully overtake his role.

“Of course your majesty” she bowed her head, this night was already promising. A hand touched her shoulder

“Dance with me Asami” Satoshi stood above her, hand outstretched he smiled but she sensed irritation within him. She began to stand before being dragged by him to the center where couples were dancing to slow music played by the Erhu. He held her waist and hand and they waltzed. He stared at her with his dreamy cerulean eyes smiling at her. It was everything she had hoped for. She wanted to be closer, to rest her head on his shoulder while they waltzed but she remained reserved. “You’re not going to serve my father are you?” He smiled expectantly and she frowned beneath the veil, caught off guard

“Actually I was, it would be a great opportunity for me to advance” he scowled at this

“You’re intended to serve me when I succeed him” she felt his grip on her grow a little firmer

“I wouldn’t refuse the Emperor, you’ll get your chance soon enough” she tried to assure him but he just shook his head. The dance ended and he released her, turning his back towards her, leaving her in the middle of the floor. It was humiliating. She watched him head over to an envoy from Kotiya, a beautiful woman with curly hair the color of dunes and brilliant blue eyes. She had a rosy complexion to her already tan skin. She was just an exotic beauty. He said something to her before the two of them made their way to the floor and began to dance.

Asami retreated to her seat, tears stinging her eyes. This was not what she had planned for tonight. It surprised her how coldly Satoshi had treated her. He was at times moody. Perhaps he just wanted to build better relations with Kotiya. She looked up and saw them laughing together. She would apologize to him tomorrow.

The dance ended and Satoshi returned to his seat, smirking and stealing glances at Asami. She ignored this. Rising out of his seat a gong was rung as the Emperor extended his hands out “It is time for the tradition of lanterns” as this was said servants bustled through the corridors with lanterns of varying shades and patterns lanterns were passed out and a tray was brought with three lanterns to the table where Asami sat with the Emperor. A purple lantern was set before the Emperor, a red one before her and a green one for the Crown prince. Everyone arose and bustled outside Satoshi taking hold of her arm as her maidens followed behind vigilantly.

There were revelers who reached for her sleeves or tried to stop her and ask her questions but Satoshi pulled her mercilessly forward, losing the Emperor in the crowd. She didn't understand what was up with him lately. Just yesterday things were fine. He led her out into the gardens away from the party and her maids. “Satoshi you're hurting my arm” she winced and he released her, his face surprised for a moment before turning and smiling down at her. They had reached the gardens bridge, the night sky glittering across the water filled with lotuses.

“Give me your lantern” he said smiling, but there was no warmth to it she slowly handed it to him and he took it eagerly giving her his. Both pulled out slips of paper they had written on last night for their wish. He stuffed it in the red lantern and handed it to her, quickly she put her slip away in her dress to hold it “I will be back Asami, sorry to rush this but I have a few things to take care of” before she could protest he rushed away. Tears welled again, she hardly got to speak with him at all tonight. She remembered the paper and fished it out of his lantern. That Asami will always be mine was written almost hurriedly. It did make her heart flutter a little, at least he had thought of her. She placed it back into the lantern and lit the bottom with a nearby brazier. She did the same with her green one lifting them both into the air, they floated up together into the night light illuminating dimly from within them eventually drifting apart into the clouds.

As she watched this event leaning on the railing of the bridge a monarch floated onto her finger. She watched it sadly, feeling its small waves surge through its body. She absorbed these waves watching the butterfly crystalize into jade still on her finger now as heavy as a paperweight. “Very neat trick priestess” a husky voice called from behind her, she turned to see a man with dark short hair and coal colored eyes. He was very handsome, she observed...and tall. He came forward leaning up against the railing beside her examining the butterfly.

“It's not a trick at all” she replied irritantly and he smiled

“Poor choice of words, it's very fascinating” she was silent at this and he continued “why aren't you at the party?”

“Maybe I just wanted to look at the gardens” she drawled but his energy never faltered

“It are beautiful, I helped cultivate some of the newer additions”

“They are adding more flowers?” her eyes lit up a bit, hearing it in her voice he chuckled nodding.

“I can show you the greenhouse where we keep them sometime if her ladyship would desire it” she nodded reluctantly “However, its going to cost you” of course there was a catch she opened her mouth to speak but he cut her off “you'll have to treat me to some food from the street market” his request struck her as unusual, and she could probably find the greenhouse from her self. Really there was nothing to gain for her,...except maybe a friend.

“You'll have a deal then sir…?”

“Kei” he smiled and she nodded, repeating it. She held her hand out with the butterfly in palm, noticing he reached out his opening his large palm. Gently, she placed it within and he closed it beaming at her. It made her heart skip a beat strangely. He opened his mouth to say something but the sound of distant cries rose up. Upon hearing this they both turned and she grabbed her kimono rushing back to the party with him trailing behind. People were frantic, some crying and alarms sounded within Asami. A nearby servant was rushing towards one of the corridors and she grabbed his arm stopping him abruptly his young face in panic

“What has happened, what is wrong?” his faced filled with confusion

“The Emperor has passed” her heart stopped.