Part Two

Choosing Sides

Everyone has choices to make;

no one has the right to take those choices away from us.

Not even out of love.

- The Mortal Instruments, City of Ashes

Chapter Fourteen

All That Glitters

The small skull brooch sparkled in the lamp light.

It was small, silver, with swirling black carving and dark red gems in place of the eyes. Lotus lay back on her bed and admired it, her bold bangs fluffed over her forehead as she did. That was the beauty in being a thief, there was always room for a few goodies, even on a strict mission.

Sitting up now, she collected her thoughts and listened to the sounds of the city. The whistle and fading honks of cars as they drove by, the shuffle of people's feet against the sidewalk as they made small talk, even the wind itself slightly murmured to her. All of these were things she was use to hearing in Japan, things she had grown to take comfort in. New York really wasn't any different from her home.

Other than the fact that she could hopefully find a better life for Mei and herself.

Lotus honestly hadn't expected for their father, Chung, to pass away, especially as quickly as he had. It happened not long after Karai moved away, leaving Lotus without her only friend and both her and Mei without their father. Not wanting to be split up, Lotus took in her little sister and began playing the part of parent, proving to the skeptics that she was responsible enough to raise her despite only being sixteen. Making sure Mei got to school on time and making sure she understood her schoolwork, in addition to picking up where their father left off in Ninjitsu training, soon became a priority. Mei was the only thing that remained with Lotus for the next few months, she even stopped texting and calling Karai for awhile, being busy with jumping waitress jobs. Even then, getting enough money had always been a problem. Nobody wanted to hire a teenager, especially a soft spoken, high school drop out such as herself.

It was funny, really. Lotus was older, yet Mei was more lively and better at making friends. Lotus always hung back, focusing on her paintings or poetry in an attempt not to get noticed. It was kind of difficult when Mei was as loud as she was. She could be annoying, but she had her mind set in the right place when it came to right and wrong. And it should. Lotus and her father certainly sheltered her enough growing up, which she couldn't help but think was the cause of Mei's current rebellious streak. Lotus herself seemed to forget the difference between right and wrong further down the line. Her taste for beautiful things eventually led to her first thieving job. That one stupid piece of crystal was worth a lot. Not as much as she was paid, but a lot nevertheless. Out of the entire group of kids that were offered the job at the diner that night, she was the only one who showed up outside of that millionaire's mansion. Afterwards, she found her client in a limo in front of the estate's main gate and handed it over.

He said that his name was Bishop, and that he needed the crystal to cultivate by means of exterminating a few pests. Lotus had no idea why someone would waste such a pretty jewel on vermin when it could be made into something like a necklace instead, but she wasn't one to question anything. She merely walked away with her earnings, secretly feeling disgusted with herself over what she had done. The man said that it would be worth her while. She honestly didn't believe him until she got the phone call three days later from a wealthy mob boss within the city. He had heard through the grape vine that she had stolen the crystal that everyone believed had fallen from space. A girl like her had to be good to pull that off! Lotus couldn't help but feel as if Bishop leaked her name to these gangs to cover up his own trail, but there wasn't much she could do at that point. At that, she was sucked into a life she never wanted. All the while she kept it hidden from Mei, as the dangerous people she worked with only made her shelter her younger sister more.

After awhile, Lotus just kind of went with it. A client called her up and she stole for them. Her payments were usually rip offs, as if most clients didn't think she would research the artifacts they targeted. This was where she learned to pick up the extra items and occasionally double cross her employers by selling to a higher dealer behind their backs, but this was only if she found she could easily defeat them in combat. Still, she managed to save a few things for herself. Jewelry. Weaponry. Small pieces of art. Lotus was cursed with the gift of expensive taste. What was a girl to do?

Still, her feelings toward the situation usually bled into her own paintings and poems, some so private she dare not share them. With anybody. Not Mei. Not Karai. Not even with her father when she wrote and painted long before his death.

Overall, Lotus felt alone.

And invisible.

And nothing more than a pawn.

She wanted a job where she wouldn't have to interact with many people. That was exactly what she got. One night she finally got the courage to call Karai again, only to discover that her father was making some kind of junior training program where they took in a few street kids and taught them combat. Only the best would be chosen. Given her own knowledge of fighting, Karai's father wanted the two to train alongside each other, as the two had been inseparable when they were younger, and possibly prepare the new recruits in addition.

Things were finally looking up.

Although, she couldn't help but fear that somebody might come looking for her after their departure. Especially Bishop. It had been months and she still had nightmares thinking about him. The guy was a real creeper. And a crystal supposedly from space? What, were there aliens out there too? It was just the type of childish thing that Mei believed in. Lotus couldn't count how many times she had gotten online to discover articles concerning aliens or zombies or vampires or whatever other weird thing her sister was fascinated by pulled up on the screen. She was only fourteen, so Lotus was hoping that she would grow out of it soon.

A loud pounding came to her door seconds later, bringing Lotus back to reality.

"Okay, so Karai is on the phone and might want to answer it because it sounds really really important!" Mei urged.

"Just a second."

Quickly, Lotus reached over the edge, and moved a loose piece of wood on the floor under her bed. Her secret stash. The small compartment beneath held a jewelry box, overflowing with sparkling, glittering jewels and objects. The brooch found a place among them. Jumping up now, she ran her fingers through her long hair to straighten it back (a force of habit) and sprinted toward her bedroom door.

On the other side, Mei held the phone to her ear.

"Yeah, I'll tell her. Okay."

She hung up just as Lotus opened the door.

"Karai is meeting us at some place called Myron's. She's bringing Angel too." Mei explained.

Lotus frowned slightly, preferring to hear the plans from Karai herself.

"Isn't Myron's a biker bar?" She questioned, slightly weary. She had looked up a few attractions in New York before they arrived and couldn't help but remember seeing the name mentioned. Typical Karai, going for the gutsy hangouts. As cool as the situation sounded, Lotus didn't know how Mei would react to the supposed roughness there. If anything, she would probably cause a scene and end up getting them run out.

"I was thinking the same thing," Mei admitted. She shrugged slightly, unsure. "but...when have you ever known Karai to get us caught? Besides, her friend is pretty cool with the owner. We're not doing anything bad, just hanging out there."

Lotus only crossed her arms and leaned against the wall.

"I'm still not sure."

As long as the two had known Karai, they had been pulled into her schemes once or twice. The girl was pretty sneaky. Although, Lotus had been hearing about her new friend, Angel, recently and wasn't quite sure what to make of her. A normal teenager from New York? Sure, Karai told them about her blade throwing but could she keep up with three Kunoich if the situation got bad?

"Either way, I'm going to go change." Mei replied.

They both knew they were going to end up wherever Karai went tonight. They always did.

Lotus watched her younger sister dart down the hall, her long, black braid trailing behind her, along with the three wisps that stuck up above her forehead. When Mei was ten she had decided to cut her own bangs. She nearly gave their father a heart attack once he found out. The results were the three wisps that always seemed to stick up and had never wanted to grow back properly.

People often had a hard time believing the two were actually sisters, and it wasn't just the personality difference. Lotus was tall and thin. Mei was shorter and more round. Mei's long hair was usually pulled back in a braid. Lotus's hair, along with the blunt bangs she prided herself on, usually hung free near her waist. She never even pulled it back during training, something most people would find burdensome but it was just something she had grown accustomed to. Lotus often indulged in makeup, jewelry, and clothes (mostly skulls, lace, leather, and dark colors) where as Mei never really cared much about fashion besides making bracelets every now and then (something Lotus had taught her.) No, Mei had her video games, comics and music and was perfectly content with so. She was a free spirit and Lotus was the reasoning. They made an interesting team.

Coming back in and closing the door, Lotus began to get ready herself. Mei hadn't told her the time they would all meet, so every second counted, especially when winged eyeliner and bold eyeshadow was involved. Around her room, several of her paintings hung proudly on the walls, including one in particular of a Lotus Blossom surrounding a flowing river. There was a story that Chung would tell the two girls when they were were younger, about how he chose their names. Mei's full name was Mei Pieh Chi. Pieh meant River, and like a river, Mei was constantly flowing. A Lotus Blossom on the other hand was a flower. Beautiful, but very grounded. Somehow, as he watched the girls grow older, Chung knew that Lotus would keep Mei's feet on the ground. Likewise, Mei would keep Lotus going with a constant flow.

Finishing her makeup and changing, Lotus met her sister a few minutes later. Together, the two bound down the stairs and out of the door of their apartment. Mei's silver coil was hidden within the numerous bracelets on her arm. Lotus's own blade, a lovely golden thing bedecked in jewels was tucked away in her boot. The two had learned by now to always be prepared, and the nagging feeling in the back of her mind told Lotus that tonight might be a night where that preparation was well reserved.